The American dream 

Miss Saigon fulfills an aspiration with experienced touch

After more than 20 years cooking Vietnamese and Chinese dishes in restaurants across Vietnam and the western United States, Phu Nguyen is clearly excited to be running his own at last. He's all smiles when he appears through a swinging door to speak with his son Kwon, who's the young, all-purpose greeter, waiter and busser in Miss Saigon Bistro's dining room, dominated by a beautiful, five-foot-long Asian print of cranes on a tree limb.

When I inquire about the unique, firm texture of the fine fried noodles in my crispy egg noodle seafood stir-fry ($10.75), Phu and another animated cook explain that the noodles are house-made, a process that only small-volume service allows. It's one of the finer touches you have to glean directly from the kitchen hands, as almost all of our questions of Kwon sent him to the back of the house for answers.

Though super-friendly, Kwon seemed a bit disengaged from father's methods and a few of his own duties. A soup was forgotten, utensils and B&B plates weren't dropped with our tasty cheese wontons ($3.95), and even upon Kwon's return from the kitchen, the extent of the description I got for the stir-fry's sweet and delicious sauce was something to the effect of, "Hoisin sauce and a whole bunch of stuff."

Where knowledge is lacking, or perhaps just being guarded or lost in translation and busyness, at least the product itself largely succeeds. And at the end of a meal, I'd rather leave happy with a little mystery lingering than dissatisfied with all the answers.

Certainly not everything about Miss Saigon's menu is mysterious. The Chinese offerings, like a perfectly average mound of onion slivers and thin-sliced Mongolian beef strips next to rice ($5.75 lunch/$7.95 dinner), are textbook, as are tofu ($6.95) and combination ($7.95; grilled pork chop, chicken and shrimp) Vietnamese bun (rice noodle bowls). Our only wish for them was more of the yummy, tangy homemade sauce on the tofu and more dish-defining garnish (peanuts, mint and cilantro, specifically) on both.

Nor is gumshoe work required on the special combination plate ($8.95), which features grilled shrimp, chicken and pork — all nicely spiced, but fairly dry — with green onions next to a round rice heap and a better-than-average egg roll. (A plate of three makes a nice starter at $6.95, as do two tight shrimp and pork spring rolls for $3.95.)

Miss Saigon's beef and meatball pho ($5.95) could've again used a little more herb garnish, but came with ample thin-sliced beef slivers and sausage-like hunks of meatball with just a hint of fennel flavor. To enliven the somewhat mild broth and vermicelli tangle, drop in the provided fresh jalapeño rounds or squirt in some Sriracha — the dish is what you make of it.

My aforementioned seafood egg noodle stir-fry (also available in a non fried-noodle version) and Miss Saigon's version of calamari ($9.95) proved the most standout dishes. In the fry, an array of vegetables, shrimp, scallops, squid, crab and mussels all picked up the mystery sweet sauce beautifully.

The squid, though not the freshest locally, offered a fun study in extreme crunch — think biting into a pork rind — and sported a tremendous, lime-dominant flavor accented by green onions and hot red peppers. By phone later, Kwon was able to relay Phu's use of potato starch, lime custard powder and Country Crock to achieve the unique texture.

So some mysteries get solved, while others may not. Either way, Miss Saigon deserves investigation.


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