Clams with Spicy Ginger Sauce.
If you know someone who has not tried Vietnamese food because it seems too exotic, then take him or her to Le Bistro Saigon on TPC Parkway.
Crispy Vietnamese Eggrolls
The ambience of the place is cool and inviting, with granite tabletops and chairs easy to relax in. The food is so visually attractive it will make your mouth water. With each succeeding dish that our waiter brought out of the kitchen, your appetite will grow because everything looks so good.
The flavors are all quite accessible, too, with garlic and chiles (serranos and jalapeños used most) mixing with citrus-y lemon grass and basil in dishes. Plus, who can resist the comfort of noodles mixed with anything?
But the folks at Le Bistro Saigon appear to be content with limiting themselves to be a Vietnamese 101 kind of place. And that timidity is not what we've come to expect from many of the other Vietnamese places in town. Nothing we sampled in seven dishes was bad, but nothing was all that bright, bold or, ultimately, memorable, either. Dishes marked with a red chile were rarely hotter than those not marked. Too many sauces were perfunctory, a little on the dull side even. And sugar was a little too prevalent.
Vietnamese Fried Calamari
We started our meal with Vietnamese Fried Calamari ($7.50), which did not have enough seafood flavor so the breading, light as it was, tended to dominate. But an accompanying carrot sauce, with a good balance of sweet and tart, was so good we kept it to use with other dishes.
Crispy Vietnamese Eggrolls ($4.99) were not as greasy as you'll find elsewhere, and that's not a good thing. The pork, vegetables and even the rice paper were all wan, even after dousing them with a touch of fish sauce that we had to ask for (the accompanying dipping sauce was far too sweet and did little but make the eggrolls soggy).
A Thai-influenced Beef with Garlic Lime Sauce ($8.99) was not quite as it was advertised on the menu. The beef was raw, not rare, but it was tossed with a lively combination of basil, onion and serrano peppers. The texture of the meat was both mealy and slick from the oil in the dressing, and it almost seemed unnecessary when compared with the freshness of what surrounded it.
Lemongrass Baby Back Ribs
For our entrées, we shared an order of Lemon Grass Baby Back Ribs ($14.99) and all agreed that there was little lemon grass flavor to be had. The rib bites, breaded and deep-fried, had the right amount of salt, but that was about all they had to recommend.
Charbroiled pork ($8.99) with noodles, carrots, cucumber, peanuts, fried shallots and herbs held a lot of promise, until we tasted the pork. Candied might have been a better description than charbroiled, for sugar seems to have been the dominant characteristic of the marinade. Still, a little fish sauce, some sriracha and salt helped matters quite a bit.
We also ordered Buddha Delight ($8.99), one of the vegetarian entrées, so we would have plenty of vegetables to share. A stir-fry of broccoli, carrots, green bell pepper, snow peas, bamboo, water chestnuts, baby corn and not enough mushrooms was well prepared, but a gloppy and not terribly flavorful brown sauce detracted rather than added to the vegetables' effectiveness.
The Clams with Spicy Ginger Sauce ($13.99) should have been the highlight of the meal. It arrived in a clay pot straight from the oven, and a cloud of steam arose dramatically when the lid was removed with a flourish. But the clams didn't seem to cook with the sauce, which tasted more of garlic than ginger. The little crustaceans appeared on top and, as a result, were on the dry side. Spooning up the sauce did not help.
There weren't many patrons eating in while we were there, but takeout business was fairly brisk. The wine list was not worth pursuing, so we opted for a pair of refreshing Singha and Kirin Ichiban beers, which are made for both Asian food and days as hot as we get in Texas.
Le Bistro Saigon
3111 TPC Parkway
Open daily for lunch and dinner