Going out for a Valentine's Day dinner with your wife is almost a given if you don't want to be sleeping on the couch. Going out for a Valentine's Day dinner and double-dating with your sixteen-year old son and his eighteen year-old girlfriend is just weird. It's even weirder when your son has no shame and starts telling you about how the two of them have been making out.
Would you have every had this conversation with your parents when you were a teen? Me neither.
Fortunately, there was an immediate ice breaker for this otherwise strange situation. The Girlfriend (TGF) likes to cook. Ahhh ... common ground ... now I'm feeling at ease. Well ... okay. Just less weird.
We chose a place near TGF's home in West Valley City called Pho Green Papaya. It's a small Vietnamese / Thai place in an area of town that's not known for high class establishments. In spite of the surrounding businesses and limited parking, this place is a hidden gem with a broad menu, delicious food, and reasonable prices.
The Pho Green Papaya is in a small building, but the vaulted ceilings and large windows create a comfortable, open feeling. The wood paneled walls are beautifully decorated with original paintings and prints evoking an elegant South Asian atmosphere.
The wait staff was very pleasant and attentive, although our waiter seemed slightly shy over that fact that his English wasn't perfect. His English is certainly better than my Vietnamese so he had no need to be nervous around me. He was an excellent waiter, even boxing up our “left overs” for us to take home, and we tipped him accordingly.
The tables were a little small. Two were pushed together to accommodate the four of us and one of them was a little wobbly. The small tables did make it a little tricky for us to deal with all the food we ordered. The vaulted ceilings also made the restaurant a little louder than I would have liked, making us raise our voices a bit to be heard.
The food was incredible and well worth putting up with the small difficulties of the table. The menu is quite extensive, featuring a wide assortment of Vietnamese and Thai dishes. There were several ways to order: ala carte, lunch and dinner specials, and family style. The Green Papaya also offers several tea blends, both traditional and herbal. I ordered a small pot of African Red Bush Chai, a rich blend of Rooibos tea and spices including cardamom, and spearmint. My wife wanted to add sugar, but I thought it was perfect without.
We started off the meal with an appetizer of pork dumplings, with a soy based dipping sauce. The filling was sweet and tender and the wrapper was nicely caramelized. Unfortunately, the wrappers did come undone as we inexpertly grabbed them with chopsticks, making it more difficult to dip in the sauce. The smooth texture and sweet taste made up for it, though.
For the main course we ordered three Thai dishes, family style: Masaman Beef, Pad Thai Shrimp, and Basil Chicken. The first that came to the table was the Masaman Beef. I've never had such succulent and tender beef in my life. The sauce was amazingly creamy with just the right amount of sweetness and spice. While I was surprised that it didn't have any vegetables, I've never eaten better Masaman Beef in my life. It's one of my wife's favorite dishes and she finished it off early in the meal. I should have listened to her when she said, only half jokingly, that we should take a separate order home.
The Pad Thai Shrimp and the Basil Chicken came next. I like Pad Thai and enjoyed the Green Papaya's version, although it didn't quite match up to their Masaman Beef. The Basil Chicken was delicious, with tender baby asparagus spears and a rich and complex fish sauce. The remnants of both made a great lunch for me the day after. In fact, I may have enjoyed the Pad Thai Shrimp even better then next day.
After the meal we felt quite satisfied, and had to get the kids to a school dance, so we decided against getting any of the desserts offered. Part of me felt this was a shame, giving up on a chance to have mango sticky rice, but our hunger had been nicely sated and we felt content so, why give in to gluttony? When the bill came, I was pleasantly surprised. Dinner for four, with appetizers, drinks and a doggie bag, for less than $60.00, is hard to beat.
Should you try Pho Green Papaya? That depends. If you're not up to trying new cuisines and prefer to stuff yourself silly with steak and potatoes, maybe not. If, on the other hand, you're ready for a culinary adventure in a surprising location at reasonable prices, then Pho Green Papaya may just be the adventure you're looking for.