By SUZANNE BOURRET
For The Spectator
Viet-Thai pleasures at B&T
Hamilton's first contemporary Vietnamese and Thai restaurant has opened in an area that has become a fast-growing Asian community in Hamilton's north-west.
The Ben Thanh, or B & T as it's commonly known, has a supermarket by the same name next door. The restaurant-supermarket operation is the first plaza combination in Hamilton geared to the Asian market. Both businesses opened late last year in the former Agro's Gourmet Market and Seafood at the corner of Cannon and Park streets.
It's a business combo that will make food preparation and dining entertainment much easier for the area's Asian community. For other people, it's a gift of food fortune because, at a time when more and more people cook Thai and Vietnamese food, it not only provides a restaurant but a place to shop as well.
Hamilton's other two Vietnamese restaurants are located east of the downtown core and are more traditional in setting. The B&T gives Viet/Thai food almost a fast-food feel because of its newness and contemporary decor, with large windows, white walls, booths and stainless steel.
On this note, I found it interesting to see young Asian students sitting over fast meals of soup and rice with friends. It offers an inexpensive way for university-age students to fill up on low-fat food - an experience we should promote to more young people who often fill up on high-fat foods.
I like the gracious tradition, preserved at B&T, of presenting tea as soon as you sit at the table. It is a warm and hospitable way to welcome diners.
It was the first Vietnamese/Thai food adventure for my teenage daughter, who wasn't sure what to expect. But she was eager to try some of the foods - until she saw how many dishes covered our table, then she decided we looked piggish. That was a fair observation because in addition to soup and a main dish, I had ordered spring rolls and stir-fry chicken with lemon grass and hot pepper.
If you're a fan of hot and sour soup, you'll find B&T's a good one with lots of bean sprouts, tomatoes, a liberal lashing of freshly-chopped coriander and a sprig of tresh mint on the side. The good-size shrimps in the hot and sour soup tasted as though they had just been caught.
If you go there and you order soup, be prepared for their extra-large bowls. We looked at each other in amazement when the soups arrived. The small order is big enough to serve two. The size of the bowls makes you think that the medium and large portions must
come in tureens. The beef noodle soup, a traditional Vietnamese favorite, even included tripe. Both soups were full of vegetables and tasted as though they had been freshly made after we had ordered. B&T's large soup portions are just the thing for cold days. Obviously, word has gotten around about B&T's super-size soups. I saw a number of people who had come just for the soup.
A BIG PLATTER came loaded with barbecued shrimp and pork, vermicelli, a spring roll and a stack of six rounds of thin rice paper. The server showed my daughter how to roll up bits of the food with the accompanying lettuce, shredded carrot and daikon on the rice paper. For a spicy taste, you dip your rolled-up food into hot sauce. This is a popular dish with Vietnamese people and it's an enjoyable way to eat food - similar to rolling up Mexican fajitas in warm tortillas.
If your Thai tastes have graduated to hot and spicy, you'll enjoy B&T's number 417 - Thai style green curry shrimp. Shrimp and long, thin green beans are combined in a lively curry sauce.
The only low note was the stir-fry chicken with lemon grass and hot pepper. The chicken was appropriately snappy with a mild hint of the lemon grass but it sat in an oily slick that ruined the dish for me. It needs a lighter touch with the oil.
Spring rolls were light, with bean threads, bean sprouts, minced pork, mushrooms and carrot. All the dishes were creatively garnished with fresh herbs, cucumber strips, leaf lettuce and shaved carrot. Lime and fresh bean sprouts came on the side for the soup. Small, white plastic dishes are piled up for sauces, and chopsticks and plastic spoons are stacked in a laminated holder at the ready for your dipping and mixing.
The fresh fruit shake was a big hit with the daughter. She enjoyed it so much she had two. Service is friendly and helpful and the restaurant is clean and well-kept. I do wish the lights weren't so bright. The ceiling has rows and rows of pot lights and combined with the stark, white walls, the glare is hard to take.
Vince Lam operates Hamilton's B&T location while another partner looks after their Kitchener restaurant, which - opened last year at 338 King St. E. in that city. A third B&T Viet/Thai restaurant is scheduled to open this summer in London. A third partner runs the supermarket.
BEN THANH VIET-THAI RESTAURANT
115 Park Street North,
Open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.
Fully licensed. Takeout and delivery available.