Saigon Bistro: A Best of D.C. Contender or Just a Pretender?
As I had noted in an earlier item, D.C. is not exactly awash in noodle shops. So I was excited to visit Saigon Bistro this weekend, a handsome new Dupont Circle operation that's run, according to its Web site, by some folks who "recently emigrated to the U.S. after running an exquisite Vietnamese gourmet restaurant in their native homeland."
I wasn't as excited when I left the place.
I don't know what it is, but the few places that serve pho within the District's borders just can't compete with the operators in the suburban hinterlands. Maybe the economics just don't work well in the high-rent District. Maybe owners have to cut corners to make a buck on a soup that no one—and I mean no one—will pay more than $10 for (unless, of course, Jose Andres turns it into some deconstructed dish at the minibar, with the rice noodles transformed into a powder, which you'd suck through a straw and chase with a beef gelatin cube and a demitasse of pureed Thai basil, jalapenos, and lime).
Whatever the reason, Saigon Bistro only confirms my bias against D.C. pho shops. I ordered No. 49, a "Special Beef Noodle Soup" with well-done brisket, rare beef, and tripe. The broth had a wan yellowish tint to it and barely registered on my internal beef-o-meter. Even the usual fragrances of pho—star anise, cloves, and cardamom—were so faint that you'd need a bloodhound to sniff them out. I typically resist the urge to load my pho with too much Sriracha or hoisin or fish sauce, lest I drown out the exquisitely perfumed broth. But in this case, the broth cried for condiments; without them, the sliced meats ferried very little flavor.
And just think: I paid $8.99 for this, which is a good two dollars more than I pay for pho in Maryland that's 10 times better.