Name: Amy Carpenter
Occupation: Executive Assistant
Lives In: Boca Raton
Restaurant Pick: Saigon Cuisine
Reviewed Saigon Cuisine: May 3, 2008
This restaurant is located in a nondescript mall in Margate, so you are coming just for the food. You are greeted warmly at the door and immediately seated. The tables are usually filled with Asian/Vietnamese families enjoying their typical cuisine such as pho and bubble tea. There are usually children present, either the owners or those belonging to the dining families. On the table are the condiments necessary to individually accent your food as you like: hoison sauce, chili paste, and hot sauce as well as soy sauce and fish sauce. Most people order the pho – the most typical Vietnamese dish – a big bowl of fragrant broth filled with rice noodles and your choice of sliced meat, which finishes cooking in the soup. Each table is marked with a number place card along with artificial flowers for an accent. Chopsticks are the utensil of choice, though silverware is available. Flat screen TVs projecting Vietnamese music videos (with the words karaoke style) provide the entertainment. The banh mi sandwiches are a special treat, and those in the know walk through the door and call out the number representing which sandwich they want from the 9 available varieties. The menu says that if you buy 10 sandwiches, you get 1 free. The sandwich is delivered in its own basket – the French baguette is served warm giving the crust a crisp texture. My favorite filling is #7 – grilled pork. Every sandwich comes with mayonnaise, pickled carrots/daikon, cucumber, green onion, cilantro and jalapeño. At $3.00 each, they are a bargain and better than the ones I have had in New York’s Chinatown. The salad of lotus root and julienne vegetables along with shrimp and pork was dressed in typical Vietnamese fashion with a light dressing and topped with peanuts and crispy garlic. It is priced at just under $15.00, but it is a large serving that serves as an entrée. Every order of pho, which comes in sizes such as medium, large and extra large, comes with a plate filled with bean sprouts, mint, lime, culantro and jalapeno. When your soup arrives you add the accompaniments as you desire. Vietnamese restaurants pride themselves on their homemade pho broth, which cooks for hours and is very fragrant .Nuc mam, the dipping sauce that comes with spring rolls or bun dishes, is another homemade item that the restaurant takes pride in. Specialty dishes like the shaken beef or soft shell crab should not be missed. You get 3 large crabs which are split in half and served atop a bed of sautéed watercress. Priced at $18.00, this is a special treat.
Saigon Cuisine is a casual place that welcomes families, groups, couples or a single diner who come for a full meal, or just for a quick banh mi sandwich or pho. For the quality and flavor of food, Saigon Cuisine stands out among ethnic Asian restaurants.
Name: Jack Jacoby
Occupation: Retired Sea Captain
Lives In: Miami Beach
Restaurant Pick: Eduardo de San Angel
Reviewed Saigon Cuisine: Tuesday May 6, 2008
We arrived to an almost empty restaurant, one table occupied, at 7:20 pm on a Thursday and was greeted by a friendly woman who seated us and gave us VERY expansive menus. Water arrived quickly and she asked if we were familiar with Vietnamese food, which we are. We ordered the shrimp cakes and she suggested the cold vegetable spring rolls which were large and a good accompaniment for the shrimp cakes. The sauces served with the appetizers were very good but none was very hot with pepper. Chili sauce was on the table. The lettuce served with the shrimp cakes was leaf lettuce that was too tough for easy rolling but otherwise the appetizer course was very good. The fried rice arrived promptly and was full of pork and also very good. The pho was brought at the same time. The beef pieces were too large but the flavor and condiments were authentic and plentiful. The bowl was smaller than those I saw served to another table and may have been a special of some kind. The noodles dish arrived next and while VERY tasty, the pieces of cauliflower and broccoli that made up the majority of the vegetables in the dish were too large to eat without having a place to lay them down. As is traditional in Vietnam, no individual plates were set. We ordered one order of homemade coconut ice cream for desert. It arrived in a plastic container, like you would get from an ice cream man’s truck, with one spoon for a table of three. The waitress gladly brought another spoon, I don’t know why she didn’t bring two more, but that didn’t help an unappealing service. The little plastic container may be a Vietnamese staple but I missed it when I was there. The ice cream was Ok but uninteresting. We came away thinking Saigon Cuisine is good enough to drive a long way for, maybe on a Sunday afternoon.
