829 Southdrive

829 Southdrive

A New Jersey state of mind

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nam revisited

My wife and older daughter left me tonight.  To, uh, go visit a
couple of colleges in Massachusetts this weekend.  Hannah is a
rising senior, and now is the time to do such a thing.  Dad has to
work on Saturday, so Mom is bringing older daughter to
New England to College Town, USA.  With younger daughter
at a friend's house for pizza tonight, I took the rare opportunity
to go where I, and only I, wanted to have dinner this evening.
I've eaten there half a dozen times, and have been blown away
every time I've gone. The place, Pho 99, a super authentic
Vietnamese restaurant, is in Franklin Park, about a half hour north
of us, and a more recent neighbor of our original honeymoon
dwelling,  this lower left condo unit in Society Hill II. 
So many good times were had at the condo.  Life was as simple
then as it could and would ever be.  Someone shoveled the walk
when it  snowed, someone cut the grass when it growed.  I get very
nostalgic and misty when I cruise by every so often.  Surprised?

Inside Pho 99, I asked to sit facing outside, and no sooner did the
menus appear, I made it clear that I needed no more time. 
Vietnamese Spring Rolls were first, with a ton of lettuce, cilantro
sprigs, sweet and fishy dipping sauce, and a trio of table-side
condiments: Hoisin, Sriracha, and the chile-garlic stuff on the left
whose name completely escapes me at the moment.
I put the roll in the fish sauce to saturate, then drag it through all
three condiments.  Take a bite, then shove a leaf of lettuce and
cilantro sprig in my mouth and chew, mixing all of the flavors and
textures slowly.  The lettuce and cilantro provide a cooling
effect and the result is pure heaven.    

Next came the Shrimp and Vermicelli Spring Rolls.  Rolled in the
middle of these were scallions and mint sprigs, which again provided
such a refreshing element to every bite.  I put some chile sauce and
leftover fish sauce (never wasting anything, ever....one of my finest
traits) into the peanut dipping-sauce.  What a great array of flavors!
Literally two minutes after these arrived, and I put my phone down
from photographing this amazing food and sending the pics to my 
travelling girls, this image below appeared via text message.  Was
this their comeback to my first two courses?  I felt so sorry for
 them that they were not as fortunate as I was.  No Vietnamese
restaurants on I-95 in Connecticut?     

The item for which this pilgrimage was made, is pictured
below.  Pho,  pronounced "fuh", is my one absolute favorite
Asian dish. And Asia is a big frickin place.  With lots of food.

Sam Le is the proprietor of Pho 99 and a real good guy.  I've had
the pleasure of talking with him on several occasions, and it's
immediately clear to me that he is passionate about his heritage
and cuisine, but at the same time cautious and somewhat 
worried about the direction of the business as he looks forward.
New Jersey is a tough place to live, pay rent, and pay taxes.
He's got a small place in Sarasota and I think when his kids get 
out of college, he and his wife may make a new go of it down
there, where property taxes and the cost of living are considerably
less.  Until then, Sam, please don't change a thing.  Some day, 
I'm gonna get my girls here and they'll be hooked too! 


  1. OOOHH, awesome. Gerald is a major connoisseur of Vietnamese food, especially pho, but he has a big final exam tomorrow, so I'm not going to tell him about this post until after he's done.

    Last term, I had a Vietnamese student, and she wrote an essay about how her grandmother made pho (it took two and a half days, over a stove made of bricks with charcoal burning in the middle, so it was just for special occasions). That essay made me really hungry.

  2. Dining alone, Baydog? How can that be? How can that have happened? Your company should be in very high demand. For one thing, there are many people out there - myself included - who cannot read or understand menus, let alone make intelligent selections from them. How can it be that you ever dine alone?

  3. That is something we don't have around here and I miss it since moving to Japan. A nephew is married to a Vietnamese woman and oh, the food. What a wonderful cuisine. They had a big family get together in California recently and teased me with cell phone photos of their feast.

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