One of the greatest and most memorable meals that I ate in Saigon was at a little-known French restaurant named Le Toit Gourmand. The restaurant, which is housed in an expansive villa in Tan Binh District, is owned by a Frenchman named Giles (above) and his Vietnamese wife. Although Le Toit is a bit of a trek from the center of town, those willing to make the trip out yonder are handsomely and deliciously rewarded by Giles.
A few days before farewelling Saigon, The Astronomer and I headed to Le Toit for one final feast with our two bestest friends, Hawk and Nina. We arrived at 8 pm and were seated at a table for four poolside. It was an uncharacteristically cool night thanks to a late evening shower that doused us on our ride here.
At Le Toit, Giles does all of the cooking and waiting, while his minions serve the guests. Throughout the meal, Giles left his post in the kitchen to chat, mostly in French, with his adoring diners. Both Nina and Hawk have impressive command of the the French language and were able to speak to Giles with ease. The Astronomer and I couldn’t partake in the conversation because we didn’t speak a lick of French and English was passed over like a stale bagel. This was perhaps the first and only occasion where I have regretted taking Spanish in high school.
Meals at Le Toit are not hasty affairs. Each course is brought out at a liesurely pace, while conversation and wine flow like the Saigon River during the rainy season. Or like free-style rappers—your choice.
Our first appetizer of the evening came highly recommended by Giles—scrambled eggs with black truffles. We have no idea where Giles obtained his truffles, but dang, these eggs were silky, fluffy, buttery and unbelievably truffle-y. The woodsy essense of the tubers (Thanks, Jon!) permeated every morsel. Even though The Astronomer usually doesn’t like eggs or forest tubers, Giles’ pitch was so convincing that he decided to give it a go. I like how The Astronomer constantly re-tries food that he dislikes to test if his tastes have changed. Unfortunately for him (but quite fortunate for me), his tastes hadn’t changed so he passed his portion on to me. Woot. Two is better than one when it comes to truffles!
As part of our prix fixe meal, we each picked three additional appetizers from the menu. My second course was a plate of house-cured smoked salmon with mangoes. The flavors were so fresh and so clean, clean—a squeeze of fresh lime juice lightened up the already refreshing dish.
My third course was a single delicate ravioli stuffed with succulent shredded beef. While I could have easily downed it in two bites, I stretched it out to five bites in order to savor it fully.
My final appetizer was a cooling ceviche with tender pieces of white fish, zuchinni and fresh basil. The addition of lime juice made this course taste too similar to the smoked salmon.
We each ordered unique combinations of appetizers to suit our individual tastes. Although there was a bit of overlap, we ended up sampling a good portion of the available options between the four of us. Hawkins, Nina and The Astronomer each chose the foie gras stuffed spring roll (another highly-praised dish by Giles) for one of their appetizers. The spring roll was placed atop a mound of apple compote with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar along the plate’s perimeter. The Astronomer shared a bite with me. I found the combination of deep-fried oiliness with melty foie too fatty and overwhelming.
Another one of The Astronomer’s appetizers was lump crab meat with tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, zucchini and cilantro. The crab meat and vegetables were very fresh, but it seems that Giles is a one trick pony when it comes to raw appetizers.
The Astronomer’s final appetizer of smoked salmon stuffed with ricotta cheese was pleasant and creamy, but once again fell victim to redundancy. Didn’t we just eat a light fish dish garnished with basil, olive oil and vinegar? There’s no doubt that Giles’ raw appetizers are tasty, but he should either mix up his ingredients or advise patrons to not order too many similar dishes.
Nina’s leek ravioli appetizer wasn’t as rich as my beef one, but just as delicate and tender. Seeing and experiencing foam in Vietnam is a sight for sore eyes.
Hawkins’ lamb lasagna, a deconstructed affair comprised of savory and moist lamb hunks paired with tangy tomatoes, was one of the best appetizers of the evening. Who says lasagna has to include sheets of pasta?
My main entree was an unbelievably delectable plate of beef cheeks topped with seared foie gras, sitting in a pool of salty beef gravy. The cheeks were no-knife-required tender and the lightly seared foie put the dish over the top. Oh, Giles—I forgive you for your raw appetizer misstep because you truly know how to execute beef cheeks well.
Hawkins’ stuffed rabbit loin entree was also swoon-worthy. The lightly-dressed meslun mix and sauteed vegetables offered a nice contrast to the heavy meat, potatoes and gravy.
Nina and The Astronomer each ordered the lemon fish with vegetables for their entree. The dish was not as citrusy as they had hoped, but the bed of lentils and grilled vegetables, along with the deep-fried basil, were very satisfying.
Queso! Fromage! Pho mai! The cheese course arrived after we finished our entrees. We were all stuffed to the gills after four appetizers and one entree each, but there is always room for cheese, especially home made cheeses with black truffles and scallions! We smeared the creamy cheese on brown bread, but it was definitely mild enough to eat straight up. The truffle confetti floating in olive oil was difficult to pick up with the bread so I made good use of my fork. The plate of hairy cheeses was a bit too “rustic” and French for me. They weren’t exactly stinky, just unpleasant to my palate and not to mention strange looking.
Although we each had the option of ordering our own desserts as part of the prix fixe menu, we decided to share a couple in order to avoid popping our motorbike tires on the ride home. Nina picked the Tarte Tatin because it’s one of her all-time favorite sweets. The warm and sweet tatin was served with ice cream and topped with a buttery caramel sauce. Great pick.
The Astronomer chose the raspberry mille feuille because he loves, and I mean loves raspberries. The mille feuille was beautifully presented and tasted even better than it looked. In retrospect, we all should have ordered our own desserts because the ones we had were truly stellar. Giles rocks!
After dinner we had a photo shoot by the pool because it’s gonna be a while until we unite again. In the words of Hawk from a recent e-mail correspondence, “all your posts are making me super nostal, not to mention ridiculously hungry.” Well, here’s another one!
Le Toit Gourmand
31/4 Hoang Viet Street
Tan Binh District, Ho Chi Minh City
UPDATE: Le Toit Gourmand moved in early January 2011 and changed its name and to “TROIS GOURMANDS.” The new restaurant is located at 18 Tong Huu Dinh Street, Thao Dien Ward, District 2, HCMC. Phone No. 84 8 3744 4585.