Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnamese

Seattle has a reputation for authentic Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines. I’ve had Tamarind Tree on my list and I finally dined there last month. In Asian Plaza on the corner of Jackson and Twelve, I had to circle the mall a couple of times to find the restaurant at the back.

Our group of five gathered for a weekday lunch. The modern interior was decorated in warm tones. A majestic pot of fuchsia and white orchids was on the bar.

We were seated by a thoroughfare with a view of the kitchen.

Featuring a classic wise men motif, the ceramic teapot was handmade Bát Tràng porcelain, as were all the serving plates and bowls.

A caddy of fiery condiments was on each table.

Myra recommended sửa đá chanh, a blended beverage of fresh lime, condensed milk and crushed ice. It was a refreshing milky drink laced with citrus notes, tempering the bold flavours of the meal.

We ordered several dishes to share. Spring rolls (gỏi cuốn) and egg rolls (chả giò chay) were appetising. Vegetables, herbs and rice noodles were wrapped in rice paper parcels.

A salad (gỏi đu đủ) of shredded green papaya, steamed prawns, pickled jicama, julienne carrot, roasted peanuts and fresh herbs was a symphony of tastes and textures.

A golden cratered crescent was filled with prawns, sliced pork, slivers of shiitake mushroom and bean sprouts. The rice flour and coconut milk crêpe batter was crispy and stuffed with ingredients, a delectable version of bánh xèo.

A favourite homely rice pot (cơm gà tươi Hải Nam), the rice was cooked in chicken broth and topped with Hainanese steamed chicken. It was fragrant and rich, brightened by splashes of ginger fish sauce (nước mắm).

The final savoury dish was bún chả Hà Nội, Hanoi grilled pork noodles. I wrapped grilled pork portions, rice noodles and herbs in lettuce leaves and ate the rolls by hand.

The waitress suggested two desserts. First was flan, a dense silky custard in a pool of caramel sauce.

The second dessert was bánh chuối nướng Cognac, Cognac red banana cake. We tipped the glass of warm Cognac coconut milk over the spongy cake, a sticky sweet adult treat.

I understand why the dining room was full for the two hours we were there!

I spent twelve hours in Portland last Friday. I had visited Vancouver three times in the past year but had not travelled south to Oregon. Crossing the Columbia River Bridge was a spectacular entrance into the state and city. Of Portlandia and tax-free shopping fame, Portlanders were friendly and I adored their boutiques. A stoic posy of daffodils defied the cool temperatures, sheltered by a flowering camellia tree.

Coffees and almond croissants at Barista fuelled our morning. A late lunch was at Pok Pok, the only restaurant I know of in Portland.

A curious structure of wooden beams, corrugated roofing and bamboo walls, the aesthetics were of Southeast Asian hawker stalls.

Festive lights twinkled and the heater glowed. Water was steeped in pandan leaves which tasted of toasted rice.

The dense menu detailed ingredients and cooking methods for each dish.

Although tempted by a Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, I was already buzzing from two caffeinated beverages. I selected a glass of cha manao instead, a Thai iced tea with fresh lime juice. It was refreshing and its delicate sweetness tempered the bold flavours.

Three of us shared four main courses and one dessert. The Pok Pok special was a plate of game hen (kai yaang) and papaya salad. Roasted on a rotisserie over charcoal, the portions of chicken were smoky and tender. The spicy sweet and sour, and tamarind dipping sauces were appetizing, so much so that I emptied the remainder onto coconut rice and sticky rice. Julienne green papaya, halved cherry tomatoes, batons of snake beans and crunchy peanuts were mixed with Thai chilli, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic and palm sugar.

Next was gulf prawns grilled over charcoal (kung phao). The charred shell peeled easily and the succulent crustacean was swirled in the shallow bowl of lime, garlic, coriander root and chilli sauce.

Ike’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings are a Pok Pok signature. Marinated in fish sauce and palm sugar, deep fried, and tossed in caramelised Phú Quốc fish sauce (nước mắm) and garlic, the poultry was served with pickles, lettuce and slices of cucumber. The chicken wings were an ominous crimson and each bite numbed our mouths. Our lips tingled and our fingers sticky, they were a fiery highlight.

A classic Thai stir-fried rice noodles, the phat si ew was silky and peppery. A dark soy tan, and flecked with Carlton Farms pork, Chinese broccoli and egg, I would have been happy eating only this as my meal.

