I have had two restaurant experiences that were worth talking about in the last month, but for very different reasons.
Let me get the bad news over with in the name of Pho Show on Sepulveda Boulevard in Culver City. This was recommended to me by fans on Yelp and I don’t know what they were thinking as the place has no redeeming features.
Starting with the atmosphere. I don’t mind dives with neon lights and plastic tablecloths. I often like them more than the trendy, over-priced establishments. Pho Show has décor of a diner with not a hint of sexiness or style, so we expected to have all the talent put into the food. Unfortunately we were sorely disappointed.
I went on a weeknight with my husband and a friend and we ordered spring rolls and satay to start. The satay was decent but nothing great and the spring rolls were tasteless, cold and slightly hard. Apparently the wrappers had been left un-covered so the rice paper had become chewy and cardboard-like. The filling was mainly noodles with little else except an over-cooked shrimp here and there, and the sauce was something most likely from a jar. I make both appetizers and mine are huge hits. These were not.
We then ordered the pho, and it needed a lot of doctoring to make it edible. Pho is a Vietnamese main dish soup that is made with a variety of noodles, proteins and sometimes a few vegetables. The base is a stock that is the key to the soup as it is highly flavored and traditionally made from cooking beef or chicken bones for hours and flavoring this with lemon grass, star anise, ginger, fish sauce and onions. This sounds so good here but was not what they served. It was a chicken stock that easily could have been from a can and the added noodles, chicken and a few slices of scallion left it bland and boring. The soup is normally served with an array of garnishes that you add in as you go such as Thai basil, mint, cilantro, sprouts, fish sauce, red chili sauce and sometimes sliced Thai chilies. At Pho Show we had the choice of hoisin sauce, basil and sprouts. This was nothing like the traditional Pho. I added everything I could get my hands on as well as the leftover peanut sauce from the spring rolls and made it work. I would have to say though that this is a place to avoid, as there aren’t enough sprouts, basil or hoisin that would save their version of pho.
On a more positive note we discovered the Blue Plate Oysterette on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica and enjoyed it quite a bit.
The place is reminiscent of a New England diner that one finds up and down the Cape and felt very cozy and friendly when we arrived. They do not take reservations but sat four of us right away.
Obviously their specialty is oysters and we are all big fans so we ordered their variety of six from various parts of the country which were plump, succulent , juicy morsels. They were fabulous and came with the required garnishes; lemon wedges, horseradish, mignonette sauce. We also ordered the whole belly Ipswich fried clams which were out of this world — fried to perfection and served with a the traditional tartar sauce. Those didn’t last long at our table and would be something to make a special trip for.
We then had different entrees; fish tacos, seafood Cobb salad and my husband had scallops. The entrees were not that impressive after the oysters. I enjoyed my seafood Cobb but my husband’s scallops came with four lonely scallops on a white plate with no garnish or side dish other than fried potatoes — not a pretty presentation and too pricey for serving size. I know our friends enjoyed their fish tacos but they were also a bit expensive given what they were.
I recommend Blue Plate for the oysters and clams and would think that lunch time would be lovely given that you are across the street from the beach and can hopefully snag an outdoor table to enjoy the ocean breezes.
Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She teaches privately for groups of two to 20 students. She has developed hundreds of recipes for cookbooks as well as food magazines and Web sites. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.