SEAK has an advantageous perch on the Hudson River, a notch north of Edgewater landmark and mecca Mitsuwa. It has a menu that embraces not one, but two cuisines (Thai and Vietnamese) from South East Asia, the region providing the acronym for its name: South East Asian Kitchen. And it has a look that’s at once casually dressy and rustically modern.
No wonder mere months after its opening the restaurant is cheek-to-jowl packed on a weekend night: SEAK hits the trifecta of what people want in a stylish, yet moderately priced restaurant, a place with the kinds of choices Asian cuisines are famous for offering. You can have a couple of small plates, then a sandwich, salad or soup that stand as an entree, or you can grab a full-throttle main course that satisfies a need to fill a tummy to stuffed.
Owned by its chef, James Wang, who pilots the popular Lemongrass in Morris Plains, SEAK ratchets up the same cuisines by virtue of its setting. You can’t help but be impressed by the expanse of river in view from the back of the space nor the famous skyline beyond. Plus, Edgewater itself seems increasingly populated by condo and apartment dwellers in need of their local restaurants to supplement what they feel can’t be accomplished in modest-sized home kitchens.
You do need some counter space to prep, chop and spin out those summer rolls, particularly the delicate ones SEAK stuffs with shrimp cloaked in garlic, a tangle of vermicelli and leaves of greens. You’d need to make a pot of peanut sauce that comes topped with a crumble of nuts for dipping, as well.
If you wanted to make SEAK’s lighter, fresher, tastier version of disco fries, called “banh mi frites,” you’d need to double-fry those waffle-cut spuds, pickle and julienne both daikon and carrots, cook minced pork till caramelized, make a mayo zapped with sriracha, and wash and trim fresh cilantro to top the whole marvelous pile.
You get the idea. Factor in skewering and grilling chicken for a simple satay to dip into a gingery sesame sauce or all that goes into making a classic Thai soup such as tom kha, with its subtly layered coconut broth pocked with mini Thai eggplant, myriad mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and resonating with citrusy, piney galangal, and you’d toss in the dish towel in favor of a meal at SEAK, too.
That said, most of what SEAK serves is not exceptional. It’s good, solid and enjoyable fare. The best dish sampled? Hands down, the heritage pork banh mi because of its two-pronged pork attack on the traditional Vietnamese sandwich of ham and pork roll. SEAK’s rendition focuses on pork belly plied with a five-spice mixture and pork shoulder slow-braised in lemongrass. Crammed with pickled daikon and carrots, slices of cukes and jalapeno in a light, exceedingly crusty baguette, the layering hits on all cylinders.
In fact, we liked SEAK’s upgraded banh mi so much, we called for its vegetarian version as a capper. But, the tofu was silky when it needed to be firm to hold shape in frying, and the aioli laced with lemongrass, garlic and sriracha all but slid off the bread.
You also can skip the grilled pork chops, for the lemongrass-ginger-garlic marinade gets lost in the cooking, and only go for the kao pad if you’re looking for a tepid translation of the fried jasmine rice dish that riffs on the more famous pad Thai noodles. Comfort foods include a serviceable pad kee mao, with fat noodles cosseting Chinese broccoli—and not much else other than a spray of bean sprouts and a thimble-size topped of chopped peanuts.
Better are the Manila clams, jacked up by black beans and a potent oyster sauce. They’re billed to be “jalapeno” Manila clams, by the way, and our serving would’ve rung even higher on the taste-o-meter if more had actually made their way into the dish.
My favorite SEAK savory, after the beautiful heritage pork banh mi? Thai eggplant that we ordered with an upgrade of shrimp. Perfectly fried eggplant, moist shrimp and a bean sauce not shy on spice make for the kind of eating that’ll lure anyone out of their house.
SEAK, 725 River Road in Edgewater. BYO. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 201-402-3400, seaknj.com.Click here to leave a comment