Back in February, we wrote about the five hottest dishes for you and a date to share on Valentine's Day, including the pho at Bamboo Pho & Springroll in Arlington.
Dim lighting, a fairly inexpensive selection of dishes, and nicely bound menus make it an ideal spot for impressing a date and not just for Valentine's Day.
And if your date bails, there's even a full bar and cocktail menu with a daily happy hour 3-7 p.m. (25 percent off cocktails).
The menu is broken down into soup, rice, noodle, spring roll and specialty chef dishes. Each can be broken down even further. There are more than five kinds of beef pho, for example.
Appetizers include eggrolls ($3-$5), pot stickers ($5), and a lime-and-pepper chicken salad ($7), among a lengthy list.
At the behest of my buddy, we went right for the spring rolls. "Spring rolls are part of the restaurant's name," he reasoned, "so they have to be good."
Each is wrapped in rice paper with lettuce, cucumbers, mint and vermicelli noodles. The bamboo signature rolls ($5), wrapped with smoked salmon, shrimp, and pineapple; and duck mango rolls ($4) wrapped with roasted duck and mango, are hefty but airy with a subdued flavor. The mint, however, is highly detectable.
Rolls are served with various sauces, including a creamy peanut sauce and a sweet ginger sauce that have the potential to overwhelm if you overdip. And while the spring rolls' ingredients are varied and fresh, their flavor is far too light to enjoy as an entrée, which is how they are listed on the menu. So in answer to my buddy's theory, the spring rolls are good, but don't forget "pho" comes first in the restaurant's name.
The lemongrass chicken stir fry ($8) makes little fuss; its flavor is also faint. Still, the meat is tender with a spicy tingle.
And it's the same with the grilled shrimp and pork vermicelli rice bowl ($8): the flavor needs to be cranked up, even when all the ingredients are combined with the same sweet ginger sauce from the rolls. The dish, however, is very filling.
A decent alternative is the shaken beef ($12) with seasoned, sweet beef that's tastier than the pork in the vermicelli bowl.
For an unusual option, try the crispy egg noodle dish ($9). It includes crunchy vegetables and fried, crispy noodles that have a flavor similar to chicharrónes (pork cracklings).
The fried rice on some of the plates actually overshadowed a lot of the other options at our table. It was the most balanced -- moist with an onion-based flavor.
But, not surprisingly, it's the pho we're in love with at Bamboo. One large bowl ($7.25) yields enough for two, and definitely more than enough for one with some leftovers.
Choose from chicken or beef pho, including eye of round, well done brisket, meatball, and even tripe and tendon. Chicken pho comes in three varieties, including white or dark meat and "chicken noodle" (without meat).
The broth is aromatic, herbal and sweet; and it's even better when combined with the accompanying side of basil. That's why pho has likely always been the flagship dish of Vietnamese comfort cuisine. If you're looking for warm, complex flavors, you'll find them in pho.
And if you're looking for true love, well, pho might just be the answer to that, too.