Back in Chicago, Mike and I were hungry and in a bit of a hurry. I'd read in my guidebook about a no-frills deli not far from our hotel, and that seemed like a good way to fill our stomachs.
But on our way there we walked by a restaurant with outdoor seating and the smell of the food being served was incredible. The restaurant looked fancier than we were in the mood for--white tablecloths, rich women with high-end shopping bags, waiters in suits--but we couldn't get over how good the food smelled, so we got a table and ordered up some lunch.
Thank goodness we stopped.
What you are looking at is the finest bowl of pho M or I have ever consumed. The balance of flavors in the oxtail broth was incredible and the cuts of beef tenderloin were absolutely sublime--they just melted on the tongue. The restaurant's name is Le Colonial and their focus is French-Vietnamese fine dining. We got the pho as a starter, but sadly, neither of our follow-up dishes scored anywhere near the ballpark of the pho. We both wished we'd simply ordered two bowls of the pho instead.
Back in Seattle, M and I were introduced to the joys of pho by the Than brothers, who serve up a more everyday kind of pho with a more everyday price tag. They started a pho house in north Seattle in 1996 and quickly expanded all over the city. You can't get anything but pho there: many varieties of beef, or chicken, or vegetarian. And each meal begins with a complimentary (and complementary) cream puff. The puffs are so good that when M and I got married in 2000, we ordered five hundred of them and stacked them into towers instead of serving cake--a tradition my sister and her husband continued when they got married this summer.
When we're in Seattle, we often get into cream puff eating competitions with Mike's sister and brother. I believe that Mary is the reigning champion, having swallowed 15 cream puffs in one sitting, but if I've got that wrong, forgive me. (They take the competition very seriously.)
So tonight, in chilly Brooklyn, far from either Chicago or Seattle, I started dreaming of pho, and I remembered a place on Atlantic that had served us pho once before: Nicky's. I called and ordered two bowls of pho and two bahn mi sandwiches. An intolerable 45 minutes later, the food finally arrived.
When you order pho to go, they separate out the broth from the meat and the noodles and the vegetable matter so that you can assemble it fresh just before you eat it. Also, some of the meat is raw, so that it will be cooked by the hot broth.
I took the two containers of broth and, though they were still hot, I heated them on my stove until they were boiling. The pod of star anise gave off the most heavenly aroma. And then I poured the broth into two big glass bowls and we each set about assembling our pho, me with more plum sauce, M with more sriracha.
I tell you, it was so, so good, that I'd wait an hour for it again. I really would. And it was so filling that I had to put my bahn mi in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch. (But I scored a bite off of M's so I know it's going to be delicious.)
Then we hunkered down with our two mighty bowls and watched last night's episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on Hulu.com while the dog anxiously fluttered between our feet, hoping we might drop some part of our meal.
We did not.