On Friday night Dee Glaze and I decided to give Three Seasons in Palo Alto a try. For weeks we'd been noticing the crowds and had actaully been turned away the previous weekend without a reservation. Generally I try to avoid the "hot" places but the menu looked interesting and they had a table available.
Billed as contemporary Vietnamese, Three Seasons offers a wide selection of spring rolls, satays, small plates and large plates.
Of the 10 spring roll offerings we chose the ahi tuna variety. Inside was cubed, seared ahi with a disappontingly thin slice of mango, and the obligatory vermicelli, mint and cilantro. A nice presentation didn't hide the unintersting and bland taste of the roll. The ahi wasn't well-seasoned, the mango barely came through and had they not provided some ginger-infused soy sauce and a powerful wasabi my taste buds would have stayed completely asleep. Thumbs down on the ahi rolls.
Next we tried a satay called "Cha Ca." This was basically grilled, skewered chunks of white fish that had been marinated in dill and galangal. The fish was right on the money in terms of texture but the dill and galangal were barely evident. What could have been a bold and powerful flavor combination was muted and rather limp. It's as if the chef was holding back - teasing us with the list of ingredients and then failing to deliver the knockout punch. Frustrating.
Our first large plate was a steamed Chilean sea bass in a shiitake mushroom broth. This was easily the best dish of the night. Served in a steaming bowl of powerfully flavored - thank goodness - broth were two large hunks of fish, cooked just right. Texturally, it had that melt-in-the-mouth feel that you look for in sea bass. Also in play were lily buds that provided a more toothsome texture and some crunchy fried garlic. This worked.
The second large plate was duck a l'orange. Normally I would have passed this by but the description on the menu reeled me in with promises of star anise, cayenne and paprika. Four or five slices of duck breast were fanned out on the plate covered by an orange sauce that 1) completely covered any hints of spices that might have been present on the duck skin and 2) suffered from an unappealing gummy texture that literally mucked up the entire proceeding. Mid-bite, I asked Dee Glaze if she tasted any paprika or cayenne or anise. She said, " I think so, hmmm, maybe a little." I didn't at all. Another thumbs down.
For dessert we split a banana spring roll with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce. This was fried phyllo-wrapped pieces of banana topped with the butterscotch. We enjoyed this. The crunchy phyllo was perfect with the soft banana and the ice cream smoothed it all out. Yummy.
The bill, for one large bottle of beer and the food described above, came to $70 before tip.
I doubt I will return to Three Seasons. Evertything tasted tame - no oohs and aahs here at all. Those looking for bold, identifiable flavors should look elsewhere.
518 Bryant St., Palo Alto