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.
Pho from Quang
Round 2 -- The Meat:
Chicken breast is the tofu of the animal protein world -- healthy and filling, but also anonymous and shameful. While the slices of chicken breast in Quang's bowl are thicker and bigger, they lack any heartiness. Jasmine's chicken pieces are smaller and more delicate, but they hold a bit more flavor of their own. This chicken seems to come from an average chicken; Quang's chicken has been spending some time at the pool working on its breast stroke.
Courtesy of Jasmine Deli
Round 3 -- Charbroiled Pork Banh Mi:
It's tough for hearty Midwesterners like us to call a bowl of soup a meal; the "just a salad" approach is not our way. So our de facto side order is always a charbroiled pork banh mi. These sandwiches are one of the greatest culinary love-children running amok in our city and leaving crumbs everywhere. The meat is served on a crunchy baguette stuffed with shreds of carrot, cilantro, and other sundry ingredients that are a great complement to the chicken pho. The sandwich they serve at Quang's delivers big chunks of pork and crisp carrots on a roll that withstands an extended broth soak. Jasmine's sandwich, like its pho, is smaller, brighter, and lighter. And like the chicken, the morsels of pork are smaller, but a bit more flavorful than Quang's.
And the winner is...
With the crisp snap of cold fall nights reminding us of the months of snow to come, this week's match goes to Quang Restaurant. But in the summertime, Jasmine's light touch is like the caress of a breeze; Quang can give you the meat sweats.
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