Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Second-best Cocker Spaniel I ever had.

The story you are about to hear is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent (from lawsuits).

The other day, my partner told me he wanted to eat at a restaurant that at the time he only saw fit to describe as, "this Vietnamese joint I know." He told me the place was located just outside China Town, deep in the heart of Downtown LA. He was driving the black and white that day, and before I knew it, we were parked in front of a building that at first glance could have easily passed for an abandoned veterinary clinic. There was a strange and eerie chain-mesh security door at the front entrance, which became only more troubling as the not-so-distant sounds of multiple dogs barking grew increasingly louder from behind the building.

I am not making this up.

Then my partner said the three words that have haunted me since; "Here we are." I quickly looked around, scanning the street for any possible signs of alternative destinations, but there were no other restaurants in sight. I looked back at the building in question while my partner approached it. Almost all of the establishment's signage was in Vietnamese except for a small, hand made sign that read "Pho 11's" (I later confirmed that it's pronounced "Foh eleven's" kind of like an urban way of saying "four eleven's" but with a PH to give it that extra touch of Vietnamese).

I was still not convinced that we were entering an actual restaurant until I noticed the all-too-telling "B" rating posted on the door by the California Department of Environmental Health. Ordinarily, a "B" rating isn't necessarily enough to dissuade me from eating at a restaurant, however, things change when you're in a police uniform. This may come as a shock to some of my more sheltered or home-schooled readers but there are a lot of people out there that hate the police, and wouldn't think twice about adding any number of cleaning products or bodily fluids to give a cop's food that extra zing. You can never tell if your cook or waiter recently received a traffic citation or possibly had a relative arrested. We literally take a substantial risk anytime we go out to eat in uniform. Off duty, I have no problem eating at "B" rated restaurants, after all, one of the biggest and most heavily-trafficked restaurants in Valencia boasted a B for years.

When I'm in uniform, however, I'm a little more reluctant to eat at a B-rated restaurant especially when said B rating is the only thing that identifies the establishment as a restaurant. But on this day, I decided to back my partner up and bravely follow him into almost certain peril.

Just inside the front door, Pho 11's lucky customers are greeted by a defective koi pond with a filthy, above-water filter, proudly displaying all the fun and exciting substances that one finds in a broken koi pond. Hmmm, my mouth was watering already. As my partner found us a table, I looked around in silence while still attempting to remain polite. The walls of the restaurant were white, or at least they had been at one time. The tables of the restaurant were all centered around a single, 18-inch TV screen that sat on the edge of the aforementioned koi pond. After all, what better place to put an electrical appliance than on the cusp of a 300-gallon container of water. The TV had seen better days, evident by the multiple wires running from it's ancient and ineffective ariel antenna system. Apparently Pho 11's is a popular place to go eat mystery beef and watch scrambled Dodger games, America's pastime indeed. I felt dirty just sitting there.

My partner must have noticed my uneasy demeanor because he looked up at me and said with the utmost sincerity "Don't worry dude, this place is way cleaner than it looks." I sat quietly and pondered the flaws in his statement. I mean really, that's like saying, "That girl over there is way prettier than she looks." Still, my partner continued his attempts at winning me over by giving me the rundown on Pho 11 procedure. "Okay partner" he said, "they're going to bring us a couple glasses of water. Don't drink it. Just order a soda. It'll come in a bottle so you'll be good to go."

Now I wanted to punch him in the face. If a restaurant can't be trusted to get water right, why would you want to eat a full meal there?

My partner then handed me a greasy menu which was written entirely in Vietnamese. "Okay, lemme see" he said while rubbing his chin, "we want... um... this one. Yeah, this one." He pointed to a picture of a beef bowl that looked identical to every other picture on the grease stained menu. I was suddenly reminded that my partner is about as Vietnamese as I am. Needless to say, I had a sneaky suspicion that we were not going to be served what we wanted, although at that moment, all I really wanted was any kind of emergency that would require us to leave the building immediately. Just as I was devising a plan to activate the emergency help button on my radio without my partner seeing, our waiter came by and took our order.

I sat quietly and did my best to ignore the unmistakable and alarmingly nearby sound of dogs barking which had intensified since we sat down and then became frighteningly quiet seconds after we placed our order. "There must be a dog kennel near here" my idiot partner said. I sat quietly and reflected deeply on my life and the various paths it had taken that ultimately lead me to Pho 11's.

For the record, I'm not saying that I think the nearby pack of dogs were in any way connected to the restaurant or it's owners. And I certainly hope our ordering food was in no way connected to their sudden and unexplained silence. After all, this is America, and I really don't think that anyone could get away with something like that. And if Pho 11's is guilty of what I believe to be the most horrid of crimes, I think they'd surely make some kind of attempt to cover it up. They certainly wouldn't keep live dogs locked up out back, just an ear shot away from their customers. Also, if my initial suspicions were correct, the California Department of Environmental Health would not have issued Pho 11's a "B". They would have gotten at least a "C-" and the owners would have been prosecuted to the fullest degree. I quietly reassured myself with this logic as our beef bowls arrived. Upon seeing my dinner, I immediately broke out into a cold sweat and sat motionless while my entire life flashed before my eyes. My partner didn't hesitate for a second; he dove right in and was immediately singing the praises of Pho 11's and their questionable beef.

I was now faced with a moral dilemma: Do I eat the mystery beef, and possibly risk violating the unspoken promise that all dog owners subconsciously make with their pets about never turning to them for nourishment even if stranded on the most deserted of islands? Or do I refuse the food, and insult my partner, Pho 11's and their customers and (worst of all) disgrace my fathers legacy?

I made the decision and I stand by it to this day; I ate the beef.

It didn't taste like beef. I think the less said about this the better. Do yourself and your conscience a favor; don't go to Pho 11's, ever.

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