Monday, September 25, 2017

Miss Saigon

Update Review, September 2017

I first reviewed, and visited, Miss Saigon back in 2013.  I didn't return until this year.  Back then, I had some decent enough Vietnamese salads, an excellent taro smoothie, and my first experience of Vietnamese desserts (although, they were out of the ones I wanted, so, my dislike was somewhat swayed by not getting what I wanted).

I'm not really sure why I never went back, but, I didn't, until I found myself really craving the style of desserts I had in Sydney at Chat Thai.  Coconut milk, taro, strange mix-ins ... that is what I wanted.  And I remembered that Miss Saigon had those things.

I ordered ahead (using, OrderAhead), but showed up before my pick-up time, so it wasn't ready.  No problem, the very friendly staff member just made it on the spot for me.  The staff were very friendly and welcoming.  I like the family feel of the place, and I'd like to return again.
Che Thai. $4.
"Fruit with coconut and milk."

I've seen Che Thai described as "Vietnamese fruit cocktail", which, maybe is accurate?  I'd describe it more like ... a bunch of bubble tea toppings (except no boba) in a very sweet coconut milk?  Or, coconut milk and toppings soup?  I ordered it because it reminded me of so many of the creative Thai desserts I had in Sydney at Chat Thai, and, indeed, it is a Vietnamese take on a thai dessert.

I honestly had no idea what to make of this thing.  It was served in a cup, like a bubble tea, with a wide straw.  It was drinkable, with the straw, and when you did so, many strange things got sucked up.  But it also came with a spoon, and some of the ingredients inside were too big for the straw.

It was also ... crazy sweet.  The coconut milk base was over the top sweet.  The mix-ins were all sweet.  There was not a single slightly savory ingredient, no tapioca, no taro.  There was no salty component.  Just, sweet.  It was too much for me at first, honestly, and I found myself thinking, "Gee, this would be good with some corn in it, or shaved iced", which of course made me laugh, as I found those ingredients crazy the first time I had them in dessert.

I think this did have dairy milk (likely half and half, per my internet research) mixed in, as I ordered it when I had a cold, and, sadly, it made my throat react like I had dairy, which I was intentionally avoiding.

One quick note on packaging; just like when I picked up food previously, this made a horrible mess.  It was full to the top, with a lid that didn't seal, so, it leaked everywhere just carrying it out of the store.  At least they put it in a bag?  I was amused by the napkin though, as it was soaked already by the time I opened my bag, rendering it useless.
Che Thai: Inside.
There were so many things hiding in it.  I have no idea what most of them were.  This is why I love this style of dessert, it always fascinates me.

There was medium sized firm white cubes.  Irregular shaped green softer blobs.  Smaller red cubes.  Smaller orange cubes.  Yellow rectangles.  Large white bean-shaped things. Besides the bean-shaped things and the yellow rectangles, they all seemed like some kind of jelly?  The description just said "fruit", but I'm fairly certain that many of these items were not fruit.

Here are my guesses on what things were:
The white beans I'm fairly certain are toddy palm seeds.  I think the longer yellow pieces were either jackfruit, or not-very-ripe mango.  I could believe that some of the white cubes were young coconut meat or coconut gel.  The green things were grass jelly and the assorted mix of smaller colored cubes were rainbow jelly?  I somewhat expected lychee or longan, but I don't think I found any.  I was glad to not discover any durian.

To be honest, this is not a high brow dessert.  Sweetened coconut milk plus a bunch of canned fruit and jellies.  Hmm, maybe fruit cocktail *is* the right description, after all?

Anyway, I did somewhat enjoy this, once I added some crushed ice to water it down a bit.  It was a fun exploration of ingredients, but, overall, too sweet, and not quite my thing.  I'm glad I tried it though.

Original Review, September 2013

As I mentioned last week, I had the task of providing dinner for my group at work for a few days.  Since it was going to be takeout, I went for all cold items.  I didn't want to deal with re-heating food, or serving lukewarm, soggy food.

