Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, March 6, 2003
Saigon Palace
Shrimp spring rolls $2.25
Pho tai (small) $4.50
(large) $5.50
Grilled shrimp, beef, egg roll,
and rice $6.25
Grilled pork chop and rice $5.95
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Pho West, Young Man

Tucked in the Alta Mesa Village shopping center, Saigon Palace is a gem.

By KEN SHIMAMOTO

Saigon Palace

4301 Alta Mesa Blvd, FW. 817-423-9654. Daily 11am-9pm. MC, Visa.

I have the misfortune to be a fan of Asian cuisines in a family whose tastes generally run more toward Mexican food and burgers. I also have the misfortune of living on the West Side, where there’s a dearth of quality Vietnamese eateries.

No longer. Saigon Palace, tucked away in the Alta Mesa Village shopping center just off McCart, has been serving up generous portions of tasty, well-prepared Vietnamese specialties over the past six months. Their affordable prices — on a recent visit, dinner for two cost just $16.95 — make the place an even rarer find. And for those lucky enough to live within a couple of miles of the joint, there’s home delivery.

The steam tables in this former buffet are now used only for storage. Still, since the nearby wall is adorned with photos of numbered menu items, there’s no need to embarrass yourself with atrocious mispronunciations of the Vietnamese names.

The simple offerings fall into a few broad categories: spring rolls and egg rolls; beef- or chicken-based soups, available with either rice, vermicelli, or egg noodles; and beef, chicken, pork, or seafood entrées served with either vermicelli or rice. Fresh herbs abound; there are also some curry-flavored dishes I’ll have to rush back to sample. It’s a veggie-friendly place: Vegetarian options are available in each category, and meat abstainers can avail themselves of unlimited salad and fruit for a paltry $2.99.

Those accustomed to deep-fried and MSG-laden egg rolls will find Saigon Palace’s spring rolls a welcome surprise, refreshingly cool and light. My dinner guest ripped the translucent rice wrapping before he realized that it was, uh, part of the roll. The wrapping surrounds layers of thin rice noodles and lettuce, invigorated by sprigs of fresh mint. The boiled shrimp spring roll had a subtle flavor, sure to be a hit with sushi aficionados, while the grilled beef variety was naturally more robust. Both were perfect vehicles for a sweet peanut sauce, to which the more intrepid can add some fire with one of the house’s two hot pepper sauces (with or without oil).

For diners with big appetites and small budgets, pho — Vietnamese noodle soup — is the way to go. Indeed, if I hadn’t fasted in anticipation of my first visit, the large bowl might have been more than I could handle. The steaming beef broth and mountain of rice noodles were topped with paper-thin slices of flank steak. (Variants with brisket and meatballs are also available.) Simple but substantial, the bowl was aromatic with onions, scallions, and cilantro. A side plate overflowed with crunchy bean sprouts, tangy lime slices, sweet basil, and sliced jalapeños, to add to the mix at your discretion. Overall, Saigon Palace’s pho is a winner, even though it made me nostalgic for the head-clearing Japanese soup my mother used to make, long before ramen acquired the stigma of starvation food for college students.

The entrées we sampled were equally satisfying. I opted for the grilled shrimp, beef, and egg roll plate with vermicelli. Our prompt, attentive server informed me that the best way to enjoy the dish is to slather it with the accompanying fish-based sweet and sour sauce and stir it well before digging in, since the vegetables — a medley of sliced cucumber, lettuce, and mushrooms — were cleverly hidden at the bottom. The crisp, fresh vegetables provided a savory counterpoint to the spicy, smoky flavors of the shrimp and beef. The Vietnamese egg roll was smaller and less vegetable-rich than the more familiar Chinese version, but it was crisp and flavorful and provided yet another good medium for the pepper sauce.

My dinner guest chose the grilled pork chop and egg roll plate with rice. While the two hearty, half-inch thick chops weren’t the largest I’ve ever seen in Texas, their spicy marinade (the recipe, we were told, is a chef’s secret) made them among the most distinctive. My guest, a recent convert to the cult of Dr. Atkins, left his ample scoop of steamed white rice on the plate. Since I’ve always lacked the nerve of Paul Reiser’s character in Diner, who habitually cadged other people’s leftovers, the rice shamefully went to waste.

As you read this, a new Saigon Palace menu is on the way, adding to the 40-something items already on offer. It’s good to have another option to suggest to my burger-scarfing daughter the next time she asks, “What do you want to eat?”


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