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Eight Courses of Fish - Pho 777

Eight Courses of Fish - Pho 777
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  • Eight Courses of Fish - Pho 777

    Post #1 - April 27th, 2007, 11:00 pm
    Post #1 - April 27th, 2007, 11:00 pm Post #1 - April 27th, 2007, 11:00 pm
    Running a little behind these days, but two weekends back a small crowd of us fell into Pho 777 to collectively scratch an itch that'd been bothering Erik M. for a while. While I was familiar with the traditional Vietnamese Bò 7 Món (seven courses of beef), I was previously unaware that there's a less common Cá 7 Món, which substitutes fish for the beef. Pho 777 sneaks in an extra course to create their Eight Courses of Fish dinner, which was pretty outstanding. I'm still a relative novice when it comes to Vietnamese, and I neglected to note all of the dish names and details, so hopefully Erik and TonyC can fill in some of the gaps.

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    Course the first was a salad very typical of my experience with Vietnamese thus far, with cucumbers, carrots, chiles and ground peanuts mixed in with the shredded fish, dressed with the usual triumvirate of fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. There were, however, three elements that separated if from the other, similar Vietnamese salads I've had. For starters, the dressing was unusually mellow, which deferred to the fish, appropriately. Secondly, there was a lot of thinly sliced celery, which caught me totally off-guard, as that wasn't something I'd seen much in Vietnamese. Lastly, there was a very distinctive fresh herb present that was also new to me, which Erik identified as Vietnamese Cilantro, or Rau Ram. The salad was flanked by a phalanx of shrimp chips, and on the whole was really fantastic. More complex and more subtly balanced than the others I've had, it was definitely the most interesting and possibly the best Vietnamese salad I've tasted to date (not that the list is exceptionally long as of yet).

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    To my surprise, courses two through six arrived together, as a flurry of items to be eaten in rice wrappers along with the typical accoutrements. In my rush to consume the fried items at peak freshness, here's where my recollection is a little fuzzy. Starting in the foreground and working clockwise, first there were fried fish fillets that I believe were coated in panko. Simple, light, crisp, moist in the center and delicious. Next were spring rolls filled with a rather dense fish paste... seasoned, I believe, but lightly so. Next around was another type of firm cooked fish paste that was wrapped in a leaf of some kind. Erik and Tony were familiar with it, but it was new to me. Hiding in the back barely visible, was more fried fish, this time coated in... sesame? It was the last I tried and the next course was already on the table. My attention was not there. And finally, a fresh spring roll with light cooked fish, vermicelli and fresh herbs. Everything was delicious, but the leaf-wrapped item was particularly interesting and distinctive to me. I was a little disappointed that all of the fried items were served at the same time, making it impossible to try everything at its peak. But given the number of courses I suppose spreading them out might be impractical.

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    After we'd plowed through the massive platter, a dish arrived that I know was of particular interest to Erik. (This was, incidentally, the last time I'll try photographing by reaching an arm across the table in low light). It consisted of fillets of fish that had been, I believe, first batter-dipped and deep fried, then seasoned with ginger and a lot of turmeric, seared in a skillet and and topped with fried shallots and peanuts. Nice crust, a little crisp, appropriately tender and moist in the middle and overall very nice. Really, this one was all about the turmeric, which was more than okay by me.

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    Finally, we finished off the meal with a bit of (read: a gallon of) fish congee, which I enjoyed a lot more than I would have expected. It was warm, mellow, soft and comforting but not at all the exercise in blandness that is so often the case with congee. The flavors of fish and fresh ginger were at the forefront, but there were clearly some other subtle seasonings going on as well. Some felt it was a little heavy on the salt, but I thought it was right in the sweet spot of notably and appropriately salty, but not overly so. Were it not at the end of a massive feast, I could've easily torn through the entire massive bowl you see pictured. As it was, I think I was personally responsible for about half. Perfect finish.

    All in all, a really wonderful meal, and at under $20 per person, an absolute steal. It's worth noting that there's a minimum of two orders, and they might require advance notice... Erik?

    Pho 777
    1065 W. Argyle St.
    773-561-9909
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #2 - April 28th, 2007, 7:22 am
    Post #2 - April 28th, 2007, 7:22 am Post #2 - April 28th, 2007, 7:22 am
    HI,

    I have long wondered about the 7-course fish meal myself. Thanks.

    I got turned off by Pho 777 after a change of ownership a few years ago accompanied by dramatic changes in their food. While the 7-course fish meal is a unique offer worth pursuing, does anyone have better experience with their regular offerings?

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #3 - April 28th, 2007, 8:29 am
    Post #3 - April 28th, 2007, 8:29 am Post #3 - April 28th, 2007, 8:29 am
    Cathy2 wrote:I got turned off by Pho 777 after a change of ownership a few years ago accompanied by dramatic changes in their food. While the 7-course fish meal is a unique offer worth pursuing, does anyone have better experience with their regular offerings?


    Shortly after the change of ownership I had a similarly low opinion of the food, but I've found that the quality/lustre has improved dramatically over the past year. Their pho is once again amongst the best in the area, and the homemade meatballs have become an absolute favourite of mine.

    E.M.
  • Post #4 - April 28th, 2007, 8:33 am
    Post #4 - April 28th, 2007, 8:33 am Post #4 - April 28th, 2007, 8:33 am
    Erik M. wrote:
    Cathy2 wrote:I got turned off by Pho 777 after a change of ownership a few years ago accompanied by dramatic changes in their food. While the 7-course fish meal is a unique offer worth pursuing, does anyone have better experience with their regular offerings?


    Shortly after the change of ownership I had a similarly low opinion of the food, but I've found that the quality/lustre has improved dramatically over the past year. Their pho is once again amongst the best in the area, and the homemade meatballs have become an absolute favourite of mine.

    E.M.


    Thank you, this really encourages me to give them a try again.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #5 - April 28th, 2007, 8:50 am
    Post #5 - April 28th, 2007, 8:50 am Post #5 - April 28th, 2007, 8:50 am
    Great report, Dmnkly. Thank you for taking the time.

    Dmnkly wrote:Next around was another type of firm cooked fish paste that was wrapped in a leaf of some kind. Erik and Tony were familiar with it, but it was new to me.


    La lot, a leaf which is related to betel (Piperaceae).

    Dmnkly wrote:All in all, a really wonderful meal, and at under $20 per person, an absolute steal. It's worth noting that there's a minimum of two orders, and they might require advance notice... Erik?


    As a courtesy I booked a few days in advance, and I would encourage others to do the same.

    E.M.
  • Post #6 - November 25th, 2007, 3:02 pm
    Post #6 - November 25th, 2007, 3:02 pm Post #6 - November 25th, 2007, 3:02 pm
    In response to Cathy's concerns about the quality of the food, I stopped in with my 11 year-old son and 9 year-old daughter today. There was much debate in the car about whether or not to go all the way from Evanston to the "real" Chinatown or to the "small" northern one. Because everybody wanted to get on with their days, we opted for Argyle. We went into Pho 777 because I had had a good meal there over the summer. We only ordered appetizers and an off-menu item: congee or juk as I'm used to hearing it called. I'm not usually a big fan of juk in Chinatown because I find it kind of bland and to have an unattractive consistency even with the right condiments. We only ordered it because my 9 year-old insisted I ask if they had it and when I did the guy said they had it but it wasn't in the menu.

    This Vietnamese version was an amazing surprise. The same rice soup base and shredded chicken, but just the right amount of pepper and fresh coriander leaves. I could eat this all day. It was astounding how small changes completely transformed a familiar dish.
    Have another. It's 9:30, for God's sake. ~Roger Sterling

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