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The Pho Bar and Grill: A Tale of Misfortune and Woe

Pho Bar and Grill
NE H St & NE 14th St

I love Pho. Lots of people say that, I mean, what’s not to love. Steaming hot broth, thin slices of beef, cilantro, Sriracha, and hoisin sauce. Not to mention the fresh basil, bean sprouts, and low cost. Throw in all those things and the general obsession with Pho is understandable.  But my love of Pho boarders on the inappropriate and obscene.

I was a hard sell at first and now I genuinely lament the times that I missed out on this delightful experience. It makes me happy when I’m sad, warm when I’m cold, and it is hands down the best hangover cure known to man. The Vietnamese should patent it. Pho has never led me wrong. Now I’ll be the first to admit that in terms of quality I have become ridiculously spoiled by my favorite Pho spot (more on this later – I’m literally going to write an ode to this spot). The only detraction is how far it is from my residence. The price of gas combined with my own slothful weekend nature have forced me to find other avenues of feeding the beast that is my Pho addiction.  So when a Pho spot opened on my favorite neighborhood, I was ecstatic.  Could this be the place that I was dreaming of; I crossed my fingers and prayed to a higher power that my search was at long last over.

I will preface the recounting of this tale with the the admission that I have eaten at this spot on numerous occasions. Like the Greek legends of the Sirens, I have time and time again succumbed to the alluring call of easy tasty noodle soup; only to have my hopes dashed upon the proverbial rocks.  On this particular occasion I convinced my two unsuspecting friends to accompany me to the Pho Bar and Grill.  Perhaps I should have known better when the menu seemed to have an incredibly limited selection of vegetarian options. But the allure of the low hanging cheap fruit had me spell bound; and I heeded the call of the Siren to my doom.

We arrived at the Pho Bar and Grill. Upon entering we observed two couples quietly enjoying their meal in a brick lined modern atmosphere. There was steel framed art on the wall; everything was sparkling new and a large group of people exited as we were entering.  Following their departure we stood in the doorway for a few moments waiting to be seated. We would wait forever. No one appeared to be working at the restaurant. My friends were confused. How had those other people gotten food? Was there some secret code or signal that told the waitstaff to come to your aid?  We might have been in the Wild Wild West with tumble weeds blowing across a dirt road. The other occupants of the restaurant could have been likened to towns people who kept their heads down for fear of being shot. The place was that empty.

Restaurant Felt Like this

This was my neighborhood, so I had to take charge. I seated my friend at a table and got some menus; I stopped short of pouring the water myself. This would later prove to be a major mistake on my part. I then went in search of someone, anyone to serve us. The lack of official personnel was beginning to worry me; I feared that I had wondered into robbery or some other nefarious activity. Perhaps it would have been better if this were the case, at least then there would be a good excuse. The manager was easily found and he in turn easily found a waitress. I thought to myself, “A rocky start, but things will get better now”.  I was wrong and should have stopped setting myself up for disappointment.

Being Sunday, my friends and I were somewhat interested in libations with our meal. The menu suggested several beers and a wine list. The sidewalk chalk board described a happy hour where the bottles of wine were half priced.

“Are you ready to order”

“Um we need a couple of minutes, can we . . . ”   My friend never got to finish her question because the waitress disappeared that quickly. Once she came back we started to question her about the wine.

“What wines do you have available”

“I’m not sure, I think red and white”

“Oh, do you have a wine list”?

“Uh, I think so, just a minute, I”ll be right back”

This is the wine list she brought to the table. Yes it is hand written. No, there are no prices included with the handwritten wine list.

Pho Bar and Grill Wine List

We debated for a couple of minutes the cost effectiveness of wine by the glass and wine by the bottle, ultimately having to rely on the waitress’ personal knowledge to answer our questions. This was a mistake.  I felt like we were conducting the Spanish Inquisition. Whatever information the waitress had, she gave up grudgingly. I felt like we were torturing her to find out even the most basic information. At times it seemed like there was revolving door at our table.

