Turtle Tower Restaurant, that little bit of Hanoi in Little Saigon, closed today, but don't panic -- it isn't exactly turning turtle. It will reopen in a few weeks just a few doors up the block. But will it be the real Turtle Tower or simply the mock? I pondered this question tonight over a ceremonial bowl of pho ga,
or chicken noodles, if you will, at the original premises .
Turtle Tower is considered by many as the best pho joint in town, and is one of the few that specializes in pho bac,
or northern style pho. Its soups are outstanding across the board, but its pho ga is considered iconic, and that is what I contented myself with tonight. The northern style, which is said to be the original pho, uses a clear, less-seasoned broth than its southern Vietnamese counterpart, which makes for cleaner, less muddled flavors. To me, the broth in pho bac is evocative of the best Lanzhou la mian
broths in China, with cilantro, scallion tops and the meat of your choice providing the flavor profile. Pho Ga
is especially good for highlighting the delicate savor of northern-style pho, on account of the subtle contribution to the broth of the lean chicken flesh. Although you can generally choose a noodle style for pho ga, the noodle of choice is usually a flat, wide rice noodle, the default at Turtle Tower. This style of noodle is never al dente
enough for my tastes, but the very softness of the noodle adds an appropriate unctuosness to the chicken soup, especially since Turtle Tower's spare broth runs counter to the fattiness that chicken soups of the world are generally known for.
Overall, I'd have to rate Turtle Tower's pho ga as one of the best noodle soups of any Asian persuasion in San Francisco (or anywhere I have eaten noodles). Unfortunately, we'll have to live without it for a few weeks, or make do at one of the less highly regarded offshoot Turtle Tower branches.
631 Larkin Street, San Francisco (RIP).
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