In addition to bland broth, Tau Bay's pho tai gau ($3.95) suffered from overly chewy meat--slices of rare flank steak and well-done brisket--that indicated low-grade cuts had been used; the soup was topped with a slimy film of bean sprouts well past their prime. This same indifference to ingredients cropped up in the com chien duong chau ($4.95), a rice plate of, well, a lot of dry rice, half of a scrambled egg (we were the only customers, so where did the other half go?), tiny dried-out cubes of pork the size of rice grains and none of the promised shrimp and chicken. The only worthwhile component in the mix was the Chinese sausage, which had been glazed with sugar water and grilled until each piece caramelized--but there were only a few pieces to pick at.

There was nothing redeeming about the hu tieu tom cua ($4.50), a seafood noodle soup that also lacked promised ingredients--and flavor. By "shrimp," the kitchen apparently meant one; the fish cake turned out to be two thin slivers, and the squid turned out to be nonexistent. Instead, the bowl contained a whole pollack's worth of imitation crabmeat and a half-pound of vermicelli, all lurking beneath a lily pond of basil leaves.

Tau Bay must have gotten quite a deal on those rice noodles, because they also made up the bulk of the bun thit bo nuong ($4.95). The pho-sized bowl was topped with a few slices of beef--coated on the outside with more of that sugar-water marinade--and sprinkled with peanuts, shredded lettuce, mint and basil. About two tablespoons of nuoc cham had sunk to the bottom of the bowl, but that wasn't enough to coat even a quarter of the vermicelli.

Without something to eat them with, we couldn't finish off the noodles. And we hated to offend the kitchen by wasting so much food. So we did the only sensible thing.

We di di mau-ed out of there.

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