“How much is the riesling by the glass”

“um, I’m not sure, just a minute I’ll be right back. It’s 9 dollars”

“How much is the malbec by the glass”

“um, I’m not sure, just a minute I’ll be right back. It’s 9 dollars”

Though we were parched by this time, we decided against the wine, being somewhat skeptical as to whether it would come in wine glasses or solo cups. At this point we had no idea. But we were hungry and since no water had been put on the table we were thirsty too (remember when I mentioned that I should have poured the water myself earlier ).

We placed our order:

“I’d like the Pho combination”

“I’d like the vegetarian Pho”

“I’d like a regular Pho, but could you had shrimp to it”

“Of course, we have Shrimp Pho, it’s just not on the menu”.

At this point I looked at the waitress deadpan, thankfully she was doing her best sunny impression for my friends and didn’t see me. Both of my friends changed their orders to Shrimp Pho. The waitress left to put in the order and finally at long last water arrived at the table – in my head the hallelujah chorus was playing and I swear a beam of heavenly light shown down on the water as it was placed on the table.

The food arrived at long last. I can only speak to my own dining experience, but it was excellent. It’s why I keep coming back to this place, even though I know the service is sub-par at best. They make a damn good bowl of Pho. It is not the best I’ve had by far, but it certainly isn’t bad and it does accommodate vegetarians. The broth on my Pho combination is pretty flavorful, though nothing to write home about. It is not as good as my favorite place. I will say that the meat is super tender which I have found to be a problem at some Pho places, so thumbs up for that. They seem to be somewhat stingy with the garnishes (see below).  The appropriate sauces were available, though I’m continuously disappointed that numerous additives are not available so that you can customize your meal. Most traditional Pho places offer a vinegar onion as a side that is not to be missed as well as a number of various beef cuts.  Additionally fish sauce is also usually available.

I’ll also warn anyone who chooses to try this place that the Pho combination certainly does not have the combination of meats listed on the menu. I have never ordered it and gotten the tendon, I don’t even think they have it in the restaurant.  Tasty bowl of Pho, not as advertised. I’m just saying. Also the trimmings were paltry compared to what I get at other places: I’m just saying.

Pho Combination

My friends seemed to enjoy their Shrimp Pho extensively, and I’m sure it was a positive experience for the one girl who had never tried it before.

Shrimp Pho

The check came. I looked at it nervously, I knew what was coming. I had sold Pho as the perfect cheap food, but the Shrimp Pho was $14.95. That’s fairly outrageous for a bowl of Pho, given that it is traditionally street food. I felt that the waitress should have informed us of the price point difference when ordering. But again getting information from this waitress would have tried the skills of the most experienced CIA operatives. My buddies however seemed unfazed; see one of them below smiling, happy, and full!

Happy Buddy !!!

All in all the food and location are The Pho Bar and Grill’s only saving graces. And while the the waitstaff seems inexperienced they were very accommodating. The manager came up to our table to say hello and chatted a bit, which was nice. Once he found out that we were locals he instructed our waitress to take 10% off the overall bill. Any of the sandwiches, dishes, and salads can be made to order, which is nice for people with different dietary requirements. They serve a vegetarian Pho, which looks delectable and there is a bar upstairs for those with a need for more intense libations (check out the pictures on yelp)

The general consensus is that I will go back, even if I have to sneak in the door with my head hung in shame. I go for the low hanging fruit. At least until some other convenient venue can be found to feed my addiction.

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5 thoughts on “The Pho Bar and Grill: A Tale of Misfortune and Woe

  1. Great blog. I think there is is hope for Pho B&G. This is a new spot, and with time they should be able to work out some of their operational kinks. Some benefits of this place are the location and the trendy atmosphere. After eating some okay Pho, you can walk across the street and grab some Dangerously Delicious Pie–that is IF you have room for dessert.

  2. While I agree that the shrimp pho would be great hangover food, I don’t know that I’d go back sober. Lol! We’d have to visit that wine bar across the street first, so I wouldn’t mind so much about the quality of service. As a side note, I was taken aback by the difference in the price for the shrimp pho; however, I’d already enjoyed my entire bowl by the time I saw the check, so it was too late to complain :-).

    • TK – I was also offended by the price. That’s something the server should have mentioned when she recommended shrimp pho. I’m going to have to look for a better place to take my buddies.

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