By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
I don't usually go to restaurant openings. There are several reasons for this, chief among them that the events themselves -- filled with back-slapping and pasted-on smiles -- generally bear no resemblance to how the places will look on their first day of actual service, and the food is nothing like what will eventually issue forth from the kitchen once the cooks get into the swing of things. Then there's the problem of a critic's anonymity. It's tough to sound convincing when I'm wearing a fake mustache and telling everyone I'm Mr. Terwilliger, the owner's cousin's former roommate -- but it would be even worse to be recognized, cornered by the recipient of a bad review and savaged with an oyster fork.
So it was purely by accident that I showed up at a new joint on its first day of business. Pho 2000, at 3150 South Parker Road, in the long-suffering Regatta Plaza, opened its doors on Saturday, April 12, with no fanfare whatsoever. Laura and I spotted the Pho 2000 sign as we headed out to the movies -- on our way to see The Quiet American -- and Vietnamese food sounded like just the thing to get the night started.
The strip-mall space is unusual, presenting would-be diners with a Let's Make a Deal-esque choice. Pick the door on the right, and you're in the Asia Noodle Restaurant, a comfortable, dimly lit room reminiscent of every other storefront Chinese outfit you've ever seen. Go with door number two, on the left, and you're in Pho 2000 territory -- a white room with white walls, as brightly lit as an operating theater, tinged red and blue by the giant neon pho bowls in the big front windows. There are white stairs with white banisters that lead to an as-yet-incomplete demi-floor above, where blown-up pictures of everything on the twelve-item menu -- which includes nine varieties of pho -- hang from white railings.
The two eateries are connected by a common service area. But while they appear to share staff, their menus are completely separate. I can't vouch for the Chinese dishes, but Pho 2000's food is a welcome addition to this weird little melting pot of a block, where you can now find Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian, Nepalese and Korean fare, all within a hundred paces. Since the fryers weren't yet up and running, we didn't get to try the egg rolls, but we did share an order of chewy Vietnamese spring rolls, easy on the mint and stuffed with greens, glass noodles, bits of fried onion and fat sliced shrimp, served with a side of mild red-pepper sauce. And the pho was excellent. The bowls were huge, filled with hot, deeply flavored, slow-simmered stock poured over Vietnamese vermicelli noodles and swimming with rare steak (cooked by the heat of the broth), fish balls, tendon, shrimp, chicken and all the other usual suspects, depending on your menu choice. Incredibly fresh purple basil, white onion, mung bean sprouts and lime arrived at the table on a separate plate, attended by bottles of Sriracha sauce, red-pepper paste and an excellent, nutty hoisin.
It was a great dinner -- cheap, fast and delicious. And I had the most fun I've everaccidentally had at a restaurant opening watching the children of the proud new owners and staff running around the place in oversized Pho 2000 aprons, instructing each other on how not to touch the tables, slide down the railings or bother the customers, all the while sliding down the railings, climbing on the tables and laughing at the tops of their lungs. Frankly, I think those kids should be invited to every opening in town, if for no other reason than to remind the rest of us how to have a good time at these sorts of events.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch: The Colorado Legislature has (thankfully) killed a bill sponsored by Republican senator Bruce Cairns that would have required all restaurants to post their most recent health-inspection reports on the front door or in the lobby. Why was this a bad idea? Because for the most part, the dining public just ain't qualified to make a judgment on a place based on its inspection certificate. The inspectors are tough (as they should be) and thorough (as they'd better be), and they don't miss much -- but the inspection report is really only accurate on the day it's given. If a fly sneaks into the kitchen on the day the inspector arrives, that goes down as an insect problem -- which makes everyone think cockroach -- and a temperature spike of one or two degrees in the coolers can easily get a restaurant marked off for a "failure to hold cold" violation. Most minor issues are remedied on the spot, while the inspector is still in the house, and if it's something major, the owners are left with a simple choice: Fix it or close.
Which was why I always loved the health inspectors. When I was running kitchens, these guys were my buddies, because I tried hard to have a clean galley, and if I (or the owners, or some of my crew) was doing something wrong, I wanted to know about it so I could fix it. When you need a new lowboy but the money guys are too cheap to spring for it, a bad inspection report is very good leverage.