- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

Saigon Gourmet is not the most bustling lunch spot in the District, but it is likely one of the best values.

Nestled delicately in the strip of restaurants along Connecticut Avenue in Woodley Park, this Vietnamese restaurant has much to offer for anyone looking for an inexpensive meal that differs from your average fare of burgers and fries. Its location, directly across from the Woodley Park Metro station, may not attract a heavy business lunch crowd. But anyone near Farragut North looking for a nice change of pace should be willing to take a 2-stop ride to discover this treat of a restaurant. Business travelers and those attending a conference at the nearby Marriott Wardman Park might find a visit to be more than worth their while.

Saigon Gourmet is modernly decorated, with some cultural touches like life-size fake palm trees. Tables at the Saigon Gourmet are spread apart nicely from one another a feature seldom found at other Vietnamese restaurants in the District and there is ample room to take notes. Those seated on the inner part of the restaurant may find the lighting inadequate, but window-side tables are flooded with sunlight on pleasant days. Outdoor seating on the street is also available, though few would be impressed with the view of Connecticut Avenue.

During our visit, the restaurant was empty at first, but filled in later with many older neighborhood residents. Noise levels were never a point of concern.

For lunch, nothing on the menu of Saigon Gourmet costs more than $8. And there is much to choose from. Those with an unadventurous palate can go with one of the many mild chicken or beef dishes. More care-free souls could try something spicier, or even try an exotic seafood dish featuring squid.

Heavier eaters may find portions at the Saigon Gourmet a bit small, making an appetizer worth the extra few dollars. A plate of spring rolls, at just under $5, is a delightful way to start. The rolls are crisp and flavorful, and packed with light vegetables to whet your appetite without filling you up.

The ginger chicken was a tasty dish perfect for lunch or dinner. The meat was a bit on the firm side, but there was plenty of it sitting in a bed of sprouts and cucumbers. A heavy portion of perfectly textured white rice, provided separately, helped to ease any discomfort from the dish's spiciness.

The dessert is perhaps the best part of dining at Saigon Gourmet. Don't leave without trying the banana flambe, a Vietnamese version of an American favorite: the banana split. Bananas are dipped in batter, then fried. But the best part is when the waiter flames them with a mixture of honey, rum and sesame seeds right before your eyes. It's best served on a plate of vanilla ice cream.

Service is prompt, attentive and friendly. Meals for three persons arrived in about 15 minutes, and beverage glasses were filled and refilled like clockwork.

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