30.6 C
Ho Chi Minh City
Sunday, June 16, 2024

Summer delights in Saigon

By Dennis Khng

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With the scorching sun marking the arrival of summer in HCMC, the hot and humid weather has engulfed the city. The streets and sidewalks radiate heat, making it a challenging day to get through. However, I’ve discovered a fantastic way to escape the heat and satisfy my hunger – indulging in refreshing beverages while exploring Saigon’s diverse range of restaurants and cafes.

One renowned establishment everyone knows about is Annam Gourmet Market. This supermarket chain offers an array of refined groceries from around the world. But what about its café? On a hot afternoon near Me Linh Square, while strolling along Hai Ba Trung Street, I decided to visit the store and explore its café located on the second floor.

Perched sweetly at 16 Hai Ba Trung Street, the café offers a picturesque view of this bustling street corner. With an extensive selection of drinks and food, accompanied by the enticing aromas wafting from the kitchen, I decided to treat myself to a warm minced pork baguette paired with a French Rose – a perfect choice for a warm afternoon.

When my order arrived, I savored the crisp and warm baguette. The slight saltiness of the browned pork was elevated by the sweet mustard dressing. The tartness and soft tannins of the French Rose complemented the flavors of the sandwich splendidly. As I munched away, I couldn’t help but think that it was simply fantastic. If it weren’t for another appointment, I would have gladly lingered longer.

A surprise find on a detour

Speaking of appointments, one morning after concluding a meeting at a coffee shop in the heart of the tourist district on Bui Vien Street, I found myself searching for lunch. It was around 11:30 am, and Bui Vien was packed with cafes, restaurants, clubs, sidewalk bars, street vendors, and bustling bikes and pedestrians. On a whim, I decided to take a detour into a small alley, which led me to Home Saigon Restaurant & Bar. Located at 185/28 Pham Ngu Lao Street, this charming and chic restaurant turned out to be quite a discovery.

The ambiance was cool and relaxing, adorned with vintage black and white photographs of Saigon, ceiling fans, and rustic wooden furniture. The staff made me feel right at home – no kidding! I opted for a simple “Com Tam” dish with pork ribs and an egg, which consisted of broken-grained rice accompanied by grilled pork ribs and a sunny-side-up egg. For an appetizer, I chose the vegetarian fried spring rolls called “Nem Chay Chien Gion.”

Being a wine enthusiast, I couldn’t resist finding the perfect wine to complement my meal. I selected a chilled Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, which was refreshingly delightful. The grilled pork ribs were marinated to perfection, and their flavors harmonized beautifully with the Sauvignon Blanc.

Alternatively, a light red wine like a Pinot Noir or an easy-drinking Italian IGT Sangiovese would have been equally suitable. They even had an impressive range of craft beers that would have paired well with the crunchy and flavorful spring rolls. Without a doubt, this place felt like an oasis.

Satisfying the summertime appetite

The heat certainly stirs up my appetite! While I typically prefer lighter fare for dinner, there’s something about the summer heat that increases my cravings. With the growing presence of western-style grills in the city, I decided to give one a try.

Moo Beef Steak Restaurant, located at 109 Ly Tu Trong Street, caught my attention. Recently opened, following the success of its branches on Dong Khoi, Ngo Duc Ke (District 1), and Cao Trieu Phat (District 7), it boasts an understated and plush interior design, specializing in steaks. The menu also offers an extensive selection of wines. It was 5:30 pm on a sultry May afternoon, and I convinced my companion that it wasn’t too early for dinner.

As we perused the menu, we discovered their offerings of USDA prime beef, Wagyu, and Australian cuts. I opted for the Signature Australian Tenderloin, while my companion selected the Squid Ink Fettuccine with Crab Meat. To complement our choices, we decided on an Australian red – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Malbec. This classic Australian blend exuded a warm and fragrant bouquet of cherries, with a full-bodied, fruit-forward taste profile and a well-balanced tannic structure that perfectly accompanied the beef.

What elevated our experience even further was the thoughtful service

I requested my steak to be cooked to a medium doneness, and they executed it flawlessly. The expertly grilled meat released its beautiful aroma, and the interior was tender, reddish-pink, and not overly bloody. Some restaurants tend to overcook their steaks when ordered medium. We also tried the pasta dish to assess their non-beef offerings, and it surpassed our expectations. The robust flavor of the black squid ink pasta, cooked al dente, paired excellently with the rich and fresh crab meat. It was a delightful combination with the full-bodied Australian red wine.

What elevated our experience even further was the thoughtful service. The staff exhibited good knowledge of the dishes, inquired about our preferred order of service, and even provided small plates as we shared our meals. All these factors contributed to a memorable summer evening out.

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