Our Gourmet: A favorite's move brings a few changes

December 27. 2016 8:35PM

Pho Golden Bowl
12 Lake Ave., Manchester; 622-2000; www.phogoldenbowlnh.com

Hours:
Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m.; closed Sundays.

Cuisine: Vietnamese/Chinese.

Pricing: Appetizers, $5.75-$10.95; entrees, $7.95-$12.95; luncheon specials, $6.95-7.95.

Scores for Pho Golden Bowl
Atmosphere: 15/20
Menu: 17/20
Food: 19/20
Service: 18/20
Value: 19/20
TOTAL: 88/100

With the hustle and bustle of Christmas past and heavy holiday food making us wonder if we’d soon need our own Santa suit, we were in the mood for something light this week. One of the best antidotes for such conditions is a bowl of Vietnamese pho, so we headed down Lake Avenue to Golden Bowl.

We’ve been a fan of Golden Bowl since it called a little brick building at Queen City and Brown avenues home, and haven’t reviewed it since it moved across town.

The old location had its parking issues. The new spot, steps off of Elm Street at the busy Elm-Lake-Granite intersection across from the SNHU Arena, does too, especially on Monarchs game nights, when nearby street parking has been filled and the local lots charge premium prices.

Lost in the move was tableside service. The new space is much smaller and utilitarian, more like some of the pho shops in Boston. And the new place seems to have picked up a decidedly more hipster clientele.

Orders are taken at a side counter of the open kitchen, with seating limited to a pair of barstools at the front counter and four two-top and a couple four-top formica tables wedged between the counter and windows overlooking Lake Avenue traffic. There are a few more tables out back.

Fortunately, the kitchen has not lost a step and the food remains as tasty as ever.

We started with a couple of items off the appetizer menu, with the Dining Companion (DC) opting for the vegetarian fresh summer rolls ($5.75). Two plump summer rolls consisting of translucent rice paper wrapped around delicate vermicelli, julienned pickled carrots and cucumbers and fresh cilantro arrived as ordered — without tofu included — each cut in half and accompanied by a rich, thick peanut dipping sauce. They were devoured by the DC, half enjoyed with the peanut sauce and the other half slathered with the fiery chili-garlic sauce that sits in a rack on each table along with chopsticks, spoons, and the ubiquitous hoisin and sriracha sauces.

Our Gourmet decided to order Peking ravioli ($7.25), and asked for them steamed rather than the usual pan-fried. Six soft, plump dumplings, filled with delicious spiced, ground pork, were presented, along with a small bowl of sesame-garlic dipping sauce. Each dumpling was the size of a small fist, and the plate was fairly filling.

The FussBudget (FB) went for his usual, beef teriyakii ($5.75), one of the few things on the menu that satisfy his finicky tastebuds. Two thin, tender slices of marinated beef were served on skewers atop a bed of julienned carrots and cucumbers. The kid cleaned his plate in short order.

For an entree, the DC ordered vermicelli with tofu ($7.95), a simple dish of thin rice noodles topped off with shredded lettuce, scallions, mint, bean sprouts and peanuts. Despite the clear description of the dish on the menu, the DC was surprised the bowl was more of a cold salad than a meal of hot noodles.

The vermicelli was accompanied by a small bowl of nuoc cham, a sweet, traditional fish sauce as popular a condiment in Vietnamese cuisine as salt and pepper are here, but not popular with the DC. Instead, she livened things with another dollop of the chili-garlic sauce. Despite its light, fresh flavor, a fairly large portion made its way home with us, served up as lunch the next day.

Hoping to entice the FB to try something new, OG ordered the chicken soup with rice noodle ($8.50), rather than his usual special beef noodle soup ($9.95).

The special beef soup — rice noodles swimming in a clear beef broth seasoned with charred ginger, onion and star anise and topped with rare beef, well-done flank steak, brisket, a Vietnamese meatball, gelatinous tendon, cilantro, scallion and and slivers of onion, with fresh bean sprouts and spicy Thai basil to add at the table — cures anything that ails OG, especially with a few generous squirts of sriracha.

But we were going for a light meal this evening, and the chicken soup fit the bill. Rice noodles came swimming in a delicate chicken broth with bits of cilantro and scallion floating on top; four tender stalks of baby bok choy and slivers of chicken nestled in the tangle of noodles. The FB was given a sample and declared it tasty enough to try again. OG doused the bowl with sriracha once the FB had had his fill and devoured the rest of the bowl.

Golden Bowl no longer offers dessert, or many beverages save Coke and other sodas ($2.50). We really missed the rich Vietnamese iced coffee served at the old location.

Missed, too, was the relaxed pace of the old dining room, but the food more than makes up for any new shortcomings.


Our GourmetManchester

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