Name: Richard Standifer
Occupation: Sales Representative
Lives In: Miami Beach
Restaurant Pick: Le Bon
Reviewed Saigon Cuisine: May 6, 2008
When traveling from the United States to most parts of Asia it’s often necessary to travel west to get there. So too was the case as we drove way out to West Broward for what I can only imagine to be authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Tucked inside a nondescript suburban strip mall in Margate is Saigon Cuisine, a cook’s paradise or paradise at least for people who like to play with their food. Call it interactive. Call it participant observation. But whatever you call it, it’s the kind of restaurant where the diner helps design the meal. Just about everything we ordered came with bunches of fresh herbs, greens and veggies that you could incorporate into the dishes to suit your own taste. At Saigon we were free to create, and our modest server was just helpful enough to guide us without intervening too much.
But then again, modesty tends to be an article of faith with so many Asian cultures. Even the decor of Saigon is handled with restraint. The bright yellow interior is kept in check by a rather regimented collection of female portraits. Varied in scale but oddly uniform in their rendered subject, these pictures help subdue the sunny interior. Fleshing out the rest, several flat screen TVs play travel diary slideshows of Vietnam and a quiet corner is home to a modest display with a real live rickshaw parked in front of a thatched hut. Ironically, in the center of it all, a dance floor, bandstand, and disco lights foretell exuberant weekend partying.
But this was a quiet Tuesday night and the dining room was barely peopled with a few Asian-American families, including what appeared to be the owners. As a result, we were mostly left to our own devices: a dish of herbs, a bowl of broth and thou.
To start I chose the Banh Cong or green bean shrimp cake. This cupcake shaped appetizer is made from rice flour and mung beans with a whole shrimp, shell intact, baked into the top. Our server suggested wrapping pieces of the cake in lettuce and mint leaves for a tasty dip into the fish sauce. The latter could be spiked with a bit of chili sauce for added heat. Once I got past the burned bottom of the cakes I started to experiment with the accompaniments. The lettuce wrap proved way too bland, adding little or nothing to the dish. But the mint and the cake taken together with the now spiked fish sauce was divine. The sweet aromatic mint and the hot sauce gave the little cake a lively and unexpected complexity. And though I’m sure I managed to eat some of the charred crustacean garnish, I really wasn’t ready to go there. So I continued to play with the best-baked parts of the four generous cakes, adding more mint leaves and sauce to my palate’s delight. And lest I forget, the “33 Export” beer, a staple in Vietnamese restaurants, made for a refreshing companion.
For the entree I couldn’t resist trying one of the famous pho soups. I chose one featuring eye of round beef. This time the recommended ingredients included bean sprouts, shredded carrots and thinly sliced rings of hot jalapeno pepper. Fully in the throes of innovation now, I also swiped some sprigs of mint from my appetizer. I’m so glad I did. The well-seasoned strips of steak luxuriated in the broth I helped conceive. Mint, jalapeno and chili-spiked fish sauce added unparalleled dimensions of flavor. Adding the shredded carrots made the already aromatic soup even more fragrant. Pho soup truly is the centerpiece of this restaurant.
Dessert, however, seemed to be the afterthought; we almost had to beg to get our server’s attention to ask about it. No worries, though. Without any fanfare the waitress offered us home-made coconut ice cream. Served in a tiny plastic cup reminiscent of a grade-school cafeteria, this rich and refreshing treat was modestly portioned yet proficiently coconut.
That’s the kind of balance you find at Saigon Cuisine. There the freshest ingredients and the liveliest flavors await you. And even if you have to burn precious fuel to get there, it’s all at a modest price. So go west! It’s definitely worth the trip.
Location:1394 N. State Rd 7, Margate, FL 33063
Type of Cuisine: Vietnamese cuisine
Meals Served: All day
Accommodations for Children: Yes