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December 16, 2008 at 9:14 AM

Whoa! Thoa’s? Vietnamese restaurant no longer on Island(er) time

If you stand at the corner of First and Union soaking-in the restaurant scenery, chances are you’ll feel like Dorothy — whose famous quote about Kansas is likely to resonate, loudly. Sure, you’re familiar with Ethan Stowell’s Union, holding down the northeast corner. And the goings on at TASTE at SAM over on the southeast side. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve likely read about Kerry Sear’s new restaurant, ART, in the Four Seasons hotel, unveiled on the southwest corner of the street in November. But look at the marquee signage in front of the Restaurant Formerly Known as The Islander, across from the valet entrance at the Four Seasons and you’ll find this:

Photo by Mark B. Bauschke

At which point you might scratch your head and say, “Thoa’s?” (say: Twahz). What you’re looking at is the re-envisioned Islander restaurant, renamed to echo that of its owner, Thoa Nguyen (whose first name — pronouced “Twah” — does not rhyme with “Whoa!” but does make for a catchy headline):

Photo by Mark B. Bauschke

If you live on Queen Anne Hill — or eat there — you might recognize Thoa as the Vietnamese chef who opened the popular pan-Asian Chinoise Cafe in 1996. Thoa has since opened (and closed) several other Chinoise outposts, and you can still enjoy her pan-Asian menu at the orginal Queen Anne location and at Chinoise on Madison, in Madison Valley. But downtown at the crossroads of hotels and haute cuisine, she’s determined to bring about the union of taste and art with a new menu at Thoa’s — one that takes a more focused look at the foods of her native country.

Among her contemporary Vietnamese specialties you’ll find soft-shell crab summer rolls, seared tuna lotus salad with rau ram, Vietnamese steak frites and an MSG-free version of Seattle’s favorite soup sensation, pho tai. In the coming months, menu- and decor changes will continue to evolve and Thoa says she intends to keep Islander regulars happy by offering old-menu favorites like her poke ahi salad, steak loco moco and Spam fried-rice.

Thoa’s is open daily. Anybody been? What do you think?

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