By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
Half of a Vietnamese barbecued pork sandwich and a small bowl of soup makes the perfect portion, my daughter Julia declared. We were finishing up our second soup-and-sandwich lunch at Bodard Bistro, a popular Vietnamese eatery in the Welcome Center on Bellaire. On our first visit, she determined that a whole Vietnamese sandwich and a large bowl of pho was too much to eat at lunchtime.
Soup and a sandwich isn't really an Asian tradition (as far as I know). I'm not sure it was an American tradition either until the extremely successful "soup and sandwich" advertising campaign was launched by the Campbell's soup company during World War II. The campaign ran for decades. By the time of my childhood, Campbell's soup and a Wonder Bread sandwich had become the epitome of a suburban lunch, especially during the winter.
At my house, my brothers and I all dunked our sandwiches in our soup, and we all had our favorite combinations. Grilled cheese dunked in cream of tomato was a popular pair-up. Bean-and-bacon soup with toasted BLTs was a rare and exotic treat. I liked a ham-and-Swiss sandwich dunked in chicken noodle, myself.
9140 Bellaire Blvd.
Houston, TX 77036
Region: Outer Loop - SW
Mi lo mein: $5
Mi wonton: $4.75
Vermicelli soup: $6
Stir-fried flat rice noodles: $7
When the weather turned cold last week, I was reminded of those halcyon ham-sandwich-and-chicken-noodle-soup lunches. And at the same time, I discovered an Asian restaurant called Bodard Bistro that served Vietnamese sandwiches as well as pho, mi and rice soups. So I hit upon the brilliant concept of improving on the canned soup and white bread of memory with some Vietnamese soup-and-sandwich combinations. For the most part, it was a dumb idea.
For Vietnamese-Americans, the beef-soup-and-rice-noodle dish called pho is a favorite winter breakfast or lunch, a friend told me. Mi, the Vietnamese noodle soup that combines curly egg noodles with a pork-and-shrimp broth, is considered more of a late-night snack, for after you've been out drinking. She didn't say anything about soup and sandwiches, though.
For our first S&S lunch at Bodard Bistro, my daughter ordered pho with rare beef, and I got a big bowl of mi with wontons. When we each ordered a barbecued pork sandwich to go with our soup, we got an unanticipated bonus. Vietnamese sandwiches are an incredible deal at Bodard: Buy two and get one free.
First we dunked our sandwiches in the hearty beef broth. The pork in the sandwich didn't harmonize well with the beef flavor, in my opinion, although Julia liked it okay. The sandwiches tasted spectacular when dunked into the pork-and-shrimp broth of the mi, however. The sweetness of the barbecue sauce on the meat in the sandwich and the porky flavor of the soup complemented each other perfectly. But as we reached an advanced level of satiety, I had to agree with Julia that a whole Vietnamese sandwich and a large bowl of soup was entirely too much food. We left a lot uneaten. But we happily took the extra sandwich home.
Bodard Bistro was so intriguing that I ended up visiting the place four times, twice for lunch and twice for dinner. The first thing I noticed was that the restaurant is usually packed. Most of the patrons are Asian, and by my casual observation, the most popular things to order are noodle dishes. But why do people stand around waiting for a table at this particular Asian restaurant when there are more than a half-dozen Asian restaurants in the same shopping center?
"This is the place Mom likes because she says, 'It's not too greasy,' " I overheard an Asian guy tell his female companion as they were walking into the restaurant one night while I was walking out. Maybe that's it. Or maybe it's the clean, well-lit atmosphere.
Bodard Bistro is a big square box-shaped restaurant with booths along one wall, a hokey fake fountain on another, and tables spread over the white-tile floor. There's lots of neon and a big-screen television that's always on. I particularly like the "noodle soup" sign in the front window that's illustrated with white neon noodles coming out of a blue neon bowl.
On the back wall are two old French signs for espresso and cappuccino. And on a side wall near the cash register are wall hangings shaped like cups that also advertise cappuccino, espresso and café latte.
"Do you serve espresso and cappuccino?" I asked the cashier.
"No, just Vietnamese coffee," she said. I guess the decorations are part of the "bistro" conceit.
My favorite dinner was called stir-fried flat rice noodles, an item that is available with beef, chicken or shrimp. We got the chicken version. The dish starts out with broad white rice noodles that are folded over each other to form a thick cake and then fried into a big thick, crusty oval. The noodle cake is then cut into squares and topped with the meat sauce. My daughter described it as a rice-noodle pizza with a chicken topping.
The noodles are fabulous. They start out tightly stuck together and crunchy, but by allowing the sauce to soak in, you can eventually unravel them. And they taste great both crusty and softened up. Unfortunately, the chicken sauce included a lot of canned mushrooms, which gave the whole topping a too-slick texture. Next time I'll get the beef or shrimp.