Noodles and meat make a salad feel like something else. Bún thịt nướng. Pho Cow Cali Express.
9170 Mira Mesa Boulevard, San Diego
Fun with neon signs.
I can't pretend Vietnamese is my favorite Asian cuisine — the meats tend to skew a little sweet for my palate — but I'm down to keep trying new places in the hopes one will eventually wow me. Last week, a friend brought me to her neighborhood favorite up in Mira Mesa, and the neon sign in the window charmed me enough to bring a sunny attitude.
A ceiling partially painted to resembled blue skies dotted by fluffy white clouds helped along the idea that Pho Cow Cali Express wasn't going to be just a fun restaurant name to say out loud.
I wasn't feelin too phở, so figured I'd try out the bún menu, featuring various meat options served over a bowl of thin noodles and vegetables; including julienned cucumber, carrots, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts and lettuce. Served with a small dish of nuoc cham, a dipping sauce of lime, chili flakes, garlic and fish sauce, my cold noodle salad nicely represented the Vietnamese style of combining fresh, raw veggies with cooked protein, in this case thịt nướng, (BBQ pork).
The sweetness of the pork wasn't lost on me this time, though typical to many so-deemed authentic Asian eateries, a little gristle and tendon made chewing a sometimes disappointing adventure. Still, for the most part I genuinely enjoyed it.
Add some club soda to your salt and plum. Soda xí muội. Pho Cow Cali Express.
Still, the most memorable part of my meal may be the beverage: xí muội with club soda. I've though about ordering this salted, preserved plum drink before at other restaurants, but the time just never seemed right. This evening, for whatever reason, I went for it. Now I love plums, but admit it's a little disconcerting when a couple of pieces of pale, preserved fruit were served to me in a glass, sitting on top of what looked to be at least a full tablespoon of salt.
I cracked the accompanying can of club soda and poured it over, stirring the concoction with my spoon and wondered briefly whether such a salt-heavy drink could ever be refreshing balance to a meal. Maybe more like a Gatorade substitute for some severely hungover Sunday morning.
It tasted pretty good, though. Maybe not something I'd drink on the reg, but when the BBQ pork of your main dish tastes sweet, going a bit salty for your beverage kind of balances out. That said, I have to wonder what the club soda-free xí muội would be like. I get the feeling those bubbles helped my naïve taste buds.