(This feature was published in GMA News Online last March 4, 2014)
My knowledge of Vietnamese cuisine wasn’t that impressive until I traveled to Ho Chi Minh City and was exposed to the real thing. Though I have tasted pho before, I didn’t really know much about this particular cuisine until I went food tripping in Vietnam. When I got back home, I was still on a Vietnamese food high and found myself craving for it, but there are only a handful of Vietnamese restaurants in Manila.
La Petite Camille in Greenbelt 5, Makati states that it serves authentic Vietnamese cuisine. That was enough reason for my family and I to dine there and see if the claims were true indeed.
From the clear glass windows, we could see the nice interiors, which I thought had more colonial style than Asian. The furniture was mismatched, the lighting fixtures were not uniform, and there were decals and knick-knacks on the walls. I found the design very interesting and actually elegant—far from the roadside restaurants I tried in Vietnam.
Through research, I found out that La Petite Camille was actually founded in San Francisco, California in 1993 and has been a bay area favorite ever since. It only opened in the Philippines last December 2012.
A mixture of Asian and French flavors
The restaurant menu is pretty extensive—from pho (noodle soup) to banh mi (sandwich made with French baguette) and everything in between; it has dishes for the discerning diner.
What I appreciated though was the disclaimer in the menu: “Our food contains ingredients such as MSG, nuts and other herbs and vegetables that may cause allergic reactions on certain individuals. Please ask the manager for more information and special requests.” At least they are upfront about the use of that controversial kitchen ingredient, monosodium glutamate.
To whet our appetite, we started with the Pomelo Salad, a healthy combination of fresh pomelo chunks, shredded cabbage, caramelized onions, pickled carrots and radish, and topped with crushed peanuts. It was served on a bed of lettuce leaves. I liked the light dressing that was a bit on the tangy side.
We continued our healthy eating and ordered some Fresh Vegetarian Rolls where vermicelli noodles and raw vegetables like cabbage, carrot, celery, turnip, basil and lettuce are wrapped in rice paper and served with sauce. Fans of cilantro would like this since the herb’s flavor is very apparent here.
What I enjoyed eating was the Combination Appetizer (banh hoi thap cam) that came with barbecued pork, imperial rolls, and minced prawns on a sugarcane skewer. It also had a side of lettuce, rice vermicelli, picked veggies, and fish sauce for dipping. I had fun eating it because this appetizer was very interactive. I wrapped my choice of meat inside the lettuce, added some noodles veggies, and drizzled some sauce. It was a delight to eat with my hands!
Since we felt like we were eating healthy, we ordered a couple of main courses, one of which was the Pan-fried Rice Noodles with Prawns, which was one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. When it arrived on our table, I thought that the picture on the menu looked better than the actual dish. The taste though made up for the lack of presentation. It was a good fried noodle dish but the serving seemed small—probably just good for two.
Another dish we sampled was the Black Pepper Chicken, a lightly breaded fillet seasoned with garlic and black pepper, and served with a black pepper and oyster sauce blend. The chicken was tender and easy to eat, and it went well with the peppery and salty dipping sauce. However, it’s not the type of dish that could stand alone, as it can get a bit cloying because of its oiliness. I discovered that it’s better to alternate bites of it with other vegetable-based dishes to avoid the feeling of fried-food overload.
I wanted to end my meal with some Vietnamese coffee, which, for me, is one of the best in the world. I fell in love with their coffee during my trip there and I still fantasize about it until now. Unfortunately, I didn’t have room for dessert or coffee after my satisfying meal. I would definitely go back next time and order some coffee and banh mi, then reminisce about Vietnam.