[MSP] Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, University Ave. St. Paul
Anyone been yet? Kathy Jenkins in her "small bites" column (which she bills as "first glances," not definitive reviews) in today's Pioneer Press raves about this place. She says the shrimp pate wrapped around sugar cane is one of the best appetizers in town. I might have to try this place asap. I'm dying to know if it's a hit in the same way Little Szechuan and Cafe BonXai, two other beloved-by-'hounds University Avenue restaurants that Small Bites tipped us to...
New poster here... I've been lurking a while but this post drove me to register so I can respond!
Ngon is at Avon and University, 1 block east of Victoria, on the northeast corner of the street. My partner and I tried it out a few weeks ago during the snowstorm-- it is just a few blocks from our house. They had just opened a few weeks before and at that point still had a limited menu... not sure what the situation is now.
The atmosphere: I really liked the room-- bright and open but not cafeteria-like, with some nice touches (bamboo flooring, colonial-style ceiling fans, etc.) Kathy is right, the music gives it a loungey feel. It seems they are trying to attract a younger, hipper crowd than most of the family-style places in the same area.
The food: We shared an appetizer of beef lettuce wraps, which was delicious. They use high-quality beef and the seasoning and grilling was exquisite. I had one of my standard vietnamese dishes, a mixed seafood/rice noodle pho. It was very good, probably on par with Jasmine or Que Nha (another University Ave favorite of mine). My partner had one of the broken rice plates, which she enjoyed-- I didn't taste it. We shared the chocolate mung bean cheesecake for dessert, which was really unusual and delicious. Definitely an step up from dessert offerings I've seen in other vietnamese places on University. We will definitely be back for the beef lettuce wraps and to try the expanded menu once they have it.
The service: Our server was a bit dippy, and the vietnamese iced coffees she concocted were watery. She did steer us to the yummy cheesecake, though, and was quite attentive. The owner came over to talk to us, also. Apparently they are seeking a beer and wine license. If they get it, I can see this being a frequent hangout for us.
All told, there were still some snags to smooth out, but I think the place is off to a great start and I can't wait to see how it goes.
M. and I went to Ngon tonight. Thumbs way up from both of us. We shared a couple of appetizers: shrimp paste wrapped around sugar cane (very tasty, and I was not shy about gnawing lustily on the sugar cane afterward), served with fish sauce-based dipping sauce, and a shrimp/sweet potato fritter (which was basically a shrimp deep-fried in a nest of shoestring sweet potatoes), served with a spicy chili aioli. Also very nice.
Entrees: M. had seared ahi tuna over a salad of greens and mango; he liked it a lot. I had a broken-rice dish that was presented almost as a composed plate: rice with a fried egg on top, matchstick vegetables, slices of pork tenderloin, cucumber and tomato slices, and an intriguing little pile of tiny matchsticks of cold barbecued pork dusted with a spice mixture that I would swear had some lavender in it. The dish overall was interesting and quite good (and I have enough left over for lunch tomorrow). We finished up with the yellow-bean chocolate cheesecake (the beans seemed to be mostly in the crust) which was very light, milk-chocolatey, and not too sweet.
The presentation of all the dishes is more upscale than mom-and-pop Vietnamese (artful swirls of sauces on the plate, etc.). Prices were very reasonable, I thought: my entree was only $6.95, and M's was $10.95.
There's a short beer & wine list -- coupla reds, coupla whites, coupla Summit selections. The menu also includes a lot of pho options, so I'm going to try that next time I'm there.
I agree with Kristin's earlier post that the room is really nice -- big windows, lots of light, clean and fresh yellow walls and bamboo floors. In other words, a total makeover from when it was the dingy Pho Anh. Our server was attentive and friendly.
I'm thrilled that this place is part of the University Ave. scene -- I can see splitting my time between here and Little Szechuan. Check it out, 'hounds, and report in.
Thanks for this very encouraging report. I keep looking for this place if I happen to be on University, but I never seem to have the address with me so I never know exactly where I should be looking and it's never just jumped out at me.
Sounds like I need to be a little more focused on finding it as it would be worth my while.
I love the sound of that sweet potato fritter--although, I'm hardly an expert--sweet potatoes don't sound that Vietnamese to me. Is this a typical ingredient in Vietnamese cooking or are they getting experiemental (good food is good food, even if it's not "traditional"--I just want to set my expectations appropriately.)
