Revamps

A New Fried Chicken Identity for the Original Phở Bắc Boat

The landmark shop will do one dish, cơm gà mắm tỏi. (Plus a few Vietnamese waffles and some cocktails...)

By Allecia Vermillion October 13, 2022

On October 20, 1982, Theresa Cat Vu and Augustine Nien Pham opened what’s come to be known as Seattle’s first pho shop. Forty years later, their children will re-launch that boat-shaped Little Saigon landmark with a new identity and a new signature dish.

These days, Yenvy and Quynh Pham lead the family enterprise. When they’re not busy overseeing Phở Bắc’s handful of locations, running a supremely charming cocktail bar or changing the face of Seattle’s coffee scene, or speaking out on behalf of Little Saigon, they’ve been pondering the future of Phở Bắc’s original location. Right before the pandemic, it served bún bò huế. The Phams considered returning it to its circa-1982 roots as a sandwich shop. At one point, Yenvy confesses, “I almost did Vietnamese tacos.”

Instead, the Phams settled on doing a single dish, and doing it well. On October 20, the building everyone already just calls “the boat” will open as The Boat, a restaurant that specializes in cơm gà mắm tỏi. Pham hasn’t seen this garlicky chicken rice dish on any other menus in Seattle. “If you have a lot of different dishes on the menu, you tend to neglect it,” she says. “It’s a high-maintenance dish.”

The Boat’s version involves half a cornish hen, coated in fried garlic. It comes with a chrysanthemum chayote salad in pineapple-lemongrass vinaigrette, plus rice cooked in pandan, then chicken broth. In other words: “It’s a half chicken drenched in fried garlic—you just want to eat it.”

Yenvy ate a version in Saigon before the pandemic. In the Northwest, the phrase “chicken and rice” conjures instant associations with Portland’s Thai superstar Nong’s Khao Man Gai. The Boat’s version will be the Phams’ own take on this Vietnamese dish, which makes you yearn to launch head-first into a computer screen like Mary Poppins into a sidewalk drawing.

“Chicken and rice hasn’t been modernized in a while,” says Yenvy. Presenting the many facets of Vietnam’s food culture in updated formats has become a specialty of hers, from Little Saigon’s Hello Em coffee shop to the family’s Phởcific Standard Time cocktail bar—even the roomy restaurant next to the Boat that now serves as the Phở Bắc flagship.

The Boat will focus on cơm gà mắm tỏi, but will also throw in a few bánh kẹp, or Vietnamese waffles, flavored with banana pandan or caramelized pineapple. They’ll come topped with salty sesame peanuts and “coconut cloud,” essentially a whipped coconut cream.

Cocktails will hover somewhere between the crafted wonders at Phởcific Standard Time and the more straightforward libations across the parking lot at the Súp Shop. Yenvy threw out a few examples, like a caphe-tini with coconut cloud and a coconut-washed cognac old fashioned. And prosecco on tap.

For now, the Boat and its patio will keep the same hours as Phở Bắc Súp Shop (daily, 10–9) but down-the-road plans involve karaoke and late night hours, “just to activate the neighborhood more,” she says. “That really needs to happen.”

Until then, the Boat’s nascent Instagram page can supply details and updates.

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