Monday, August 23, 2010
Thursday August 19th 2010
Miss Saigon, K & S Plaza, Charlotte Pike, Nashville, TN
Here in this shopping center on Charlotte Ave, a rivalry exists. For where stands authentic Vietnamese restaurant Kien Giang, also stands authentic Vietnamese restaurant Miss Saigon, shooting each other evil eye glances across the parking lot until the day one ceases to function. Having tried Kien Giang, experiencing varying degrees of success and failure, we thought it only fair and in our best interest to give Miss Saigon a shot as well to see what we were missing out on.
What we found upon entry was an empty restaurant save for one table of two college nerds discussing their thesis papers and social tribulations. I know this because despite having literally every other table in the restaurant (of no modest size) to choose from, we were sat directly next to them. I know they like to keep people in specific sections for convenience sake and to avoid confusion, but it would have been very hard for us to get swallowed up by the crowd and forgotten in this case.
We ordered one BBQ pork Bahn Mi sandwich and a bowl of Pho each. The sandwich was of a different style than any Vietnamese Bahn Mi I’ve ever had, the bread wasn’t the typical crunchy French baguette I was used to, instead it was served on a light brown roll, much softer, with the appearance of Portugese sweet bread. For no good reason, I didn’t want to like this place, and seeing the sandwich the way it was, so different and all, made me think I didn’t. Until I bit in. My prejudicial feelings had to be put to the side, it was good, quite good, no need to discriminate based on bread choice in this case. I mean bread is one of the most important ingredients in a sandwich, possibly thee most important, and they took a real risk straying away from the tried and true, but they pulled it off goddamn it.
Then came the Pho. Still harboring some skepticism towards Nashville Pho, I proceeded slowly, guiding the ladle of broth to my lips with a tractor beam of cooling breath, bracing myself for the possibility of complete repulsion and involuntary retching brought on by an inferior craftsmanship. Unnecessary! Based on first taste alone I would rate their broth better than Kien Giang, and better than I expected. My issue however, was that I got totally skimped on the meat. The struggle of breaking my Pho Ga (chicken) routine was easy, they left me no other choice because it wasn’t served here, so I went with the rare steak Pho, where the meats supposed to cook in the broth. Not only were there very few pieces, but it also wasn’t that rare, and it was like 1 or 2 more dollars than Kien Giang.
If you want to get into a real debate about it, a real head to head, Miss Saigon is quieter than Kien Giang, as in stark silence, where as the inane babble of joke game shows will plague you at Kien Giang, really it’s a matter of mood and opinion. Based on my one visit (which granted might not be so fair) Miss Saigon has a tastier broth than Kien Giang, but Kien Giang offers you more food for less money, and they’ve got cheaper beers. It’s a tough call really, and I was going to say I couldn’t make up my mind, but then I asked myself: if I awoke standing in the center of the parking lot, ten bucks in my hand, starving and confused, head darting back and forth between the two eateries, equidistant to both, which would I run to? And I couldn’t even say it out loud, but I had a vision where I ran with arms outstretched, the facade of Kien Giang coming closer and closer. There you have it.
As I stood at the front counter waiting for my change, I reached into a complimentary bowl of fortune cookies. “I’ll grab two.”, I thought to myself, “One for me, one for the lady.” It came as surprise that they came two to a pack, but I got over it quick and started my walk outside. My second surprise came when I saw how little effort I had to put into opening this dual cookie package, it was energy efficient, sliding open with a mere stroke of my hand. The way I like to eat a fortune cookie is by cracking it in half, removing the receipt, and going for it, so my third shocker came when the cookie, stubborn as it was, refused to break like all its siblings I’ve known throughout the years, and instead flexed with an impressive elasticity. Against my best judgement, I decided to chow down, exposing myself to a sour and chalky, yet gum like dough, toxifying my mouth, ruining the lingering taste of the meal I had up until now enjoyed. So my advice is to try the place out, but give the cookies a squeeze test before you accept.