Monday, April 7, 2008

Chowdown at Saigon



I joined Chowhound in late 2006/early 2007 and started as a newbie asking questions. Then, I went without for a few months before picking up lurking/posting again. Around that same time (summer 2007), I started this blog. It was a through Chowhound that I had the chance to get to know fellow posters and food bloggers. Tonight, I met several of them for the first time. Thanks to Josh, Jonathan, Audra, Mechele, Alice, and Donna for a great meal! (I hope I spelled your names correctly!)

Saigon is located in the City Heights area of SD and has a crazy menu of almost 400 items. It's a bit overwhelming. Because they seem to cover more than the usual
pho and com tam dishes, we branched out.

We had several types of spring rolls, including
nem nuong cuon (spring rolls with grilled pork meatballs)

and
bo bia, which is a roll composed of fried egg, Chinese sausage, marinaded carrots and daikon, and the usual herbs and bean sprouts.

Both done pretty well. I like
bo bia, which I believed to have Chinese roots. According to Wandering Chopsticks, I was correct. Great entry and a recipe on how to make your own.

One of the best dishes we tried was bo la lot, or beef wrapped with grape leaves. Holy cow, these were perfectly tender and juicy. Most of the ones I've had are usually overcooked, so the juices run out and it's a little chewy. The flavors are more concentrated, but I prefer it cooked perfectly and still with lots of juices. This is one of the best renditions I've ever tried.

We also ordered its bo bay mon cousin, beef wrapped in caul fat. It was good, but D. and I preferred other versions we've tried, which have sauteed onions wrapped in the middle. It compliments the beef and fat really well.

Their banh hoi (woven mats of vermicelli) was pretty good. The mats were a little too thick and they were a little careless in putting the meat and scallions on top, resulting in soggy mats. The key here are the scallions. The meat is not particularly juicy/saucy, but the onions are first flash-fried in hot oil, then the mixture dribbled over everything. It's best to not put too much oil on the mats.

Canh chua is Vietnamese sour soup. I knew it growing up as shun tong or "sour soup" in Cantonese. The tamarind base gives it an excellent sour punch and the savory elements (herbs, fish, tomatoes, etc.) balance it out. My favorite version? Mom's. It doesn't get better than that, but it's also somewhat of a rarity at Vietnamese restaurants. I misunderstood the menu and accidentally ordered the "seafood deluxe" version. It contained fish balls, imitation crab, and squid. I think it's best with catfish filets and shrimp.

We were discussing what the big, celery-esque piece in front was and turns out it's bac ha, also called taro stem or Vietnamese rhubarb. Playing With My Food (scroll down towards the end of the post) has a brief description about it, as does Wikipedia.

The flavors were good, but they could use a little more oomph. D. noticed that a plate of rice was brought to the table and, believe it or not, I thought it was for the soup. I love canh chua with rice or plain rice noodles.

Saigon is known for its Chinese-influenced dishes and this plate of chow fun with veggies and pork was really good. Perfectly-executed, the noodles were tender, the sauce was pungent without being too salty, and the veggies were fork-tender. The noodle-to-everything else ratio was a bit low, but that's all that was wrong with it.

All the dishes came with heaps of fresh greens, which makes me happy. I hate it when Vietnamese restaurants are stingy with the greens. Also, we had banh trang (rice paper) for wrapping. It was too soggy and sticky, but that's ok. It's hard to pre-moisten them.

Thanks again, everyone! I look forward to future Chowdowns!

4 bites:

Captain Jack said...

Hi Moowie,

Looks like an interesting feast. I wish I could have made it.

moowiesqrd said...

Hey Captain Jack! I hope you're on the SDChow list... I'm trying to set up another Vietnamese C-down at Phuong Trang. If it happens, hope you can make it!

Alice Q. said...

Great writeup Marie! I really enjoyed meeting you guys and hope we can do it again soon!

moowiesqrd said...

Same here, Alice! If you're up for grilled catfish at Phuong Trang, let me know. I'm dying to see if it holds a candle to my mother's version. ;)

4 bites