Thursday, November 10, 2005

Restaurant Review: MisSaigon

I haven't had the opportunity to do a review of someone else's cooking in a while. Hmmmm--why would that be? I suppose I could post my feelings about the various pizzas in town since that has been the only restaurant scene to which I've been exposed of late.

But last night, on a whim (had food in the house to cook, had a good day with the kids so cooking didn't seem like a nail in my coffin, etc.) we trucked across town and went to the new Vietnamese restaurant MisSiagon. (I committed the blogging crime of leaving home without my camera. So sorry.)

I'm a big fan of Vietnamese food--brighter, sharper flavors than the Thai food that can be found around here (the Thai offerings in the area, which have improved of late, rely heavily on coconut milk but ignore the sour end of the Thai food spectrum). Thus far the only place to get Vietnamese food has been the frustratingly inconsistent and distant (from my house) restaurant Dalat, located on Michigan Ave right in downtown Ypsilanti. I've had good bowls of Pho (sorry, can't get the accents to work in Blogger) and Bun there (soup and composed vermicelli rice bowls respectively) but I've also had really sad ones that were not worth the drive.

MisSaigon is located out on Stone School Road just past Ellsworth in the new little strip mall that is (I assume) filling the take-out needs of the South East part of town (there is also a branch of Tio's for Mexican and a branch of Ahmo's and a Mediterranean market for Middle Eastern.) MisSaigon's Vietnamese menu is not as extensive as Dalat's--about half of MisSaigon's menu is standard Chinese fare. But the Vietnamese food that is on the menu and that we tried last night was a step up from Dalat's.

We sampled three Vietnamese classics: a big bowl of Pho, a bowl of Bun (we chose the one with marinated char-grilled pork) and a Vietnamese Crepe with shrimp.

The Pho (noodle soup with thin slices of beef) had an intensely flavorful broth with very prominent star anise flavor. It came with the standard plate of bean sprouts and lime wedge, and a bottle of hoisin sauce to add as you like (I've never had it with the hoisin sauce and didn't think it brought much to the soup). I wish that, like some of the Vietnamese places that I've frequented out on the West coast, it had also come with sliced chilies, fresh cilantro and fresh basil to add, but the flavor of the broth was so good that I didn't miss the additions as much as usual. I foresee sending Brian across town this winter to bring me some of this Pho when I've got a horrible cold.

The Bun was good, but not stellar; on a good day at Dalat I'd say the Bun at each place is equal. Bun should be a deep bowl of goodness--layered cold vermicelli noodles, shredded lettuce, carrot, bean sprouts, cucumber and peanuts with some sort of grilled meat on top. It comes with the standard and addictive Vietnamese dipping sauce, nuoc cham which is lime juice, sugar, garlic, chilies and fish sauce. At MisSaigon the grilled pork was nicely charred yet still juicy and the vegetables were crisp and fresh. The size of the bowl was moderate--I'm used to more gluttonous servings and while I appreciate that the obesity problem in America (and particularly in my state) should make me pleased that there is a place that doesn't cater to our outsized appetites, I thought this was on the skimpy side. The other big critique is that the nuoc cham was really, how shall I say, Midwestern. I couldn't taste any garlic or chilies in it so it lacked the punch that a good nuoc cham should have. They served it with a bottle of hot sauce so you could boost up the heat, but it didn't have the same effect as fresh chilies.

The Vietnamese Crepe was well executed. If you haven't had one of these, allow me to describe it: the crepe is BIG--not a weenie little appetizer but a plate full of food. A very eggy batter (almost a cross between an omelet and a crepe) is stuffed with sauteed bean sprouts and onions and your choice of protein, then served with leaves of lettuce, fresh herbs and that same lime-fish sauce for dipping. To eat it, you tear off a piece of crepe, fill it with the fresh herbs and wrap it in a lettuce leaf before dipping it in the sauce.

The crepe batter at MisSaigon was nicely spiked with curry powder and the shrimp in the crepe were big, plump and juicy. I had expected tiny (cheaper) salad shrimp and was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of their bigger brethren. The charcoal grilling did not dry out the flesh, something that has happened on occasion at Dalat. (The cook at MisSaigon has a deft touch at the charcoal grill). MisSaigon provided cilantro with the lettuce, though I wish there had also been fresh mint and/or basil and, again, I thought the dipping sauce needed garlic and chilies to brighten up the flavor.

The restaurant is very clean (Dalat is on the dingy side) and the owner/waiter was really friendly and helpful. There was no stress about eating with kids and the waiter brought extra bowls and spoons to dish up food for the kids without our having to ask. Getting the bill took a while but my guess is they didn't expect so many people on a Wednesday evening--I was pleased that there were a decent number of other diners.
I wish the place had a bigger Vietnamese menu--there are a few other Vietnamese dishes on the menu (a few rice plates, chef specials and appetizers) that we didn't try, but clearly they are sticking with conservative fare and relying more heavily on the back-up of Chinese food to pay the rent. I'm hoping that if they stay in business and the Vietnamese food proves popular, maybe they'll diversify the menu a bit more. Until then, I will definitely be back when the urge hits for a big bowl of noodle soup with that heavenly star anise broth.


Edward Vielmetti said...

Thanks for the review Kate! Sounds delicious. Did you get a sense for how their vegetarian Vietnamese offerings were?

Julie said...

Oh I am so glad to read this! I saw the review in the Spotlight, and it piqued my interest. Glad their good review was corroborated. I'm going to try it out as soon as I can.

Anonymous said...

I guess I am a little bias since I grew up eating Vietnamese food that my mom makes. She makes an awesome bowl of Pho. I ate at MisSaigon and Dalat also and like Dalat much much more. Dalat tastes more authentic. The Pho at MisSaigon had too much Star Anise and was too sweet for my taste. I've also eaten the grilled pork chops with rice and that didn't live up to my standards also. Where to get good Pho in the area: 1) Annam (in Dearborn) 2) Dalat (Ypsi)

Tricia said...

Kate, have you tried Saigon Garden on Forest near South U? I love their pork-and-coconut dish (with lots of black pepper) cooked in a clay pot, but I don't have a wealth of Vietnamese dining experiences to compare it to.

Kate said...

I haven't been to Saigon Garden in years, probably 6 years, since I used to work downtown. I can't say that when I did eat there it was terribly memorable (I know they didn't give you the piles of fresh mint, basil and cilantro like the places out west do), but hey, a lot can change in 6 years, especially when there is increased competition in the area.

Anonymous said...

I am a Vietnamese and had lived in Vietnam most of my life ...Came to Dalat (Ypsi) a few times, their food is very inconsistant and their vegies are not so fresh .
I tried MisSaigon (Ann Arbor), I have to admit that I agreed with Kate on her review,that MisSaigon's vegetables are very fresh. When I had the Pho (noodle)their they brought out a plate of bean sprouts, sliced of lime and basil. The Pho at MisSaigon, to me no question about it, had much better taste than Dalat.. by the way, did you see how much fat is floating on top of the Pho at Dalat?? Check MisSaigon out not an ounce of fat!!...About Annam in Dearborn, I tried there too !! Pho there is so so and expensive not worth the drive!
I wish that MisSaigon would offer some fish dishes !