"So tell me what your biggest accomplishment was over the past five years has been?" the interviewer asked.
"Well, I managed to convert a bunch of food hard-heads into much more gastronmically well-rounded people! Now they're eating sushi and Indian food and pho all by themselves!" I replied.
And then I woke up. Damn, it was just a dream.
But it's not unreal per se. Because if I really think about it, that probably was one of my most significant accomplishments during the last five years at my company. Significant to me, that is, because being the corporate cog-in-the-wheel that I am, who really cares about real work anyways?
Soon enough, I'll be leaving this lovely place that's been providing me with a decent paycheck over the last five years, so it's time to reflect. No, not upon my real title as Financial Data and Reporting Whore or My Boss's Bitch but as Food Finder Extraordinaire. How many hours I've spent on-line or driving around researching local Valley restaurants just to get away from the popular Company spots! (Good for gossiping!) And how much time I've spent talking others into trying something new! (C'mon, try Korean food! It's just meat and rice...you'll like it!) So don't call me Manager of Meaningless Numbers Pulled Out Of My Ass. Just call me Asian Persuasion. "Asian" because I'm Asian. (Duh) And "Persuasion" because that's what I do best--I persuade people to go out and try different foods and restaurants.
In the midst of all this reflecting, then, how perfect is it that Ms. Sarah from The Delicious Life chose the theme of this month's Dine and Dish to be Asian Persuasion?
Only this time, my persuasion led everyone to an Asian restaurant that quite frankly, sucked. I chose Pho So 1 in Van Nuys because its only one of very few Vietnamese restaurants on this side of the Valley and because it's gotten decent reviews on Chowhound.
"What's for lunch, Pam?"
"Um, you guys wanna go to this place called Pho So 1 in Van Nuys? I heard it's good."
"What's it like?"
"I dunno. It's my first time, but you know, it's just pho--you've been to Pho 999 with me before. It's just like that. Just noodles and soup."
Some, like my normal luch crew who will go anywhere, didn't even flinch and agreed to go. Others flinched slightly and agreed to go after not being able to think of anywhere else to eat. Some wouldn't budge: "Mmm, nah. Y'know, the last time I went to a pho restaurant, I saw a cockroach running around." "But it was a different restaurant." "Yeah, still." See, Asian Persuasion's work is never done!
After walking into a star-anise scented dining room located in a 99 Ranch shopping center, our request for a table for 9 was met with strange looks, and after a few minutes, we were seated. Our waiter, a thin middle aged Vietnamese gentleman who was obviously a mathematician or The Count from Sesame Street in another life, came by to take our orders.
"OK, you ready?"
My coworker on my right started it up.
"We'll have an order of fried egg rolls, and I'll have a number one."
"OK, one egg roll, one number one? Who else number one?"
"Uh, I'll have a number one," I answered.
"OK, two number one."
"But I don't want cilantro please," I said.
"Two number one no cilantro?"
"No, one no cilantro, the other with everything."
"OK, one number one no cilantro, one number one cilantro."
He then went counter-clockwise around the table taking orders. After each person's order, he'd go, "OK, number 54. Who else want 54? OK, one number 54." OK, I know you're trying to be thorough, dude, but hurry up, we're hungry!
Then the drinks.
"I'll have a Thai Iced Tea," said one of my coworkers.
"I'll have one too," said another before The Count had the opportunity to ask who else wanted one which I think made him mad. "Two Thai Iced Tea???" he asked. He got to me and I said I wanted a Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk. A flurry of "Oooh, I want one too" responses came from three of my coworkers.
"OK, four Iced Coffee."
"Can I change my Thai Iced Tea to Iced Coffee?" my coworker asked.
"OK, five Iced Coffee. One Thai Iced Tea."
"Can I get an iced coffee too? And an Ice Water?" asked another one of my coworkers.
"Six Iced Coffee. One Thai Iced Tea. How many people want Ice Water?" said The Count.
"Can you just bring ice water for the whole table?" I asked.
"OK, 9 ice water. Six Iced Coffee. One Thai Iced Tea. One Orange Soda. One Lemon Soda. Ten food."
"Ten food???" we asked.
"Yeah, nine order plus one egg roll. Ten."
I expected him to go "Six! Six Iced Coffees! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!" just like The Count. Or maybe I should have recruited this guy as our newest analyst. He obviously loves his analytical skills.
The Count at work
We were a little surprised that a plate of five cha gio (Five! Five fried egg rolls! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!) cost five bucks because they usually cost under three at other places. But because we were craving, we ordered a plate anyways and when it was brought to the table, we realized why they cost five bucks...they were huge! Their ground pork, mushroom and glass noodle filling was tasty, but was overkill on a food that should be delicate and crispy.
Usually "phat" is good; not so much here
For the four of us ordered pho (Four! Four Pho! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!), we were brought only two scrawny plates of veggie condiments. We decided that we were going to ask for more, but only after all the food was brought out--we didn't want any surprises in our food due to too many special requests!
You mean we're supposed to share this???
Disappointing is the best word I can use to describe my bowl of Number One No Cilantro, a.k.a. Pho Dac Biet. The broth lacked depth: not enough beefy flavor but way too much star anise and ginger. I had to add a couple of lime, several slices of green chile and a ton of Thai basil to make it more interesting, which even then, wasn't enough. A huge tangled ball of noodles sat in my bowl of soup and was unevenly cooked, over cooked in some patches and undercooked in others. The quality of meat was questionable, the gelatinous tendon and snappy tripe being the best amongst the bunch, but there were some extra-gristly pieces of brisket and some mystery connective tissue in there that were too tough to even chew. I ate half and that was all I could handle.
One! One big bowl of disappointment! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!
By the time I'd finished this half a Pho Dac Biet, my coffee had finished dripping out of the metal Vietnamese coffee press and into the ceramic cup where the condensed milk had been waiting. Very carefully, I poured the coffee-condensed milk mixture into the tall glass of ice provided and stirred it silly. The coffee only filled the glass a little over half full (either that or I'm an optimist, which in this case, I wasn't) and when I took a sip, it was strong as fuck. I had to stir it some more to make the ice melt and dilute this thick, iced concoction; after a few minutes of stirring, it was finally to my liking.
Can this thing drip any slower?
There was a variety of other pho, bun (vermicelli) and com (rice) dishes around the table, none of which I tried. It did look, however, like the concensus about Pho So 1's food was the same all around: mediocre at best. Nine! Nine Disappointing Meals! Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah!
Pho So 1
6450 Sepulveda Blvd. #C & D
Van Nuys, CA 91411