Photo courtesy of Ronald Holden

Eric Banh, proprietor of the Ba Bar restaurants, smiles in the kitchen of the U Village location, which opened in late July.
Photo courtesy of Ronald Holden Eric Banh, proprietor of the Ba Bar restaurants, smiles in the kitchen of the U Village location, which opened in late July.

Stealth opening at the end of July for Eric Banh’s latest restaurant, Ba Ba in University Village. The first thing you notice about Ba Bar is its color, a brilliant but not garish turquoise that fits perfectly with the Vietnamese ambience inside. It’s the color of many beachfront houses on Phu Quoc, an island resort in the gulf of Thailand.

In the airy back room, three paintings of the Hanoi’s colorful Quang Ba flower market; tile floors, and (again, turquoise) cinder blocks provide a screen. Banh’s brother-in-law Jeffrey Woodward designed the space, which seats 130. The wicker light fixtures are Vietnamese fish traps.

It’s Banh’s third outpost under the Ba Bar emblem (after Capitol Hill and South Lake Union), plus the Seven Beef steak house around the corner from Ba Bar on Cap Hill and Monsoon restaurants in Cap Hill and Bellevue’s Old Town. They’re far from the cheapest Vietnamese places in town, but they do offer value-for-money. The U Village Ba Bar, for example, is no more expensive than its siblings. “Street food and cold drink” is what Ba Bar offers; the wine list still offers half a dozen $8 glasses.

Banh used to own several sandwich shops called Baguette Box, which he sold to raise money while building out the first Ba Bar. Part of the deal was a no-compete agreement, which expires shortly. Chances are, by the time this sees print, he’ll be serving pulled pork banh mi sandwiches at Ba Bar. “I tell my cooks, ‘Make it tasty, or don’t do it,’” says Banh. Anthony Bourdain likes Ba Bar’s Bun Bo Hue; many come for the Banh Cuon (weekends on Cap Hill, weekdays at U-Village) and the Pâté Chaud, I’m not a huge fan of the ramen pho, but I do salivate over the oxtail pho, which lets me pretend I’m a caveman sucking juicy morsels of meat from the bones.

Starbucks announced at the end of July that it would close its Teavana outlets (with 379 stores and 3,300 employees). The U Village store where it launched the concept five years ago will probably stay open for a few more months. It was the second time this year that the Mermaid called for a course correction. Back in February, Starbucks finally gave up on its Evolution Fresh concept, a venture it had jumped into on the assumption that the “health” market for cold-pressed juices would grow forever. The juices themselves will remain, but the standalone stores have been shuttered.

Neither venture grew as fast as the company had hoped. The current push is for more and better food offerings. The brick & mortar environment of malls is feeling the greatest pressure from online retailers, so the company decided that it was time to make a move. Lunch looked like a better bet for Starbucks, and late-afternoon sips of wine.

And yet: tea is the world’s second-most consumed beverage, after water. And it’s not as if Starbucks had never heard of tea; after all, it was originally called Starbucks Coffee Tea & Spices and sold two dozen loose-leaf teas at its first stores before turning to the dark-roasted side and emphasizing coffee.

Restaurant kitchens have evolved over the years, but they still don’t reflect America’s racial makeup. Plenty of women these days are exec chefs, run kitchens, and own restaurants. Asians, too. But you can count on one hand the prominent black restaurateurs in Seattle: Daisley Gordon, Wayne Johnson, Donna Moodie, Makini Howell. Nationally, the figure is a dismal 15 percent of back-of-house employees. Black Americans are twice as likely to be dishwashers as managers. So it’s a tribute to his talent, enthusiasm, and people skills that Edouardo Jordan has succeeded in opening not one but two restaurants devoted to “southern” cuisine: Salare (2404 NE 65th) and JuneBaby (2122 NE 65th)

Jordan was brought up in a tradition of Southern food. He trained at the Cordon Bleu in Orlando, finding his feet and learning his craft at Mise en Place in Tampa, then winning a coveted spot at the French Laundry. And a month in Italy, which seems to have come at precisely the right time. He arrived in Seattle at the invitation of Mark Bodinet, alum of the French Laundry, who was by then running the kitchen at Cedarbrook Lodge. On to a stint with Jerry Traunfeld at The Herbfarm, then to Capitol Hill’s Sitka & Spruce before settling in as chef de cuisine at Bar Sajor.

And now, with Junebaby, he’s gone Salare one better. dropped all pretense of neutrality to describe Jordan as one of the most accomplished and farseeing chefs cooking Southern food in America. “The two dozen dishes on his dinner menu, plus a few gems from the weekend-only lunch service, convey a scholarly breadth of the region’s cuisines,” wrote Eater’s national restaurant critic. Jordan “...wields a bull’s-eye aim between tradition and modernity — and between homeyness and professional rigor — infused elegantly with the flavors of his African-American heritage.”

Ronald Holden is a restaurant writer for Pacific Publishing. His latest book, FORKING SEATTLE, is available at Magnolia Books and Phinney Books.