Reviewing Diary – Log 2 – 21.04.2014
I’m home. 🙂
There has been quite a long pause since my last review, so today, let’s continue this food journey! These past 3 weeks, Big Gal and I have scouted some restaurants here in HCMC, and have had both nice/not so nice experience that I cannot wait to share it with you.
Hold that thought for a minute there, Rose. Who is Big Gal? Oops, sorry, I forgot to introduce a new character of my blog. 🙂 Big Gal is a junior colleague of my Mom and a friend of mine for almost 2 years now. She has great eyes and skill for nature and people photography, great ears for music, and a calm yet very decisive mind. What we have in common is our outrageous passion for good food, and that is what has brought us together on this weekly food touring and reviewing. All good now, guys? Let’s move on to the main part: Reviewing.
Our destination is En Boga – a new Western-style restaurant in town. Address at 16 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St. Dist.1 HCMC, Vietnam. It was opened less than 2 months ago, so basically, we were here to dig up a gold mine, or else…
When I arrived at 6pm on a Saturday night, my first impression of the place is that it has clean and light glass window and a green terrain. 1 staff parked my bike nicely, while 2 other opened the door for me and said “welcome” with big, bright smiles. This was off to a good start, wasn’t it? At first sight, the place seemed pretty empty for a weekend night. Stepping inside the restaurant, the atmosphere is cozy with deep red, coban blue, yellow, and white stripped table cloth in yellow lighting. Eye catching part of the interior is a hand-painted wall that reminds us of a comfy European café in warm late summer light. It’s a shame though, that it was hidden in the back room.
When Big Gal arrived (BG), it was us, and that was it, just like we had the whole place reserved for our tasting, cool! (Well, for us maybe, but not that much for the owner. Sorry, Ms. Owner.) The staff quickly presented us with the menu and we picked the following for tasting:
- Bruschetta: toasted bread with ham, olive and tomato sauce
- Italian Vegie soup
- Penne Pollo: Penne pasta with chicken and creamy green sauce
- Italian Risotto with baked chicken and mushroom
- En Boga Cake (aka Strawberry panna cotta)
- Mimosa (Orange juice with Red wine)
- En Boga Coffee (Espresso with Bailey and Kahlua)
We were served with drinks while waiting for the food. The En Boga Coffee was an accidental complementary. How so? It was my first drink choice, but then we changed to Mimosa because it was served in jug for 2 and red wine with orange juice did sound very tempting to both of us. However, their service was way too fast, the Coffee was made before we had the chance to change our order (just within 1-2 minutes). Seeing my initial interest in the drink, the restaurant manager offered us the drink free of charge. Maybe it was because we were the only customers inside at the time, or because they were just opened and needed to win their customers’ affection, but I must say, up till this point, they succeeded. I am impressed with their warm service.
As for the drink, En Boga Coffee tasted nice, not too sweet though they used both Bailey and Kahlua, and still very aromatic. One minus was that the presentation was off, coffee served in a tall cocktail glass with no garnishing whatsoever? Not so comfortable for me, I almost tripped 1/3 of the drink to my shirt on my first try.
The Mimosa was another story, the balance was there, a little tannin from the red wine goes very well with the freshly squeezed orange juice’s sweet-sourness, especially at the beginning of the jug when the ice has not melted. For those that fancy a little alcohol but cannot tolerate a full glass of red wine, this is THE choice. That, however, led us to the only comment: Mimosa was best served chilled, not iced. 🙂
Starters + Main courses
10 minutes after ordering, the food started to be served, and very satisfyingly, in the order that we intentionally requested. The staff actually paid attention to their customers; this is a sign of a good restaurant.
The soup, it was well-seasoned, no artificial sweetness, you can really taste the fresh vegies. However, I suspect that this is a quick soup rather than slow-cooked one because the zucchini and carrot were still hard. Every now and then, you bite into some melted Gouda cheese bits, and it was quite interesting that way.
After the soup, we were served with main courses. I had Penne Pasta with chicken in green creamy sauce while BG had Italian Risotto.
At first, when I heard “green sauce” I immediately think of pesto, that nutty and aromatic magic sauce always amazes me to great extent. So before I took the first bite into the dish, I highly expected that distinct basil flavor of pesto, but it turned out, none was there. In my taste bud was a hint of spinach from the sauce and ginger from the chicken. I was dissapointed, to tell the truth, but they never promised pesto, so well… the pasta was well cooked to al dante and the dish was balanced with enough seasoning and richness from the sauce, yet, it seemed a tad flat to me. There was neither “wow” factor nor that tickling in your mouth when you chew that will keep you coming back for another bite. The chicken was marinated with ginger before sautéing, and was done well.
I also tried bit of BG’s Risotto. Both she and I agreed that the rice was not cooked enough, therefore too dry and hard (comparing with a good risotto). There was not enough creamy sauce and the grilled chicken was not very special. The seasoning was a bit timid and the turmeric aroma was not going well with the chicken and mushroom. The dish was a complete bland to us.
During our main course, the bruschetta was served. The bread slices had some nice crisp to the bite and the olive/ham/tomato sauce totally worked, very flavorful. Bit of grated Parmesan on top added a nice but not overloaded richness. One thing that could have made this dish even better is to cut the bread lightly thicker, and toast it more quickly so that it has nice crunch on the outside, but still have something to chew on the inside.
We finish our dinner with En Boga cake, aka strawberry panna cotta. On first notice, the jelly layer was made with real strawberry and no artificial coloring, therefore, pale. Nonetheless, I appreciate their concern of customer’s health. One spoon of the panna cotta, I suspected that they used too much gelatin because the texture was not soft enough. There was no melt in your mouth that a panna cotta should have had. One more thing, maybe it was just me being to sensitive, but the strawberry on top lingered with a metal taste of a knife that was used to cut vegetable. I also wished this dished was chilled to lower temperature.
All in all, the experience was nice and the staff was very friendly. Not to mention that they were very attentive to our table: collecting empty dishes and forks after each course with very good manner (you can tell by the way they hold and serve wine glasses), manager talking to us about our comment and recommendation for the new dishes. The food was easy going for those that are not familiar with true European taste, however, to me was lack of distinction that can remind me to come back here next time I am in crave for Western food.
Price was pretty affordable, this dinner cost each of us 170,000VND, which is around 8.5US$, for 2 appetizers, 1 main course, 1 dessert, 1 drink, we simply could not ask for more.
If you are looking to try out a bit of Western style food (specialty in Italian and French) on a budget and want to play it safe, this is your gold. Trust me, there will be times when you just could not afford to stretch out too adventurously, risk facing awkwardness when ordering a dish that you simply cannot understand let alone enjoy, like first dates. Trust your girl here on this, guys.
As for me, I would love to come back here after 1 month and try out other dishes to see if there has been any improvement since. I think, eating out as a whole is an experience, not just about food, and during this dinner, I have felt their clear hospitality and effort in maintaining customer satisfaction, so why not come back to a place where you are treasured and treated with respect?
- Staff: 4.5/5
- Drink: 3/5
- Food: 2.5/5
- Atmosphere: 3/5
- Overall: 3.2/5
- Comeback: Yes
- Recommended: Yes, for affordable, easy-breezy Western style restaurant
Until next time,
C’est quelqu’un qui m’a dit que tu m’aimais encore
Serait-ce possible alors ?