an improvement on the cottony rolls I’ve
had from Ho Chi Minh City sidewalk
stalls. SEAK offers five updated banh mi,
each with pickled daikon, carrots, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño and butter: lemongrass chicken; sesame beef; pan-fried tofu
in lemongrass garlic soy; ham, pork roll,
paté and caramelized pork crumble (
closest to traditional); and five-spiced pork
belly with lemongrass pork shoulder. I had
the all-pork, which was tasty but under-sauced with sriracha aioli. SEAK’s banh
mi frites—waffle fries with sriracha aioli
and Asian pickle garnish—are kid friendly.
The pork- and shrimp-filled Banh
Xeo crepe, a French-influenced Vietnamese dish ubiquitous in the country’s night market dining halls, was
sophisticated comfort food, crisp yet
airy, thanks to a bit of beer in the batter.
The SEAK pho, one of five versions
of the Vietnamese soup, is made with a
long-simmered beef bone broth. It was
bland, despite containing five cuts of
beef. Only the meatballs had any moxie.
Asian flavors are found in the New
York strip steak (marinated in sesame oil
and soy sauce); a bone-in, 12-ounce Berkshire pork chop (marinated in ginger, soy,
garlic and lemongrass); and a Chilean sea
bass similarly marinated, wrapped in rice
paper and lightly panfried.
Stir-fried ocean scallops, placed on
a heated iron plate and daubed with a
pleasant sweet-and-sour Vietnamese fish
sauce, were served sizzling yet tender.
Vegans and vegetarians have many
choices, notably a tasty, crunchy dish
called cashew nuts, a vegetable stir-fry
rich with cashews. Stir-fried Singapore noodles were well seasoned with
sprightly vermicelli basking in me-dium-hot yellow curry with a turmeric
tang. My favorite entrée was velvety
Thai eggplant, sliced, battered and
deep-fried, then tossed in a wok with
soy and oyster sauces, dried Thai chilies, brown sugar and fish sauce.
Of the desserts we tried, I’d recommend two. Mango sticky rice, a version of
a Thai classic, delivers craveable flavors
of coconut, mango and torched sugar. The
Peanut Butter Explosion, a chocolate-covered disc of peanut butter fudge, is a
Reese’s Cup gone to grad school.
The menu is unwieldy and the execu-
tion variable, but SEAK offers fresh food
at fair prices in an appealing space.
Get this week’s
ATTENTION NJ FOODIES!
Get our other Free Newsletters THE GIST & WEEKEND BUZZ
Delivered every week to your in-box!
on the move
and in the news
nj’s most respected