Golden Bell Saigon, 17th Ave SW, Calgary
This place opened on Sunday in the space that's occupied Jann Arden's Arden Diner and a couple of places that have closed in the interim. They've done at least one important renovation by making the tables closest to the windows more visible (how they did this from an architectural standpoint I cannot say- they might have actually replaced the front wall and made the windows meet the floor), and when we walked by yesterday and saw that it was packed, I decided to try it for lunch today.
It was mostly empty, probably because of the off-putting smell of some sort of sealant going in the windows, so I sat in the back. I ordered one order of "spring rolls' (cha gio, with ground pork) and an order of satay chicken on rice. FULL MARKS for both! Spring rolls are handmade, beautifully stuffed, perfectly fried, not insanely burning hot, and more important, delicious. I've tried too many of these to count and I have to say these were the best cha gio I've ever had- yes even better than Noodle King. An order is 4 and they're not the midget ones, so if you're dining alone be careful not to order too much else, like I did...
Because the satay chicken (on rice, not pho ga sate) was a bit pricey at $10.50 but is a massive order. It was in a sweet viet-style curry sauce with coconut milk, lemongrass and palm sugar; it was quite Thai-esque but for the sweetness of it and there was a generous amount of white-meat chicken in it. It was rich, not at all what i was expecting (something thinner and lighter I guess) but what arrived was nothing but delicious.
I'm looking forward to trying more, but for now, I have a new fave for Viet in the west end up Uptown 17.
Based on your post we tried the Golden Bell Saigon on Mac Leod Trail for dinner yesterday. It called our attention that it was mostly empty at 7 pm, with only 5 tables with diners, including ours. We were three and we started with an order of spring rolls, one of shrimp salad rolls and a "special" pancake" (the latter was suggested by the server instead of the "roll your own" chicken dish with rice pancakes that I was looking for.)
The spring rolls were excellent, they reminded me of the wonderfully filled spring rolls at the Golden Bird in Edmonton, similar filling except that these were thinner. The shrimp rolls were good, fresh and firmly rolled, but they could have used a leaf of basil in them. The accompanying sauces for dipping were nicely balanced, the peanut based sauce in particular.
It was the first time I have tried what the server jokingly referred to as "the Vietnamese taco", a large thin eggy pancake with a loose filling of shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. It came with lettuce leaves for rolling, basil and pickled carrots. It was good (despite the fact that the lettuce edges were badly wilted) but I don't think I would order it again because it lacked the freshness and layering of flavours that i look for in Vietnamese food.
I ordered a 74B combination vermicelli bowl and I enjoyed the topping of beef skewered with onions, but found the grilled chicken rather bland and the “Tiger Prawn” had very little texture left, as if it had been marinated too long (they looked more like medium large shrimp than tiger prawns). The portion of vermicelli and vegetables in the bowl was generous and served with a good sprinkling of coarsely ground peanuts .
In brief, the highlight of our dinner were definitely the spring rolls.
re: felix the hound
don't give up on banh xeo so quickly either. their rendition may not have been to your liking, but done properly (which i admit is rare, i haven't had a great one since I moved to calgary, and the place where I used to get it in ottawa doesn't do it as well as they used to according to my folks.), it can be divine: A crisp outer crepe stuffed with barely warmed through bean sprouts and savoury shrimp and pork. Add a bit of fish sauce... yum! also note that it shouldn't really be eggy at all. most recipes don't call for any egg... the batter should be rice flour and dried mung bean based. it gets the yellow colour from the mung beans and turmeric.
After checking the reference in Wikipedia I realize that I probably confused the colour of the turmeric ( some recipes call for cumin) with that of egg, I should have said eggy looking. My initial impression of the dish was not all negative, but i was a bit put off by the wilted lettuce. The presentation looked exactly like the top picture in the Wikipedia entry.