I’m in San Francisco this week attending WWDC. This is keynote day, a day which starts well before dawn with attendees jostling for position to secure a good vantage point for the announcement of whatever whiz-bang new gadget or function we will be clambering after next. Somewhere toward the end of the day when the excitement of the morning’s revelations begins to wane and the last Apple Design Awards are being given out my attention begins to turn from code to food… Time to resume my search for great Pho.
I’ve come to enjoy wandering the streets of San Francisco. It’s reminiscent of the bad old days of New York. The tenuous balance between the bustling and the dead parts of the city, the commingling of vagrants dragging along the strip and shoppers stepping over them to reach a merchant and how at the junction of Market and 5th the sun shines on tourists on one side of the street while the pan-handlers lurk in the shadows on the other. Ten minutes beyond the shopping district where convention goers fear to tread I found a cluster of Vietnamese places that seemed worth trying.
Today I decided to try Vietnamese House on Eddy St. between Polk and Larkin.
At 6:15pm on this Monday the place was empty except for the round table of Vietnamese kitchen staff sitting down to a game of cards and a group of locals loudly spreading gossip at the other end of the restaurant. My server graciously left his match to take my order before returning to the card table to play his hand.
I ordered two dishes, my staple Pho and a chicken dish sautéed with garlic, lemongrass and string beans and served with steamed rice. The chicken was tasty with bold flavors but I didn’t want to taint my palate before sampling the Pho broth so I reserved the chicken for the end of my meal and got down to business.
The soup broth was mild for my taste but clean with only small ringlets of fat visible on the surface. The beef was sliced thinly and uniformly. The condiments were fresh and new and the flavors lively. I waited until I had eaten more than half thus ensuring that I had experienced the broth at it’s best before layering in an assortment of the customary condiments from bright chili pastes to the ubiquitous Sriracha. I slurped away happily, trying to avoid sweating into my soup.
This Pho was a very good representation. It is what I’ve come to expect from a good place and I found my meal very enjoyable. It was only “good” however and I do remember enjoying my meal at Turtle Tower Restaurant just around the corner a bit more. For my palate the hallmark of a great broth is a deep rich multidimensional flavor that you taste with your nose as much as your mouth. Of course it’s a matter of preference but I like the taste the beef on the broth, and the pinch of the spices it takes to extract that full beef flavor and bring it alive after a long simmer. I love the added dimension of anise and cloves that lend a different sensation to the dining experience. I do appreciate this style but it just doesn’t conjure my best memories of this wonderful dish. I left satisfied, but also looking forward to continuing my search.