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Eastern Adventures

A pair of Asian eateries offer flavor and convenience

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Can there be any better illustration of pho's heightened popularity than the recent opening of Bowl of Pho? Located just a few doors down from Corky & Lenny's — that long-time shrine to matzo ball soup — is a restaurant devoted to Vietnamese noodle soup. It just goes to prove that what began a handful of years back as an obscure foodie fixation has ballooned into a full-on suburban necessity.

Tucked away in Woodmere's Village Square Shopping Center, Bowl of Pho is never going to replace Asiatown's pioneering noodle shops. But for East Siders who don't feel like making the trip downtown, this place is a worthwhile substitute.

The good news is that the pho is really good. We enjoyed large portions of beef- and chicken-based bowls filled with the usual mix of chewy rice noodles, fresh herbs, and onions. One size fits all here, and large is the only option available. The kitchen also limits customer choice in terms of selection, with just two beef options: lean beef or a combination with meatballs, tendon, and well-done brisket.

Starters were less appealing, with appearances by mushy fried spring rolls and a banh mi sandwich that proved short on grilled pork and hot peppers, and long on mystery meat. We had heard good things about the Vietnamese crepes, but it turns out they are only available on weekends.

The menu also offers the usual lineup of broken rice and noodle dishes. Toppings include grilled pork chops, grilled shrimp, or grilled chicken. Vegetarians can choose from a handful of veggie-based stir fries.

As for friendly suggestions: We would ask management to turn down the television, stock tables with hot sauce and fish sauce, and replace the slippery metal chopsticks with noodle-grabbing wood.

Across town, meanwhile, a recently launched Korean spot in Asiatown is also worth a stop. Located on the second floor of the Asia Town Center, Miega Korean BBQ is bright, modern, and roomy. Tables are equipped with built-in call buttons that summon servers at the press of a finger. Meals begin with cups of lukewarm bori cha: a nutty tea made from roasted barley. Tables soon are taken over by an amazing spread of panchan: pungent side dishes that range from fiery kimchi to steamed broccoli.

One of our favorite culinary pursuits is Korean-style barbecue, a celebratory experience that puts diners in charge of the tabletop grills. So imagine our glee when we first learned that Miega planned on joining the long-running Seoul Hot Pot in providing that option.

Sadly, the built-in grills never materialized — a financial reality that management says might change in the future. For now, though, diners watch as a staffer crowds thick-cut beef into a shallow casserole atop a tabletop hot plate, which ends up steaming the meat more than grilling it. The resulting meat is chewy not charred, but with a pleasantly beefy flavor seasoned with soy, garlic, and sugar.

The seafood pa jun ($12.95) — a large scallion-based pancake — is loaded with tasty bits of squid, fish cake, and faux crab. Man du — Asian dumplings ($4.95) — come steamed or pan-fried. The steamed variety arrives somewhat watery and slightly underseasoned, a malady remedied by a dip in the accompanying "special" soy sauce.

Miega prepares one of the best versions of galbi dolsot bibimbap ($12.95) in the city. Served in a hot earthenware bowl, the dish is layered with rice, beef, veggies, and a runny fried egg. After a squirt of hot sauce, the dish is stirred together and eaten. The longer it sits, the more crisp the rice on the bottom gets.

The lengthy menu also boasts a number of Korean-style hot pots, filled with everything from tripe to seafood and built for sharing. Speaking of sharing: Though billed as single servings, portions for the BBQ are massive. And with prices like $24 for short rib and $19 for pork belly, sharing is recommended.

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