Sunday, October 30, 2011
5821 Charlotte Pike
You gotta love the restaurant business. One moment you have a truly memorable restaurant name and in the next moment it’s been switched, and in this case for something less controversial. We speak here of the short-lived Ifuku. Owner Nicole Tran came up with the unforgettable name after taking over the former Pho Yen Hoa location on Charlotte Pike. While many of us were amused, apparently the folks at the Head Start children’s center across the street were not fans. The wait staff tells us that the complaints prompted the name change to Hieu Giang. If you haven’t heard of Ifuku and think we are crazy you can still visit their Facebook page.
Alright, so our first reason to visit was the funny name. That much is in the past and now it’s time to size-up Hieu Giang for the food. The menu provides a bit of a mystery and worry. The house specials include Greek salad, chicken kabob, fajitas, Kung Pao chicken and Caesar salad. That’s an around the world whirlwind that is likely to give you whiplash. Most of the menu is in fact Vietnamese and this review will stay mostly within those parameters (not that we don’t occasionally get a hankering for shish kabob and Mongolian beef). This isn’t one of those crazed buffet places, but simply a small restaurant trying to please a lot of different tastes.
The pho is actually quite good here. It’s a rich broth with perfect al-dente noodles. Beef and even the well-done flank steak are perfectly cooked, remaining tender, even well into the meal. A fried tofu starter is light, custardy and has a sweet breading and a sprig of mint. They make up a special batch of shrimp only Goi Cuon spring rolls on request. The rice paper wrapping is stuffed full of fresh greens, lots of mint and a fresh shrimp. They’re fat and quite good with the hoisin peanut dipping sauce.
Bun Bo Hue is similar to pho in design, but much bolder, sporting a hot and spicy beef broth and vermicelli noodles. Once again, the pork slices are still tender in that soup. Mint and onions are piled on top. They certainly do dig the mint thing here
Veggie Eater: There are a few items which appear veggie friendly on the menu, though there is a bit of a language barrier, so proceed with caution. First time out was the Bun Tao Hu, which touts thin vermicelli patties served with tofu on the menu. I had nothing in a patty form, but did have standard vermicelli noodles. The noodles topped a variety of cold, crisp veggies, such as onions, sprouts, carrots, cukes and radish. Peanuts and mint garnished the noodles and little tofu rectangles were scattered about. Simple and fresh. Next time around there appeared to be even more limitations with the English spoken, so I tried to pick something that looked fail-safe veggie. So, despite Meat Eater’s promises above, I did in fact ordered the Ma Po Tofu, a traditionally Szechuan dish. This affair was chock full of well-cooked and seasoned broccoli, in addition to crispy and savory tofu. I am used to Ma Po as having a bit of Szechuan kick, and this version was mild and without much punch. Nothing a little Sriracha sauce couldn’t remedy. It was actually better day two for lunch after all the flavors had a chance to meld. Other things of note: the women’s bathroom was a bit alarming; lights didn’t work, stall didn’t have a door, and door didn’t lock. Also, on our second visit, it was relatively calm, but our server disappeared from the dining area for 20+ minutes, leaving with us no way to retrieve the check or get a to-go box. Not sure I’ll be rushing back.
Meat Eater: Not much of a change in décor. It’s nearly the exact same interior at the previous joint. Dinner on a Friday night shows the place to be virtually empty, so hopefully things will pick up for them. The name may no longer be amusing, but the food is worth a stop.
We paid $30 with tax and tip on one visit and $28 on another visit.