After a semester of traveling through Europe and studying abroad in London, I refined my palate and honed my foodie skills. Among the various places I visited, perhaps my favorite guilty pleasure was London’s Chinatown, filled with an assortment of Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese eateries. It was here where I truly came to appreciate the delicacy that is pho. Now, I do not want to claim that I am an expert in the realm of Vietnamese cuisine, as that would be an overstatement of my gifts. That being said, I genuinely believe that I am now a connoisseur of pho — a pho-natic if you will (and frankly, I will).
Naturally, I was ecstatic to learn that Ithaca had gained a new restaurant while I had been gone, BōL, which supposedly specializes in this gourmet treat. Upon hearing this news, I gathered three of my closest friends and ventured to the Commons to see if this new locale would provide a meal that would be one pho the record books.
When you first step into BōL, you are required to take a piece of paper and clipboard off the wall to place your order. Although I like to think of myself as an intelligent individual, this process was a bit confusing, with several variations of order slips available. Once I stumbled across the paper for soup, rather than salad, I was able to choose between pho and ramen. Opting for the former choice, which includes rice noodles as opposed to ramen noodles, as well as a different selection of vegetables, I then had to choose my broth and any protein options, which cost extra. I selected the chicken and pork broth and added egg ($1) and beef ($3.50) to complete the soup. Additionally, I was convinced by one friend to split an order of steamed pork dumplings on the side.
After handing the cashier my order slip and paying the relatively expensive price, I awkwardly lingered by the counter for about five minutes, waiting for my meal to be made. The ambience of the restaurant was very bright, yet mellow with a good collection of music playing. There was limited seating downstairs, all of which was occupied, so I balanced my large (and very aesthetically pleasing) bowl of pho on the provided metal tray and made the trek upstairs to find more seating, spilling minimal broth in the process.
The first item to note is the chicken and pork broth, which I found to be the high point of the meal. The temperature, flavor and overall taste were delicious. The rice noodles were also tasty and came with a fairly generous portion. However, I was sadly disappointed with the rest of my bowl. The beef was too well-done, resulting in an almost burnt, chewy brisket that was not great. Furthermore, my chef was not very liberal with the vegetable add-ins, tossing in a couple raw green beans, minimal peppers and almost no bok choy (which happens to be my favorite). To make matters worse, the serving size of the bowl was not nearly as large as I had anticipated, leaving me hungry after I finished.
The pork dumplings were only okay. We received four dumplings, served over sweet and sour slaw with hoisin sauce. The dumplings were lukewarm, and not extremely flavorful, but the accompanied side and sauce certainly helped. Although they were not amazing, they were definitely needed to complement the bowl of pho in order to satisfy my hunger.
While I wouldn’t say the meal was pho-nomenal, it was decent. Given the fact that BōL is a new restaurant, I would not rule out coming back to give it another chance. However, I would likely vary my order, selecting different protein or noodles perhaps, to see if the meal could possibly be improved. All in all, it was around a $20 meal that left me fairly satiated, but not completely satisfied. I certainly hope that BōL can improve its serving sizes and quality of proteins as well as simplify the ordering process to improve the overall dining experience.
Serves: pho, ramen, salads, dumplings
Vibe: casual, bright, cheery, mellow