Downtown Tacoma’s Indochine Asian Dining Lounge is one of the city’s most attractive dining rooms, and so too is Indo Asian Street Eatery, the restaurant from Buoy Ngov, the youngest sibling of the family that founded the Indochine restaurants.
Ngov opened the restaurant in the Stadium neighborhood on July 7 with husband Vathunyu “Yu” Nanakornphanom. This is their first restaurant, although both have vast experience working in restaurants owned by Ngov’s siblings and parents.
Deep, narrow spaces don’t always make for attractive restaurants, but Indo — as most call it, because it’s much less a mouthful than the restaurant’s full name — is a long room stretched into a fluid, gorgeous design.
Layers of wood and brick climb tall walls that break to sturdy wood beams. A banquette along the far wall is positioned to keep eyes directed at the bustling exhibition kitchen that offers little separation between diners and chefs; and a long bar shows off a barkeep who steadily churns out cocktails with Asian flourishes, a perfect match for the menu of street foods that meanders throughout Asia.
As with the newly opened The Table in Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue neighborhood, the restaurant is making a play for communal seating, a concept that has worked well for other parts of the Northwest, but never really been tested in Tacoma.
Boxy benches ring a raised fire table with enough room for about eight. A few steps away, a window-facing eating bar with seating for solo diners looks appealing for the eat-and-run crowd. There’s also bar seating at the kitchen counter, but the low-backed seats looked unwieldy (they might just look more uncomfortable than they are).
The dining room was the project of Seattle design firm Catch Studio and Lakewood architect Dan Kinkella, who also worked on the downtown Indochine. Like that restaurant, layers of wood were interspersed with a bit of fancy flash, such as the back-lit vertical sign behind the bar that reads, “Indo.”
It’s this newspaper’s policy to reserve critical analysis of food and service until after the restaurant’s first month of business, but what I saw on my plate was well-conceived and interesting. It reminded me of a former Portland restaurant, Ping, that featured a similar category of Asian street food.
I applaud the restaurant’s reliance on small dishes, which seem built for sharing over cocktails. That cocktail menu is steeped in Asian flavors and ingredients. A lemongrass drenched gin Tom Collins ($9) came with a light dose of chiles (but little spice). The vodka cocktail called Wellness Shot ($8) reminded me of the vinegary tinctures found at Hilltop Kitchen, with cider, lemon, turmeric, ginger and a dusting of cayenne floating on the surface. There’s also a soju cocktail ($10) mixed with seasonal juices, and a short list of sake ($8-$15) and shochu ($6-$9).
The menu concept is different from the Indochine family of restaurants, which features mostly Southeast Asian cuisine. At Indo, Ngov and Nanakornphanom feature street nibbles from a broader swath of Asia. This also is food mostly meant to be eaten by hand.
From the small plates side of the menu, there were yakitori skewers ($6-$9), hand-pressed dumplings, pancakes, egg and spring rolls ($7-$12), and a host of slider sandwiches built on brioche with Korean and Chinese flavors ($8-$9), as well as Vietnamese banh mi ($7-$9).
The more substantial entree menu ($11.95-$16.95) featured noodles, rice and stir-fried dishes.
As Nanakornphanom explained before the restaurant opened, “We want to do easy food and casual, and maybe introduce people to different flavors they might not be used to. Traditional stuff that we eat at home, a little bit spicier and with unusual herbs.”
I didn’t detect an overwhelming amount of spice on my visit (in fact, my food was quite the opposite), but I did note the kitchen’s use of fresh herbs, a welcome addition. And plating was beautiful, lush and colorful, much like the restaurant’s sibling establishments, which include Indochine on Pearl and Fuzion Cafe in the Narrows neighborhood — both co-owned by Ngov’s older sister, Hong, and her husband Sean Yean.
Sister Ly Ngov owns the downtown Tacoma Indochine with husband Russel Brunton. The Ngov daughters grew up working in the first Indochine in Federal Way, which was founded by parents Kim Taing and Chhung Ngov in 1995. They sold their restaurants in 2011 but still help in the restaurants owned by their daughters.
Indo Asian Street Eatery
Where: 110 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma; 253-503-3527 or on.fb.me/1Lr6AJx.