Finally Pho Has Returned To Salem
By The BaldOne
Every once in a while, when the opportunity presents itself, we like to do something that is a little different than a straight up review. This helps to keep it interesting for you the reader, and gives us an opportunity to reward some of our SalemFoodi operatives.
Aurora Restaurant located on the corner of Barton Square and Washington Street invited us to bring in a group to sample their menu, their service, and their creativity.
Each restaurant is different, not only win their menus but in how they prepare and present their food. Some of those differences have to do with staff, some with ingredients and preparation. It is often also the way that the chef and staff go about their business.
As we have done with other restaurants in the past, we visited Aurora this past Monday evening in order to sample some menu items chosen by Tran the owner and chef. She knew we were coming and prepared a selection of items for us to try including some that have yet to actually debut on the Aurora menu.
Jacqui, the First Lady of downtown Salem, Jean our most hardcore critic, Michael the Salem Y one-hour push-up Champion, our newest team member Susanne , and yours truly dared to sit down in the bright front dining room on a snowy night to explore whatever it was that Tran would offer. It may not seem like much of a challenge, but as we have found in the past, appearances can be deceiving. Aurora Restaurant was about to challenge not only our palates, but also out capacity to consume.
One or two of us chose beer or wine as an accompanying beverage, but tea or water were the choice of others. It is important to stay hydrated when you are expecting that the spice level may eventually hit a certain point on the Scoville scale. There may have been one team member who fortified himself first with a Glenlivet single-malt Scotch Whisky.
First to come out was the Bahn Xeo or Viet Pancake, listed at $6.75. With an egg base and served like a frittata, it was covered in shrimp, ground pork, various herbs, and came with fish sauce to pour or dip into. We cut into it like a pizza and served all around. Michael was looking for some siracha as soon as it came. Jacqui thought it had good flavor and Susanne declared the shrimp to be delicious.
Next up was the Lemon Grass Chicken. You can also get this with beef, pork, or shrimp for $14.75. This dish was served in a bowl of fresh green lettuce and looked quite attractive. The chicken was very moist and it featured very intense flavors. Ginger was very easy to identify but the presence of bell pepper and onions were also discernible. The next time any of us see this dish we may just may make a wrap out it using the lettuce
As we were finishing with the chicken, five white bowls of Vietnamese Beef Stew appeared along with fresh french bread. This stew is not yet a menu item, but it certainly should be. The broth is quite dark and aromatic. Large pieces of carrot and celery filled in around generous and tender chunks of beef. Jean mentioned that you could cut the beef with your spoon. It is the broth with a strong presence of anise that gives this stew it’s personality.
Now it was time to present us with spicy options. The Hu tieu tao Ga, which is Stir Fry Chicken at $10.75. It was stocked with broccoli, carrots, and baby corn. The first version delivered was very mild with no real peppery presence. The other was a different story. The reported level of heat varied as to who was doing the reporting. One or two found to be of the “hot, I’m burning variety” while others found it to be a strong medium heat. Either way, it was the type of peppery heat that built up as time passed, and that lingered on your tongue. Michael found that it paired very well with a Nova Cider made locally at Far From Tree Cider.
As the next dish came out we all realized just how much we had already eaten. No worries were expressed however, as we were there to do a job that had to be done.
The Beef Pho, $9.75 for lunch and $12,75 for dinner, came out in the typical large bowl with a side plate of sprouts, lime, jalapeño, and mint. The broth was quite mild. Michael thought that there wasn’t enough depth to the flavor. I found that the addition of some fish sauce served it well. Siracha or another type of hot sauce or perhaps a small bowl of red pepper flakes would have helped.
Tran was not done with us yet. She presented us with a beef dish called Luc Lac which is not a menu item. This is a Vietnamese dish prepared over a high heat with garlic, onion, salt, pepper lemon and lime. Served on a bed of field greens with fresh red onion, sliced tomatoes and cucumber, it presented a tempting vision. The beef was tender and had a sweet and lemony taste with a good presence of sesame.
Aurora finished us off with a fascinating dessert that none of us had ever seen anywhere else. Co’M ru”Q’u, a sweet sticky rice topped with sliced mango, whipped cream, and with coconut milk on the side. Jacqui described it as a palate cleanser. The rice is slightly salty, but if you dipped into the whipped cream, or added coconut milk it became quite sweet. The mango was perhaps under ripe, but combined with the salty sweet combination it added some complexity to the experience. Some commented that it would make a great appetizer.
Our experience at Aurora with Trang and her staff was memorable, fun, and quite filling. We will all return, maybe not as a group but certainly with friends and family. We encourage you to visit soon and decide for yourself what you think of of their menu at this venerable Barton Square corner.