My lunch excursion started out as a drive to I Love Sushi for a bowl of their terrific nabeyaki udon, but alas the restaurant (and every other place in the lot) was gone—demolished because of new construction, presumably another high-rise project, having met the same fate as other strip malls in the valuable downtown Bellevue real estate market. (I later learned that I Love Sushi relocated to Lake Bellevue, only a short distance away.) Then, I went over to Ginza Japanese Restaurant in Old Bellevue, but the door hours indicated that lunch is not served on Saturdays. It didn’t take too much longer to decide on Monsoon East, on the next block over, where my wife and I have had many outstanding meals.
Not having Vietnamese beef stew (bở kho) for lunch, I settled on their beef noodle soup (phở bở) which the menu describes as being made with an oxtail broth. At $10, it qualifies as the most expensive bowl of phở I’ve ever paid for, but the provenance of the beef is the Painted Hills consortium of Oregon, which supplies high-quality meat to the Northwest’s finer restaurants. Would I be able to tell the difference? Indeed, I could. Thin slices of both rare and well-done beef were extraordinarily tender, literally melting in the mouth. This possibly might be the first time I’ve ever had rare beef so delicate, not surprising since it comes from a Wagyu breed. In other restaurants, these rare slices become chewy as the hot broth toughens them. My usual choice for beef slices in phở is well-done brisket; it is always more tender and flavorful because of higher fat content. Monsoon’s was among the best. Though both cuts were generously sized, teeth or chopsticks easily cut them to smaller size. Because of adhesion, it also took a bit of work to separate individual slices. I dipped each piece in a little dish of chile sauce and a stellar hoisin sauce that very well could be house-made. The rice vermicelli was a combination of thin and thicker noodles, perfectly cooked, and not coiled in a sticky ball that many restaurants cook ahead of time for convenience. There was a generous amount of bean sprouts and Thai basil as condiments, with sliced jalapeños and a wedge of lime.
And what about the broth? It was very dark, concentrated in flavor, intensely tasting of beef, with a slight tang, and boldly revealing warm spices of star anise and cinnamon stick. It might be the finest phở broth ever to cross my lips. It’s no wonder since it’s made with ox-tails, simmered in the stock over three days, releasing their flavor and gelatin, and Painted Hills beef and aromatics. The broth was replete with green onions, cut small and in larger pieces. There were also slices of red onion. Is the phở worth $10? Yep. This is a breathtaking soup (☆☆☆☆).