Asian Niches II
The menu, though, has a new twist: a handful of Vietnamese dishes. I'm especially interested in the pho (pronounced "fuh"), which is advertised by a big banner in the window. I love pho, having mostly grown up around Washington, D.C., a center of Vietnamese immigrant culture. The best pho I ever had, though, was in Denver, home to my in-laws as well as a large community of Southeast Asian immigrants. At our favorite dive in west Denver, they bring you a deep bowl of chicken soup with rice noodles and a separate tray of condiments: bean sprouts, lime slices, chilies, piles of basil. On every table, of course, is sriracha, or "rooster sauce"--a hellfire ketchup. The Denver pho has a homemade quality that makes it universally familiar, but since I believe it helped cure me of the worst flu I've ever had, I am convinced it also possesses magical healing properties. It's sort of like a foreign-born grandma you love and revere but don't thoroughly understand.
Anticipating something along these lines, I ordered the seafood pho at China Gate. What I got was very good, although not quite up to Denver standards. The soup stock is excellent, clearly made in-house, rich but still delicate. Yet it lacks something, a sort of tang; maybe I'm used to a hint of fish sauce in the broth. Building from the bottom up, the bowl contained a slurpy tangle of rice noodles, bits of sliced pork, a big fried shrimp-stuffed wonton, a layer of bean sprouts, cilantro, and a top layer of shrimp, scallops, crab sticks, and squid. But the only condiments on the side were small amounts of hoisin and sriracha sauces. (For the uninitiated, you pick bits of meat out of the soup and swirl them in the sauces before popping them into your mouth.)