If you have been to either of the two Pho Fusion (now called Saigon Fusion) restaurants before, located at 8800 E Hampden Ave and 4802 W 38th Ave, you would be hard pressed to notice that the ownership has recently changed, or even that the name of the restaurant has changed. Aside from the freshly painted sign out front, which did not catch my attention driving up, any indication of a restaurant looking for a fresh start is missing.
Pho Fusion started a buzz in the Denver restaurant world in 2005; winning several awards for their new, healthier approach to Asian fusion. Continuing on to win Best of Denver awards in 2006 and 2007 from Westword and The Rocky Mountain News, it seemed like the sky was the limit. So, what happened?
Always yearning for those glory days of Pho Fusion, I have continued to go there, getting more and more disappointed with the food quality each visit. Last week, however, will probably be my last visit.
When placing my order for the usual Brisket Pho, the gentleman behind the counter informed me that that they were out of Brisket. Okay, strike one. That’s all right, the steak pho has been ordered many times and has been just fine in the past.
As I sat awaiting for my pho, that’s when I heard the rumblings from the booth next to me about the change of ownership and restaurant name. Looking up to the menu on the wall, however, nothing has changed. In fact, the employees were still wearing Pho Fusion tee shirts. This could simply be another 16-month Corporate-America buyout, hung up in political and legal nowhere land, but I doubt it. It appears more to be a new owner looking to come in, sit back, and ride the wave of glory of Pho Fusion circa 2006. The problem with that plan is that the quality of the food has been absent since then.
A usual order of Pho is accompanied by a plate full of garnishments, usually consisting of jalapenos, sprouts, mint, thai basil and lime wedges. When the Saigon Fusion server dropped my garnish plate off, it was far from anything I am accustomed to. The sprouts were brown and looked to be several days old. There was one lime, and it had been sliced many hours before. To top it off, the basil was soggy and tasteless. Strike two.
Hungry, I prepared my pho and dug right in. It only took one bite of the beef and slurp of the broth, and then it happened; strike three. The beef was rubbery, almost difficult to chew through. The noodles were sticky, undercooked and bland. The broth had no character. All of the aromas and flavors that make pho so amazing were gone. Just a bland broth, reminiscent of a chinese restaurant in Salida, Kansas that puts a bowl of “pho” on their menu because it’s trendy, having no idea of the amount of work and passion required to make a descent bowl of pho.
I have eaten everything else on the menu over the past 6 years, so I didn’t feel it necessary to try anything else on this visit. If the name of your restaurant has Pho in the name, and your pho stinks, you need to sit down and analyze your whole menu. My love of pho developed on the streets of Saigon in 1997. However, Pho Fusion was long a wonderful reminder of the Vietnamese street food. Not any more. Back to basics. Saigon Fusion has a lot of work to do.