Just a quick hit on the new Saigon Bistro in downtown Santa Rosa.
BiteClub and Co. hit the revamped spot on Mendocino Ave. which
previously housed the ill-fated Vivere, which was previously Nirvana,
which was previously Tahini Grill. The interior hasn’t undergone much
change, aside from repainting and the upstairs balcony is slated to be
open for dinner.
On the plus side, its open for lunch — a boon
to downtowners always looking to mix it up. Prices are reasonable, if
not cheap, making it a distinct possibility for adding into the
noontime rotation. The lengthy menu includes lots of pho
(including some more challenging “authentic” cuts); glass noodle dishes
and plenty of vegetarian options (though I always wonder about the fish
sauce and strict vegetarianism). Grilled meats include bbq pork, lemon grass chicken, Vietnamese meatballs and grilled beef. The
white tablecloth service is upscale casual, perfect for business
lunches. Service is still (understandably) rough, but attentive and
already better than the last two tenants.
On the minus side, the
dishes still need a bit of refining. BiteClub stopped in opening week
and while the dishes look perfectly delish, the meat — especially the chicken — was sawdust dry.
Peanut sauce, which for me is a deal-breaker, was bland, bland, bland.
The fowl soup that accompanied my friend’s lunch was exactly that. The
chili-fish sauce that is usually dumped over noodle bowls had barely a whisper of flavor. Spring rolls were simply ho-hum.
What makes Vietnamese food so appealing (I’m a regular at Pho Vietnam and Simply Vietnam,
who both get it right) are the kick-in-the-tastebud flavors of sweet,
salty, umami and sour, with just a pinch of heat. I live for the
lightly carbonized, sizzling meat with peanuts, noodles and fish sauce.
I would walk a mile in stilettos for warm peanut sauce kissed by lemon grass.
type of cooking is simple to get right. Fresh ingredients, a learned
hand at the grill and a balance of the perfumed herbs will make these
dishes sing. I’m praying that Saigon Bistro can work out the kinks and get it right. They’ll have my business back.
And I’m not alone. On opening day, the house was packed with hopefuls
slurping pho with anticipation. After talking with a few folks who
tried the spot, I wasn’t totally alone in my early disappointment, but
I also wasn’t alone in my willingness to give them another shot.
Downtown needs a little more lemon grass in the mix. I’ll keep you updated.
Saigon Bistro, 420 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa, 707.528-3866