K and I met up with foodie friends J and D last weekend at Ngon Vietnamese Bistro on University Avenue in St. Paul. K and I had never been there and J and D had only been for lunch so we decided to explore their dinner options.
The restaurant is easy to find with plenty of free parking on the street and it is absolutely sunny and welcoming. The decor is very French bistro and everything felt so bright and clean. As the sun set, the soft lighting gave the pleasantly buzzing restaurant (and everyone in it) soft and pretty coloring. The service was very attentive and knowledgeable and when our waiter saw us gabbing away he just kept walking and came back when there was a pause in conversation. Love that.
The wine junkies in the group (everyone but me) went over the wine list thoroughly and someone finally decided on a bottle of sustainable Gruner Veltliner to share. Another lovely thing about Ngon is that it’s very focused on local, organic and sustainable. Love that too. And the wine was a very good choice. Fruity, but not too sweet.
In addition to the wine, we also shared the crispy rabbit dumpling and the spring roll (Gỏi Cuốn). The rabbit dumpling was divine and the curry sauce was rich and deep. The spring roll was fine, but the rice paper that encased the shrimp, pork and greens was a bit too thick and dry. I like my spring rolls to be a little more moist. Honestly, that was my only complaint because dinner itself was amazing.
I enjoyed the duck breast with bok choy, mushrooms and black rice with roasted red pepper curry sauce. The duck was perfectly cooked (between rare and medium rare, right where I indecisively asked for it), the earthy rice and mushrooms worked together to absorb the curry sauce. Winner. Everyone had a bite and everyone agreed.
K ordered the ox tail pho. The meat was delicious and the smell of pho spices permeated the entire restaurant with the most wonderful, drool-inducing perfume. J and D both enjoyed bun — the rice vermicelli salad. J had the shrimp salad and D had the pork which she referred to as pork candy. It’s kind of hard to go wrong with pork candy.
We were also tempted by dessert and, as a table, shared bites of the ginger creme brulee, the lychee coconut fried spring rolls and their special house made ice cream of the night — a beer from Lift Bridge Brewery of Stillwater and lingonberries. While a beer and berry ice cream might sound gross, it was delicious — creamy and a little bit yeasty, sweet and a bit tart. The creme brulee was good (more ginger please!! I’m a big fan of ginger’s spicy sting in food) but the lychee coconut spring rolls were fab. Just a little hint of coconut with a juicy lychee burst.
Our biggest disappointment of the night was only that it was still too cold to eat outside in the cute, fenced-in patio Ngon has behind the restaurant. A good reason to come back when the weather warms up!