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Today, I clicked over to Tom Fitzmorris’ online food newsletter to discover that he eats “ethnic” on Tuesdays and had recently visited Pho Orchid (Houma Blvd, Metairie, LA). Here’s what Mr. Fitzmorris has to say about Vietnamese food:
Almost everything in most Vietnamese restaurants is a variation on pho. Which is not so interesting a flavor that it requires a hundred or more listings on a menu. Take out all the forms of pho, the spring rolls, and the undeniably delicious mystery-meat banh mi sandwiches (Vietnamese poor boys), and most Vietnamese restaurants are left with little on the menu. A few–Kim Son, Nine Roses, Café Minh, and now Pho Orchid–get a bunch of my stars by having much bigger and more widely varied menus. But those aren’t the ones people rave about. The simplest pho shops get all the attention.
I read an article in the New York Times a few weeks ago about the resurgence of the New Orleans restaurant scene. I was astonished by the writer’s ten best places to dine in New Orleans. In it were three Vietnamese restaurants, all of them pho and banh-mi shops. What? Did he talk with anybody here over the age of thirty, living outside the Marigny and Bywater? To read the article, you’d think pho were more important to the local eating scheme than gumbo is.
Wow…seldom have I read more uninformed dreck. Setting aside the perjorative phrase “mystery-meat”,* we’re left with the claim that ALL Vietnamese food is a variation on pho, and the equally spurious assertion that “the simplest pho shops get all the attention.” He claims that the three Vietnamese restaurants cited by the New York Times’ Sam Sifton were “all pho and banh-mi shops,” a factually incorrect claim….Sifton mentions Pho Tau Bay (yes, a pho-centric restaurant also serving banh mi), Dong Phuong Bakery (a BAKERY offering a wide range of pastries, meat pies, and banh mi, but adjacent to an eponymous, full-service restaurant with plenty of non-pho options), and Tan Dinh (whose menu ranges from goat curry to jellyfish salad to stir-fried chicken wings to bun bo hue and beyond).
It’s clear from the critique that Mr. Fitzmorris has very, very limited knowledge of Vietnamese food. So why try to critique it? (Hey, I don’t write about wine…I know when I’m out of my depth.) He does his readers a disservice to dismiss the food of an entire segment of our community as uninteresting or merely “variations on pho.”
Your thoughts, please? I’d love to find out if I’m the only non-Marigny, non-Bywater-dwelling, over-30 person who thinks that Vietnamese food is some of the most exciting stuff on a plate in NOLA these days.
*What he dismisses as “mystery meats” are frequently housemade rolled ham, pate, and other handcrafted charcuterie, part of the French colonial culinary imprint onto Vietnamese cuisine.
UPDATE: My colleague Paul G. pointed out that Lorin Gaudin already ranted about this topic a few days ago. Read her comments here.