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Saigon 88 diners can sample tastes of Asia

| Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

When John and Kim Ngo opened their second restaurant, Saigon 88 Sushi Bar and Tastes of Asia, they named it for their native city of Saigon, Vietnam.

Saigon 88, in Bethel Park, features an array of Pacific Rim dishes plucked from the culinary traditions of Vietnam, China, Japan and Thailand.

The restaurant, which opened in July, carries "newer items Pho Kim 88 doesn't," Kim Ngo says, referring to the couple's first restaurant, in Castle Shannon.

"We recently updated the menu and plan to update the menu within (each) year."

The number 88 in both restaurant names doesn't just refer to the first restaurant's location on Route 88, but to a number that is considered lucky in Asia, auspicious in prosperity and balance.

The Ngos emigrated separately in 1988 to the United States from Vietnam. Both arrived in Pittsburgh, where they later met and married. Now settled in Bethel Park and raising three children, their philosophy is to offer a menu where any diner interested in Asian cuisine will find something to order and appreciate.

"We thought it (might) be nice if customers can come and sample all varieties: 'How about if we combine them all?'" John Ngo says. "They don't have to go anywhere else."

Ngo says many of the Vietnamese dishes are based on family dishes. For each dish, he and his wife "make it and taste -- that's how we put together the recipe." The fried rice dishes are prepared in the Vietnamese tradition that combines several flavors for extra zest. Vietnamese dishes like Soft Crepe Rice Rolls and Com Ga Roti, a marinated chicken in lemongrass and garlic butter, are among the entrees available at Saigon 88.

Diners also sample Chinese dishes like General Tsao's Chicken, or choose from a plethora of hibachi entrees that are a nod to John Ngo's 12 years as head chef for the Japanese restaurant chain Benihana. Sushi offerings like Lady in Red are available, as are Thai dishes such as Padthai and Thai Curry.

John Ngo says Saigon 88's offerings are made with fresh ingredients and are cooked to order.

Kim Ngo says the clientele of the Living Room, which formerly occupied the space, tended to be older couples, but Saigon 88 seems to attract diners of all ages, including "families (who) pick out and share dishes. Ninety percent order and share," she says.

The restaurant, with warm coral walls and accents of green plants and statues of Buddha, seats about 150 inside the main dining room and bar area. An additional 100 customers can dine outside in warm weather on a deck covered with a canvas awning.

Seared New York Steak Tai-Chanh Salad

Balance is important in the recipe John and Kim Ngo of Saigon 88 chose to share. The sauce that acts as the dressing balances salty, sweet, sour and spicy-hot flavors in its combination of fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and jalapeno pepper. The balanced burst of tastes in the dressing and the herb garnish create a fresh, flavorful Asian twist on the steak salad concept.

Kim Ngo recommends accompanying the dish with a glass of wine or beer.

Variations: Cooks can substitute an equivalent amount of red snapper, tilapia or shrimp for the steak.

For the salad:

1 (12-ounce) New York strip steak

3-4 cups salad greens (lettuce and/or spring mix)

1 carrot, julienned

Bean sprouts

1 fresh tomato, halved and sliced

1 cucumber, halved and sliced

For the chili-lime sauce:

1 medium sweet Spanish onion, thinly sliced

1 green onion, julienned

1/2 carrot, julienned

2 ounces fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)

2 ounces original fish sauce (available at Asian markets and ethnic aisle of specialty supermarkets)

2 ounces sugar

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced thin

For the garnish:

1 stalk fresh basil, leaves stripped and chopped

1 stalk fresh cilantro, leaves stripped and chopped

1 stalk fresh mint (optional), leaves stripped and chopped

1/8 cup crushed peanuts or sesame seeds

Starting with a hot pan, sear the steak for about 45 seconds to 1 minute on each side until medium rare (the Ngos do not recommend well-done steak for this salad). Set aside.

Place the greens, julienned carrot and bean sprouts in a salad bowl? and set aside.

To prepare the sauce: In a mixing bowl, place the Spanish onions, green onions and julienned carrot in the bowl. Add the lime juice, fish sauce , sugar and the jalapeno slices. Mix thoroughly, pressing gently on the onions to release their juices.

Slice the tomato, cucumber and steak thinly.

To serve: Arrange the tomato, cucumber and steak slices around the salad greens. Top with the sauce-onion mixture in the middle, spreading a little sauce around the salad. Garnish with basil, cilantro and mint, and top with chopped peanuts or sesame seeds.

Makes 2 servings as an appetizer, or one as a meal.

Additional Information:

Saigon 88

Cuisine: Japanese, Thai and Saigonese cuisine

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Entree price range: $10-$23

Notes: Accepts reservations and most major credit cards. Outdoor deck, full bar, high chairs available

Location: 1778 N. Highland Road, Bethel Park

Details: 412-831-8828 or

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