I LOVE this restaurant. The atmosphere is very pleasant (they understand that lighting does matter) and their Pho is amazing. So are the rest of their dishes frankly. I have been about 7 or 8 times and never been disapointed. Love the imperial roll and bbq pork over vermicelli.
i have been enjoying the chowhound reports and am learning of some great new places, to wit - yesterday was an extravaganza. ricardo and i stopped at little sczechwan for lunch for first time. another new favorite place after seeing the warmly colored decor which invited sticking around rather than having take-out. we ordered the tea duck, but they didn't have it, so got crispy duck and i ordered the green beans with special sauce. how do you way "wow" in chinese? the duck was crispy on the outside and meltingly tender and flavorful. the huge platter of beans were crunchy, salty and a bit sweet; cooked to perfection. uh oh, i should have posted it on their site and learn more about the posting routine.
for dinner, we went with n and g to ngon vietnamese bistro and were enchanted from the moment we walked in the door. the light coming through the large windows in the front, the yellow and saffron and white colors on the walls were warm and soft as a sunshiney spring day. as mentioned before, bamboo floors, beautifully simple tables and chairs, perfect lighting, pleasantly jazzy but not intrusive music put us in a fine mood before we even had a sip or a bite.
they have interesting choice of beers and wines. i noted they had some spanish wines, which i love to drink - especially since our daughter lives in spain. but beer is so good with this kind of food. i had the summit scandia beer with hints of cardomom and orange and something else in it and enjoyed it. they serve locally made beers - from summit and from the north shore.
we had the shrimp around sugar cane app as mentioned above and yum again to that. also the beef wrapped lettuce with a superb peanut sauce. licked it all clean.
i had the chicken pho with a separate side of jalapenos and bean sprouts. the flavorful broth, generous shreds of chicken, green onion, noodles and crispy addition of sprounts and jalapeno made for a fine pho (pronounced "fah" we were told).
others had bun salad with pork, the other with beef and n had the pork medallions. we all sighed from the presentation and the deliciousness.
should have been enough, but no, we had to try 2 desserts: white mung bean cheescake with crispy coconut crust and the ginger creme brulee. both are highly recommended.
we left feeling pleasantly full, having enjoyed the food, service and atmosphere and look forward to going back and taking friends to share the experience with us. on their website, read the review of the asian american press for more info on the place....intriguing.
next posting will be less wordy!
thanks to all you fine posters for this most reliable and enjoyable source of restaurant info.
A few of us met up last night spontaneously for dinner at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro. It's on the north side of the street on University Avenue at Avon (which is a block or two East of Lexington) in St. Paul. Look for the shiny black sign that simply says "NGON." Apparently, parking is available at Phil Food's lot to the East of Ngon.
Once I saw the black sign, I expected more of the orangey-red wall, black accoustical ceiling tile, dark look of Little Szechuan, Cafe BonXai and Tea House II (which look I love, by the way--very modern and elegant.) Instead, Ngon Bistro is bright and airy, with plenty of windows. Blonde furniture with cloth napkins and walls painted a sunny yellow. Very bistro'ish! The place was not that crowded, with one other large party and maybe a table or two of four. They're open until 9pm.
We ordered every appetizer on the menu (except that we tried only one of the three varieties of egg roll--the pork one), then
-the vietnamese beef salad (lime cured lean beef with pickled carrots & dikon, cucumber, fresh herbs and spring greens)
-ginger roasted chicken (roasted ginger marinated chicken with sweet potato and baby bok choy)
-com tam (broken rice with English cucumber, tomato and fish sauce on the side) with marinated pork loin, shredded bbq pork, pork skin, and fried eggs (#41)
-bun tau hu (rice vermicelli with ginger glazed tofu, and fresh shitaki mushrooms) (#51)
We also ordered all the desserts that were available (alas, they were out of the Vietnamese Coffee Cake):
-chocolate cheese cake with mong bean
-vanilla cheese cake with mong bean
-ginger creme brulee
(I see according to their dessert menu online they also offer a chocolate molten won ton--they didn't offer that last night! But, if they did, we would have ordered it, too!)
I know a few folks ordered the Vietnamese coffee, off the wine list, and a beer or two--so, anyone who wants to comment on those and the wine and beer list, that would be great. I know there was a camera floating about and folks were dutifully snapping shots of all the dishes before we dug in, but the CH photo upload feature seems to be disabled, so, hopefully, someone will upload the photos later.
All in all, I was delighted with this little place and will definitely be back. I loved all the fresh, bright flavors, the beautiful presentation, and thought the prices were fantastically affordable. The service was attentive and very flexible (we had a lot of unique requests...as all 11 of us wanted to taste every dish.) There were some lovely-sounding phos, hu tieu/mis, and buns on the menu, too, but we couldn't try everything! Plus, some of those dishes wouldn't be that easy to "share" in a group setting. I can't believe this place isn't more crowded. I'll come back and add my thoughts on my favorite dishes later, in the meantime, perhaps others will chime in. Also, they say they change their menu with the seasons, so, even though the menu is online, I'm going to list out the appetizers we tried last night.
