Seattle’s Restaurant Week, Monsoon’s Catfish Claypot


It was the Spring run of Restaurant Week again earlier this month. Over 130 Seattle area restaurants offered three dinner courses (a starter, main and dessert) for $30. Some restaurants also had a lunch menu for $15. Monsoon East in Bellevue (and its sister restaurant, Monsoon, in Seattle) always seems to participate in this and the similar October festivities, which is great news to those of us who love this restaurant.

One of their signature dishes—and one which we practically get every time—is the Catfish Claypot (cá kho tộ). Even if it is one of their most popular dinner items, it was fantastic to see it on the Restaurant Week menu. It is a delicious entrée of catfish (☆☆☆☆) braised in a thick, savory and caramelized sugar sauce and served piping hot in a claypot, with shallots, ngo òm, morning glory stems and sliced jalapeño to wake up the taste buds. Fish sauce lends this dish its savoriness and balances its sweetness. Despite the dish being a little spicy, no less so because of cracked peppercorns, my wife devours it, as I do, as if there were no tomorrow. On steamed rice, the sauce is ridiculously tasty. Unlike most other places we’ve had it, the catfish has no hint of muddiness, a testament to the kitchen’s prowess.

Caramelized Idaho catfish claypot

Caramelized Idaho catfish claypot

The other Restaurant Week items we had were no slouches either, including a sautéed calamari dish that boasted perfectly cooked squid, and their cocktails are some of the best in town, but the catfish claypot stays in our memory. Perfection.

Monsoon East
10245 Main St.
Bellevue, WA 98004
425.635.1112

 

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Birthday Dinner at Monsoon East


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).

Crispy Dungeness Crab Rolls

Crispy Dungeness Crab Rolls

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.

Clay Pot Manila Clams

Clay Pot Manila Clams

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 (☆☆☆).

Mustard Greens and Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

Mustard Greens and Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms

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.

Luc Lac Veal with Seasonal Greens

Luc Lac Veal with Seasonal Greens

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.

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Monsoon East
10245 Main St.
Bellevue, WA 98004
425.635.1112

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

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