Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bastile Day: On Target With Pho Consomme, July 14, 2010

Forget liberté, égalité, fraternité: if there had been a Target (“cible” en Francais) in 18th century Paris, all of history may have been altered.

Three hundred years later, fighting the crowds at the market has not changed.

Both Lucile Desmoulins and Marie Antoinette would have been equally enchanted by the prospect of being able to buy a corset, les biftecks, and gardening supplies under the same roof.

While I will spend hours shopping for beads, books, or exotic chocolates with pretty labels, I hate taking time to pick up the necessaries. My brain was stewing in its usual morning fog trying to figure out all that I have to do before I arrive at the office until I came to the realization that I could not only pick up orange juice, yogurt, and water at Target, but also take care of my morning Americano fix at the store’s Starbucks concession.

Target is usually thronged on nights and weekends as everyone scrambles to do what I set out to do this morning. Happily, you can almost have the place to yourself if you go right after they open at 8 a.m. The supermarket department is a recent addition to the store on Avalon Boulevard and since I rarely go to supermarkets at all, I have not really shopped it. I was skeptical about the yogurt selection, which proudly displayed every flavor and variety of Yoplait, in its high fructose corn-syruped glory. Finally, I found some peach Chobani, a brand that I had bought before on another emergency yogurt run that was reasonably tasty. This company got more respect from me after I found out that they post not only nutritional data on their products, but an ingredient list as well.

While this sortie to Target took care of breakfast, there was still the matter of lunch. Since there are no French restaurants near campus, Dylan and I decided to try a Gardena eatery that almost fit the bill for our Bastile Day celebration. Pho Consomme is named presumably in recognition of the colonial influence of the French government in Vietnam from 1887 to 1954. Pho itself is the delectable by-product of both indigenous and colonial cuisines, a heady combination of Vietnam's rice noodles and spices and France's love of boeuf.

Boeuf: it's what's for dîner... Gustave Caillebotte's version. I like my art like my beef: rare.

The "consomme" in Pho Consomme turned out to be a hot pot dish where one could cook meat and vegetables at the table, a bit much for a workday lunch. We went with good old pho, mine topped as usual with rare beef and Dylan's with rare beef and brisket. We rounded it out with shrimp spring rolls and our usual beverages: my limeade with soda water and his iced Vietnamese coffee blended with sweetened condensed milk.

Hands down, the spring rolls were great. The ocean-y goodness of shrimp and minty fresh herbs, all in one bite.

It was a good sign that actual Asians were eating there, good enough to forgive grammatical errors on the menu like "grounded shrimp." Although I was relieved to learn that Pho Consomme's shellfish were emotionally healthy and down-to-earth, I was a bit disappointed that the server brought Dylan the wrong pho, gave us only one small plate of the prerequisite garnishes for pho - basil, bean sprouts, jalapenos, and lime - and ignored our request for a fork which I impatiently tried to fetch myself.

Pho is just a blank page without the sprouts, chilis, and herbs.

But this is not meant to be a review.

We say we want a revolution. Pho Consomme was a Korean barbeque place before its recent opening and before that, lived out several incarnations as other restaurants. We hope that it will break the "store of doom" curse that seems to hang over the building. But for now, it's great to have an option with some French flair in the neighborhood, since there probably won't be any quaint little bistros opening up in Gardena anytime soon.

Vive le France!

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