Our Gourmet: Pho-nominal dining at BuBa Noodle BarSeptember 04. 2018 10:31PM
When last we visited 36 Lowell St. in Manchester — an address that’s housed several restaurants in the past decade — we’d waited several months so that Noodle Bar, which opened in March, could work out the kinks first. Noodle Bar closed a day after we dined.
So when Trumin Nguyen took over the space and reopened it as BuBa Noodle Bar with a change of cuisine to Vietnamese, we weren’t going to make the same mistake.
We needn’t have worried. Nguyen knows what he’s doing, using a week-long soft opening in late July to listen and learn from patrons. He’s already added a vegetable broth for pho at the suggestion of customers.
Outside, only the sign has changed. Inside, nothing has changed since Our Gourmet (OG), the Dining Companion (DC) and the 8-year-old Fussbudget (FB) last visited, save lime green paint on walls that had been burnt orange, and a steady stream of customers this Thursday night.
Six tables for four and four, two-person tables are still black. The L-shaped bar is still marble, with nine brown wooden bar stools. We even were seated at the same table we’d dined at in June.
Opening with drinks, OG ordered a Vietnamese Iced Coffee, the FB chose a Shirley Temple and the DC asked for Coconut Juice (each $4). We’ve loved Vietnamese iced coffee for years and BuBa’s version doesn’t disappoint. Finely ground coffee is deeply flavorful, enhanced by sweetened condensed milk in a satisfying pint-glass serving. DC loved her Coconut Juice, artfully garnished with coconut sliced in the shape of a flower.
Half of BuBa’s menu consists of appetizer plates and salad. DC made her entire meal from such dishes. Vegetable dumplings ($6) — five to the plate — were plump with veggies, wrapped and steamed in wonton wrappers and accompanied by a pungent ginger dipping sauce. They disappeared quickly.
A Tofu Spring Roll ($4), was next, its slightly sticky, translucent rice-paper wrap packed with lettuce, cucumber, mint and tender tofu. Peanut dipping sauce put this over the top.
House Mint Salad ($9, with chicken or shrimp add-ons for $3 or $5 available) was hefty enough to make DC’s meal. A mound of shredded white cabbage was topped with shredded carrot, chopped peanuts and onions, raised to next-level goodness by a tamarind dressing. DC’s only quibble: she’d have preferred more mint.
OG’s eyes lit up at the sight of a Raw Beef Salad ($13) on the menu, but deferred since we were here for beef pho and didn’t want to overdo the meat. Instead, we ordered Crispy Squid ($12). Both OG and the DC liked this dish.
Served on a small white platter, the lightly salted squid had been coated with corn starch, then flash fried, causing each piece to puff and crisp. It was tossed with sautéed red and green pepper, doused lightly with a spicy, garlicky relish and plated atop a bed of lettuce with thin carrot slices on the side.
The squid looked like cauliflower, but was crunchy outside and tender within. The garlic sauce carried a nice, spicy kick, something OG will never complain about. Unique in our experience, this was a winner.
OG and the FB were only here for pho (pronounced “fuh”), or as the boy calls it, “noodle soup.” We ordered a regular-sized Pho Ga (chicken soup, $9) for the kid, and a large, combination Pho Bo (beef, $12) for OG. Each was worth every penny.
The FB raved about his chicken version, which contained a tangle of noodles, bite-sized bits of chicken and a broth — perfect for a kid. He finished the entire bowl (a rarity) asking our server if he could come back for more or take some home.
OG’s beef pho was “pho-nominal.” We’d eat pho daily if we weren’t too lazy to make our own broth, even if it wasn’t this good.
A huge portion, BuBa’s Pho Bo was some of the best we’ve ever had. Besides the ample tangle of rice noodles, it contained paper-thin slices of steak, which cooked to rare in the broth. It had slices of brisket and fatty flank, as well as quartered spring Vietnamese meatballs.
BuBa’s broth stole this show. Piping hot and deeply tasting of beef bones, charred onion and ginger, it was spiced with star anise and cinnamon, not overly fatty, and was as comforting and soothing and authentic as pho gets. You can tell BuBa knows what it’s doing, and takes great care in doing it right. If we had a suggestion, it would be to add beef tendon as an additional meat option.
Absolutely stuffed after an awesome meal, we had nothing to bring home but a good memory and plans to go back ASAP. To be safe, we took a menu in case we get a hankering to bring these dishes home, confident BuBa Noodle Bar will be here a while.