Munchbar in Bellevue Square offers a handful of conventional entrees, steak frites, pan-roasted chicken, seafood fettuccine and lots of "munchies."
At Munchbar, there’s a drink called “Captain Munch’s Root Beer Float.” Half & Half smoothes this sarsaparilla souse, but it gets its punch from root beer-flavored vodka, root beer schnapps and Root Beer Blast, a caffeinated energy drink that its maker boasts has “no sugar, no carbs, only eight calories and plenty of B vitamins.” The cocktail possibly ranks among the healthier things you can ingest at this new Bellevue-by-way-of-Vegas restaurant and night spot.
Trading in stylish remixes of American standards, Munchbar’s menu practically screams “Par-tay!” So does the vast, multi-screened, graffiti-splashed Bellevue Square space (adjacent to the Lincoln Square skywalk) in which raised banquettes and low-slung cocktail corrals surround what looks like an acre of tables. An entire Vegas chorus line could high-kick on the L-shaped bar.
Given the vibe, I was surprised to see middle-aged folks all around one Friday night. Then I noticed most of them had youngsters in tow. While clearly aimed at 18-35-year-olds, Munchbar has crossover appeal, captivating young teen-wannabes and rousing the inner adolescent in those pushing 40 or more. (Likable servers dressed in short, snug or plunging black certainly help.)
Hits of the ’70s and ’80s dominate the soundtrack at lunch, when office workers and shoppers enjoy quiet conversation over salads and sandwiches. That mellow midday-into-evening mood is a long way from the “ultra lounge” that Munchbar, cleared of tables, morphs into after 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
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Though it offers a handful of conventional entrees, steak frites, pan-roasted chicken and seafood fettuccine among them, the menu is long on “munchies,” finger-licking fare that stimulates the sale of mojitos, margaritas and pitchers of beer. A few to try: mini grilled cheese sandwiches dunked in tomato sauce; BBQ pork sliders piled high with coleslaw; and sweet-hot wings glazed with Thai chili sauce. Must haves: crusty, softhearted mac and cheese balls dabbed with truffle-tinged mayo; and “Puget Sound Bites,” deep-fried shrimp, cod, squid, carrot sticks and green beans with a side of bracing tartar sauce. It’s a greasy delight that’s part tempura, part fritto misto, but a good old American fish fry at heart.
Behind this jocular bill of fare is a serious chef, Seis Kamimura, a Wolfgang Puck alum who most recently led the kitchen at Artisanal Brasserie in The Bravern. Seattle saw his playful side at BOKA Kitchen + Bar. (Remember crab cupcakes and chicken lollipops?) Here he loosens up again, pairing pork belly and sweet potato in a luxuriously unctuous hash topped with fried egg and smoky hollandaise. And he marinates carnitas in Coca-Cola before stuffing the sweet, soft pork into a giant burrito along with rice, beans and roasted jalapeño.
The “Gobbler” burger packs Thanksgiving dinner into a bun: a ground turkey patty, stuffing, fried onions and cranberry sauce. It nails the flavor profile, but it needs some mayo; like the holiday bird so often is, the sandwich was a little dry. Philly cheesesteak was the opposite: a slippery mess of peppers, onion and mushrooms, mixed with shaved rib-eye and melted provolone. Purists may disparage the liberties taken here, but this sandwich rang my bell.
A bucket of fries with an adorable mini squeeze bottle of ketchup accompany burgers and sandwiches. On a busy Friday night those skinny spuds tasted old and tired; while perkier at lunch, they couldn’t beat salt-speckled sweet potato fries, even with no cute container for the aioli.
For something less gut-busting try a salad; maybe not the underdressed tower of Dungeness crab, tomato, cucumber and avocado, but definitely the grilled tuna salad. It’s off-the-charts good, showcasing a medium-rare hunk of well-seasoned fish astride a mosh pit of seaweed, soba noodles, edamame and crunchy, julienned veggies jostled by waves of cilantro, ginger, wasabi and sesame.
It’s back to indulgence for dessert. Tabletop S’mores come with the requisite graham crackers and marshmallows plus bowls of fudge sauce and Rocky Road and a tiny brazier. Consider it a sobriety test, in case you’ve overdone the Root Beer Floats.
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