The closest thing I’ve had as of late to having a relationship with Pho consists of endeavoring upon the chicken noodle soup from the Chinese place down the street from my apartment and that isn’t nearly as complicated to eat. However, when my good friend Lincoln suggested we try a Pho place before seeing a play I simply had to say (insert yes in Chinese character here).
New Xe Lua Vietnamese Restaurant
86 Mulberry St, New York, NY 10013
Lincoln has always been my go-to on all delicacies from the East. Having grown up with Chinese parents from Vietnam and himself being schooled in authentic bubble tea and dumpling recipes, he knows what’s up. He will periodically foodie shame me for ordering Pad Thai dismissing it with “that’s like ordering chicken in a steak house.” I bow my head in shame. So now when he speaks I listen in the hopes of expanding my palate and not sadly ordering chicken at a Chinese version of Peter Luger.
My Pho journey begins at Xe Lua, a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. Pronounced ZAH LOO-AH, the title of this eatery, is Vietnamese for “train”. One truth is for certain; the flavor train had definitely pulled into the Lohne station.
In the most anti-feminist move I have ever made in my life, (sorry International Women’s Day and Gloria Steinem) I handed the menu over to Lincoln and said give me an authentic experience. Just nothing spicy. Lincoln nodded thoughtfully ordering cha gio (aka) Vietnamese Spring Rolls. These delightful crispy treats are made to be rolled in lettuce and dipped in the sweet fish sauce. I was warned about the potentially briny taste, but the flavors combined beautifully and the prologue to my photastic evening was already winning.
We ordered Pho Tai, which in some places is referred to as Vietnamese gumbo. This dish served with beef and linguini shaped rice noodles (Banh Pho) is scalding hot when it arrives in front of you. Lincoln whispers to me this is because the beef is raw and the broth is cooking it in front of your very eyes.
Once it sat a moment I was given Mr. Miyagi style instructions on how to approach this bowl of wonder. When you receive your Pho, it comes with a side platter of mishegas, which includes bean sprouts, basil, and lime. It is up to you to season your broth to taste. I spread a bit of everything and squirted my lime. Lincoln opts to go sans lime.
Next, you squeeze out your various dipping sauces. For beef, you use either the hoisin sauce or sriracha or both. Hoisin is a dark brown sweet sauce perfect for any taste. Due to my scaredy cat taste buds, I stick with the sweet stuff and leave the hot sauce to the natural across from me. Once this is done take your soup spoon, pull apart pieces of the beef and place one on the soup spoon. Then, while you have a taste of the beef swirl some noodles into your spoon utilizing your trendy chopsticks and create the perfect bite all in one rotation. It is WAY harder than it sounds. I felt like a toddler attempting to eat spaghetti with my hands while I looked on upon Lincoln across the table making three step ninja maneuvers as the pho slid effortlessly into his mouth. With each bite, I could hear the distant echo of wax on…wax off…wax on…wax off echoing in the catacombs of my brain.
It’s ok that I looked like a fumbling baby bird because I had this international beer to wash it down. It helped me channel all of the montage sports movie moments scored by Eye Of The Tiger while negotiating noodles with my lime green chopsticks.
Having been Pho’ed beyond my wildest dreams, we wandered out into the lukewarm streets of Chinatown-the warmth of the raw beef and broth sitting at the bottom of my stomach I have truly had an experience. Next time, I’ll have to try turtle soup with the shell still floating to the top or mystery $1 meat on a stick. Who’s kidding who, no matter how devoted I am to food-ventures I am NEVER doing that. It would be a Pho-tastrophe.