Last year I traveled to Vietnam for two weeks. Quite possibly the best part of the trip was sitting at low plastic table on the sidewalk, ordering some light, bright, nuanced Vietnamese dish like pho or veggie spring rolls and complementing it with a “fresh beer,” the crispest pint of pilsner on the planet. It tasted like a beer icicle melting on my tongue in one big splash.
It’s no secret Seattle has these two things going for it: vast beer production and a plethora of Asian cuisine. So, being the industrious and curious columnist I am, I thought it would be a good idea to see which Asian dishes in town pair best with which local and imported beer. All in the name of research!
First I visit Monsoon, a chic Capitol Hill spot on 19th Avenue. While the menu is varied—from crispy Washington-grown Drunken Chicken to Anderson Valley lamb served with dry-roasted chili and fermented black beans–the prize dishes are the appetizers: the fresh ahi roll with avocado and the bò lá lot, or flank steak wrapped in grilled là lot leaves. The ahi rolls are light and uncooked, complemented best by Holy Mountain’s Saison, an effervescent, yeasty beer whose flavor hits your nose with a zip. The bò là lot, heavier than the ahi rolls, washes down nicely with Beer Lao, an imported pilsner not sweet or skunky.
Having gotten my fill of Vietnamese fare, I head downtown to Chan for Korean. Here the dish to try is the ssam, with either cooked beef or spicy pork wrapped in bibb lettuce, perilla leaves, and a deep-fried rice cake. Despite the dish’s intricacy, I want to stick with another light beer. The instinct may arise, since we do live in the hop capital of the world, to drink a pale ale or an IPA. But those brews can squash the flavor of a nuanced dish. Instead you want something that pops and puts the flavor of the meal on a pedestal. So when biting into the ssam, have a Hite lager on hand. This South Korean brewer’s lager, much like Maritime’s Old Seattle Lager, has a touch of sweetness and complements the beef or pork perfectly.
Next? Ramen! My preferred ramen house in the city is Wallingford’s Yoroshiku. This stop is admittedly a bit more for the food than the beer, but Yoroshiku boasts Sapporo on draft. Often I find the Japanese import in a bottle, but on tap you get to taste its freshness—the chilled satisfaction, almost like drinking it from a spring. So order the spicy miso ramen with an egg—it really might be the city’s best plate (or bowl) of food–and imagine for a moment that you’re really in Japan. It’s not difficult.
For my final spot, I hit a dive bar. My guilty pleasure in Seattle is a bar serving Chinese food, and Wong’s in Wedgwood might be the best of the best. Among the many gifts Wong’s gives its patrons is its late-night menu (available until 1 a.m.). My favorite dish is something off the menu—if you want it, you’ll have to order with a smile: General Tso’s tofu. (The menu includes General’s chicken and shrimp.) And while I’ve spent the day delicately drinking lagers and pilsners, at Wong’s I’m going to flout the rules and order an ice-cold Lucille IPA from Georgetown Brewing. It’s perky with a touch of malt, accentuating the decadent sweet sauce dousing the tofu.