Another Christmas, Another Bowl of Pho

2018 Christmas Bowl of Pho, Bistro B, Richardson, Texas

Everyone has their Christmas traditions. I’ve been keeping this incarnation of a blog since 2011 and we went to Bistro B for Christmas that year, so it’s been at least seven years. I think this is the first year we actually received what we ordered.

Nothing much has changed, so I’ll copy what I wrote then. The only difference is this year I ordered #33 Special Pho with Sunny Egg, and #395, Vietnamese Iced Coffee – in addition to a shared double order of #9 – Vietnamese Spring Rolls.

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The wrapping paper has been rent and Santa has been sated. The day now stretches sleepily on – sports on television, fudge on the kitchen table, a cold, gray spitting rain day outside. What is there to do other than lounge around in a mouldering Snuggie® and watch the entropy increase?

For my dollar, there is no better way to spend a few hours on the Christmas Holiday than to go for an afternoon lunch at Bistro B. Actually, I like the pho at Pho Pasteur near our house (the broth is just right) but Bistro B is such a hopping place, even on a holiday, that is impossible to pass up. Plus, Pho Pasteur isn’t open on Christmas Day.

The place, as always, was packed. We waited for a few minutes, which I enjoyed. I stood by the little altar with the burning incense spiral, the electric-powered prayer wheels, and the little shrines decorated with offerings of change. I looked around at the tables to see what other folks were ordering. There were a lot of butane portable table burners heating hot pots that were being shared by a whole family – three generations or more – packed around the big round tables. I love watching a family eat, the heads bent, concentrating on the food, with a ballet of chopsticks dancing in a circular chorus while everyone picks up their food, talks, and laughs.

Its a noisy, happy place, with an army of black-clad waiters rushing, cleanup crews pushing a big square cart, a thick crowd at the registers – some clutching inscrutable bills, but most there for take-out. Some odd genre of electronic dance music pulses… loud but barely audible over the conversations, and a phalanx of flat-screen televisions incongruously simultaneously shine out an NFL documentary. The kids reported that the restroom was, “Like a nightclub.”

It didn’t take long before we were seated and began to attack the menu. There are too many choices at Bistro B – the menu is a little spiral bound plastic laminated book, with page after page of wonders, many with photographs of the food. It is intimidating. Lee recommended shutting my eyes, thumbing through the menu blindly, and then picking something at random. He said he did that a couple of times – once he had something good, but the second time the waiter had told him, “No, you don’t want to order that.” I tried it and came up with Chicken Curry… no, too tame.

The menu items are numbered and the numbers go up 523 – though there seems to be some gaps here and there.

It was cold outside so I thought about some hot soup. I ordered the #43, Special Bistro B Noodle Soup. The waiter asked what type of noodles and I asked for rice. The kids had smoothies and Candy and I hot tea. Nick had Pho, Candy and Lee had chicken. We sent for a couple orders of spring rolls… it was too much food.

Spring Rolls and dipping sauce

My soup as it arrived. What mysteries await in these warm and fragrant waters?

But it was delicious. My Special Bistro B Noodle Soup didn’t have the perfect simple balance of subtle flavors that I like in Pho – but it was like eating a Forest Gump box o’ chocolates – you never know what you are going to get. Every time my chopsticks would dive into the spice-murked liquid they would emerge with a new surprise. After eating whatever came to the surface – I was able to figure out more or less what it was about half of the time.

Like all Pho – serving places, the table was equipped with a bounty of condiments and additions. Plates of bean sprouts, sliced jalapeño, Thai basil, and cilantro. Bottles of soy sauce, fish sauce, rooster sauce, hoisin, and two unlabeled bottles of mysterious somethings. Plus little containers of chopped garlic, pepper oil, and the most flavorful (and hot) chili paste I’ve had in a long time. I spent some time working on the flavor balance of hot and sweet, salty and savory, in my broth. Then I used the hoisin and rooster sauce to draw a bright red and dark caramel ying-yang symbol (for good luck in the coming year) in one of the little plates they supply and used my chopsticks to dip various morsels in there before I ate them.

The soup after I added sprouts and other vegetables. Those little eggs were hiding down in a nest of rice noodles. I don’t know what creature they originally came from

I ate ’till I was full and then I ate some more. And it was good.

There was a separate menu on our table that outlined the group meals. We thought about the dinner for four – but there were too many fish items on it for Candy. They had a dinner for ten that looked fabulous. I need to get ten people together to go down and do it. That sounds like a plan. Drop me an email if you want in.

The outside of Bistro B – complete with a vaguely unnerving inflatable snowman.

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A Street In East Dallas

“I say it must have been great to grow up when men were men. He says men have always been what the are now, namely incapable of coping with life without the intervention of God the Almighty. Then in the oven behind him my pizza starts smoking and he says case in point.”
― George Saunders, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

East Dallas is a confusing web of intercrossing diagonal streets – impossible to keep north, south, east and west straight. It’s a neighborhood of constant change, mixed wealth, and diversity. It’s a favorite part of town to me.

