Sunday, October 09, 2005
3.5 Courses Of Beef Times Two: Pagolac
In light of my recent experience dining alone, had I eaten this myself, I'd have gained 20 pounds for sure.
My friend and I recently had dinner at Westminster's Pagolac, a Vietnamese restaurant best known for its "7 Courses Of Beef" meal. $12.99 per order, the menu says. We were about to get one order for each of us, but fortunately our waiter was honest and told us that may be a bit much for us girls. So one order it was. This was the opposite of dining alone, I thought to myself, One order, but for two people!
I looked around the expansive dining room as we waited for our first course. In the lobby, a cute display of a vintage Vespa scooter and carriage--two of Vietnam's main modes of transport--surrounded by colorful flowers and fruit baskets. The place had an energetic vibe which I loved...all around us, local Vietnamese families were busy eating, conversing, and simply enjoying a weekend supper together.
Take me to Pagolac...and make it snappy!
I've heard of this "7 Courses Of Beef" thing before--I've seen it advertised both in the windows and on the menus of various Vietnamese restaurants--and it's always intrigued me. It sounds so massive, doesn't it? Like you're gonna get the whole cow or something. I remember going with my coworkers to get pho one day at some place that happened to serve this 7 course meal. One of my coworkers nearly fell to the floor when he saw the neon lit sign in the window: "Seven Courses Of Beef. Hahahahahahahahaha!!!!" I don't know why it was so funny; it could have been perverted, it could've not. I guess we all just find our own ways to entertain ourselves.
Not two minutes later, our first course arrived: Bo Nhung Dam, three slices of beef tenderloin that we were to cook fondue style in a little hot pot with vinegary broth. My friend, who'd had this meal before, went first, demonstrating by dunking the slice of beef into the broth, swishing it around a few times, then assembling into a spring roll with the rice paper wrappers, the lettuce and herbs and the assorted veggies that they had brought to the table. I quickly followed suit, swishing my slice around in the broth, while trying to dodge the flames that were coming up from under the dish. The rice paper wrappers were a little difficult to peel apart, but I took my time, and soon I got a piece of the thin, white wrapper. I tore off a piece of the green leaf lettuce that was amongst the huge pile of herbs as well as a few leaves of purple basil and mint, placing them carefully atop the piece of slightly cooked beef that I'd lain on the rice paper. To this I added a little bean sprout, shredded carrot, pickled daikon, and sliced cucumber. A nice dunk in the fish-sauce laden peanut sauce, and I had my first delicious bite. If you like the traditional unfried Vietnamese spring rolls, goi cuon, you'll like this for sure. It's cool and refreshing, with the snappy rice paper, and all the various herbs, lettuce, and veggies, while also being hot and intense from the cooked meat. The funky peanut sauce adds a nice kick as well.
Our condiments patiently waiting our 7 Courses of Beef!
Course No. 1: Bo Nhung Dam
There was still one slice of beef tenderloin left from course #1, but we didn't have time to get to it before courses #'s 2,3,4 and 5 arrived. They actually came all on one plate garnished with two stale shrimp chips and were to be eaten exactly the same way as course #1...made into a spring roll. Course number 2, Bo Cha Dum, was a huge steamed meatball that had mushrooms, peanuts and a few strands of vermicelli mixed in. It reminded me of a steamed pork cake that my Dad makes that contains shitake mushrooms and water chestnuts; this meatball, however, had a twinge of coconut milk to it, which made it really tasty. There were three rolls wrapped in beef slices, and I wanted to take them apart, but didn't, so I just read the menu for a description of course number 3: Bo Sate, beef sate prepared with a special curry sauce, pickles, ginger and wrapped in sliced tenderloin and charbroiled to perfection in an open flame. I was a little disappointed by this one as I expected to taste the sate flavors a bit more. Wrapped in all those spring roll goodies, though, it was fine. My favorites were courses 4 and 5: Bo Nuong Mo Chai, charbroiled ground beef sausage, and Bo La Lot, beef sausage wrapped in a "Hawaii Leaf", which was reminiscent of a greap leaf, and grilled. Bo Nuong Mo Chai was a little meatier and shaped into a round meatball, each bite perfectly juicy and spicy. The Bo La Lot seemed to be seasoned with the same type of spices, but its texture was a little softer, still oozing with juiciness after biting into the charred leaf.
Four courses of beef on one plate
By the time Course #6 Bo Bit Tet, a salad of grilled beef and lightly dressed lettuce leaves, came around, our rice paper was starting to get a little dry, and it became much more difficult to peel them apart. I'd get the corner up and as it lifted off, it sometimes started to stick to itself, looking like this:
Now I'm not going to say what that looks like. My girlfriend and I could not stop laughing though! Some people laugh at "7 Courses of Beef", we laugh at rice paper that looks, well, shall we say, used.
Anyways, the beef in course #6 was a bit too well done and dry, but again, making it into a spring roll seemed to solve everything.
Course No. 6: Bo Bit Tet
Course #7, while containing beef, was not meant to be eaten spring roll style, but rather, served as sort of a palate cleanser after having all of those intense flavors. Chao Bo, a soup made of rice, ground beef, alphabet noodles (though I couldn't spot any...I saw star shaped macaroni instead), and scallions in a clear broth, was soothing--something I'd like to have the next time I get a cold.
Course No. 7: Chao Bo
By the end of our meal, I think I'd probably assembled and eaten about 12 "spring rolls" just by myself and was ready to burst at the seams, a feeling I'd had just a few days before. But we got the check and for all this food plus a Thai iced tea, our total came to just under 20 bucks after tax and tip. A total deal for some really good times and seven whole courses of delicious beef!
14580 Brookhurst St.
Westminster, CA 92683