Friday, March 5, 2010

Pho Shizzle

The chef at Momofuku Ssäm Bar had me at . . . Honeycrisp Apple Kimchi. How in the world did he know that my weekly grocery list included two staples: Honeycrisp apples and kimchi? As we perused the menu, my friend Jeremy knew what would happen next: I will be in a trance until further notice, meditating on the menu for puzzle-worthy words.

Jeremy, a real foodie, thinks I'm ridiculous for ordering the Market Greens with Xo Sauce, based solely on the XO.

Xo, what's wrong with that?

The pairing of Honeycrisps with kimchi is an unexpected delight. And that's why David Chang--the powerhouse behind the Momofuku family of restaurants on the Lower East Side--is a culinary master. His eclectic Asian/fusion/tapas-style menus had me mesmerized. These caught my eye:

  • Kusshi oysters
  • Bo Ssäm: whole butt, dozen oysters, kimchi, rice, bibb lettuce
  • Whipped lardo
  • Crack pie
  • Smuttynose Robust Porter (beer)
My admiration for Asian cuisine extends beyond the extraordinary food: it has nourished many a crossword grid. What would constructors do without their mies en place of: Lo MEIN, MU SHU Pork, TOFU, UNI, SAKE, NORI? And poor Colonel Sanders has long since signed an unconditional surrender on the puzzle front . . . his KFC is no match for General TSO'S Chicken.

Anthony Bourdain's love affair with Vietnamese cuisine, specifically PHO (traditional beef noodle soup in savory broth), made me think . . . it's time to put some PHO into my puzzles.

I googled to discover a network of pho-netically talented Vietnamese restaurant owners who love to pun. You can eat at restaurants like . . .  Pho Sure, Pho Real, Pho Ho, Pho Ever and Pho Shizzle.

Solver's Takeaway: If you see a three-letter word clued as "Saigon bowlful" -- go PHO it.

So  . . that's it? All this claptrap for a measly little word? Never will I underestimate the power of a 3-letter word. I once wrote a 140-word Sunday puzzle that hinged on a single, itty-bitty 3-letter term found in Webster's 3rd. In solving, as in constructing, I've learned  my lesson the hard way--that every word counts. Especially in themed puzzles where you're telling a story through (a) symmetric themed entries, (b) plot and (c) consistency.

Future fantasy: to get CRACK PIE into a puzzle, without devolving into bathroom humor. Naturally, this calls for another research mission to Momofuku.

When I tell Jeremy about the noodle soup honor society called Pho Beta Kappa, he's had enough: "Phogeddaboudit!"  Hey, David Chang--if you open up a Pho bar in Brooklyn, you've got a name.

How can one forget the first sip of a Momofuku Soju Grape Slushie? The cool, sweet memory summons forth this jazz standard, often appearing in crosswords as "Peel ___ Grape" -- the clue for MEA.

Diana KRALL . . . PHO sure!


Deb Amlen said...

Honeycrisp apple kimchi?! WANT.

We need to hit up Momofuku pho lunch.

That does it. I'm going out for Korean food tonight.

Elizabeth said...

Deb, good idea; let's lunch at one of these places. I've received some inquires about the meaning of Momofuku . . it's Japanese for "Lucky Peach."

Resistance is futile: surrender to the Peach . . . enjoy dinner!

Joon said...

i was going to go out for pho with BEQ yesterday but he bailed on me because it was cold and snowing. i admit, it's a legit excuse. but now i'm really jonesin' for some pho. sadly, the pho joint in harvard square is called lê's, much less interesting than pho shizzle. that really needs to be a theme answer, by the way. i know punny restauarant name themes have been done, but PHO SHIZZLE??

Elizabeth said...

The image of Joon and BEQ grabbing an impromptu meal at a place like PHO SHIZZLE . . . seems perfectly natural to me.

I have to learn how to execute a diacritically-correct "O" in Pho :)

John C. said...

Keep in mind that "pho" is correctly pronounced more like "fuh" than "foh"!

Elizabeth said...

Thanks, John. That's a good point. Bourdain touches on the pronounciation in the YouTube link.

The "fuh" fits perfectly in PHO-GEDDABOUDIT, doesn't it? ;)

anna said...

Or -- vulgar language alert -- someone could always open a Vietnamese noodle stand called Pho Queue...

I think there's a Momofuku joke in there somewhere, too.

Elizabeth said...

Anna, you're onto something here . . . as in "the line in front of the new Vietnamese noodle stand, Pho Queue, stretched around the corner."