Fresh from my wonderful dinner at Vietnam House I had renewed enthusiasm for Pho and mounting excitement for what would come next. After canvasing the neighborhood around Eddy St. and Larkin St. in San Francisco earlier in the week I noticed Bodega Bistro, the next destination on my list. Nondescript from the outside and located just across the street from a favored lounging area of neighborhood vagrants I must say I was less than eager to try this place, but the events of the evening just goes to show you should never judge a book by its cover, nor a restaurant by its facade.
The restaurant was nearly empty except for one older man with his back to the door and his face buried in his bowl. A group of staff huddled near the rear of the restaurant attentively studying a TV screen mounted above the entrance to the kitchen. I might have thought they were studying menu changes or some such thing, but their focus was too intense. My waiter quickly walked over to great me and invited me over to sit near the rest of the crew for the best view of the soccer match that had them all transfixed. I gladly joined them and immediately felt at ease as I took my seat, opened my menu and began to browse.
The match was Mexico versus El Salvador. I was starved and fixated on what delicious bits I was going to order. The staff was equally fixated on the scoreless content, so much so that the manager joked to me that I’d better root for Mexico, insinuating that if they lost the Mexican kitchen crew would be very unhappy and there would be no food tonight! I smiled and got behind my new team. As an added caution I ordered quickly. Two of my favorites, Pho Bo and a calamari salad to start.
The calamari had a flaky batter outside but was perfectly moist inside and had a tender bite. It was perfectly cooked and served on a bed of lettuce which didn’t add much, but spiced with fresh chilies which made it all the more lively. The delicious calamari set my level of expectation but the fragrance of the Pho broth forced me to revise that upward. It was uncanny. As though the ‘dining deity’ had heard my prayers from the night before and decided to look favorably upon me. As thought the Chef had read my previous post and took it to heart. The aroma was rich, deep and complex with hints of clove and wafts of anise seed. As though on queue, Mexico scored the first goal of the match. All was right with the world.
What my nose suggested my tongue confirmed. The flavor was deep and rich but you couldn’t tell that from the color of the broth which was clear and clean with a golden hue. The rising steam from the piping hot bowl made the dish look like the gleaming treasure that it was. I was in heaven. By now the restaurant was filling up and everyone had a smile on their face which made the atmosphere of this cozy place all the more welcoming.
I feasted on the generous mounds of well done brisket in my soup while waiting for my raw prime beef to cook to my liking in the piping hot broth. When I finished I was encouraged to stay and relax. My waiter brought me another Tsingtao and a small bowl of young slightly roasted lightly salted peanuts. I sat back and soaked up the atmosphere. As though on queue, my tipsy daze was interrupted by the television announcer letting out a loud shriek! El Salvador had scored on a penalty shot. That was my queue to leave.
I never looked up the score. I didn’t want to know.