Welcome to OC Weekly's Final Pho. Sixteen pho shops chosen from the more than 100 in the county; four critics who know what the pho makes a good bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup. The chosen 16 will face off in each of our brackets, two by two. The next match-up in Round 2 pits the two winners from the uppity restaurants bracket.
And it comes to this. Out of four high-end, not-necessarily pho restaurants, Benley now goes head to head with Brodard Chateau and we determine which $9 bowl of pho goes on to the Final Pho.
But before we dive into the two phos and all of its intricacies, first, let's examine the required side of accoutrement. As I mentioned before, Benley takes the extra-meticulous step to groom its bean sprouts so that each piece is snipped of its tail and bean. Yet on this particular visit, the jalapeno slices seemed a bit dried-out, and there was no ngo gai, the saw-tooth herb that most Westernized Vietnamese restaurants seem to conveniently leave out. Brodard Chateau not only remembers the herb, but also adds sticks of buttered baguette toast, should you want to dunk it in the soup. With this, a point goes to Brodard Chateau.
Now on to the broth. Benley's brew packs a meaty, iron tang indicative of a low simmer, as well as a rich, oily slick coming from the melting slices of the rare steak. This is a soup so nourishing it could soothe the sick and nurse them back to health. The anise and ginger flavors are not pronouced, but even still, it's better than Brodard Chateau's broth, which lacked oomph and seemed watered-down. Benley wins the soup showdown.
On the noodle front, both stumble, as the noodles start as a static clump stuck to the bowl's bottom. Both noodle wads needed to be poked and prodded before they loosened. Here, we call it a tie.
Now on to the meat match-up. Benley's tai is tender, yielding to the bite like wet tissue. There's an ample amount served per bowl. It seems that for every slurp of noodle and sip of soup, there's a companion piece of steak. And it speaks to the quality of this steak that it added depth to the soup.
Brodard Chateau's tai is equally tender. But for the same $8.95 price, the bowl here included spring-loaded meatballs, brisket, flank steak, even tripe! Though Benley has meatball and brisket options for its $8.95 pho, it does not offer them in a single bowl. With its extra roster of players, Brodard Chateau's ROI beats Benley's, and thus triumphs in this second round.
WINNER, AND ONTO THE FINAL PHO: Brodard Chateau.
Benley: A Vietnamese Kitchen, 8191 E. Wardlow, Long Beach, (562) 596-8130.
Brodard Chateau, 9100 Trask Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 899-8273.
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ROUND 1 WINNERS:
Pho Dakao vs. Kim Loan: Pho Dakao
AnQi vs. Benley: Benley
Pho Thanh Lich vs. Pho Vinh Ky 2: Pho Thanh Lich
Pho Kimmy vs. Pho Quang Trung: Pho Quang Trung
Pho Hien Vuong vs. Pho Nguyen Hue: Pho Nguyen Hue
Brodard Chateau vs. S Vietnamese Fine Dining: Brodard Chateau
Pho Thang Long vs. Quan Hop: Quan Hop
Pho 79 vs. Pho 86: Pho 86
PREVIOUS ROUND 2 WINNERS:
Pho Dakao vs. Pho Nguyen Hue: Pho Nguyen Hue