NOTE: The first part of this post is not about Monsoon. It’s about Restaurant Week and why, I recommend, being careful simply assuming it’s amazing. If you’d like to skip all that, you can just read about Monsoon by clicking here.
Black clad waiters held trays of funky cheese and thinly sliced imported meats. Behind the bar, a sommelier poured two different glasses of chardonnay inviting guests to taste the butter in one and the fruit in the other.
As a relatively new food blogger, this was one of my first invitations to a world of wine swirling and flavor profiling. I listened as critics mumbled about the toughness of the evening’s tartar and the origin of the honey.
Through the body of my purse I could feel my spiral notebook, its pages littered with foodie tidbits I’d learned and restaurants I wanted to visit. I’d dedicated an entire dog-eared page to Seattle’s Restaurant Week.
And then I heard it, the voice of Seattle food writer, Chris Nishiwaki. It hit me while I was between a bite of dried apricot and a sip of Prosecco. “I avoid restaurants on Restaurant Week,” he said.
My heart plummeted. My cheeks reddened. My spiral notebook felt like it was screaming, “Foodie newbie!”
Still. I’d been saving for over a month, meticulously planning where I’d go first. So I went. I ordered. I ate. I was devastatingly disappointed.
Spinasse was my first pick. Those were the days when Jason Stratton was the executive chef. His food had been described as inventive. His flavors were touted for subtlety. His technique was given such unabashed praise it was sometimes hard to read a review without blushing for him.
My dinner was mundane. Much of it was over seasoned. And, the pasta, the supposed star, was tough.
Between tax, tip, and a drink, dinner was more than $30 for just me! It was then I decided to also avoid restaurants during Restaurant Week.
That was three years ago. For the most part I have stuck to my guns. Frankly, I’d recommend you do too. During Restaurant Week, kitchens and their staff are inherently overworked. This can lead to any number of problems, including over seasoned dishes, abrupt service, and overcooked food.
Additionally, restaurants have to make money, even during Restaurant Week. Chefs carefully design their prefix menus to make this possible. Sometimes this means scaling down the size of an entrée, selecting items with the biggest profit margin or creating a new dish with less expensive ingredients.
All of these negatives aside, it is possible to get a good meal during restaurant week. Your best bet is to visit one of the restaurants that’s also featuring a 2-course prefix lunch. Lunch menus are inherently designed for quick service. This means even a fast meal will be well executed. And, there are typically fewer lunch patrons, further reducing the “rush.”
Top Restaurant Week Pick – Monsoon
Monsoon, opened in 1999 by sibling chef-owners Eric and Sophie Banh, was the beginning of a Seattle restaurant revolution – contemporary Vietnamese.
Today, our city’s patrons know well the magic that happens when chefs combine fresh ingredients, Asian flavors, and French techniques. No longer does Pho rattle our sense of soup normality. Gone are the days when noodle bowls simply conjure images of marinara.
The Banh’s deserve our deepest gratitude. Their menu also continues to be worthy of our praise.
It features bright herbs, deeply flavored broth and a riot of textures. In keeping with its unobtrusive storefront, Monsoon’s not splashy. Plating is simple, elegant and to the point.
You’ll find it tucked among eastern Capitol Hill’s small but lively commercial district. At night, the moody lighting in its ground floor dining room offers a sultry vibe. And, its rooftop bar is a Seattle rarity – an outdoor spot to grab a drink and a bite worth savoring.
The downside? This touch of understated class doesn’t come cheap. Monsoon doesn’t serve your typical drop in the bucket Vietnamese food and the prices reflect as much.
However, during Restaurant Week’s 3-course dinner and 2-course lunch specials, you can score several of their regular menu items for less.
Unlike some of Seattle’s other restaurants, Monsoon seems to handle the rush with utter grace. This might be largely attributed to the fact they’ve never been well known for speedy service. Regardless of the reason, I highly recommend this Restaurant Week pick makes everyone’s list.
Insider Tip: Live on the Eastside? Monsoon has a sister restaurant, Monsoon East, located in Old Bellevue.