As this weather continues playing its schizophrenic mind games, the affect on me is a range of melodramatic "food swings." It's cold. I want something fat. It's hot. Maybe just some fruit. It's cold again. Maybe it's OK if I have a burger as long as I'm wearing a baggy sweater. Nope. It's hot. Have to take the sweater off and expose post burger bloat. Damn you, El Nino!!! (Disclaimer: I am the only Asian who has no idea what the hell they're talking about when it comes to math and science. I don't know if it's El Nino's fault. I just blame El Nino for everything.)
For weeks now, I've been craving a bowl of pho -- one really freaking good bowl of pho. I'd gotten so desperate I considered going down the street to Green Papaya or Oishi. With the weather being as erratic as it's been, however, I was waiting it out for that perfect cold day to indulge in my pho love-making. Then it came. Last week brought a stretch of rainy and cold days perfect for setting the mood, and I had a work thing that would be bringing me to the Highway 121-Preston Road area of Plano. Perfect.
Since how both Pho Que Huong and V Bistro are situated within throwing distance of each other in that neighborhood, I had been meaning for sometime to visit the area. Both restaurants have their fans, so I wasn't sure which one to try on this particular dreary day. I decided to pick the first restaurant I saw.
The first thing I noticed when walking into V Bistro was how it was set up like a burrito restaurant. I didn't know whether to seat myself, wait for a waiter to seat me or walk up to the counter and place an order. Nevertheless, the restaurant is clean, neat and modern, which leads me to the second thing I noticed once I sat down at my table and opened a menu. The prices are fairly high for a shopping center pho place. I think I even involuntarily let out an audible "whoo." Every item, from pho to rice dishes are all around the $7-$9 price range. Although, I realize it's 2010 and V Bistro is in Plano, in my defense, the group of Chinese diners at the table next to me made a comment along the lines of, "The pho down the street is cheaper. About a $1 less per bowl." Still, this was the second day in a row these gents were dining at V-Bistro, so I took that as a good sign.
When it came time to order, the hokey pokey playing weather started playing mind tricks on me again, and I couldn't decide what I wanted. Yeah, I'm like that one annoyingly indecisive friend you have. I'd been craving both pho dac biet and bun thit nuong, so instead of driving the waitress crazy, I ordered both. She was confused. "When is your friend coming?" she asked. I told her I wanted both for myself. Even after I said this, she apparently couldn't comprehend this fatty sitting before her, as she brought out an extra glass of water and utensil set-up a little later for my imaginary friend.
When my food came out, I had to admit, both dishes looked quite pretty. The ample serving of grilled pork in the bun thit nuong glistened atop the mounds of vermicelli noodles and greens. The broth of the combination beef pho looked clear and smelled divine. However, for a $7 bowl of pho, I expected a tad more meat.
Since pho is best eaten scalding hot, I started with the soup.
Tangent: For whatever reason, "fancy" pho shops consider hoisin and siracha squeeze bottles to be beneath them. V-Bistro's condiments are served out of a jar with a tiny scooper. I like my diners with generic red ketchup squeeze bottles. I like my pho places with generic hoisin and siracha squeeze bottles.
Aside from my condiment OCD, things were going swimmingly. The broth of the pho tasted as magnificent as it smelled -- clean flavors with a hint of beef aroma. The meat, although skimpy, was tender and marinated well. The heap of noodles was generous and perfectly chewy. Then, I saw it. Between my chopsticks, entwined in a small mound of noodles and brisket, there was a short curled black hair.
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This was a good bowl of noodles. I've eaten worse. I'd been craving a pho for weeks. I seriously considered untangling the hair from the brisket and finishing the bowl. Then I envisioned finding more hair somewhere else amidst the endless noodles and reconsidered. Luckily, I had a back-up dish.
V Bistro's bun thit nuong is good, but it wasn't good enough to wipe away my disappointment over not getting to finish the pho. The pork was proportionately marbleized. The lean meat to fat ratio made the meat juicy without being overly fatty and greasy. On the other hand, the noodles were a disappointment. Vermicelli is a feisty noodle. Cook it 30 seconds too long, and it's a mess. Take it out of the water 30 seconds too soon, and it's unappetizingly al-dente. Opposed to a bowl full of long strands of beautiful bun, beneath the pork lay limp, broken pieces of noodles that resembled what Asian moms serve up to their small children.
Once noon came around, the restaurant was packed with a variety of diners, from yuppie ladies who lunch to Asian businessmen. Eating alone, I found myself involuntarily eavesdropping on those around me, and found it amusing that there were several conversations about "that other pho place down the street." Maybe it was an off day. Maybe I picked the wrong restaurant. Or maybe it's just that when a $7 bowl of pho is involved, my expectations are a bit higher.
V Bistro 8240 Preston Road No. 180, Plano 972-712-7467