In 1992, Pho Van transformed the humble Vietnamese noodle soup pho into the steamy sweetheart of Portland foodies. In 2002, the mini-chain started plating up a more refined side of Vietnamese cuisine at its sleek Pearl District bistro, now called Silk. The swanky cocktail list reminds you just how far from Southeast 82nd Avenue you are. The Traffic Jam (kaffir-ginger vodka, Thai basil, lime and ginger brew) tastes like well-heeled Southeast Asia in a highball. It's the liquid equivalent to Silk's petit bahn mi, a reinvention of the classic Vietnamese sandwich as dainty bruschetta layered with smoky charcoaled pork, basil, peanuts and the gentle bite of pickled daikon radish and spring onions. Particularly in the entrees, high-quality ingredients set Silk apart from hole-in-the-wall pho joints: Lift the lid off the claypot catfish to release a puff of steam and the mingling scents of garlic, chile and ginger. The fish, bathed in spicy sweet-syrup, is tender and caramelized. One note: Ask for chiles. Maybe Silk is pandering to the Pearl's bland (white) majority—the menu suffers from a distinct lack of heat.
IDEAL MEAL: Petit bahn mi, banana flower salad, claypot catfish.