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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Flying solo
I do not, as a rule, do certain things by myself. These include going to rock shows, seeing movies, and especially going out to dinner. The one exception to this rule is my almost-weekly sojourn to Than Brothers restaurant on Broadway Avenue. I don't know why it's different; it just is. Over the last year and a half, my fab pho outings have become highly ritualized experiences. When I'm feeling low, pho is more often than not the only solution. I recently crushed my previous record by visiting Than Bros. eleven times during the month of January.

When you sit down at your table, one of the friendly staff brings you a glass of water, a cream puff, and a plate piled high with crunchy bean sprouts, sprigs of basil, sliced jalapenos, and a wedge of lime. I squeeze about half the lime's juice into my water glass, saving the rest for my soup. Then I eat the cream puff, because I know if I wait until after the meal, I won't have room for it. Then I order my usual -- pho ga (chicken soup with rice noodles), hold the cilantro, with a cafe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk). For a while, back in the fall, I came in so often that when I arrived, my favorite waiter would call out "Small chicken?" almost before I could sit down.

My "small" (read: actually enormous) bowl arrives, and I dig in, alternating slurps of broth with chopsticksful of shredded chicken, sliced onion, and rice noodles. I drip a dollop of Sriracha (I will give you a nickel if you can tell me how to pronounce that word) hot sauce onto each bite, but never squeeze the bottle directly into the bowl (this might upset the delicate flavor balance of the broth). When I'm about halfway through the soup, my cafe sua da is ready. It's perfect timing, because my mouth is on fire from too much Sriracha. I don't always finish my noodles, but I drink up every last drop of the broth, which has so many different flavors I won't even try to describe them.

Now, I have many pho buddies. It's my fall-back dinner with Katie M. -- we eat it when nothing else sounds good, because it always sounds good. The veggie variety is an easy vegan option when Katie L. comes to visit. My mom thinks it's not salty enough to be real chicken soup, but my sister is as crazy about it as I am (even though she seems to be slightly allergic). But more often than not, I end up sitting solo at a table for two, with only a good book for company.

I eat very quickly and without distraction. Cheesy, Muzak-y versions of once-popular songs play on the radio, and the waiters and cooks talk back and forth to each other in Vietnamese. Sometimes I listen to the conversations of nearby diners. Many of my fellow pho enthusiasts, however, are on their own, and perhaps that's why I'll make an exception to the no-dining-solo rule for this particular meal at this particular restaurant. We're all alone, but somehow, I don't think any of us is lonely.

posted by shan at 10:11 AM; 3 comments



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