Once in awhile, I come across a restaurant attempting a deconstructed dish. It typically doesn’t fare well in terms of flavor and is inexplicably more expensive than the assembled version. But one dish I never expected to see deconstructed: pho, the beloved Vietnamese rice noodle soup.
Pho’s popularity relies heavily on the comfort of being served in a piping hot bowl with the requested combination of meats layered on top of fresh noodles. The only ingredients served on the side are bean sprouts, basil and a lime wedge. Imagine my skepticism when I learned of Pho Tick Tock in north San Jose, serving deconstructed pho which they call “hot pot style.” I could hear my ancestors rolling over in their graves. But the Do-It-Yourself craze never fails to attract curious eaters, and I’m no exception.
Almost 2 years old, Pho Tick Tock has been well received. I figured there must be something to this hot-pot style pho if it warrants a $15 price tag, compared to the average $7-8 for regular size pho at most restaurants. A single combo meant for one person comes with broth served in a stone bowl, noodles in a separate bowl, and a neatly arranged display of meats and sauces. The idea is to add items to the broth as you eat for maximum freshness with each bite.
It was fun to dip everything in the broth, and the stone bowl kept the broth hot for longer, but the broth was on the bland side. Once is probably enough when it comes to deconstructed pho, as the assembled version offered here costs $9.95 and will give the same taste.
Pho Tick Tock has a knack for fusion style dishes, and the buttery garlic noodles with grilled pork ($9.95) was excellent. Al dente noodles evenly covered in butter garlic sauce and paired with juicy grilled pork is a sure winner. For small groups, the Tick Tock appetizer platter ($14.95) is good to share. Spring roll halves, battered fried shrimp, chicken wings and triangular-shaped egg rolls come in four cuts, each with a viscous fish sauce and sweet and spicy dipping sauce. These were somewhat generic but tasty, with the flat triangular egg rolls being the best of the bunch.
The banana blossom with beef tendon salad ($9.95) was an interesting combination. A traditional dish that is not often served in restaurants, the vinaigrette could have been more acidic, but the textures of crunchy shredded banana blossom and slippery beef tendon were complimentary with the generous helping of mint. The Bun Bo Hue noodle soup ($9.95), which contains a pork-based broth with various cuts of meat, was a strong attempt. I’ve been spoiled by some more authentic versions available in San Jose, but this comes close to being a worthy contender. The soup just missed that little something extra to make it memorable.
There’s a strong interest in clocks here, from the name to the large timepiece artwork at the bar (yes, there’s a bar in a pho restaurant). Guests are immediately greeted by the large working clock with exposed gears under clear glass. It’s the perfect focal point for enjoying a Moscow Mule or sipping wine. Blueprints of watches and clocks are drawn on various areas of the restaurant on the chalkboard wall serving as a vertical guestbook where customers also scribbled notes. The wait staff appears to be mostly young students who should be commended for their professional attitude and service.
Pho Tick Tock breathes new life into a genre that the Bay Area seems to take for granted despite how much we love the food. It is refreshing to see someone attempt to reinvigorate the classic and elevate it for the trendy younger crowd. The deconstructed pho makes it even easier to spot the quality meats used and the freshness of the ingredients. For those who don’t want to try nouveau pho, the restaurant still offers a regular bowl completely assembled for your enjoyment.
Pho Tick Tock
399 N Capitol Ave, San Jose