Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hollywood: capitalism and Vietnamese food

The rise of Hollywood

When I returned to Houston in 1993, I noticed that Montrose was dominated by Hollywood food stores. Hollywood offered convenience food, cigars (in a humidor!), and a wide diversity of porn.

Some years ago, Hollywood opened a superstore of sorts behind Cafe Noche. The signs advertised "hair and nails", "real estate and investments", and "cafe." Wow: one stop shopping for a manicure, a bowl of pho, a new house, and maybe even a dirty magazine.

The Restaurant

Last year, Hollywood took over the old Cafe Noche building on Montrose. It advertised its food as "Vietnamese and Chinese." It put up etched glass drawings of a pirate ship and a panda bear.

I confess, I was drawn in by the quirkiness of it all. I wanted to try the food produced by this empire of cigars, porn, land, real estate, pedicures, and pho.

When I finally stopped in to Hollywood, the menu was disappointing. Although large, it listed all the ordinary dishes you find in Americanized Chinese restaurants. The Vietnamese dishes were fairly standard too -- chargrilled meats with rice, lemongrass chicken, hot pot fish, vermicelli bowls, and pho. I could not find any dish that I had not tried somewhere else.

My chargrilled pork lunch was decent. I started with a vegetable soup. It had an oddly chemical taste, not quite like vegetables. The pork was served with long-grain rice instead of the crushed rice I prefer for this dish. The fish sauce was watered down and sugared up.

But the pork had a delicious, smoky, chargrilled flavor. I have tried making this dish at home, and just can't do it. I suspect it requires a high heat. Regardless, this chargrilled pork was much better than average.

Ho Chi Minh wouldn't like it

I made a bad assumption: A business that sells everything from porn to investments to Vietnamese food does not do it to be quirky or funny. They do it to make money.

Hollywood has discovered formulas for making money. It is not going to make money in mainstream America by producing something authentic and edgy. It is only going to profit by giving people exactly what they want.

And when it comes to Vietnamese food, Americans prefer grilled meats, carbs, and lots of sugar.

So if you live near Montrose, and are not a Vietnamese food snob, Hollywood makes a pretty good version of chargrilled pork with light, sugary fish sauce. You should buy it.


Rubiao said...

This average to not-so-good food is not worth the money you have to shell out for it when Van Loc and Les Givrals are just down the street. Then again, outside of a few items (Pho and Vermicelli noodle dishes), I find Mais a little overpriced as well.

*Maybe its changed though, I haven't been back since near the beginning.

anonymouseater said...

Rubiao -- I don't disagree with you.

Tellicherry said...

Is there still any good Vietnamese food in Midtown? I went to Van Loc recently and was sorely disappointed. The beef was cooked to shoe leather and the sauces were bland. Mai's is OK, but not what I'm craving (which is Van Loc circa 1996).

anonymouseater said...

Over the past 15 years, Midtown rents and land prices have risen and pushed out the Vietnamese food community. Most of the good Vietnamese food has moved south west. But I still like Nga.

The one outstanding newcomer in Midtown is Thien An.

Anonymous said...

The old Les Givral's has been gone for several years because they sold out.