Category Archives: Food

The Mein Man: Pad Thai (and Pleasant Peculiarities) at Song Phang Kong

Sweet and spicy pad thai
Sweet and spicy pad thai

Dish: Pad Thai

Place: Song Phang Kong, International District (Seattle)

Price: $7.00 (inclusive of tax)

On the plate: Rice noodles with choice of protein (shrimp is great), crushed peanuts, shredded carrot, bean sprouts, egg, and green onions.

Supporting cast/What to do: The dish comes with a lime wedge. Usually. Another time, there was both lemon and lime. Squirt if you want a hit of acidity. Eat and enjoy.

Noodling around: This is a generous portion for $7. What strikes me about the pad thai here is the initial sweetness, countered by spicy heat—even though there’s no inquiry about desired spice level. Excellent balance. The noodles are perfectly cooked: soft and yet slightly chewy.

There’s pad see ew on the “menu” (see below), but we asked for pad kee mao, and our “host” (see below) was happy to oblige. (I believe she’s willing to make anything she can, if she has time and ingredients on hand or close by—see below.) The wide noodle dish was fine, but not remarkably different than other preparations in town. Pad thai is the preferred choice, as it’s much better than you’ll find at most local restaurants.

Pad kee mao, with its wide noodles
Pad kee mao, with its wide noodles

If you want more: It depends what else is available, which leads us to…

Be aware/beware: Song Phang Kong is a magical place that’s a bit mysterious, making for a unique dining experience. In a sliver of a space that was once a banh mi shop (across from Viet Wah supermarket), the restaurant has but four tables. Despite the small size, expect to wait for your food as it’s all made from scratch.

Song Phang Kong is a true mom-and-pop operation; she’s Lao and he’s Thai, though he wasn’t there last visit, which meant slightly slower service and some inconsistency in terms of food preparation. After all, this left “mom” (more like “grandma”) to do it all (cooking, serving, cleaning), and as in a previous visit, this included leaving the restaurant mid-service to go to a nearby store to buy food. This after my group found a locked door at 11:30 (the restaurant is scheduled to open daily at 10am); just as we were ready to give up, mom came to the door bleary-eyed, beckoning us in after struggling to get the door open.

There’s just one menu for all the tables, upright and encased in plastic, plus a pile of laminated pages with photos, with most of those pages repeats. And you never know what menu items will be available (the sausage has been unavailable for reasons I can’t quite understand due to mom’s limited English), or what adjustments mom will make after you’ve placed your order (“I hope pork is okay in your curry instead of chicken”).

It’s hard to stay upset, though, when she brings each person a bottle of water and a Pepsi (randomly regular or diet) and says, “these are free.” And then brings mismatched plates, laughing while she says “oh, I forgot” when you have to help yourself to napkins and chopsticks from a nearby tray.

Green papaya salad, which will wake up your senses
Green papaya salad, which will wake up your senses

All is forgiven when you hear the pounding of the pestle in mortar as she starts preparing your green papaya salad. (For now, I even forgive the picture of Jesus above the mortar and pestle, as it was gone by the next visit. I prefer my restaurants religion-free.) As she prepares that salad, you should prepare for pretty high spice level. She’s not shy with the chile peppers. Fortunately, that salad comes with raw vegetables and an enormous bag of sticky rice for each person to absorb the heat.

A big bowl of non-sticky rice will come if you order curry or beef jerky or any other dish, I suppose. Try to explain that it’s too much rice, and mom will laugh and tell you she can bring more. It’s all part of the quirkiness that makes Song Phang Wong fun. And a delicious bargain, if you’re willing to embrace the experience.

Green curry with pork
Green curry with pork
Beef jerky
Beef jerky

The Mein Man Eats: Spicy Noodles at Little Ting’s Dumplings

Handmade noodles in spicy sauce
Handmade noodles in spicy sauce

Dish: Handmade Noodles in Spicy Sauce

Place: Little Ting’s Dumplings, Greenwood (Seattle)

Price: $7.50

On the plate: Hand-stretched noodles with thin-sliced cucumber, green onions, chile flakes, sugar, salt, five-spice powder, garlic, white vinegar, and cucumber juice.