For one meal, I decided on Vietnamese, as there are a number of classic dishes that are takeout friendly, like cold salads and spring rolls.  I didn't have anywhere in mind, as last time I did this, I went with Out the Door, and it was good, but not amazing.  So I did some research, and discovered Miss Saigon.  The reviews were plentiful and strong, for everything but the spring rolls, and they had a fantastic sounding dessert menu.  So, I did what any crazy person does, and went to two places, supplementing the salads and desserts from Miss Saigon with spring rolls from Freshroll, as I reviewed a few weeks ago.  Yes, I could have gotten delivery, from a single restaurant, but ... that just isn't how I roll.  I wanted good food!

Anyway, Miss Saigon is located at 6th & Mission, just a few blocks from Freshroll, so it was easy to pick up both orders.  I don't tend to venture down much past 4th or 5th, so it was also uh, a cultural experience.

It is a simple restaurant, no fancy decor, but clean, and the furniture all matches.  No real personality to the place except ... the mannequin at the entrance.  I have no idea why they have a mannequin, but they do.  I wish I'd taken a photo of it.

The staff were friendly and pleasant taking my order, but I was not impressed with the service.  I placed my order, and sat to wait for my food to be ready.  It was brought out by the kitchen to the counter area pretty quickly, but then it just sat there, while the server did a bunch of other random things.  He even walked over and picked up my containers several times, and then put them back down, and did other things.  He wasn't helping other customers, but instead collecting dirty cups, wiping down counters, etc.  I assumed that some of my order must just not be ready, but nothing else was ever added to it.  I think it was ready a full 10 minutes before it was handed over to me, even though I was sitting there waiting, and one of my items had ice and was melting.  There was only one table seated in the restaurant since I was there mid-afternoon, so it wasn't that he was busy.  I was pretty annoyed by this, and still really can't figure out why he kept picking up my food and then ignoring it.

Anyway, the food was all solid, and some of the hot dishes did look good, so maybe I'd consider dining in, but I don't see any real reason to return otherwise.
Packaging fail: sauce from papaya salad all over the place, soaked through the napkins.
One thing I noticed is that when the server would pick up my containers, he noticed that one of them was leaking everywhere.  He wiped it down, and looked like he might try to do something about it, but then just put it back.  When he picked it up another time, it had leaked out everywhere again, so he again wiped it down, but did nothing to fix the situation.

When I opened my take out bag, everything was completely coated in sauce.  There was a lake in the bottom of the bag, which was just a low quality thin plastic bag, so it also leaked into the larger bag I brought with me to carry my purchases.  The napkins and utensils provided were drenched in the sauce, the napkins unusable, the utensils sticky.  This was a really crappy container to package saucy food in, and they seem to do a lot of togo business, so you'd think they'd have decent containers.  Grumble.
Taro Smoothie With Boba.  $3.75.
I've been craving taro milk tea for a while now.  Basically ever since I had the amazing one from Quickly months ago, and my craving was not satiated by the awful one from Out the Door a few weeks later.  When I saw taro boba smoothies on the menu, it was what made my final decision of where to get the food.  I wanted one, it was a hot day, and nothing sounded better than slurping up a taro boba!

The name "smoothie" concerned me a little, as I didn't quite know what to expect.  When I saw a blender and ice get pulled out, I knew it wasn't going to be the milk tea I was expecting.  I'm not sure what else went into it, clearly something milky, something sweet, something taro flavored, and obviously the boba.

It was really nicely blended, full of tiny little bits of ice, like a slushy.  Not what I was expecting, but I actually liked it even more.  It was almost like a milkshake.  It was creamy like one too.  It was sweet, but definitely not too sweet, and the taro flavor was good.

It was loaded up with boba, hard to see in this picture, but there was actually tons of it.  Perhaps a bit too much.  By the end, I was very sick of it.  The pearls were a good size, and the straw perfect for sucking them up.  They started out soft, but actually got kinda icy as time passed, since they were immersed in the icy mixture.  That was fairly fascinating, I liked them soft at first, I liked them as they got a bit chewy, and I liked them once they got icy.  Kinda fun to enjoy it as it evolved!

