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Ba Bar Green

All vegan all the time

East Asian vegan street food is not something you see every day. So where did the idea come from? It's been a process.

One of Eric and Sophie Banh's sisters lives in Toronto, and she went vegan for health reasons; there are several high-end vegan restaurants there. His sister-in-law went pescatarian for environmental reasons; her boyfriend is an environmental advocate. "I kept hearing that the way we eat meat isn't sustainable," recalls Eric. "But I'm a meat eater and it took a while to get to the point where I was thinking seriously about what we could do. My wife Teresa wanted to add more vegetables on the Ba Bar menu, but we want to be, and are, known for making amazing food. We didn't want to just add vegetables because we should. It had to be great. And it would be new. Being vegan is not a big thing in Vietnam, unless you do it for religious reasons. Before the pandemic, I started talking with Chef de Cuisine Chris Michel about this and how we could do something compelling. It was his idea to do a totally vegan concept. We agreed we wanted to go extreme and give a treat to vegans and vegetarians. There are no other places with this flavor profile."

Chef de Cuisine Chris Michel and owner Eric Banh

Eric and Teresa funded the concept up front and gave Chef Chris a 20% ownership. "Chris lived for two years in Vietnam and has traveled. He's a student and one of the smartest chefs I know. He could be a scientist. He's been with us off and on for ten years." Chris was one of the first chefs for Ba Bar and the opening chef at the Capitol Hill Ba Bar. He left to do residential dining at the UW (weekends and summers off!) but returned to the Saigon Siblings Restaurant Group family to consult for both Ba Bar and Monsoon. Now his focus is on Ba Bar Green.

Chris explains that although they've been talking about this for a couple of years, it's been over the past six months that most of his menu work and experimentation have taken place. "I love southeast Asian food and I love meat, but our love of meat is not sustainable. I like to challenge myself and work toward something I believe in. My goal for Ba Bar Green is that no one even thinks to give it a name because the flavors and textures are so good, no one cares. The menu isn't really meant for vegetarians, it's meant for meat eaters who want to make some changes. Technology is here now; before there was nowhere you could get certain things, now there's Beyond Meat and Impossible Food. The commercial side of things has come a long way, and vegetarian dishes are better than they used to be.

Garlic and kim chee fried rice

"Going fully vegan is harder. Plus we wanted to primarily go gluten free because Eric can't tolerate wheat. Using seitan was out. There is gluten in our bàhn mì sandwiches. Our noodles are made from rice, we use gluten free soy sauce in several dishes, and absolutely no MSG. We make a chickpea miso; our own kimchi, which takes a couple of days to make; our own red curry paste that takes about a week, it has 25 ingredients; and our own fish sauce to use in our base Imperial sauce. Basically, I worked backwards from starting points like taking popular dishes and turning them plant-based, and what meat eaters who want to skip meat at times would like. We didn't want bland dishes, we had to broaden the flavor profile. I want to hit all the flavor notes. If you can't find something you like on this menu, you don't like southeast Asian food!"

Every dish is a revelation and palate pleaser: Kabocha & Sweet Potato Laksa with the house made red curry, Lemongrass Tofu Singapore Noodle, Garlic & Kimchi Fried Rice, either the Chorizo or Braised Tofu Bành Mì, Miso Eggplant, the list goes on.

"As we've gone along, my sister Sophie and I have tasted everything Chris has done," says Eric. "When we first tasted the Lao Crispy Rice & Quinoa Salad (photo), we were impressed at how good it was. And he's improved it since then! Any seasoned restaurant professional knows that doing things right takes time; you can't rush. I've always felt that if you want to be successful, you have to step out of your comfort zone. We're doing that here, but we're lucky to have a way to start slowly and see how it goes. We're going to give it three years and see where we are before we expand or give it up. Because we had a 400 square foot space where I used to make pastries at Ba Bar South Lake Union, we had a space to start this up as a walk-up window only. It's an affordable start-up, about 1/20th the cost of starting a restaurant. You can order online and there's also grab and go. There are so many moving pieces to a restaurant and your focus has to be on all of them. With Ba Bar Green, the focus can be totally on the food. And that is Chris' strength. And since the window is next to Ba Bar's front door, you can also get what you want from Ba Bar Green, then come into Ba Bar, sit, have a drink, or add a dish from the Ba Bar menu. We even have plant-based Vietnamese coffee."

Chris and Eric agree that they wanted to do something fun and interesting. Mission accomplished.

Connie Adams/December 2021

Ba Bar Green
500 Terry Avenue
Seattle, WA 98109

babargreen.com

Underground parking is available behind the restaurant off Republican.
Bring parking ticket in for validation.


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Bargeen-Ellingson

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