Cha Gio cure 

Vietnamese soups are good for what ails you

Perhaps the worst thing about the winter months is getting sick and not having your mom around -- especially if your mother's prescription for the common cold is hearty homemade chicken soup. So, now that you've gained your independence and moved away from mom, what to do when you get sick? Is it feed the flu, starve a cold or vice versa? Forget that old wives tale and drag your aching bones on over to Cha Gio, a little-frequented Vietnamese restaurant on 10th Street at Juniper. Filled even to slightly more than a third of its capacity, it's still exactly the kind of quiet, discreet place you can go without having to worry about stifling your sniffles. One tip for the solo diner: Bring a book to read or you'll find yourself staring absently at the technicolor mural of a remote, Vietnamese mountain village that adorns the desolate dining room.

Woozy and bleary-brained as I have been all week, I am only just now coming around, thanks to the nourishing chicken broth that is the base of all Cha Gio's soups. I recommend the wonton soup, with a pork-filled dumpling and cabbage leaves -- although I missed the carrots and mushrooms that, perhaps erroneously, I have been conditioned to expect from a standard wonton soup. The vegetable soup of fresh, diced veggies in chicken broth with your choice of chicken or shrimp ($2.50) is also a good choice.

To complement the soup, order either the steamed summer roll or the crispy spring roll ($2.25). The summer roll is more healthful, as it is steamed rather than fried, with basil leaves and rice noodles wrapped in a semi-transparent membrane. The crispy spring roll, however, is also good, mostly for the variety of its three ingredients (chicken, cabbage and onions) that the summer roll, for all its freshness, lacks.

For an entree try the Bo Xao Hao -- thinly sliced beef stir-fried with vegetables in a savory oyster sauce ($7.95). It was the oyster sauce that caught my attention. Alas, I couldn't detect much of a difference between the so-called oyster sauce and the standard brown sauce that coats most of the Asian cuisine made in America. Next time I'll stick with the grilled tenderloin strips marinated with lemongrass and spices ($10.95).

I also recommend the Panh Xeo ($6.95), an omelet of sorts with stir-friend bean sprouts, carrots and cabbage. Not only was it filling yet light in texture, it was also entertaining to watch the chef prepare. She dipped a ladle into the egg yolks mixed with a few whites and coated the wok with a thin layer of the mixture, incorporating a minimum of movements into a modicum of grace. Unlike the omelets we've been conditioned to expect from a lifetime of Sunday brunches, Cha Gio's omelet had something of a floury, paper texture. It was somewhat strange to be eating an omelet without the mushrooms, cream cheese, fresh basil and tomatoes, but with bean sprouts, lemon grass and cabbage instead. Next time I need a trip to the doctor, I'll visit the spitfire chef at Cha Gio's.



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