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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 23, 2009

Ha Long serves flavorful pho with panache

 •  Hangover cure a la Alan Wong

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Owner Janice Nguyen recommends the watercress salad or barbecue sirloin pork slices and shrimp vermicelli at Ha Long Noodle House in Kalihi, which sports decor by German designer Tim John.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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HA LONG NOODLE HOUSE

3 out of 5 forks (Good)

City Square Shopping Center, 1286 Kalani St., off Dillingham Boulevard

845-3687, www.halongnoodle.com

Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Prices: $5.95-$10.95

Details: Parking, BYOB

Recommended: Watercress salad, chicken salad, any bn dish, beef combination pho, fried rice

Payment: AmEx, MC, V

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ha Long's barbecue sirloin pork slices and shrimp vermicelli. Ingredients and presentation give Ha Long's standards an edge.

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Pho fans will love the beef combination pho, a recommended dish, at Ha Long Noodle House.

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Just when you thought the pho field was full, with a new Vietnamese joint seeming to sprout in every vacated storefront, comes Ha Long Noodle House. Young owner Janice Nguyen, who was born in Vietnam and raised in Kalihi, teamed up with her brother, Paul, to reinvent the pho hole-in-the-wall as a cool cafe.

Visiting German designer Tim John, who spent last summer in Honolulu, came up with a cheerful, Kelly-green room with cutouts of words like "fish," "rare beef steak" and "we love phonatics." A big aquarium separates the dining room from the kitchen. It's pho chic.

The biggest section of the shiny circular menus is pho get it with meatballs, "well done" brisket, "well done" flank, tendon, tripe or any combination thereof. There's also a thoughtful (and playful) "Wat da pho?" section, giving you a blow-by-blow on how to eat pho first taste the broth, then add the bean sprouts from the accompanying plate, squeeze in some lime.

While the broth could have more resonance maybe throw a few more bones into the simmering pot it's fragrant and not too heavy on the five-spice accent.

Rounding out the offerings are the usuals spring rolls, summer rolls, bn with barbecue pork, lemongrass chicken made from family recipes, according to Nguyen. And while they're not much different from anywhere else, where Ha Long Noodle stands out is with ingredients and presentation. The greens in the salad are perky and fresh. The watercress with thin slices of beef and a nice romaine salad with thin slices of roasted chicken are refreshing options and arrive on white plates ringed with tomato rounds.

The little squares of barbecue pork in the bn are lightly crisped on the edges and sit atop vermicelli (the nice, extra-thin rice noodles, not the spaghetti size found in some Vietnamese restaurants). And the lemongrass chicken, made of quality bird, is well spiced.

You might hear techno on the speakers, the service is relaxed and amicable and the parking is plentiful. And in these recessionary times, the prices are right.

Bac Nam is still my pick for best Vietnamese their menu takes you far afield from pho and bn but for the standards, Ha Long is an invitingly stylish change.

RESTAURANT NEWS

  • Fans of PacifiKool ginger ale at Saturday's KCC Farmers Market will be happy to know owner Cheryl To has opened PacifiKool on the Beach a "ginger bar" on the Waikiki Shore, 2161 Kalia Road, near the Fort DeRussy Army Museum. She serves her refreshing ginger-syrup drinks ginger ale, ginger cooler, berries and ginger, pineapple and ginger and more along with premium Eisenberg's all-beef hot dogs. Just added to the menu: fresh-squeezed Ka'u orange juice ($2.50 for an 8-ounce cup). Open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

  • Stage at the Honolulu Design Center will host guest sommelier John Fujimoto for the first in its 2009 Stage Wine Tasting Series, 6:30 p.m. Jan. 26. Cost is $75 for a three-course menu designed by executive chef Ron de Guzman and paired with wines selected by some of the Islands' premier experts. See the menu at www.StageRestaurantHawaii.com. Seating is limited and reservations are required. 237-5429.

  • Sergio's Italian Restaurant chef Alfredo Lee is launching a Tour du Italy - travel by plate and bottle, that is - Feb. 2 with "Taste of Piemonte." The special menu Feb. 2-9 can be paired with wines of the region by the glass or by the bottle. (These are selected by general manager Dean Fujimoto.) Upcoming regions include Veneto, Rome, Sicily, Puglia, Umbria, Sardegna, Molise and Toscana. Reservations and information: 737-4461. Sergio's is in the old Sam Choy's location: 449 Kapahulu Ave., third floor; www.sergioshonolulu.com.

  • A new Poke Stop outlet has opened in Mililani Mauka and chef Elmer Guzman has been trying to clone himself, running back and forth between his original Waipahu location and the new shop at 95-1840 Meheula Parkway. The shop is twice as large as Guzman's original fish-driven delicatessen, with more than 30 varieties of poke available, along with many other "gourmet" plate lunch-type items. Guzman said a regular customer referred him to Castle & Cooke, which owns the shopping center, and the property owner all but dragged him over to look at the place though he wasn't at all sure he was ready for a new venture. He saw its potential immediately; it's right at the entrance to the nearby housing development, meaning lots of traffic. How does it differ from Poke Stop Waipahu? "I run it more like a restaurant," Guzman said. "I have more toys, an oven, more space. I get to play." They also do catering.

    The restaurant opened quietly Dec. 18, and Guzman said he's working to train staff and refine the menu, so he won't hold a grand opening until late February or early March. Hours are 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday. 626-3400; poke-stop.com.

  • The Life Foundation's annual Oahu Dines charity event is set for March 4. The organization, Hawai'i's oldest and largest AIDS organization, is seeking restaurants to assist by donating a portion of their proceeds from that day's sales to the agency.

    In return, Life Foundation urges its clients and their families, donors and friends to visit the restaurants. Already committed to participate are Big City Diner, Boots and Kimo's Homestyle Kitchen, Diamond Head Market and Grill, 12th Avenue Grill, Baci Bistro, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Cinnamon's, Hapa Grill, India Cafe, JJ Bistro & French Pastry, Le Guignol, Los Chaparros, Spices, Soul de Cuba Cafe, Tea at 1024 and The Wedding Cafe. For details, go to www.oahudines.org or call 521-AIDS, ext. 250.