Chow, Baby: Wednesday, April 02, 2008
License to Pho

Chow, Baby wasn’t going to make a big deal out of its birthday this year, but the Texas Department of Public Safety sure did. Instead of renewing its expiring driver’s license online (and keeping that flattering decade-old photo, rare proof that Chow, Baby was once cute), this time Chow, Baby had to show up in person with its gotta-be-here-somewhere Social Security card. This bureaucratic hassle would prevent either the next terrorist attack or the next wave of illegal immigrants, Chow, Baby wasn’t clear on which. But it was non-negotiable.
Well, if you’re going to spend the entire morning in various lines in a government office, might as well look for Pollyannaish upsides. There’s one right there: The walls are in Chow, Baby’s favorite shades of industrial green. And every government worker it encountered was stereotype-bustingly alert and helpful. Otherwise, the best thing about the Hurst DPS office is that it’s just down the road from Miss Saigon Café (932 Melbourne Rd.) — a stylish little strip spot, with landscape photos, gentle jazz, bamboo shades hiding the parking-lot view, and walls painted the same colors as the DPS’, though in this context we call them “mint” and “avocado.” As for stereotyping, a glance at the teeny menu supported Chow, Baby’s preconceptions about ethnic restaurants in non-ethnic neighborhoods. No tendons, no tripe, no salty lemon soda; the most exotic item was “soup (pho)” with rare beef — and the menu carefully pointed out that it was indeed cooked, no need to worry your pretty little head about raw meat. The largest section of the menu was devoted to “Tapioca Pearl Drinks”; smaller sections sampled Vietnamese greatest hits like rice dishes, noodle dishes, and pho (all $6-$7.50). To Chow, Baby, who can order its favorite dishes in such perfect Vietnamese that it’s sometimes taken for a native speaker (or so it’s been told, by people reliant on tips), it looked more boring than a morning at the DPS.
So Chow, Baby wasn’t expecting much from the soup (pho), ordinarily just the thing for soothing bureaucracy-jangled nerves; surely this would be the 20-minute instant kind rather than the six-hour real thing. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Fact is, Miss Saigon’s is possibly the best beef broth Chow, Baby has had in quite a while, simmered with beef bones, onions, and fragrant hints of clove, ginger, cinnamon, and other spices, for a long, long time. How long? A whopping 12 hours, according to the stereotypically slim and lovely server. Hard to believe, but the proof was in the eating.
Now operating on a new theory — that Miss Saigon may be stuck in white-bread land, but it’s not cutting any authenticity corners — Chow, Baby ordered nearly half the menu items to take home for further analysis. Across the board, they were tasty-fresh, with perfectly cooked high-quality ingredients, but light on herbs and heat. The conclusion: If you’re accustomed to full-throttle Vietnamese cuisine, yeah, you’ll fall asleep at Miss Saigon. But if you’re a beginner, Miss Saigon’s simplified, eww-free versions of traditional dishes are a fine introduction. And who knows, maybe you’ll be ready for pork-blood soup on Belknap Street or Pioneer Parkway in a decade or so, about the same time that Chow, Baby will think this hideous new driver’s license photo proves how cute it was back in 2008.
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