Overall, this was pretty good, and I really enjoyed it.  I still wish I knew what went into it.  At $3.75, it was more expensive than the others I've had, but it did have more work put into it.
Goi Ngo Sen Tom Thit. $7.25.
This is a cold salad of lotus root, carrots, cucumber, shrimp, pork, ground peanuts, and rau ram.

I wasn't entirely sure what this was going to be, but I like lotus root, so I decided to try it.

The lotus was sliced differently than I've had before, I usually have it in disks, this was in strips.  It was crispy and fresh.  The carrots and cucumber were fine, and added some color, but did kinda overwhelm the salad in bites, as they weren't evenly distributed throughout.

The shrimp were small, poached, and sliced in half.  Not offensive, but not very good either.  I ate around the pork, as I don't like pork, but it was in thin strips.  I could taste it in the salad though, which I didn't like.  My own fault, for ordering something with an ingredient I know I don't like.

Overall, it was lacking in any real redeeming qualities.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't very flavorful nor interesting.  I wouldn't get again.

Priced slightly lower than the salads at Out The Door, but didn't seem as high as quality.
Goi Du Du Bo. $7.75.
When I lived in Sydney for a few months, I got totally hooked on papaya salad.  There was one place that had a version that came with caramelized bits of pork belly on top.  It rocked my world.

I've tried the papaya salad at many Thai and Vietnamese restaurants in SF, but have failed to find one that really packs any punch flavor-wise, or has the freshness I'm looking for.  When I saw that Miss Saigon offered 3 versions, including one with beef jerky on top, I was excited.  Would the beef jerky be like my caramelized pork? Surely it would be closer than all the tofu or shrimp versions I've had.

The papaya was fine, there were plentiful peanuts, and some beef jerky bits.  The beef was a nice change, but not nearly as good as my pork belly memories :)  It had good flavor, but wasn't crispy, nor really caramelized.

But overall flavor-wise, there was not much going on here.  Perhaps because all the sauce had leaked out?  Again, not bad, but not really good.  I probably wouldn't get again.

Priced at $7.75, it was on par with others I've had, but not as good.
 Goi Du Du Dau Hu. $7.25.
We also tried the vegetarian version, with crispy fried tofu on top.  The salad was the same, although it seemed to have a lot less sauce.

The tofu was awful.  Soggy, definitely not crispy, and totally soaked in oil.  Quite nasty.
Che Dau Do. $3.00.
You know me and desserts.  The highlight of my meals.  Their dessert menu sounded fascinating.  I was most excited for the "taro root with sweet rice and coconut" and the "yellow com and sweet rice with coconut".  I love taro, I love sweet rice, and I was fascinated by the idea of corn in dessert.  Sadly, they were out of those desserts, even though it was only mid-day.  Boo.

So I moved on to my next selections, including fruit with coconut milk.  Again, they were out of all of those!  The menu had about 10 desserts listed, but they only had 4 available.  One had ice cream, which didn't make sense for take out, one was a banana cake, which really didn't sound or look good, and then two others were things I'd never pick, but ... I wanted something, so I got them.

So first up, was this one, described as "red bean with coconut".  It was basically just some red beans, in a very milky soup.  Seriously, soup.  I guess it was sorta coconut flavored, but not much.  Maybe this is a traditional dessert, but I was expecting something different, more like red beans with a thicker coconut cream drizzled on top.

I wouldn't get again, but it was interesting.  $3.00 for a dessert this size was good, and it actually came in a container that sealed, unlike the salads, so the soup didn't spill everywhere.  Points for that.
Che Dau Trang. $3.00.
The other option available was described as "black eye peas with rice and coconut".  He said it was just like the taro or corn ones that I wanted, just with black eyed peas instead.

I dislike black eyed peas.  I don't like them in savory preparations, and I couldn't imagine liking them in dessert.  But I was desperate, so I went for it.

The coconut flavor was quite nice in this one, much stronger than in the red bean.  That part was good.  And maybe if you liked black eyed peas, they were good, but I hated them.  There wasn't much rice, but what was there was good.

I think I really would have liked the taro or corn versions of this.  Sadness.  If I return to Miss Saigon, I'd like to try those desserts.

Again, $3.00 for a dessert this size was good.


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