This is my entry into The GastroGnome's Restaurant Review 360. Enjoy, fuckers.
Jasmine Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant
2822 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way S
This place is fucked. When you walk in the door the first thing you see is a humidifier which spits a thin ribbon of steam into the room. I foolishly thought it was a rice cooker until I realized that a high volume restaurant could never get by with a rice cooker the size of a toaster oven. Plus, why would the rice cooker be on the bar, and not inside the kitchen? Why do they even need a humidifier? Is it not humid enough inside Jasmine? Is Seattle’s famously soggy air not muggy enough to remind those Vietnamese fuckers of home? And if it’s home they’re longing for, shouldn’t they strew about some 40 year old landmines? Another authentic touch would be a bamboo tiger cage containing a life size mannequin of John McCain.
The walls and furniture in this place are a lurid shade of “fuck-me” red, the shade of crimson you used to see inside every Chinese restaurant but don’t anymore. A wavy papier- mache thingamafucky hangs from the ceiling. A plasma screen TV on the wall scrolls through images of impressionist paintings. There’s a baby grand piano in the corner, on which a dude occasionally plunks out Mozart. The spiral- bound menu is 20 pages long, and has some crepe flowers pasted to the cover so that it looks like a wedding invitation. The décor is so goddamned random I felt as though I’d walked into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I half- expected an Oompa Loompa to appear. Don’t you hate when someone says they “half- expected” something? I do. That’s because I don’t do ANYTHING halfway, not even expecting things. So you can imagine my disappointment when a normal man, and not an Oompa Loompa, appeared to take our order.
We started with the Grilled Prawns on Sugarcane ($6.75). Three lengths of sugarcane are served wrapped in shrimp paste. I still haven’t figured out how you’re supposed to eat this dish. Do you pull the shrimp paste off of the sugarcane and eat it with chopsticks? Or do you nibble the shrimp directly off of the sugarcane like a popsicle? Do you eat the sugarcane? Actually I know the answer to that one: you can’t eat sugarcane. Cows can; people can’t. It’s too fibrous. It’s mildly sweet, but tough and stringy, and sucking on a piece of sugarcane is like sucking on a wet rag. Fresh sugarcane is supposed to be a treat. I guess it WAS a treat of sorts, in the 1930’s, in Louisiana, before Gummy Bears were invented, and then only if you were too poor to afford REAL candy. Anyway, the shrimp was good: the paste was finely textured and seasoned lightly, so you could really taste the shrimp. The sugarcane in the center lent a subtle hint of sweetness. Some kind of sweet and salty dipping sauce came with the shrimp, but it was totally unnecessary.
Next we got the Vietnamese Egg Roll ($5.75). This was just an order of three crispy spring rolls. They were pretty typical and seemed to be filled with the usual stuff that egg rolls are filled with: pork, vegetables, noodles. The egg rolls were tasty enough, but not nearly as tasty as the Green Papaya Salad ($7.50). Slippery chunks of papaya were tossed with julienned carrot and daikon, topped with ground peanuts and slivers of crispy fried onion. The charm of this dish is in the contrast of textures: bites of smooth creamy papaya give way to crunchy carrot and daikon, punctuated by the crisp crackle of fried onion. The flavors are refreshing, though the ground peanuts were by this point quickly becoming unnecessary, especially since they came with EVERY dish. Even the egg rolls had ground peanuts on top of them.
The Tamarind Roasted Quail ($7.75) had crisp skin and rich flesh, but it was a little tough. The quail could have benefitted from a longer, slower cooking to make the meat really fall off the bone. The meat was well seasoned and the tamarind glaze was sticky and spicy. The worst part of this dish was the tiny bowl of seasoning that came with it: it appeared to be some kind of granular paste and when touched felt exactly like wet sand. The flavor of this paste was shocking: it was a mixture of salt, pepper, and lime juice. You could probably use that stuff to clean bicycle parts. I put some on my quail. Predictably enough, the salty acidic grit overpowered the meat just like Charlie overpowered the ARVN on the Fall of Saigon.
The Happy Beef ($10.75) was a little overpriced for what it was: cubes of grilled beef stir fried with onions and bell peppers. I liked it though, because it was simple and tasty, though not quite as simple or as tasty as the sugarcane shrimp (although to be fair, shrimp ALWAYS have an advantage, since everyone knows the people love shrimp. The people love it.). Oddly, the menu gave us the option of choosing rice or bread with our Happy Beef. I chose bread, because I fucking LOVE that crusty, flaky, Vietnamese French bread. It’s delicious. It’s light as cotton candy, and it delivers a swift gustatory kick to your taste buds’ nuts. Between the bread and the masterful cream puffs for which Vietnamese bakeries are known (but which Jasmine cruelly doesn’t sell), they should jump out of bed EVERY DAY and sing the fucking Marseillaise in thanks to the French for colonizing them. That having been said, don’t bother ordering the Crispy Fish with Orange Sauce ($12.75). It wasn’t very crispy, and the orange sauce obviously had too much corn starch in it: it was gloopy and stringy, as though the state of Florida itself jizzed on the fish. Gross.
Dessert was an adventure. I tried to order the Jelly Soup with Lotus Seeds ($6.50). Yes, it’s really called that, and even more ridiculous than the name was the fact that THEY WERE OUT OF IT. How could something called “Jelly Soup with Lotus Seeds” be so popular? Does it come with your own Vietnamese hooker, who conveniently utters quotes from Full Metal Jacket (including perennial favorite “Me so horny”) while doing obscene things with Ping- Pong balls? I have no fucking clue, because as a consolation they brought me a selection of four shitty ice cream flavors: coconut, mint, coffee, and mango. It was garnished with canned fruit cocktail and one of those tiny paper umbrellas you find in a pina colada. But I don’t think they charged me for the ice cream, which was nice.
Jasmine is a strange motherfucking place. It’s mostly good, but some of the menu items aren’t that great, so it’s like being forced by Vietnamese people to play Russian Roulette, just like in The Deer Hunter. Maybe they’re still sorting out what works and what doesn’t. I’d go back if I was in the neighborhood, but I’m not in Jasmine’s neighborhood very often, so the next time I really need a Vietnamese fix I’ll probably just do some opium and rent Apocalypse Now.
Rating: 4 Errand boys sent by grocery clerks out of 10