I was introduced to Saigon by a friend on one of our lunch dates. Not too long afterward, the hubby and I found ourselves in Madison looking for dinner and stopped in.
At lunch, the restaurant had been bustling, but for a late Friday night dinner it was fairly quiet. We were seated promptly and debated pho vs clay pots, clear noodle soups vs stir fry. The menu also included specials and I was a bit suprised to see pad thai making an appearance. In the end though, we both come down in favor of the clay pots. I selected beef, the hubby chicken, and we added an order of spring rolls.
I am not a big fan of spring rolls. The sticky, chewy rice paper and the coalesced cold filling goes straight to my texture issues with food. I can vouch for the fact that these were made fresh with a wonderfully fragrant basil, chewy tofu and rice. As for the deliciousness of them, my husband, who does not share my spongy texture issues, loved these. They were served with a thick, soy based peanut sauce, garnished with small pieces of peanuts. I find the peanut sauce a weird combination with the basil and rice but my husband assured me it was tasty. I'll defer to his expert opinion on this one.
Our clay pots came out quickly, piping hot and absolutely tantalizing. My beef clay pot (shown at the top of this post) featured tender beef, cooked in a slightly sweet sauce. The vegetables were mostly fresh, carrots perfectly cooked, broccoli just a touch crunchy, small pieces of onion cooked until sweet. The baby corn tasted vaguely canned, but avoided the dreaded metallic taste of low quality canned food. The small button mushrooms were reported "mushroomy" by my husband. Bits of fried egg had a lovely yellow hue and an identifiable-y eggy flavor. There was a smattering of vermicilli like noodles with the crunch and flavor of bamboo shoots.
The pineapple in the dish tasted wonderfully fresh and I found myself seeking out the chunks. If you are also a hot pineapple lover, proceed with caution as they get very hot. (Or you can do like I did and eat the first piece, nearly scald your tongue, and then immediately seek out another piece and repeat the performance.)
The pot was lightly oiled and perfectly calibrated to create a very thin layer of crunchy rice at the bottom of the pot. The crunch added a nice texture to the dish without being so crunchy as to be pokey or distracting. The rice itself was a thin grain with a rich yellow color. All together, the oil gave a nice texture and the sauce creating a unifying flavor--a hint sweet and totally delicious.
The hubby was equally a fan of his clay pot, which was the same as mine but swapped chicken for the beef.
Our check came with crunchy, vanilla fortune cookies, that were neither super fresh nor, as is usually the case, stale. During my lunch visit, we had paid at the counter, but for dinner, we paid from the table.
I was impressed with Saigon on both visits. The food was fresh and well executed, the service friendly and responsive. I will be back to try more of their menu (including the Pho I've heard so many good things about).
Total for the meal: $ 23.28 (Included two clay pots, an order of spring rolls, and two soft drinks)
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