Last weekend was deceptively cold in New York City, and I had to spend part of it doing our taxes. The only thing that could penetrate these doldrums was a steaming hot bowl of pho. Empanada Boy and I have eaten numerous bowls of pho in Chinatown at ThÃ i SÃ³n and places like it, but we wanted to try something new. Apart from banh mi and Italian food, Park Slope’s ethnic offerings tend toward the bland and Americanized. I’ve noticed only one restaurant serving pho, and it was made with chicken. Where are the tendons, tripe and fatty brisket of my fantasies? For the Park Slope resident seeking pho, the answer is found just a few subway stops south on 8th Avenue in Sunset Parkâ€” the Chinatown of Brooklyn. After a bit of research, we headed off to Nha Trang Palace, a Vietnamese restaurant whose pho came highly recommended by the crazy chatroom participants at Chowhound.
Based on what I saw in the couple blocks from the N train to the restaurant, Sunset Park’s 8th Avenue had nowhere near the bustle of the Chinatowns of Manhattan or Flushing. People were waiting outside one dingy looking bar for the bus to Atlantic City, and there was a Japanese place that look fairly decent. A number of other shops were closed for the night. The decor inside of Nha Trang looked pretty much like every other pho place I’ve ever been: one mirrored wall, a couple large, round tables and numerous smaller square ones, a sign made of florescent paper with the specials scrawled across it in English and Vietnamese and a few gold-embellished Vietnamese wall hangings. EB and I were seated right away and set about ordering. We started with the Goi Cuon (pardon my lack of Vietnamese orthography), a summer roll, which was supposed to have shrimp and pork wrapped into its rice paper wrapping. We only detected shrimp, but we liked them nonetheless, especially after they were plunged into chunky peanut sauce.
Then we selected from the list of pho combinations. There are 20 in all, including a couple pork, seafood and, yes, chicken options. EB went with no. 3, the Dac Biet, a “special big bowl,” which included “six difference” brisket, navel, frank (?), omosa (tripe), tendon and eye of round. The six difference brisket is brisket cut from different parts, variously emphasizing meat, cartilage, fat, etc. I ordered no. 4, Tai Nam, which on paper had most of the same things, minus the frank, and had plain brisket instead of six difference. As it turned out, both bowls of soup looked and tasted just about the same. That was fine by me (although, I never did figure out what frank is…) because the bowls of aromatic soup laden with cilantro and slices of still-pink brisket was just what the doctor ordered. The tendon, simultaneously chewy and melt-in-your-mouth, is still my favorite element, but I was a big fan of the omosa. I’m not typically a huge tripe person, but this kind is slightly chewy and almost noodle-like in its thinness (see photo). I slurped it up.
While Nha Trang Palace certainly does not offer the world’s best pho, it upholds the standards of the dish quite adequately. I would rate it on par with the aforementioned ThÃ i SÃ³n. In fact, when I got home and did some research, I learned that there is a Nha Trang Centre in Chinatown, right near ThÃ i SÃ³n. To complicate the comparison even further, a little deeper digging revealed that Nha Trang and ThÃ i SÃ³n have the exact same pho menuâ€” I mean copied down to the last word. Is there a company out there that sells pre-made pho menus? How will I ever know which is better? Does it even matter? Pho is such an emotional food that one bowl might taste better depending on the level of my need for it at that very moment. And knowing that respectable pho exists just a few stops down the N line from my house in Brooklyn is fine comfort indeed.
Nha Trang Palace
5906 8th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11220