DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jacqueline Heck, top, mother of Miss Saigon Bistro owner Angie Ngo, shows a menu in the eatery that hasn't changed aesthetically since it switched hands.
New owners, old problems
Sometimes I feel so used. The contemporary food critic often serves the same function of food tasters in medieval times, but instead of serving a single noble or household at risk of ingesting poison, the modern food taster enters unknown territories to clear the way with a yea or nay for those who send us in for culinary reconnaissance.
Thanks a lot. At least the downside today is only financial, not fatal.
When Indochine Cafe opened at 32 Hotel St. in the midst of a burgeoning arts community, I was not all that impressed. The food was decent, but there was little about the service or decor that was appealing.
The site is now home to Miss Saigon Bistro, and though under new ownership, I didn't expect much would change. As far as I can tell, little has changed.
The Indochine sign has not yet come down, so area denizens may not know about the change, You'd think it would be disheartening to the restaurateurs to notice that neighboring Mini Garden is full of people at meal times. So is Little Village around the corner. Inside Miss Saigon, they're lucky if a single party distracts them from their televisions or cell phones, day or night.
Or not. When people do come in, the staff seems genuinely surprised. It's very lackadaisical here and the slight language barrier doesn't help. Considering mine was the only table one night and they got three items on our order wrong, it doesn't bode well for a surly Western audience. But you have to wonder just who their target market is when, save for a few obvious friends, there isn't a Vietnamese presence either.
But if you have a lot of patience, don't mind inattentiveness, and more importantly, don't mind being subjective to the most cloying, maudlin pop music on the planet as presented on about six video screens, well, come on down. There are rewards.
THERE ARE separate menus for day and night, the lunch menu naturally heavy on phó running $6.50 for a small bowl -- which in my experience is never all that small -- and $7.50 for a larger size, whether your meat choice is beef tenderloin, tendon, beef balls or chicken.
But in this anything-goes atmosphere, it seems you can order from the day or night menu any time of day, so if you prefer the simplicity of an all-encompassing plate lunch ($7.50 to $9.95) in the evening rather than a la carte dining, go ahead and ask. This may change if they pick up more business.
All the staples are here, from spring rolls ($6.95) to sandwiches on French bread ($5.95) and vermicelli noodles with all their accompaniments. Given a choice between another rice plate or a vermicelli plate, I prefer the noodles sprinkled with chopped mint and peanuts, served with your choice of spring rolls ($7.50), beef ($7.50), lemongrass shrimp ($8.50) or shredded pork ($6.50).
Jumbo shrimp prepared Chinese salt-and-pepper style with hot peppers and garlic is a must, at $14.95, as is a generous helping of sirloin ($16.95), which arrives on a sizzling platter with mushrooms and onions. It's not entirely sliced up for your convenience, but some initial cuts are made to assist in the process.
If chicken is desired, a Thai-style yellow curry ($8.95) with potatoes, carrots and a hint of lemongrass hits the spot. I had high hopes for a spicy chicken plate ($8.50). What was I thinking? Vietnamese cuisine is not known for heat, and the dish was a rather ordinary sauté, with green onions, lemongrass and a hint of curry.
The food is actually worth going back for, and for now, you don't have to worry about not getting a table.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
The jumbo garlic shrimp wtih hot peppers prepared Chinese style is a must-have.