December 1, 2018

Vietnamese - Saigon House Midtown - A Michael Shum Discovery

My friend, Michael Shum, writes:

Chef Choice of Proteins + Oxtail
By the recommendation of friends and other people on social media, I finally get to Midtown and check out the much-talked about pho at Saigon House. I will cut right to the chase, I was impressed by a diligently produced, high quality bowl of Vietnamese beef noodle soup.
I'm not Vietnamese, I haven't eaten pho in Vietnam, and I didn't grow up eating pho until I moved to Houston 21 years ago. Let's just get that out of the way, so I can save you time to not read this and tell me I don't know anything about pho.
I take a spoonful of broth first and I find it to be more savory, beefy, and having a hint of pepper, compared to some places that make theirs more herbal-tasting or sweet. All the beef proteins in the bowl are good quality meat that have been treated carefully. The thick slice of filet mignon that is done medium-rare and is not chewy pleasantly surprises me, and tells me they use the good stuff. The sliced beef meat balls appear to be house-made, with a nice amount of tendon blended in, which I prefer, because it gives texture when I bite into it. The oxtail is cooked perfectly with a good amount of fat attached. The oxtails pack a lot of flavor and I enjoy picking the meat and fat off the bones. There are also slices of lightly smoked beef brisket that work very well into soup. Instead of overpowering it with too much smokiness, the whole bowl retains a well-balanced flavor. To me, it's like happy pieces of smoked beef char siu that add complexity to the bowl. There is no tendon, or tripe in the Dac Biet version.
I was originally going to try their pho beef brisket, but I think I came out ahead because I got to taste more than just the BBQ brisket. We also asked for a side of smoked Hoisin sauce that comes with the pho BBQ brisket. Man, the smokiness in the Hoisin sauce is brilliant invention, which makes me think that should come standard with pho as a dipping sauce for the meat from now on.
OK, it's different from the traditional bowl of pho from Asiatown. To me, this place takes the best elements from the old school, and adds some progressive twists that actually work and not gimmicky. The bowl is $10 plus $2 extra for the added oxtail, which in my opinion, worth the price, because of the value I'm getting. The only thing that is not my preference is that I like my rice noodles to be a little "under-cooked" which gives a little more bite to them. It's a personal preference and it's no fault of the restaurant. I want to emphasize that the rice noodles itself is fresh and not tangled together like some other careless places.
It's a freaking long-winded review for a bowl of pho, and I think I haven't covered everything, but I'll stop here. I will go back for sure to try their other dishes. Competition is getting fierce in H-Town, you know what I'm saying? The new wave of foodies are now themselves owners and chefs, who can bring much needed fresh takes on traditional dishes. I for one happily welcome innovation and non-conventional way of evolving any traditional cuisine, as long as it works, and establishes their own style and branding. Restaurants might have to work harder if they plan to encourage repeating customers because from the look of things, Houston, because of its diversity, has attracted many talents to show off their culinary chops.

Filet Cube, Onions, Mushroom, Peppers
Immediately after taking my first bite into it, I was impressed by how thoroughly the meat was marinated. Flavors permeated the whole, dice cubes of beef. The outside of the beef cubes were nicely charred with some caramelization. The beef was not artificially tenderized like in some places, nor did it have tough and un-chewable parts. I can't recommend Bò Lúc Lắc from many restaurants, but I'll wholeheartedly make the suggestion to try their version of it.

Saigon House Midtown, 3101 Main St, Houston, TX 77002

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