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Tame Tongue

Saigon Bistro brings easy Vietnamese to the West End.


Saigon Bistro, newly opened in Innsbrook, has an extensive menu of noodle soups, rice-noodle bowls, grilled platters and house specials like Bistro Bo Bia Platter with roast pork, cabbage and fried egg. Housed in the same building where the Grass Hut drew crowds for its mix of Asian flavors, much of the décor has remained the same. An open, bamboo-bar-styled kitchen sizzles while lively Asian music echoes in the background. The demeanor is laid-back, yet service is still swift and efficient.

A vast menu offers numerous choices, most on the tamer side, designed to please the whole family. It’s easy Vietnamese. Chopsticks are offered on request, and the word “spicy” is open to interpretation.

Entrees range from $6.95 up to $16.95 for a grilled platter brimming with sugar-cane shrimp, chicken, beef, beef balls and scallops. A smallish wine selection is complemented with a selection of fresh juices and powerful Vietnamese coffees. The fresh coconut drink ($2.50) is a must, with chunks of fresh coconut swimming in an ultrasweet juice.

To begin your meal, try the light and healthy shrimp rice-paper rolls with sliced shrimp, Thai basil and rice noodles wrapped in rice paper and served with a peanut-hoisin dipping sauce. Or share the French-influenced Banh Xeo, an oversized coconut-infused rice crepe filled with sliced pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. A tad on the oily side, it still retains a nice crunch. But we found the pork was scarce and the shrimp tasted waterlogged. A beef-ball soup was a better bet, a consommé-style beef broth brimming with chewy beef balls and chopped green onion.

It’s a tough choice for entrees simply because there are so many. Noodle soups are fine, especially the shrimp dumpling egg-noodle soup served in a light seafood and beef broth dotted with ground shrimp-filled dumplings, Chinese-style strips of roast pork and thin egg noodles. The Saigon Special Pho is a generous combination of beef strips, beef balls, rice noodles and spring onions in a light beef broth. We thought soups were good, not great, and could have benefited from richer, more savory broths.

The Saigon Bistro Platter is a winner with grilled jumbo shrimp, chicken breast, pork and beef onion rolls. Garlic, lemon grass and the ubiquitous fish sauce abounds making this combination a true feast for the senses. Fresh rice paper rolls are served on the side to wrap each tasty bite. Sides of peanut sauce and nuoc cham (a blending of fish sauce, garlic and bird’s eye chiles) as well as rice noodles are also provided.

The Bistro House Fish is superb, arriving as a juicy, simmered catfish filet topped with caramelized sugar, ginger and fried shallots. Like the grilled platter, it overflows with flavor and texture. Grilled pork with broken rice brought back the delicious grilled pork — this time served atop rice. However, the traditional broken rice (made of short-grain rice with a “broken” texture) was substituted with typical Chinese-style long-grain rice, making the rice neither “broken” nor enticing.

Desserts include a standard caramel flan. Ours had been overcooked, resulting in a scrambled-egg texture. However, the litchi nut cocktail redeemed its predecessor. Served in a light, sweet syrup dotted with ice cubes, these sweet, acidic round fruits from a Chinese evergreen tree are definitely worth a try.

Saigon Bistro offers typical Vietnamese fare in a pleasant setting with outdoor seating for those warm West End nights. With a few nips and tucks in the kitchen, it could become an enduring choice for experienced gourmands and newbies alike. S

Saigon Bistro ($)

4040-H Cox Road, Innsbrook
Lunch: Monday through Friday 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Dinner: Monday through Thursday 4:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday open from 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.

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