Monthly Archives: June 2009

Cruel Summer

(photo by © Bernd Juergens |

(photo by © Bernd Juergens |

Most of the time, I am a task-monster in the kitchen. Even though I build in time to rest/relax in nearly all of my menus, I never actually use that time. It just feels natural to do more and more, even if it has nothing to do with the current meal. And of course, taking pictures and dreaming up blog posts are a part of that.

Maybe it is a quest for simplicity or just sheer 2009 laziness, but it seems that the simpler the better is my current rule. My aikido sensei always taught me to use movement in the most efficient way possible. He has been practicing aikido for longer than I have been alive, he barely seems to move when he easily throws a person twice his size and speed.

Even though I stopped practicing aikido years ago due to knee problems, applying similar efficient motions is how I have been approaching my time in the kitchen. Ingredients on hand get maximum use, frills get second shrift, and I make less trips to the store. All pure flavors are favored, one plate has everything you’ll want to eat, and a devil-may-care attitude pervades…and we still eat very, very well. Meals go together simply. And I get to relax more.

So, how have you been approaching your kitchen this summer?

So’ Mo’ Pho

(photo by wm. christman)

(photo by wm. christman)

At nearly every company I have worked at, there have been a handful of folks from Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and other non-Western cultures who have been able to point me at the best of their unique and different foods in the area.

At one company with a large Chinese workforce, the moment I was invited to lunch with a group of them was the moment that they realized that I wasn’t just a sweet and sour pork guy. They took much delight in and tried (and tried hard) to throw as many “odd” foods in my direction to see if they could get me to react in a typically American way, but I took it all in stride.

Everything they ever tried to get me to eat was truly delicious and are now some of my favorite things to eat. I am forever grateful to them and others who have helped me round out my palate. And my recent gig is no exception…

In a quest for the best pho (say “fah” not “foh”) in the area, my colleague Judie T. pointed me to a place in Northeast San Jose which epitomizes the classic pho joint. San Jose’s Vietnamese population is huge and there are many pho shops here. Most of them are bare-bones, holes-in-the-wall small operations and they’re almost always family run. It’s pretty hard to find one around here that won’t satisfy a beefy noodle craving.However, Pho Kim Long is clearly a few notches above the rest. The restaurant is a strip mall wonder (lots of them are) – lots of tables pushed close to each other, floor-to-ceiling panes of thin glass separating you from the outside world, lots of shouted order giving to the kitchen, a jumble of human motion and clattering dishes, and nearly always a line to get in. In other words, you want to be here.

To be a bit more accurate, Pho Kim Long has pho and bun (say “boon”) which are both rice noodles – pho is flat, bun is round. Either way, when mixed with a rich beef broth scented with star anise or a deeply clear yellow chicken broth both are highly satisfying. Various meats (flank, round, tendon, young chicken meat) add heft to the bowl. Bean sprouts, mint or basil, lime juice, fresh jalapeños and Sriracha hot chili sauce allow you to further customize.

Bun Bo Hue (photo by wm. christman)

Bun Bo Hue (photo by wm. christman)

Two of the stand out bowls at Pho Kim Long are the Bun Bo Hue and Bun Rieu. Bun Bo Hue is a meat-lover’s delight with bun, chunks of stewed beef and pork, a couple of pieces of pork blood and a dollop of fiery-hot chili sauce. The broth is richer than what they use for the regular pho with a mouth-filling richness that would stand on its own. The squeamish may eschew the pork blood but it does give the bowl a richness and funk that is pleasant. Since it appears in a small cohesive chunk, you can take it out if you want.

Bun Rieu (photo by wm. christman)

Bun Rieu (photo by wm. christman)

The Bun Rieu is a crab meat noodle bowl. That description is slightly misleading it is not strands of crab that are in this dish but a mix of crab meat and egg whipped into light, cloud-like chunks that float about the bowl like dumplings. The uniquely textured pieces are packed with pure crab flavor. The broth is seafood based that is slightly spicy and adds to the bowl’s light but filling nature. Add mint and a squeeze of lime to coax out even more flavor from this bowl of goodness.

As with typical pho joints, Pho Kim Long’s menu has variations of each variety of pho and bun four and five combos deep – regular beef pho has 6-7 different meats to choose from. The chicken pho has young chicken meat that is tender and flavorful and far from supermarket-generic flavorlessness.

East-side, hole-in-the-wall, family run pho joints are some of the best around. And Pho Kim Long is one of the best.

Pho Kim Long, 2082 N Capitol Ave, San Jose, CA 95132, 408.946.2181

Key Phrases


Right in the middle of jotting down some notes on the reason(s) why more people don’t take the time to cook their own meals, this morning’s blog post from Michael Ruhlmanhits both the simplicity and “cooking is not that difficult” nails squarely on the head.

Ruhlman recently released perhaps one of the most useful kitchen references, a book called Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking which breaks down recipes into parts rather than strict measures. This particular post is about making paté a choux (or cream puff dough) and described as a “beautiful food made from basic ingredients: water, butter, flour, eggs!”.

But sprinkled throughout the post are a few of the same thoughts about cooking aversion that are on my giant …but the devil sends the cooks notepad. To wit: “DON’T LET THE FOOD COMPANIES TELL YOU YOU’RE TOO STUPID TO COOK AND THAT COOKING IS A CHORE! THEY ONLY WANT YOUR MONEY!”

Warmed my heart, that.