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.

_______________________________________________________________________

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.

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

A Little Bike Ride

Pack

My old bike. I bought it for sixty bucks at a pawn shop over fifteen years ago.

I’m finally feeling back to my normal mediocre self and Texas is having its handful of decent weather days so I’d like to get some bike riding in. It’s tough during the week because I’m so tired when I get home from work that, even though I might have a few minutes of sunlight, all I can think of is to fall into bed and decompress, even if I don’t fall completely asleep.

Well, in this modern age, you have to try and do double duty in everything. There is no time left – it feels as if it has all been used up. Not only do you have to be doing something all the time, you have to be doing two things if you don’t want to fall further behind. In that spirit, we were out of milk. So I decided to ride my bicycle to the Target Superstore and buy a gallon plus a few other sundries that we were in need of.

That’s doing double duty. Shopping and exercise. It isn’t very far – about a mile, plus no real traffic – I can ride the new trail down to the park and then cut over on a little-used feeder road. Then across the back mall parking lot. Our neighborhood strip of big boxes sits where a big ‘ol traditional mall used to squat. For years it was declining, used more as a foul-weather walking route for elderly folks than as a place to fleece excited shoppers. At any rate, they bulldozed it, leaving the anchor tenants on the end and filling in with a row of familiar warehouse-style establishments. The food court was replaced by a line of fast-food slinging eateries strung along the main road like a string of pearls before swing.

But behind this capitalist extravaganza the huge old mall back parking lot remains empty and immense, used only to give motorcycle lessons on weekend mornings – two-wheeled newbies slowly winding between long groupings of red plastic cones. Today, though, it was deserted except for some guy out in the middle changing his oil, an occasional truck coming in to pull and replace a smelly dumpster, and one pair of isolated cars – probably teenagers hooking up. It’s easy for me to cross this vast desert of asphalt – the only thing to look out for are a few drainage grates with long, wheel grabbing slots, always facing the wrong way – parallel to the direction I’m riding.

There is nothing as stupid looking and pitiful as an old fat man riding a bicycle. I feel so idiotic and silly, but I have had a lifetime of experience ignoring my ridiculousness, so I pedal on.

I had a surprisingly difficult time getting there. It’s a bit of an uphill slog coming up from the creek and then, crossing the lot, I ran into a strong headwind. Off to the west was a black roll of approaching storm cloud and the humid south wind was spinning into the complex, feeding the tempest. Still, I caught my breath, downshifted a cog, and kept on going.

Locking my bike and backpack to a steel bench out in front (the nice thing about having a fifteen year old piece of crap bike is that I don’t need the highest security lock) I went in to get my gallon of milk and other stuff. I noticed that once I stopped pedaling and started walking around the cool store, my shirt became spotted in sweat. I looked extra stupid amongst other, car borne shoppers. The Next time, wear a dark t-shirt – mental note.

So I stuffed my gallon of milk into the backpack (it fit easier than I expected) and headed home. I guess I underestimated the wind, because I was able to get almost all the way back without even turning a pedal – propelled by the brisk breeze at my back.

Buoyed by my success, I made a list of close in destinations I could ride my bike to. Along this route, there is the big box variety/grocery store, two hardware stores, a couple of Pho places, tons of fast food, an office supply store, and a haircut place. The other way is the big Vietnamese shopping center – and I can get there without leaving the trail. If I want to go a little farther, I can cut through an industrial area and get to the DART rail station, library, and a whole complex of diverse ethic eateries.

Jeez – if the weather was nicer for more of the year I could get rid of the car.

I’m still pretty stupid looking, though.

Bistro B on Christmas Day

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. (you can download the main menu here – but be warned, it’s a seven megabyte PDF file) 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.

WordPress Blogs that ate at Bistro B:

What I learned this week, December 9, 2011

I have never been a big fan of the city of Chicago… but now, after seeing this… I have to go there.



After having looked at this cartoon, I’m going to reread “Brave New World.” The horrors of “1984” are always with us, always on our mind, but thinking of the years since the turn of the century, perhaps Huxley’s distopia is the one to fear, the one to fight, and the one to rail against. Oh, but what a slippery devil it is.

