645 Larkin Street, SF, CA 94109 | 415.409.3333 | website
Open Mon-Sun 8am – 5pm | Closed Thursday | Cash Only
Last week I was invited to a super cool event at the new Turtle Tower location in San Francisco’s Little Saigon. Chef/owner Steven Pham welcomed us to his newest restaurant (in a local chain of 4) then took us on a tour of their shiny new open kitchen, and we got to custom order our own bowls of pho made with Turtle Tower’s magical broth which has made them famous throughout the land. The event was put on by Simmr.co, a new social media presence that helps food enthusiasts find unique local food events, and in San Francisco the possibilities are many. What I liked most was how they pair with a local business to offer a unique experience where we got to hang out with the chef and his family while enjoying our own custom designed bowls of their popular and highly esteemed Pho, pronounced “fuh,” Vietnamese rice noodle soup. Below are the Simmr.co girls who organized the resoundingly successful Pho Shizzle event, Neeharika in the middle and Wendy on the right, with a friend. You have to read Wendy’s hilarious post So Much Pun – Vietnoms (get it?) Version about pho puns.
Chef Steven Pham welcomed us to his restaurant and talked about his northern Hanoi style Vietnamese cuisine, specifically the pho bac which is characterized by wider noodles, lighter broth and less stuff (no basil or beansprouts, just green onion and cilantro). The focus of pho bac is on the taste of its clean and simple broth that is the pho of purists and is typically not eaten with squirts of hoisin sauce or chili sauce. I happened to share a table with Gary Soup (in black beret below), who posted his comments on his blog Full Noodle Frontity.
While we were listening to Chef Steven, servers came around with platters of Gỏi cuốn, fresh spring rolls made with prawn, thin slices of pork, fresh vegetables, and bún (rice vermicelli), wrapped in thin chewy translucent sheets made of rice. This was served with a savory peanut sauce made with hoisin and I mixed in a little chili sauce.
We shared Chả Mực, deep fried cuttlefish patties, which were served fresh from the fryer over paper thin slices of pickled vegetables. Delicious and fragrant, I couldn’t resist the crispy seared crust and juicy sweet flesh flecked with savory herbs and spices. Chef Steven came around with a light piquant fish sauce and personally drizzled that onto the patties that really perked up the dish – I especially liked it with bites of the pickled vegetables
The kitchen tours began, we broke into groups of ten, which allowed everyone access to speak directly with the chef and get a good look around the sleek shiny kitchen.
Chef said he cooks the broth for a long time, but not too long, using fresh free-range chicken, high quality beef, and said that the noodles are always freshly made. There was a meticulous display of fixings for the soup, each item had a little sign with a description in English and Vietnamese.
He passed around his secret ingredient, a large tea bag filled with a custom blend of spices and herbs that had a pungent medicinal smell.
Chef Steven made this chili paste specially for the event, but encouraged us to start off enjoying the soup with just lemon and jalapeno and the fresh herbs so that we can taste the clean natural flavors of his soup. He said that the chili sauce detracts attention from the soup, apparently this was quite potent as a nearby diner declared that he’d never sweated so hard from a bowl of soup.
Here is my bowl of their famous Phở Gà Chicken Noodle Soup ($6.75), with chicken meat, liver and gizzards, which added a crunchy and funky element, but the stars of the dish are the clean flavors of the broth and the silky slurpable noodles. It is so soothing and goes down like a reviving elixir.
This is the rare beef noodle soup, Phở Tái ($6.50), which was topped with a slice of the smacked down and tenderized beef, it looked tender and good.
The menu, has so many dishes that I want to try… I must move beyond the chicken noodle soup and am really intrigued by the turmeric catfish dish described in the recent Check Please Bay Area episode that featured Turtle Tower. And I must thank Simmr.co for hooking me up at the last minute, that was a great fun event!