Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Now that I'm old enough to have great-grandchildren, for the most part I've outgrown the food peccadilloes of my down-on-the-farm childhood. I now eat the crusts on bread, for instance (well, most of the time), and I no longer insist on removing the skin from a tomato before I'll eat it, as I insisted that my long-suffering mother do way back then. But still, no one would call me adventurous when it comes to food. When my husband Jack and I saw that Pho Viez, a new "Vietnamese restaurant with a twist" had replaced a Chinese eatery we frequented in Mineral Ridge, we agreed to give it a try. Probably. Someday.

That day came on a recent Saturday night, when we were joined by frequent dining-out companions Jerry and Barb. They've both somewhat experienced at eating Vietnam food, so they were up to the task (and we figured they'd be the perfect guides to help us navigate the menu). 

Good thing. When I looked it over on the restaurant's website, I was pretty much lost. I was interested in trying something new, but some of the ingredients sounded a bit off-putting. That, in turn, made me stop and think about how much food likes and dislikes are a matter of personal perspective. Growing up, you see, I thought nothing about helping mom pick the pinfeathers off a chicken she'd just killed for dinner or chowing down on her fried brains - a relative household staple. But tripe? Tofu? Pickled daikon? I have zero frame of reference for those, so my instinct was to say, no way.

In person, we found that the restaurant's interior has remained much the same, although with a freshened-up look (photos of the main dishes above the take-out order counter are much brighter, for one thing). We'd decided to eat in as long as a table was available - which it was - and a very helpful, enthusiastic young server followed us to bring menus. Silverware and napkins are already on the tables, along with a few add-in condiments like soy sauce, and the server brought our drinks in very short order.

The "twist" referred to in the restaurant's tagline, I'm assuming, refers to the fact that in addition to Vietnamese, diners can choose Thai dishes, such as Pad Thai, as well as more familiar (to us) Chinese entrees like Lo-Mein and General Tso's chicken. The specialty is Pho, a Vietnamese beef noodle soup made by simmering beef bone, flank steak, brisket daikon and herbs for hours (a meal in and of itself, priced at $9.25 to $11.95). But going in, Jack and I both reasoned that those Chinese options would serve as a fail-safe in case we chickened out on trying a Vietnamese dish. For the record, he did exactly that - opting for his old standby, sweet and sour chicken (with fried rice, which I hasten to add he never eats; we just bring it home for me to eat the next day).

The menu isn't what I'd call extensive, but rest assured there's plenty here to satisfy most diners - and certainly those who are looking for Vietnamese fare. To start, we got two orders of the spring rolls (two for $5.95) - described as vermicelli, Romaine lettuce, bean sprouts and a choice of shrimp, pork or tofu wrapped in rice paper and served with house dipping sauce. 

When they arrived, the near transparent rice paper provided a good look at the ingredients therein, and the peanut dipping sauce was a nice contrast. Now I'll be honest here: My first bite felt like I'd bitten into a shower curtain. Add that to the discovery that cucumbers were lurking inside, and let's just say I wasn't too excited about taking a second bite. But a little poking around revealed that the cucumber was cut in long strips and easy to pull out (cucumber-loving Barb snatched them up immediately), I gave it another try - and it really was quite tasty (that peanut dipping sauce is especially wonderful). 

Will I try one again? More likely I'll stick with a more traditional (to me) crispy spring roll or six-piece dumpling, fried or steamed ($4.95). Everyone else, though, raved about them, so don't hesitate to give them a try.

For our entrees, we all picked something different, with the intent of sharing a bite or two. Barb ordered Bun (rice vermicelli noodles on a bed of lettuce, herbs, bean sprouts, cucumber, carrots, peanuts, spring roll and house fish sauce, $11.95 with a choice of meat). Jerry's choice was Pad Thai (a.k.a., Mi Zao Thai Lan), this restaurant's version of the classic Asian stir-fry of rice noodles, bean sprouts, egg, ground peanuts and chives in tamarind sauce and a choice of meat ($10-$11.95). 

Fear of the unknown almost made me go with that General Tso's chicken that I know I love, but in the end the opportunity to try something different won out and I opted for the red curry, with bell peppers, carrots, bamboo shoots and onions simmered that aforementioned coconut milk. It comes with white rice (I paid a buck more for fried rice) and a choice of tofu, chicken, beef or shrimp - perhaps thinking about my mom, it was chicken for me. The cost ranges from $10 to $12.95 depending on options, but mine ended up at $11.

Let me add here that when I see "spicy" on a menu item, I always request that mine be "as spicy as you can make it." Even then, never, ever, has any dish been too hot for me to eat. This time, though, our server fought back - arguing that there's no way I'd be able to eat their hottest version. Despite my unabashed begging, we compromised; yes, he said, they'd add a little extra heat.

When our orders were delivered, right up front we all agreed on two points: The presentation is outstanding - all the items on the plates are beautifully arranged - and, as advertised, all the ingredients are as fresh as can be. Clearly, the food here is far and away above the often overcooked Chinese buffet fare with meats of suspicious origin. Not only does everything here look fantastic, but it all tastes just-cooked as well.

I also learned rather quickly that our server probably kept me from total meltdown by insisting that I really didn't want it as hot as they could make it. In fact, there was a noticeable kick to it - enough that, after Barb ventured a tiny taste, no one else in our little party would come near it. Later, the owner explained she'd used only half a spoonful of whatever infuses the heat; and although I'm sure I could have handled a whole spoonful, it's likely that next time I order this dish I'll stick with what worked this time around. And yes, it was delicious enough to order again (and I had plenty left over to take home and enjoy the next day).

Conclusion? With no reservations, we'd say we were impressed. And here's another impressive note: Barb told us they'd eaten at a Vietnamese restaurant in Chicago not long ago, and Pho Viez compares quite well. No surprise here - it just underscores my reason for starting this blog years ago: When it comes to great food, anything you can find anywhere else in the country you can find just as good - and often better - right here at home.

If you go:

Pho Viez
3971 S. Main St.
Mineral Ridge, OH 44440
(330) 349-0889

Open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday.