Thai, Japanese flavors flow at Zen Asian

Pulling up a chair is a custom for fine dining restaurants – not for Zen Asian Bistro.

  • Monday, June 2, 2008 4:12pm
  • Life

Chef Ung Jo of Zen Asian Bistro shows the sashimi platter and house sushi roll.

Pulling up a chair is a custom for fine dining restaurants – not for Zen Asian Bistro.

“When people come in they think we’re high end,” said Joanne Lee, restaurant manager. “The food is high end, but we go for a more casual, comfortable, trendy feel.”

The restaurant, which opened last October on the first floor of the new 989 elements, serves Thai, Japanese and fusion cuisine.

“It’s very unique,” Lee said. “You never see Japanese and Thai together around Bellevue.”

The Reporter chatted with Lee about Zen Asian Bistro.

Reporter: Who came up with the Japanese/Thai/fusion cuisine concept?

Lee: Owner Shin Kim started with a sandwich shop in downtown Los Angeles. We’re all from L.A. Then he opened up a sushi restaurant in L.A., followed by a Thai restaurant.

Zen Asian Bistro is his fourth restaurant. He currently owns this one and a Thai restaurant in Los Angeles, but sold the other two.

He had experience in both Thai and Japanese and he thought it would be original. Then he found out when he came to Bellevue that a lot of people here like Thai food, more than people in Los Angeles.

We have two Thai chefs and three Japanese chefs for our sushi bar. So it’s a lot of work.

Our Thai is 100 percent Thai; our Japanese is 100 percent Japanese. And then we also have another chef who does fusion.

Reporter: Describe the cuisine.

Lee: For lunch, we have a lot of office people who come in, so try to go for casual but trendy meals. When they come, they normally order more of the Thai dishes. (Phad Thai includes thin rice noodles served with ground peanuts, bean sprouts and greens with choice of tofu, chicken, beef or shrimp: $12).

For the fusion dishes, we have special rolls that are not 100 percent Japanese. Like Zen Signature, this is our house specialty roll. We made it so that people who don’t like raw fish can eat it and the special sauce that we use is not Japanese. (Zen Signature roll includes shrimp tempura, cucumber and avocado, topped with soft shell crab, eel sauce, yum yum sauce and wasabi sauce: $12.95).

Reporter: How is the night life here?

Lee: On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays we’re open until 2 in the morning. We have live jazz music – a pianist and singer who comes. So it gets pretty busy.

Reporter: What’s for dinner?

Lee: Sashimi, which is just raw fish – no rice. (The Sushi and Roll Combo is a lunch special that includes tuna, salmon, red snapper, shrimp, and albacore with choice of California, cucumber or tuna roll: $9.99). It’s a piece of art.

We have Catfish with panang curry on top – a Thai dish ($13).

Reporter: And dessert?

Lee: When you come here, being Asian cuisine you would expect green tea ice cream or ice cream tempura, but we are fusion, too. So we have Italian desserts as well. (The Chocolate Truffle is hazelnut gelato filled with a zabaglione cream center; covered with crushed caramelized hazelnuts and cocoa powder: $5. Coconut Ripieno includes tropical coconut sorbet in a natural coconut shell: $6).

Carrie Wood can be reached at 425-453-4290 or

Zen Asian Bistro

989 112th Ave. N.E.


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