Several months ago, I was dismayed to find that May Hong had closed its doors. This also brought to a close one of the best Bo 7 Mon that I have had the pleasure of enjoying.
Now given that there are certainly no shortage of good Vietnamese restaurants in the bay area, I was sure that there was another top quality version of the seven courses of beef just waiting to be visited. After consulting with the Chowhound archives, I heard tale that New Pagolac, conveniently situated a few miles from my house, was a top contender.
Indeed, situated deep in the stretch of International Blvd. that I have come to think of as little Saigon, New Pagolac proudly announces its Bo 7 Mon in bold type on it's colorful awning. Just one step in the doorway reveals another large sign proclaiming the Bo 7 Mon as the "special of the day."
Three of us sat down and ordered before a menu was handed out. The first course was a beef salad. This was not the raw beef salad that we had expected (and love), but instead a similar version with cooked pieces of beef. While not my favorite, the vegetables were fresh and the dressing was brightened by the use of fish sauce.
Next came the vinegar hotpot course. The beef was excellent and very tender encouraging us to give each piece just the slightest dip to keep it on the rare side. Here again the fresh assortment of vegetables and pickles made this course very tasty and my personal pick for the high point of the meal. The rice paper wrappers were not served dried alongside a bowl of hot water, but rather they were presented, already cooked, in a novel rack that resembled a CD case. This was handy and convenient at first, but as they cooled, it became increasingly difficult to extract the delicate wrappers without tearing them.
The next three courses of grilled beef were served already cooked as well. I found this to be the Achilles heel of the meal. At May Hong and other restaurants these courses are served raw with a nice little butane grill to cook at the table. While this may be done in part for show, I find that cooking it yourself allows for perfect doneness and hot serving temperatures. New Pagolac was not particularly busy on the weeknight that we visited, but it was apparent that the three grilled courses were either overcooked and/or sitting out for awhile. Also missing from this version of the seven courses was the beef roll wrapped in caudal fat. Instead, we were served one wrapped in grape leaves, one wrapped around onions and mushrooms, and one rolled in pepper. Of the three, the one with onions and mushrooms was the best. Again, while all were somewhat tasty, all could have benefited from less time on the grill as they were dry.
The beef ball/meatball course has never been my favorite and this version did little to change my preferences. New Pagolac's version came with some crushed peanuts on top. The meat was very processed and quite smooth in texture.
The finishing course of beef rice porridge was a nice lighter version than the jook one might find in a Chinese restaurant, and was well seasoned with a pronounce ginger flavor that helped to settle any rumblings from the stomach after six course of beef.
All in all, New Pagolac served a decent Bo 7 Mon for a reasonable price of $14.99, which is lower than Le Cheval, but more than May Hong used to charge. It still hasn't quashed the fond memories of or filled the void left by May Hong, but it has encouraged me to redouble my efforts to find the next great seven courses of beef.
If you have a favorite, please let me know, and I'll add it to my list.