Aldous Huxley vrs. George Orwell

A cartoon by Recombinant Records

Ideas and text from Amusing Ourselves to Death 


An interesting article on the history of Unix.


The worlds most expensive car crash. Eight Ferraris, three Mercedes-Benz, a Lamborghini and a Prius totalled in Japan.


50 Lessons I wish I had learned earlier

  1. You’re stronger than you think you are.
  2. Mistakes teach you important lessons. Every time you make one, you’re one step closer to your goal.
  3. There is nothing to hold you back except you.
  4. You can press forward long after you can’t. It’s a matter of wanting it bad enough.
  5. No matter how much progress you make there will always be the people who insist that whatever you’re trying to do is impossible.
  6. You are limited only by your own imagination. Let it fly.
  7. Perception is reality.
  8. Your instincts can be trusted.
  9. There is only one question to ask yourself: “What would you do if you were not afraid?”
  10. It’s often hard to tell just how close you are to success.
  11. The only mistake that can truly hurt you is choosing to do nothing simply because you’re too scared to make a mistake.
  12. Never let success get to your head, and never let failure get to your heart.
  13. You have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life.
  14. Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.
  15. Do what you love, not what you think you’re supposed to do.
  16. Laughter is the best medicine for stress. Laugh at yourself often.
  17. If you want to feel rich, just count all the great things you have that money can’t buy.
  18. Forgiving yourself is far more important than getting others to forgive you.
  19. If you awake every morning with the thought that something wonderful will happen in your life today, you’ll often find that you’re right.
  20. Be nice to yourself.
  21. For the most part, it doesn’t matter what people think. Follow your own truth.
  22. No education is wasted. Drink in as many new experiences as you can.
  23. Making one person smile can change the world.
  24. Don’t forget to enjoy your journey!
  25. You never know how strong you really are until being strong is the only choice you have.
  26. Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.
  27. You cannot change what you refuse to confront.
  28. Crying doesn’t indicate that you’re weak. It doesn’t always solve your problems either.
  29. No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.
  30. Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.
  31. You can learn great things from your mistakes when you aren’t busy denying them.
  32. Give up worrying about what others think of you.
  33. When you stop chasing the wrong things you give the right things a chance to catch you.
  34. You have to accept that some things will never be yours, and learn to appreciate the things that are only yours.
  35. As Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”
  36. Don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone. Some of your best life experiences and opportunities will transpire only after you dare to lose.
  37. Giving up doesn’t always mean you’re weak, sometimes it means you are strong enough and smart enough to let go.
  38. You’ll rarely be 100% sure it will work. But you can always be 100% sure doing nothing won’t work.
  39. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future for too long. Right now is life. Live it.
  40. No matter how cautiously you choose your words, someone will always twist them around and misinterpret what you say. Just say what you need to say.
  41. Not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of good luck.
  42. If you are passionate about something, pursue it, no matter what anyone else thinks. That’s how dreams are achieved.
  43. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.
  44. What lies before us and behind us are tiny matters when compared to what lies within us.
  45. Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.
  46. It’s not about getting a chance, it’s about taking a chance.
  47. If it were easy everyone would do it.
  48. Be vulnerable.
  49. A problem is a chance for you to learn.
  50. Regardless of the situation, life goes on.

All my life I have loved to look out the windows of airplanes. I like to look for places I’ve been. I like to figure out where we are at any time. If I see something cool I’ll make a note of it and try to find out what it was by looking on Google Maps – by something cool, I mean stuff like this – 100 Incredible Views Out Of Airplane Windows


Anthony Bourdain Pho – Food Porn

This, is the good stuff. You might find, in the great kitchens of Europe perhaps, something as good… but you will never find anything better than this.”


The art of balancing a rock

GRAVITY GLUE


Neither will she, Steve.

Father’s Day at the Mall Food Court

I’m not a big fan of holidays. Especially the manufactured holidays, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Earth Day, or any of the others that arise not out of ancient pagan fertility rites but more modern constructions of the retail-industrial complex designed to make people go out and buy stupid presents – spend their hard-earned cash on superfluous consumer tripe rather than save it so it can be eventually lost in bad investments – like it should.

