There’s something a little inappropriate about Pho Sure/Baoguette, Michael
Huynh’s new Vietnamese noodle-slash-sandwich joint in the West Village.
There are the kneeling Vietnamese maidens in barely-there tops plastered all over the wallpaper in a comely repeat pattern. And then, there’s the bull’s penis, practically waving at you from the menu.
Yes, that would be the sliced up genitals of a bull served either with pho or a simmering hot bowl of soup.
Feel uncomfortable yet?
Michael Huynh’s restaurants have not generally been eyebrow-raisers so far — noncontroversial crowd-pleasers have been the stock and trade of his growing list of Vietnamese outposts in New York City.
So I was a little intrigued to hear about the “peen” on the menu at his new place on Christopher Street — which remains the place to go for crotchless leather pants and other saucy gear, no less. (I could practically hear Beavis & Butt-Head‘s snivelling laughter starting up in my ear.)
The first time I went to Pho Sure/Baoguette, I avoided the peen. What had drawn me to the place, after all, was a craving for a good, hot bowl of pho. (Even after six years in New York, I have yet to find a place that serves up Vietnamese beef noodles in soup as hearty and tasty as Pho 75‘s in Arlington, Va., a place I faithfully went to every weekend for six years.)
As pho goes, Pho Sure’s is not bad. The broth straddles the line between sweet and savory — although it’s a little hard to tell which side it leans toward because it’s not exactly bursting with flavor. Also, the noodles could have been less water-logged and gummy if our waitress hadn’t let it sit on the counter for almost 10 minutes after it was done before noticing it was there — and this happened only after we began staring at her to catch her eye. (Mind you, this tiny restaurant was not a full by a long shot, even at peak lunch hour — so, no excuse there.)
I wasn’t sure if I’d return to Pho Sure after that experience. But the peen began to nag at me.
I’d vowed earlier this year to be more adventurous in my eating. And here, I’d been presented with the possibility of peen — and I’d blinked. I knew I had unfinished business.
My second meal had a promising start — three of us split a classic banh mi “Baoguette,” and the sandwich was perfection on a plate. I’d never seen a $5 sandwich in New York that hefty.
It was so fat that it was impossible to eat with any semblance of being mannerly — almost every bite caused a minor explosion of pate, pork, pickled daikon, cilantro, cucumber and jalapeno to spew from the sandwich. The result, of course, was that you’d take a bite and then immediately start chasing bits of meat skittering across your plate in order to grab them with your fingers and pop them in your mouth.
But things went downhill from there — a round of pho confirmed my previous misgivings about the broth. The salt & pepper soft shell crab came with a yuzu kiwi sauce so tart that it made me squint involuntarily. And the hanger steak vermicelli noodles came with noodles so gummy that chunks of it clumped together.
There was, of course, the peen.
We weren’t sure what to make of the bowl when it first arrived. All we saw was broth and a film of cilantro and scallions. Was the peen that small? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)
We fished around the dusky broth and spotted small shady blobs darting around as our chopsticks stirred. It took some time to nab one of the slimy little buggers and inspect it on a plate.
It looked like a naked gumdrop. Brian, our dear friend and source of many peen quips before we’d got to the restaurant, started looking a little green.
Mike somberly sampled one, chewing slowly and thoughtfully. I followed suit. There wasn’t much flavor at all, beyond the faint taste of beef, and this was possibly from the broth it came in. This meat was a purely textural food — a very chewy gelatin with a ring of thicker, chewier skin attached to it.
Not worth the calories, I decided. We left the rest of the peen on the table.
Outside the restaurant, the gaiety resumed. We couldn’t believe that Brian, who has been known to slurp up calf’s brains with gusto, didn’t even try it.
“That’s a real shortcoming,” Mike said. “You really failed to perform.”
Which, laughter aside, could have been said of the restaurant as well.