June 16, 2007

Phở Thăng Long [Westminster]

Phở Thăng Long has taken over what was left from the demolition of Bolsa Supermarket and the redesign nearly floored me.

What used to be a smelly butcher section complete with writhing fish, floating carcasses, and snappy crabs is now a waterfall mosaic set against bright orange paint. There are banquettes lining the south wall and booths against the north, which are upholstered in a tasteful tan canvas. Recessed lighting, framed art, flat-screen TVs and mod furniture? Who knew phở could be so ritzy.

What was most surpirsing were the prices on the menu, which are still fairly competitive for what you'd expect in Little Saigon. And while the decor goes above and beyond sanitary [I'm not sure that's even a minimum requirement for a Vietnamese restaurant], the menu hasn't changed to appease Western palettes. Rice dishes, vermicelli, crispy egg noodles, noodle stir-frys, and phở--everything you'd expect to find at a Vietnamese restaurant and all under $8.

Though the phở broth lacks the depth and complexity of others' that I've had, the filet mignon tái (rare beef) is unique to Thăng Long. For those of you unacquainted with phở tái , the idea is that the hot broth cooks the beef right when you order it, giving it a tender, melt-in-your mouth texture. Usually this is achieved by slicing the meat paper thin, but Thăng Long does it by offering a higher quality filet mignon that when raw, falls apart at the slightest provocation with your chopstick. Though the novelty has somewhat of a wow factor, the filet mignon doesnt add much in terms of flavor and doesn't compensate for the one-dimensional broth. At least it wasnt that oily...

Although you'd be a fool to order anything else except phở at a restauarat named Phở Thăng Long, we thought we'd give the redesign a fighting chance and order other items off the menu. The Cơm Bò Lúc Lắc (Shaking Beef) was edible, though the beef lacked flavor, was overcooked, and the rice was so dry that it could have been cooked yesterday. The Bún Chả Giò Bò Nướng (Rice vermicelli w/eggrolls and BBQ beef) was moreso a bowl of noodles than it was anything else. They could have at least thrown some more lettuce and bean sprouts in there for variety. The eggrolls were also filled with cabbage, which elicited a scoff from my father who said that is not proper Vietnamese cooking.

If their objective was to target a more diverse audience, I did see a few wide-eyed, middle-aged, non-Asians pensively approaching the hostess stand [yes, they even have a podium for the host]. But overall, Pho Thang Long seems confused. In Vietnam, people eat while squatting in alleyways. Their favorite lunchtime meals come from the tall woman who wheels her cart over at around noon everyday. It's not the atmosphere they come for. It's the food. And if your food is going to be exactly the same as it was before, why bother with an expensive remodel that includes wood-grained trays for phở condiments.

Phở Thăng Long
9550 Bolsa Ave #115F
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 839-4955


Anonymous said...

atmosphere contributes to your experience at a restaurant. atmosphere definitely improves my impression of the restaurant. so as an authentic pho restaurant maybe it's average, but i know masses of people who would rather eat at a CLEAN, presentable, and classy pho restaurant than a lot of the sticky dirty pho restuarants you'd SQUAT at.

btw. ever heard of a positive review? you sound like a finicky 2 year old baby in half of your reviews.

Monica said...

So I have a jaded palate--that's what happens when you eat out as much as I do.

And I believe in accurate representations of experiences. There are always positives and negatives and I'm the last person to buy into all the hype and drink the Kool Aid.

But to your point, atmosphere does contribute a lot to a restaurant and I'm sure sanitation is an important point for lotsa people. Everyone can have their cake and eat it too...just maybe not all at the same restaurant.

Anonymous said...

it seems that you have a lot of experiences eating out around in the vietname community. and so your saying that pho thang long may be on the exterior but their food is one-deminsional.
I'm sorry to hear that. i think you should look around, give me names of pho places that are clean, like clean bathrooms, a clean front, and clean service.
or would you rather squat down at dirty places to eat pho, where the chairs are all sticky, the food has hair in it, cant even depend on the chopsticks, spoons, and napkins. I would rather eat at a clean place so i could relax and enjoy the food

And the nuoc pho, one dimensional??? pleaaasee!
I scoff at you.
Other pho places that i've been has sooo much bot ngot in it that i wanna gag.
After eating those kind of pho i have to gulp down cups of water.
Bot ngot is used when owners dont wont to spare expense for meat bones for the nouc pho, so they utilze bot ngot to duplicate the taste to make larger quanities of the broth but in the end the quality of the nuoc pho sinks.

For a fact pho thang long doesnt use large amounts of bot ngot and the owner actually spends the money to but alot of meat bones for the broth.

Anyway why is pho thang long like the only pho place that you critize???
I think you should add more so people could compare and contrast, instead of depending on your biased opinions.
plus the fact that you only put up one pho restaurant make it seems like you only been to pho thang long though you keep on saying that you have alot of experiences. the evidence doesnt really support what you say.
Anyway i heard alot of people praise pho thang long for their food and their nice designs, and i only heard only a few complaints 1 out of a hundred.
So if you dont like then dont come

Anonymous said...

to add to my comments
pho thang long made it to la food blog
20 best deals in town
(well a few years back)
history moment
pho thang long was open in a small place for about 10 years
finally they moved to the bolsa place in october 2006 and open in april 2007


Anonymous said...

more compliments:
La TImEs: http://www.calendarlive.com/dining/88248,0,124297.venue

q-tip said...

Pho thang long may be ok but i like pho quang trung the best for pho ga although yea its a litte dirty, but at least its good, and you don;t have to squat?