It’s good to get to SEAK early. You’ll have a shot at one of the four tables on the windowed rear wall of the Edgewater restaurant, with their view of the Hudson River and Manhattan’s Upper West Side. And you’ll have time to pore over the extensive menu.
SEAK (Southeast Asian Kitchen) serves mostly Vietnamese and Thai food. The menu’s 48 items—many with a choice of four proteins (including tofu)—are divided into small plates, salads, soups, noodle soups, banh mi sandwiches, noodles, fried rice, entrées, curries and seafood. There are nine non-alcoholic drinks (including 13 types of bubble tea) and seven desserts. Phew!
Chef James Wang, 34, opened SEAK with his sister Lynn Sladowsky in 2017. Wang trained at his Vietnam-born aunt and uncle’s Toronto-area restaurants, and in 2009 opened Lemongrass Viet-Thai in Morris Plains, which he still owns. Of SEAK, he says, “I wanted a more contemporary Southeast Asian place.”
Wang designed the space (104 seats, 36 more outdoors) with his contractor. It’s modern and colorful, with alternating red and black steel chairs, concrete floors, wood tables and metal wall facings that call to mind Southeast Asia’s patterned window and door panels.
There were hits and misses. Tom kha coconut soup was silken and fragrant, its sweetness tempered by the pucker of citrusy galangal. Ganh chua, a Vietnamese hot-and-sour soup, on the other hand, was candy sweet, its tamarind tang defeated by brown sugar.
Vietnam’s ubiquitous street sandwich, the banh mi, comes on crusty mini-baguettes from Teixeira Bakery in Newark, 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 medium-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 execution variable, but SEAK offers fresh food at fair prices in an appealing space.Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:Asian - Thai - Vietnamese
Price Details:Soups, noodles, bowls, small plates, $8-$19; entrées, $16-$28; desserts, $6-$8
Ambience:Functional, yet colorful and upbeat
Service:Engaged and informed