There’s an undeniable grandeur about Pho Chateau, an Asian restaurant located in a shiny new strip center in Irving. There is first the regal quality of the name. Next is the restaurant’s design, its circular turret exterior clad in tastefully textured stone, telegraphing instantly to passing cars that this is not your typical suburban spot.
The interior is yet more stunning, and the food is superb. As for service, well, you can’t have everything. But if you’re willing to make a little extra effort, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best pho in town.
Pho Chateau turns out to have some well-known names behind it. The owner is Mike Chen, who also owns Steel, the ultra-sophisticated Indochine restaurant located off Oak Lawn Avenue in Dallas. And the design was executed by William Baker of Dallas design firm JonesBaker, whose projects range from CrushCraft at the Quadrangle in Dallas to Trader Vic’s in Dubai.
The interior showcases Baker’s use of natural materials. A row of minimalist tree trunks forms a towering divider between the kitchen and the dining room; “slices” of trunk line the bar. Wallpaper consists of beautiful oversized atlas-style maps. An indoor-outdoor bar serves as a transition to the patio in front, which boasts stubby palm trees and a fire pit.
That level of attentiveness was matched by what was on the plate. Everything sampled was carefully prepared, including the most challenging dish to execute well: the steaming Vietnamese noodle soup known as pho.
Pho Chateau offers it six ways ($8 to $11): beef, chicken, seafood, tofu, spicy filet mignon and curry noodle with a coconut curry broth. In pho, the broth, made by simmering bones for hours along with aromatics such as onion, is everything. It should have clarity, with a subtle yet powerful blend of flavors, including the palest hit of slightly sweet star anise. Its restorative powers can dull the morning-after throb of a late night out.
The pho expert at my table ordered the spicy filet mignon, a massive bowl filled with a dark, clear broth. Barely submerged were rice noodles and thinly shaved sheets of beef that had been tossed in just before serving so that they remained tender and almost-rare at the center. It came with a plate of accompaniments that could be added to taste, including basil, bean sprouts and peppers; but he was so enchanted by the pho that he ignored those entirely.
If you like the idea of noodles but don’t want soup, there are two options. You can get them hot in a stir-fry such as the traditional pad Thai ($11), in which thick noodles are combined with onion, bean sprouts, cilantro, eggs and chopped peanuts in a spicy yet comforting sauce.
Or you can get them as a cold, refreshing salad ($9 to $11), where thin vermicelli rice noodles are tossed with lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, pickled carrots, green onion and chopped peanuts in a chile-laced vinaigrette. There was something exotic yet satisfying about the interplay of fresh, crunchy lettuce against the cool, slightly chewy noodle. Get it plain or topped with a meat option such as grilled chicken, pork or shrimp.
Spring rolls ($4 for 2) were made to order, and come in a variety of options, including pork, chicken, shrimp and tofu. Their outside wrappers were thin, moist and pliable; the ingredients inside — bean sprouts, lettuce, vermicelli, basil — were fresh and crisp. Accompanying peanut sauce was dark and extra-thick, rich in flavor but a little hard for dipping.
One of our favorite items was one of the simplest: an appetizer of crispy fried tofu ($5) with cubes of tofu tumbled in a salt-and-pepper batter and fried. They came with bits of fried onion and jalapeño slices that had been fried until their fire was only just dimmed. Other appetizers included Chateau hot wings ($6), an addictive Thai twist on chicken wings with an extra-thick crust and a sweet-and-spicy sauce.
Service was amusingly bad up front. Don’t expect a friendly greeting at the door. The servers comprised one inexperienced newbie and a crusty veteran who initially seemed to have no patience for probing questions. The longer we stayed, the friendlier he became; we wore him down.
A full bar includes some distinctive beers on tap, including Sapporo.