Quang vs. Jasmine Deli: Pho Fight
Sadly, traditional dishes with working-class origins often mutate into pretty, convenient, much less soulful mass-market versions. Beef stroganoff becomes Hamburger Helper, calzones become P'zones, and Greek yogurt becomes fat-free Yoplait, "packed with protein" in its little pouch like face cream-colored C-4. Fortunately, a few favorites resist this trend because of their low cost, complicated recipes, and similarities to a current product. Vietnamese pho, pronounced "fuh" (unless you're Kyle Kinane), is just such a delight. Minneapolis-St. Paul is lucky to have a plethora of options to choose from.
The Venue: This week's battle pits the chicken pho from Quang Restaurant against the pho ga of Jasmine Deli. Here in Minnesota we have weather that allows us to truly appreciate a hot bowl of sriracha-laced meaty goodness: Winter is coming, and we must be prepared.
The Weigh-in: Located less than three blocks away from each other on Nicollet Avenue, both family-owned restaurants strive for traditional flavors. However, one restaurant, Quang, could double as a large corporate commissary, and the other, Jasmine, a crawlspace where you keep your cross-country skis. Quang has had a fresh coat of paint and sports real orchids in the windows. Jasmine Deli has an upscale sibling around the corner called Jasmine 26, which is more comparable to Quang in size and a step up in decor. But the original Jasmine feels as cozy as a dorm room, with friendly servers who could pass as incoming freshmen.
Round 1 -- The Broth:
Quang's chicken broth has an unctuous richness that seems like the result of several days' simmering. The fresh cilantro and Thai basil that accompany the dish (along with crisp bean sprouts and lime) offer a nice floral balance to the meaty broth. Jasmine's broth is much lighter and cleaner, but as a result the flavors are less developed and complex. It's a satisfying soup nonetheless.