I never miss any of the new spots to open up in Leslieville. They lie in wait for me, it seems, until the perfect situation presents itself. The recent cold weather return might keep most people cocooned but when it's time for Pho, count me in. Inside Hanoi 3 Seasons, that is, if you're lucky enough to snag a seat.
We open the Asian gates into Hanoi 3 Seasons when I arrive with my friends. Braving the lineup rewards us. The dark, almost smoldering, smoky quality of the room draws my eye. Ir
onwood pillars from a Buddhist temple appear to fortify the kitchen. The workaday chairs contrast the elegant Vietnamese benches, some are of which are slightly more ornate "concubine" benches. Co-owner Mark Frenette informs me that the plainer ones are, in fact, from Buddhist temples. The delicious witticism of the benches amuses. As patrons, we'll reverse the roles of concubines waiting to be chosen. Like temple-going supplicants in prayer, we await enlightenment. The décor is quite spare, with the exception of a side table with offerings to Buddha, always a good indication of authenticity, in my opinion.
Our order for Saigon beer and a combo of Spring rolls and Calamari patties ($5) is swift.
The steamy, crisp rolls are just a tease. We try the fresh shrimp rolls ($3) and to have them, fried and fresh, side by each, is like winter and summer rolled up and ready to eat. Light and fresh or steamy with a spice dipping sauce which takes away the winter bluesâ€¦.Next, it's Pho Do Bien ($8.50) for the table. Our waiter brings us little bowls to share what's really just an order for one. Fragrant with tamarind, lemon grass, spicy shrimp, crab and mussels, the pho isn't just another stop along the way. It's purportedly the best in the city. Co-owner Hai Tran's 'kitchen boss' is niece, Ha Huang, in charge of the pho recipe. "Ha doesn't use pre-packaged goods of any kind. The seven spices are prepared by her alone," co-owner Mark Frenette tells me.
Next, we try the Ga Nuong Gung (Ginger chicken-$9.50) and Bo Xae Rau Cai (Garlic Beef -$9.50). Intense flavours play against the delicate vermicelli which accompanies the plates. There are vegetarian versions of all the dishes in the main course selection. Dessert is more of a 4pm tradition in Vietnam, so we finish off with Vietnamese coffee and ginger ice cream. A variety of fresh fruits are available on request, priced accordingly. The menu is straight forward and simple and Mark says they are experimenting with some new dishes. "The wine list is small, but there will be additions in the future," he adds.
At Hanoi 3 Seasons, we are the supplicants of taste. In the Buddhist prayer tradition, meditation is about attaining 'the way'. And for Northern Vietnamese food, 'the way' is deliciously attained at Hanoi 3 Seasons.