The SO and I went to Saigon Grill in Durham last night for dinner, eager to see how our meal would stack up against the varied reviews on Carpe Durham and other Durham food blogs. In short, we were a) really glad we got there when we did (more on that in a bit) and b) really glad we went, period.
Started with some grilled pork fresh spring rolls and the traditional vietnamese crepes. The spring rolls started the meal off on the right note-- to start with, they were huge. Obviously freshly made, with really juicy marinated pork and homemade nam pla for dipping. Absolutely delicious.
Some 15 minutes later arrived the crepe, which smelled absolutely divine. As is the norm with this dish, it was served with some long leaf lettuce (romaine, i think), some mint, cilantro, and a big fat leaf of perilla (new to us-- looked like a huge serrated basil leaf, purple on one side, green on the other--upon further research, looks to be a variety of shiso.)
The crepe itself was crispy, redolent of coconut and fried shallots, and had shrimp and pork stuffed inside, as well as the requisite noodles and bean sprouts. boy was this good. Very well balanced, with no flavor out-hustling the other--great symbiosis.
For dinner, we decided to go against the grain and skip the pho, despite some misgivings at first. SO got the rice plate with chargrill pork and egg rolls (com thit nuong, cha gio). Pork was super flavorful-- lots of brown sugar and rice vin, great sear on the pork. Cha gio was crispy and delicious as well. FWIW, it was a colossal amount of food as well for less than $7.
Speaking of colossal, I got the Canh Chua Ca, a traditional sweet and sour vietnamese fish soup. This was without question the highlight of the meal. SO was super excited to see it on the menu, since she hadn't seen it on any Vietnamese menus in the area. Broth was either fish or shrimp stock based (I think shrimp), with lots of tamarind, pineapple, lime, basil, and a few other notes in there that I wasn't able to manage. SUPER fresh catfish, celery, okra, jalepenos, bean sprouts, tomato, and pineapple rounded out a very complex dish. Unbelievably wide range of textures-- it was clear that this dish, like everything else we had eaten to that point, had been made to order. The celery was crunchy and maintained its high bitter note. The broth sang with bright acidity and, despite its delicate nature, a surprising richness from the tamarind. I ate continuously for a good 25 minutes, and I still have almost a quart of leftovers.
After talking to the two sisters who were hurriedly waiting tables in the restaurant, we discovered that their mom is the only cook (with one helper to pick herbs, etc)-- and she makes *everything* to order. While this is a glorious concept to discover for someone like me, I can only hope that it can carry them forward in a tough economy. During our meal, no fewer than 10 people left after they were told before ordering that their meal would take 45 minutes to come out, despite the restaurant not being full. Interestingly enough, we were not told this when we were sat, and I wonder whether we would have stayed... certainly I would have been intrigued. Now I'm sure I would wait as long as it took to eat this excellent food. This is a real gem in what is becoming the best food town in the Triangle. Take a good book or an interesting, charming dining companion to offset the wait, and you won't be sorry.
Durham, NC, Durham, NC