Restaurant Review: Smoke House

Saigon is in the midst of a barbecue revolution and newly-opened Smoke House is gearing up for a fight

Ho Chi Minh City’s BBQ craze is growing stronger every year. It seems everywhere you turn there are new BBQ places springing up and Thien Do is hoping to capitalize on that. Having recently returned from several years in Chicago, he decided to launch Smoke House—All American BBQ & Grill (34 Nguyen Huu Canh, Binh Thanh). While Chicago is more likely to bring to mind images of cold winters and gooey slices of deep dish pizza than ribs and brisket, that’s not to say Chicago doesn’t have good BBQ. In fact, most Chi-Town foodies will tell you there is definitely good BBQ to be found, and if you happen to be in the area stop by Honey 1, Smalls or Green Street Smoked Meats. It’s not so strange then that Thien brought back some smoky ideas from his time there.

Smoke House stands out with its huge signboard and aluminum pounded walls, with plenty of casual seating over two floors.

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While the interior lacks a unique ‘Chicago’ or ‘American BBQ’ design, it is an open air space – so for those who were expecting to munch on hot ribs in cold air-con, I advise you to dress light. On some nights when the skies are clear the roof is automatic and can automatically retract.

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To start, I ordered Garlic bread (VND35,000), and Honey BBQ wings (VND85,000). The former came out topped with tons of garlic and melted butter—absolutely delicious on top of crunchy crispy bread.

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The wings were equally good with crackly skin peeling away easily while a rush of hot steam revealed juicy, tender chicken meat. The BBQ sauce was lighter and slightly sweet, which was nicely complemented with a swig of ale.

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When it came to the main course there was no doubt. I had the Big Fat Ass BBQ (VND545,000): ribs, rib eye, Peri Peri chicken, smoked lean shoulder meat and two sides (mashed potatoes and cole slaw) came heaped on top of a wooden chopping board. The ribs, by which all BBQ places will be judged on, oh my! They parted easily and slid off the bone to sit in a heap of tender and tangy fatty meat. The BBQ sauce wasn’t their final version and it was apparent some work was needed because it was a little watery and didn’t have a tangy sweet punch that a lot of good BBQ sauces have. Actually most BBQ restaurants guard their BBQ sauce recipes with killer robots and moody Doberman Pinschers so it will be good to see Smoke House develop theirs in the future.

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The rib eye was ordered medium rare and it was so done to perfection. It had just the right amount of pink, there were no dark red patches to suggest uneven cooking. I did notice the rib eye was tenderized and pounded thin. There are various schools of thought about this but for me it was juicy, peppery and had just the right degree of delicious chewiness. Next came the Peri Peri chicken, which was made famous by Nando’s in South Africa, unfortunately, it did not taste of the iconic Peri Peri sauce. The chicken, slightly dry, needed to be dipped in sauce to juice it up. The smoked lean shoulder meat was neither smoked nor lean as I saw plenty of delicious soft fat, but it was definitely tender and juicy nevertheless. The smoker currently isn’t doing the job but Thien assured me they are committed and are currently building their own custom smoker—now that’s dedication to the craft.

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The platter came with wasabi mashed potatoes, in addition to my side order of mash, a bit too much starch even for me. No melted butter or gravy with the mashed potatoes which made them a bit dry – so my advice is to order it with gravy. I’m used to more mayo in my coleslaw but it’s just as well this slaw didn’t have as much—my waistline thanks you Smoke House.

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To finish off this feast, I had to try a couple of desserts. There’s only three on the menu so hopefully they’ll be bringing in more classics—real cheesecake or a slice of pecan pie would be welcomed. I ordered the Lemon tart (VND75,000) and the Chocolate “pudding” (VND75,000) which turned out to be Chocolate lava cake. Since most BBQ places aren’t known for having great desserts I was pleasantly surprised by how delicious these were. Lemon tarts are not common in Asia so I was very happy to dig into this one. Not overly tart and with a light, sweet whipped crème fraîche that was a perfect match to the tanginess, all on a delicious crumbly crust. This was amazingly good—a must order item!

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The Chocolate “pudding” lava cake exploded with a touch from the spoon and quickly created a molten chocolate pool on my plate and was cooled off by a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Perfectly baked and excellent as well.

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Since the Smoke House had only been opened a month when I visited, there are certain things they are working hard on improving and definitely once they get their smoker up and running (which I’m told is very soon) that will help immensely. The passion of the owner, the attentiveness of the staff and a great location will also help with their success. I’ll be back for that lemon tart, you can count on that.

IMAGES BY NGOC TRAN

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