~Spring rolls with shrimp, roasted pork, spring greens, fresh herbs, rice vermicelli
~Egg rolls with pork and glass noodles
~Lemon grass beef wraps (lemon grass marinated black Angus flank steak with lettuce, pickled salad, vermicelli, peanut dipping sauce
)~Smoked salmon spring rolls (smoked salmon rolled with spicy sprouts, spring greens, rau ram, mint & vermicelli)
~Marinated pork skewers
~New Zealand mussels in a spicy red wine beef broth
~Sugar cane shrimp (sugar cane wrapped with an herb shrimp pate)
~Ahi Tuna Poke--ahi tuna marinated in a soy giner sauce, rau ram, diced cucumber, served with fried wonton shells
~Sweet potato shrimp fritter (with a spicy aioli)
~Vietnamese curried duck confit with toasted baguette
~fried Tofu glazed in a house ginger sauce
re: The Dairy Queen
Thanks DQ, for such a detailed report.
The standouts for me were the roasted chicken - crisp glazing on the skin and moist tender ginger-infused flesh on the bone; ginger glazed tofu (#51) - the crunchiness of the fried tofu reminds me a little of crackling, yet one can taste the tofu-goodness on the inside and the lightly sauced mushroom and bok choy enhanced the dish; mussels with red wine (and definitely a bit of spice and strong infusion of ginger) made the broth very drinkable. Hmmm, I think I have to confess a strong partiality for anything gingery.
Another pleasant surprise were the mung bean cheesecakes - not as buttery as a conventional cheesecake, but I thought that the combination worked. Someone mentioned that "it's certainly not cheesecake, but it was good." I echo his sentiment.
Ordering every appetizer was a stroke of genius - thanks to all who agreed.
re: The Dairy Queen
My favorites were the curried duck confit - just luscious and curry-licious, the ginger tofu appetizer - wonderfully balanced with a crispy outside and a creamy inside and the lemongrass beef wraps - I did not even think to wrap them or dip them. They were perfect right off the stick.
We were so careful. Yet we missed getting photos of the sweet potato shrimp fritter and the mussels. We'll just have to go back soon. As soon as the photo feature is back up, I'll upload.
re: The Dairy Queen
SPOILER: dara has reviewed ngon vietnamese bistro and its publication is imminent
so get over there ASAP before the hordes descend!
i would like to add my rave review to the others here, ngon rocks! chocolate mung bean cheesecake is amazing! imo ngon has the best veggie egg rolls in town-- carefully spiced and so interesting-- i repeat: veggie egg rolls that are delicious and NOT BORING like, well, everyone else's.
great atmosphere, pretty presentations, nice staff, fresh tastes that pop off the plate & all around deeply satisfying food. love it! the all-mn brewed beer list is a really nice touch-- the lake superior kayak kolsch worked well with the bright herbal and spice flavors of the entrees. ngon vietnamese bistro sets itself apart & you will remember your meal fondly for days after visiting. woo hoo!
Ok, well maybe I'm one of the descending hordes on Ngon, but I finally checked it out last night after being reminded by Dara's review. My husband and I just had time for a quick early dinner, but it was fantastic and we'll be back. We both had iced coffee, which is apparantly made with Peace coffee (nice touch!), and spring rolls which were very fresh and nicely plated to start. I had the rib eye beef pho next, which is huge and the broth is just as good as City Pages raved about. My husband had the scallops, which I would have next time, based on my tasting. They were seared and plated over coconut curry rice with sauteed portobellas and some greens. The rice was nice and creamy, almost like a risotto. I wish we had time to try more, I guess we'll be back soon! Also, service was relaxed, but good. It was early, so I don't know how it would be with a fuller house. Overall, yum!
Just had lunch there. Our server was pleasant and good with keeping glasses filled, but I watched our appetizers sit for a bit before he brought them out, and it was pretty quiet when we were there. And our entrees were brought out by a different server as he seemed to have disappeared. Not a big gripe, but not the best of service, either.
My dining companion and I both had the same thing. I really wanted what I wanted, and was hoping she and I would get different things, but she was as stubborn as I. So I only have two dishes to report on.
The appetizer was the egg roll. I really liked it. I like Vietnamese egg rolls so much better than other types anyway, but this one was among the better of the Vietnamese egg rolls I've had recently.
I ordered the rib eye pho. Caveat: this was actually my first experience with pho, so I don't have a reference point. My dining companion is from Chicago, where she claims she's been spoiled rotten with ridiculously good pho at really low prices. She also is dating a Vietnamese guy, and has had his parents' pho, which she is partial to.
