Last night we tried the new and quite chic SAIGONIQUE (www.saigoniqueshirlington.com website to come soon) at 4251 Cample Ave, just across from the new Signature Theatre in Shirlington, VA. It was a huge success with us from the moment we entered, and the only flaw was the lack of and fairly slow service (they had two waiters for the whole place on a Saturday night, albeit it just after the hurricane cleared).
The red faux finished walls, oscillating bamboo fans on the ceiling with draped fabric hanging between them all give a classy feel to this intimate space with a "Buddha" bar in the rear with a lavender lit pebbled wall.
We decided to share a number of dishes, and one of the problems is that the platters are quite large, yet the "sharing" plates are quite small and don't really allow for more than one item on your plate at a time.
The wine list is decent with 9 reds and whites (including sparklings) all available by the glass or bottle as well as several reserve bottles (mostly reds). We opted for a wonderful refreshing and loaded with apple aroma BAUER Riesling "Hengtsberg" 2006 from the Burgenland in Austria which had a great strong taste of Granny Smith apples-superb with the spicy food. We decided to order a second bottle, and they were out, so we switched to the red "L" de Lyeth Cabernet Sauvignon (blend?) 2006 from Sonoma, which has lots of plum, chocolate and flavor, but is fairly smooth and drinkable now.
Our starters were the Goi Du Du Kho Bo, a superb GREEN PAPAYA Salad with strips of Spicy Beef Jerky. I didn't think the salad itself was that spicy, until I dipped my finger into one of the red dots decorating the ring around the plate to find out it was super-hot hot sauce! The GOLDEN QUAIL with Mixed Greens and Black Pepper Sauce was a huge portion with FOUR quail halves on a huge salad and the lemony pepper sauce on the side. The meat was grilled to perfection, tasty and just lightly seasoned and not spicy at all, allowing the flavor of the meat to come through.
The star of the appetizers and the meal itself was the HEN XUC BANH DA, a huge Black Sesame embedded RICE Cracker the size of a 3/4 quart bowl filled with Sauteed BABY CLAMS and MINCED CHICKEN in a dreamy sauce. It can be a bit messy as you break off the cracker and scoop up the filling into each piece, but it was worth every ounce of messiness for the superb taste and fun crunch.
The entrees we chose were (we could not resist) GOLDEN SOFT SHELL CRAB sauteed with Garlic & Butter over salad with the same Lemon-Pepper Sauce as the quail for dipping. These were two of the largest soft shells that I have seen in ages, battered and fried to perfection, and not in any way greasy; the sauce added just the right flavor again. The other dish was one of the several "caramelized" options offered here in style that I did not know existed in Vietnamese cooking: Spicy LEMON GRASS CHICKEN in CARAMEL SAUCE. This is NOT a sweet dish, think caramelised onions and you are on the right track. It was tasty, but we ended up taking most of it home as we were so full. The portions here ARE huge and shareable, but DO refrain from overordering unless you like doggie bags!
We look forward to returning as we are at Signature Theatre so often!