Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Review: Pho is the star of the show at Miss Saigon

With hearty pho and noodle dishes, this Vietnamese restaurant

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(Maxwell Zaleski/Daily Collegian)

(Maxwell Zaleski/Daily Collegian)

(Maxwell Zaleski/Daily Collegian)


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With the turn of the season, several things are inevitable. Scorching days will fade into temperate nights, the first leaves will reveal flecks of orange and red and you and everyone you know will develop an insatiable craving for soup. No matter how many bowls of chicken noodle, split pea, tomato or French onion you slurp down, the quest to find the perfect soup will likely consume your entire autumn season.

It was this very quest that led me to Miss Saigon amid the hustle and bustle of the annual Amherst Block Party on Thursday night. The restaurant is nestled into a strip mall it shares with a local bank and another Asian bistro. Upon entering, my partner and I were promptly seated in a corner booth. While neither the lighting nor decor would lead me to describe the interior as cozy, the place is far from sterile or uninviting. Patrons sit side by side along a booth stretching the entirety of the wall, while tightly packed tables populate the middle of the floor, making for close-quarters dining. Large stock photos of Vietnamese skylines and antique art mix with circular metal wall ornaments adorned with phrases such as “eat, pray, love.” There is a certain undeniable charm about this slapdash and seemingly random design sensibility. Your attention, however, will no doubt be focused on the food in front of you.

The menu is several pages long, and includes traditional Vietnamese dishes among other East Asian standbys like Pad Thai. The gargantuan menu does not reflect the subtlety and finesse so often exemplified in Vietnamese cuisine. Our waiter, initially flustered by our sizable order of several entrees and my reliance on the menu’s method of numbering each of the nearly 100 items, turned out to be cordial enough, bringing the food to the table quickly.

Miss Saigon’s greatest strength lies in the kitchen’s ability to faithfully execute Vietnamese classics. It’s all substance, no flash. Peanut sauce adds weight and warmth to the cold and airy spring rolls, assorted veggies with pork and shrimp wrapped in rice paper. The night’s unequivocal highlight was the pho. A seemingly endless supply of gossamer vermicelli noodles in a broth luxuriant and savory but delicate in body, coaxing me back for spoonful after spoonful. Brisket, tripe and cow testicles intermingle with the noodles, providing superb variation in texture. With the addition of lime, jalapenos and bean sprouts, the dish becomes acidic, spicy, zesty and even more delicious.

Another favorite, “Broken Rice,” consists of rice (obviously), fried egg, picked veggies, glazed beef and the enigmatic and slightly horrifying-looking “egg meatloaf.” Resembling a grey sponge with a bright yellow cap, it tastes far better than its appearance suggests, resembling a warm, savory cake.

My opinion: don’t let the myriad of choices intimidate you. Stick to the staples, and pho will be your ally against the imposing menu.

Upon returning to the outside world, we saw a small white tent on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. It was serving egg rolls and grilled beef from large aluminum trays to chattering customers clad in flannels and sweaters. The line stretched into the street, attracting more hungry partygoers than the other tents populating North Pleasant Street.

The students who lined up on Thursday night had looks of anticipation and excitement as they received their food; they knew they were in for a treat. Walking back to campus, aromas of lemongrass and sesame wafted into the serene night air, capping off a picturesque fall evening of dining.

It appears that Miss Saigon sticks with Vietnamese tradition. If it stays on this path, it is bound to remain a favorite of students in the Amherst area. As a sit-down restaurant, it has accomplished an admirable feat: it is so beloved that it can cater to strapped-for-cash college students week after week, holding its own against the school with the top-rated dining program in the nation.

 

RATING OUT OF FOUR STARS:   

 

 

Jacob Abrams can be reached at: [email protected]

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