First Look: Pinky’s Ca Phe features Leemo Han’s take on Vietnamese bar food


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Leemo Han collaborated with his brother at OddSeoul after their successful run at Swish by Han. Hanmoto, a Japanese snack bar on Dundas West, was Leemo’s first solo project. Pinky’s Ca Phe is his latest and is located at College and Clinton in a rather discreet location. One could easily walk by it, mistaking it for a house rather than a Vietnamese eatery.

So what business does a Korean restaurateur have opening a Vietnamese eatery?  Well, for starters, Han is from Philadelphia, which is home to one of the largest Vietnamese populations on the East Coast.  “Vietnamese food in Toronto is a little simple,” he says while reminiscing about restaurants dedicated to one dish that is done very well, like a joint that only served up pho ga (chicken pho) or grilled quail done over a spit.  

Of all his restaurant projects, Pinky’s is the one that Han says he would be a regular diner at. “I don’t want to bastardize the food,” says Han who is taking Vietnamese flavours and refining them. 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

And to those who may sneer at the authenticity of the food at Pinky’s, Han responds “It’s my take on it.  There is no other restaurant where you can get a Vietnamese ceviche.” 

His is made from a trio of yellowfin tuna, surf clams and scallops. Han doesn’t tone it done for those who shy away from the fishiness of fish sauce.


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The Spring Chicken dish is a boned chicken stuffed with Portuguese smoked pork bacon, taro, carrots, peas and ground pork – like the filling in Vietnamese spring rolls except the chicken serves as the wrapper.  It is steamed, dried and fried.  No batter here, just natural, crispy goodness served up with a sweet fish sauce.  It’s Han’s imagination of a Vietnamese sweet and sticky chicken wings with a Frankenstein twist to it.  

The So Fly Rice was inspired by a dish that Han had in Vietnam at a place that did everything with crab.  He’s using conpoy (dried scallops), a premium ingredient in Asian cuisine in place of crab that is soaked overnight and pulled into slivers.  It’s topped with ikura salmon roe, julienned egg crêpes and cilantro.  A heavy dousing of fish sauce is strongly recommended.  


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

The décor is familiar if you’ve been to OddSeoul or Hamoto, read: dark with a pink hue from the neon signs beaming off the wall.  It’s inspired by 1970s-era bars that G.I.’s frequented in Vietnam.

The main dining area is adorned with floral upholstered bar stools that overlook the front dining room. If you look out, with all the potted plants, it does seem kind of exotic. 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

Cocktails like the Spice Man, made with lemon juice, Bulleit Bourbon, Bottega peach grappa and peach bitters are light and refreshing.  The FOCO Locos, a take on the smash style of cocktail, play off the many flavours of FOCO juices that are commonly found at Asian grocery stores.  The mango flavored one is infused with mint, lime juice and Havana Club rum though you can order any flavor that FOCO juices come in.

Beers are light and refreshing, meant more to be palate cleansers and not to compete with the strong flavours in the food.  Lagunitas and Sapporo are on draught with off-tap selections like Tiger and Tsingtao.  

Pinky’s is currently open for dinner only, though plans to serve broken rice dishes for lunch and a banh mi cart out front are in the works.

Pinky’s Ca Phe, 53 Clinton St. 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 


(IMAGE: YVONNE TSUI)

 

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Yvonne is a freelance food and drink writer and the Director of Brand Experience at U-Feast, which curates unique, off-menu dining experiences.  Always in search of delicious. Decor and service be damned, food is king. Follow her @life_of_y and @u_feast.  Warning: don't look at her "feed" if you're hungry.

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