Soup steals the show at Caphe Banh Mi Pho, vermicelli overshadow the namesake sandwiches BY
T IM C ARMAN
THE WASHINGTON POST
DECEMBER 23, 2016
he bottle racks and stainless-steel WineStation dispensers stand to the right when you enter Caphe Banh Mi. You can’t miss them. They’ll practically be panting on you, like drunks in a crowded subway, as you inevitably wait for a table in this cozy, neighborhood hideaway in Old Town Alexandria. If you’re forced to wait long enough, you might even begin to wonder which of these grapes could relate to the high-strung, high-maintenance broth found in the bottom of a typical bowl of pho. The thought crossed my mind as I huddled next to the bottles one evening, hoping no one would open the door and allow the winter air to blast-chill the tiny dining room. When I finally sat down, I asked the waiter for a wine recommendation to pair with my pho. His face went tight. He shook his head repeatedly, half-embarrassed, until he formed the words he didn’t want to speak: He doesn’t drink. I opted for a 2013 Burgundy from Meiomi, a California gladhander with the ingratiating flavors of black cherry and vanilla. The pho didn’t want anything to do with it. The soup itself was that rare bowl that requires no doctoring with tabletop condiments. The broth was copper colored, clarified but not completely clear. It had a tea-like clarity with a flavor profile to match: light, refined, balanced. The star anise, too often the alpha dog of pho, had been commanded to play nice with the puppies. As such, the spice’s biting, fennellike aromas were mere component parts, equal to the soup’s caramelized onions, the charred ginger and the sly buttery seduction of the beef broth. To drown this in Sriracha would be like affixing emoticons to American Gothic. The woman behind this broth is My Huynh, a Vietnamese native whose AlexanDINER CONTINUED ON 9
If you go CAPHE BANH MI 407 Cameron St., Alexandria. 703-549-0800. caphebanhmi.com. Hours: Monday-Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nearest Metro: King Street, with a 0.9-mile walk to the restaurant. Prices: Starters, salads and banh mi, $6- $12; pho and entrees, $9-$13.
The house pho at Caphe Banh Mi is built with a copper-colored beef broth, rare eye of round and brisket — the rare noodle soup that requires no doctoring with condiments and sauces. DEB LINDSEY FOR THE WASHINGTON POST