Visited on Wednesday, April 2nd with Kyle, Kate, Nicki, and Alex
I had heard rave reviews of Ngon from a few different places - my coworker Kelley, the Chowhound boards, and City Pages so I was very excited to try it out. Neither Ben or I have ever had Vietnamese food before so this was something new for us. Because of that, I read up on the place a lot to try to figure out what would be best to order. I had already pretty much made my decision before we even got there.
We went to Ngon kind of late on a Wednesday night, so it was pretty empty - just a few other tables of young hipsters. I was very impressed with the decor of the restaurant - even the outside looks pretty cool. The inside is very pretty - I liked the chair railing on the walls with the darker yellow on the bottom and a more sunny yellow above. There were some cool paintings on the walls, and the light fixtures were very nice as well.
I had heard from Kelley about a Wednesday night "date night" deal which was why we chose to go on a Wednesday - 3 courses and a bottle of wine for 2 people for $50. Nicki and Alex were there before us and had already started to talk to the waitress about that. Maybe one of them can clarify, but it sounds like Ngon is done offering that deal, but the chef was willing to do it this night for us if we wanted. Nicki and Alex chose to do that, but the rest of us did not because there are some menu limitations with the date night. As previously mentioned, I already knew what I wanted and it wasn't included on the date night menu.
For an appetizer, I wanted to try the duck confit - a dish I had never had before so I have nothing to compare this to but it sure seemed great to me! The sauce was delicious - it was in a curry sauce and there were fresh herbs on top of the mixture which was great. I thought it could have come with a few more pieces of bread but I suppose they probably would have given me more if I had asked, which I didn't. The rest of the crowd seemed impressed by this appetizer as well.
For my main dish, I ordered the Pho - the waitress was kind enough to tell me how to pronounce it - we had looked it up on the internet before hand because we didn't want to sound like morons :) I think we probably still did - oh well. I got the Pho Dac Biet which is rice noodles with several different kinds of beef - I figured if I was going to try it for the first time I might as well get a variety. ThePho was HUGE - the biggest bowl I have ever seen. When I got it, the noodles were kind of clumped together, but I swished them around with my chopsticks and then it was fine. The broth was delicious and all of the pieces of meat were tender and flavorful. It was pretty cheap compared to other things on the menu ($7.50) and definitely filled me up.
I got the ginger creme brulee for dessert - also good. It seemed to be a pretty average creme brulee to me - just slightly different flavor. I enjoyed it, and after tasting the other desserts I was glad I ordered the way I did, although others thought that the Bread Pudding was the best.
We also tried everyone else's food as well. I had a bit of order envy for what Kate got - I believe it was the Hu Tieu with chicken. Nicki and Alex's date night special food was great as well - the salad had a delicious dressing on it, and the salmon was well prepared. I thought Ben's venison medallions were good as well, but probably a little too expensive. The food at Ngon is beautifully prepared, so I present you with some photos of everyone else's food below. You can click on the individual photo to see what the dish is.
Ngon clearly has a commitment to using local ingredients where possible - they note the farms that their meat comes from on their menu, and have an all Minnesota beer list. They also noted if the wine was prepared in a sustainable manner.
Our waitress was great - she answered our many questions and was very personable. Kate has a shellfish allergy so she was very careful to check with the chef before giving anything to Kate. She did experience an allergic reaction to something but it was probably because she was trying other people's food - don't worry everyone, she's fine now :)
I would love to go back to Ngon to try several of the other more traditional dishes. I think I would not get the entrees just because they are pretty expensive, and would stick to the traditional dishes of Pho, Hu Tieu , Bun (rice salad), and Com Tam (broken rice) when we go back. You can get a very cheap meal here if you stick to those dishes, which are all under $10.
We got to ride over to Ngon in Kate and Kyle's Matrix, which had remarkable leg room in the back seat. If this were a car review site, I would give them high marks in "you-don't-make-me-feel-trapped" category. We arrived for our 8pm reservations a little late, Nicki and Alex had already arrived and gotten our table.
Erin had already scoped out the menu online, so she knew what she wanted to order, whereas I had procrastinated and not looked at all. On top of that I can never decide what to get anyways, so I was having some trouble. The pork medallions sounded good, as did the venison medallions, but there was also this thing called pho (pronounced "fuh") that is a common Vietnamese food that I figured I should try. Since Erin was getting pho I opted for the venison medallions, which doesn't sound very Vietnamese, but the server claimed it was good.
Ngon has a great bottled beer list, I think every beer on there was from Minnesota; I thought that was cool. They even had the Flat Earth Winter Warlock that I had tried for Brew52 just a few days earlier. I decided on the Flat Earth Element 115, which I asked our server for. In spite of my quickly receding hairline, she asked to see my ID. I fished around in my jacket and to my horror, I couldn't find it. I even went out to the car to see if it had fallen out of my pocket, but no dice - I was not having any alcohol tonight. I told myself that it wasn't so bad, that I could save the $7 the beer cost, but that's just no way to go through life. Everybody knows damn well that any meal goes better with a beer, just not this meal.
My venison medallions came out awhile later, which came with a side of cous cous. I was disappointed by the amount of venison, the medallions were half-dollar sized and I got about five of them. For $20 I was hoping for a little more, especially because they tasted great. There was a lemongrass sauce that was drizzled over the venison that was also delicious, I would compare the taste with a Bearnaise sauce but a little sweeter.
I also got to try Erin's pho which was great - and huge. The bowls were the diameter of a basketball and about four inches deep.
Our server was really friendly, especially in light of all our questions about the menu and such. Our end of the bill came to about $60 with tip. This could have been even less though, if I hadn't gotten a $20 meal. In hindsight I should have had an appetizer (perhaps spring rolls?) and some pho. That would have been ~$15 for a better selection of food, in my opinion.
The ratings for Ngon:
- Service: Our server was cool, she joked with us and answered all our questions.
- Food: The venison medallions tasted great, the couscous was so so. I liked Erin's pho a lot.
- Drinks: Bottled local beer and wine, they had about twenty beers on bottle, so the selection was good.
- Ambiance: There was a loud table of obnoxious people who looked very pretentious and trendy. I didn't like them. The restaurant itself is very quaint, and very clean, I was impressed with the restrooms.
- Price: My venison was overpriced but the pho runs from $6.50 - $10 which is reasonable.
- Convenience: Ngon is located on University & Avon in St. Paul. Plenty of parking around the area.
Ngon Vietnamese Bistro
799 University Ave
St. Paul, MN
Highly Recommended for the food, atmosphere, and value (if you order wisely)