Young and Hungry

Gene Nguyen May Know the Secret to Building a Successful Pho House in D.C.

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In researching this week's Young & Hungry column on pho in the District, I had a long conversation with Gene Nguyen, owner of the Pho Hot shops in Annandale and Centreville. As  I noted in the column, Nguyen hopes to open one, if not more, pho parlors in the District, but in order to make the economics work in the pricey neighborhoods where he'd like to drop anchor, Nguyen plans to make the Vietnamese noodle-soup experience more gourmet.

If you think that sounds odd, given the stark, white-washed ambiance of most suburban pho houses, consider what Nguyen did with Vietnamese cuisine in general. He's the brains behind Present, the hyper-fresh, ingredient-driven operation in Falls Church. He wants to put a similar spin on pho in the District. Nguyen wants to build a pho parlor with an open kitchen where diners can literally review the meats they would like to add to their noodle soup.

"You have to add something to [the experience], to attract people a little bit more," Nguyen told Y&H. "It should be a little bit of a show."

Nguyen knows a thing or two about pho. He's been selling it for years. He also knows his market well. Nguyen knows, for instance, that Vietnamese like their noodle soups far more fattier than Americans do, which means that a pho house in the U.S. may skim much of the fat from the broth. Less fat, of course, means less flavor.

If you're not afraid of fat, Nguyen suggests you ask the server at your favorite pho house for nuoc beo. It's a small bowl of liquid fat with scallions in it. You can ladle the stuff into your pho as desired.

The only problem with that, best I can tell, is that nuoc beo is not always available at your favorite pho parlors. I called Pho 75 in Alrington, for example, and was told that they were out of fat today. Try again tomorrow, they said. I would call ahead if you plan to ask for nuoc beo.

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