Last night, as a Christmas present the kids bought all of us tickets to the Dallas Stars hockey game and because it was four of us, it was late, and I know of a good place to park I drove downtown rather than take the train or Uber. The game was fun even though the home team lost in a futile flurry of razor sharp blades, sticks, and ice.

One cool thing was that, at the very end when all seemed lost, right before the Stars pulled their goalie the stadium played the “Horn of Helm Hammerhand” clip from “The Two Towers” on the big video boards.

It was inspirational and Lee stood up and yelled, “I’ll follow you anywhere Aragorn!” Unfortunately, right after that the visiting team pushed in an empty net goal – it was all for naught.

After the game, we wanted to eat, and we wanted pizza. It was late and a lot of spots downtown were closing, but Nick knew of a place open really late so we drove down Fitzhugh to Za*Lat Pizza. They had a very impressive list of crazy pizzas – but we weren’t in an overly adventurous mood and settled on a large pepperoni.

Za*Lat Pizza Sign

Za*Lat Pizza Menu Board

I’m going to have to go back, maybe ride my bicycle there, and try the Pho Shizzle Pizza…. and maybe the Elote Pizza… or maybe a bunch more.

Za*Lat is designed for take-out, but there is a Vietnamese place next door and they said we could take our pizza there, sit at the bar, eat it and get something to drink. The place is called DaLat. I asked the bartender if the same person owned both places and he said, “Did the fact that the two names only differ by one letter give you a hint?”

DaLat Vietnamese in East Dallas.

Slice of pizza and a Peticolas Velvet Hammer.

Outside of DaLat.

A very nice evening. I love that stretch of Fitzhugh in East Dallas – even if it is rapidly gentrifying (there are new upscale apartment blocks going up willy-nilly) – it still has an old lived-in feel with plenty of cheap places to eat (taquerias  on every block) – Jimmy’s Food Store is a few blocks on down the road – it’s all very bike friendly. I do get lost on all those diagonal streets, though. But lost in a neighborhood on a bike is a great way to find new stuff, maybe a new adventure.

 

What the Pho?

Lee bought a shirt at Bistro B.

Oblique Strategy: Revaluation (a warm feeling)

Bistro B

Everybody has their Christmas traditions. Ours is to have lunch at Bistro B. I checked my blog archives, and I wrote about Christmas at Bistro B six years ago. You can read it here. It hasn’t changed much and my 2011 description is still good:

The place, as always, was packed. We waited for a few minutes, which I enjoyed. I stood by the little altar with the burning incense spiral, the electric-powered prayer wheels, and the little shrines decorated with offerings of change. I looked around at the tables to see what other folks were ordering. There were a lot of butane portable table burners heating hot pots that were being shared by a whole family – three generations or more – packed around the big round tables. I love watching a family eat, the heads bent, concentrating on the food, with a ballet of chopsticks dancing in a circular chorus while everyone picks up their food, talks, and laughs.

Its a noisy, happy place, with an army of black-clad waiters rushing, cleanup crews pushing a big square cart, a thick crowd at the registers – some clutching inscrutable bills, but most there for take-out. Some odd genre of electronic dance music pulses… loud but barely audible over the conversations, and a phalanx of flat-screen televisions incongruously simultaneously shine out an NFL documentary. The kids reported that the restroom was, “Like a nightclub.”

We were earlier than we usually were – so the place wasn’t completely packed. The menus were new – the numbers only going up to 494. And in the last six years the restroom extravaganza has been toned down more than a bit.

As always, the Christmas-day service was a little rough. There is a new “Taco” section in the menu – Candy ordered one of those. “Oh, I’m sorry, that’s new, we haven’t learned how to cook those yet,” was the answer from the waiter. Candy ordered chicken, Nick, Lee, and I ordered Pho. The chicken arrived quickly, but no Pho. A while later, the waiter came by and asked how everything was. “No pho,” we answered. He looked flustered and our three enormous bowls of soup came out in a minute. That’s cool – usually we don’t even get what we order – a busy place with a book for a menu and 494 items – you have to chill a bit.

Spring Rolls and dipping sauce

My soup as it arrived. What mysteries await in these warm waters?

The soup after I added sprouts and other vegetables. Those little eggs were hiding down in a little nest of rice noodles. I don’t know what creature they originally came from

After our food we drove across the city for our second Christmas Tradition – to see a movie. It’s getting so that we will only see films at the Alamo Drafthouse (their no phone-no talking-no arriving late or you will be thrown out is a game-changer) and we took in I,Tonya at the Alamo in the Cedars. They have a nice bar upstairs with a killer view of downtown Dallas.

A nice way to wile away a Christmas day.

The family on the balcony at the Alamo in the Cedars, Dallas, Texas

What I learned this week, December 23, 2017

45 years ago, early this morning

I remember I was opening a drawer to get some paper out to write a letter when the floor moved so violently I fell to the floor. I remember it like it was yesterday. I forgot it was “only” a 6.3 – but because of the volcanic ash soil and such it had much greater ground movement.