We ignored the durian dessert and ordered the coconut ice cream sandwich. Wedged in a brioche bun on a bed of sticky rice were four scoops of coconut jackfruit ice cream sprinkled with peanuts and drizzled with condensed milk. We requested no chocolate syrup and also abandoned the bread. Coconut, sticky rice, peanuts and condensed milk were a pleasing combination.

Pok Pok readied us for an afternoon of shopping!

I’m a meticulous planner. I purchase theatre tickets as soon as they’re on sale and schedule weekend activities several weeks in advance. I’m fastidious about aligning our calendars and knowing where we’ll be when and with whom. I’ve relaxed since we moved here and less anxious about spontaneous gatherings.

On a wet and windy day, a group cozied up at Green Leaf for an impromptu but nourishing lunch. Near the corner of King and 8th, Green Leaf has a narrow street frontage with a green awning and a simple logo.

A stain glass panel of a nubile woman separates the entrance from the dining room. The faux bamboo and patterned wallpaper interior is sepia toned. Laminated media clippings and celebrity photos decorate the wall near the stairs.

We ordered several dishes to share. First were two servings of rice paper rolls (gỏi cuốn) artfully presented on a plate. Prawn, pork, Thai basil, vermicelli, peanuts, crispy wafer and lettuce were wrapped in fragile and translucent rice paper, and dipped in a sticky peanut sauce.

Three skewers of silky grilled lemongrass eggplant were topped with fried onions and peanuts with a side of pickled vegetables. 

The combo was a large ceramic bowl of grilled chicken, pork, prawn skewer and spring roll covering a tangled mass of vermicelli.

Two steaming decagon bowls of beef phở were ladled out into smaller portions. Rare beef were swirled in the aromatic broth and a mound of bean sprouts and sprigs of Thai basil were crunchy and fresh. The thin rice noodles were politely slurped and the soup emptied.

Last were pork chop, shredded pork and ‘egg pie’ with steamed rice. Peppery and tender, we each ate bites of this slowly as we were just about full!

Fortune cookies accompanied the bill and mine stated ‘a routine will turn into an enchanting escapade’.

Green Leaf will open a second restaurant in Belltown, near the Olympic Sculpture Park, in early 2012.

I suffered from a cold last week and my appetite was low. Drowsy from medication and hibernating at home, I craved for congee. Without the requisite Chinese ingredients of dried scallop, salted duck egg and preserved egg, I comforted myself with cups of tea instead. I knew congee is sometimes on the menu at Ba Bar so we walked up to Capitol Hill for a weekend lunch.

Sydney suburbs have clear boundaries defined by the government. Your address has your suburb and postcode. In Seattle there are neighbourhoods. Areas are referred to as Queen Anne and Ravenna but only Seattle is in your address. We thought Ba Bar is in Capitol Hill. We strolled to the intersection of 12th Avenue and Madison St, and checked the map. It was another five blocks south!

Located near the Seattle University campus, Ba Bar is in a converted building with floor to ceiling windows. In the entrance foyer, a bakery counter is on the right and adjacent is an open plan kitchen. Produce and spices line the ornate shelves and wooden benches.

A ladder leans against the liquor cabinet, copper mugs hang on hooks and a chalkboard displays an extensive beverages list.

A tumbler contained a pair of chopsticks and a serviette stamped with the Ba Bar logo, ‘street food, cold drinks’.

The lunch menu is categorised into salad and small plate, noodles in broth (phở), vermicelli bowl, rotisserie and Saigon French.

We shared a plate of Huế dumplings (bánh bột lọc chay). Made with tapioca flour, the slippery wrapper was thick and translucent. A curious mung bean paste was gritty and dry, remedied by spooning the spicy soy vinaigrette over the morsels.

Mr S ordered the special of Painted Hills beef stew. A steaming bowl of tender beef and carrots was served with bean sprouts and Thai basil. Egg noodles soaked in the aromatic broth and were gleefully slurped. It was a soothing dish and reminiscent of Chinese herbal soups.

Much to my disappointment, there was no congee on the menu. I consoled myself with a bowl of grilled chicken vermicelli. Piled on cold vermicelli were crispy imperial roll, grilled Draper Valley chicken, shredded lettuce, sliced cucumber, caramelised shallot and peanuts. A cup of chilli fish sauce (nước mắm) balanced precariously on the vermicelli and added a salty heat to the salad.

A bargain at ninety cents each, we nibbled on coconut chocolate macarons with an espresso and a cup of tea.

