I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not what you would call “enamored” with Yelp. All too often I’ve looked up reviews for a joint, only to find that the rating it was communally granted was completely skewed by strange people. The kind of strange people who strangely decide to rate a pho place based on the bubble tea it serves.
Pho To Chau in Mountain View, California, is one such maligned joint. Perhaps I’m being too harsh on the strange people, and perhaps I have lower than average expectations of an eatery’s ambiance and service standards. But there aren’t many places to eat in Silicon Valley that aren’t spendy, so when I chance upon it, and the food’s actually good, in fact, better than its pricier counterparts, I latch onto it—despite scuzzy floors, a lack of chopstick alternatives, or rude wait people.
In most Vietnamese places, the dish to order is their No. 1—the first item on the menu. This is usually a large bowl of pho, consisting of springy rice noodles swimming in a rich, beefy broth, and laden with cow parts. At PTC, the goodies include thinly sliced eye of round steak, well-done flank, fatty brisket, soft, gooey tendon, and shredded tripe.
Pho-lovers will tell you that the point of pho is to have a big, steaming, bowl of noodles served with a generous amount of beef. But the star of the show is, most decidedly, the broth. In keeping with this yardstick, I will say that PTC’s meat offerings are decent (the tendon is very good), but it’s the star that has me coming back, not its supporting actors. The broth is sweet from onions and a good, solid, stock base of bones, and I always drain my bowl. I don't believe vendors who claim that their broth “has no MSG.” This one, thankfully, doesn’t have so much that I have to guzzle water post-consumption.
PTC also does excellent vermicelli or thin rice noodles (think angel hair-thin). I adore the vermicelli with char-grilled shrimp and crisp, golden brown egg rolls. The vermicelli arrives with a bowl of Nước chấm – a piquant Vietnamese dressing made of diluted nước mắm or fish sauce, lime juice, and sugar – that you drizzle over your plate before tossing with extras like fragrant, fried shallots and crushed, roasted peanuts. The shrimp are beautifully timed and with that wonderful, smoky, char-grilled flavor, and the egg rolls are bursting with a fine mix of minced pork, black cloud’s ear fungus, and carrots.
I always finish my meal at PTC with an “Ice Coffee with Condensed Milk, French Espresso.” What this is, is super-strength Vietnamese coffee that filters into a ceramic cup (already lined with condensed milk) during your meal. By the time you’re done with your pho, this coffee-condensed milk mix is ready to be poured into the glass of ice provided. I will go out on a limb here and claim this is the best iced, milk coffee I’ve ever had in my life. But, be careful. The Vietnamese really mean business with their coffee. This one glass must contain the caffeine equivalent of at least four espressos. The one time I refused to share, I was bouncing all over the walls for hours.
By the way, the boss here is quite the tyrant and apparently the cause of many poor reviews on Yelp. The last time I was here, I observed him refusing to provide a diner with a fork. The exchange (from across the breadth of the entire store) went something like this:
Diner: May I have a fork, please.
Diner: But I need a fork!
This went on for quite a while before a bemused diner (whose table had forks) got up to hand this poor diner a fork. You’ve got to love a place with built-in dinner theatre. The people who don’t, go to the Pho Hoa chain across the street. But I’d rather bring my own fork. Seriously.
The damage: $20 for two hungry diners, including tip.
Pho To Chau
853 Villa Street Mountain View CA 94041 650-961-8069
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