Restaurant Review: Pho Today
This Fort Lee hotspot has something for everyone.
I learned a lot about food from my mother, who, for as far back as I can remember, passed on to me her various loves and cravings. She tries everything, chooses savory over sweet, eats oodles of noodles and devours anything that’s fried. And, boy, am I thankful that I inherited her palate. She’s the one who turned me on to Vietnamese cuisine, when back in the day she offered it to break up the Filipino and Chinese dishes that were ordinarily served at our home. That early introduction came in handy when my friend and I dined at Pho Today, which recently opened in a Fort Lee storefront at the doorstep of the George Washington Bridge.
Prominent on Pho Today’s logo and painted on a front window is “Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine,” a claim that we quickly confirmed. For starters, we split goi cuon tom, a refreshing shrimp summer roll filled with vermicelli noodles, veggies and, of course, large pieces of the tasty crustacean. I’ll admit though that the roll, on its own, was lacking in flavor but got a boost when dipped in the accompanying peanut sauce.
Our second app was banh xeo, an overwhelming large Vietnamese pancake filled with bean sprouts and onion. Like the summer rolls, this dish also leaned toward the bland side but was saved by a vinegar-based sauce that came with it.
Although we finished off the banh xeo, my friend and I were still salivating for our entrees, which we opted to share. A sure-fire order is the restaurant’s namesake dish, pho today. (For those counting, Pho Today offers nearly two dozen pho varieties, including brisket, flank, tripe, seafood and shrimp.) Unlike our starters, the bowl was filled with flavor. Mouthwatering slices of filet mignon, oxtail, scallions and vegetables enriched the natural taste of the super clean broth—nothing premade or from powder here.
Our heartier second main was the com tam today, which was recommended to us by our server. This rice plate had something for everyone: a perfectly grilled and juicy pork chop, a generous portion of shredded pork, a halved fried spring roll (stuffed with shrimp and pork), fried shrimp tofu, a sunny-side up egg atop a mound of white rice and a medley of fresh vegetables. While the two pork selections on the plate hit the mark, the shrimp tofu fell flat in the flavor department. We chalked up the blandness of the tofu as well as the other plates to a philosophy found in many Asian kitchens: Meats and vegetables provide the initial taste, while extra seasoning from spices and sauces is controlled by the diner.
We didn’t encounter that issue during dessert. I had che ba mau, a traditional multi-colored treat with layers of crushed ice, coconut and red and mung beans. While not a common item at ice cream parlours, this is just as satisfying as any cool summertime sweet. Skeptical about
my choice, my friend sipped a delicious taro tea smoothie—but she was easily won over after sampling my dessert, as I knew she would. I thank Mom for giving me the lesson on desserts too.