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Preliminary Recon at Artesia's Pho Jackie

Pho Jackie's noodles and news
Pho Jackie's noodles and news
Ben Calderwood

Open for a month and a smattering of days in a peach-stuccoed Asian shopping plaza where you could slurp a ripening bowl of bún bò huê for lunch then try bubble tea and acupressure massage without leaving the parking lot, the neighborhood-size Pho Jackie is the new domain of the Mai family, former proprietors of the buzzing, 200-seat Pho Pasteur in Rosemead. After weekend lunch and dessert and a confrontation with the qi-seeking fingers of a massage therapist amidst the throngs near the Pasteur location, you'd almost be excused for forgetting your own name.

Pho Jackie is conscious effort to downsize. The four Mai daughters now manage front- and back-of-house. Gina cooks while sisters Tiana, Maxine and namesake Jackie take turns officiating the modest dining room. Jackie's menu is dense with obligatory broken rice platters and vermicelli plates--the bún cha giò egg rolls, golden fried torpedoes of pork and vegetable splintered into a coarse dice and nested in rice pasta, make an ideal shared appetizer. But you came for pho, and here is where the broth literally darkens.

The beef broth is a sweltering, ruddy bronze, doing a passable impersonation of French onion soup, even tasting similar to the cherished Gallic winter warmer. The undertones of ginger and cinnamon present in typical pho stock are muted. Mostly there is charred, sweet onion (amended by copious slivers of fresh onion swimming within), a deep bloom of salt and a keen beefiness, evoking the long braise among collagen, flesh, bone and marrow that lends the broth its low-and-slow umami flavor and unusually dark tint. The noodles easily get lost in all this bovine musk, and I suspect I'd have done better keeping the rare beef in the pho dăc biêt combo rather than subbing in Pho Jackie's "world famous" filet mignon. Either way, pluck the meat from the bowl, swab in a cocktail of hoisin and Sriracha--sometimes I'll fold a fresh basil leaf around the beef by hand--and return it to the broth for a final gloss before pushing the entire seasoned packet across your tongue.

The garnish plate is lean, composed of fresh sprouts, a sprig of powerfully antiseptic Thai basil, lime and two slices of chili. More will be provided on request and the kitchen will turns the dials on the broth as well if you ask, fattier, spicier, whatever your pleasure. Indeed, the Mai sisters are conscientious to a fault, politely inquiring, for the 20th time, if everything is OK (it is). Maître d' Jimmy will shake your hand three times before you sit down and try to parse the news in the Asian-language dailies. Such officiousness is irksome but forgivable in a community where noodle shops wink in and out of existence faster than Perez Hilton changes hair color. Order an iced tumbler of soymilk, made fresh every morning by Rosemead's V K Foods, to cool your jets, and remember Pho Jackie is a mere four weeks young.

Pho Jackie: 11700 South Street #108, Artesia, CA 90701; (562) 402-7888.