Looking for My Sense of Food Adventure

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With a little more than a week left before school starts again, I hear from Pam, a fellow teacher and pescetarian. We had promised to have lunch together before the summer waned, and Pam kept her promise to call. I realize that my closest friends now are those who are open-minded and somewhat adventurous about food (I’m still finding my sense of food adventure, so I can judge others only so harshly). Among my friends are vegetarians, pescetarians, and raw-foodists, but many are omnivores. All are conscientious about what they eat. 
I pre-selected a restaurant from my wish list: Saigon Noodle House in Crofton, Maryland, a bedroom community equidistant (25 miles) from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The votes and reviews on Urbanspoon indicated an appetizing, exotic experience. I’ve been to few Vietnamese restaurants and looked forward to trying their Pho. 
Upon arriving at the restaurant, I felt hesitant to leave the car and hoped I wasn’t transmitting my doubts to Pam, who was sitting expectantly in the passenger seat. Saigon Noodle House sits between a hardware store and a disorganized thrift shop that was either having a sidewalk sale or was vomiting excess donations. The stores were all part of an aging, drive-up shopping center—the kind that often includes a 7-11, but this one didn’t. “So, you still want to go in?” I asked Pam. She answered positively and enthusiastically, and I was buoyed by her response. “Ok,” I thought, “so whatever happens, she agreed to it.”
We paused before going in to analyze the menu (yes, analyze—we’re English teachers). The first thing we noticed about the menu was that it’s extensive. We saw that there was a lunch menu, but it was for Monday-Friday diners and we were there on a Saturday. The average entrée for our lunch would be $12.95. We were already out of the car and I reminded myself that I’m working on being adventurous about new restaurants. We opened the doors and our fears were calmed instantly by the neat, clean dining room and the welcoming, homey mood. An aging gentleman approached us with a genuine smile, which creased his face like a paper fan. He welcomed us and handed us the laminated, 10-page menu. The table was outfitted with Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce and other condiments, chopsticks, and scads of napkins. 
Photographed by A. Kiasi
We ordered the fried squid and vegetarian spring rolls for our appetizers. The fried squid was a satisfying surprise with its light, crispy coating, like air-popped corn, surrounding the meaty nuggets of squid. 

Photographed by A. Kiasi
The spring rolls included short rice noodles and chunks of lightly fried tofu. The accompanying peanut dipping sauce added a umami taste to the mild-flavored rolls. 

Photographed by A. Kiasi

We both ordered the clay pot shrimp for our entrees. A clay pot dish sounded so comforting to us that we couldn’t resist trying it.

Instead of arriving in clay pots, the entrees showed up in single-serving cooking pots that had come straight from the oven to our table. The shrimp was tender and tasty, but the overall dish, which included broccoli, zig-zag-carrots, and snow peas, was mostly indistinguishable from shrimp stir-fry from a typical Chinese restaurant. 
All around us, customers were being served steaming bowls of Pho, and I regretted not ordering one for myself. Oh well, next time—and there will be a next time.  Pam and I promised that once school starts, we’ll meet for lunch at the end of each quarter—after grades are submitted. If it were anyone else making this promise, I’d be skeptical, but it’s Pam promising, and I know I have at least four confirmed lunch dates with her in the next nine months. 

I would love to hear how you’ve developed your sense of food adventure or, if you’re like me and still pursuing your foodie fearlessness, please comment!

Saigon Noodle House on Urbanspoon

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