Tuesday, July 24, 2012

aMango Restaurant: Pho Saigon

When husband and wife team Tim and Q learned the former Charlie’s location on Monroe Street, just east of Talmadge Road, was available they jumped at the chance to take it and open a Vietnamese and Asian restaurant.

Putting all of their resources into securing the location, they quickly opened Amango Restaurant/Pho Saigon for business with a lighted sign and low priced grand opening specials.

This is not a Vietnamese theme restaurant with a Buddhist altar, conical straw hats, incense, and waitresses in au dai. It is not intended to transport you to a dated version of Vietnam designed specifically for Western tourists. Amango is simple and functional. Keep your eyes on the food and your mind on the flavors and you will be magically transported to the humble atmosphere of a restaurant for locals in contemporary Vietnam.

On my first visit, I ordered the banh xeo/sizzling pancake appetizer. This dish is a great example of the effect French colonialism had on the Vietnamese kitchen. It gets its name from the sound of the batter sizzling on the pan as it is prepared. Banh xeo is essentially a French crepe filled with onion, shrimp, and seasoned pork. It is accompanied by a plate of fresh mint sprigs plus a few leaves of curly lettuce. To eat banh xeo like a native please use your hands. Grab a leaf of lettuce, put in a few mint leaves and a piece of the filled crepe. Then roll up the lettuce leaf like a burrito, while keeping the contents inside, and dip it into the accompanying fish sauce before you take your first bite. While I prefer a thinner pancake with more filling, Amango’s banh xeo is a good choice of appetizer to introduce a newcomer to Vietnamese cooking. Order one for the table. It’s big enough for a family of four. Don’t tell your kids the name of the sauce until after they’ve dunked their first roll and taken a bite. They’ll love it.

Another popular Vietnamese appetizer on the menu is the spring rolls ($3.95). This is a delicious way to cool off during this summer’s heat wave. It’s a chilled, soft, paper thin rice pancake filled with cooked vermicelli, mint leaves, chilled shrimp, and shredded lettuce. Amango is serving it with Thai peanut sauce instead of a Vietnamese sauce. The good news is that the table is stocked with hoisin sauce, red chili sauce and soy sauce you can use to enhance the flavor. We requested hot chili oil (tia chiev sate) and ignored the peanut sauce entirely. There are three rolls in an order. Your server will be happy to bring you a serrated knife to halve the rolls and create six hearty portions.
At lunchtime, I highly recommend ordering the goi ga/chicken salad ($7.99). The salad is a zesty mix of shredded chicken, carrots, lettuce, celery, cabbage, mint, and chopped peanuts tossed with rice wine vinaigrette. It is presented with a plate of lime wedges and sliced jalapeno peppers that you may use to season your salad to taste.

The most wellknown Vietnamese dish is pho (pronounced “fur”). Pho is a sweet and savory beef broth served with noodles and a variety of meats, fish or vegetarian ingredients. The Vietnamese tend to eat pho for breakfast. It is served with a plate of bean sprouts, Asian basil leaves and lime wedges. Squeeze the lime wedges over your soup and toss in some sprouts and basil before you eat it. The table sauces at Amango are handy for adding additional spice. I wish Chef Linh would be more generous with the noodles. Drop by after 10am on Saturday or noon on Sunday and discover the healing properties of a bowl of pho. It will quickly become your preferred morning remedy for a hangover or the common cold.

With the modest prices and extensive menu, I found myself going back again and again to Amango over the course of a week just to check out more of the entrees I had previously enjoyed in Vietnam. The bun tom thit nuong cha gio/vermicelli with grilled pork, shrimp and an egg roll ($8.99) is probably the best choice for people who want to get a feel for Vietnamese food but prefer mild and more familiar ingredients. It is served with a sweet and sour sauce that you can add a little bit at a time until you like the balance of flavor and moisture on your noodles.

If you’re familiar with Vietnamese food and know what you like, you will be delighted with Amango. If you’ve never had this type of cuisine, give it a chance. There are many options, so with a little persistence, you are sure to find a dish or two you really like. Alex, a waiter and friend of the owners, can be trusted to make a solid recommendation in any section of the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask for him if you get a server who doesn’t speak much English. On the same token, if you can’t bring yourself to spend any time in an Asian restaurant without a pond full of koi fish and tacky paper lanterns, rent a DVD copy of “Indochine” or “The Quiet American” and order carry-out. Amango is too good to miss.

NAME: AMANGO Restaurant/Pho Saigon

LOCATION: 5228 Monroe Street, Toledo, OH 43623 419-517-0261

RESERVATIONS: Parties of 8 or more



PRICING: Appetizers ($4-$8), Soup/Salad ($8-9), Entrees ($8-$12), Sandwiches ($3.50-$5.25)

DON’T MISS: goi ga/cold chicken salad, banh xeo/Vietnamese pancake, bun tom thit nuong cha gio/vermicelli with grilled pork, shrimp and an egg roll, pho/rice noodles with beef broth.

RATING: Excellent Vietnamese food/school cafeteria atmosphere

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