In Cockeysville, Saigon Remembered once again hits high notes
Vietnamese favorite brings old favorites to new location
The Young Lotus Root Salad at Saigon Remembered. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun photo / December 14, 2012)
Originally located on Belair Road, then on York Road in Govans, Saigon Remembered closed its doors in 2011. But the restaurant reopened last month in the CranbrookShopping Center in Cockeysville, with the same friendly service and careful interpretations of Vietnamese specialties that fans will remember.
Vegetarian-friendly and healthful, Vietnamesefoodrelies on fresh herbs and vegetables for flavor. Recently, a few Vietnamese restaurants have popped up around Baltimore, but overall, the cuisine is woefully underrepresented in the region. Saigon Remembered's return to the scene is a welcome one.
When we visited, Saigon Remembered had been open for less than a month; outside, a stark banner announcing the restaurant hung under an old Jackson Hewitt Tax Service sign.
Still, diners managed to find the place. Just after 6 p.m. on a Thursday, Saigon Remembered's calm dining room was already more than half-full, and during dinner, the restaurant did a steady carryout business.
Inside, sparkling chandeliers and pressed linen tablecloths disguised the space's bare shopping center bones. Though casually dressed, the crowd played along with the atmosphere, talking in the hushed voices usually reserved for fancy establishments.
Saigon Remembered's menu has changed little since its previous incarnation — it still runs the gamut of Vietnamese cuisine. We started with summer rolls ($5.95 for two) and a young lotus root salad ($11.95).
Wrapped in springy, soft rice paper, the rolls were a light mix of steamed shrimp, thin slices of pork, rice noodles and large leaves of bright green lettuce. Largely unseasoned, the rolls themselves were interesting mainly for their texture. But dipped in thick, sweet-and-salty peanut sauce, their contents came to life.
Large enough to be a satisfying entree, the salad was full of subtle flavors. Drizzled with a sweet dressing, satisfyingly crisp lotus roots paired well with slices of pork, steamed shrimp, carrots, cucumber and celery.
On top of those healthful, mild ingredients, Saigon Remembered sprinkled a surprise: shrimp-flavored chips, direct from Vietnam. The addition made us laugh — seafood-flavored chips in a salad! — but the flavors worked. The chips added some necessary salt and a pleasantly fishy taste to the super-fresh mix of ingredients.
An entree of seafood in red chili sauce ($18.95) served over rice, was spicy, but bearable. The sauce was robust but didn't overwhelm the seafood, a sweet combination of scallops, shrimp and squid.
That was good news, because Saigon Remembered has a way with seafood. The shrimp was fork-tender and scallops were cooked just through. Most impressive, though, were the small, soft cylinders of squid.
Cooked carefully, the squid was lovely and not at all chewy. But visually, they were wild. Twisted and pressed into a crazy corkscrew design, each bite made us smile.
With the Saigon Golden Crepe ($11.95), we received a culinary lesson from our jovial waiter. The crepe, a delicate and eggy folded pancake stuffed with shrimp, sliced pork and a pile of bean sprouts, came with fresh lettuce, carrots and cucumbers, and a small dish of slightly salty fish-based dressing.
The Vietnamese, as our waiter explained, wrap slices of crepe in lettuce, eating with their hands. Americans, on the other hand, pour the sauce over the crepe like it's a pancake, eating with a knife and fork.
After a failed attempt at the Vietnamese approach, we reverted to American-style dining. Not only did it keep our hands clean, it also made it easier to evenly distribute the dressing over each bite. Though the crepe and its contents were nicely cooked, they were minimally seasoned; the dressing added a necessary savory element.
From their smiling welcome to gentle joking about our crepe-eating skills, the Saigon Remembered staff was prompt and pleasant. The restaurant is BYOB (there is a liquor store in the shopping center); our waiter was quick to bring us wineglasses and to keep those glasses filled.
The Vietnamese are well-known for desserts, influenced by the country's time as a French colony. Saigon Remembered makes their own confections, and they are fabulous.
A layered cake of chocolate mousse ($5.50), topped with a fragile chocolate macaroon, was as pretty as it was tasty. The cake was sweet and rich, but its airy texture balanced the decadent chocolate.