The Best Bar in Bellevue
Popular Thai restaurant Chantanee moved from a strip mall to one of the expressionless towers of all-grown-up downtown Bellevue earlier this year. With the move came the installation of Naga lounge, which Seattle bartenders say is one excellent reason to go to the Eastside. (One of their own, Andrew Bohrer, a founder of the Washington State Bartenders Guild and former Vessel barkeep, runs the Naga bar program.)
First you have to get there. Street parking does not exist, and the signs in the parking garage are liars—"Lobby," in at least one case, leads to the great outdoors. The building watches glassily while you circumnavigate it on foot (on Saturday evening, the lobby is locked up tight). Head southwest, persevere, and rest assured that you are not a complete idiot: Due to mass confusion, Chantanee's website features a "How to Drive In and Park" video.
Here you are, at last. Naga's the darker corner of the space, which is overdesigned but inoffensively so. The floor is polished dyed concrete, the ceiling has many sweeping decorative elements, back-lit panels make silhouettes of twiggy bamboo. The food is above-par Thai standards, with the menu most noteworthy for being large and heavy and silk-padded. It is not, however, so silk-padded as to prevent its large heaviness from making a nerve-shattering sound when the server drops one on a place setting. (An apology and, eventually, a complimentary dish of Snoqualmie Gourmet coconut ice cream ensued. While it was delicious, nothing soothes shattered nerves like a free drink.)
Subsequent service was flawless to the point of pomp, with compliments on cocktail choices, murmured updates about the progress of orders, and even slight bows. A little theater is fitting: All drinks are $11, and the massive list includes the creator's name, year of creation, and ingredients for each. A question about the Domaine de Canton (a French ginger/cognac liqueur) contained in the Debonaire cocktail yielded the satisfied response, "You won't find that anywhere else." The list's description, "sweet, heat, and scotch," was a bit off; the Debonaire was surprisingly mild. A mint julep (god bless John Davis and the year 1803) was served properly, a snow cone of ice topping a silver cup.
The house original Jacob's Thai Smash represented the successful distillation of every Thai flavor into a drink approximating a much-needed slap across the face. Another original, "A.t.o.t.l.w.," introduced the recently repopularized Last Word to coconut puree and pineapple, resulting in a highly tropical concoction that the untrained palate might take for a plain old piña colada. (An odd oversight: This drink's straw was too short for its vintage tiki cup.) The half-dozen tiki drinks are available giant-sized in skull-shaped bowls for $25. If only light rail went directly to Chantanee.