Watercress Asian Bistro
16505 Redmond Way
Redmond WA 98052
Contemporary Asian Dining Comes to Redmond
By: Grant Y
When most people are asked about Redmond, the typical response is usually very simple: Microsoft. On the other hand, long time locals know the city as once belonging to the fringe of a frontier, once associated with lumber and farming rather than high tech and start-ups. So when a new contemporary restaurant (and Asian one at that) by the name of Watercress Asian Bistro opens up in the heart of old downtown Redmond, it's a definite sign that times have changed.
Watercress is in a class of its own in Redmond, as the style is very modern, with designer furniture, ambient lighting, upscale menus, great presentation, and a swanky bar area. Entering Watercress, you would think you perhaps walked into a Capital Hill or Belltown locale by the looks of things. It actually makes our reviewers wonder if such a restaurant can survive in the area, given that just down the street, there is still a shop that specializes in cowboy boots and hats. Only time will tell.
The entrees on the menu were wide ranging, including many traditional and popular Asian fares like Mongolian Beef and Kung Pao Chicken to more select dishes like Green Onion Pancakes (a favorite roadside snack in China) and Salt and Pepper Chicken. Our reviewers took our customary route and tried to pick a sampling of different styled dishes for a more comprehensive taste test, and ended up going with the Orange Chicken, Chicken with Cashew, Salt and Pepper Chicken, and Green Onion Pancakes. Prices are slightly above average, hovering around a flat $10 per dish for lunch. Brown rice was also offered as a free option, which was a nice bonus that typically costs an extra premium.
Our server was especially friendly and arrived with our Hot and Sour Soup shortly after we placed our order. Served in sleek, modern cups and saucers, and topped with green onion garnish, we were looking forward to the first spoonful. The soup tasted different than most restaurants' version of the traditional dish and had an extra spicy kick. Fortunately, our reviewers are spice tempered and had no qualms with the extra zest (we actually rather enjoyed it), but those with more sensitive taste buds may not enjoy it as much. The flavor was fresh and mouthwatering, with a different set of spices than the ho-hum hot and sour soup. Many run of the mill Chinese restaurants tend to add too much starch, sugar, or salt to add texture or taste to their soup, but this soup had none of those issues. Innovation always makes for a good first impression.
Next to arrive were the Green Onion Pancakes, which featured a markedly different approach to the traditional pancakes you see in Asia. Whereas the normal pancakes are anywhere from six to eight inches in length and have a texture between crispy and soft, the pancakes in front of us instead consisted of four, appetizer-sized portions about three inches in length. Obviously, this was by design, so we tried the dish with an open mind. The pancake was a bit hard and as a result, not as tasty as it should have been, although the sauce accompanying the pancakes was an enjoyable blend of soy sauce and other ingredients.
The main entrees arrived served in a contemporary fashion with a particular emphasis on presentation. The Salt and Pepper Chicken looked quite different than the traditional style, instead, appearing a bit like chicken strips lightly battered and fried, on a bed of green peppers, red peppers, and onions. The chicken cashew looked colorful and cut for optimal presentation, while the orange chicken looked quite tempting as well.
A "sweet subtleness" is how one reviewer described the Cashew Chicken, mentioning that the cashews added a nice finish to the dish. There was a good mix of chicken which, along with vegetables, created a rounded out mouth feel. The Orange Chicken's fate didn't fare as well however, as the batter was mushy and most of the orange flavor seemed to be missing. The chicken itself was decent, but the quality over grab-and-go styled Chinese restaurants wasn't much of an improvement.
During the meal, the wait staff was very helpful and friendly. Our water was refilled timely, plates were taken away as necessary, and we were checked up on regularly. Compared with the standard bar of service at many Chinese restaurants, Watercress is quite exceptional and deserves praise.
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