After hearing lots and lots of good things about Saigon City on Telegraph in Berkeley, my Vietnamese buddy and I went to check it out. Is there more than one Saigon City on Telegraph, because the one we went to (by Norikonoko and Fondue Fred) was a very big disappointment.
We started out with goi cuon spring rolls, which hardly had any herbs. The hoison peanut sauce was good, but the rolls themselves were totally lacking in that refreshing vegetable punch of Vietnamese rolls. Lettuce alone just doesn't cut it.
We then had bun vermicelli bowl, which was also lacking herbs. There was a few sprigs of mint and that was it! Pho Ao Sen does a ten billion times better job for half the price. Really. The nuoc mam fish sauce was too salty and did not have any of the complex flavors of sweetness and tanginess that nuoc mam is supposed to have. It tasted like they just cut the fish sauce from the bottle with water - just really salty and not much else. The pork was soft, but Pho Ao Sen does a much, much better version with an explosion of aroma and flavor for a lot less $.
The banana flower salad was the only thing I really enjoyed, but my Vietnamese friend complained that we didn't get it served with the main dish. He says that the salad is supposed to be enjoyed with the main dish to complement the saltiness of the main dish with the tartness of the salad. He also said that the salad was too salty, because their nuoc man (same sauce as the one with the bun) is not flavored enough.
The stewed sea bass kho was good too, but for $17.50, I expected more meat than maybe six 0.5 in by 0.5 in cubes. This dish took a long time to get to our table, and while it wouldn't be a problem for me to wait for food usually, we had nearly finished off the banana leaf salad by the time the sea bass came, disappointing my friend.
We really wanted to like this place, since the dinning room is cute with that lovely small restaurant ambiance. But it didn't help that the owner's friends were congregating rather loudy around food they had brought in from other restuarants in styrofoam containers smack in the middle of the restaurant at the center table. It kinda ruined the cute atmosphere for me, esp. since I felt like I was paying extra for the atmosphere (with the $17.50 sea bass kho). The service was not very firnedly either with The Chef eyeing us yet not saying a thing to us the entire evening while he sat at the other table with his friends. My friend thought the service was bad because they never expected him (older Vietnamese person) to come back anyway.
Please tell me we went to the wrong place and that there really is a fabulous upscale Vietnamese place in Berkeley....