Showing posts with label kim's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label kim's. Show all posts

Monday, September 1, 2014

Saigon Pearl

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.

+ Returning Bites: Banh Mi at Saigon Pearl

+ Returning BItes: Hu Tieu Kho Noodles

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Vietnamese Pho Soup

During our first Christmas together, R and I went up north to meet her parents for the first time.  It seems that, like many cultures, food is synonymous with hospitality in Vietnam, as I was stuffed to the gills with homemade eggrolls, wontons, sweets, and one very special soup; pho.  It is a broth developed for hours or days, then poured in a bowl of rice noodles and, in authentic cases, with servings of raw beef over it that you can push into the broth to cook directly.  It is invariably served in massive bowls, and when any restaurant advertises a large then that bowl can probably hold a family of 4 with pets.

Finding great pho has become something of a mission, as good Vietnamese food can be hard to come by. There are only a few decent places around here, and (I'm assuming) due to health standards they can't serve raw beef on the soup so you aren't going to get the real experience.  That said, here are the 3 best Vietnamese restaurants in the area we are aware of, in no particular order:

1.  Van's Vietnamese Restaurant:  This was the first Vietnamese restaurant I'd ever been to.  It isn't bad, per se, but I feel the soup is pretty forgettable.  Again maybe this is because I'd had the real thing fairly recently, so it's possible I'm being unfair, I just don't think Van when I get an itch for good pho or, for that matter, anything.  That said, it's certainly decent and a good introduction to Vietnamese food, as the grilled pork R let me try off her plate was delicious.  If you go here, try the entrees and leave the soup for one of the next places.

2.  Saigon Spring:  Based in Clifton Park, Saigon Spring is definitely the nicest looking restaurant, with a full bar and good sized, affordable menu.  The pho here is pretty good, there's a lightness to the broth that makes it good for lunch on a cool day.  Though the broth isn't very hearty, it is flavorful and enjoyable to eat, and the portions (as with all pho) are very generous.  If you try any of the entrees, I would again suggest a pork and rice dish (Vietnamese recipes for marinating pork are amazing, just as an aside).  Service is good, which I appreciate as I used to be a waiter.

3.  Kim's Vietnamese Restaurant:  This place just opened a few weeks ago, and we finally managed to get there and try it out this past weekend.  The inside is a little dull and poorly lit, and it seems like they're still setting things up inside.  It was also almost empty on a Friday night which was disappointing, because the pho was really good.  The broth was very rich and hearty, so much so I couldn't even finish it (which has never happened), so it's definitely more of a dinner place.  The flavors they worked into it were amazing, however, and the amount was good as well.  If there was one weakness, the beef seemed pretty dry and overcooked though the beef balls were excellent.  I can't suggest any other dishes as we've only been once, but if you like soup you owe it to yourself to try it here.  Also, the servers were very attentive and courteous without being obtrusive, so in spite of the decor I was very pleasantly surprised by the experience.

Does anyone else have suggestions for good Vietnamese?  As always, leave it in the comments. -J