MagoGuide Update: Fulvia’s brother Aristippus has joined us for the remainder of our sojourn in Seattle, making it possible to taste more dishes per meal and thus provide greater detail in our associated reviews.
Telephone: (206) 325-2111
Hours of operation: It's pretty complicated, so check out their website for the details
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Rostra rating: 4
Team Mago has ingested a lot of Vietnamese food over the years. One of Lucullus’ fondest memories is Fulvia using her chopsticks to flip the carcass of a deep fried flounder loaded with chili-ginger sauce into the lap of a very obnoxious dinner companion. But we have never had brunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. Monsoon is a Capital Hill fixture renowned for its ingredients, wine, and innovative takes on classic Southeast Asian cuisine. The restaurant has won accolades from the local and national food media so we won’t bother with a lot of backstory.
The brunch menu at Monsoon offers a choice of Dim Sum and Small Plates, Entrees, Classic Sai Gon, and Vermicelli Noodles. These categories embrace a combination of Asian cuisine and more or less classic brunch dishes usually with a Northwest twist (e.g., dungeness crab benedict, nectarine pancake with mixed berry compote and creme fraiche, and fritatta with bacon, gold chantrelle mushrooms, and onions). But Team Mago came for the Vietnamese brunch offerings.
We started with four of the dim sum offerings. Steamed shrimp dumplings had a very generous amount of fresh sweet shrimpage surrounded by a medium thick wrapper. The dumplings were perfectly cooked, as indeed were all the dishes we sampled at Monsoon.
The crispy shrimp and chive wontons were essentially the dumplings reprised as pot stickers, but we did not mind a bit because a) you just cain’t get enough of those tasty shrimpses, Precious, and b) they came with a killer chili sauce that really set them apart from the steamed versions.
The bánh bao thịt (steamed barbecue pork dumplings) were also generously stuffed, this time with nice cubes of Asian style pork shoulder. The buns were nicely steamed and chewy-sweet.
Chili-garlic wokked baby bok choy had an excellent semi-meaty flavor, but the chili was voted a touch too subtle by the table.
All team members were also in agreement that the housemade nem nướng sausage was the dim sum debutante of the brunch ball. The grilled porkitude patties were further elevated by the accompanying pickles, which cut through the luscious and toothsome equine with crunchy acidity (we do like our pig candy in both Montucky and The Natural State).
Lucullus was most taken, however, with his brunch entree, a small congee pond stocked with smoked pepper corn pork belly, fresh ginger, pickled cabbage, and a soft boiled egg. It was the perfect breakfast dish, salty, sweet, crunchy and unctuous. Lucullus liked it so much that he was compelled to extemporize on how to improve it. To wit, if the congee were served with a poached duck egg or or two barely fried quail eggs, it would approach the Platonic ideal.
As to wine, Monsoon is the recipient of numerous Wine Spectator honors for its extensive yet approachable “regular” wine list as well as its reserve holdings. While Lucullus and The Wine Spectator are old adversaries (see A NOLA Dust-Up), he found himself in basic agreement with Wine Snobs Are US with respect to Monsoon. Things did not start out well, but they ended spectacularly thanks to Monsoon’s friendly and efficient staff.
Lucullus always opts for Pinot Noir when swilling in the Pacific Northwest and was thus surprised and disappointed when the only by the glass offering of this varietal hailed from France. The R. Dubois et Fils 2011 was too light, in fact it was thin and too acidic with the tannins overwhelming the medium cherry fruit. I asked our waitress for a red with some guts and the somm hurried over with two reds with a tasting pour. The Chateau Blanzac Cotes de Bordeaux (2010) was quite good exuding a leathery terroir that gave way to black fruit on the mid-palate with a very decent finish.
The Lone Birch Red Blend (2011) from the Yakima Valley was a real gem, however. A kitchen sink wine composed of Merlot, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Cinsault and aged 11 months in French, American, and Hungarian oak, it had a nose of bright cherries and gobs of red current and cherries fruit followed by a long and luxurious finish. It was the perfect wine for the squiffy at brunch bunch.
Bottom line: we can’t wait to try the non-brunch fare at this culinary jewel box and if Fulvia and Lucullus decide to add Seattle to our list of annual migration mandatory stops, Monsoon will bid fair to become our Vietnamese regular.