I was sad to see Forza Coffee leave its space on 25th Ave NE (there is still a location in Green Lake, should you miss it, too), but I will admit that I got a little excited when I learned what would be talking its place: A Vietnamese sandwich shop* called Plume (5101 25th Ave NE Suite 4).
It all started about two years ago, when Ton Nguyen visited Vietnam on vacation. There, he fell in love with banh mi: baguettes most commonly stuffed with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, fresh cucumber, a protein (such as pork, tofu or egg), held together with mayo and topped with cilantro. He’d have one for breakfast (with fried egg), then have another for lunch, and have yet another for dinner.
When Nguyen came back home to NE Seattle, he wanted more, and he wanted to share. In more than one location. Plume Kirkland opened in late May 2012, with a menu consisting of six different sandwiches (now eight), six different spring rolls, a noodle salad and various beverages, including ca phe sua da, the coffee (dark roast, finely-ground Vietnamese beans) brewed directly over a glass containing sweet condensed milk. But where to put Plume Number 2? When the Forza space became available, the building’s owners (who happen to be the owners of Plume Number 1’s building in Kirkland) told Nguyen about the space: Similar in size and layout to the current store, with restaurant fixtures already installed. And not too far from his house. Perfect.
On my visit to the Kirkland location today, I ordered Plume’s most popular sandwich (grilled pork), one of the new ones (meatball), and a coffee. I also tried the tofu spring rolls.
I found the bread to be pleasantly soft, yet sturdy enough to hold onto the sandwiches’ ingredients; crucial details for this most beloved of street foods. The pickled carrots and daikon radishes leaned more toward the sweet end, with a gentle tang from the vinegar. The grilled pork had been sliced into fat matchstick strips. And the meatballs (made of both ground chicken and pork, steamed to keep them light, and then slow cooked in a light cream tomato sauce), were just the right size to stay in the sandwich yet not crowd out the bahn mi’s signature toppings.
The tofu spring rolls come as an order of two, cut in half. They were large enough that I would see someone ordering these as a “salad for the hands” and calling it a light lunch on its own.
Wall decal at the Kirkland location.
The bahn mi menu board. Each sandwich is available in both sizes, 8- and 12-inches long. Sliced jalapenos are available as a topping, should you be heat-inclined.
To-go bags, ready to go. Nguyen sees potential for Husky fans walking down 25th stopping in for game day banh mi at the new Plume location.
Above, Plume owner Ton Nguyen wraps up my leftovers to go. He plans to open the new location in December. Interested diners can sign up for opening week specials on the Plume Seattle website.
*A thousand thanks to Scott, my neighborhood banh mi informant.