Monday, August 21, 2006

Saigon Grill: Value and Taste = Winner

Expanding Across NYC, Saigon Continues To Get It Right

With football season almost here, I broke down and made a pot of chicken and okra gumbo over the weekend. I know, it’s still 80 degrees outside my door on Central Park, but I can’t help myself. Somehow I think that eating a bowl of gumbo will make fall arrive just a bit quicker. It’s football season. I can’t help myself.

So I broke out the large gumbo pot, stewed the okra and made a roux.

The weather stayed the same Sunday, but man that gumbo sure was good.

Earlier in the weekend, I finally made a visit to a place I’ve been order delivery from for months… and as impressed as I have been by the quality of the delivery, I was even more impressed by the massive operation Saigon Grill manages at their restaurant on a daily basis.

One reason I have avoided the spot, is the constant crowd that gathers. But hey, a neighborhood place that is packed usually tells you a few things… 1. the food is good, and 2. the food is cheap.

Saigon Grill is both good and cheap. There is a great deal of value here, and you don’t sacrifice taste with a low check…. if you haven’t been, you need to make the effort.

As I have loved Chinese food forever, it took me a while to discover and explore Vietnamese cooking. The flavors are more vibrant and fragrant, the recipes more complex and ingredients more varied. While Chinese can become bland and blah, Vietnamese food often embraces basil and curry… as well as lemon grass and noodles.

I gotta tell ya, I like it. A lot.

Saigon Grill in NYC is a slightly Americanized version of the hard core Vietnamese spots you’ll find below Houston Street, but delivers none the less.

Let’s start with apps.

As tasty as these are at Saigon Grill, I tend to order only one, as the dinners are large. Similar with many Thai spots, you’ll find different versions of soft summer rolls filled with shrimp, bean sprouts, herbs and vermicelli…and fried versions as well. But their best apps may just be the sugarcane shrimp, fried and wrapped around a slice of actual sugar cane or the Deep Fried Crabmeat on Claw. OK, so I like fried seafood.

The soup at Saigon is not to be missed…. as you guessed it, Pho Bo is the bomb. This dish was my first taste of Vietnamese cuisine, and in my opinion encompasses the very essence of the delicacies involved. Po Bo is an Ox Tail broth, filled with rice noodles and bean sprouts. Floating on top are paper thin slices of beef, to be added to the hot broth and swished shabu style until cooked (this takes about 30 seconds). To the table comes a plate of fresh basil, onion and hosing sauce…. Most of which make their way into the bowl. By this time, 4 or your 5 senses are on overload. Oh yea, a bowl of the stuff will set you back $2.95.

From here it gets complicated at Saigon Grill, because they serve so many damn dishes, you can’t choose.

You can go the safe route, and order a chicken dish like Basil Chicken, or Ga Xao Dau Que…. Sautéed chicken and string beans in garito sauce. There are chicken, pork and beef curry dishes with eggplant, onion, string beans and peppers served with pancakes…. Crispy whole fish served with sweet and sour sauce and a Seafood Bouillabaisse that would knock your socks off.

There are noodle dishes like the traditional Bun Xao, sticky rice noodles with shredded veggies, eggs and peanuts… Bun noodles, a rice vermicelli with cucumbers, herbs and the like… and Banh Hoi, a steamed angel hair dish with rice crepes and baby shrimp.

Getting hungry?

The friend rice dishes are fantastic as well. And is you feel the need to get really fresh, there is a full sushi menu with every roll under the sun, as well as decent grade sashimi.

Smart touches to the impressive menu include Ginger Ice Tea and Sticky rice and bean pudding for desert…. But by the time desert rolls around, I am usually in too much pain to consider giving it a whirl.

The success if Saigon Grill is no secret to most New Yorkers, as the fledgling chain now sports four locations in the city.

You’ve got my word, you’ll find solid stuff here… and more flavor than you’ll know what to do with. Choose wisely.

Saigon Grill

620 Amsterdam Ave- At 90th St
New York, NY 10024

212 875-9072
212 875-9073

(and several locations around the city)