As the weather cools down, there's nothing more satisfying than a hot bowl of pho. A few weeks ago, we were dead set on satisfying a craving at Kim's but to our surprise, it was closed for renovations. One week later we saw an Instagram from Bread and Honey that they were testing banh mi bread for a restaurant called Saigon Pearl located at the very same location as the former Kim's Vietnamese. Timing was perfect this weekend as my parents were in town and Saigon Pearl was officially opened for business. The newly renovated space was a scene out of Restaurant Impossible, with modern furnishings and a vibrant glass water fountain upon entry. We weren't quite sure whether it was an upgrade for Kim's until we tasted the pho broth. Each Vietnamese chef has their own unique recipe and much to our dismay, the broth was not the same. Leave it to my mom to find out that it was indeed under new ownership. Seasonings and spices were weak and the soup lacked the distinctive flavors of classic pho. While there were generous cuts of eye round, brisket, and meatballs, the soup was missing that rich, beefy flavor we always look for. Granted it was only day two of a brand-new restaurant, we're chalking it up to grand opening kinks.
Even though my parents just brought down Montreal banh mi sandwiches for us, we were too curious to pass up on the $5 Saigon Pearl banh mi. As a grand opening special, sandwiches were two for $5 and we went with choices of Vietnamese meatballs and bbq pork. I suspected that the bread was not quite Bread and Honey's as it was too short for a banh mi, not crusty like the usual loaves, and the crumb too soft. It's no Montreal banh mi but the filling was spot on. Both were very flavorful and the meatball in tomato sauce (xiu mai) was a welcomed banh mi option around here. We have high hopes for bun thit nuong noodle bowls with these kinds of flavors. As for banh mi, while it's not the bread we were hoping for, it's a good enough option for Albany. At least the pork banh mi still had familiar flavors with a schmear of pate with crunchy pickled veggies. A little toasting could go a long way if they're sticking to this bread but perhaps the perfect bread is still in the works.
Whether it was a complimentary grand opening treat or not, I liked the basket of fried shrimp chips (banh phong tom)a la chips and salsa at Mexican joints that came before our entrees. We also got complimentary fried egg rolls and these were on par in flavor to my mom's and were quite tasty. Although we're sad to see Kim's go, it's nice to see another Vietnamese option in the Capital Region.I think Albany is ready for real Vietnamese flavors without muting authentic flavors. Here's to hoping the restaurant makes some adjustments.
Happy Blogiversary! It's hard to believe that Chopsticks Optional is one year old. We've come a long way since our very first post about our favorite Capital Region sushi spots. How fitting that we would write about seafood again exactly one year to the date. Since J has developed quite the skill for shucking oysters,fin-your fishmongerhas been our purveyors for the best fresh and sustainable seafood needs. We were hooked at first bite at the lobster roll taste off last summer. We've also had much success with take-home meals (they prep, you cook!), particularly a halibut with citrusy tomatoes and capers. Since Chef Katie does a great job of complementing flavors, we thought we'd give lunch a go at the Guilderland shop. The menu is available for takeout or eat-in with regular items like salmon burgers and crabcakes with rotating soups and weekend specials. The fridge and cases are usually stocked with various sides, seafood salads, and house-smoked fish too. But we've had our eye on the fish tacos for quite awhile now and couldn't pass up on that plus the day's fish fry special.