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February 3, 2009 at 8:00 AM

Monsoon East: pho goodness sake!

Yes, the new Monsoon is gorgeous. But there’s another reason to check out Monsoon East — now doing business in the heart of Old Bellevue. This:

That’s not your average bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup. Not by a long shot. The broth? Enriched with oxtail. The beef? Wagyu brisket and flank steak. A soup so richly flavored it didn’t need even a droplet of hoisin or chili sauce, pretty though the little ramekin may be. At $9, it’s only a few bucks more than you’d pay for a bowl of pho at your neighborhood joint. And though it’s not served with complimentary cream puffs as an “appetizer” — as at Than Brothers locations throughout the Sound, you can start with this:

That’s Kona kampachi sashimi ($11) — among the finest plate of raw fish I’ve eaten in recent memory (and trust me: I eat a lot of raw fish). The firm-textured flesh of the kampachi was lightly garnished with fresh lime-leaf and swam in a nectar-of-the-gods that offered a citrus kick. It blew me away. But that’s what always happens at Monsoon.

I was glad to see that co-owner Eric Banh was in the house on my visit. After lunch I went over and said hi, and had him show me around. First he introduced me to his staff (that’s Eric dressed in his civvies):

He’s rightfully proud of the remodel of the late Porcella Urban Market and of his restaurant’s elegant interior design. It offers lots to look at — including a slab of elm fronting the raw bar. Isn’t that a beaut? Imported all the way from Tacoma, said Eric and, like much of the decorative wood here it’s reclaimed timber:

Here’s the bar and lounge, in wide screen:

And the dining room, after the lunch rush:

In the way-back, behind the gauzy curtains, there’s a private room which they no doubt use on the weekends when things get crazy-busy, though it would also be a great place to show up with 20 of your closest friends for a lunchtime pho-fest:

Here’s a little deuce in that private room, below. The transparent wine wall looks onto the main dining area. Eric’s a major wine dude, with a great understanding of the kind of varietals that work well with Asian foods. His lengthy wine list here in Bellevue (as at Monsoon on Capitol Hill) reflects his love of the grape:

After lunch Eric showed me the door. Literally. The handle, he said, is carved to represent the Chinese symbol for East — as in “side.” It’s a side I hope to be back on soon, for dinner!

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