With the closing of the Fan restaurant, “Friend or Pho” after just 5 months of operation, it got me wondering what contributed to its quick demise. Is it true that the food bloggers and twitterers brought it down, or was it simply a bad concept in the first place? I never had interest in trying out the place, my reason being that, with a name , uh, like that, how serious could the food be? I heard that the beer selection was great, but then I don’t drink beer so that was hardly a draw. Whoever thought of that irreverent name should have just considered opening in the West End, it might have had better longevity. Opening in the Fan which is like the center of “foodiedom” is like daring to be eaten alive.
I’m no expert in Vietnamese cuisine, neither is pho my favorite noodle bowl in town. That honor would be the Hong Kong style roast duck noodle soup at Full Kee. However, when I was a newbie in Richmond, I was lucky enough to have a Cambodian co-worker. She was married to a “whitey” (her words, not mine) whom she couldn’t drag out for noodle soup for breakfast. So on some Sundays, she would pick me up at my house at 9:00 am and we would drive to RVA’s little Chinatown on Horsepen and eat at Pho So 1. Her dad and aunt live in the area and know all the little gossip going around there, including where the best place is for Asian ethnic food (usually at someone’s house). That early in the morning, Pho So 1 is packed…with Asians (think first-generation)…which speaks well for its authenticity.
I’ve gone and tried other phos around town like Mekong and Dalat but none of them had the same vibe as the ones from Pho So 1. I’m sure all these restaurants have their devoted following but it’s like this with me: I live in the West End, Dalat is nearer by proximity and if I’m lazy to make the drive and want Vietnamese cuisine, then I’d settle for their food but if I have to drive all the way to Horsepen, it’ll always be Pho So 1.
So I find myself driving there this morning, I had a sudden craving for tendon and tripe which, by the way, Mekong and Dalat do not serve. I got there right before 11:00 am and yes there were already a few diners slurping soup. I observed who their customers were at that time – mostly older Asian folks that reminded me of my grandma’s friends.
There had been complaints about their food on online review sites like Yelp. Their fresh spring rolls – I agree- I miss the herbs in them as they do not taste like anything without the peanut sauce. The pho and the lack of meat – I disagree – plenty enough meat in my opinion. The broth had a great aroma and a robust beef flavor, but what disconcerted me for a moment was its unusual cloudiness. Not sure if I was just being more observant today or it has always been that way. I know for a good quality pho broth you need to keep it clear and free of impurities, but you know, maybe someone just forgot the broth and let it boil. And at a place like this, that does not aspire for any foodie approval, all you can do is suck it up. 😉
Anyway, my favorite Vietnamese dish is not Pho but barbecue broken rice. And I must say Pho so 1’s broken rice plates are my favorite. They’re not excessively sweet or salty like most “Americanized” versions, and you “taste” the fire from the grill which is exactly what I’d expect from these dishes. I made sure to order some for dinner tonight and we enjoyed it immensely.
So, do you have a favorite Vietnamese restaurant where you live?