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
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
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.