As most of the country is getting hammered with snow, Seattle has been hit with a slew of restaurant openings. One of the most anticipated, Stateside, stands out from the culinary clamor with its inventive menu—Vietnamese peppered with French and Chinese influences—and stylish space.
Though only open two months, this Capitol Hill charmer already feels like part of the neighborhood. True to the owners’ intention to be “a place you can eat a few times a week,” Stateside is equally suited for a round of cocktail and small bites to a multi-course feast.
I sat down with the affable chef and co-owner, Eric Johnson, to talk bùn chã (pork patties and noodles), bergamot, and how a guy from Long Island came to run an Asian joint in Seattle.
Johnson fell for Seattle as a kid during visits to family in nearby Vancouver, Wash. He knew he wanted to put roots here once he finished refining his culinary skills abroad—the restaurant’s name refers to his American return.
Stateside’s menu is mostly Vietnamese, which Johnson points out is the culinary crossroads of France and China. Considering his pedigree as a chef in Paris and Shanghai at the famed Jean Georges restaurants, Vietnam was apt territory to explore. Plus, as Johnson points out, “Vietnamese food has a special place in Seattle.” While locals have their preferred pho or bánh mì shop, he felt “there were parts of the lexicon that hadn’t been touched on. There were more things to be said.”
Indeed, there is. The menu brims with intriguing plates: bùn chã, cha ca la vong (turmeric fish), and crispy duck fresh rolls, which have been a hit since the day they opened their doors. French and Chinese can also be found on the menu. One of my favorites, the cumin-chili coated pork ribs, is a welcome treat, since this popular Hunan preparation is so hard to find in the States. Don’t miss the ginger rice, phenomenally pumped up with schmaltz.
To prep for the opening, Johnson and Seth Hammond, the general manager and co-owner, went on a whirlwind research trip to Vietnam last September. Each day was crammed with multiple meals, ordering as if they were a family of four. “It was a tough job,” Johnson admits, smiling, yet their efforts shine through in the thoughtful food.
When I query Johnson about how authentic his food is, he bristles at the “a word.” For him, he “doesn’t feel it exists” with cuisines constantly in flux, and recipe interpretation not being an exact science. He prefers to cook “in the spirit of,” using classic techniques, regional ingredients, and skills gained while cooking abroad. The result is delicious.
In spite of a modest building budget, Stateside is a stunner. Designed by Callie Meyer (Johnson’s girlfriend), the décor features mint plaster walls, palm frond wallpaper, and très French smoky mirrors, made by Eric himself. You’d never guess the space was a former parking garage—behind the bar, a blue sign on the floor is a faded reminder. Inside, under whirring ceiling fans and white-washed booths, I felt as if I was in humid Hanoi, a treat considering the wintry gray outside.
The inviting bar provides a backdrop for bartending prowess. Choose from food-friendly Tiki classics and cocktails spiced with lemongrass, chili, and other Asian flavors.
Open seven days a week, Stateside just launched lunch, offering bánh mì, soups, and noodles. Next up, a late-night “drinking food” menu to appease the hungry hordes from neighboring bars, and brunch will follow after.