2123 Sawtelle Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Pho as a hangover helper is slowly becoming a Delicious tradition. I say “slowly becoming” because at one point in my life, I hated pho with the fury of a woman scorned. In fact, I hated the entire cuisine of Vietnam. Please, if you are Vietnamese or happen to love the whack stank of dead fermenting fish, don’t be offended. It just happened that the combination of cilantro, fish sauce, and a memory of a cheating boyfriend gelled in my first bowl of pho and resulted in a wave of nausea that I will never forget. As for the rest of the cuisine, that was just my being irrational.
But I’m okay now!
And after finally understanding the wonders of long-, slow-cooked beef broth turned firrhea red with sriracha and sambal, I am a huge fan of its medicinal benefits in the late morning that follows an evening with elixirs of a slightly more alcoholic sort. Not only are the rice noodles easy to digest by a system that’s been working overtime to process poison, but the salty soup serve to rehydrate the prune that was once my brain.
Vietnamese options were at one time limited on the Westside, but in recent years, several places have opened. I had always patronized Pho 99 simply because it was the closest to my house, but I have been known to pop down to Le Saigon every once in a while thinking I should be neither so exclusive, nor so lazy, often forgetting that it isn’t any better and costs slightly more. However, I never ventured to Phoreign on Sawtelle because, admittedly, I was being stupid.
I pho-king hated the name. (Aw, come on. You knew I had to say it at some point, right?)
That of course, made no sense as a reason to avoid a Pho-serving establishment because really now, is Pho 99 any better? Of course not. However, part of the reason is that I couldn’t figure out whether the name of the restaurant is pronounced “foreign,” or if I’m to say “pho-rain.” The bigger part of the reason was that I was a little more than irritated at Phoreign’s perpetuation of people’s mis-pronunciation of the word pho as “pho,” rhymes with “faux,” and not better as “pho,” rhymes more accurately with “duh.”
But now, I have a real reason to avoid Phoreign.
I hate the name, because it should be called “faux-reign.”
I am not sure what posessed me to suggest Phoreign in the first place, but let’s just suffice it to say that there was mention of “pho” but he with whom I was dining was a danger to my reputation of chastity around Brentwood wherein one or more ex-somethings might live and could potentially result in a close encounter of the unkind. In other words, though I didn’t honestly believe that we could run into an ex, I didn’t want to test fate. I am not sure why I thought that additional mile to Sawtelle would be any more of a buffering precaution.
After the always harrowing experience in the parking lot of the plaza in which Phoreign is located, we headed into the restaurant. Despite the cheesy name, the décor inside the narrow space is pleasant, or at least as pleasant as strip-mall joint can be. I am not sure if superficial nods to Asia, from the narrow floor-to-ceiling murals on the walls to the chairs at the “bar” with little baskets underneath, were Vietnamese, or just things the owners picked up from the Asian section of Cost Plus. We sat down against the wall.
I may not be Vietnamese, but I can smell a perpetrator from the parking lot like it took a steaming hot bath in fish sauce then toweled off with a ripened Spam. I felt the beginnings of something being amiss when I saw the Ribeye Steak with Herbal Tomato Sauce on the menu. I ignored the feeling, however, chalking it up to the Sawtelle standard – serving weird Asianized versions of Western dishes right alongside sushi and ramen. We both ordered our individual bowls of pho and because we’re pimp, spring rolls as a starter.
Our spring rolls were not offensive and were, in fact, quite pleasantly crisp. I avoided the accompanying sauce and ate them with an illegal drizzle of sriracha. What came after the appetizer was two shades lighter than dark disastrophe. I had ordered Tofu Pho, which is no indication of a fear of beef, simply an undying affection for tofu. My bowl looked like an Asian pasta plimavela gone horribly waterlogged. The tofu pho I usually get has broccoli in it, but never before had I seen straw mushrooms, carrots, and julienned red peppers. Please correct me if I’m being ignorant about the type of vegetables in pho. Even if I’m right about the wrong vegetables, I can forgive a little fusion here and there, but I never forget the offensive taste of cilantro. It was already in my food tainting my soup and my experience.
I picked out every gaudy neon shred of parsely’s hateful cousin, but nothing could help how disappointingly bland the broth was. Salt is not the issue, and neither is spice. I am talking about the depth of flavor that comes from simmering a veritable barnyard of four legged animals until every molecule of their animal essence has been rendered into a deep, dark, meaty infusion. Had Phoreign admirably used vegetable broth to keep the Tofu Pho strictly vegetarian? Perhaps. I can’t assume what Phoreign’s kitchen does, but I do know that a proper vegetable broth can have the same type of depth, albeit a totally different flavor. I didn’t bother to ask the staff about it, because I tasted the beef pho, and it was the same bland case.
Next time I come down as far as Sawtelle for a Hangover Helper, I’ll stick with Little Hong Kong.