Sunday, March 4, 2012

Vertigo, Vietnam and Transfiguration

Wouldn’t you know it? As soon I commited to writing in this blog regularly, I got whooped upside the head with vertigo. Round and round the room went spinning, a desperate Facebook status sent many friends calling to check and the paramedics raced to my aid. What my body decided to do is unfit for description in a food blog. I laid sick-tummy-side-up for a week, one wonderful friend after another coming to check on me. 

Then, my hard drive crashed. What happened next is also unfit for description. Somethings are just too horrifying to discuss (We’re talking over 90,000 files of hard drive horror.). Be careful where you click, my friends. Be careful where you click. 


I had planned to tell you, dear nieces and nephews, about a recently discovered Vietnamese restaurant. The memory of it’s homey comfort food haunted me. I was in dire need of comfort, after all. 

Vietnam Restaurant

An inner urban neighborhood in East Dallas. Old, charming buildings are being renovated. Some have fallen to disrepair. The occasional new condo complex stands.

On the corner of Bryan at Peak, a passenger gets on the 409 bus. It leaves and is followed by the 502. In front of Vietnam Restaurant, a man washes his car.

Karaoke night, anyone?
Vietnam Restaurant has all the quirky trappings of a hole in the wall. Waiters are cleaning up after the lunch buffet, their drink cups and spray cleaner bottles sitting about. They gossip in Vietnamese. The service is spotty but friendly.

The waitress greets me warmly and tells me to sit anywhere. I choose the room with seven flat screen tv’s. Five on. None watched.

She brings the menu. There are over 140 options with variations: crepes, egg rolls, soups, salad, stir fry, bubble tea. I chose Number 80, small; pho with “thin eyeround beef, meatball.” When it arrives, it is dropped, unceremoniously, on the table. A plate of garnishes accompanies: cilantro, basil, bean sprouts, lime, fresh jalapeno.
Pho. Wonderful, magical pho.

Then, transfiguration. The hole in the wall trappings have disappeared. I am now surrounded by mystery.

The scent of pho swirls around me like an aromatic, sweet perfume. What are those scents? Those flavors? Meaty. Savory. Floral. Spicy. Is that cinnamon? A faint hint of sweetness? The complexity makes the individual flavors almost indistinguishable. The broth is wonderfully light but rich. Noodles pick up the flavor of the broth. The meatballs are chewy and toothsome; almost an al dente texture. The beef slices are thin, cooked by the steaming broth. Red onion, green onion are sliced on top. As I sip, slurp and chew, I add one garnish after another, each changing the dish. A snippet of fresh basil, a torn cilantro leaf, a squeeze of lime. Each contributes and mutates the perfume. A slice of jalapeno steeps, making the dish spicier in each taste.

A waiter dashes behind the counter.
Lucky frog, lilies and sport trophy.

When I finish, I pay the bill at the front, a lucky frog smiling at me, his mouth full of money.

Driving home, a wave of scent and flavor wafts through my mouth and nose. Its lingering complexity surprises me, delights me. 

The memory of this pho haunts me in moments when comfort is needed. This is its healing secret.

Vietnam Restaurant Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon


  1. Nice article! Did you know that the word pho comes from the French word feu? It's actually pronounced the same way. Apparently the locals liked pot à feu and made it their own.

  2. yummy! will we have to check it out next time we are over there :)

  3. Thanks, y'all. Thanks for posting!

    Yes, I'd heard about the pot à feu connection. It is believed pho is a combination of Chinese & french influences.

  4. Hi ,

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  5. Thanks, Greg!!

    Here's my Urbanspoon page.

  6. This article has caused me to suddenly crave Vietnamese food!

    Much love to Aunt Sally Good Food,

  7. I've had similar experiences with magical pho. What makes the broth so anise? But there's more to it than that....

    Lately, I've become obsessed with writing new recipes for potstickers aka gyoza, Chinese dumplings and (this one was entirely new to me) Peking Ravioli.

    Love the blog. Warm and comfy like grandma's kitchen, but smart and funny too!