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Trip report -- Asian fusion (Sea Mi, Saigon City, Unicorn, La Rose)

Prabhakar Ragde | Aug 27, 200501:02 AM

Sea Mi -- They're really trying to please, and the emphasis on fresh
organic ingredients is commendable, but this place is just too amateur
and uneven. Crab dumplings were fried wontons with a gooey filling,
and I am not convinced it wasn't surimi; it was diced too finely for
me to tell. The Thai fish cakes were good, and the pad thai was quite
good (and generous for the price), but green papaya salad was far too
sweet and not tart/hot enough. It had been properly pounded, but
wasn't complex enough. Two of the three mains we ordered turned out to
be fairly ordinary stir-frys with the same diced peppers and broccoli
in them; the third was an off-the-menu special of wild Alaskan salmon,
which came as a small portion, simply steamed, with steamed vegetables
and a small dish of hollandaise. I know that fish like this needs to
be prepared simply, but this was far too austere, and these mains were
costing us $18 each. We were offered fried banana with ice cream for
dessert, but when we demurred, we were comped a refreshing melon
sorbet (frozen into the shape of a slice of melon) and the frozen
strawberries with cream inside, which were okay. They offered me a
comment book and told me to be honest, and I was. If they put some of
their obvious energy into a bit more menu development and some
consistency, they have a chance, but I'd say it's an outside one,
considering the competition. Saigon City (see below) has a similar
style and price range, and is superior on all counts. Oh, and the
wine/beer list is a horror. $7 for a glass of generic BV chardonnay?
What are they thinking?

Saigon City -- They were never less than half-full on the Sunday night
that we dropped in, and sometimes close to full, which is
heartening. You can order Vietnamese standards, get high-quality
renditions of same, and go away impressed without really noticing what
is special about this place, namely the more expensive items on the
menu. Not that it is expensive; we're talking a $10 banana flower
salad, a lovely composed dish reminiscent of the ginger salad at Burma
Superstar. (It doesn't taste the same, but it has a similar
complexity.) The caramelized sea bass hot pot and red curry duck at
$16 are also exceptional; the latter contains two whole legs, and the
accompanying sauce is not thin or one-dimensional, but of a perfect
consistency and taste. We remembered the tiramisu from last time, and
ordered a few to share; the chocolate sauce drizzled over the top was
unnecessary, but the dessert struck a good balance between dry and
soggy, smooth and rich without being cloying. Why is this place flying
below the Chowhound radar? The one thing I would like to see here is
more in the way of daily specials and innovation.

Unicorn -- The menu hadn't changed here since our last visit, but
there were a couple of daily specials, which we passed up in favour of
an order of six types of specialty rolls prepared for three ($27),
caramelized sea bass, smoked eggplant, and penang baba curry duck. The
rolls, which come with five dipping sauces, are pretty good; I could
probably eat just those and be happy. The sea bass was a tiny portion,
though flavourful; the smoked eggplant ($10) is the sleeper on the menu,
really wonderful. The duck we ordered wasn't as good as the one we
didn't order (the Five Spice Duck Mosaic); it consisted of two
complete legs, slightly undercooked so they were hard to get off the
bone, and the black coconut rice that was supposed to come with it
went missing. Service was much better than on our last visit, but
they're still flogging their silly expensive sparkling water in the chic
cylindrical bottle. Still too many pretentions; I'd be happier if they
took a slightly more modest tone, and did some fine-tuning of the menu.

La Rose Bistro -- I wanted to like this place from the beginning, and
on our last visit, it seemed it had finally made it. But this time,
the menu, while ambitious, was shorn of most of the flights of fancy
we remembered, and in tiny print on the bottom of the menu was the
name of a new "executive chef". Uh-oh. We gave it a chance; we should
have run. At least it was just lunch. Duck confit in cherry reduction
with diced root vegetables ($12) was one drumstick, with the reduction
poured over it so that the crisp skin had gone soggy. The root
vegetables were to be found under a stack of aligned baby lettuce
leaves, undressed. That seemed odd, but my younger daughter ordered a
crabcake ($5) which came with way overdressed mesclun ("it's all sugar
and lime," she said), and a goat cheese salad which consisted of one
small crostini spread with a very young and totally ordinary goat
cheese (she thought it was Boursin) and another pile of exactly the
same overdressed mesclun. Caesar salad, made with pallid hearts of
romaine, had no flavour except for the single strip of anchovy placed
on top. I wanted to run away, but the kids wanted to try dessert (they
haven't yet learned to control the impulse to eat more when the food
isn't satisfying): apple and mixed-berry cobbler had undercooked fruit
under soggy bits of dough, like the worst of cobbler and crisp
combined. And isn't vanilla bean gelato supposed to have black specks
in it and an intense flavour? The horror, the horror.


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