Monday, June 18, 2007

If I clicked my heels...

...where would I like to be at this very moment [eating lunch]?

If it meant teleporting anywhere, that's a tough one! I'd have to say either To Chau on River Street or Pho 97 on Maunakea Street (Honolulu), eating a very large bowl of pho. In Cleveland, I'd have to say Vietnamese wins again - #1 Pho on Superior Avenue. Maybe it's because it's bubbling in the 90s and humid today.

The Vietnamese restaurants in Cleveland are not scant, but they are not plentiful either.

Superior Pho, formerly Pho Hoa, serves pretty decent food. Their pho is on the cinnamon side. The restaurant is small, seating ~30 patrons, and the menu isn't as deep as #1 Pho. As one would expect with a specialized menu, the food is quite delicious and consistent. Their service is hit or miss. Average cost is $25 for summer rolls, 2 servings of pho, and 2 glasses of bubble tea. This was where we had our first taste of bubble tea. Honeydew melon, mango, taro, or lychee! YUM!!

Our former hang-out, Minh Anh, became our former because of a decay in quality and service. We had been going there for several years, 3-4 times per week as their prices were low. An average dinner is $16 for summer rolls and two servings of pho. They are a one-trick pony. If we wanted really good pho, that was where we went, although the soup was inconsistent from good, to great, to dishwater. We had tried other dishes, but the only dishes that didn't seem like stuff you'd eat at any other Chinese restaurant or La Choy, were their pho (floral, my favorite style) and bun.

The straw that broke the camel's back was when I ordered my usual bowl of pho (rare flank only) and got a completely different bowl of pho (one with tripe, tendon, beef balls - I've tried it several times and don't care for it) along with the sawgrass, cilantro, round onions, and green onions. I had our server, who knew when she took it out to me that it was wrong, take it back. It was brought back to me with a message from the cook that he was sick and tired of making pho the way I requested (no veggies, meat on the side) and that I was going to eat it because he wasn't making a different bowl. The owner yelled at the server and said that I ordered the soup (which I did not) so an exchange would not be made just because the meat was in the soup.

Meanwhile, Bug had started eating his pho when he discovered several crickets in his bowl (ironic, eh?). At that point, he had had it between the kitchen, the owner, and the decline in service over the months, that he threw the money on the table to pay for our drinks, appetizer, and BOTH bowls that we didn't eat, and said he'd never come back again. It's been well over a year, and we've not been back.

Phnom Penh (Vietnamese-Cambodian) has really spicy and yummy food! It's kind of unfair to judge them with the other restaurants here because we went there expressly to try their Cambodian dishes. Their Asian basil fried rice with beef dish is so flavorful, refreshing, and spicy! The beef chha kreoung ma rass prowt on *medium* heat was very mellow in flavor and essence from the galanga, coconut, and peanuts but wonderfully spicy! Oh, have I said the food is spicy here? :) Our dinner cost $18, for an appetizer and two dishes.

#1 Pho is our favorite since they have a very large menu, with at least 15 appetizers to choose from, and despite it's name, isn't just "pho," which, by the way, is on the cinnamon side. There are other items like broken rice dishes, bun dishes, and various meat, seafood, and vegetarian stews, soups, and fried dishes. Their decor is warehouse contemporary, spacious with hardwood floors and high ceilings. The servers are really personable and, well, at this point, we aren't given menus since they know what we want when we walk through the door; although I occasionally like to throw a curve ball and order something else. An average dinner costs $19 when we order summer rolls and two servings of pho.

Our favorite appetizer is the summer roll with the barbecue cured pork. It's the best! Second to that would be the shrimp with sugar cane. The appetizer that is the most disappointing is the make-your-own roll. The rice paper comes moistened and ALL stuck together into one thick clump.

It's been a recurrent topic of conversation between Bug and I while waiting for our bowls of pho to arrive - why the sameness in variance (what?) of flavor from restaurant to restaurant. While realizing that even ordering spaghetti with tomato sauce the flavor varies from restaurant to restaurant, this strikes me as a little different. I've noticed that pho is either floral or spicy (cinnamon) in flavor. One or the other, not in between. Well, there was that one time we had soup that tasted like dishwater somewhere...

As we enjoy our summer rolls dipped in the spicy, piquant sauce, we inevitably chalk it up to regional variance. Just as we finish our last bite of our rolls, our steaming bowls of pho arrive at our table with the platter of bean sprouts, basil, lime, peppers, as well as hoisin and sriracha dipping sauces.

My bowl always looks the same. Ordered clear, with no vegetables in the soup and meat (raw flank) on the side so I don't have to dodge between the round onions, green onions, and cilantro, and I can control the rareness of the meat. Bug orders his with everything inside.

The first thing I do is drink a spoonful of broth before adding anything. I then pick through the basil and snip the little leaves, as many as Bug will allow me to steal. Next come the mound of bean sprouts, and then all but 3-4 of the green chile peppers, followed by squeezing the lime wedge over my soup - flavoring the soup and cleaning my fingers of the pepper oil so I don't burn my eyes when I rub them! Finally, I throw in a few slices of the raw beef and push them under the noodles.

After I've mixed the contents of the now-heaping bowl, I take another sip of the soup and dive in! Mmm!

I guess I'm a little *cough* compulsive about preparing and eating my pho. I wonder if I'm the only one...?


1 deep thoughts:

Mjol 25 June, 2007 12:30  

Holy Hell, that is ridiculous !
I don't know what I'd do if I ever had that happen to, what an irrational jackass.
That aside, I'm pretty hungry now.

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