Saigon Cuisine

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Jun. 27, 2013

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Saigon Cuisine, which is located in University City, offers a taste of Vietnamese dishes from chef Kamol Phutlek.

Photo by Photo by Kathryn Poole

For more than 40 years, Thai and Vietnamese immigrants have contributed to and influenced how Philadelphians cook at home and dine out. One such chef is Kamol Phutlek. He arrived here from Thailand and began cooking at La Panetiere, once the city’s finest French restaurant. Phutlek mastered the art of French cooking, met Steve Poses of Frog/Commissary fame, and was Frog’s first chef.

For many years, Phutlek owned Nan, his glorious French/Thai restaurant at 4000 Chestnut St. It was a serene room washed with pastel shades, crisp linen and colorful flowers. I enjoyed many dinners at Nan and still dream of the duck with Thai flavors. Phutlek suffered from back problems and retired a little while ago.

I heard the space recently became a Vietnamese restaurant. My culinary curiosity was up. The restaurant is now Saigon Cuisine and it is BYOB.

I felt a sense of loss as soon as Edward and I stepped in. The beauty of Nan has been transformed into a non-descript room with simple banquettes, tables and chairs.

The alarm usually goes off in my head as soon as I see a long menu with color photographs of suggested dishes. There were a number of young people in the restaurant and every one of them were eating pho.

Our server told us the restaurant has been open for about four months. He was familiar with Phutlek’s menu and style of cooking.

“Because we have so many students, our portions are bigger and the prices are lower,” he said with a smile.

The menu features typical Vietnamese fare simply presented. Vietnamese spring rolls ($4.25) arrived with lettuce, sprigs of fresh mint, pickled carrots and turnips along with a sweet dipping sauce.

Summer rolls are often a highlight of Vietnamese cuisine. At Saigon Cuisine, one receives two cool fat rolls ($5.50) filled with too much vermicelli, bland shrimp, pork, bean sprouts and basil. A few pickled vegetables came with the appetizer along with a very thin peanut sauce on the side.

I’ve enjoyed Vietnamese food in many restaurants, but have never heard of bun. Our server said these dishes are very popular and are served like a salad. I always have a sense of adventure, so we ordered the bun with grilled slice pork ($8.50).

A large white bowl was filled with rice vermicelli, bean sprouts, shredded cucumber, lettuce, mint, crushed peanuts and topped with some bite-sized slices of pork. Our server poured some fish sauce on top of the ingredients and tossed it up.

Unfortunately, it was rice noodle overkill in the bowl. All I could taste were cool noodles and a slightly sweet sauce. The bits of pork were OK, but the dish did not win any stars.

Crispy shrimp with minced pork sauce ($13.95) fared a bit better but I found it too salty. Small shrimp were coated in minced pork and quickly stir-fried. They arrived on a bed of shredded lettuce that added a cool contrast. We shared a small bowl of steamed white rice.

Saigon Cuisine lacks the refinement of Le Viet, my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. The dishes also lacked the freshness and eye appeal of the ones I have enjoyed on so many occasions at Nam Phuong.

University City is filled with restaurants that cater to students. Jose Garce’s Distrito comes to mind. The Mexican dishes are tasty and inexpensive.

I am pretty certain Saigon Cuisine is the only Vietnamese restaurant in the area. It is a shame the food we sampled was below par.

One-and-a-half tips of the toque to Saigon Cuisine. 


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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. Boris said... on Jun 27, 2013 at 05:02PM

“I understand what Saigon Cuisine means. WHAT DOES "LA. VA" MEAN!”

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2. Andrew G. said... on Jun 27, 2013 at 05:26PM

“There is another Vietnamese restaurant at 43rd and Spruce, but it doesn't hold a candle to South Philly pho. Les taste for more price, due to its location.

You must be mistaking Distrito for some other restaurant, because it is FAR from inexpensive.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jun 27, 2013 at 06:11PM

“I notice the customary comment on a martini or byob wine was missing. Did this have something to do with the below-average rating?”

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4. Marty Medals said... on Jun 27, 2013 at 08:52PM

Why give a crappy rating to a Vietnam restaurant in University City while ignoring the many great places in South Philly?
What's next a one torque review of a pizza place in Cherry Hill.

I'm done with the SPR until they get back to South Philly.

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5. Boris said... on Jun 27, 2013 at 09:25PM

“Hello mutha...
Hello fatha...
Wouldja tell me...
What is "La. Va"?”

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6. joe g said... on Jun 27, 2013 at 10:25PM

“dont you imbeciles understand that this paper does 52 reviews a year and over a period of 10 years thats 520 restaurants!!! find me that many restaurants in south philly. and no were not going to review ritas water ice. jeezuz expand ur horizons!”

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7. MS said... on Jun 28, 2013 at 07:40AM

“Serious question...

Read the review and there a negative comment about about every dish. Additionally the change of interior also draws negative comments too.

Since everything seems so poor why 1.5 tips of the toque?

Can the reviewer explain how she rates restaurants.

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8. Marty Medals said... on Jun 28, 2013 at 08:24AM

“First Joe G,
There are hundreds of restaurants in South Philly.
Many have yet to be reviewed in this paper.
Now explain why you are defending this reviewer who looks for places outside of South Philly to review.
By the way, calling people imbeciles who wish to read about South Philly restaurants In the South Philly Review reflects badly on you own intelligence.

When will we read a review of the Broad Street Diner?”

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9. Anonymous said... on Jun 28, 2013 at 09:07AM

“There's so many police blotter crimes yet the restaurant review gets the most comments every week? Strange. And I agree with Joe G,I'm sure at one time or another most South Philly places have been reviewed over the years.”

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10. Edward said... on Jun 28, 2013 at 12:01PM

“I felt a sense of loss as soon as I stepped in. The beauty of Nan has been transformed into a non-descript room with NO BAR.

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11. Liam said... on Jun 29, 2013 at 07:28PM

“Well, if you're in that neighborhood you may as well eat Thai food. Very similar to Vietnamese. And they didn't fight us in a war. Try Thai Singha at 40th & Chestnut. Very authentic.”

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12. Joe Strummer said... on Jul 2, 2013 at 10:59AM

“Seriously, what is so hard to understand about the fact that the SOUTH PHILLY Review should review places in..... SOUTH PHILLY!! Only an imbecile would fail to realize that there over 1000 resstaurants in SP and DOZENS of NEW ones open each year.”

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13. Erry Berry said... on Jul 16, 2013 at 04:26PM

“If you'd never hear of a Bun Bowl, then why would anybody take your review of a Vietnamese restaurant seriously? You have some chutzpah passing yourself as a food critic, from what I've read over the years (Thursday mornings, on the toilet mind you).

I'd be interested to know which Chinese restaurant you feel has the best Pu-Pu platter?”


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