My coworkers suggested that we try Saigon Star after coming across their sign on our way to Hokkaido Japanese Restaurant a couple of weeks back. Saigon Star is in the spot that used to be home to the now defunct Pine Lake Restaurant, which is in the basement of the building that Hokkaido is in. Saigon Star must have just opened very recently and hence, not many people known about them yet. We were surprised at how empty the place was when we first arrived. Throughout the entire lunch hour, there was just one other table and ours.
Our meal was off to a bit of a shaky start. My coworkers had decided to share an order of Fresh Salad Rolls ($7.50). As usual, the Fresh Salad Rolls came with a side dipping sauce. My coworkers noted that both bowls of the hoisin-based dipping sauce had a “crusty” skin that had formed on the top layer of the sauce, similar to chewy skin on the top of chilled pudding. Secondly, the dipping sauce was so thick, it had a pudding-like consistency. These definitely weren’t the descriptors I would expect for a dipping sauce for salad rolls. Clearly, the sauce had be prepared well in advance of our order. I would have expected a little better quality given the price.
One of my coworkers ordered the Vermicelli with Charbroiled Pork & Spring Roll ($12.00). I had a taste of the spring rolls. They were fine but weren’t particularly memorable. My coworker commented that the charbroiled pork was a bit fatty. If this was priced at the $6 to$8 range, it might be acceptable but at $12, I had higher expectations.
My other coworker ordered the Satay Beef in Rice Noodle Soup ($12.25). When the order arrived, we were both surprised at how light the satay broth was. I realize that almost every restaurant makes their satay broth differently, but this broth wasn’t very complex and didn’t have that depth of flavour. Both my coworker and I prefer the versions that are richer, nuttier, and more complex in flavour.
I decided to try the Rare Beef Noodle Soup ($11.75). This is usually my standard order when I try a Vietnamese restaurant for the first time as I want to taste what their beef broth base is like. Almost anyone can cook decent rice noodles but not everyone can make a good broth. And with pho, the secret is in the broth. Unfortunately, this broth base was nothing to write home about. It lacked the depth of flavour I was hoping for. The broth was not complex and was rather one-dimensional. I also found the thinly sliced beef to be a bit on the chewy side. Granted the portion was quite large and expectedly so, relative to the price, I personally still value quality and taste over quantity. When it comes to Rare Beef Noodle Soup (Pho Tai), Pho Pasteur Saigon is still my go to place in the downtown area.
We definitely took one for the team. This wasn’t a place that I was dying to try in the first place but since my coworkers suggested it, I went along to check it out. I tried very hard not to pass judgement on the place before trying it solely based on their name alone, but my initial hunch was right. This place was definitely geared towards the Western clientele as the prices were quite high for what we actually got. I actually don’t mind paying a bit more if it was actually memorable but unfortunately, the pho I had was not. There was nothing wrong with it per se, but I certainly didn’t think that bowl of pho was worth $12. And the decor didn’t justify the price either as it was no better than the places in Chinatown. I would sooner walk the extra 5 minutes and go to places such as Song Viet or Pho Pasteur Saigon to satisfy my pho craving in the future. If they were priced a bit better, I might be willing to give them a second chance. But at the prices Saigon Star is charging for beef noodle soup and rice vermicelli bowls, I can think of many tastier options at that price point and if I needed something in that immediate vicinity, I think Hokkaido is a better choice.
Saigon Star (Downtown)
#10, 118 5 Avenue SE