Restaurant Review: Saigon Casa

It started about two decades ago, a massive avalanche of Asian eating places—Japanese, Thai, Korean, Indian, Chinese, Pan Asian and Asian Fusion. They included combinations of the above like Thai-Japanese, Chinese-Japanese, etc. (Chinese only restaurants have become a rarity). But there was one relatively missing culinary representative. The absent cuisine was Vietnamese fare.

Related Content: Restaurant Review: Radio Radio

Most of the Vietnamese action was understandably on the West Coast where diners knew and cared more about this interesting, diverse food. The Vietnamese part of the trend virtually bypassed New York.

A few (10 or 12) opened in New York City (mainly in flushing and Brooklyn) and even fewer on Long Island (mostly in Nassau). Suffolk was, until this past April, virtually untouched. A few years ago an East End eatery opened and quickly closed.

Then in April Jackie Nguyen and Justin Trainh, from Seattle where they ran a Vietnamese restaurant, moved to the Long Island scene and opened Saigon Casa, a Vietnamese outpost in Port Jefferson Station. It offers a multi-paged menu of authentic Vietnamese cuisine, sweet, swift service and modest prices (most main courses go for $9.95 and top out at $13.95).

It’s a spacious, slightly barney, though pleasant place that like all true Vietnamese restaurants stresses healthful vegetable and fruit dishes absent much oil or many dairy ingredients. Most of the dishes live up to the restaurant’s “authentic” description. Although a few are fine tuned to milder American tastes. The traditional fish sauce for instance is bland compared to the real thing.

The Banh Mi sandwiches ($5.95 and $6.95) are the real thing. They are on soft, warm baguettes (the French introduced breads, ice cream and wine), harboring gobs of grilled pork, ham, beef or chicken. One of them provides more than enough as an appetizer for two.

Speaking of quantity, many Vietnamese dishes amount to meals in bowls. Pho, a bowl of tasty, inexpensive Vietnamese rice noodle soup ($9.95, $11.95), replete with tender strips of steak, chicken or brisket and alive with herbs and bean sprouts is a winner. So too are translucent spring rolls ($5.95) stuffed with greens, meat or seafood and coriander and dipped in fish sauce. The grilled pork and vegetable summer rolls (2 for $5.95) in rice paper rolls are another worthwhile choice. All the main entrees over vermicelli or rice are a way to go. Especially recommended are the Bun Ga Nuono Cha Gio or grilled chicken, mini spring rolls and vegetables over vermicelli ($9.95).

Vietnamese cooking is affected by adjacent countries. At different parts of the country it contains Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Indonesian touches.

For dessert, try the flan ($3.95). It’s not particularly Vietnamese, but it is mighty good.

richard jay scholem

Richard Jay Scholem practically invented the Long Island restaurant culture through 800+ reviews of the region's eateries both on radio and in print over the last 30 years. He is a former New York Times Long Island Section restaurant reviewer, has contributed to the Great Restaurants of...magazines and Bon Vivant, authored a book, aired reviews on WGSM and WCTO radio stations, served on the board of countless community and food and beverage organizations, and received many accolades for his journalism in both print and broadcast media. He is currently available for restaurant consultation. Reach him at (631) 271-3227.