Barbarella Fokos 9:01 a.m., May 22
I seem to be on a newly hatched restaurant bender. I can’t help myself, I’m impatient by nature. Being a food writer doesn’t help - the temperament of a food writer invites indulgence. That’s my excuse, anyway.
John and I went to Pho UTC & Grill in University City a mere two days after it’s opening. It’s within walking distance of our apartment, in a strip plaza at the corner of Towne Center Drive and Renaissance Avenue.
They’ve done a great job with the space, which previously had been home to a coffee shop and a chicken shop. It’s spacious, open and warm. There's a large, but as yet unused, patio on one side.
Spring rolls are the ubiquitous choice for an appetizer. Pho UTC’s come in chicken, tofu or shrimp and pork ($4.95 for 2 rolls). We chose the shrimp and pork, which came with two good-sized cups of peanut dipping sauce. A nice touch, not only do you get plenty of sauce, but you avoid the dreaded double dip. They were okay, but the paper-thin slices of pork were so dry that they were like pork jerky.
John’s entrée was Com Thit Nuong Xa, Grilled Lemon Grass Pork ($8.25) with broken rice. Steamed rice is also available. He said that the rice wasn’t as “broken” as he likes, but the pork had lots of smoky grilled flavor, and the lemongrass added a bright, lively note. A small bowl of good chicken broth was a nice surprise. The garnishes of lettuce, cucumber and tomato were very fresh but forgettable.
I nearly always order Bun Cha Gio, Rice Noodle with Egg Rolls ($7.50) when I’m trying a new Vietnamese place. I really enjoyed their version of this simple, homey dish. There were four egg rolls, more than usual, and they were piping hot. Topping the heap of softly chewy rice vermicelli, the cucumber, lettuce and bean sprouts were crisp and juicy, with the added sharpness of julienned pickled daikon and carrot and a shower of chopped peanuts. A tangy, pungent cup of nuoc cham, ready to pour over the bowl, was on the side. A great blend of hot and cold, crunchy and soft, salty, sweet, and piquant.
Service was good, especially considering that they’d only been open a couple of days.
Pho UTC & Grill also has the standard soups, rice entrees, fried rice, stir fried noodles, a few banh mi, vegetarian dishes and of course, many varieties of pho. There's a good selection of beverages, but no alcohol is served.
Pho UTC & Grill
8915 Towne Centre Drive, San Diego, CA 92122
Hours: 10:00 am - 9:30 pm daily