A Blog Mainly About Food

If by "mainly" you mean "sometimes"

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The (P)horror, the (P)horror

Last night's trip to Cleveland Park ended with dinner at Nam-Viet Pho 79. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that unless I am craving pho like a crackhead for that sweet sweet rock I will never, ever be returning to said restaurant. It was bad.

Great pho restaurants are hard to find. There are a few places that do it right, but its a delicate science to prepare. Good pho, however, is not so challenging a proposition. There are probably as many decent pho restaurants in the area as there are movies about Vietnam.

Nam-Viet Pho 79 is neither.

I came in as a one-top, breaking my rule of always sitting at a bar when I'm dining alone. I was seated at what was probably the worst table in the house, next to the service bar where waitrons were constantly ringing up orders and barking in Vietnamese. Whatever. Garlic and Sapphires in hand, I ordered a their "special" green salad and the spicy beef pho.

(This restaurant knows their yuppie Cleveland Park clientele. The dishes on the menu aren't only described by the ingredients, but also in regards to how low in calories and fat they are. Some may like this. I found it irritating.)

NVP79 has a disclaimer on their menu: all dishes are made to order and may take some time. Okay, I can buy that. But in the time it took to get my salad, it felt like they were picking the lettuce off a rooftop garden -- in Rockville. The salad, topped with "special house vinaigrette" or something, was awful. The veggies themselves were decent quality if a little bitter. I would have been able to deal with this except that the restaurant used what tasted like a teaspoon of their "special" dressing -- which was basically vinegar and nothing more, from the taste of it. Yuck. Hungry for greens, about a third of the bowl got eaten before I gave up. The tomatoes were flavorless, the onions were chopped so broadly that the flavor was overpowering, and the red leaf lettuce picked up none of the dressing (what little there was). Were I not in a veggie mood, I would have opted for an appetizer of the spring roll variety.

I waited another seventeen years for the pho. When it came out I was surprised: instead of a chili-based spicy broth, the "spiciness" for the soup was apparently imbued by slices of raw jalapeno. All heat, no flavor. Not feeling up for too much spice (I wanted a good night's sleep) I picked off the peppers and tossed them. But the broth was still incredibly bland, not rib-sticking and satisfying like decent pho -- forget incredibly soul-enriching like the great kind. The noodles were okay and I have to say the meat was decent in its rareness and flavor, though absolutely paltry in amount. The lime wedge added a something, but there were none of the customary basil sprigs that are given on the side as an enhancer. The mediocrity of the dish became a general boring-ness towards the middle, and just gross at the end. Normally I can drain a full size bowl of pho. I could have last night, but chose not too. What's the point in filling your stomach on boring, bad soup?

The final insult of the meal was waiting for my check, which took about 15 minutes in a restaurant that was half full. That's probably because I was easy to forget, tucked away in the corner. And you know what? The restaurant is likewise one that I will forget, easily.