Celebrating our birthdays at Monsoon East may be becoming a tradition. Granted, two years in a row hardly qualifies as an annual observance, but truthfully we couldn’t think of any better special place to be that was within a short driving distance of home. Along the two-block distance on Main Street in Old Bellevue can be found a surprising number of good places to eat, which include not only Monsoon East but La Cocina del Puerco, Belle Pastry, Ginza, Bis on Main and Cantinetta, the last to which we’ve never been.
First came the small plates. Dungeness Crab Rolls delighted us with their crispiness (deep-fried and sliced diagonally) and filling of crab, shrimp and rice vermicelli. These chả giò were delicious by themselves, even without nuoc cham. You could choose to wrap these in green-leaf lettuce leaves, garnished with extra rice noodles and Thai basil, before dipping. A tad greasy, the fried rolls were extraordinarily good (☆☆☆½).
Remembering how good it was last year, we requested Claypot Manila Clams again. To be sure, the clams were tender, but the sauce was an absolute killer, da bomb. Made from tomato purée and other secret ingredients, it was thick, bright, savory, buttery and a little spicy from sliced jalapeños. Even after polishing off roughly a dozen small clams and using their shells to scoop up the broth, there still was more sauce left behind. It would have been a crime against nature to let this go to waste without slathering it on rice, so we declined the waiter’s offer to remove the vessel. This is an astonishingly good entrée (☆☆☆☆), one we’re likely to order time and again.
Next came the rest of the meal. There was the steamed jasmine rice, of course, to mate with the clam sauce. Mustard greens are not normally associated in the West with Vietnamese cuisine, but Chinese mustard greens are very popular in Asia. At Monsoon, they’re sautéed with roasted shiitake mushrooms and slivers of ginger in a savory sauce (☆☆☆).
Veal Luc Lac is a variation of the more common bo luc lac which is prepared by searing marinated beef cubes in a pan and shaking the pan (luc lac) back and forth until done. One could not ask for more tender meat than Monsoon’s veal version, tasting of oyster sauce, fish sauce and garlic. The red onions were nearly caramelized to heighten their sweetness. The whole dish is seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper that added pungency and floral taste. A small dish of a bracing dipping sauce made with lime juice, kosher salt and pepper sealed the deal on yet another outstanding though pricey dish (☆☆☆☆), accompanied by a salad of watercress and cherry tomatoes, dressed in a refreshing lime vinaigrette.
We’ve come to regard Monsoon East as one of the best Asian restaurants on the Eastside. At their upscale prices, it is not a place we’d go to often or on the spur of the moment, but certainly when our birthdays roll around again next December, we’d be hard pressed to think of a better place.
10245 Main St.
Bellevue, WA 98004