OK. We know who the oxpecker is — that’s Soi. But the big water buffalo in the coming soon E Union restaurant’s logo? That could be many things.
When it opens this summer, the ambitious, regionally-focused Thai restaurant will be part of a massive development and preservation project on E Union in the rapidly changing blocks just south of E Pike. Soi will also, some will undoubtedly believe, ride in on the back of the beast of hype that is the unnamed, triple-concepted Renee Erickson project focused on the “flavors of the French Atlantic” it will neighbor.
But the bird and water buffalo for husband and wife restaurateurs Gabe Wiborg and Yuie Helseth are simple representations of the northeastern Thai region of Isan at the center of their plans for Soi’s flavors. And the ambitious space in a major project was what the couple needed to stage their vision of “an exploration through food.”
“We wanted to do a restaurant like Soi in the beginning but Kent wasn’t the right place,” Wiborg said. “We had ambitious visions, ideas, and goals.”
It’s not that the Wiborg and Helseth aren’t proud of their first restaurant, Kent’s Banyan Tree — “It’s in Kent so nobody writes about it but it’s really good,” Wiborg said. But they see Soi — which translates to side street and refers to the kind of place tucked away with a great restaurant or bar “where you go to meet your friends,” Wiborg says — as an opportunity to showcase Helseth’s work on a much larger stage.
Wiborg said he and Helseth began dabbling with the restaurant business about 10 years ago at the Fremont Market selling Thai desserts like sticky rice with mango mostly for fun. Thai Smile’s popularity grew — “We got heavy into the market,” Wiborg said — and the hobby began getting more serious. Untrained as a chef, Helseth returned to Thailand for a crash course in her native cuisine in preparation for opening Banyan Tree in 2010.
Wiborg, meanwhile, was a product developer at Starbucks for eight years before leaving in 2015 to focus on Soi. Before you start booing and boycotting, think of it more as giving an independent Capitol Hill business an opportunity to benefit from loads of vision and knowledge crafting a customer experience. Indeed, Soi is being put together as a worthy counterpart to Erickson’s restaurant + cafe + “unexpected” mystery component in the same Broadstone Infinity building.
Wiborg took CHS on a tour of the construction in the renovated Davis Hoffman building that was rebuilt brick by brick under the neighborhood’s preservation incentive program. Inside Soi under 14-foot ceilings, contractors are creating an open kitchen, a large rounded bar area, a front dining area that “shares the bar’s energy,” a “dining theater” counter around the open kitchen, and a quieter back dining area.
Catch Design Studio served as architects on the project. The look will be rough with reclaimed wood and corrugated metal. Wiborg said they wanted Soi to look and feel as authentic as possible.
That’s also how they want it to taste.
“We want to serve the dishes like they are,” Wiborg said. Soi’s preparations will be dishes Wiborg says you might remember from travels in Thailand. It’s possible Thai cliches like pad thai won’t even make the menu. “We want to help educate our customers and will use the typical native names on the menu — though it may be hard for some, it is important to us.”
Though there is a focus on Isan style food, we will also provide an exploration through food of the 5 different regions of Thailand, with Nahm Khao Tod(Crispy Rice Salad), Som Tum Isan (Papaya Salad), and Kor Moo Yahng (BBQ’s pork collar) from Isan, Khao Soi (curry noodle soup) and Pad Ped Pla (stir fire cat fish in a non-coconut milk curry) from Chiang Mai in the North, Gai Yahng (BBQ’d chicken on an actual rotisserie), and Kor Moo Krob (crispy pork belly) from central Thailand.
And, this being Capitol Hill and not Isan, there will also, of course, be a cocktail program.
In the meantime, Wiborg says he and Helseth are trialling dishes at Banyan Tree and preparing for a hoped-for July opening. Soi will also be popping up on June 8th at Sitka and Spruce with “a small menu that will give you a glimpse at what the menu will look like when Soi opens in July,” Wiborg says.
Soi is under construction at 10th and Union with plans to be open by mid-July.
Capitol Hill food+drink notes
- In a testament to the apparent brand flexibility in parent corporation Madison Holdings, beloved-by-Capitol-Hill-kids Boom Noodle is back in business at 12th and Pike after only a three week dismantling and reassembling from the previous Kaisho concept. The company is positioning the change, by the way, as a move of the U Village Boom to Capitol Hill. More importantly, you can reportedly get 20% off your bill if you read the fine green print here.
— Ravenna Blog (@RavennaBlog) May 16, 2015
- In March, CHS noted Zaw’s new spin on its 15th and Pine location as the new-era take-and-bake pizza provider tries something new — actually cooking the pizza. Now, liquor paperwork reveals the Seattle chain is also eyeing plans on First Hill in the space currently home to Mad Pizza on E Madison. The Zaw rep we reached out to hasn’t yet responded to CHS about the project.
- Dino’s Tomato Pie is a pizza bar coming soon to Ms. Rachel Marshall’s neighborhood on E Olive Way at Denny.
- Speaking or Ms. Rachel…
— molly moon (@mollymoon) May 18, 2015
This week’s press release says:
Saint John’s Bar & Eatery, Capitol Hill’s quintessential gathering place opens it’s breezy patio just in time for the perfect Seattle summer with clever boozy companions to make any happy hour one to revel in – day and night.
- By the end of June, 12th Ave is getting Niche, a gluten free bakery and cafe.
- Capitol Hill’s much loved Roanoke just celebrated 20 years under the ownership of Jeff and Chris Price. Happy birthday.
- Black Coffee Co-op: still going strong
- Standard Brewing septupling its beer making capacity, adding bar and kitchen space in major expansion.
- E Pine izakaya Suika now serving lunch.
- Coastal Kitchen is hosting a Capitol Hill teacher “walk in” —
On May 19, 2015 Seattle Teachers strike against bullying state lawmakers to budget more money for lower class sizes and higher earnings.May 19th only, from 8am – 3pm, Coastal Kitchen is offering their Standardized Test for Teachers, which meets across the chalkboard learning objectives on any budget.Just bring your healthy appetite and a number 2 pencil.
Seattle Teachers can WALK-OUT and UP to Capitol Hill and take their seat at Coastal Kitchen to enjoy a hearty breakfast or lunch for 50% off.
The catch?? Teachers will have to pass Coastal Kitchen’s Standardized Test and present a teachers badge or ID.
- We don’t know exactly what this means but we like it:
Bring it people!!! pic.twitter.com/3PES7L2k8K
— Little Uncle (@littleuncletwit) May 12, 2015
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