Dinner at Monsoon East (Bellevue, WA)

I’ve reviewed Monsoon East in a previous post. Located in Old Bellevue on the Eastside, it (along with the original Monsoon) is the best Asian fusion restaurant in the Seattle area. If there is any single reason why we don’t come here often, it is that the restaurant seems more appropriate for a special occasion or a mecca for the after-work happy hour crowd of professionals who work in the downtown Bellevue core. Not that there is anything wrong with either. After all, Monsoon East’s happy hour menu is pretty darn good.

Our special occasion tonight was to celebrate two birthdays.

I love hot pots. Not only do they look cool, simmering in attractive earthware vessels, but are relatively healthful as they don’t rely on fats for cooking. Monsoon’s hot pots are excellent, such as their one with caramelized catfish whose virtues I extolled in the past. On the appetizer list tonight was Clay Pot Manila Clams. The thick, complex tomato sauce, flavored with pieces of pork and shrimp sausage, was not only terrific on perfectly cooked clams but lip-smacking, slurped directly from the shells. The clams were garnished with sliced jalapeño chiles, ngo om and lime aioli, more like a citrusy yogurt than an emulsion tasting of garlic. There was nothing left of the sauce after we spooned the rest of it over steamed rice. Simply wonderful.

Clay pot clams
Clay Pot Manila Clams

Though deep-fried spring rolls are hugely popular over much of Asia, several Southeast Asian countries make fresh ones rolled in moistened rice paper, definitely healthier for you. Monsoon’s Wild Shrimp Spring Rolls came as four slices filled with shreds of shrimp, avocado, baby greens, perilla, mint, rice noodles, bean sprouts and pickled carrots. The dipping sauce (nuoc cham) of lime juice, simple syrup, fish sauce and a homemade sambal, sparingly portioned out in a small dish, was astonishingly tasty and would have been all gobbled up if more were served, with or without spring rolls.

Fresh Rolls
Wild Shrimp Fresh Rolls

Our lone vegetable dish featured slices of zucchini and silky eggplant, sprinkled with chopped peanuts, in a rich coconut milk sauce with flavors of nuoc mam, chiles and lemongrass.

Wokked Asian Eggplant and Zucchini

Crispy Washington Drunken Chicken is a kind of preparation mostly associated with Chinese restaurants. You know, sweet-and-sour chicken. Monsoon’s version had very crispy cornstarch batter encrusting chicken thigh meat, with slices of mustard greens and scallions, topped with toasted sesame seeds. The sweet-sour sauce was thankfully light on sugar, accentuating more of its tartness. Though not as impressive as the others, the dish was still a very good one, better than many versions I’ve had.

Crispy Washington Drunken Chicken

Despite our intention to forego dessert—and who doesn’t have good intentions?—the lychee creme brulee somehow called out to us. Our waiter thought we made an excellent choice (do they all say that?), mainly for the extra pains the pastry chef takes to make the caramel topping. It was almost rigidly crunchy and dark, pleasantly bitter, sitting atop a wonderful, thick custard studded with pieces of lychee fruit.

Creme Brûlée
Lychee Creme Brûlée

Monsoon East continues to impress us with its consistent quality and imaginative interpretations of Vietnamese cuisine.

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