Tuesday, July 24, 2012

aMango Restaurant: Pho Saigon

When husband and wife team Tim and Q learned the former Charlie’s location on Monroe Street, just east of Talmadge Road, was available they jumped at the chance to take it and open a Vietnamese and Asian restaurant.

Putting all of their resources into securing the location, they quickly opened Amango Restaurant/Pho Saigon for business with a lighted sign and low priced grand opening specials.

This is not a Vietnamese theme restaurant with a Buddhist altar, conical straw hats, incense, and waitresses in au dai. It is not intended to transport you to a dated version of Vietnam designed specifically for Western tourists. Amango is simple and functional. Keep your eyes on the food and your mind on the flavors and you will be magically transported to the humble atmosphere of a restaurant for locals in contemporary Vietnam.

On my first visit, I ordered the banh xeo/sizzling pancake appetizer. This dish is a great example of the effect French colonialism had on the Vietnamese kitchen. It gets its name from the sound of the batter sizzling on the pan as it is prepared. Banh xeo is essentially a French crepe filled with onion, shrimp, and seasoned pork. It is accompanied by a plate of fresh mint sprigs plus a few leaves of curly lettuce. To eat banh xeo like a native please use your hands. Grab a leaf of lettuce, put in a few mint leaves and a piece of the filled crepe. Then roll up the lettuce leaf like a burrito, while keeping the contents inside, and dip it into the accompanying fish sauce before you take your first bite. While I prefer a thinner pancake with more filling, Amango’s banh xeo is a good choice of appetizer to introduce a newcomer to Vietnamese cooking. Order one for the table. It’s big enough for a family of four. Don’t tell your kids the name of the sauce until after they’ve dunked their first roll and taken a bite. They’ll love it.

Another popular Vietnamese appetizer on the menu is the spring rolls ($3.95). This is a delicious way to cool off during this summer’s heat wave. It’s a chilled, soft, paper thin rice pancake filled with cooked vermicelli, mint leaves, chilled shrimp, and shredded lettuce. Amango is serving it with Thai peanut sauce instead of a Vietnamese sauce. The good news is that the table is stocked with hoisin sauce, red chili sauce and soy sauce you can use to enhance the flavor. We requested hot chili oil (tia chiev sate) and ignored the peanut sauce entirely. There are three rolls in an order. Your server will be happy to bring you a serrated knife to halve the rolls and create six hearty portions.
At lunchtime, I highly recommend ordering the goi ga/chicken salad ($7.99). The salad is a zesty mix of shredded chicken, carrots, lettuce, celery, cabbage, mint, and chopped peanuts tossed with rice wine vinaigrette. It is presented with a plate of lime wedges and sliced jalapeno peppers that you may use to season your salad to taste.

The most wellknown Vietnamese dish is pho (pronounced “fur”). Pho is a sweet and savory beef broth served with noodles and a variety of meats, fish or vegetarian ingredients. The Vietnamese tend to eat pho for breakfast. It is served with a plate of bean sprouts, Asian basil leaves and lime wedges. Squeeze the lime wedges over your soup and toss in some sprouts and basil before you eat it. The table sauces at Amango are handy for adding additional spice. I wish Chef Linh would be more generous with the noodles. Drop by after 10am on Saturday or noon on Sunday and discover the healing properties of a bowl of pho. It will quickly become your preferred morning remedy for a hangover or the common cold.

With the modest prices and extensive menu, I found myself going back again and again to Amango over the course of a week just to check out more of the entrees I had previously enjoyed in Vietnam. The bun tom thit nuong cha gio/vermicelli with grilled pork, shrimp and an egg roll ($8.99) is probably the best choice for people who want to get a feel for Vietnamese food but prefer mild and more familiar ingredients. It is served with a sweet and sour sauce that you can add a little bit at a time until you like the balance of flavor and moisture on your noodles.

If you’re familiar with Vietnamese food and know what you like, you will be delighted with Amango. If you’ve never had this type of cuisine, give it a chance. There are many options, so with a little persistence, you are sure to find a dish or two you really like. Alex, a waiter and friend of the owners, can be trusted to make a solid recommendation in any section of the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask for him if you get a server who doesn’t speak much English. On the same token, if you can’t bring yourself to spend any time in an Asian restaurant without a pond full of koi fish and tacky paper lanterns, rent a DVD copy of “Indochine” or “The Quiet American” and order carry-out. Amango is too good to miss.

NAME: AMANGO Restaurant/Pho Saigon

LOCATION: 5228 Monroe Street, Toledo, OH 43623 419-517-0261

RESERVATIONS: Parties of 8 or more



PRICING: Appetizers ($4-$8), Soup/Salad ($8-9), Entrees ($8-$12), Sandwiches ($3.50-$5.25)

DON’T MISS: goi ga/cold chicken salad, banh xeo/Vietnamese pancake, bun tom thit nuong cha gio/vermicelli with grilled pork, shrimp and an egg roll, pho/rice noodles with beef broth.

RATING: Excellent Vietnamese food/school cafeteria atmosphere

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Registry Bistro Brings New American Cuisine to Downtown Toledo

Registry Bistro is now open on the first floor of the renovated Secor Hotel. Come and enjoy another great addition to downtown Toledo’s renaissance of attractions, special events and nightlife.

