After my affair with the pho on the upper west side of New York City I returned to Albany determined to see what our little city has to offer. My first stop post Saiguette was at Kim's Vietnamese on Madison Ave. near Quail. It's been open since last summer and I've been there several times now and haven't moved on from the pho.
I persuaded Zena, Goddess of Fire to go with me for one of the visits and she thought it was pretty cool, although salty and maybe a little heavy on the five spice powder. She also noted the fat in the chilled leftovers. I think this may be a Vietnamese positive thing. I've innocently just absorbed it every time with huge delight because I like it so much. After the initial inhale of that anise top note it all becomes blended for me in a delicious heady pleasure. Although that pile of noodles on the bottom is a big slow-down. Zena says it's great with beer.
At Kim's one gets an abbreviated version of the build-your-own, with broth already in the bowl along with the meat, noodles and paper-thin onion slices. Fresh sprouts, jalapenos, lime and fresh basil are on a plate and the sriracha and hoisin are in the little side dish. Their pho specialties all are in the $8 - $9 range. I asked the most recent time about how the sriracha and hoisin are generally used in Vietnam, and our kind waiter explained that you just add as much as you like in the soup. I had sort of been dipping things into them, so I slowly added each to the soup til I reached an optimal level of the sweet/savory and hot chili. I vowed to get myself a stash of each type of sauce for future soup exploration.
Kim's has a facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kims-Restaurant/146547675530394
I'm very glad to say that my soup exploration came today after my shop at the Asian Supermarket on Central Ave. I made a dumpling soup with napa cabbage, yellow onion, and baby bok choi for the veggies. I added a small green Thai chili [firy and delicioso], two teaspoons of minced fresh ginger, a clove of garlic, two dashes of five spice powder and a cube of pho soup base. I plopped in a few dumplings, which I had cooked separately, and fixed the little dish of hoisin and sriracha sauces. I put Thai basil leaves in the bottom of my serving bowl and ladled the soup on top, then slowly added the sauces to taste.
I reached a fairly good balance of sweet, salty, spicy and fragrant but it's not yet perfection incarnate. Fresh lime juice would probably be good for a little sour flavor.
I'll have to try again.