Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hanoi 3 Seasons on Queen St. East

I got together with a friend for dinner last night and we decided to try a Vietnamese restaurant in the east end of Toronto that has gotten some pretty stellar reviews: Hanoi 3 Seasons. We went to the Leslieville location, which is their second location (rather than the original one on Gerard St.), but the menu is identical and apparently, so is the execution of the menu. Plus, they have a patio, which was the clincher. I'm a huge fan of Vietnamese cuisine to begin with, so going to a place that has been named the best Vietnamese in Toronto by Now Magazine several years in a row was quite exciting for a geek like me.

We started with the spring rolls and calamari patties. The cha gio (spring rolls) at Hanoi 3 Seasons are just your garden-variety spring roll wrapper, stuffed with a minced pork and taro filling and then deep-fried. They aren't like the traditional cha gio rolls I've had before - they lack that bubbly wrapper that is somehow the perfect hybrid of crunchy and chewy. You know... the kind they have at Saigon Palace. I'm not sure if that's because Hanoi 3 Seasons is a North Vietnamese restaurant and they do their cha gio differently there, or what. But suffice it to say, they aren't the best spring rolls ever.

The calamari patties (which are actually more like nuggets), on the other hand, are very interesting. They have a nice flavour and a meaty texture that isn't at all rubbery... refreshing, considering anything squiddey that you find in restaurants these days is usually about as tender as Indian rubber.

The fresh shrimp rolls are your standard salad rolls and therefore, are completely awesome. Nice crunchy lettuce, fresh mint and fresh coriander and three big plump shrimp, nestled in a tender rice paper wrapper. A generous bowl of very addictive sweet and vinegary dipping sauce garnished with finely shredded carrot and chilies sits alongside it. So simple and perfect for a little patio eating on a hot summer night.

What isn't perfect for a hot summer night, since it made me sweat like I was going through 18 menopauses, all at once, is a big bowl of spicy pho. But I ordered it anyway, because that's how I roll, baby. But seriously, how do Vietnamese people do it? Vietnam is hot, isn't it? Like really hot? Jungle hot? Anyway, I'll move on.

I didn't bother with any of the usual suspects, as far as pho goes. You know... the rare beef, the well-done beef, the chicken with basil and lime leaves, or that weird little tough meatball version – all of which were on the menu. I had a special soup. An amaaaazing soup. Oh. Mama. Chubby rice noodles and big chunks of grilled grouper, rubbed with a flavourful dill and shrimp paste, all floating in a silky, slightly spicy, very dilly broth. Soooo good. So so delicious. This soup is worth the trip down there and I will most definitely be returning to slurp down another bowl, directly.

Overall, the experience was absolutely worth repeating and I definitely plan to go back to taste more of that menu. I'll just be skipping the cha gio.

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