The Vegetarian GourmetBy Steven R. L. Millman
Hurray for Pho Republique! A fine example of a new and growing trend in neighborhood restaurants, Pho Republique, which opened this winter, is a welcome addition to Central Square. Pho, which literally means "your own bowl," is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. Pho is actually pronounced "fuh" rather than "faux," as intimated in the title of this review, but you'll rarely hear it any other way in the United States.
Traditional pho is an oxtail broth filled with rice noodles, fresh vegetables and meat. In Vietnam, one can hardly travel anywhere in a metropolitan setting without finding a street vendor ladling out this national treasure. At Pho Republique, the meat pho is made with a blend of chicken, beef and pork broths, but that isn't important to the loyal readers!
The vegetable pho has a vegetable stock flavored with miso and a hint of tomato and lemongrass, then loaded with your choice of rice or egg noodles, spinach, wild mushrooms, sweet potato and daikon. Available for a little extra are "shots" of additional flavorings such as ginger-garlic (which I highly recommend), tamarind-lime, and lemongrass-red curry. To add to the gastric delights, sitting on each table is a bottle of hoisin - a sweet plum sauce - and the always exciting chili sauce. Flavor your pho to your own personal preferences and then succumb to the nurturing joy that is a truly great soup.
The menu also includes two other vegetarian entrees worthy of making additional trips to the Republic of Pho. The bun beaux is curried lemongrass over warm angel hair noodles with tofu, shredded vegetables, and peanuts, with an invigorating lime-garlic sauce. Too much food for the average diner, it leaves one wishing for more room. The Red Peanut Curry Tofu is made with the most exquisite seared Asian long beans it has been my great pleasure to taste, along with lime leaf, cilantro, and red chilis, all over coconut scallion rice. The peanut sauce on this dish disappoints somewhat in because it is overly salted, but it is a lovely meal never the less. For an appetizer, the sweet potato spring rolls are an unusual treat, served with a peanut dipping sauce that falls short, unfortunately, again to the hands of an impertinent level of salt.
It will be hard, but leave room for dessert! The banana brown sugar spring rolls, drizzled with chocolate sauce and served with ginger ice cream, brought the Vegetarian Gourmet to his knees and unwilling to ever leave the Pho Republique. They don't rent out space, so back to the trenches went the Vegetarian Gourmet with high praise for Pho Republique! To miss this restaurant would be a crime against culinary nature.
468 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge 576-2111 Entrees: $8.25-$8.75 Cash Only