24 November 2012

Staff lunch #2: Ngon Bistro, St. Paul MN

Oh-oh. A whole month since my last post. Sorry.

Over the past year, I’ve worked particularly close with the Communications staff at Land O’Lakes. We’ve worked together to make sure the cooperative’s legislative message is accurately and effectively conveyed to our farmer-members and the public. We use publications, the internet, and social media to get the job done. One great example is a video that was filmed during our last grassroots fly-in to DC and posted early in November. Click here to view it.

So anyway, I decided it would be appropriate to host an appreciation lunch for the staff. I was chatting with one of the staff one day and I made my typical smart-aleck comment about how there’s no good reason to come to St. Paul to eat. She, being a St. Paul resident, defended the restaurants in her city. Then she cheated by laying a liberal guilt trip on me.

She told me about how the restaurants (and other businesses) on University Avenue have lost business during the construction of the new light rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul. So as a supporter of light rail in the Twin Cities, I had no choice but to pick a University Avenue restaurant for our staff lunch. She recommended Ngon Vietnamese Bistro. Sounded good to me.

We picked a date that looked good for the entire staff. But when the day arrived, about half of the group had to cancel out for numerous reasons. Still, with five of us, we were able to sample a wide variety of items.DSC00269

We started with a few appetizers. The lettuce wrap with beef was tasty. But it was served ‘deconstructed.’ All of the items were on a platter, and each person made his or her own wrap. It was a little messy, and I would have preferred to have the wraps served already ‘wrapped.’ We also shared a plate of vegetarian egg rolls. They were very crisp and flavorful. I think the best starter was the plate of sweet potato and shrimp croquettes. One of the things I like about Vietnamese cuisine is the fusion of Asian and French styles. The croquettes were excellent examples of that.

For my entrée I had a dish I’d never heard of before – Com Tam. It was rice, cucumber, tomatoes, pickled carrots and daikon. You can choose to have it served with chicken, pork, shrimp or tofu. I chose tofu. It was a great choice. I loved the combination of flavors. It was an ample serving, probably more than I needed for lunch, but not overly filling.

One of my coworkers had the Com Tam with the pork combination. It was the same basic dish, but with pork cooked three different ways (shredded, barbecued, and bacon). It actually made the dish appear to be much more filling.

Another entrée on the menu that I was unfamiliar with is ‘Bun.’ It’s a vermicelli noodle salad with greens, cucumbers, bean sprouts, herbs and peanuts. It could be served with pork, shrimp egg rolls, chicken, beef, or tofu. One of our group had it with chicken. It also was a very substantial item, and she said it tasted great.

One of my coworkers had Pho. I don’t recall every having had Pho myself. I was surprised when I looked it up for this review that it’s another example of the French influence in Vietnamese cooking. It’s derived from the French ‘pot-au-feu’ or beef stew. She chose Pho with rib eye. (Other choices were meatball, chicken, seafood or oxtail.) It was such an ample portion that she took half of it home.

The final item served was the classic Vietnamese sandwich ‘Bahn Mi.’ It was served with pork and a nice pile of sweet potato fries. DSC00270

In the end, I had to admit that I’d found another St. Paul eatery worth crossing the river for. (As I’ve written before, my No. 1 Twin Cities restaurant is Meritage.) Besides the food, I really liked the ambiance at Ngon. It’s a big, open room, nicely decorated. Along the west wall, there’s a really cool bar with a fantastic, custom tap beer dispenser (I guess they’re called ‘towers.’)

One more notable point – as we were finishing our lunch, St. Paul’s mayor Chris Coleman came in. We said hello and introduced ourselves. (Though Land O’Lakes office is located in Arden Hills, our mailing address is St. Paul, and we’re considered a St. Paul company.) Fortunately, none of my coworkers outed me as a Minneapolitan.

So I will definitely look for an opportunity to return to Ngon, maybe for dinner next time. The only question is – what in the world will I do in St. Paul after dinner?

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