9021Pho is the fourth installation of chef Kimmy Tang's current Asian fusion empire. This tireless entrepreneur has been causing a culinary stir around the globe for more than 30 years. The 9021Pho enterprise began in Beverly Hills a few years ago, gained popularity with the Hollywood health-conscious elite, then moved on to Westlake Village, Sherman Oaks and now Glendale.
Chef Tang can be seen in the open kitchen on a daily basis guiding an efficient staff in her unique brand of traditional Vietnamese cooking made with the California palate in mind. I see nothing wrong with tweaking tradition. Pho can often have inexpensive, chewy meat, shallow broth, vegetables my kids won't touch, or too much MSG. Kimmy Tang's phos feature fresh, familiar meats and vegetables flavored with herbs and chilies rather than salt. Elements of Thai, French and Chinese cuisines combine effortlessly with the California-Vietnamese she loves so well.
The wall of herbs and lettuces behind the host station is something to see. It prepares your senses for the flavors ahead while inciting worry for the plants' survival in the sun-starved mall.
Assuming they can keep it going, it makes for a nice backdrop to the large, comfortable, well-designed dining room. They are in the process of constructing a 150-seat outdoor patio along Central Avenue which is bound to attract shoppers from the Americana across the street. The vibe is upscale casual and the prices are palatable. I can't understand why, however, the plates of Chinese-inspired foods, such as Black Bean Chicken ($12.95) cost more than the pho ($8.95 to $9.95). They're much smaller, not as complex in flavor, nor as fun to eat. Until you've got a good grip on the giant menu, stick with the pho. And the appetizers. Oh, and the dessert.
The 9021Pho Appetizer Sampler ($10.95) features their sprightly spring rolls, vegan or otherwise, their renowned crispy white fish and, my favorite, the 9021Pho crunchy rolls. Crab, shrimp, chicken, taro and mushrooms are wrapped in crispy bits creating little flutes of food that are light as feathers. Sauces like Vietnamese vinaigrette and spicy French aioli are worth keeping throughout the meal.
The first sip of broth from the oversized bowl of Pho Chicken Curry reminded me of Julia Child's rich chicken consomme. The secondary note is curry, something usually found in thick sauces but very welcome here. Thinly sliced paddles of yam, chicken and onion swim through the sea of broth, hiding amid a reef of rice noodles and cilantro. This one has a chili kick but not nearly as pronounced as in the Spicy ‘n' Sour Pho. My son had to take a few breaks to wipe the sweat off his brow but was determined to finish the bounty of shrimp, sole, baby corn, pineapple, bok choy and more. Flecks of chili oil stain the white porcelain bowl holding a broth redolent of lemongrass and tamarind.
Though full to the brim, we knew we had to try the Spumoni Bomb ($6.95). I instantly declared this my new favorite dessert. A huge orb of decadent chocolate, pistachio and strawberry gelato dipped in good quality bittersweet chocolate is sawed in half and drizzled with chocolate and strawberry sauces.
Hot teas, cold teas, wine, beer, sake, salads, noodles, lunch specials, kids meals... they've got it all here. In fact, that's my only complaint. There's too much on the menu. It's hard to believe they can do everything well. But if anyone can do it, Kimmy Tang can.
Where: 1164 Glendale Galleria Way, Glendale
When: Open daily 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
More info: (818) 551-9021, 9021PHO.com
LISA DUPUY has been reviewing local restaurants since 2008. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.