Monday, February 22, 2010

The Fall of the Wall and the Rise of Saigon

Inspired by Yelp.com, friendly competition and the convenient proximity of Asian food in New Haven, we decided to throw Pot Au Pho and Great Wall into the food battle ring royal. These two eateries could not be more different, but they also share a lot in common. They are located with in feet from each other and serve food at the same price range. These similarities make them perfect to go up against each other fighting for the honorable title of Yv¹.

Mendez tan and trim from the Bahamas; Hans mascara'd and fish-netted from the Bauhaus tribute act he fronts felt the pangs of hunger. Consulting a battered map tacked on the blog cave walls the dashing duo felt obligated to cover the neglected Whitney Ave turf. “How about Pot Au Pho,” Hans suggested, his speech slightly muffled from the wash cloth he was using to wipe off the last of his concert lipstick. “It would be nice to see our friend Andrew who is working there today.” Mendez transfixed, flexing in the mirror nodded mindlessly. A great eating and blogging adventure had begun.

In the midst of Asian markets stands Pot Au Pho, blending into the background of brick buildings. From the outside the restaurant looks like it could hold five guests at maximum capacity, six maybe if they are Kate Moss skinny. When entering the small hallway in the front of the building the duo felt confused whether to walk upstairs, enter the door to there left, or to follow the well-dressed nervous rabbit tapping his pocket watch [the latter being purely fabricated]. They chose the door to the left. They were greeted by a man and a question, “Would you like to sit downstairs, its warmer.” They went downstairs.

Their server and friend, Andrew, is a lanky, hippie Rambo. Instead of crossing into the Vietnamese border to hack the limbs of his enemies or, using a sub-machine gun to level Ho Chi Minh’s compound, this Rambo fights hunger with the Vietnamese. He dispenses steaming soups like throwing stars. Green tea is his razor grass. Hot cock sauce, this charming rag-a-muffin‘s hot cock sauce. But enough about the waiter.

Pot Au Pho is the definition of cozy. Conversations are pleasant, patrons are smiling and Bob Dylan played over the speakers. A tiny television screen rotates through pictures of provincial life in Vietnam in one corner. The window looks out onto both Whitney Avenue and some paintings of goldfish hung outside the restaurant.


They ordered a roll combining thinly cut pork, vegetables and shrimp. The roll came with a dipping sauce on the side adding spicy sweetness but this barbecue sauce concoction did not thrill the bloggers. Two phos were ordered for the main course. Pho is a Vietnamese soup dish made with either beef, chicken, or vegetable broth with noodles and vegetables. Lime, bean sprouts, and basil leaves are served on the side to add to one’s liking. There is also a French variation to this dish (watch for a young Harrison Ford’s explanation of pot au feu in Apocalypse Now Redux). No matter the name, the dish of etymological French origin is simple and delicious. Hans’s pho was basic tofu, noodle and vegetable; Mendez’s a combination of beef, noodles, and vegetables flavored with cinnamon and anise. Both phos where delicious and satisfying. The anise being a nice subtle touch, very pleasant to a blogger who would rather eat a rat (sans salsa cruda) than a piece of licorice.

Researching origins of Vietnamese food, Hans and Mendez stumbled upon Yelp.com by “Googling” Pot au Pho. Yelp.com allows those without blogging licenses to abuse laws of communication and to flaunt personal and regional preferences above good taste, fairness and courtesy. The boys took out there blogging licenses and read those words out loud: “Good taste, Fairness and Courtesy.” It is this credos that sets them apart from animals, Yelpers, and Nicholas Sparks fans. Yelpers reason because Pot Au Pho did not have an arcade, lemonade stand, nor actually located in Vietnam or the west coast (the site has a strange cult dedication to Seattle) that it must be no good. To test the validity of the Yelper’s tastes, Hans and Mendez sought out the neighboring Great Wall of China which received better reviews.

Based on the Yelp.com reviews of Great Wall ,Hans and Mendez put on tuxedos and shined their shoes expecting a world class meal that would change their mind about both Pot Au Pho and fellow man. It is hard to record what happened there, what really happened in Great Wall. Hans and Mendez walked into a restaurant with a huge and imposing dining room. The grand room was completely empty; dim lighting and dark wood the motif. Light is civilization, truth and understanding. All were absent from Great Wall. Across the street a “Miss Pacman” machine dimly illuminated the face of the Great Wall server. She pointed absently to the hot plates of stewed food. The large area also being too dimly lit for the bloggers to find their own way, they followed almost blindly. A scoop of this, a scoop of whatever that is. With the wrist of a lunch lady who studies Pollock by day, Pol Pot by night, two Styrofoam containers were filled past the brim with more white rice than there is tea in China. Two large containers of salted oil mislabeled as soup where ladled out. The boys paid seven dollars each, and quickly walked to the door to exit. What is at work in the mind of Yelpers will forever be an unsolved and unwished to be known mystery.

The quality of Great Wall was far inferior than your average “Great Wall of China,” “First Garden,” or playful, “Wok On In.” What makes this specific Great Wall worth visiting though are oddball selections not featured on your average take out or buffet menu. Many of the unlabeled selections featured runny egg concoctions; there is a sardine dish and a warm mussel dish. The mussels, unlike the rest of the fair, being rather tasty. And then there is everything else; General Tso’s chicken, spicy chicken with vegetables, and spicy vegetables. The General Tso’s is slightly less fatty than the average, but the calories spared from fat are quadrupled by the two pounds of white rice that come with the meal.

For the price of four items and a soup, one can enjoy a healthier option at Pot Au Pho. After a few bites from their Great Wall Styrofoam boxes the bloated bloggers loosened their belts and got off the blog couch to dispose of the food. The food would do less harm to a landfill than one’s stomach.

Winner: Pot Au Pho.




Pot Au Pho
77 Whitney Avenue


Great Wall of China
67 Whitney Avenue