Ba Bar: So Much to Like

There's brilliant new Vietnamese food in the Central District.
Allison Austin Scheff  |   January 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

There is so much to like about Ba Bar, Eric and Sophie Banh’s latest; no surprise, really, as they’ve been feeding us delicious Vietnamese and fusion dishes at Monsoon and Baguette Box for years.

The genius is in being open for long days, every day. Inside the boxy, wide-open space, with its studious charms—drafting stools, chalkboard menus—homemade pastries and Caffé Vita coffee welcome passersby in the morning, noodle soups and bun (Vietnamese rice noodle bowls) cater to lunch crowds, and a slightly more filled-in menu is offered at dinnertime.

And as he has done since introducing the city to claypot catfish and the addictive, upscale nod to General Tso’s, Drunken Chicken, Eric Banh has gently introduced his audience to new tastes: putting broken rice, which is starchier and a bit stickier than long-grain white rice, alongside his sultry rotisserie chicken ($11), scented with lemongrass; filling dumplings with soft, thick, lightly sweet mung bean paste ($6) he’s tamed with caramelized shallots.

Of course, one can, and should, sample his carefully constructed pho ($9)—a version that perfumes the air with cinnamon, star anise, basil and mint. Ba Bar’s menu finds a brilliant middle ground between familiarity and gently nudging palates past their current safe zones.

If only the service were better; it ranges from capable at best to downright inconsiderate, as when a group of 10 diners (part of a much larger group) were allowed to stand beside (and with backsides brushing) my table for an hour during one dinner. Our server did nothing but smile weakly and disappear for long stretches. It’s the sort of experience that colors the delicious impression the kitchen crew is working so hard to make, and that’s a shame.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Central District, 550 12th Ave.; 206.328.2030; babarseattle.com $$

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