Every now and then we do get emails from our readers sharing with us a review of their favorite restaurants. About two weeks ago, Julie sent us a longish email giving a description of what we should check out in her family’s favourite restaurant. That restaurant name is Hai Phong. I had heard of Hai Phong, reading it from Tiny Bite’s site and was actually on my list of restaurants to visit.
The Tamarind Crab above was what made us decide make the visit. We had enough of Pho, as you probably already know. We want to discover more of Vietnamese cuisine.
For meals with crabs and such, we had to have more people. We asked if Julie wanted to join us but by the time she got back to us, well, the dinner was already over. However, we got Angie of Sea Salt With Food to come along for this meal. Oh I want to mention this. If you are not familiar with Angie’s site, her site exploded onto the blogosphere a couple of months ago — at the peak she had 40,000 pageviews in a day and that made her Alex ranking leaped to 60,000. Gosh, her site was also featured on BBC two days ago. She is like a superstar of recipe blogs now. [Note to self: blog about recipes, not restaurants. LOL!]
Anyway, Hai Phong is located along Kingsway by Inverness. With so many Vietnamese restaurants along this stretch of Kingsway, it is very easy to dismiss Hai Phong as just one of the many.
The interior is bright because of the glass wall along the facade of the restaurant. The place looks new and even have wide screen TVs mounted on the walls. A very pleasant difference; its not only it looked clean but it is also spacious.
Service was great. We like it when the waitress is genuinely helpful and takes the time to help us understand the menu. Admittedly I do sometimes ask of the waitress questions like “So, what is YOUR favourite dish?” or “what is the dish you are most proud of here?”. I find that this sort of questions do tell a lot depending on how they answer these type of questions. Sometimes they would just sort of decline to answer by asking in return if you like beef! Sometimes, they would point out their most expensive dish. But sometimes I could see the genuineness in their answer and could sort of sense the recommended dish is what we should go for … we often use this way to validate our selection.
This chili is known in many different names. In Malay it is called Chili Padi. In Cantonese it is referred to as “it points to the sky” in reference to both its potency and also the fact that it points upwards on the plant unlike other chili peppers. Generically, it is referred to as Bird’s Eye. It is decorative too because of its colors. Decorative or otherwise, I eat it … well, just small bites at a time. Does any of you eat this?
This first item was awesome, although somewhat pricey. The Duck Salad price is $13 and is meant for at least 3 people. Although the duck meat is the central item of this dish, I felt that what defines this dish is the “supporting cast”. It is a refreshing salad with peanuts and the unique application of Vietnamese Coriander. The Vietnamese coriander (also known as Laksa Leaf) is what gives this salad that distinctive taste.
The dressing for the Duck Salad is a mix of lime, garlic, ginger, sugar and fish sauce … errr, I think. Whatever it is, it was absolutely perfect with the Duck Salad. I like it … if I am going to come back again, this is what I will order in a heartbeat.
The star of our meal … the Deep Fried Tamarind Crab was what we are here to try. They have other ways of cooking the crabs but the Deep Fried Tamarind Crab is by far their most popular dish.
The Deep Fried Tamarind Crab is sold by weight and costs $14 per pound. We are charged $35 for the one crab we ordered which worked out to be about 2.5 pounds.
The only right way to eat the crab is to throw away all caution and to use your fingers. The Tamarind Crab has a sourness to the taste, so it was at this point a double sourish dish we had after the Duck Salad.
No complains on the meatiness department. I was told that this is Dungeness Crab common in North America. One way to test the freshness of the crab is how soft the shell is. The legs are somewhat soft … so I reckon it might not be too fresh. But then if it is fresher, then it could have costs more.
The best part, at least to me, is the roe inside the shell. It was quite starchy too as they applied quite a lot of starch before they deep fried it. If you ask me, I think the ladies were too prim and proper to dig into this — because they declined to have this. Sounds good by me as I get to scrap off the most delish part of the crab all for myself. :-)
Hey, this is really good with steamed rice.
They gave us this dipping sauce above. I don’t think anyone really touched this. It is not necessary with the Crab. It was good just as it is.
We thought we also order a soup dish, a hot pot style soup. I heard it is also their specialty and why not too, right? Since I had never tried a Vietnamese style soup dish before (pho does not count here). But it was a bad choice. Not that it was bad or anything like that. It was because what we decided on was also sourish without realizing that all the dishes were sourish. So, this was the third sourish dish for us and it was way too much for me.
On hindsight, we could have ordered their other soup dishes — maybe something salty.
What we ordered was simply called the Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup. We ordered the small version ($20 small, $25 large) and has a choice of fish, prawns or chicken. It is served on a hot pot but for $3 lesser they will serve it on a normal bowl … strange, huh?
This looks a lot like the green banana that I first had in Pho Viet. I find the soup too “busy” with too many stuff that I don’t really know what I am having. They have a combination of ingredients that I am not quite familiar with … pineapple, beansprout, tomato, eggplant, ladies fingers. Frankly, I did not enjoy this … it might be that it’s too sourish for my personal taste.
Angie’s junior had the Pho … not one but TWO!
The bill came up to $90 before tips. It was a good meal. Their menu has a lot of other items that would make it worthwhile for us to make a return visit. I enjoyed it a lot. If anyone would ask me for a recommendation for a Vietnamese restaurant that serves food other than pho … Hai Phong will be one of them along side with Song Huong. I really hope to see the transformation of the Vietnamese restaurant scene from pho to finer dining, just like how over the recent past we had seen the transition of Japanese sushi to Izakayas. I am very sure Vietnamese cuisine is not just Pho and there is a lot to discover.
Do you know of any good non-pho Vietnamese restaurant?