Friday, September 11, 2009

FoodTrek: Monsoon East - the Raw and the Cooked

What, no one appreciates silly Britpop late 80s album titles? Well, this Fine Young Cannibal went with a partial gathering of the Happy Hour Martini Mafia to explore a bit of Ye Olde Main Street of Bellevue. It was a pleasant evening, the clouds parted ways to reveal the beginnings of a rosy sunset, and we had the pleasure of experiencing the Vietnamese cuisine of Monsoon East.

What lies behind door number one? Papaya salad, please. - Photos by Wasabi Prime

With all the excitement over new food/retail metropolis The Bravern opening this week, and the crowds that usually gather around the Lincoln Square hub, Old Bellevue's Main Street, with its independent boutiques, family-run restaurants, and general quaintness, is often forgotten. Better known to Eastsiders and Bellevueites living close to the downtown area, it's an easy walk from the many residential buildings nearby. It's a stretch of road that encourages meandering, with window displays and inviting storefronts on both sides of the street. One of my favorite restaurants, Bis on Main, is there, as well as local haunt, 520 Bar and Grill. Even though it's since closed down, one of the best dive bars, The Mustard Seed, had also once called Main Street its home.

New things in Old Bellevue - Photos by Wasabi Prime

A new Main Street/Martini Mafia favorite is most definitely Monsoon East, the Eastside sibling to the Monsoon located in Capitol Hill. Approaching the entrance, the thick, heavy door feels like a gateway to a holy temple. A hefty pull and you enter into a serene, open space full of delicious smells and an icy display of fresh shellfish for their raw seafood bar. Monsoon East took over a space that had once been a high end market. The area where the deli counter once was, now sits a cozy bar. Small sitting areas are scattered in front of their large windows, creating a friendly lounge space. When the weather is nice, it's an easy place to sit, eat, and people watch.

Go on, be shellfish and have some. - Photo by Wasabi Prime

We set straight to business, ordering a flurry of dishes, both raw and cooked, from the happy hour menu. Trying a bite of this and a smidge of that, we enjoyed a variety of flavors and textures. Sweet, spicy, sour, fragrant -- all descriptions that are synonymous with Vietnamese dishes. Fresh ingredients with a mix of preserved morsels made their papaya salad a refreshing start. We were expecting a strong hit of spice typical to this dish, but they kept the heat to a minimum, letting the punch of the vinegar dressing punctuate the freshness of the salad ingredients. A string of raw dishes followed: a spicy albacore mixed with a citrus aioli and nestled in a tower of taro chips; poke tuna with a swirling nest of ogo (seaweed); a tart and fragrant carpaccio with the beef sliced paper-thin and sprinkled with crunchy peanuts -- everything had delicious, clean flavors that left one wanting to order second helpings or at least figure out when another visit was in order.

Any more raw and it'd be wriggling. And still delicious. - Photo by Wasabi Prime

The cooked items were just as enjoyable, as we nibbled on familiar bar food fare like their sweetly spiced crispy chicken appetizers and shared a dinner menu serving of the drunken chicken in a savory, sweet sauce. I think my personal favorites were the raw bar items, as they struck the perfect balance of flavor and texture. I noticed on their menu that they have a mangalitsa pork fried rice, which sounds like heaven -- I'm making a mental note to return for just that reason, and maybe a bit of the caramelized kurobuta pork belly. You know it's a good place when you're already making menu plans for the next visit.

It's been said that the people and culture of Vietnam conjure an enchanting spell over visitors, leading them to cast their Westernized lives aside and become fully immersed in the natural beauty that surrounds the region. With the inspiration of an expatriated (and hungry) character from a Graham Greene novel, Monsoon East made me feel like I never needed to return home.

I feel like spicy-chicken-wings-tonight, like spicy-chicken-wings-tonight! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

*Post Script - Big thanks to Foodie View for making the poke tuna their Foodie View of the Day! Thanks also to Serious Eats' Photograzing for also posting this photo!

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  1. Took me a second to realize your reference to the old flapping chicken arms commercial...

    Hmmm--think Monsoon East will deliver to the east coast? Looks delicious!

  2. This place looks amazing. I would like to go there the next time I come up for a visit!


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