Well, I guess it’s bound to happen. The more restaurants one visits, the better the odds for a bad experience. My recent visit to Phở Century isn’t what I’ve come to expect from a decent Vietnamese restaurant. Some of it I can put down to lack of staffing but the poor quality of beef is unforgivable.
When I arrived, shortly after they opened, there was one other table occupied. Soon the room filled up, leaving the solo server rushing from table to table. I placed my order, Bò Kho (Vietnamese Beef Stew) and spring rolls. After a few minutes the condiment plate arrived.
The bean sprouts and lemon were both very fresh. Usually though, with Bò Kho, basil is served alongside. One time, at Green Bamboo, it was omitted. Therefore, not a problem…it can be optional. I requested and got a sprig of basil slightly past its prime. Why not simply remove the wilted leaves?
This is when the sinking feeling began to set in. It became obvious that an attention to quality and/or detail might not be part of the plan.
Fortunately, the arrival of the spring rolls alleviated that for the time being. Strange that there are no chopsticks to be had!
These are exemplary spring rolls. Nice and crunchy, perfectly fried, with a delicious minced pork filling. Spot on! A great finger food. Where are the chopsticks?!!
This, unfortunately, is where things started to go south. The stew is served by what appeared to be the cook. With a bit of a wobbly delivery and a splash of soup on my pants, lunch has arrived. I thought I wouldn’t have to ask, but I did, and I got chopsticks…and beef-fat soup.
Bò Kho generally has big chunks of brisket with a moderate amount of fat. The fat content gives a great amount of flavor and helps keep the beef moist and tender. In this case, it was virtually all fat with a minimal amount of beef.
After gnawing off a small portion of brisket, this is what remained. The soup, without the fat, was actually quite good. All the elements were in place…the broth well-made, rich and spicy…carrots, cut down in size, very tender. There was even a sprinkling of fried garlic for an additional, unexpected element. Why in the world would you then top it off with inedible meat by-products? Aside from the obvious profit-margin angle, this, as a cook, baffles me. These are trimmings, waste…not part of an otherwise good bowl of soup.