Fast pho at Le Cheval

There is this McDonald’s pretty much right across the street from the old Physics building where I went to college. It made good business. College kids, tight pockets, tight schedule, empty stomach, of course. But good old days are no more. The Big M is nonexistent here, although all the above conditions still hold. The Physics building is inconveniently located in the middle of campus, which is at least 15 minutes strolling to the nearest food in any direction (on-campus diners don’t count). The shortest voyage if you’re facing south leads to the corner Durant-Bowditch. A yellow sign gently says “Le Cheval – Saigon Cuisine, Est. 1986”, with green vines, sunshine patio, and “cash only”. The place is usually packed during lunch peak. (This picture was taken at 3 pm.) There are about a dozen dishes on the counter, you pay a fix price for a combo rice plate, and make your own. I haven’t tried those, because it would take more time than to order a bowl of pho. Actually I said “noodle soup”, and the white man at the cashier politely asked, in well-toned Vietnamese, “phở bò?” […]

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House of spicy Biryanis

They say in India you can buy a train ticket scheduled to leave within 2 hours, go back to the hotel, shower, take a nap, walk around, come back to the train station the next day, and it’s just in time for the train to arrive. I haven’t been to India to testify that story, but I’ve been at Berkeley, and rest assured, it is similar. Waiting for the city bus and the school bus here is good practice for patience. I used to check the time, calculate how many minutes I have to walk from home to the bus stop, how many minutes until the bus arrives, how many minutes until I’m officially late for class. I do none of those now. I’m a learned man. Waiting for the buses here is like waiting for a fickle lover to get ready, it can be 10 minutes, or 30 minutes, or never. Don’t blame it on bad traffic. There are no cows wandering among cars, and the goats are all seasoned and stewed. Yep, the goats are ready to serve at your favorite local Indian eatery. It isn’t on the permanent […]

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Second time at Lemon Grass

We came back, and it was new. The menu is a laminated extensive list. The construction was finished. The booths are filled. The space was lushed with soothing 80’s music. The dishes were brought out one after another all too quickly. Appetizer 1: tôm chiên cốm (fried shrimp coated with crispy green rice, pictured above). Little seasoning is added, the flavor relies on the shrimps’ freshness and the cốm‘s natural confection. Pure novelty. The shrimps come in flock of five. Appetizer 2: mango salad. Here’s my guess: a squirt of lemon, a pinch of sugar, a half-ripe mango (to keep the crunchy but not so much the sour), a pinch of sesame seeds for colors, and again, five rosy boiled shrimps for protein. It’s refreshmunchtastic. Continue reading Second time at Lemon Grass

Multi-name Thai Cuisine

It’s a little hard to tell what the name of this place really is. Yelp says “Da Nang Krungthep Thai Cuisine”. Their little receipt says “Muang Thai Restaurant”. Chowhound disagrees. I’ll go with the name they have on the yellow sign in front. But one thing I do know is it’s busy, even on a drizzly Berkeley Sunday afternoon, and all for a good reason: its good taste. The good taste extends beyond the food. As Mudpie put it, the interior is “well spaced”. Tables aren’t too closed together to make us talking uncomfortably for fear that the next table could hear. Nice real (not fake) flowers, mini bamboos on the room divider, wooden stools near the window for lone diners. The middle-aged host brought us our orders with a genuine smile and a friendly warning: it’s spicy, so add this chili sauce only if you like really spicy food. We sure took his advice. The kao pad namh (fried rice with sausage and kai-lan), despite its innocent look and without the sauce, burns. Continue reading Multi-name Thai Cuisine