March 21, 2023

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Saigon Restaurant
85 Clarence St., 613-695-8887,
Open: Wednesday and Thursday 4 to 10 p.m., Friday 4 to midnight, Saturday 11:30 a.m. to midnight, Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., closed Monday, Tuesday
Costs: $8 to $23 for snacks, $14 to $32 for cocktails
Entry: ramp at entrance, however washrooms in basement

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The Saigon Restaurant has been open both for many years or for a 12 months, relying on the way you take a look at it.

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The Clarence Avenue eatery was one among Ottawa’s first Vietnamese eating places to open outdoors of Chinatown, relationship again to not less than the mid-Nineteen Nineties when it transplanted the acquainted dishes of Somerset Avenue — imposing bowls of steaming-hot pho, salad rolls and spring rolls, lemongrass-scented stir-fries — to the ByWard Market.

However the Huynh household that had run the restaurant for 20 years determined to retire, and final 12 months, a youthful technology took over. When Christine Huynh, her husband Jason Hoang and Cuong Nguyen stepped up, they remade the Saigon into what they name “Ottawa’s first Vietnamese cocktail bar.” Not solely is made-over enterprise extra distinctive and up to date. It’s additionally extra in line with the vibe of party-hearty Clarence Avenue.

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Chicken skewers. Peter Hum photo
Rooster skewers. Peter Hum photograph Photograph by Peter Hum /jpg

Now, the inside is full-on Ottawa funky, with eye-popping white-on-black murals by Robbie Lariviere, higher generally known as falldowng, adorning partitions and surrounding blonde wooden tables. There’s a patio overlooking Clarence Avenue, the place we had a enjoyable, informal and inexpensive night on a sizzling August night time.

Now, Saigon’s drinks menu touts 9 signature cocktails and a half-dozen traditional cocktails, plus just a few fundamental bottled beers and entry-level wines accessible by the glass or bottle. Now, the much-slimmed-down meals menu contains greater than a dozen gadgets, some broadly accessible at different Vietnamese eateries but additionally just a few that Saigon can declare as their very own.

Shrimp salad rolls. Peter Hum photo
Shrimp salad rolls. Peter Hum photograph Photograph by Peter Hum /jpg

To the credit score of each on-line menus, the small print offered are scrupulously full. Descriptions of signature cocktails give each element, together with the quantity of alcohol per drink, the manufacturers of spirits used, different substances, and a sentence or two of again story. There are photographs of those drinks as nicely, in order that you understand what you’ll be posing along with your Instagram web page. The meals menu is equally complete.

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Tacos. Peter Hum photo
Tacos. Peter Hum photograph Photograph by Peter Hum /jpg

Nonetheless, I didn’t know fairly what to anticipate once I ordered that “Pho Outdated Usual” ($16), which earned its title from its house-made pho bitters, concocted from six fragrant substances usually added to make the traditional beef broth. The ensuing bourbon-based cocktail was an satisfying, if subtly unique spin on a traditional.

The Tiger Shrike ($15) was a cultured tweak of a gin Campari bitter wherein lychee prominently starred. The Darkish ‘n’ Stormy buff amongst ordered one among her favourites ($15) and admired its steadiness of rum and ginger beer.

Over a number of waves of meals, winners emerged.

Saigon sliders ($17 for 2) lived as much as the menu’s hype, which known as them the restaurant’s hottest merchandise. Hefty for sliders however small burgers, these crowd-pleasers received us over with their mixture of moist, well-seasoned pork patties, lettuce, a pickled papaya-carrot slaw and spicy mayo. Saigon tacos ($7), made with grilled meats or shrimp or tofu in smooth corn tortillas and equally garnished, have been practically nearly as good.

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Pork-patty sliders. Peter Hum photo
Pork-patty sliders. Peter Hum photograph Photograph by Peter Hum /jpg

We additionally nibbled on skewers of these grilled meats (hen, beef, pork stomach, shrimp, tofu, two skewers for $9), and this stuff, which you’d extra generally discover on prime of a bowl of vermicelli as a part of a whole meal, have been simply advantageous on their very own, enhanced with sweetness, char and an additional layer of umami because of some fish sauce.

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Morsels of pork stomach ($10), served on a mound of rice, delivered extra of that impossible to resist flavour profile in a extra comforting, substantial package deal.

Frivolously bread and fried hen pores and skin chips ($8) have been a advantageous bar snack. Salad rolls ($8 for 2), whether or not made with grilled shrimp or tofu, have been advantageous and contemporary.

Chicken skin chips. Peter Hum photo
Rooster pores and skin chips. Peter Hum photograph Photograph by Peter Hum /jpg

There have been simply two letdowns. First, the kitchen was out of the meat tartare dish, which intrigued us with its Vietnamese-French fusion premise.

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Ume sour and mini pho with brisket. Peter Hum photo
Ume bitter and mini pho with brisket. Peter Hum photograph Photograph by Peter Hum /jpg

Second, the miniature pho ($11) underwhelmed. Its brisket meat was dry and hard and the broth, whereas pleasing, may have been richer. On condition that pho is often an outsized delight brimming with outsized flavours and stimulations, the long-lasting soup of Vietnam should essentially lose one thing when it shrinks.

So, if pho if what you’re craving, you’re finest suggested to go elsewhere, or one way or the other journey again in time to go to the restaurant that Saigon was once. However for cocktails and small bites filled with Vietnamese flavours, particularly open air as summer season wanes, the brand new Saigon makes a fairly compelling case.

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