It’s the middle of midterms and everybody’s procrastination and exhaustion is catching up with them. So the only thing that can really make you happy this time of year is a good meal. All this cold weather and snow has had me craving pho, so I decided to venture not too far out to Saiguette on 106th and Columbus. I really love Vietnamese food, but there are so few of these restaurants in the New York area. I was first introduced to Vietnamese food many years ago while visiting my cousins in Washington D.C., where there is an abundance of restaurants. Saiguette is not the best Vietnamese food, but with the limited options around Columbia, it suffices.
Vietnamese cuisine is popular for its use of fresh ingredients and low amount of oil, which also makes it considered one of the healthier cuisines around the world. The most common flavors are lemongrass, ginger, mint, lime, and chili. Each dish has either a variety of these flavors or a strong feature of one. Some interesting philosophy behind Vietnamese food is that, traditionally, each dish incorporated five fundamental tastes: sour, spicy, salty, bitter, and sweet, to correspond to the five organs: large and small intestines, gall and urinary bladders, and stomach. Clearly, there is a deeper meaning behind the food and its taste, which makes eating it more of an experience.
Saiguette is a really small restaurant better for take out, than eating in. So the good thing about it is that everything comes very well packaged. Their pho is simple, but good. I would request more toppings be included: more lime, basil and sprouts, because these ingredients are what freshen the dish up. The only complaint I have about their pho is the oiliness of the broth, which leaves you feeling heavy rather than cleansed after eating it.
I also ordered the summer rolls, which lacked flavor. They were filled with a lot of rice noodles, but not too much shrimp or mint, which is where the flavor comes from. However, the peanut sauce that it comes with makes up for this.
When there is a craving for pho, nothing can quite replace it. But, if pho is not a priority, the best things to order at Saiguette are those that include grilled meat of some sort, all of which are marinated with a mouth-watering blend of lemongrass, garlic, cilantro, ginger, scallion, chili, and lime. On the bright side, their grilled chicken thigh and banh mi are delicious. The grilled, boneless chicken thigh entrée is a very generous portion and well priced. It has a nice sweet, barbequed flavor to it. There is a sweet, chili sauce that comes on the side, with some cut up vegetables and rice. Overall, the dish is satisfying and worth ordering. The banh mi sandwiches are really good at Saiguette. I did not order one when I went this time, but I have had it before and highly recommend it. The bread is light and crunchy, with a deliciously well-flavored grilled meet inside in addition to vegetables and a spicy mayo spread. A friend of mine ordered the chicken satay, which was very similar to the grilled chicken thigh, but with peanuts, and she enjoyed her meal.
Note for vegetarians, Saiguette does not offer the most variety in veggie options, so I would steer clear. My friend who is a vegetarian came with me and ended up ordering a noodle dish that was very plain, because the sauce could not be put on since it contained meat. However, I have looked on the menu since my meal at Saiguette, and they have a vegetable section, but I am not sure how it tastes. So there may be choices, and we happened to order the wrong thing.
I do not want to give Saiguette such a bad rep, because it is definitely an easy and quick place for take-out and the food really is not that bad. If you know what you like, then that is what is best to order. Do not go expecting a delicious, traditional Vietnamese meal and you will not be disappointed. I seem to always build up Vietnamese meals in my mind, because I so rarely get them. Hopefully, this kind of cuisine will become more popular in the area and there will be more options in the future!