In Seattle, March isn’t just about watching the Huskies fight for a place in the NCAA tournament. It’s also about getting out and checking out some restaurants during the Dine Around Seattle event. The Dine Around Seattle is a promotion in which 30+ restaurants in Seattle and now the eastside offer a pre-fixe menu to encourage people to check it out. For dinner, it’s 3 courses for $30, and some restaurants offer a lunch menu of 3 courses for $15 (Sunday – Thursday only). Normally, I don’t get to very many as I end up traveling for work, or just am not able to get out on the right nights. This year though, I’m committed to getting to 4. The first of which was Monsoon East.
Monsoon East is down in Bellevue which is a little bit of a haul for a workday lunch from Bothell, but the Eastside choices are a little limited for lunch (not to mention the restaurants options are limited in Bothell period). But I managed to talk three of my co-workers into it, and we headed down to Old Main. I found street parking a couple blocks away, and we walked over to the restaurant (this is actually relevant for later in the story, stay with me).
The restaurant is very nicely laid out. The hostess stand and the bar are in front of you with seating to both the left and the right. There is a nice wide open feeling, even though the areas are segmented by light, almost sheer, curtains. The floors are dark, and the furniture is very sleek and modern. It just has a very nice a pleasant aesthetic to it. And it was a nice, fairly quiet ambiance…but of course it was only a half full lunch time crowd as opposed to a boisterous happy hour crowd.
The nice thing about the Dine Around Seattle menu is that while it’s a pre-fixe, you have the option of doing a little mixing and matching. For Monsoon East, there were 3 different appetizers, a half dozen entrees and two different desserts to choose from. After careful consideration, I opted for the Grilled Marinated Pork Belly as my appetizer, Drunken Chicken for the entree and the Banana Cake for dessert. All of my dining companions decided that the DAS menu was a good choice, and put together their own variety of lunch.
It took about 10 minutes or so for the pork belly and other appetizers to make their way out. It was different than what I was expecting. When I think pork belly, I tend to think more of a slab, but this was cut down into very thin strips. It was served with some pickled shallots, bean sprouts, and a bit of “green onion oil”. When you got a little bit of each element, the dish was good…a little acidity from the shallots, as well as some crunch from the bean sprouts. But the pork belly was a little underwhelming. The pieces seemed to be cooked to a different doneness; some had a lot of char on them, some were just cooked through, and some were just fat. Also, there was a bit too much oil on the whole dish which really didn’t add anything except well, oil.
After we finished our appetizers, everything was cleared away, and we were able to continue our conversation…for another 10-15 minutes before the entrees arrived (remember, we are here for lunch so only have so much time). Finally, I got my drunken chicken, and it looked and smelled really good. A fried egg topping rice and steaming chicken with some greens at the bottom of the bowl. I cut into the egg expecting the yolk to run out into the bowl, adding a nice creaminess almost like a sauce, but it was cooked through. And actually, as I got into the dish, it felt like each element was on its own, just put into a bowl together. The greens were ok, but just steamed with minimal flavor. The egg was a nice fried egg that I can get anywhere, and the rice was rice. But the chicken was an absolute highlight. It was so moist and tender and wonderfully cooked. The sauce was a little sweet, and a little spicy, but very delicate; not at all heavy or overwhelming. Also, this didn’t rely on some sort of breading or anything like that. I actually would have been perfectly content with just a bowl full of that chicken, some rice, and some additional sauce to help flavor the rice.
Again, after we finished, everything was cleared away, and we waited for the next course, the dessert which fortunately arrived with the check so we could get going. The banana cake was interesting. The cake itself was more like a banana bread; a very good banana bread. A nice level of sweetness, not too much banana flavor, and very moist. But the coconut whip that it was served with was, uh, interesting. It definitely wasn’t sweet and was almost salty. It seemed to actually fight with the sweetness of the banana cake. One of the guys I was with also got the banana cake and each bite was met with a confused look as we tried to figure out the flavor, if we liked it, if it worked, and what it was (I had to look it up when I got home because I couldn’t remember, and coconut was not the flavor I would have guessed).
Finally, we paid our check and took off, after more than an hour in the restaurant, only to find a ticket on my car! At first I thought it was because I was in a spot for longer than the alloted time, but it turns out that someone representing the city of Bellevue gave me a ticket because I didn’t park within the marked lines along the curb on the street! First of all, who puts little “T” lines on the ground for people to try and park within when they are parallel parking? Second of all, why are you punishing people who make more room for extra cars? And third of all, every car on the street was parked over the line…why did you single one car out? Add this to the list of reasons I want to avoid living on the eastside, especially Bellevue, for as long as humanly possible.
Anyway, back to the lunch. I thought that there were some definite high points like the chicken and the banana cake. There were some low points like the coconut cream. And there were some just ok pieces like the pork belly. Add to that the fact that the service was pleasant, but for lunch time you can’t take so much time between courses; we aren’t in Europe. The pace of courses was fine for dinner, but definitely not for lunch. I thought about me overall rating quite a bit, and decided that the chicken saved the day. It was the primary focus of the meal, and done so well, even in a dish that seemed weirdly composed.