Knockout Noodles: Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwiches
If I had to describe the website for Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwiches, I'd probably go with an alliterative takedown: aggressively amateur. The Wicker Park restaurant's dining room—a gaggle of mismatched chairs, cubby shelving, houseplants, and random artwork—has a kind of thrown-together, kindergarten classroom quality. Judging by such cues, you might go into a meal at Bon Bon with the sense that the proprietors don't take their enterprise all too seriously. Check that attitude at the door, because boy are you wrong.
The menu at Bon Bon is divided between Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines—bánh mì meets bento box. And in addition to the sandwiches, there are warm Vietnamese noodle salads and two choices of phở, one vegan and one with beef. This is where things get serious; noodles like these are only made possible by discipline.
The beef phở ($7.95) is a beautiful example of the traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. The broth, made from simmering par-boiled beef bones, is a fine and nuanced extract, full of savory, meaty flavors and sporting just-right salt and oil levels. A generous helping of steak swims in the broth amid soft, slightly smoky onion slices. The beef is tender and delicious, reminiscent for me of meat cooked in a Japanese shabu shabu hot pot. Bon Bon traffics in exceedingly fresh herbal accompaniments, including crisp and pungent mint leaves, cilantro, and gorgeous bunches of anise-laced Thai basil, its stems the color of Asian eggplant.
The outstanding rice noodles push this phở over the finish line. First of all they're spaghetti-thick, so you can really experience their slightly roughened texture and supple yet resilient structure. They nicely take on some traits of the broth, while maintaining the clean, starchy flavors of the rice that made them.
I was only smitten by the chicken rice noodle salad ($7.95) on a recent visit. Beautifully marinated and glazed dark meat chicken co-stars in this bowl with fluffy, sticky rice noodles—these being flat in shape like fettuccine. Fresh greens, ribbons of carrot, crushed peanut, and more fragrant mint round out the ingredients. A cup of spicy-sweet dressing accompanies the bowl.
Go ahead and toss in the cool, unctuous stuff; it'll help to tie the flavors together and keep these more well-done noodles from clumping up as they rest. After all, you've been handed a delicious bowl of food— the least you could do is take it seriously.