“I thought it was a green bean," my husband Edward said as his face turned red and he broke out into a sweat. He ate some rice, drank a glass of water and applied a cold, wet napkin to his face and neck.
The alleged green bean turned out to be a very hot pepper that added flavor to the barbecue spare ribs we were eating at Mekong River, a new Vietnamese restaurant in Pennsport.
We spotted the place a few weeks ago. Since Vietnamese fare is my favorite Asian cuisine, I had to try it.
Mekong River, a BYOB with a pending liquor license, is a bright, open, airy place with a long bar, comfortable, roomy black leather booths and a staff that will answer all menu-item questions.
We brought a Kendall Jackson sauvignon blanc, which complements Asian fare. Our server placed it in an ice bucket, brought wine glasses and poured us a sip.
The menu is overwhelming. I see no reason to list about 150 items.
Cha Gio ($3.25) consisted of two crispy spring rolls filled with shredded vegetables and a fish sauce for dipping. They were a little greasy but had a nice flavor. Some pickled turnips, carrots and bright green iceberg lettuce leaves came with the dish. The Goi Cuon ($3.50) did not disappoint. These cool, summer rolls were plump and filled with shrimp, cilantro and pork. The heady peanut dipping sauce was a fine contrast to the mild rolls, which are among my favorite Vietnamese appetizers.
Banh Xeo ($7.95) however was disappointing. I have eaten the classic shrimp-filled Vietnamese crepe in many restaurants in the city and beyond. The menu states it is a “Vietnamese crispy crepe with shrimp and pork.” It tasted more like a thin, slightly greasy omelet, it was much too eggy and there were two tiny shrimp inside and very little pork. All I could taste were tasteless bean sprouts and shredded vegetables. The appetizer came with mounds of fresh mint, lettuce leaves, pickled turnips and carrots.
“You wrap the crepe in a lettuce leaf,” our waiter said.
We tried it. It was too difficult to eat, so we nixed this method. Since we barely made a dent in the herbs and lettuce mix, we toted it home.
Although it was 98 degrees outside, we settled on Sup Mang Cua ($7.50), asparagus soup for two. I asked our waiter whether the crabmeat was real or fake. He assured us it was the real thing.
The soup looked like egg drop soup. It was piping hot and prepared with ghastly, canned white asparagus that turned to a flavorless mush. We could not see or taste the crabmeat. There were bits of chewy pink and white pieces of fish, which our waiter said were shrimp, floating about.
If we were disappointed with the soup, we were truly disappointed with Do Bien Xao Lan ($13.50), a dreadful mix of tiny overcooked shrimp; tiny pieces of rubbery squid; a few thin slices of scallops; fish balls, which we did not detect; and two overcooked, off-colored mussels in half of a green shell. These were frozen mussels and since they had the consistency of concrete, I told Edward not to eat them. The coconut curry sauce with lemongrass did nothing to redeem this horrendous dish.
The aforementioned hot pepper moment came about after a few tastes of Thit Kho To ($8.95) an individual cast-iron kettle filled with braised bite-sized pieces of pork rib on the bone. One look at the dish and I knew Edward would not care for it too much. The ribs were not meaty and the best way to eat them was with the hands, a method Edward detests. The flavor of the sauce, however, was pretty good. Large mounds of perfectly steamed rice came with both entrees.
The test of a restaurant is “does the food taste good?” Are the ingredients immaculately fresh? Unfortunately, Mekong River failed below average.
One-half tip of the toque to Mekong River.
1120 S. Front St.