Phorage – I Can’t Believe Phorage Is Making Me Feel Not Terrible About Chego Leaving

12 Oct

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Phorage rises up from the ashes of Chego Westside. A tough act to follow, especially considering the space has so many disadvantages — cramped seating, little parking, neighbors who you would never give a second glance to. It also features a landlord who forced Chego out. So I’m not sure why you’d want to take a gamble on this space. But Perry Cheung, formerly of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, is giving it a go with classic Vietnamese cuisine using ingredients described with the usual litany: local, sustainable, seasonal.

The result: maybe the best Vietnamese food I’ve had (outside of the Slanted Door).

They’ve done a good job with the space, making it feel brighter, cleaner, and more spacious than the old Chego. There’s still knickknacks on the shelves, but these seem curated rather than just pulled out of your basement.
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They put up some lovely Edison bulbs in simple pendants and this pretty honeycomb mirror on one wall.

OK, enough with the look of the place. Unfortunately, I didn’t take pictures this time of the food, so I’ll put links to some Instagram links if you want to see what I’m talking about.
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We had the rare steak pho, which was a revelation. They describe it as Washugyu Beef w/ rare washugyu (american wagyu) steak and beef brisket. I describe it as the beefiest pho broth I’ve ever had.

Perry said that they have a special connection to source Wagyu bones, which they boil forever. Unlike most pho places, which water down this boiled broth, Phorage just uses this straight broth. Because it has so much beef flavor, they don’t have to add a bunch of salt or MSG to give the soup some punch. Instead, you sip the broth and get pure beef flavor in such concentration that at first it’s a surprise, and then throughout the bowl it’s just great.

The noodles are good, but not revelatory. It’s served with the classic accompaniments of bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime, and there are the classic sauces on the table — Sriracha and hoisin. The beef in the soup is served raw, sliced thinly. You can really taste the difference between the slices of brisket and the beautifully tender Wagyu. It’s much, much higher quality beef than you’re used to in a pho.

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We also got the pork bun, the vermicelli salad with fried imperial rolls and marinated pork. (note: the picture is of the eggplant bun)

Some real excellence here. The rolls are meaty and flavorful, and fried perfectly. Usually these imperial rolls have a smooth oiliness to them. But Phorage’s have a nice bubbly texture outside and sufficient crunch to accompany the meaty goodness inside.

The pork is nicely glazed and really flavorful. Unfortunately, our batch was a bit overcooked, so the pork was tough. But it was still tasty.

The noodles were OK, pretty much like any other bun. The greens were fresh, but still only OK. The revelation was the fish sauce. Maybe a bit too sweet, but the fish sauce was a great balance of funkiness and freshness and made the whole bun feel light and perfect. I only wish they gave me more of the fish sauce.

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We got there at 6:30 and there were only a couple other parties. No wait, which is nice considering the scrum that you had to break through to eat at old Chego. By the time we left, the place was probably two-thirds full. On the one hand, it’s nice to not have to fight crowds. But on the other, I’m afraid people won’t support the place enough for it to survive.

The Yelp reviews are disheartening because they are just so ignorant. People complain that it’s not as cheap as what they’re used to in the SGV. No kidding — rent on the Westside is probably twice as high and they don’t have the advantage of using slave labor like places in the SGV. Ingredients in Little Saigon and SGV places are low quality — how else do you get a bowl of pho for $4? You use cow armpits and taints, I would guess. Sure, $9 is more than I’ve ever paid for pho, but it’s comparable to what you pay at Westside Vietnamese places, and still a value when you consider the quality of what you’re getting.

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Anyways, I’m eager to try the rest of the menu. Phorage also makes bahn mi (which are going to make me miss the Spice Table, I’m sure), broken rice dishes, and a few secret favorites from the Slanted Door. Especially interesting is the shaken beef dish that Charles Phan made famous. It’s pricey at $17, but it’s filet mignon, and the original at the Slanted Door is $36. Perry said he just can’t charge what he should for certain dishes like this. I, for one, plan to exploit this until he changes it.

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Oh, and I thought I’d show this picture of a nearby shop, I Love Lucite. It reminded me of an old Friends episode: “Ross: Joey, you owe $1100 at I Love Lucite!” And it’s in an interesting little cluster of shops and restaurants, including a faux vintage store, a real vintage store, an old school haberdashery, a vegan restaurant, a Szechuan place with a sign that is written in a font that should be called Ching Chong Ling Long, and a combo liquor store and curry shop (there’s no curry. I checked). Anyways, worth a stroll if you’re in the neighborhood.

Phorage
3300 Overland Avenue
Los Angeles CA 90034
(310) 876-0910
info@phoragela.com

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