I had lunch with a few friends at Saigon City in Berkeley today. We shared an order of spring rolls and the calamari cake appetizer, tamarind soup, and two entrees: catfish claypot and eggplant chicken.
Overall the food was quite good, but the service stood out. Atmosphere is warm and relaxed, and Patrick served us himself. Prices are a little higher than usual for Vietnamese, but not high.
Generally sauces stood out for me. The calamari cake was three small patties served with greens and a red pepper aioli that was the best part. Spring rolls were fine (made without pork and $6 where they are under $4 at most Vietnamese restaurants).
I was disappointed by the tamarind soup, a vegetarian soup with tomatoes, straw mushrooms, and underripe pineapple. I've had this soup before at other restaurants and found this version too sour. My friends liked it better. It also had rice noodles, tofu, and bits of fried garlic. The black ceramic serving bowls were quite beautiful.
Eggplant chicken was an elegant stir fry with lots of vegetables--cauliflower, snap peas, carrots. One friend found the light sauce too salty, but I liked it. Wasn't dazzled by my portion of catfish, but the peppery caramelized gravy was wonderful and we finished all of it, spooned over rice.
Everyone in the restaurant turned to admire steamed sea bass, served atop brussels sprouts, and the banana leaf salad delivered to the next table.
Total for 3 came to $61 plus tip for lunch. I think dinner is the same menu, with a very appealing wine list. We also enjoyed a round of lemonade sodas and Vietnamese coffees. I'd definitely go again if I were in the East Bay but wouldn't make a special trip just for the food. Maybe my expectations were too high.
After a short hike through the redwoods to a waterfall, we detoured to Sketch for dessert.
Tangy Strauss yogurt is still my favorite flavor, followed closely by a fantastic hazelnut. Next time I'll skip Earl Grey in favor of the pineapple granita. Points to Sketch for recycling those adorable plastic ice cream cups. And for warm waffles with organic yogurt ice cream on a rainy afternoon.