My take on it: I liked it, and I liked the subtle flavors of the broth. The rib eye was incredibly tender. We both thought the portion was plenty generous. In the end, I ended up trying Rooster sauce, hoisen sauce, and soy sauce in the broth because while I liked the delicate flavorings of it, I felt like the dish needed more flavor. It was too subtle.
Her take: She too liked how tender the meat was. She seems to appreciate the broth but said the phos she normally eats have more zing to them. She enjoyed having this one for variety in her pho repertoire.
I want to go back, and there are a variety of other menu items I want to try there. I think I might go with a couple of people, and just order a bunch of appetizers for sharing. They all sounded fantastic.
I am also going to get over to Quang's (which I like, but have oddly never gotten pho there before) and try their pho for comparison.
I noticed a Vietnamese/French bakery a few blocks East of there. Has anyone ever tried it?
Are you referring to Trung Nam as the bakery (the place in the old Popeye's building, with the chain link fence, and the Eiffel Tower on the sign)? Yes, the place has terrific croissants, nice crusty baguettes, and good "bahn mi" sandwiches (not made to order, though--they make them as they make them and you buy them as is). I also had a pretty good pork bun there recently. Not super-sweet on the inside, like I'm used to. Just a little sweet. Very nice. They close at 1pm, though, so you'd best get there early. The earlier, the better, or they run out. Cheap cheap cheap!
Trung Nam French Bakery
739 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55104
We finally got to Ngon tonight. I guess that makes it descending hordes after Dara's review, too.
It was quite busy tonight and you could tell it was stressing the kitchen staff out. Our food took quite some time to come out, but once it did, it was worth it! Four of us shared the shrimp pate skewers (should have ordered two orders of this--it was incredible) and the lemongrass beef wraps, which were yummy too.
My entree was probably one of the best Vietnamese dishes I've ever had--the com tam (broken rice) with pork tenderloin, and shredded BBQ pork and pork skin. It was savory, fresh, lively, and tasty as hell. My idea of the perfect comfort food. Everything I could ever want. The other folks I was with got the scallops, the mahi mahi, and the rib eye pho. They were all excellent, but everyone agreed that my com tam plate was the best.
We will DEFINITELY be back and soon.
My husband and I went again on Tuesday night, relatively early (about 6 p.m.) and the place was about 1/2 full.
We shared an appetizer of the ahi tuna poke and it was wonderful. Then I had the com tam again, which wasn't very adventurous of me but I'd been craving it. My husband had the shrimp pate entree and while it was fairly tasty, he said he liked the scallops better and the com tam best of it. It's that good, seriously. Our waiter said it was his favorite, too. Service was much better because the kitchen wasn't so overwhelmed this time.
If you haven't been to Ngon yet, I urge you to go, go, go!
Reporting back from our trip to Ngon tonight where we ran into TDQ and KTFoley :)
The whole experience was wonderful. The space is so attractive, very French Vietnamese with Ikea touches. We ordered the sugar cane shrimp, duck confit, and smoked salmon spring roll appetizers and then I got the ribeye pho. The spring rolls were a little boring - just the smoked salmon, lettuce, and rice noodles. It could have been improved a few other veggies. The duck confit was absolutely amazing. Our waiter brought us extra bread so we could keep dipping into the coconut curry sauce. The sugar cane shrimp was also extremely good.
I really enjoyed the pho - keeping in mind the debate on the other thread about the subtlety of the broth. I think that yes, the taste is subtle but one of my favorite pho broths. It was definitely distinct from other pho places I've been to. I put in a little siracha and a few hot peppers but there wasn't much need for any other flavors.
We ordered 4 beers total - one was a strawberry wheat beer that basically tasted like strawberry water, pretty disappointing. The hostess then directed us towards another beer made in Duluth (sorry, my brain is failing after 2 beers) which was nice and light. We weren't blown away by any of the beers but the staff was really nice at helping us figure out good choices. She also said that they're getting the Surley beers in soon which we're looking forward to.
All in all a wonderful night and a fantastic spot, especially if you want Vietnamese but not the dive-y atmosphere of Saigon or some other local places.
What, no dessert? :) I'm glad you guys liked it. To answer your question from earlier in the day, it doesn't appear that you needed a reservation, even on a Friday evening, if you're just 1-4 people. While busy, the place wasn't packed to the point where there were never any tables or where there was a wait.
I have to re-recommend the sweet potato fritters. I really love those things (although, as you may all know by now, I'm nuts for sweet potatoes anyway). Also, the ginger creme brulee. Wow.
And, yum, the pho was fantastic. Did anyone else taste a hint of anise?