Now, I’m not complaining about my gifts, mind you. I may be stubborn, but I’m not stupid. Candy gave me a very nice pen – I’ll take some photographs in a few days. Still, I didn’t really want to celebrate – fight the lunch crowds – and said I’d eat some leftover beans instead.

But Lee was hungry so we went out to eat anyway. When asked where I wanted to go, I replied, “The food court at the mall.”

OK, I live in a Texas Suburb. Those of you a long way away probably are now thinking of big slabs of grilling beef and people wearing boots and ten-gallon hats. Those of you a little closer are thinking about typical American Mall fare – like what?… Cinabon, Steak Escape, Orange Julius (are these still around?) Dog on a Stick? – Jeez, I have no idea what a mall has in its food court anymore.

At any rate, that’s not what I’m talking about. This may be a boring Texas Big City Suburb, but the world is a much more diverse place than you think it is. My neighborhood mall is the Saigon Mall, a Vietnamese-Oriented complex constructed upon the carcass of an extinct Target, and its Food Court is a place of strange and wondrous sustenance.

Food Court Entrance to the Saigon Mall

Food Court Entrance to the Saigon Mall

My only disappointment is that the self-serve frozen yogurt place is gone. I’m going to have to find another place for my Durian ice cream fix now. Candy has a Cuisinart Ice-Cream maker… maybe I could make my…. no, better not. Durian preparation is probably something best left up to professionals.

We walked around a bit and examined the various purveyors of various cuisines – Lee was close to getting a pound of boiled crustaceans from the Crawfish Hut, Candy looked at a new stand that promised “Real Thai Cooking”, and I considered some Pho – but we eventually decided on sandwiches from Lee’s – an always reliable and delicious choice.

When ordering sandwiches, I tend to get the #1 combo – no matter what is in it. They have decided to put this at the top of their menu and they know better than I.

 My Sandwich - #1 combo with Thai Iced Tea.

My Sandwich - #1 combo with Thai Iced Tea.

My sandwich was not as blurry as this picture suggests. The fresh cilantro and other herbs along with the crunchy fresh-made baguettes really set these apart from the usual boring sub fare. There was some sort of very hot pepper hiding inside somewhere, I needed another tea. You can see the Boba in my tea – it was very good, though I have no idea what was in it.

After we had our sandwiches, we went down to the Boba Tea/Smoothie place. We always love this spot. Lee and I love Boba but Candy says she “doesn’t want any of those little snot-balls” in her beverage, which I can’t really argue with. The place used to be called Teahouse, but it has a new logo – “I (heart) Boba” – though the menu seems pretty much the same. The menu consists of a list of pretty much every substance on earth – thrown into a blender with either tea, ice, or some sort of “cream” mixture. I felt like coconut, which was number 114, and the list went on from there for a long way. Then you can get Boba, or Gummy Bears, or anything else, really, dumped in for extra amusement. I felt like some “snot-balls” today, so I had Boba.

Candy and Lee at the Smoothie Place

Candy and Lee at the Smoothie Place

Candy and Lee enjoying their smoothies.

Lunch Menu

Lunch Menu

Here’s the giant lunch menu outside one of the several restaurants in the Saigon Mall. I don’t want to sound like some ignorant American Redneck, but my honest reaction to this is, “What the hell is this stuff?” I see some shrimp arranged in a nice, attractive circle, but it surrounds some strange looking brownish sauce with white flecks – it looks like it might be too spicy, even for me. One dish is labeled “Salmon or Yellowtail” which is reassuring, but nothing in the picture next to it resembles fish in any way.

I hate the feeling when you order something at random and the waiter’s eyes get big and that concerned look crosses their face. They will shake their head from side to side, and say, “Oh, you don’t want to order that.” Sometimes I’ll stubbornly push ahead and insist, eagerly waiting until the plate of something arrives and is set down in front of me.

You know, those waiters are always right. I should listen more often.


Oh, I stumbled across this… Here’s something you should NEVER, EVER do in a mall food court.