It's a quiet Wednesday, and I'm hunkered down at the diner where I do the bulk of my work — which means trolling the interweb looking for stories about cheeseburgers, zombies and the washed-up antics of '80s movie stars, and making a few inquiries into the status of Chinook opening at the Landmark (delayed, again). But my editor sends out an alert: new noodle bar in Aurora.
Her missive includes one more detail, an important one. Because this ain't just another Vietnamese noodle shop, but a Vietnamese noodle shop and frozen-yogurt stand, buried deep among the Korean groceries and nail salons, the tea shops, sushi bars and Asian video stores of my favorite neighborhood in Denver: the Little Everything triangle around Iliff, Parker and Havana. Just reading the address, I am jumping up and down on the inside, emitting a (totally manly) squeal of pure delight. I love joints like this. It's the juxtaposition that moves me, the high strangeness that comes of immigrant cuisines rubbing up close against the weird end of the food-fad spectrum. Frozen-yogurt stands? That wasn't even a good idea when it was new — sometime around 1983. But then, I have yet to meet a bowl of pho that I didn't heart completely with the gushing abandon of a twelve-year-old girl. Metaphorically speaking, I am down the virtual fire pole before I'm even finished reading her e-mail, and on my way in minutes, mental lights and sirens blaring.
It takes me a few gut-instinct turns to find the place (it's located on a weird, angular bend of a twisty strip mall at 2719 South Parker Road, right across from the H Mart Korean super-mega-mart and in the same Korea-meets-Guandong shopping complex as the gilded LD Buffet). Even so, Pho-Yo doesn't look open when I get there — as evidenced by the fact that mute dudes in tool belts and coveralls are wandering around behind the counter, fiddling with cordless power drills like gunslingers twirling their Colts. As evidenced by the fact that supplies are still being unloaded from the back of someone's SUV (big bags of white onions, boxes of noodles and plastic buckets of God-knows-what) and half the staffers are standing on chairs, polishing fixtures and trying to bring out the glow in the dining room's excess of chrome. The girl behind the register tells me that the grand opening isn't for a few days yet, on June 13; the shop has just been up and running for a few days, maybe a week.
"But you're serving now, right?"
"Oh, yes. Have a seat. Someone will bring you food."
Pho-Yo looks like a movie set, still half under construction: dangling lights like supernovas seen from a distance, delicate pastel walls, tabletops like fish scales done in burnished aluminum. It also has the fastest service I have ever encountered. No lie: I sit down, order tea, ask for a simple pho tai (medium) and a bowl of frozen yogurt (of course), and in less than a minute, an enormous bowl of broth and noodles, the attendant greenery (slices of fresh lime, sprouts, jalapeños cut on the bias, basil leaves still on the branch and wet from washing) and my teapot arrive. Call it 45 seconds — the time it takes for my server (owner Rick Lee, I think) to nod his head once, take my menu, walk into the back and return. Awesome.
The broth at Pho-Yo is blond as a blank slate, perfect for tinkering. A little lime, a twist of basil, a shot of sriracha (set at every table, along with the requisite hoisin and jars of chile flakes) and what I have is a teasing soup, never too heavy on the cinnamon or anise or anything — just right for diving in and chasing flavors all the way to the bottom. The noodles are perfectly cooked, the beef sliced thin and poached in the broth, the green onions like tiny, verdant sparks on the tongue. And as strange as it might sound at first blush, the frozen yogurt is actually a brilliant addition to the board, because this is not the frozen yogurt that Americans traditionally think of. There are no flavors other than yogurt flavor, the sour-sweet tang of plain yogurt, frozen to soft-serve consistency.
The two taste sensations (the hot, savory broth and the cold, sour bite of yogurt) go incredibly well together, the former filling you up and warming your belly and the latter cooling you down again and cleansing your palate. A perfect, fast lunch: a little sweet, a little sour, a little savory. And by the time I'm done, I'm out all of ten bucks.
Leftovers: There's another important opening this week — the new 3 Sons. I loathed the original under its old owners, then went back in 2006 after it had been bought by Michael and Susan Scarafiotti and found a vastly improved operation that, while not exactly breaking new ground, at least didn't seem out to poison me. After a couple of years, the Scarafiottis decided it was time to move 3 Sons from its longtime home on 2915 West 44th Avenue; in April, they shut down the restaurant in anticipation of soon reopening in a new building at 14805 West 64th Avenue in Arvada.
And although it wasn't quite soon enough, the wait is almost over. 3 Sons is now slated to open on Saturday, June 20, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the Scarafiottis and their crew can do with a place that's finally, completely their own.
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