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April 19, 2011

Alice Eats: M-Saigon Vietnamese Noodle House

370 Shelburne Road, South Burlington 802-865-8383

IMG_2146Ten restaurants in the Burlington area are now serving Vietnamese food. My regular stops include Pho Pasteur for the eponymous noodle soup, 99 Asian Market Eatery for banh mi and groceries, and Saigon Bistro for salted lime juice and the best bun bar-none.

It had been a couple of years since I'd last been to M-Saigon for more than one of their delectable lemongrass chicken banh mi, and last night I learned there were some big changes.

The hip-looking black-background, flame-themed menu had pages full of not only Vietnamese but also Thai dishes. For good measure, it had the excellent typo at right. Personally, when I look for crapmeat, I want nothing but the real thing, but to each his own.

IMG_2147 There were also lots of specials written on the three whiteboard menus, including everything from Chinese lo mein to Korean bulgogi.

I ordered a plate of cha gio (egg rolls) to see how they compared to those at previous visits. The pork filling had a pleasant umami robustness to its flavor. It was also slightly sweet, which made the hoisin dipping sauce on the side unnecessary, even off-putting.

The finely chopped carrots and daikon were admirably pickled. The vinegar flavor was stronger than the slaw at most area Vietnamese restaurants, but the vegetable was  crisp.

IMG_2148 For a cross-section of the offerings, we also asked for the special dumplings. We selected pork, but they're also available filled with chicken or vegetables.

The dumplings had a thin skin that may have been purchased ready made. The filling was juicy and gingery, but otherwise not terribly strong on flavor. Soy-ginger dipping sauce enhanced the dish, as did the aforementioned carrot and daikon slaw.

Another special was called "chicken sauté." This turned out to be Thai satay, just without the skewers. The chicken was moist, with an authentic curried marinade. Rather than IMG_2149 dipping sauce, the meat was topped with blobs of chunky peanut butter.

I'm pretty sure no ingredients were added to dilute or further flavor the peanut butter. In small doses this was fine, but that meant discarding most of each blob.

Rice came with a small bowl of fish sauce to pour over it. A pair of sliced cucumbers and apparently homemade kimchee were the vegetables on the plate.

The folks at M-Saigon have a way with pickling. Though the kimchee didn't seem to be fermented, it was crunchy, gingery and slightly hot. With Thai, Vietnamese and Korean elements all on one plate, the dish was a fun, interesting fusion.

IMG_2152 But what about the Vietnamese standards? I ordered the honey lemongrass pork bun to see.

The vegetables were fresh and rice vermicelli more al dente than rice noodles are generally served. The bracing cilantro was portioned with a heavy hand, as I like it.

The grilled chunks of pork were, well, pork chop-sized, which made them difficult to eat with chopsticks. I also found them excessivley sweet, a condition that only worsened with the addition of sugary fish sauce.

Of course, an M-Saigon meal isn't complete without bubble tea. My boyfriend finds the chewy, black tapioca balls creepy.

I ordered a honeydew smoothie with IMG_2151 bubbles; he asked for coconut without. After the server presented our entrées, we got the opposite.

It took a long time to get our drinks — since before we ordered our food. Now, the server offered to go back to the kitchen and strain the bubbles from one glass and put them in another. Seriously. Recycling is great, but this didn't really seem like the right situation for it. Still, I enjoyed my sweet, icy and, finally, tapioca-filled honeydew drink.

M-Saigon may not have usurped the place of any of my regular Vietnamese haunts, but I can tell you one thing. I'm eating an M-Saigon banh mi right now.

Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to [email protected]

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