All good things must come to an end....
Little did I know, when I last ate at the Saigon Dragon back in late 2004, that I would be eating there for the very last time. Oh, it's still there, physically....same location a mile or so North of Jungle Jim's on rt4 in Fairfield, but it's not the same.
My oldest daughter (just turned 4) went to her first dance class this past Saturday morning, so me and the youngest (age 2.5) hopped in the car and went up to Saigon Dragon for an early lunch. I had been meaning to get back to this placed that I had touted over and over again since coming to Roadfood as "one of the very best lunch deals in all of Cincinnati", and decided that no time was better than the present. After a quick stop to pick up some computer parts at Microcenter, we arrived.
I had already heard the bad news from other contributors here, that the menu had changed and included mexican and such, but I remained cautiously optimistic, figuring that the owner was simply trying to expand his menu in an attempt to drum up some more business. Not the case. I was greeted by the new owners - a hispanic man and an asian woman - at the door, and they were friendly enough, but I knew that it was likely that this was now my Saigon Dragon in name only. A quick discussion revealed that they had bought the place in or around February of 2005 - right about the same time I had changed jobs, moving from a close-by Fairfield office to a "I can only get there once in a great while" location of downtown Cincinnati; and further that the original owner had decided to retire. I can certainly recall he had looked to be in his late 60's or early 70's, so this made sense, despite being unfortunate for me :-) Still, there remained the possibility the previous ownership/family had showed them some things and included family recipes and cooking techniques, so with some trepidation I sat down, snapped off a shot or two of the interior, my gorgeous dining companion, and her Dora the Explorer juice cup, and took up the menu.
What a mess. Over a hundred different things to choose from, and I am a big believer that one should do a few things well before attempting to do many things adequately. That, and the beloved under 4 buck lunch specials were simply gone. Gone as in you can still order a lunch special, but it's 5.50 now and it no longer includes a soup. Here's a partial shot of the core asian part of the menu. There's 2 or 3 more pages besides this of things to choose from.
The restaurant was as empty as I had always remembered it -- not even one additional customer came in the entire time we were there -- and I had to think that raising one's prices is not the best way to attract new customers. I sighed heavily, and ordered the old standby -- pepper steak, extra rice, and an eggroll. The special included an eggroll, but I wanted to split one with my extremely cute dining companion (she'd never had asian food before) and have a whole one to myself. I'm greedy like that :-) Besides, in my memory, the eggrolls had been simply outstanding, and surely they had worked with the old owner to replicate these, particularly since they had nearly doubled the price (from 1.00 each to 1.75 each)
The food arrived, and the first thing I noticed was that the portion was somewhat larger. I had ordered extra rice only because the rice portion under the previous management had been somewhat small, but now I had two huge servings of rice. Ah well, live and learn :-) I portioned out some of everything to my appreciative and hungry little girl before taking in the look of everything.
The eggrolls and the pepper steak looked every bit as good as the old, but I noted that the brown sauce was thinner and there was less of it.
A few bites pretty much told the tale. The Tender beef of old had been replaced by pieces somewhat thicker sliced and far less tender. The sauce was indeed far thinner, and lacked the intense satisfying flavor it had had under previous management. The veggies on the other hand were every bit as fresh and nicely crunchy as they had been before. Then there was the eggroll - the ingredients were indeed fresh and even a bit crunchy, which I liked, but this was clearly a new and original mixture not resembling the eggrolls I remembered at the least. (please pardon the flecks of rice on the fork to the left, I was given a clean fork but had used it to portion out some lunch for my daughter before taking the pic
That said, don't get me wrong -- this was a good meal at a fair price. But it wasn't equal to what was now, for me, a legend -- a restaurant that had served top quality food at bargain basement prices and now no longer existed.
Saigon Dragon remains in my opinion a solid/decent place to eat, but not the kind of place I will recommend for a special/roadfood type stop.
ah well. another one bites the dust......