Erica Rapp, Chef de Cuisine, burst onto the Toledo dining scene with a handsome and minimalist space featuring a changing menu of New American Cuisine. For the uninitiated, New American Cuisine started in California as French trained American chefs began incorporating fresh, local, seasonal ingredients along with more global influences to update American cooking. Chef Rapp trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and has a devoted audience in Toledo from her previous roles as the Executive Chef at the Toledo Museum of Art and at Diva Restaurant. Unlike Diva, Registry is a bistro. A bistro is an inviting place with a moderately priced menu that demonstrates the chef’s creativity with a focus on seasonal ingredients.

My dining companions and I started the meal with the "Nibbles and Nosh". We enjoyed the "Scotch Olives with Saffron Aioli" ($8), "Sprout and Fennel Roll with Smoked Brook Trout and a Verjus-Yuzu Dipping Sauce" ($7). We also had Bistro Frites with cracked pepper and sea salt ($4) served with a "Moody Blue Fondue". The “Moody Blue Fondue” is a smooth, creamy and delicate blend of four cheeses that creates a single harmonious flavor making a generous portion of crispy French fries quickly disappear. The “Scotch Olives” are a take on “Scotch Eggs” with hearty green olives stuffed with herbed goat cheese, surrounded by chorizo and coated with bread crumbs before being deep fried. Sounds absurd. Tastes delicious. Especially when consumed with a Dirty Dill ($8), one of Registry Bistro’s signature cocktails. The Dirty Dill includes Hendricks gin, dry vermouth, and a cornichon stuffed olive. All three of the appetizers were artfully plated and brought both original and subtle flavor combinations.

Moving on to the "Soup & Greens", we selected the Mixed Field Green Salad with Smoked Blue featuring Lacquered Walnuts and a citrus dill vinaigrette ($4). This is a plate of mesclun leaves with blue cheese and spiced walnuts, candied in maple syrup. While the citrus and dill flavors of the dressing are imperceptible, the candied walnuts are a sweet contrast to the sharpness of blue cheese. The Spice Lacquered Walnuts may be ordered as an appetizer for $5.

The evening we dined at Registry Bistro, the day’s market soup ($5) was an elegant Vichyssoise, normally pureed and chilled potato soup, was prepared instead with sun chokes and a sprinkle of roasted duck confit that leaves a hint of orange rind. It takes hours of prep work to be able to make a soup with this complexity. Chef Rapp’s talent lies in seamlessly balancing all of the tastes into one extraordinary flavor.
Part of the thrill of New American Cuisine is trying something unpredictable.

While sitting at the bar another evening having a cocktail, one diner could be heard commenting on the "Butcher's Board with Charcuterie & Savory Cheesecake" ($15), "I've never even heard of any of these meats before, but they are all delicious." This is the right attitude. Put yourself in Chef Rapp’s capable hands and try something that defies your imagination.

The entrees are divided between "Light Fare" and "Main" and offer a range of game, fish, fowl and vegetarian dishes. They are priced between a $10 Midwest Meatloaf Burger with bacon jam served with brioche and frites and a $25 Hanger Steak with black garlic and butter presented with smoked roasted potatoes with bacon. I ordered the Pan Roasted Corvina, a white fish similar to sea bass (aka corvina drum), with cannellini beans served with braised fennel and dandelion greens. One of my tablemates ordered the Rabbit Potpie with carrots and English peas and the third ordered Pot Roast Ravioli that was also served with braised vegetables. The entrees we ordered are all delicious. For my taste, salt overpowers the broth served over both the fish and the ravioli entrees.

Personally, I would like to see the summer menu place a greater emphasis on crisp and colorful summer vegetables, fresh garden herbs and main courses that are grilled/seared rather than braised or roasted. As the heat index surges above 90, I'd love to try Chef Rapp’s take on ceviche or maybe her preparation of a fresh catch from the Great Lakes. She can go back to potpie, fondue, and pot roast as well as assorted wild game with earthy, roasted vegetables in the fall. For those with dietary restrictions, the menu is well marked for vegetarian and gluten free diets. There is, of course, a great selection of homemade desserts. For $9, you may have a sampling of the sweets. My favorite is the rich and creamy chocolate, stout and pretzel tart.

Ms. Rapp does an outstanding job creating a comprehensive and food friendly wine list. Wines range from "Old World" European red, white, rose, champagne and sparkling to "New World" varietals. Wine may be ordered by the glass, by the bottle or in a ½ bottle served in a whimsical vessel that reminds me of a glass beaker in a science lab. Our waiter, Brian, was engaging and knowledgeable about the wines and food pairings. The service at Registry Bistro is still a little clumsy but bears the hallmarks of proper training. I suspect it will continue to get even better as everyone becomes more comfortable with the shape of the dining room and the new menu.

Registry Bistro is a great addition to downtown Toledo dining . Impress a date or client with Toledo's sophistication, rekindle a romance, or just come on your own to discover the sensuality of New American Cuisine with a dinner at Registry Bistro. It’s a great place for a light bite before or after an evening at Huntington Center, Fifth Third Field, the Peristyle, the Museum or the Valentine Theater. If you come with an open mind and an appetite for adventure, you will not be disappointed.

NAME: Registry Bistro

LOCATION: 144 N. Superior, Toledo, OH 43604 419-725-0444


DRESS CODE: Dress to impress (business casual, urban chic). When we visited, the men were all wearing collared shirts and the women were in skirts, pants or dresses.


PRICING: Appetizers ($4-$12), Soup/Salad ($4-$5), Entrees ($8-$25)

DON’T MISS: “Scotch Olives”, Bistro Frites, and Chocolate, Stout & Pretzel Tart.

RATING: Excellent Bistro fare.

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