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?
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So glad you tried Hai Phong’s Tamarind Crab. I haven’t had the chance to go there with enough people to warrant trying it. Looks delicious.
Song Huong is also one of our favourite places for pho. I enjoy the pho at Hai Phong as well, but their broths so clean that I almost find it hard to believe it’s pho! Haha…perhaps I’ve become too accustomed to oily or cloudy broths =)
The food looks amazing. Was the crab sweet/sour or spicy/sour. I love eating crab but I dare not eat it in public as I fear I may splash crabjuice into the eyes of the patron on the next table. I’m glad you are showing us there is more the Vietnamese cuisine than pho , salad rolls and bahn mi.
Hi Oiboy: The crab was sweet/sour, certainly not spicy at all. Ben
wow… the crab definitely looks good. Maybe it’s time to find some friend to go try it.
So about the crab, if I am understanding correctly, the softer the shell the more meaty the crab??? This will definitely come in handy the next time I am at T&T shopping for crabs.
Generally, if the shell on the legs are soft then it is not fresh. I don’t think that there is a correlation between the meatiness and the softness of the shell. Dungeness crabs are usually more meatier than most other North American crabs. Oh … am not an expert on crabs, but that was about all I know about crabs!
Thumbs up to Hai Phong from me too. I’m glad they re-opened…I was certain that the place would close forever after their plumbing problems.
Hi fmed: What was the story behind their closure? What plumbing problems was that about? Ben
They had a sewage backup and they were closed for months (maybe 6 months? – a long time, anyway). They just re-opened sometime in March.
Great place for pho – one of my favourites.
I think the hot and sour soup you had is called canh chua in vietnamese. And it isn’t green banana it’s actually a plant called: Alocasia odora, and is called: bac ha. 🙂
Oh? He he he … I stand corrected. It does look like green banana to me! Thanks for setting that straight. Ben
just stumbled onto your blog and find it very entertaining! love your reviews plus photos.
regarding the hot and sour soup.. sorry to hear you didn’t like it as it’s one of my favourites. it should have a nice balance between hot and sour as well as sweet (from the fish.. or meat etc). there are several different variations and that could really affect your tastes. for instance.. my sister loves it made with chicken and tofu whereas i don’t mind it with fish unless it’s extremely fishy (then i would refuse to eat it altogether). there is usually a combination of veggies but not the whole kitchen sink! lastly.. it’s common to be eating this with steamed rice and other dishes like caramel pork or chicken etc. it’s rare to find these dishes in restaurants as they are more “family style”. it’s that lovely combo that is like your comment on an earlier blog.. the soup.. the meat.. the veggie.. 🙂
you’re right. although pho.. sandwiches and salad rolls are good.. there is a lot more to vietnamese cuisine! just had to put in a good word for my people! btw.. my mother makes the best sauce for salad rolls. none of that peanut sauce stuff they tend to serve you in restaurants.
Perhaps you guys could’ve used 2 more palates during this dinner. Teehee. 😉
Intriguing, re the sourness… perhaps it will be familiar to us because Philippine cuisine has a lot of sourness.
Hehe, I think I need to be re-trained in terms of eating hot things. I don’t eat the chili by itself as is, but I’ll add thin slices to the food… so I get small doses of it at a time.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen Vietnamese cilantro before. And oh, I didn’t know it’s the same as “laksa leaf”… because I’ve seen laksa leaf in some recipes, but I didn’t know what it was!
Thank you for a wonderful article. Here in the Bay Area the Pho shops are as common as Starbucks. I had heard of Tamarind Crab – and after your review, I’m going to find it down here.
Wife and I happened to be on Kingsway tonight while we were already late for supper. As I passed this place I recognized it from Ben’s review, so I suggested we stop in to try it out.
I’ll make it brief. In short we were quite disappointed. My #13 large well-done beef noodle with tripe and tendons came with, well, no tripe and tendons (if there were any they were microscopic). In fact I asked for the beef well-done but it still arrived raw. And it was quite obvious there wasn’t much noodles, maybe 2/3 of the portion most other places I’ve been to would provide. The soup was decent, though. Wife ordered grilled lemongrass chicken on rice. There was only a small portion (size of my hand palm sans fingers) of grilled but bare breast/thigh on top of her rice, accompanied by some shredded iceberg lettuce and carrots. No shredded pork or other accompaniments typical of other Viet restaurants. A small bowl of stock soup came with her rice.
All in all, a disappointing experience lacking value and quality. The consolation is the restaurant is appointed above-average compared to most other pho restaurants.
I have been reading your posts recently and I have been in love with your website. Upon coming up with non-pho Vietnamese cuisine question, I would like to recommend that you give PHO THUAN AN try. It is located on 789 Kingsway street. Now you must think, it says in three big letters, PHO. HOw can they not serve pho? well, you are right, they do serve pho, but they specialize different kind of Vietnamese noodles soup. It’s called BANH GANH GOO which is delicious thick orange colored chicken stock soup (I think they get the color from saffron?) with real crab meat and shrimp cakes served over a bed of home made udon style noodles. It’s really yummy but you’ll have to try it for yourself. They also specialize in their rice dishes and this other type of noodle (lai-fen) in a fish broth with huge slices of fish. Anyways, everything there is home made and they go easy on the MSG. Any questions, feel free to email me. Cheers!
Thanks a lot, Eileen.
I would love to check the Banh Ganh Goo that out someday. When mentioned this soup noodle, I was not sure if I had tried it before. I used to go to this place called Thien Kim ( see http://bit.ly/5s1tMl ) where we had lots of non-pho noodle soup. Nope, we did not. We will certainly check them out one of these days. Keep the recommendation coming!
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