The return trip is always quicker when we know how far we’re going!

I’ve been desperately searching for quality Asian restaurants in Seattle. When I ask for recommendations, there are Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese eateries but sadly no Chinese or Thai. ‘How’s the yum cha in Chinatown?’ My hope is instantly deflated by the hesitant response. Several have suggested a road trip to Richmond. As in British Columbia, Canada. Three hours’ drive to a different country.

I miss the ‘wok breath’ of stir-fried dishes, scalding bowls of laksa in dingy food courts, aromatic massaman curry with chunks of melt-in-mouth beef, the simple and nourishing flavours of a whole steamed fish … I could go on and on!

It was with trepidation that we entered Wild Ginger for a late Friday dinner. Really, what is ‘eastern Pacific Rim’ cuisine? I had expected the restaurant to be constricted to the dining room along Union Street and I was surprised to find booth seating and a mezzanine level in the lofty space. We were seated in a corner with street view and it was cosy without being too dim.

There was an extensive standard menu and also a one page specials menu. As is tradition with many Asian cuisines, the dishes are designed to be shared. There was a satay section with various proteins, soups, salads, curries, noodles and sides, and seafood featured prominently.

Mr S enjoyed a Tsingtao beer as we discussed what to order. Thankfully most dishes were available in two sizes. The first stop on our food tour of Asia was Thailand. The peasant’s chicken were two skewers of chicken marinated in coconut curry and served with Thai peanut sauce, pickled vegetables and a cube of sticky rice. These satay sticks reminded Mr S of ones he grew up with at Parap Markets in Darwin. Tender and charred, the fragrant chicken was lovely with the spicy sauce.

We crossed borders into Vietnam for soft-shell crab with garlic, lemongrass and pepper. Ugly in appearance, these crustaceans were soaking in a delectable sauce. Although a little oily, the legs were delightfully crispy, and the body creamy and juicy.

For the main, we returned to Thailand for Wild Ginger’s signature duck. Spiced with cinnamon and star anise, the pieces of duck are hidden under sprigs of cilantro. Gently pry open the fluffy steamed buns, dollop on sweet plum sauce, wedge in as much duck as possible, top with cilantro leaves and you have an Asian burger! Chewing slowly, we ate these in silence.

A side of wild mushrooms with pea pods were distinctively Cantonese. Coated in oyster sauce, the thick slices of mushrooms were meaty and the snow peas crunchy.

We opted to share the dessert special of coconut sticky rice with fresh mango. Grocery stores and farmers markets are stacked with trays of mangoes in an Australian summer. I savoured each bite of the yellow flesh, firm and sweet. The ball of sticky rice had a curious caramel glaze and a light dusting of toasted coconut flakes.

I think we have found a restaurant to temporarily sate my Asian palate, albeit a fusion approach!

I love noodles. Pasta, udon, ramen, rice, vermicelli, soba, glass, egg – I prefer starchy carbohydrates over grains. Wok fried, steeped in soup, tossed in sauce or dry style, I eat noodles several times a week! Versatile and comforting, the key is to follow the cooking time.

The lovely Marilyn recommended Pho Viet Anh in Lower Queen Anne. The weather was mild enough for the Vietnamese noodle soup, phở.

Located on a quiet street corner in an old weatherboard house, the interior was decorated with kitsch lanterns, and the walls were painted red with bamboo panels. I had noticed a patio shaded by rainbow umbrellas. On a clear day with a gentle breeze, I was happy to dine al fresco.

Milky white and translucent, the rice paper roll was tautly wrapped. A sweet peanut sauce seasoned the prawns, romaine lettuce, rice vermicelli noodles and Thai basil with each dip. The combination was fresh and light.

Phở dominated the menu with stock and protein options. I ordered a small bowl with traditional beef stock and brisket. The phở was served with a side plate of bean sprouts, Thai basil and a wedge of lime. I tore leaves off the stalk of Thai basil and submerged them into the broth.

Cilantro, green onions and thin slices of brisket floated in a steaming broth of ginger, cloves, star anise and cinnamon. Aromatic and soothing, I relished slurping the thin rice noodles spoonfuls of soup. There was a generous amount of noodles and brisket and the beef was tender.

A popular Vietnamese sandwich with meat, pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro, peppers, pâté and mayonnaise, bánh mì is on the take-away lunch menu.

As I exited, Santa and two snowmen wished me happy holidays – it’s Christmas in July!


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