Thursday, October 23, 2008

Ngon Bistro

I originally heard about Ngon Bistro from one of my favorite blogs. The review seemed favorable and I love Vietnamese food and trying new things. I jumped in my car with my favorite dining partner in shotgun and headed over to St. Paul. I had pretty high hopes based on the menu and what I'd heard from people I view as credible sources. The dining room was full for a Tuesday, but we managed to get a table with no reservation. I perused the drink list and instantly saw they had Kayak Kolsch. My eyebrows raised and my liver giggled. I ordered the beer and put in an order for their pork lettuce wraps (we were aggressively hungry) and started perusing the rest of their menu.

The service was friendly, but odd. At times we had up to 3 people all over us and at other times it felt like we were completely ignored. Regardless our appetizer was out before we even ordered our entrees, so the kitchen is a speedy one. The menu is intriguing and inventive. It's laced with local and sustainable ingredients (Thousand Hills beef and Kadejan chicken) and features both traditional Vietnamese favorites as well as some new and complex dishes. I'm a huge fan of Pho so I ordered a bowl of the chicken Pho and Jess settled on a broken rice with three kinds of pork dish as it came highly recommended from one of our various servers.

When the lettuce wraps came out we had the plate for the wraps, our appetizer plates, 2 drinks, 2 waters a condiment rack and all 3 of our menus on the table. It was hard to fit everything on and it became difficult to eat anything. It would have been nice for them to take our order so we could get rid of everything, but we were almost too hungry to care. We tore into the delicious looking wraps, and noticed instantly that something was completely wrong. The skewered strips of pork were essentially all fat. The crisp veggies and rich peanut sauce were totally lost because of the mushy, chewy strips of fat. We basically had a mouthful of salt and nasty. I am the founder and President of the Clean Plate Club, and we were so grossed out by the pork that we just sort of picked at everything else and left half the items on the plate. It was seriously disappointing.

Our Pho and broken rice dishes came out soon after they cleared the appetizers, and we dove right in hoping to find satisfaction in our entrees. I will say that my Pho was huge, packed with chicken and very good. It was very flavorful and hearty and the crunchy jalapenos and bean sprouts offered an explosion of freshness to contrast the comforting soulfulness of the soup. It was just what I was looking for.

Jess' dish was just OK. The pork loin, egg and rice all worked well together. I though the cucumber and tomato offered a nice twist of freshness similar to my Pho, but Jess didn't care for it - I think it's sort of an acquired thing. The other pork items were BBQ'd pork and pork skin, and I have to say the mixture was pretty garlicky and actually kind of cold which I thought was really odd. It was just sort of an odd dish that came highly recommended from our server and it was a bit disappointing.
I wouldn't go back to Ngon Bistro. The people were nice, but the food was hit or miss. Lettuce wraps were the biggest layup in terms of complexity on the menu and they were awful. If the ingredients don't look good, they shouldn't go out, and I highly doubt sending us 4 strips of gristle was an oversight.

Between the fresh Vietnamese flavors and all the sustainable ingredients, I had set high expectations and they just came short. The Pho was great, but there are plenty of great places on Eat Street where I can go to get a good bowl of this pleasant dish that are closer to home and will scratch my itch for something a little different.

Happy Eating,


1 comment:

kat said...

Thanks for the review. We've yet to really dive into the ethnic restaurants here since moving from San Francisco. Its always hard to know which are worth it.

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