Sometimes my most intriguing restaurant finds are based on totally random experiences. Recently I was asked to attend a special event in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. I arrived in the area over an hour early, so I decided to park and just take a walk to check out the West Randolph Street area. I had not been in that part of town for over a year and wanted to see if there were any new restaurants. Or, more accurately, “new to me” restaurants.
Just a few doors down from where I parked my car, I walked past a somewhat unassuming facade advertising a restaurant with what I perceived to be a singularly odd name, “Sawtooth.” Looking in the windows, I was immediately intrigued by the decor and the well-stocked bar, so I decided to check it out. Note to self, “Boy am I glad I did!”
To clarify the odd name, I found the following information from the Sawtooth website:
Sawtooth Restaurant takes its name from the culantro herb, Ngò Gai also known as sawtooth, named for its long, slender, serrated leaves. This herb is commonly used in Vietnamese cooking due to its wonderful fragrance and taste.
Sawtooth is a restaurant and lounge serving authentic Vietnamese cuisine. The menu is based on small plates served as a communal meal, a shared experience customary in Vietnamese dining. The interior decor is sleek, sophisticated, and tremendously inviting.
Sawtooth has a surprisingly extensive menu! As a single diner, the concept of small plates works extremely well. I can order several things instead of filling up on one single entree. Vietnamese cuisine is one that I haven’t really sampled extensively, so I felt it was time to try it out.
During this visit, I ordered one item from the “Soup, Salad & Noodle” portion of the menu and one from the “Appetizer” portion. Don’t be fooled by the concept of “small” plates. By the time I finished the salad, I found that could only finish half of the appetizer and had to take the rest home. Sawtooth absolutely provides value for the money, both in quantity and quality.
For my salad, I sampled the Green Papaya Salad and opted to have that with dried beef (a.k.a. beef jerky). You can also opt for ham, tofu or vegetables only. My first few bites were a surprise because the combination of basil and peppers in the salad was just a bit hotter than I had expected. After a few bites, though, the flavor evened out for me and I thoroughly enjoyed the entree. To be honest, this was the first time I had tried dried beef as an accompaniment to a salad, and it was a perfect choice.
For my appetizer, I decided to the Wild King Salmon Rolls (crispy egg rolls with salmon, jicama, carrots, and glass noodles). The portion size was gigantic! I finished half of it and had to pack the rest to take home. If you are a fan of salmon, then this is a “must try” item.
As with all of my solo dining blogs, one of my primary focuses is on service. I like to assess how I am treated as a single diner and if I feel that either the service or the menu marginalizes the experience of a single diner in any fashion. Sawtooth lived up to my expectations of fine dining as a single diner. The service was swift and efficient. The hostess sat me in a lovely location with a full view of the front windows and the rest of the dining room. The server was polite, engaging, and extremely knowledgeable about the menu. She let me know that, like the kitchen, the beverages are held to same standard featuring organic and biodynamic wines, local microbrews and cocktails made from house infused spirits.
If you want to sample (1) a great restaurant and (2) Vietnamese cuisine and (3) great service and (4) an area with ample free parking (BONUS!), then you must visit Sawtooth. As either a single diner or in a group, I am sure you will find this one to be worth a visit to West Randolph Street.
You can follow Sawtooth on Twitter or on Facebook. They are located on the NW corner of Randolph St. and Ada St. in the West Loop at 1350 W. Randolph Street.
Table For One, Please!