Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Good Night Noodle Preview

Pho with Chicken Meatball
This isn't the pho noodle soup I grew up with but I'm more than ok with it. It's all pho a good cause. Get it?! Forgive the pho pun. More on the soup. By day it's Good Morning Cafe, and by night owner Nancy Holzman and chef/business partner Linh Sullins are working to flip the same space into Good Night Noodle. Both under one roof, the businesses share a common objective: to bring good, healthy food using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients with a give-back philosophy. You can read more about their mission and story at Indiegogo. 

Organic, grassfed, and gluten-free are not part of my Vietnamese vocabulary but it does translate into a delicious bowl of guilt-free pho soup. I found a kindred spirit in Linh as we chatted about our Vietnamese backgrounds and how she came about developing her recipe. With Good Morning Cafe's philosophy in mind, Linh wanted to echo those local and sustainable ingredients in her Vietnamese dishes while providing a healthier alternative. That means no MSG, no bouillon, and no fish sauce in the cooking process (gasp! more on that later). During a recent blogger preview, we were served bowls of chicken pho with samples of beef broth and veggie broth. 

Veggie broth (L) + Beef broth (R)
For someone who doesn't normally gravitate toward anything veggie-esque or vegan, I was surprised to find myself pulled more toward the vegetarian broth than the beef one and man do I love beef pho. She has managed to coax umami flavors from vegetables and create a light broth with good depth of flavor. The same goes for her other broths. It's a good feeling knowing where your meat comes from. Happy chickens and cows make happy broth. Both chicken and beef pho stocks are minimally processed and had a clean taste without a heavy, fatty mouthfeel. Mind you I'm a self-proclaimed glutton for a rich pho broth but there's something refreshing about Linh's soups.

The broth is not heavily spiced or filled with pungent flavors like I'm use to traditionally but it's a nice change of pace. There are familiar 
background notes of ginger, clove, and star anise yet other ingredients that made me go hmm. It's definitely Vietnamese with a modern twist; you won't find Bragg's liquid aminos, agave, and coconut oil in my mom's kitchen but it's ingredients like those that sets Good Night Noodle apart from its Capital Region Vietnamese counterparts. It's a unique flavor profile and different perspective on pho soup, and a welcomed one.

At first I thought it was blasphemy to not cook pho with fish sauce. But after tasting the broth on its own and then personalizing it with a splash of premium fish sauce, I finally understood. I appreciated being able to control my own level of sodium just as Linh intended. Adding the fish sauce to the stock would have concentrated the flavor but Red Boat is in a category of its own and that's what Good Night Noodle serves as a condiment. You can taste the deep anchovy flavor and that friends is a flavor to be cherished in all Vietnamese food. Not only was I able to customize the salt level to my liking but the broth allowed a high quality product like Red Boat to shine. I'll never look at this Vietnamese staple the same. It's comparable to tasting the difference between the first press of olive oil to the value brand.  Fish sauce isn't all that weird of an ingredient; think anchovy paste in Italian sauces.

As a special twist, us bloggers were treated to a chicken meatball rather than your typical shredded chicken in our pho soup. Never in my life have I come across a pho with chicken meatballs but it's so much better than boring poached chicken! The meatballs had a nice, charred crisp on the outside and smooth, spongy and chewy texture on the inside with flavorful notes of scallions, toasted rice powder, and uniquely coconut oil. You'll be happy to know that they're planning on serving the same meatballs on banh mi sandwiches along with other Asian-inspired eats like summer rolls made with seasonal vegetables and pad thai. 

I think Good Night Noodle's a great gateway soup. It's pho broth that is accessible for those who have never had a Vietnamese pho experience. There's always room for more pho in the 518, especially one that makes you feel good about eating it and one that makes a difference in the world. Yup, world--each bowl of pho sold will  provide one pound of rice for Good Morning/Good Night's adopted Cambodian village. One pound of rice will feed a family of four for an entire day, according to their Indiegogo fundraising page. How's that for food for thought? Good Night Noodle is looking to launch in April but needs an extra boost of community support. Be sure to visit their Indiegogo page and let's 'eat good, do good, and feel good!'

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