Let me start right up front with my biases. I love Pho Van on 82nd, and would eat there every night of the week if I had the cash and someone to go with me. It's certainly not the only vietnamese restaurant I go to, but I love the combination of good food and serene atmosphere. And, they have a vespa and a bike rickshaw inside!
I had heard some less than steller reports about the new Pho Van on Hawthorne, so I went to check it out. Parking was a hassle. We get inside the doorway at 5:15, and there's already a crowd of people standing there. The space in front of the host/hostess stand is small, cramped, and dominated by a giant palm which is totally in my face while I wait. There's one host, and he's taking a phone order from some indecisive person.
After maybe 5 minutes, we get seated. Not too bad. The menu is the same as Pho Van's lunch menu—so an assortment of pho and other soups, appetizers, hand rolls, rice dishes, and bun. The place is close to full, and loud, with sound bouncing off the concrete floors, reverbing off the walls.
First comes the crispy vegetarian rolls, stuffed with all sorts of goodies including taro. They're greasy. But we're hungry, so we don't say anything, and it's not like anyone is checking up on us other than to come and shake our partially full beer bottles to see if they're empty. Yeah, thanks.
Then the main course come. I ordered one of the handrolls, with shrimp and chicken grilled on sugar cane: it's wonderful, but it's all cold. Is it supposed to be cold? I don't remember.
The bun, however, is supposed to be a constrast of cold crunchy vegetables, warm soothing rice noodles, the brace of fish sauce. It's all cold as well. My meal partner, who has worked at viet restaurants in the past, is very displeased with the bun. The noodles are clumpy, the beef is weird, etc. And so, ten minutes or so after the food is delivered, the waitress comes by to ask if everything is okay and gets an earful. She says, well the noodles are supposed to be cold. Hmmmm. She comps his meal, but it's clear she thinks we're PITA. My meal partner claims it's one of the worst vietnamese meals he's ever eaten, and leaves most of it there.
Maybe it was a bad night. Maybe we just had bad luck. Admittedly, I'm totally charmed by the 82nd Ave Pho Van. And while I'll go back to see if it was just bad luck, I'm not terribly motivated to make that soon.