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We'd admired the decor — the bamboo frieze behind an array of birdcages, the chic light fixtures that looked like three upside-down conical hats — more than the food.
I drove away down Clement in order to show Wendy my favorite high-and-low kitchen-and-dining shops, Period George and Kamei. On the way, we passed Pho Clement (239 Clement, 379-9008), a classic old-style pho joint, its fluorescent light pulsing onto the street.
San Francisco, CA 94118
Region: Richmond (Inner)
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Beef pho $8.75 medium, $10 large
Green papaya salad $6.75
Fresh spring rolls $5
Chicken pho $8.75 medium, $10 large
Beef tendon with onion salad $5.50
Fried banana with tapioca $6
A couple of days later, I was inexorably drawn there. The menu at Pho Clement offered 25 different versions of pho (and 150 other dishes; I'm not kidding, they're all numbered). I sat on a red-leatherette diner seat at a woodish table and ordered number 7, tai nam gan sach, with rare steak, well-done flank, tendon, and tripe. A small portion cost $6.25. This time the rice noodles were thin, the onions were in the broth, and the bean sprouts were on the side with lime. The forest of condiments on the table included Sriracha hot sauce, hoisin, soy, chile oil, sesame oil, and vinegar, as well as salt and pepper. The rare steak blushed pink, the tendon was pure jelly texture, and the bleached-white tripe was pure chewy texture. And although the setting's comforts were minimal (it's eight blocks from Pot de Pho, but a world away), the pho tasted just swell.
I did return, on my own, to Pot de Pho. I tried the chicken pho, which I liked better than the beef. Little curls of caramelized onions lent their sweet, smoky essence to the broth, heady with scallions, and I liked the velvety shreds and slices of meat. Fresh shrimp and pork spring rolls with a peanut dipping sauce were much like the ones you get at Slanted Door or pull from the refrigerated case at banh mi places in the Tenderloin. The most exciting dish was the gan bo salad: sliced beef tendon — transparent, crunchy, and chewy like some weird sea beast — draped over a shocking quantity of raw sliced onions, the whole squiggled with hoisin and hot sauce. There was more than enough for two, at only $24 for three dishes. And in such a pretty room.
I lingered by a big glass case filled with bowls bearing cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, and bundles of cinnamon bark. I wished I'd tasted more of them in Pot de Pho's broth.
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