The Girl Who Ate Everything

Blogging about food and whatever since 2004.

Saigon Grill and Cafe Lalo

sure is
sure is

Since my Food Science and Technology book is used, it has some highlighting and scribbled notes in the margins (I've deduced that the former owner was female since I've rarely seen a guy with such neat, loopy handwriting). The note about the food pyramid being more influenced by government and money than science amused me, not because I don't think it's true, but because the student was driven to highlighting the scathing lie and leaving a note for the next student, perhaps in some underground attempt to raise awareness of our faulty food pyramid. In my most subversive state, I will question the validity of our government's nutritional guide. Look out...Bush, I'm a-comin'!

I was forced to learn about the food pyramid in my fall 2004 nutrition class. The next semester, the food pyramid had undergone a transformation into this colored stripe thingy featuring a humanoid with really pointy arms and legs that render them useless for, anything, besides spearing trash or impaling enemies, barely resembling the pyramid I had grown up with. Good god, what did I learn all that serving crap for? If I thought the food pyramid sucked before, the new one seemed worse., that was just a digression. Some people were surprised when I told them there was a new food pyramid, which isn't really that new anymore, not that it really matters because I don't think I ever followed the food pyramid that closely.

salad bar
salad bar

I did try to be a little healthy last Friday. A smidge. For instance, do you see that salad, all colorful and glowy from the sunlight? It's salad! It has vegetables, which in turn have things called "fiber" and "nutrients" (and "phytonutrients")! And I ate it! I don't usually choose to eat salad, but Life Thyme's salad bar is the kind I actually like. It's not just a bunch of lettuce with some boring toppings and boring dressing. Holy crap, there's other stuff! Broccoli, beans, lentils, peppers, dried tomatoes, pesto, zucchini, etcetera! I mixed together maybe five different salad choices and liked all of them. I wouldn't be able to tell you specific flavors, liked it. Saying "I liked it" means there was nothing bad about it. That's good.

Buffalo milk yogurt
Buffalo milk yogurt

I also had a slight craving for yogurt after all that dairy discussion the other day, but I also wanted to try a yogurt I never had before. Out of the shadows of the dairy case popped the words WATER BUFFALO and other mouthwatering words like OMEGA-3 and PROBIOTIC (yeaah your mouth is watering), decorated with a drawing of the water buffalo from whose juice would be turned into a coagulated mass held in a plastic cup to someday be stared at by a confused college student.

TANTALIZING! Kinda? Yeah, okay.

I ate it
I ate it

It was so good! As you can see, this isn't gloppy pudding, but more custard or mousse-esque without being either one. ...Because it's yogurt. It wasn't too sweet, tart, or heavily flavored, just balanced, and I was a big fan of th texture. File this under "things I'd buy again".

One reason I ate healthily for lunch was because I knew I wouldn't for dinner (oh ho ho, did you think I'd eat healthily just cos?). After work I headed to the Upper West Side to meet up with Wei, starting at Saigon Grill and afterwards eating dessert at Cafe Lalo.

Something I didn't know about Saigon Grill was that it's frickin' huge, immediately reminding me of large chain restaurants (Outback, Macaroni Grill...) in suburbia. The reception desk is lined with flat monitored computers, people at the computers doing stuff. Taking 50000 orders and keeping things running, I suppose. Wei and I were taken to a somewhat cramped room (although I guess the whole place, despite being huge, is kinda cramped...because it's FULL OF HUMANS) in the back that seemed to pop out of nowhere. They just conjure it up when the place is full and no customers can be terminated to make more room.

Cho Gio
Cho Gio

We started with the cho gio, "Vietnamese crispy fried spring roll filled with pork, shrimp, mushrooms, clear noodles, taro root, and turnip, served with lettuce, fresh herbs, and Nuoc Cham sauce." Sounds good. And it was. I was most interested in the taro part, which I tasted a hint of. The spring rolls were crispy (duh, they were fried, but ...they were freshly fried) and easy to eat due to being cut in half. I didn't know until now that the thin, sweet and spicy sauce that accompanies many Vietnamese dishes is called nuoc cham; I may be compelled to actually make the stuff. But I won't, because I suck at cooking. I will gladly accept any buckets of nuoc cham you happen to have lying around.

basil pork
basil pork

Since I didn't know what to order, I went with basil pork. Don't ask me how "not knowing what to order" turned into "basil pork"; I had a taste for pork, resulting in the moutain of sliced meat that I was presented with. Meeeat. So much meat. Glistening meat. I was a little overwhelmed by the pile of meat and a little underwhelmed by the taste of the pile of meat. It wasn't bad (fine for the price, which is why I'd see myself coming here if I lived in the area), but it didn't do much for me. For something called "basil pork", I didn't think it had enough basil, and there were just so many other ingredients in the dish that I thought it was...a lot. There were slices of tofu in the dish, and while I don't dislike tofu, I would've rather had a tofu-less pork dish. I did like the crispy lotus root slices though and ate most of the dish; it wasn't bad, but it's not something I'd be compelled to eat again.

something with shrimp
something with shrimp

Wei ordered something with shrimp, which resembled my dish in the "oo, it glistens!" department. It looks like it has some of the same vegetables too. ...Perhaps they're close cousins.

