New year, new pho

Pub date January 7, 2009
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink


CHEAP EATS Rang Dong happened out of anger. So don’t let any new age it’s-all-good hippie dips tell you that anger is not a constructive emotion. Without it I never would have been ranting about Pho 84 in the first place.

And Mod the Pod wouldn’t have heard me and wouldn’t have said, "What were you doing at Pho 84 when you could have been at Rang Dong?"

And I wouldn’t have said, "Rang Dong?"

Because, see, I’d never heard of it. It’s in Oakland Chinatown, at Webster and Eighth streets, right where Vi’s used to be, and it might be as good as Vi’s used to be, only better, because it’s still there.

Pod and the Attack have been on this place forever. And such is my trust in my buds’ buds … I’d have grabbed them up and gone right then, even though we’d all already eaten, except it was after 10 p.m. and everyone had to work in the morning. Oh, and Rang Dong closes at 9:30.

Not that I was going to get any sleep anyway, having just dropped over $30 with Deevee at Pho 84 for a bowl of soup and a bowl of bun, no drinks. And here’s the worst part: it wasn’t even good!

She had to pick all the catfishes out of her soup, and I — me, your simple-minded chicken farmer, L.E. for Loves Everything — left pork on my plate! When was the last time I left anything on my plate, let alone pork? Let alone grilled pork in a Vietnamese restaurant? But it was inedibly overcooked.

Just to be sure we weren’t having some weirdo shared hallucination or nightmare (Pho 84 having been pretty good to us in the past), I tried Deevee’s catfish and she tried my pork and we agreed that they both sucked ass. It’s one thing to raise your prices. Everybody does it. When the price goes up and the quality comes down … that’s just bullshit.

So Rang Dong. Next chance I got I gathered up all my West Oakland grillfriends — the Pod, the Attack, Deevee, and Kiz — and Kiz had a pal visiting from New York. So there were six of us, but me and the friend were the first ones seated, and she looked at me and said, "So you’re going to review this?"

"Well, I don’t want to jinx anything," I said. "I’m sure going to try. It’s kind of a New Year’s resolution sort of thing."

She gave me a look. "Wait," she said, "aren’t you a restaurant reviewer?"

"Fifteen, sixteen years," I said, proudly.

"And you’re going to try?" she said, still giving me still the same look.

"To write a restaurant review, yes," I said.

"So … your New Year’s resolution," she said (still the look), "is to do precisely what it is that you already do."

"For a living, yes." I said. "But I’m not making any promises."

The look. She’s a math teacher, turns out, and is rather accustomed to things adding up. Speaking of which: $9.95 + $6.55 + $7.50 + $7.50 + $7.95 + $9.95 + $10.95 = not a lot, really, for six people, especially compared to Pho 84, where hardly anything is under 10 bucks anymore.

And Rang Dong is many many times better. The raw beef salad was as good as any I’ve had anywhere. The thin slices of steak were actually raw, as in red. A lot of places give them too much of a citrus bath and they start to actually cook in it. I get a little turned off by browned "raw" beef.

The salt-and-pepper calamari was lightly breaded and perfectly fried, and I tasted some imperial roll out of someone’s bun, and that was perfectly fried too. The pho was fantastic, really flavorful. In fact, the only dish — out of seven — that I wasn’t absolutely gaga over was the lemongrass chicken. But it wasn’t bad. It was a matter of taste. Other people loved it.

See? So there wasn’t any chicken left on the plate at the end of the meal. And there wasn’t any grilled pork left on any of the plates either. Well, maybe just a little in Kizzer’s New Yorker friend’s bowl, but you better believe I was eyeballing it.

New favorite restaurant!


Daily: 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

724 Webster, Oakl.

(510) 835-8375

Beer and wine


L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.