East/Borough - Costa Mesa
When you've consumed your volumetric weight in pho broth, you need a detox. I chose a back-to-basics bowl of bo kho, Vietnamese beef stew, a dish more likely to be cooked and eaten at home than in restaurants. This isn't to say it is simple or dumbed down by any means. A typical bo kho will contain chunks of beef, long-stewed to softness, potatoes and carrots, simmering in a dark, caramel-colored, crimson-red-by-annatto, tangy-by-tomato broth redolent of ginger, star anise, lemongrass, cinnamon, curry powder and a touch of Chinese five-spice. It ain't a can of Dinty Moore.
Since the liquid is thin, it's more apt to be sipped or sometimes combined with noodles--closer to a soup than a stew. Outside made-by-mom renditions, bo kho can be found when you dig into Little Saigon menus. Le Croissant Dore does it ladled out on plates and eaten with torn scraps of crusty French bread. I'd go to Le Croissant Dore, but the travel time from the office would gobble up a good chunk of the lunch hour. East/Borough, on the other hand, is within minutes.
That it is from the new school of Vietnamese eatery (think Nom Nom and others), should be obvious when you know it's at The Camp, a breeding ground for the outdoorsy, the unique and the hippie.
East/Borough's owners are young entrepreneurs who grew up eating the foods cooked by mom, now out on their own with a fistful of family recipes. Like the Nom Noms, their specialty is banh mi, but since it is at The Camp and because they can, their stew is served in compostable bowls and eaten out in a patio area covered by tarp. The cashiers and servers are young things and everyone speaks perfect English; but the flavor of their bo kho seems as though they recruited grandma to cook in the back kitchen.
I soaked my foot-long baguette piece by piece like donuts to coffee, dipped the boiled skin-on potatoes into a thimble of pepper-flecked lemon juice, slurped up the soup and enjoyed the dish just as if I ate it in Little Saigon or some Vietnamese friend's kitchen.
To the right of me sat two Asian twenty-somethings chatting about wedding showers, birthday parties, and idle office gossip as they ate spring rolls. Curious at what I was served, they stopped their chit chat and asked me what I was having.
"Oh, this is beef stew."
"It looks great!" one of them said, "I should try that next time."
"You should," I replied.
2937 Bristol St. Ste D102
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
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