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Hanoi 3 Seasons

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We went to Mimi's at 7:30 on a Friday pretty much knowing that it would be pointless and sure enough there was already a lineup.

So we parked a little closer to Broadview wandered around and ended up at Hanoi 3 Seasons. Though it was a random choice I was pretty excited as I'd heard good things. We are regulars at mimi's, I love pho (even the kind with the chewy bits), and have also frequented Pho 88, Little Saigon (I think that's the name, near Spadina and college) and Pho Hung. So we know whatever passes for Southern Vietnamese food in TO, and I have been very interested in what I've heard is the only Northern Vietnamese place around.

It's a very different room for a Vietnamese place, with almost a small bistro feel. Our server was friendly but a bit off putting when he asked if this was our first time and then waxed (what he thought was) poetically about how different northern vietnamese cooking was.

Anyhow, cut to the chow....

Have to say I was disappointed. The #10 special was highly recommended ("someone HAS to have it"), and what was billed as grilled fish turned out to be very lightly dusted pan fried white fish, scented with dill and garlic, on vermicelli with the standard vitenamese offerings of basil, lettuce and peanuts. It was really bland considering the build up. Furthermore, though having it in soup was an option, it was recommended that I NOT do this. But disappointed I ordered broth on the side, and once I tasted it just dumped it over the fish.

It was, perhaps, a light chicken broth with tomatoes, dill roasted garlic, I think tamarind and various herbs. Very intense flavour. I'd drink this stuff in shots if I had a chance! Indeed it turned out to be the best thing we had. So if you go and order the number 10, ignore their advice and have it with the soup.

The rest of the family all ordered the ginger chicken with springrolls. The chicken was OK, nothing special and the springrolls were kind of undercooked and a little gloppy.

The kids had mango and strawberry milkshakes which were also nothing speical.

So overall I am little mystified at the press this place has received. Perhaps we were there on a bad night but I wouldn't go back. Next time we'll just leave a little earlier and go to Mimi's.

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  1. I agree with you. Steven Davey gives it a glowing write up but it was nothing special. My wife and I have had the fortune to visit Hanoi and eat the food there, and the food at 3 Seasons is not really comparable to it...

    2 Replies
    1. re: echeng25

      Also went about a year ago after glowing reviews.
      Friendly place, but food?
      I can't recall exactly what we ordered, only remember something with canned clams, and a disappointing fish.

      1. re: echeng25

        Agree - a very friendly place, but won't go back. THe server really pushed a certain chicken dish - it was little bits of back meat drowning in the saltiest sauce imaginable. I was expecting finesse! And when we walked in (this is very non PC so you can stop reading now...) there was an very elderly lady sitting there coughing her lungs out.....

      2. I'll provide a dissenting opinion because I really enjoyed Hanoi 3 Seasons, as did ML. I found the ingredients to be very fresh for the most part - yes, I don't doubt the clams were out of a can but at the price point the dishes are at (I think the two of us were stuffed for $40 or under, including a beer or two on my part), you can't really expect them to buy fresh clams.

        Use of dill and other ingredients provided a nice twist, compared with Southern Vietnamese establishments that are more plentiful around these parts. The fish was definitely pan-fried as you mentioned, no idea why it's on the menu as grilled, however I found it really flavourful.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Ben Reiner

          By the way, that Saigon Beer they serve is just awful. First ingredient is rice!

          1. re: bluedog

            A chacun a son gout :) Considering the popularity of sake, I imagine many would enjoy the Saigon beer as I did. I think it's very well-suited as a complement, to that style of cuisine, or any southeastern asian cuisine, especially on a hot, summer day.

            1. re: Ben Reiner

              Fair enough, but ingredients aside it still tastes terrible. And it was served relatively warm.

              In any event, when rice is added to beer it is to use a cheaper grain than barley to ferment and to drive up the alcohol content: same 5%, less cost. In Japan (land of sake!) my understanding (and *sigh* I've been known to be wrong!) beer that has rice added is cheaper as it is of a lower quality. And is marked as such.

              However, I agree with you that Sake might be a good choice as a pairing with Vietnamese food (hmmm, may a great pairing!).

        2. By the way, apparently Bud Light has a high proportion of rice added to it! Its really just a way to make beer cheaply.

          1. After many months in Hanoi I never ever saw cha ca in soup. Never heard of it. Maybe it's a kind of fusion invention which is fine I guess. Fish in soup, yes, but that's called bun ca and it's totally different.

            Other than the seasoning of the cha ca, I've never found that the restaurant delivers much that is authentic Northern. The reviewers take the claim at face value because they don't know any better.

            By the way, this is really not the only Northern Viet game in town. I actually found bun cha at a place on Dundas East. Northern joints are very hard to find but there are a few. Check the discussion back in the spring: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            1. bluedog -
              if you are in the area and craving pho, try Que Ling it's almost across the street from MiMi's on Boulton Ave (across the street there is a flower shop and high school, this resto is on the street between these). they are only open until 7pm though. the customer service isn't as good as mimi's but the pho is worth trying. they only have 5-6 pages of menu so the food is pretty good.
              also Pho Bo Tay (bright yellow sign) about 10 buildings EAST of MiMi. they are open until 10 and i find their pho very tasty.
              i usually go to mimi too but recently i found the quality declining a tad bit, and i tried these other places and really liked them. i have yet to try Hanoi though, maybe one day (or not based on your review)

              1 Reply
              1. re: chalenegirl

                Thanks. Will do. I have found Mimi's quality to be declining a bit also, but they do sometimes continue to surpise me. For example I was there in late summer and had one of the vermicelli noodle dishes. To me astonishment they had added shiso leaf to the dish, just because it was in season, and the owners had planted the herb in their garden.

              2. for the last 2-3 months, i think i have taken 3 friends to Mimi on seperate occasions for them to try the food there. they all enjoyed their experience, mostly b/c of the owner's hospitality, but they weren't impressed with the pho. in retrospect i can see where they are coming from, b/c it doesn't seem as good as in the past.
                so far i've taken 2 ppl to Queling and both of them think it's some of the best pho (very complex soup, and cheap and tasty spring rolls). i was actually taken to and introduced to Pho Bo Tay by a friend who swears by it since it has opened. i was VERY pleasently surprised, and find myself craving pho more often.
                try them and report back! i would love to hear what you think. good luck chowing,
                -C

                1 Reply
                1. re: chalenegirl

                  I'm definitely down with Pho Bo Tay, wrote about it a while back as an alternative to MiMi, which can get quite busy.