April 1, 2006

Nice Vietnamese, pho sure

By Patricia Rodriguez

Pretty, tasty: Miss Saigon Cafe's menu includes grilled marinated chicken breast on rice noodles with dipping sauce. Iced milk coffee accompanies.


Pretty, tasty: Miss Saigon Cafe's menu includes grilled marinated chicken breast on rice noodles with dipping sauce. Iced milk coffee accompanies.

THE CUISINE: Vietnamese.

THE IDEA: Manager Kim Pham wants to bring traditional Vietnamese cuisine to the masses. The menu at this small, stylish suburban spot hits just the highlights of the vast expanse of Vietnamese cuisine and serves them in a stripped-down style that may be especially appealing to those unfamiliar with the cuisine.

THE FOOD: Vietnamese dishes are light yet complex, depending on a careful mix of fresh herbs, vegetables and seasonings for their layered, subtle flavors. Most of the dishes we tried here were traditional versions but a bit light on the herbs and spices, making them perfect for novices but perhaps a little bland for aficionados.

Our favorite dish was the grilled chicken on rice noodles ($4.95). Large chunks of marinated chicken breast were charred perfectly on the grill, then laid atop a bed of skinny rice vermicelli, chopped lettuces and a bit of mint and cilantro. Served with the traditional light dressing of rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, chiles and sugar, it made for a refreshing main-course salad.

The beef noodle soup, or pho ($5.25), was also a traditional version. The strips of beef (good-quality eye of round steak) were cooked to rare temperature and were the best part of the dish, which seemed a bit lacking in the cloves and other spices that usually make this broth so fragrant.

Spring rolls (two for $2.75) were fat, cool rolls of rice paper, stuffed with rice vermicelli, slivered shrimp and pork.

No liquor is served, but there's a nice selection of other drinks, including several boba (tapioca pearl) drinks, strong Vietnamese iced coffee and delicious, fresh-squeezed orange juice, sweetened with just a bit of extra sugar.

THE SETTING: The dining room, painted in two soothing shades of pale green, is understated yet fashionable, accented with low tiled pillars topped by vases, and square-framed black-and-white photos of landscapes and icons like Miles Davis. Eclectic music selections — mostly Brazilian on our visit — set a worldly tone.

THE SERVICE: Attentive, friendly and fast; they paid special attention to our small dining companion, making sure he got his child's entree while we were noshing on the appetizers.

THE DETAILS: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday. Major credit cards accepted; smoke-free; BYOB; wheelchair-accessible.

Miss Saigon Cafe

932 Melbourne Road


(817) 595-0135

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