One of the culinary features of the part of Winnipeg I live in, is it’s proliferation of Vietnamese restaurants. A quick check of Google Maps lists at least 18 within at most 12 blocks of my house. Some have been there for a very long time, and it seems that there are always new ones popping up. One such restaurant, that if not entirely new, (the restaurants in the area also move around from time to time), is Saigon Star, which recently opened on Sargent Avenue, just east of Arlington Street.
This puts the restaurant just across the street from Pho Binh Minh. Some places are known for having multiple Starbucks on one corner. In my neighbourhood you are much more likely to have multiple Vietnamese restaurants on one corner. We definitely have the better end of the deal in this case.
Not only are there two Vietnamese restaurants across the street from each, but I also had to pass two other Vietnamese restaurants before I got to Saigon Star. My original intent was to visit Bahn Mi Go, a Vietnamese sub shop, that I’ve heard many good things about, However, the lineup was about 20-25 deep and it’s a very tiny place, and felt too crowded for my liking. Almost next door to Bahn Mi Go, is Pho Hoang, which I had reviewed a few weeks ago.
I don’t know what was in the Saigon Star location before the current restaurant. I’ve walked down there many times, but it was nothing distinct enough to grab my attention. The restaurant has done some work prettying up the front of the building, with a new sign that reminds of the White Star Diner sign.
As you enter the restaurant, there’s a little lobby that contains the cash desk, and few other things, and then there’s three of four steps up to a doorway that leads you into the dining area. The dining area is long and relatively narrow, but there is plenty of room at the tables. There are televisions on the walls, which are generally playing sports or news broadcasts.
First dinner at Saigon Star
On both of my visits, it was past the dinner rush, but the restaurant still had a good number of customers. I was seat promptly and brought the menu. For my first visit I figured I would go with the classic Phô. Along with the Phô, I ordered a couple of the salad rolls. The salad rolls were well filled, the shrimp were quite large, and there was plenty of well-seasoned pork. the one thing I wasn’t as keen on was that I found the rice wrapper to be a little too chewy. On the whole, though, a good dish.
I really enjoyed the deluxe Phô. It included not only the beef, but tendon and tripe as well. Both of these were very well cooked, and the soup itself featured a rich broth. One thing I like to do with Phô is to see how much I enjoy it before getting around to hot sauce. This one held up really well in that regard.
Visiting Saigon Star a Second Time
With the Jets having extended their playoff run into the third round, I figured that I would head out to Saigon Star to watch the game, and to give the menu a second try. However, I forgot that the overlords at NBC had insisted that all the games start later than usual, so I got to the restaurant long before puck drop.
Having tried the salad rolls on my first visit, I decided to order the spring rolls on the second one. To go along with that I ordered the Grilled Pork Vermicelli/Bûn for my main dish.
The spring rolls when they came were crisp and well-filled. however, they tasted not only a little overcooked, but they also tasted like they had been deep-fried in oil that was in a need of changing.
When it came time for my main dish, things got a little strange. On my first visit my sever was more mature, and had obviously worked in a restaurant before. This time around my server was quite a bit younger, and didn’t seem to have much experience in serving customers.
On the whole this wasn’t an issue. More than anything it seemed my server had trouble remembering what I said and whether or not they had already asked me if I was enjoying the food. Then, I was asked if I was allergic to peanuts. That it itself isn’t all that odd, but my server asked the question, just before bringing me my dish, as opposed to when I ordered. It made me wonder if they would start my dish over, or just remove the peanuts. If you are an allergy sufferer, make double sure that you mention it to them beforehand, although my general impression was that this was an oversight by a new employee.
However I assured the server that there were no allergy issues, and my dish arrived shortly thereafter. This brought about another surprise. The Bûn was served on a platter rather than in a bowl. I’d never had it served that way, and I wondered if this was a tradition that I had missed out on.
What I didn’t like about this, is that the key to a good Bûn is the fish sauce that is served with. Normally I pour this into the bowl and mix it in, so that every mouthful is coated in this delightful sauce. With the broad, shallow platter, this didn’t work as well, and so several mouthfuls were rather plain. this was disappointing as everything else about the dish was very good. From the tender well-seasoned pork to the noodles, and a good selection of crisp vegetables.
At the top of this post is the picture of the blueberry bubble tea that I enjoyed with my meal. It made for a nice, not overly sweet accompaniment to the rest of my visit. Saigon Star is still obviously getting their feet under them, but I will definitely be going back in the future.