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Restaurant Mon Feb 04 2008
Having moved to Chicago from South Florida, my experience with Vietnamese food was very limited. In the year that I have lived here so far I have taken every opportunity to stuff my face at any Asian establishment anyone recommends and Pho 777 on Argyle was the first one in a very long line.
There is one very simple reason I keep returning to 777. Stock, plain and simple.
The French cherish their stocks and consider them the foundation of all their cooking. In the same way a well prepared stock is the building block of a great bowl of pho. The mouth feel and taste of good gelatinous broth lifts the dish to a totally different level. Some other more popular (don't ask me why) establishments on Argyle obviously use a base/mix, bleh! From the first bite you can taste, even see the difference. A stock made with care will have thick, almost fatty consistency that coats the inside of your mouth while the mixes are watery and taste of excess sodium. Frankly, the stock at 777 is so thick that I challenge you to eat a bowl and not fall into a food induced coma while you struggle to pay the bill.
The most important thing to remember is that fat carries flavor, why do you think everything tastes better with butter?! Without this glorious broth pho is just a bowl of noodles and some very cheap cuts of beef. Subtlety is the name of the game in this dish. No one ingredient overpowers another and it is all tied together by the silky lubrication of that glorious broth. Now, the dish pictured above is Bun Bo Hue which is not technically pho, and there is nothing subtle about it! Just order one and some extra towels to wipe the sweat and you'll see what I'm talking about. But the same idea applies, the fat is a conduit for the chili oil and rounds out the flavor, making it a little more tolerable.
To sum it all up, just go and eat, and stay away from the "Check Please" madness and their shortcuts. Its BYOB, but I wouldn't bother. Nothing goes better with pho then a tall glass of fresh squeezed lime juice and club soda.