11 January 2015

Kwik Pick: Dinner at Ngon Bistro, St. Paul was great!

I’ve had lunch a couple of times at Ngon Bistro and really enjoyed it. I’ve even posted a blog review about one of those lunches. (Click here to read it.) I’ve been looking for an opportunity to head across the river and try it for dinner. And that’s what my wife and I did this past Saturday.

  • Food = 5/5
  • Service = 5/5
  • Ambiance = 4/5
  • Value = 4/5

As you can tell from my ratings, we liked Ngon Bistro for dinner very much. I’m not a big fan of Asian cooking. But I think that one reason why I like Vietnamese cooking is because much of it has a French influence (from the bad old days of French Indochina colonialism.) The menu at Ngon reflects this cross-cultural amalgam.

My wife, who likes Asian fare much more than I do, focused on the traditional items on the menu, especially the pho. Ngon regularly receives kudos for its pho. Besides the pho, she was very excited by the variety of dishes offered, but finally picked the seafood pho served with shrimp dumplings and mussels. I was tempted by the mock duck and by the duck pho. But I opted for one of the seasonal specials instead – duck confit served on risotto with mushrooms and zucchini. We both loved our main course meals. For starters, we had an order of sweet potato and shrimp croquettes and an order of lettuce wraps with tofu. Both were very good, though I remembered from a previous lunch experience that I’m not a big fan of do-it-yourself lettuce wraps.

Our server was excellent. She was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the food and drinks. Her descriptions of the items that we asked about were very helpful. Also, since we planned to linger for the music, she was very accommodating and let us order things at our own pace.

The ambiance in Ngon is very comfortable with tall ceilings, a big open dining room, interesting art on the walls and a very cool bar. The noise level on a Saturday night, before the musicians started playing, was moderate. We could carry on a conversation very easily without have to shout or strain to hear what each other was saying.

There’s a little bit of a back story to our visit. One of the reasons why we hadn’t gone to Ngon sooner was because we were looking for a Saturday night when they have live music. We do like to support restaurants that have live music. I knew from my lunch visits and from the web site that Ngon has music occasionally, and we kind of just waited until a time when our open Saturday night coincided with their music schedule. According to the web site, the music starts at 9 and they also resume happy hour at 9 on Saturday nights.

So we planned our evening to have dinner at 8, so that when we finished eating, we could order a couple of drinks at happy hour pricing and enjoy the music. Well, when we arrived, we asked for a table where we’d be able to see the musicians, and the hostess told us that she didn’t think there would be music that evening. She even called over one of the servers who also was unaware that music was scheduled. I told them that it was on their web site, but they still were dubious. After we got settled at our table, we also asked our server, and she determined that indeed, there would be live music. However it likely wouldn’t start until 9:30 p.m.

As things worked out, we finished our food just as the musicians were setting up, and we ordered our happy hour drinks. I had a barrel-aged Sazerac. I like a Sazerac, and I make a good one at home. But I’ve never had a barrel-aged cocktail. It was good, but I couldn’t really detect the benefit of aging the cocktail. Specialty cocktails ordered during happy hour are discounted $2. So my Sazerac was $9 instead of $11; I thought it was a fair price either way. My wife ordered a glass of the house red wine; happy hour price $5. But it was not very good. She didn’t finish it.

Recommendation: We’re already talking about our next trip to Ngon and who we’re going to bring along. But I don’t think we’ll purposely plan the evening around their music or happy hour. It just wasn’t that compelling to do it the same way again.

Click here for an explanation of my Kwik Pick ratings.

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