At this Capitol Hill newcomer, the flavors of Southeast Asia are expertly rendered.
Longitudinally, Stateside sits in the western hemisphere, southeast of Capitol Hill’s Melrose Triangle. Attitudinally, the restaurant lies in the eastern hemisphere, specifically Vietnam.
Palm-patterned wallpaper, pots of greenery and ceiling fans foster a relaxed, tropical tone in the airy, sea-foam storefront. Weathered wood, distressed paint and antiqued mirrors contribute the patina of age.
Chef Eric Johnson was an expat for many years, cooking in Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai. He returned stateside in 2010 and settled in Seattle, where he met Seth Hammond at a catering gig. Together they traveled to Vietnam, exploring ideas for Stateside, which opened last December.
300 E. Pike St., Seattle
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 5-10:30 p.m. daily; brunch and happy hour coming soon
Prices: $$/$$$ (lunch plates $6-$13; dinner plates $6-$25)
Drinks: full bar; unique, food-friendly cocktails; short but wide-ranging beer and wine lists
Parking: on street or in nearby lots
Sound: loud (sound baffling panels are forthcoming)
Who should go: A pleasure for all the senses, whether you go for cocktails, a quick bite or a long, slow graze.
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Vietnamese cuisine appealed because it combines elements of Chinese and French cooking and intersects with Johnson’s background. He spent many years working for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a chef famed for his Asian-inflected French cuisine. “Vietnamese food is popular in Seattle,” Johnson said on the phone recently, “and I felt there was quite a bit more to be said on the subject.”
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He says it eloquently, bringing as much finesse to a banh mi sandwich or bowl of soup at lunch, as he does to dinner plates like cha ca la vong, a dish of fish and noodles so iconic in Vietnam there are restaurants that serve only that.
His spectacular version showcases black cod marinated in turmeric oil and galangal. He serves the pan-fried fish over rice vermicelli laced with dill, cilantro, mint and chopped peanuts. A pungent pineapple-sweetened fish sauce comes alongside. I don’t know how they do it in Hanoi, but I spooned it right over the noodles.
Pineapple, together with taro stem and rice paddy herb, are essential components in another traditional dish, Tamarind Fish Broth. Rockfish and okra round out this bright, citrusy soup. It’s on the lunch menu that debuted this month.
The banh mi at lunch was exceptional. A crusty baguette swabbed with Maggi-seasoned mayo held the requisite pickled veggies, but what sets it apart are house-made meats: chicken liver pate; salty, sweet, dried pork floss (think meat candy); and “Vietnamese mortadella,” an emulsified pork sausage steamed in a banana leaf that others might call bologna. No baloney: it’s delicious. (For an extra treat, French-dip the banh mi into an aromatic bowl of intensely beefy pho broth.)
In dish after dish, Johnson expertly nails the riot of taste sensations, colors, ingredients and sensory appeal that makes Vietnamese food so alluring.
For crispy duck fresh rolls, he wraps moist rice paper and fresh herbs around a hot, crisp spring roll filled with fragrant Peking duck. For sardines escabeche, he uses at least half a dozen fresh herbs to weave a verdant blanket for the cool, pickled fish, bathed in a warm, astringent fish sauce spiked with ginger and garlic.
Pickled mustard greens sub brilliantly for capers in beef tartare, smoothed with mayo, sharpened with Dijon, and served on toast tinted green with cilantro and garlic paste.
Beef jerky and dried shrimp accent a chili-and-lime-dressed salad of green papaya, long beans and cherry tomatoes. A fried duck egg gloriously caps a warm tangle of braised leeks, black trumpet mushrooms and fermented black beans, lavished with brown butter vinaigrette.
Crispy duck fresh rolls $9
Sardines escabeche $12
Chili cumin pork ribs $13
Goat curry $19
Cha ca la vong $24
Goat curry sounds exotic, but the tender meat, grilled first, then braised into submission, tastes surprisingly mild. Lime leaf, lemon grass, ginger and galangal lend fruity complexity to the sauce; coconut and a touch of yogurt tame the chili heat. A side of ginger rice is an ideal companion.
For something truly fiery, try the pork ribs. Braised first, then deep-fried, then dredged in garlic, ginger, chilies and whole cumin seeds, the flavor-packed meat is incredibly supple beneath a brittle shell. (Order “extra spicy” at your own risk.)
The waiter offered a cup of sugar-sweetened cream to soothe my throbbing mouth. It worked. In fact, waiters habitually go above and beyond here. One discreetly fielded ice cubes inadvertently flung from a fresh coconut, a vessel for a wonderful rum, lime and galangal cocktail. They brought fresh plates for each new wave of dishes, bowls when we were sharing soup, and individual Chinese soup spoons, each resting on a small pastel plate.
They whisked away drips and crumbs as we considered dessert. A wedge of cheesecake is topped with “lychee snow” that tastes like you imagine frozen cotton candy might. A parfait layers cinnamon soufflé and chocolate sorbet with coconut tapioca pearls and toasted nuts. An expat’s homage to the nutty-buddy, it’s as enthralling as anything else on Stateside’s menu.