L’usine (151 Dong Khoi Street, HCMC) aims for a specific niche, and nails it: the creative crowd that loves euro-influenced brunch (and an exceptionally expensive boutique) has a home here. Much has been made of the two locations in HCMC, of which the best by far is the first Dong Khoi location (entering through the art gallery almost makes it all by itself!) sitting kittycorner from the stately Saigon Opera House.

Arty!

My friend and roommate Yona introduced me to L’usine, and I owe her a debt that will go unpaid for a long time. I won’t go into crazy specifics here. It was one of the first western places I ate, and I’ve brought several friends here since. It’s a solid, dependable option when you want a place with class and air conditioning, and a creative atmosphere with compulsively sippable Iced Lime Juice.

The boutique is a little too hyped up. Not only is half of it so trendy that it’s probably already half-ironic by the time it gets to the shelf, but it’s almost hilariously expensive. Even if I would buy a great afghan in the south of Vietnam (which, no), 200 USD is just a tad more than I like to pay for anything less than my rent.

But let’s not lose sight of why I end up bringing my friends here… that comforting food!

Although upscale in relation to your average dining experience here, they still haven’t figured out that appetizers are to be brought out in advance of the main course. This is the crudite, with a dill dip and a salmon pate. The strips are fried rice paper crackers. Dad: the green and orange sticks are what we call “vegetables.” Don’t be scared, they are delicious!

To be fair… it could be because many of the teasers are the size of a main dish! This is a wooden paddle full of French cheese and olives. Yes. It is.

Breakfast is a superb affair, as I discovered with Chris and Anya on their trip here. Chris got the L’usine Brekki. The bacon was fantastic, and the veggies made a beautiful and tasty presentation.

Anya got the pulled pork and pumpkin hash, which was both more and less than we imagined – more, because wow, such taste, delicious egg, and less, because… well… it was just gone way too fast.

Anything smoked salmon on the menu is bound to be tasty. On a recent outing with Erin, I gave the whole wheat smoked salmon sandwich a run – it was great. Not unique, but at least four steps above edible. This potato salad is ubiquitous, and even makes an appearance in the salads…

This is the reigning heavyweight camp of HCMC salads – the Smoked Salmon Salad. The runners up? Those beauties served at Pizza 4Ps. The only bizarre thing is the potato salad, which is confusing because I view it as fundamentally an American trait to throw foods together like this… but maybe I’m mistaken.

L’usine does a regular rotation of specials, one of the best is the pumpkin soup. Smooth and velvety, with roasty undertones and a dollop of crème fraîche, this was one of my favorite meals here – simple, elegant, and deeply comforting. I took half of it home in a styrofoam cup.

Once we get to the baguette section, L’usine throws the book out the window. This is a roasted lamb and beetroot with feta baguette. Tender and surprisingly easy to stuff all that salad into the bread!

The pulled pork with mozzarella baguette went down well. It was too big for us to eat in one sitting (both baguettes were!) but they made a great late morning lunch several days later. On the whole, I think the pulled pork lacks moisture and juiciness, but it’s passable and does what it can to lessen the pain of being so far away from really, really good BBQ’d meats (which is a taste, and not just a method, Australians!).

In another incarnation of the pork, this was a pulled pork “burger” topped with a sunny-side up egg and bbq sauce. It was reportedly tasty, but the bbq sauce left much to be desired – it was closer to bbq water – since any kind of sweet or spicy that may have been there was utterly destroyed by the loose consistency. Hey L’usine, you want a good BBQ Pulled Pork recipe? I’ve got you covered (Ally, Alex, you know we do!). Let’s talk.

Regardless of L’usine’s hits and misses, the dining experience and atmosphere are fantastic – cool, refreshing, and just posh enough to make you feel like you’re doing yourself a rare favor by spending time in the space.

In addition, the drinks are great and plentiful, and the waitstaff speaks very capable english – both almost luxurious when viewed through the lens of my average dining experience on the street. WARNING: I have not tried the cake, and I probably won’t. I don’t trust cake here. If you do, and it’s good (or especially if it’s bad), let me know!

If you’re down for treating yourself to a light western lunch and need to get a little work done, I highly recommend L’usine. It’s a one-of-a-kind atmosphere and a more than capable kitchen.

UPDATE:

Pancakes with honeycomb butter. Argghhh. Only decent pancakes I’ve found so far… I think it’s the ‘cake’ hangup again.

Oh good lord, a little quiche. Blah, so good.

Potato and pumpkin hash? WELL OK THEN.

A breakfast ‘burger’ – lots of spinach, a poached egg, mushrooms, and bacon on a roll. BETTER than a burger? Well, for breakfast, absolutely.

UPDATE 2:

They serve dinner? Huh. Pretty tasty… if a tad expensive (but I suppose that goes for everything on the menu here).

Meat Pies!! one Chicken and Leek, one Beef. Both pretty good (not as good as the sausage roll, though). The pepper and onion relish is truly delectable.

This is apparently a thing – sausage rolls. Lamb or pork and fennel, wrapped in a pastry crust and baked. DELICIOUS.

I guess there’s also desserts. The Lemon Tart was great. The brownie was average (the whole “cake is weird in Vietnam” syndrome was in evidence).

UPDATE 3:

Breakfast on a day when the smell of fish sauce is just too goddamn much to bear – fruit, honey, granola and yogurt parfait.

My veg friend Lisa visited me recently and got this – the most magnificent baguette I’ve seen in ages! The Salad Baguette. Look at that delicious pumpkin and eggplant! And of course, sprouts… my fav. I should have gotten this instead of that parfait!