Chow, Baby: Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Begging the Question

“Do you ever admit when you’re wrong?” Chow, Baby’s constant companion idly asked halfway through our scrumptious appetizers at Saporé, formerly known as Randall’s Gourmet Cheesecake Co. (907 Houston St). About a month ago, see, we attended a little cocktail reception at Saporé to preview its “new concept dining experience,” which turned out to be cheese cubes, strawberries dipped in chocolate, and unidentifiables wrapped in dough. The hors d’oeuvres all looked and tasted like they came from Albertson’s. “This place is going to suck,” Chow, Baby privately predicted. Back then. Before it had all the pertinent information.

Two things that don’t suck, not by a long shot: Chef Erick Boyle’s renowned Paris enchilada ($14) and his new escargot with stuffed phyllo pastry ($9) appetizers. The “enchilada” is a lunch-sized crepe stuffed with sautéed escargot, portobello mushrooms, leeks, and goat cheese, and it is fantastic. The only thing better in the world is escargot served with bite-size purses of flaky phyllo filled with sweet figs and mascarpone cheese. Incredible. But the meal could only go downhill from there, and down it went. The banana and tomato sauce on the broiled sole ($23) was interesting, but both the fish and Chow, Baby’s center-cut beef tenderloin ($24) were overcooked. Sides of basil risotto (with the fish), garlic mashed potatoes (with the beef), and sautéed vegetables (with both) bordered on boring. A topping like cherry pie filling was an insult to the otherwise excellent crème brulée ($5).

Compensate for imperfect entrée execution with A-plus service (thanks, Art) and finger-licking-good honey butter with the fresh warm bread — no, Saporé doesn’t suck at all. Not that Chow, Baby’s admitting anything.

How Soon Is Now?

Just last week Chow, Baby was complaining about the eternal “Coming Soon” sign at Pho Bella (4023B E. Belknap St., Haltom City) — and a few days later, there it was: “Open.” As one who relies heavily on hackneyed journalistic formulas, Chow, Baby knew this piece would have to begin with either “It was worth the wait” or “It wasn’t worth the wait.” Which would it be? Which would it be?

Oh, it was worth the wait. My, yes. For starters, the place is lovely: cream walls, soft lighting, black-and-white photographs of lovely young women, unobtrusive piped-in classical guitar. The service is eager. The food may well be authentic Vietnamese cuisine — Chow, Baby’s never been to Vietnam, but it’s been to every restaurant in this town with “pho” or “Saigon” in its name, and there are dishes at Pho Bella that it’s never seen before. Spring rolls, yeah yeah — but here made with something called “shrimp mousse,” shrimp wrapped around a piece of sugar cane (removed before serving) and grilled until a hint of sweetness seeps into the meat, oh so good ($3.50). A dessert that’s a combination of white beans, red beans, yellow beans, and jelly in coconut milk ($2). The standards are great too: a big bowl of rich, beefy pho ($5.50); vermicelli with grilled pork, egg rolls, and more of that shrimp mousse ($6). The highest-priced item on the menu was underpriced: 10-Flavors Rice Plate (yes, Chow, Baby counted), a mound of grilled shrimp, beef, bean curd skin, egg rolls, and varieties of pork ($8). Go to Pho Bella now — it’s the one with the purple awning — before they wise up and raise their prices.

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