If they act too hip, you know they can’t play shit


My commuter/cargo bike along the Duck Creek Trail. Taking a break while riding a circuit of grocery stores, looking for Banana Ketchup.

More Dallas Bike Lanes Are On The Way

We lost about half the ride at Lee Harvey’s – but here’s the rest at the Santa Fe Trestle Trail.

The new bridge from the Santa Fe trail into The Lot



I have never been able to do this:

Man’s Guide to Wrapping Christmas Presents


Moebius

Art is the big door, but real life is a lot of small doors that you must pass through to create something new


No Intention of Revisiting Any Galaxy

Alec Guinness
“A refurbished Star Wars is on somewhere or everywhere. I have no intention of revisiting any galaxy. I shrivel inside each time it is mentioned. Twenty years ago, when the film was first shown, it had a freshness, also a sense of moral good and fun. Then I began to be uneasy at the influence it might be having. The first bad penny dropped in San Francisco when a sweet-faced boy of twelve told me proudly that he had seen Star Wars over a hundred times. His elegant mother nodded with approval. Looking into the boy’s eyes I thought I detected little star-shells of madness beginning to form and I guessed that one day they would explode.

‘I would love you to do something for me,’ I said.

‘Anything! Anything!’ the boy said rapturously.

‘You won’t like what I’m going to ask you to do,’ I said.

‘Anything, sir, anything!’

‘Well,’ I said, ‘do you think you could promise never to see Star Wars again?’

He burst into tears. His mother drew herself up to an immense height. ‘What a dreadful thing to say to a child!’ she barked, and dragged the poor kid away. Maybe she was right but I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.”
― Alec Guinness, A Positively Final Appearance

Metal Ostrich Sculpture, downtown McKinney, Texas

Oblique Strategy: Not building a wall but making a brick

The whole family is now here, one son in from New Orleans, his cat ensconced in one bedroom, the other son from Houston, his black Labrador retriever settled into another.

Our Ring smart doorbell makes our cellphones tinkle in a delightful way every time the delivery man brings another present, the new Internet of Things Santa Claus.

We were up at eight; I had to drag myself – feet hurting, mind reeling – from bed; to see a morning showing of The Last Jedi at the local Alamo Drafthouse (the best place in the world to see a movie). I love the no talking/no texting or you will be thrown out policy. I love the fact that at nine in the morning they will bring a milkshake with alcohol in it to your seat. I love the stuff they put on the screen before the movie.


(on this snippet – if you get the joke “A talent agent is sitting in his office, a family walks in…” you should be ashamed of yourself)

I liked the film a lot better than I was expecting.

There is something wonderfully odd about seeing a movie early in the morning, other than the discount tickets. I’m so used to going at night – to emerge to sunlight and the realization that you still have another day to live – is almost wonderful.

Twenty Years Ago

“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.
I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer

Downtown Dallas, from the 2017 Dallas Tweed Ride

Oblique Strategy:(Organic) machinery

I was cleaning up the directory structure on my laptop and happened upon some more of my old journal that I put online (these were the days before blogs) starting in 1996. I wrote every day for ten years or so. I navigated to December 17, 1997, exactly twenty years ago. This is what I wrote then.

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The morning cup of coffee has an exhiliration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce.
—-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr

I managed to get almost all of my most pressing stuff caught up so I took a half day of vacation this afternoon.

I braved the stores and bought an espresso maker to give to Candy for Christmas. I hope it’s alright. There’s eighteen gazillion different kinds of these things: steam pressurized, pump pressurized, Braun, non-Braun, cheap, expensive, built-in grinders, plastic, metal, with and without Stainless Steel Frothing Pitchers, even a tiny backpacking model. I finally decided on one with an Automatic Froth Generator – whatever the hell that means. It is my hope that this will make the construction and blending of a proper Cafe Latte easier. I believe this is the concoction she purchases at Starbucks.

I only hope the damn thing doesn’t explode.

Candy went to pick up the kids and I hid her present ’til I can get enough courage to wrap it (wrapping paper and I don’t mix neatly). We were going to surprise the children with the fact that I was home from work early. Candy called, though, and said that since the day was so nice the kids wanted to go to the park. I decided to finally dust off the old mountain bike and ride down to surprise them there.

Man, am I out of shape. It felt good to ride again after so long, but my legs were rubber and my chest was heaving.

It appears that I will join the rude crowd, the mass of lemmings, and get on the New Year’s resolution train; joining a new health club and trying to whip my lazy aging carcass into some sort of presentable shape by spring. Wish me luck.

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So things have changed and they have stayed the same. You forget how strange and new the idea of espresso coffee was only twenty years ago. Candy bought herself a Keurig this year. I am still struggling to ride my bike – though I do better now.

And I still can’t giftwrap worth a crap.

He Sees You When You’re Sleeping

“Your dreams are your spirit, your soul and without them you are dead. You must guard your dreams always. Always. Lest someone steal them away from you. I know what it is to have your dreams stolen. I know what it is to be dead. Guard your dreams. Always guard your dreams.”
― Brom, Krampus: The Yule Lord

Scary Santa
Waxahachie, Texas