Pho 90 Degree in San Jose [Smoked Veal Pho, Kobe-style Beef, Nem Nuong]
Pho 90 Degree (sic) is the largest tenant in the newish and mostly vacant Vietnam Town shopping center ( http://www.sanjosevietnamtown.com ) sandwiched between Walmart and Grand Century Mall on Story Road in San Jose. Fitted with stylish seating on the veranda, an interior ablaze with bling to rival Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and iPad-equipped servers, Pho 90° is not a scruffy noodle house. Serving until midnight, the place has been packed on my two visits.
Nem nuong cuon, one of the house specialties, came out fast, as speedy as the continuous process line at Brodard. But unlike Brodard, this pair of rolls seemed to have been sitting around for a while. Sans grill marks on the room temperature pork sausage, the crunchy fried pastry roll had softened, and the rice paper wrapper was too loose.
Shown here in cross section, this version also struck out on the contrast between warm and cold temperature, hitting neither extreme. The dipping sauce was on the sweet side and not very meaty.
The nem nuong cuon cha ram at San Jose’s Long An are superior.
The menu description for Pho Dac Biet Be Thui (smoked veal pho) claims “For the first time ever in Pho industry, Pho 90 proudly introduce in San Jose”. A plate of thin slices of smoked veal served on the side replaces tai (rare steak) and sports a garnished of fresh ngo om (rice paddy herb). The pink veal reminded me of the texture of prosciutto di Parma.
Besides the well-plucked sprouts, jalapeño slices and lime, the dewy fresh rau thom (assorted herb plate) included culantro, basil, and rice paddy herb.
The Pho bo leaned to the dark side, a little overboard with the anise, but hewed closer to a Northern version. Clear soup stock but not that deep and meaty, nor sweet or salty, and served less than steaming hot. Loaded with meats that were all good quality, the rice noodles stayed loose and firm-ish. An overly generous scatter of chopped green onions and the shavings of white onion were too thick.
A tart and savory dipping sauce for the smoked veal, served on the side, was more viscous than the common nuoc cham and less thick than the nem nuong sauce. Normally not one to use condiments with pho bo, dabbing on this sauce put the otherwise neutral meat back in the game. Here’s what the full smoked veal pho service looks like,
The Kobe beef hot pot was served as a sterno-warmed cauldron of hot broth that tastes different from the pho and is very salty and loaded with glutamates, as well as charred onions. Not for drinking, rather it’s over seasoned to flavor and warm/cook the beef slices. This came with the same type of herbs served with the pho.
The plate of well-marbled, fatty raw beef slices was more than enough for one person and would be better shared. I found that cooking them a bit more done than I would the usual raw tai hit a richer flavor profile. A chopstick point worth of the spicy housemade satay sauce applied to each slice added a garlicky accent.
I enjoyed the Kobe-style beef another bowl of pho bo dac biet, better this time with more of the taste of beef and silkiness from dissolved collagen. The shaved onions were thinner and fresher tasting. All round, a better balanced stock and composition.
999 Story Rd
San Jose, CA 95122
More about ngò om (Limnophila aromatic aka rice paddy herb)