I think I would've liked Saigon Grill better if I had gotten something else. Carol gave me some suggestions, but when I was thinking, "Should I get something I'm sure I'll like, or something different that I might like?" I went with the latter thought. Sometimes the first thought turns out well, but this time the result was, "Ohhh...I get to eat this pile of pork now." And I do like pork, but only in certain forms. For instance, the grilled pork from Cong Ly was AWESOME, OH GOD, I WANNIT (sobs). Carol did recommend the grilled pork to me...dammit.

Cafe Lalo
Cafe Lalo

Near Saigon Grill is Cafe Lalo, a place made more famous, I think, through its appearance in You've Got Mail. (When we got there, a woman asked me to take a photo of her and her friend outside the front door. When we left, other people were taking photos outside the front door. PEOPLE REALLY LIKE TAKING PHOTOS OUTSIDE THE FRONT DOOR.) I also heard about it from a handful of friends who recommended it to me. Wei had been there before and was more neutral towards it, but since I had never gone and THEY SELL CAKES AND STUFF, I obviously had to try it out and form my own opinion.

lots of baked goods
lots of baked goods

The place was packed, but we were seated after a few minutes since the human turnover rate is fast. Lighting is bright, conversation is rampant, and music is loud. Music is louder when it's the soundtrack to Moulin Rogue. So far, a fun place to hang out, but it might be hard to hear the person sitting two feet away from you depending on how crowded it is. Our initial conversation mainly revolved around WHAT THE HELL DO I ORDER, because their menu is ginormous, offering more cakes, pies, tarts, and cheesecakes than I've ever seen in any other place before. I'd see one thing that looked good, but then my eyes would drift to another thing...and back to the first thing...then to another unrelated thing...and then I'd think I decided on something, when in fact I dad MISSED SOME OTHER DELICIOUS OPTION, resulting in brain overload and the inability to go back to school because my brain was wiped out by a menu with too many dessert choices.

pecan chocolate drizzle
pecan chocolate drizzle

Wei ordered the pecan chocolate drizzle tart after the sticky nut truffle cake appeared to be nonexistent (it appeared to not exist...yeah, I'll try not to use that phrase again). It was a good choice. Nothing wrong with this tart. It had a good layer of...whatever goes into a pecan tart (brown sugar?) topped with a layer of pecans and...yes, drizzled with chocolate. Mmm.

hazelnut torte
hazelnut torte

Like at dinner, instead of ordering something I was sure I'd like, I got something kinda random. It wasn't so random that I wouldn't have any idea what it would taste like, but I didn't really know what it was. Hazelnut torte caught my eye because although I wasn't really sure what a torte was, I figured that it must be good (because ALL CAKE IS GOOD, yes?). While the free dictionary defines a torte as "a rich cake made with many eggs and little flour and usually containing chopped nuts," I don't think Cafe Lalo's resembled that description. It was pretty light and not rich at all, although it may have had chopped nuts.

More perplexing than the bland cake texture was the top layer of viscous goo. Acting as some sort of glue for the cake to stay attached to the plate, the strength of its adhesion was slightly unsettling. I was wondering why the cake was on its side, but when I attemped to lift it upright with my fork, I couldn't move it because of the viscous goo, which you can see from the photo was just a thin layer. Someone please tell me if the viscous goo is supposed to be there. Perhaps it could have other uses, like holding planks of wood together, attaching photos to a wall, gluing squirrels together beacuse you have weird hobbies, but on top of cake? Hm. I don't really remember what it tasted like, so it wasn't really bad, but ...I DON'T KNOW WHAT IT WAS, and that disturbs me. Overall, I wasn't very into the cake, including the chocolate crushed-nut-filled diamond on top. The cake and cream were okay, but nothing I'd ever prefer over a chunk of whipped buttercream frosting-slathered cake from Sugar Sweet Sunshine. I think I expected more because I heard good things about the place and the cake cost $6.50 a slice (which means I ate the whole thing, haha...ha). Maybe I should've done more research beforehand as to what I should order.

