The Amateur Eater

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SAIGON JON’S | A1-2696 Pembina Highway

I received an email from Johnny Kien, one of the owner’s of Saigon Jon’s Vietnamese Kitchen, a few weeks ago. He asked me to come check out the restaurant, and I was thrilled, as I’ve been wanting to try the place out for a while now!

The very first thing I noticed when I walked in was the funky, fresh decor. The place looks gorgeous, fun, and modern. The wallpaper was a great, black and white pattern, but not so patterned that it distracted you while trying to enjoy your meal. The light fixtures were also very modern and fun.

The next thing I noticed was the style of restaurant it was. I was under the impression that I was going to be a more sit-down-and-be-served type place, but it was more like a cafeteria. This aspect of the restaurant was neither positive nor negative, it just surprised me! All of the staff were very friendly, fresh-faced and outgoing. It was very welcoming.

The menu, while being limited, is quite interesting, especially if you’re someone who enjoys a good game of mix and match. You get to choose between four “dishes”: Banh Mi (Vietnamese Baguette sandwiches), Noodle Bowl, Rice Bowl or Salad. Once you’ve picked your base, you get to choose one protein (or more for an additional charge. Here, there are nine choices, like lemongrass steak, charbroiled chicken, and roasted peanut & bacon pork patty. On top of these main meals, you can also order pho, a Vietnamese soup, if you wish.

While waiting for my meal, I had a chance to chat with Johnny about the restaurant. They are the only restaurant in Winnipeg with an Urban Cultivator (as seen on Dragon’s Den); they are currently growing their own fresh cilantro, and will move on to mint and thai basil soon. The restaurant also prides itself on using 100% natural chicken and beef, and much of their produce is also local. A couple other goals Johnny has for the near future include the making of their own hoisin and hot sauces, and the transition to an entirely gluten-free menu (many of their dishes are already gluten-free). Johnny also expressed a desire to “use the restaurant for good”. Just last Saturday night (Vietnamese New Year), he held an all-day event: if a customer brought in two non-perishables for the Winnipeg Harvest, they received fifty percent off the entire menu. Johnny hopes to do more of these events soon. They are also hoping to open a second location in the near future.

I decided to order the noodle bowl, with the peanut & bacon patty, and when it arrived at my table (a short ten minutes later!) I was floored at the beautiful presentation and glassware. A cool, white, geometric bowl held a gorgeous array of rice noodles, bright vegetables, and delicious-smelling pork patty, with a small dish of peanut sauce, and two tiny Vietnamese spring rolls.

The pork patties — I can’t even talk about them, they were so delicious. They had the perfect amount of garlic and smokeyness; my mouth was in heaven. The spring rolls, while a bit on the tough side, were extremely flavourful and crunchy… I just wish there had been more of them in the dish. The only real criticisms I had about my meal was that the lettuce and cucumbers seemed a bit wilted, and not as fresh as I would have liked. As well, the dish could have used a bit of a kick. It wasn’t bland, by any means, but it definitely could have used some more spice. But, I had to dig pretty deep to find those criticisms, and otherwise, everything was splendid.

It would have pleased me to see a dessert menu, but no such thing exists at Saigon Jon’s; I’m hoping to see one eventually.

Overall, it was a good, if slightly inauthentic experience. However, the whole point of the restaurant is to put a fresh, fun, young spin on the traditional Vietnamese kitchen, so I do not criticize them for what might be deemed inauthenticity. I loved it.

Scores:

Atmosphere / Decor: 4 / 5
Food: 4.5 / 5
Service: 5 / 5
Overall:  4.5 / 5

Would I recommend / return? Yes!

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