TWO YEARS ago when Saigon on Broughton Street closed down, heavy sighs were heard from those of us who treasure authentic and delicious Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.
Nobody made Angel Wings quite as succulent and crispy as Rachel Tran, or had such a special way with fresh herbs and curries that were cooked up from generations old recipes.
Walk down the sidewalk on Congress Street, just past the Rail Pub, though, and catch that well-lit sign above Boomy’s tavern. Take a closer look at the menus posted on the windows.
Yes, my friends, prepare to be astounded, because that fabulous creator of luscious pad Thai and satay is back and better than ever!
Rachel Tran, aka Lady Saigon, is re-creating her well-loved dishes in the depths of this dusky venue and Savannah foodies can rejoice!
Before you even step in the door the tantalizing scent of fresh herbs, grilled meats and nose-tweaking curries will draw you in. The venue may not be quite as high-end as the former Saigon but I, for one, am glad that the jeans and T-shirt crowd will feel quite comfy here.
There’s a pretty wide range of customers that come seeking their Asian goodies, and I’ve felt nicely laid back while dressed up or dressed down, as it were. The thing to remember, though, is the food, oh my YES!
Rachel, a native of Råch Giá, in South Vietnam, comes by her culinary skills honestly, learning at her mother’s knee, getting the right blend of spices from close Thai friends who spare no blade of lemon grass, and her own insistence on the very freshest ingredients.
I’ve watched in amazement as she artistically set up a simple plate of potstickers to look like a mini work of art, and listened in on her comments to Chef George Maweu of Kenya about the perfect presentation for her tempura-battered fried soft shell crab.
Rachel’s done amazingly well considering she left Vietnam in the midst of the war, piled on a little boat with all her relatives in tow, a little kid bouncing over the waves in mama’s lap, the family menaced by pirates before they landed safely on the Indonesian coast.
Growing up in a refugee camp makes for a tough childhood, but life started to look bright when a Protestant church in Rochester, N.Y., funded the family’s emigration to the golden land of America. She’s glad her daddy didn’t want to live in a Communist country and insisted on a better life for his family, hell or high water.
Fast forward through stints as a dealer on a casino boat in Myrtle Beach to helping mom with her little Thai-Vietnamese restaurant on Whitemarsh Island. Seems cooking those foods she so loved became a real passion for “Lady Saigon,” and she and mama developed the perfect cuisine for those who yearn for something more exotic, yet oddly familiar.
Her own venue, Saigon on Broughton, opened in March 2003, became the had-to-be-there kinda place, well-known for its elegance, refined ambience, and impeccable service as much as for the masterpieces coming out of the kitchen.
For those who believe that Thai and Vietnamese cuisine is far too strange or exotic for their taste, just consider this: marinated steak, tender roasted pork, fresh local seafood, crispy salads, flavorful soups with meatballs, creamy curries that can bite or not, according to your taste, mounds of fragrant jasmine rice, and even a delicious sandwich served on a French baguette (Banh Mi)—you can find all this and so much more here.
If you’re inclined to be a bit timid, try the famous Angel Wings, boneless wings stuffed with pork and quickly deep-fried to a golden, crispy height of flavor, or the big, delicate pancake with grilled shrimp and pork (Banh Xeo) and few can resist a slow roasted, boneless, sliced and tender duck on a bed of steamed vegetables.
The marinated, very tasty grilled pork chop (Com Suon) is a beauty to behold, topped with a fried egg and served with that incredible jasmine rice and caramelized onions.
The Asian food lover is welcome to drag along their not so adventurous friends too. Rachel’s got all the bases covered with her fine surf-and-turf menu of flavorful grilled lamb chops, pan-seared scallops and shrimp, bountiful lobster tail, steamed mussels or grilled mahi-mahi, as well as some of the most tender rib eye you’ll ever sink yer teeth into. Even the truly hide-bound American will be pleased with her big, juicy burger and hand-cut fries or seasoned spare ribs.
Lady Saigon Cuisine is located as a wholly separate entity inside Boomy’s Bar, owned by a pair of keen business partners Jeff Embry and Keith Berger, who, as friends of the Lady, offered her a spot where she can call forth her culinary magic.
Until then, pull on your jeans, gather up a crew of flavor-lovin’ pals or grab your special date, and make your way down Congress Street to Boomy’s Bar, where you will find Lady Saigon herself, newly arisen from the ashes, fierce, fabulous and ready to serve you some of the finest cookin’ this side of Saigon or Bangkok.