We wandered to Alice's Tea Cup and surprisingly weren't really in the mood for the tempting cupcakes, scones, or cookies (GASP, horror, I know!). Dinner and dessert were fun, but just okay; I just feel like I ordered the wrong things. If you have dissenting opinions about Saigon Grill or Cafe Lalo, feel free to chime in.


AugustusGloop / February 5, 2006 8:52 PM

Viscous goo does look scary. Perhaps it's supposed to act as some kind of impenetrable forcefield for random bacteria? Or else the pastry chef accidently dropped a whole box of gelatin leaves into the apricot glaze.

Liz / February 6, 2006 12:44 AM

Glad you made it to Cafe Lalo! Their stuff is a little dicey in terms of quality, but the selection is unbelievable and definitely worth a try.

I plan to go again next time I'm in town- spring-ish I think.

(I didn't realize it was in "You've Got Mail". No wonder Von and I had this weird urge to pose in front of it for a picture...)

lori / February 6, 2006 3:17 AM

It's good to take a chance at times and order something new from the menu. True, it's a hit or miss thing, but at least I can say that I take risks. Hahahahaha.

The slices of pie at Cafe Lalo are elongated, eh? It must be a huge pie. Speaking of size, the place itself (at least from your photo) looks huge too.

roboppy / February 6, 2006 7:43 AM

AugustusGloop: It would be a good anti-microbial forcefield! Hahahaaaaa! Or too much gelatin. I've never seen such a funky gelatin glaze on a cake before. My experience is mainly with Japanese cheesecakes that have that light gelatin layer...mmm...great, now I want a slice of that.

Liz: Too much selection! IT TOOK ME FOREVER TO DECIDE! :O The banana cream pie looked good though when we were just looking at the display case. Mmm, cream pie! If I go again maybe I'll get my photo taken in front for the hell of it, hehe.

foodcrazee: I guess it was a little oily, but not too much...well, it didn't compare to the glistening pile of pork, hehe! I don't know what kind of basil was used. :| There didn't seem to be very much of it.

Lori: My main "acts of random ordering" occur at Chinese bakeries where just about everything tastes pretty good and will only set me back $0.70 even if it doesnt. ;) "Robyn, do you know what's in that bun?" ", but I DON'T CARE!" Livin' on the wild side, yeeaah.

Oo, I guess the pies are pretty huge. I didn't really think about that since the slices are kinda thin, hahaa..(sniff)

Wei / February 6, 2006 11:37 AM

Doh.. sorry you didn't enjoy the dishes as much as you would've liked. :? We could try again. :D

I think that glistening goo is a light carmel? Or maybe condensed syrup of some sort.

janet / February 6, 2006 12:11 PM

yeah i went to saigon grill recently and thought it was kind of meh all around. that just means i need to blaze my way towards cong ly.

i've only been to cafe lalo once and actually can't remember anything about it except for the fact that it was super busy, there were lots of asian people for some reason, and the waitresses were kinda like, 'what? customers? whatever.' the cakes?? why do i not remember the cakes?????

roboppy / February 6, 2006 5:05 PM

Wei: Yup, there's always more chances to eat! But maybe you should come down here and we can try a Vietnamese place in Chinatown? There's a lot of em, hehe.

If the goo was caramel, it didn't taste like caramel! Which would be odd. :O I don't know how to describe it. Maybe it was partially caramel but the rest was a mystery.

Janet: Mmmm, Cong Ly and...pooork. I feel like I should try every Vietnamese place before I try em again though. I've only been to four places so far. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY RESTAURANTS?!

Service did seem a bit slow at Cafe Lalo, but our waitress was nice and we weren't in a rush. But...yeeeah busy place. So many choices and not really satisfying for the price. Wah.

Julie / February 6, 2006 7:16 PM

I used to go to the UES Saigon Grill a lot because it was around the corner from my old apt. Considering the price, it's a pretty good deal. I always go with the chicken dishes. The lemongrass chicken is a lot lighter than the ones you got...not as much oil and pretty good. So if you go there again, I suggest that. Cheers!

MMM / February 6, 2006 10:48 PM

Love your site... Next time you go to Saigon Grill, try the Bahn Cuon.. it's an appetizer, rice crepe filled with minced chicken, coconut pieces, mushroom and topped with toasted garlic slices.

roboppy / February 7, 2006 12:39 AM

Julie: Thanks for the recommendation! I like lemongrass, but I didn't feel like eating chicken for some reason. My mind said..."PORK". Yes, my mind says weird things.

MMM: Glad you like my site, thanks for coming by! And another recommendation...okay, I guess I have to go back. "Have" to. Yes.

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