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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Food Porn: Pho And Giblets At Turtle Tower

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2008 at 7:55 AM

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Place: Turtle Tower Restaurant (631 Larkin)

Occasion: Lunch

Style: Northern Vietnamese

Price: Cheap. Check the menu here.

Rationale: In the ongoing struggle to determine once and for all my favorite Asian cuisine, I constantly vacillate between the hearty, down-home spiciness of Korean and the more fragrant, delicate, and vinegary spiciness of Vietnamese. In the end, I'll probably never really decide, because after all, they're both mind-blowing enough to keep coming back. Still, it can't hurt to keep trying, and while I'm partial to my local Vietnamese kitchen Sunflower (3111 16th Street) in the Mission, I've been hearing from hardcore foodies all over town that Turtle Tower is one of the best places in town to get your Phở on.

Follow the jump for the up close and personal ...

Favorite Dish: Sticky rice with chicken and Chinese sausage.

Least Favorite Dish: Side dish of stewed chicken giblets with cilantro and green onions. Not because it didn't taste good. Just because I'm still a bit squeamish about gnawing on innards. Call me a prude if you must.

The Skinny: Nestled in the otherwise extra-cracky Tenderloin on the block of Larkin between Eddy and O'Farrell known as Little Saigon, Turtle Tower holds a coveted spot for many local foodies as the best of an already great cluster of Vietnamese sandwich shops and restaurants. Like many Vietnamese joints, Turtle Tower specializes in the noodle soup cure-all known as Phở, a rich, flavorful broth full of fresh noodles (homemade daily), bean sprouts, onions, chiles, and cilantro, that comes in almost a dozen different variations of beef or chicken. But as I found out, there are many other delights to be had at Turtle Tower.

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It ain't much to look at, true, but don't be fooled by the modest storefront. And no, they don't actually serve turtle at Turtle Tower. Go figure.

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The standard Vietnamese table set-up: a sprouting patch of of plastic chopsticks and a bottle of Sriracha (also affectionately known as Cock Sauce. Heh).

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Vietnamese iced-coffee, highly-potent and drip-brewed at the table into a glass filled with a thick layer of intensely sweet condensed milk. Great stuff.

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Two views of the Phở Tai, rare beef noodle soup. ($4.60 small/$5.25 large). It must be said: Turtle Tower's Phở blows away Sunflower's, not least of all because of the rich, complex broth and homemade noodles. The price can't be beat either.

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While the Phở is great, the sticky rice with chicken and Chinese sausage is the dish to beat in my book. Elegant and simple, the rice retains the perfect crunchy chewiness leaving the mild chunks of roast chicken and sweet, fatty slices of Chinese sausage to joust for tastebud supremacy.

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By the way, Chinese sausage is my new favorite food. Any self-respecting carnivore needs to try it. Texturally similar to chorizo and made with pork, it's unlike any other sausage I've tasted in that it's sweet, with a slightly gamey flavor.

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The Imperial Roll, another staple of Vietnamese cuisine, served with lettuce leaves (for wrapping), fresh mint, cilantro, a big old pile of vermicelli noodles, and the all-important sweet chili vinegar dipping sauce.

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A side of stewed chicken giblets in broth. Most of the major organs are represented here, including the heart (pictured at top).

-- Brian Bernbaum

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Brian Bernbaum

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