Despite seeing it every time I visit the historic Senator Theatre (which sits right across the street), I'd never been to Saigon Remembered, a Vietnamese restaurant located at 5857 York Road in Baltimore (410-435-1200). That changed last night when some friends wanted to meet there for a bite, and hopefully the first installment of our monthly dinner club.
The menu features a wide selection of dishes, from appetizers and soups to vegetarian and meat or fish-packed entrees. There's pretty much something for everyone. Based on reviews that I'd read, we decided to start out with three orders of their Basil Mussels, which recently won the Best in Baltimore award for Best Mussels. Though they weren't as addictive as those I had at Mama's on the Half Shell a couple months ago, I can see how these meaty, spicy treats have their proponents. At $7.50 per order, the appetizer is large enough to be shared as a starter.
The restaurant also has a reputation for outstanding Chef's Rolls, overstuffed handfuls of meat, fish or vegetables wrapped in rice paper. Ranging in price from about $5 to $10, the rolls make an excellent second appetizer and come two per plate and already cut in half for easy dipping in the accompanying sauce (usually peanut or fish) and/or sharing with your companions. I tried both the seafood roll (packed with shrimp, scallop, squid and vermicilli) and the eatery's namesake roll which was packed with hunks of pork.
Entrees were large (leftovers from two of the six ended up being boxed up and taken home). Shrimp on Sugar Cane featured the most intriguing presentation with jumbo shrimp butterflied and then pounded out thin and wrapped around a large stalk of sugar cane. Cool to look at, though the shrimp was considered a little dry by those who tried it.
An enormous, eggy crepe was stuffed with pork and vegetables, but lacked seasoning. Plus, the crepe part was a bit like a slightly greasy, overcooked omelette. The lemon grass chicken was also a big hit – a huge plate of thinly sliced chicken in a rich, spicy sauce with overtones of lemon grass and just the right amount of heat.
My entree, Vietnamese Steak (aka the much more fun to say Shaking Beef) was just as advertised and well worth the $14 price. Cubed, marinated steak is sauteed with spices and onions, then served on a bed of lettuce with steamed rice on the side. Spiced just right, the addition of a little chili sauce gave the dish a lip-tingling zip that left me wanting more. Tender, meaty cubes all but melted in my mouth and featured none of the tough, chewy nature sometimes found in Asian dishes.
Restaurant includes a bar (complete with bamboo and thatched grass) featuring Thai and other Asian beers, as well as wine and mixed drinks.
Dinner was moderately priced and came to about $35 per person with one and a half appetizers, drinks and entree. Service wasn't lightning fast even on what appeared to be a slow Thursday night, but we never felt like we were being rushed either. Mussels and chef's rolls were definitely the highlight of the meal, though everybody said they'd go back again.
Read the Baltimore City paper review of Saigon Remembered here.