In 1974, after the fall of Saigon, tens of thousands of Vietnamese citizens (civilians, not military) fled their country aboard an armada of 600 U.S. Air Force planes. Within weeks, some 130,000 Vietnamese had arrived and awaited resettlement and assimilation at half a dozen hastily arranged refugee centers. The largest of these was Camp Pendleton, which housed 50,000 refugees. Governor Jerry Brown (the same Jerry Brown who is, once again, governor of California) put out calls for help.
One of those calls was answered in Olympia. Gov. Dan Evans sent an aide (Ralph Munro, who would go on to serve as Washington’s secretary of state from 1980 to 2000) to Pendleton with an offer of welcome to the Vietnamese refugees: “Come north and rebuild your lives in Washington state.” And come they did, by the thousands.
Today, Washington is home to the third-largest Vietnamese community in the nation and Vietnamese is the most-spoken foreign language in Seattle. What’s no less impressive is that there are more pho parlors in the city than Starbucks cafés (More pizza joints, too, but that’s neither here nor there). So it is no surprise to find the daughter of one of those refugees, Anhy Hong, at work on Bastille Day behind the bar at Voilà! Bistro, 2805 E. Madison St., in Madison Valley.
Hong was born and raised in Seattle, and understands some Vietnamese (but doesn’t speak it). She also understands a little French. Not surprising, since Vietnam was French colony from 1887 to 1954, and French was a common language throughout Southeast Asia’s educated classes. She was hired a few months ago to tend bar at the neighborhood watering hole, and on Bastille Day she was concocting a drink that owner Laurent Gabrel called a French Kiss: splash of vodka, Chambord, float of crémant (sparkling wine), garnished with a fragrant orange peel. The three-course, fixed-price menu focused on the foods of southern France, with starters like Provençale fish soup and a main course like Bouillabaisse or egg-noodles with pistou (a few miles further east along the Mediterranean, this would be called pasta con pesto).
On the wine side, Voilà offers a standard selection of French single varieties and blends (Rhone, Languedoc); at the daily happy hour, hosted from 4 to 6:30 p.m., the price drops to $5 a glass.
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At Luc, 2800 E. Madison St., just across the street from Voila, owner Thierry Rautureau presided over a courtyard filled with Bastille Day revelers. The celebration was bittersweet, however, since word had spread of the deadly terrorist attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. The honorary consul of France, Jack Cowan, showed up as an honored guest with two aides, intern Claire Bouchet from Paris, who’s here to work on trade issues and events, and Lauren Lane, from Seattle, who is the operations coordinator for the consular office. Cowan’s speech lamented the attack while celebrating the decades (centuries, even) of warm relations between France and America.
Up in Madrona, at Red Cow, 1423 34th Avenue, general manager Jonathan Violand was behind the bar, and also had a special cocktail for Bastille Day, not all that dissimilar, it turns out. This was a kir on steroids: it started with a very high quality Crème de Cassis (black currant liqueur), a shot of vodka, topped with Blanquette de Limoux. This is not nearly as “girly” as it sounds; none of the ingredients is overly sweet. And as a summer aperitif it’s meant to be sipped (rather than guzzled) while you ponder what to have for dinner.
If it were happy hour, you might be content with a burger. But at dinner, the pride of Red Cow is its 12-ounce center cut of rib-eye, no less than Mishima Reserve American Wagyu. It will set you back 60 bucks, but you could split it if you ask nicely. Then again, you’d be a chump to ignore the kitchen’s beef cheeks confit, as traditional a Parisian joue de boeuf as you can find in Seattle. So many specials, not enough occasions.
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Rock Silva is settling in nicely at Vendemmia. The former sous chef at Anchovies & Olives (and, before that, at RN74, Quinn’s and Crush) Silva will also work on Vendemmia’s upcoming rooftop garden. Chef Brian Clevenger is spending more time these days in West Seattle, where he hopes to open Raccolto before summer turns to fall.
Ronald Holden writes about restaurants for Pacific Publishing. His next book, Forking Seattle, comes out this summer.