January 9, 2008
6C Tu Xuong Street
District 3, Ho Chi Minh City
Sugar Apple smoothie, Pepsi (Tet edition)
Crab and Asparagus Soup (20,000 VND)
Squid Stuffed with Meat (55,000 VND)
Thit Kho Nuoc Dua (40,000 VND)
Rau Muong Xao Toi (30,000 VND)
Com Dap (20,000 VND)
Mi Xao Mem Hai San (50,000 VND)
Back in July when The Astronomer and I first arrived in Saigon, my aunt and uncle took us to Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn for dinner. Since we were guests, we left the ordering up to our hosts. Our meal was fairly unmemorable because their selections didn’t exactly suit our tastes.
Since our first visit, I read an interview with Anthony Bourdain in The Guardian where he proclaimed Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn as “the one place visitors shouldn’t miss” –
Com Nieu Sai Gon, a restaurant run by the impressive Madame Ngoc, is my favorite place in town. Everything is good – and travelers who’ve followed up on my recommendation to eat there never return unsatisfied. They specialize in clay-pot-baked rice which, after shattering the crockery, they spin, sizzling hot, through the air over the heads of the customers then dress with sauce and scallions. Always my best meal in Saigon. Just order “everything” and eat yourself silly.
I’m on the fence about Bourdain in general, but he convinced me to give Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn a second go. The Astronomer and I, along with our friends Thomas and Zach, returned last week to eat ourselves silly, or something like that.
For the past month, the restaurant has been operating in a refurbished space behind the original Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn. The new digs are seriously beautiful—dark wood, subtle decor, exposed brick walls and comfy chairs. Easily the most well-designed space I’ve seen in all of Saigon. With such a gorgeous interior, we had high expectations for the eats to come.
Zach and Tom started off with the crab and asparagus soup, which they both thought was done well. I find this style of soup a little too gelatinous and mild.
The squid stuffed with meat arrived next. We were expecting something like this, but instead we received chicken taquitos cut into small pieces. Whatta let down! The kitchen should have focused on the entree rather than the garnish. Who needs blossoming carrot and turnip flowers when the actual dish sucks? It’s as if they made these little doodads to distract diners. This was far and away the worst thing I have eaten in the country.
After a rough start, our remaining selections were all executed well. However, like our first experience, nothing was truly memorable. The thit kho was under-seasoned and lacking in the thit department. The morning glory sauteed in garlic was fine, but any fool can execute this dish. I must admit that the com dap was delicious with its combination of scallion oil, nuoc mam and sesame seeds over crispy rice. The seafood pan-fried noodles were good as well, with a fair ratio of protein to carbohydrates.
Cơm Niêu Sài Gòn is the perfect eatery for those squeamish about street food or in dire need of AC and pretty surroundings. I think Zach summed it best when he said, “I’d go here again, but only with my parents to pick up the bill.” Agreed.