By Dr. Ink
The Fifth Avenue address for Saigon on Fifth is misleading. The main entrance actually sits on University Avenue, in eyeshot of the Hillcrest street sign. But because it’s housed in the Union Bank building on a corner that is technically Fifth, first-time visitors can get easily tripped up.
Upon entering you’re greeted by an ivory statue of a young, androgynous deity. The figure provides a warm, tranquil welcome that sets the stage for a quiet visit, even if both the front and back dining sections are largely occupied.
I’ve eaten lunch and dinner here on a few occasions, but this was my first time sauntering in for happy hour.
My hopes of scoring discounted versions of the restaurant’s famous sugar cane shrimp or lemongrass chicken were dashed when perusing the happy hour menu.
Only a handful of appetizers are reduced in price such as chicken wings, fried calamari and jalapeno poppers.
Grilled scallops were also in the lineup, but for $9.95 an order, they would’ve cut into my drink budget. Frugality is the name of the game when exploring happy hours, so I settled for the house-made cream cheese wontons, served six to an order for $5.50. (They’re normally $6.95.)
The drink options are extensive, ranging from sake and imported beer to select wines and cocktails of every sort. The highest priced libations on the list are $7, which buys you any of the specialty cocktails.
On this hot afternoon, the air conditioning inside wasn’t enough to steer me away from the “pineapple punch,” which is one of the specialty cocktails that kicks you in the head with three rums: Plantation, Cruzan and Cruzan Gold. It’s normally served in a hollowed-out pineapple. For that spectacle, you pay $22.
The happy hour version comes in a medium-size Hurricane glass with a slice of orange and pineapple perched on the rim. Made also with Disaronno Amaretto and fresh pineapple, orange and lime juice, it was the most luscious and thirst-quenching concoction I’ve drank in years — sweet but not saccharine, and potent without being obvious, at least initially.
The cream cheese wontons were mediocre, maybe because I was in eyeshot of attractive entrees arriving to neighboring booths. I remembered them well from ordering off the regular menu in past visits. Now I have a sassy cocktail that goes down in that same book.