[Sidebar] October 12 - 19, 2000
[Food Reviews]
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Four Seasons

A winner every time

by Johnette Rodriguez

Ocean State Plaza, 361 Reservoir Avenue, Providence, 461-5651
Open daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Major credit cards
Sidewalk access

Had enough pasta to hold you for a while? Head for Four Seasons, which has what might be the most expansive menu of Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian and Chinese dishes in the state. For that reason, no matter how many times we've eaten there, we always discover something different.

Four Seasons' decor is a mix of Asian and American influences, testimony to the adaptations of Rhode Island's large population of Southeast Asians (there's a Cambodian jewelry dealer in the same shopping plaza). A painting of Cambodian dancers hangs between large photographs of American landscapes, and a print of Asian cranes is sandwiched by similar photos. The most humorous hint at this cross-cultural connection is the life-size statue of a young Asian woman (a stewardess, perhaps?) in a short skirt and heels near the front door.

We find our way to a table in the back (the place is hopping with family groups of six to 10 people on a Thursday night), and begin the tricky task of choosing our food. The pupu platter ($12.95) is popular around us (and could be a meal in itself), but we home in on the nime chow ($2.75), those delightful Vietnamese spring rolls that have found such widespread acclaim they pop up in many non-Asian restaurants around the city. We also pick the lemon grass chicken wings ($5.25) from the 10 different kinds offered at Four Seasons.

Wrapped in almost transparent skins, the spring rolls contain rice noodles, shrimp, Asian mint and crunchy bean sprouts. Their dipping sauce is loaded with peanuts, as is the sauce on the wings, which are finger-lickin' good in their sweet/tart sauce.

That theme carries through in a very delicious Vietnamese soup: sweet and sour chicken soup ($7.25 for two, though it would actually feed four quite handsomely). The light broth is choked with fresh pineapple triangles, tomato wedges and white-meat chicken and seasoned with two green herbs, as well as scallions. We ask our waiter if he can tell us about the others, and he replies, in total deadpan, "No, I can't do that." Then a few beats and "One question for $1000." He explains that the other two are grasses, one sharp enough to cut your hands, and that this soup will cure you of any cold. Hmmm, there's a chicken soup tradition in Vietnam. Who knew?

We continue on in this culinary gluttony with bean curd with pineapple ($5.95), chicken moo shu ($6.50) and shrimp and squid with ginger ($8.50). The bean curd is lightly sautéed and tossed with pineapple chunks and spices. The moo shu is a heaping mound of shredded chicken and vegetables with a generous six pancakes to wrap around it. The ginger isn't evident in the seafood dish, but it's so fiery spicy we may have missed it. The "hot and spicy" symbol adorned our soup as well, but we didn't find it hot at all, so you probably should ask about each individual dish.

You should also roam around the menu and ask as many questions as you need to before making decisions. Among the "Chef's specials," we've previously enjoyed are the orange- flavored chicken, the sesame chicken and the mussels with ginger ($8.25 to $8.95). I've also always loved the tofu entrees, especially the "home-style bean curd" ($5.95) and the eggplant or string beans with spicy garlic sauce ($5.95).

The all-time Four Seasons favorite of ours is the pad Thai ($5.95), rice noodles with your choice of vegetarian, shrimp, seafood, pork, beef, chicken or a meat combo. Both of the Vietnamese "salads," either banh hoi or bee boong, are a wonderful treat: fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, mint and cucumber with soft rice noodles and either a peanut sauce or a peanut/coconut sauce, plus optional meats or seafood ($5.50 to $6.25).

Just one more thing. When Bill asked about additional napkins to deal with the dripping moo shu pancakes, our sardonic waiter replied with no hesitation and, once again, complete deadpan, "Why don't you use your sleeve, sir?" This is part of this restaurant's charm. Not all of the waiters have such great comic delivery, but they are universally helpful and friendly. It always feels like coming home when we step inside Four Seasons.

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