Soup Bowled

Smart new Vietnamese in Hell's Kitchen

"The lightness; the freshness; the contrast of hot and cold, crisp and soft."

Such are the qualities Greg Hugunin admires about Vietnamese cuisine. Many of those attributes are on acute display at his new Hell's Kitchen restaurant, Pho 66.

Both the bowls of pho we ate were proudly, deliciously inauthentic. The first, Pho Verte ($7 for a small; $10 for a medium; $13 for a large), distilled a glut of produce, including leeks, carrots, dried shiitakes and kombu, into a rich broth. It was then finished with a wok-fired mix of water spinach, long beans and two types of bok choy, slapped with rice wine and sweet soy sauce.

The other, Pho Deluxe ($21), comprised a footbath-size bowl of beef broth and four types of beef. There was the classic rare eye of round, but also grilled skirt steak and poached shank.

The flavors of both were lucid, all green pastures in the Verte and bovine intensity in the Deluxe. For garnish: a rather traditional Southern Vietnamese collection of lime, cilantro, chile, Thai basil and mung bean sprouts. A drop of one; a squeeze of another; to each his or her own.

A dessert of black rice pudding ($5) was plenty satisfying. But we kept thinking: With a menu this robust, there are no doubt other dishes worth exploring.