Last weekend we hit Charlotte, North Carolina, again to visit my sister and her husband. I think it’s telling that we’re rounding the two-year mark of living in the Deep South and every time we enter a metropolis larger than ours, we’re sprinting towards the nearest Asian restaurant we can find. It reminds me of being a kid again, when my parents would make monthly trips to Atlanta (a two-hour drive from where I grew up), and we’d spend the entire day shopping for Chinese groceries and eating dim sum. Up until the age of 16, I grew up pretty much believing that Atlanta was one giant Asian city.
This time, after a morning visit to Discovery Place Kids (another amazing kid-tastic experience), we drove to Cornelius, a suburb of Charlotte, to have lunch at Pho Nam. My sister and her husband’s regular Vietnamese spot is Vietnam Grille, so it was nice for all of us to have something new.
We started with the banh xeo (above right), an eggy crepe that’s sauteed with shrimp and pork and served with cabbage leaves, pickled carrots and daikon for wrapping. The lemongrass and pepper sauteed chicken came next, and was a delightfully spicy and sweet dish.
Of course, no visit to a Vietnamese restaurant is complete without an order of pho (noodle soup). We ordered pho tai, which comes with thinly-sliced rare beef that cooks in the hot broth at your table to a perfect medium rare. Topped with limes and cilantro, this version was the lighter, South Vietnamese style. I still prefer the North Vietnamese darker broth, but that’s probably because back when I lived in Hanoi it was what I had every single morning for breakfast, and now I have this warm, fuzzy mental association with that broth and my early twenties. Hey, some people have songs that remind them of the good times — I have broths. What?
The Gravy Baby’s absolute favorite food is any fish prepared Asian-style, and we ordered a clay pot fish for him, which takes longer for the kitchen to prepare but arrives at the table hot and bubbly. The fish was caramelized and dotted with black pepper. On a rainy summer’s day, between the clay pot fish and our shared bowl of pho, we were pretty pleased.
Oh wait, did I say pleased? I think I meant to say that we were in heaven.