Restaurant: Hoang's in Canton offers sushi as well as grilled specialties, noodle dishes and wok entrees. The service makes up for any unevenness in the food .
When Nghia Hoang opened Hoang's Seafood Grill in Mount Washington seven years ago, Baltimore had only one Vietnamese restaurant. Now it has four -- five if you count the noodle shop Pho Saigon. Hoang has closed his carryout noodle shop and sushi bar on York Road; but we've gained a new Hoang's, a full-service restaurant, in Canton.
Vietnamese is a delicate, healthy and highly flavorful cuisine, whose combinations of savory and sweet and highly spiced dishes in particular seem to appeal to American tastes. But Nghia Hoang and his family realized early on that sushi would also be a huge draw, and their first restaurant had a sushi bar before sushi bars were de rigueur for every Asian eatery. The new restaurant in Canton is even called Hoang's Seafood Grill & Sushi Bar. I'm just surprised the sushi didn't get top billing.
The Canton Hoang's is in a strip mall; the owners have done their best to make the contemporary space warm and homey with soft colors and comfortable furnishings. A row of booths divides the dining room, which is perfectly pleasant without being in any way noteworthy.
What is noteworthy is the warm, intelligent and attentive service. It more than made up for some unevenness in the food. This is the kind of restaurant where you find a few dishes you enjoy, and you keep coming back because you like the people who run the place.
One of the dishes to come back for is the summer rolls, steamed instead of fried and prettily arranged with shredded carrot and curly greens. The pearly-white rice paper "skins" were filled with shrimp, shredded lettuce, rice noodles and mint leaves. The flavors were delicate, fresh and appealing; a peanut dipping sauce added pizazz.
Another variation on the traditional egg roll is chicken mishu, with sliced chicken as the filling. (These small rolls are fried.) Fresh ginger and green onions gave them plenty of zing; and alongside was nuoc mam, the ubiquitous Vietnamese sweet and sour fish sauce. It's based on fish stock, but actually tastes more like Chinese duck sauce than fish.
If you feel like soup, Hoang's tom yum koong is a spicy but subtle broth filled with shrimp, water chestnuts and mushrooms, with notes of lime and lemon grass. It, too, is a winner.
Hoang's menu is large, ranging from grilled specialties to noodle dishes to wok entrees. Vegetarians will find a good selection to choose from: vegetable fried rice, perhaps, or tofu bird's nest noodles.
When we couldn't decide between the grilled beef and the grilled pork, our waitress brought us a mix. Small chunks of marinated meat came skewered; the flank steak was flavored with honey and sesame, the pork with lemongrass and peanuts. Both are good if you like undertones of sweetness with your meat, but they tasted a bit greasy and the presentation lacked the style of our first courses. (The skewers arrived on large beds of lettuce, with rice on the side.)
Hoang's seafood grill was much the same, only the skewers were filled with chunks of salmon (a signature dish here), shrimp, squid and scallops. It was good but not spectacular. Nuoc mam as a dipping sauce added sweetness to the seafood, which didn't work for me.
For those interested in sushi, Hoang's has a special for $15.95 that includes a delicious miso soup, seaweed salad, tuna, eel and salmon sushi and three different rolls. Those who don't want raw fish will enjoy the combinations of crab, cucumber and avocado wrapped in rice (the California roll) or a bit of shrimp tempura, avocado and mayonnaise (the Florida roll). But the gator roll with tuna, hot pepper and mayo was appealing as well.
What wasn't appealing was the shrimp and rice noodle tempura that came with the special. Unlike Japanese tempura, it was heavy and somewhat greasy.
The fried bananas with honey for dessert didn't have a lot of delicacy either, but they were wickedly good. (I wouldn't garnish them with greens and grated carrots, though, even if they needed the color.)
If you prefer one of the several American desserts offered, I recommend the orange mousse cake, light enough to enjoy even after a substantial meal.
HOANG'S SEAFOOD GRILL & SUSHI BAR
Food: ** 1/2
Service: *** 1/2
Atmosphere: ** 1/2
Where: 2748 Boston St. (Lighthouse Point), Canton
Hours: Open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, Sunday for dinner only
Prices: Appetizers: $2.70-$6.95; main courses: $9.95-$15.95. Major credit cards
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *
Pub Date: 04/25/99