51 N Cleveland St
I used to frequent Saigon Le when I worked next door at Catholic Charities' Refugee Services, but soured on it when the owners refused to participate in a Refugee Cookbook that I was charged with putting together. Every time I went in after that, I got the stink eye. Maybe it wasn't personal, who knows. Saigon Le has a reputation for being "brusque." However, after reading the accolades on the Commercial Appeal's Whining & Dining blog, I was ready to give them a second chance.
Warren, the monkeys (Satchel, 5, and Jiro, 3), and I went straight after work on Friday--about 5:30ish. I had given each monkey a quarter in anticipation of the de rigueur vending machines, and they were stoked. I gave them a very strict talk on how I expected them to act. I didn't want the double stink eye after all of these years.
Upon walking in, we saw only one other table--two men and two toddlers--and believe it or not, not a single candy machine. I was impressed. The monkeys were not. I gave a vague, "Maybe there are some machines in the back--we'll look after we eat," and got the monkeys settled into our booth.
Satchel immediately sunk down and started telling me that he didn't feel good. Jiro followed suit and said, "I'm not hungry."
I explained that they still needed to keep their butts in their seats and behave. Jiro occupied himself with his Tomagotchi and I gave Satchel my notebook to draw in.
Warren and I perused the menu as the waiter brought waters over--styrofoam for the kids. I ordered some egg drop soup for Satchel, hoping to perk him up, some hot & sour soup for myself, and an order of ten small Saigon Le egg rolls. Everything came out right away, and we put in the rest of our order--Pork Fried Rice, Chicken Curry, and Fried Tofu with Lemongrass--with our very brusque waitress.
I put a few ice cubes in Satchel's soup to cool it off and he declared it yummy. Jiro greedily piled four egg rolls on his plate, but soon rejected them all after one bite. Warren and I had no trouble finishing them off, as they were delicious. My hot & sour soup was by far the best I've had in town. It was so good, I even let Warren have some.
We could have easily stopped there and been full, but we didn't. As each dish came out--one at a time as they were prepared it seemed--it was clear that our eyes were bigger and than our stomachs, and our table!
Satchel only made it through a few millimeters of his soup before getting flumpy again. I felt his forehead and determined that he might really be sick. I coaxed him (and Jiro) into eating some plain white rice.
Meanwhile, Warren and I were in heaven. The fried tofu was SO good. Almost as good as the Yom Tofu at Jasmine (a very high compliment) and the Pork Fried Rice was perfection. Greasy but not greasy. The curry was the only thing that was just okay. It had too many giant green bell peppers for my taste and the color was a little other-worldy. But damn, that fried tofu was rocking my world.
The restaurant had been steadily filling up since we entered and I could tell who the regulars were by the way they were greeted. They got a "Hi! Sit wherever you want!"
I was determined to get in their good graces and kept the monkeys on a very tight leash. Jiro required a little "Ice Cream Store" bribing, but Satchel was too sickly to revolt. The young waiter/busboy brought us three to go boxes and a paper bag for our mountain of leftovers. I packed them up as Warren took Satchel to the bathroom. Then Jiro and I went to the back to pay up. There was a line of people getting to go orders and our very brusque waitress was sitting at a large round table eating and watching a small TV. Jiro peered over her shoulder as a very brusque cashier took my money. Warren and Satchel reappeared and gathered Jiro to go visit the fish tank near the front door.
As I folded up my receipt I went over to our very brusque waitress and said quite genuinely, "Thank you, that was delicious."
She responded with a hearty smile and I was off. I felt a little silly trying to win her favor, but I plan on going back very very soon!
As a final note, the two fish in the fish tank were a riot. They actually played together and kissed! It was fascinating. Next time, we're going to sit at the table next to the tank.