On my last day in Seattle, Eric Banh took me and my friend, vegetarian cookbook author Michael Natkin out to eat. We started at noon and I ended up eating 4 meals with Eric that day. (Then I flew to Portland and had a very late dinner with other friends.)
Eric is the chef and restaurateur behind the Monsoon restaurants and Ba Bar; he also owned Baguette Box up until a little while ago when he sold it. He and his sister, Sophie, operate modern Viet restaurants that are fun and sophisticated tributes to Vietnam’s food traditions. We met in 2005 when I dined at Monsoon after it had been favorably reviewed in Gourmet. Eric and I clicked while talking about elevating the status of Vietnamese food. We’ve been friends ever since. Every time one of my book releases, he and Sophie organize a special event at one of their restaurants to showcase my work.
We hang out and eat a lot when I’m in town. Right now, Eric is obsessed about freshly made bun round rice noodles and banh cuon steamed rice noodle rolls. For more info on bun check the bun primer post but what are banh cuon? They are thin rice sheets that can be stuffed with a meat and mushroom mixture (like bottom row in the photo above) or served unstuffed (top row in the photo) with slices of silky Viet sausage (goi or cha lua), nuoc cham dipping sauce, and sometimes bean sprouts and herbs (if you’re southern Vietnamese). If you've had fun noodles or think of banh pho noodles, banh cuon are thinner and not cut into noodles.
Though the noodles are more expensive, Eric and Sophie offer it at Monsoon at a fair price to customers. On the weekends at Ba Bar, Mr. Chau mans a banh cuon station by the front door, chatting with customers as he steams and fills their orders.
Eric is advocating for stellar bun rice noodles and banh cuon steamed rice noodles rolls so that his customers can further appreciate Vietnamese cuisine. He wanted to show me what Seattle had to offer.