Supporting cast/What to do: Mix well to ensure that all the noodles are soaked in sauce, then eat.

Noodling around: I’m a big fan of biang-biang noodles, so I was excited to learn that Little Ting’s has the hand-stretched wide noodles I constantly crave. Owners Ting (hence the restaurant name) and Jason have connection to Heibei province, so it’s not surprising that the noodles are done a little differently than the Shaanxi-style preparation I make at home. But not much, as both are “you po mian,” or hot oil-seared (or more literally “sprinkled”) noodles.

The noodles at Little Ting’s are served cool (Ting told me that plunging the cooked noodles in ice water for a few seconds makes them more silky and chewy) compared to the ones I like at Qin (formerly Biang!) in Edmonds. When I asked about the acidic, slightly sour taste, she explained that it comes from the vinegar (I use black vinegar for my biang-biang noodles) and perhaps the cucumber juice. I recommend a generous splash of soy sauce for additional flavor in this dish.

These wide, chewy noodles are a delight to try in all types of preparations—though ultimately I like them dry instead of soupy. Still, the other option of Handmade Noodles in Ribs and Seaweed Soup (also $7.50) is interesting to try. Have this before you set your mouth on fire with the hot oil-seared noodles, as the seaweed refers to basically a dashi broth that’s fairly delicate in flavor.

Handmade Noodles in Ribs and Seaweed Soup
Handmade Noodles in Ribs and Seaweed Soup

If you want more: Little Ting’s is primarily a dumpling shop (you can buy some for your freezer), so it only makes sense to get dumplings on the side. The chive and scallop dumplings are tempting, but the pork and chive is a good standard for starters. The pan-fried version ($8.89 for 15) is perfectly executed to exquisite crispiness—nice and juicy.

Pork and chive dumplings
Pork and chive dumplings

Be aware/beware: The adorable dumpling art on the wall? It’s by Jason.

Getting a Garlicky Grin at Girin

Girin sign 7574

After long lamenting the lack of quality Korean food in Seattle (you’ve had to drive north toward Shoreline and beyond, or south to at least Federal Way, for the good stuff), there’s recent activity in the game of gochujang and garlic in the heart of the city. Chan opened in Pike Place Market several years ago, a restaurant I describe as “a cute little place with little, little dishes.” Just last year, Trove opened in Capitol Hill, giving carnivores a place to “get their grill on.”

And now comes news that Girin is opening on Saturday, rising in rapidly developing Pioneer Square, specifically in the Stadium Place project in the North Lot Development, on the city side of CenturyLink Field. It’s a gorgeous space reminiscent of Momiji in Capitol Hill (not surprising, since it’s the same owner), and here’s the good news: the food at Girin, while modern, is far more aligned with authentic Korean cuisine than Momiji’s was—at least at opening—with authentic Japanese cuisine. Credit Brandon Kirksey (ex-chef at flour + water in San Francisco and Tavolata in Seattle) for quickly learning Korean flavors. I will be curious to see how his cooking develops over time. (This noodle lover will also look forward to trying the kalguksu: Girin’s version featuring hand-cut noodles in kombu broth with clams and cuttlefish.)

Maybe the best news is that unlike Chan and Trove, Girin offers banchan for free. [Edit: It now appears that banchan is free only for ssam plates, and not for noodles, tteokboki, etc.] That said, menu prices run on the high side; I wonder what impact pricing and location will play in Girin’s long-term success. The Pioneer Square renaissance should help, as will the opening of a hotel across the street from the restaurant. While budget-minded Korean food lovers will likely continue to drive far for their fix, I suspect that the young, monied crowd (not a bad target audience, as that’s what Seattle’s becoming) will Uber its way to the stylish Girin to swig makgeolli out of metal bowls and devour plates of meats that run from raw to grilled.

On that note, here’s a look at some sampling I did at last night’s media preview dinner at Girin.

Girin banchan 7458

Banchan assortment included the pictured kimchi (nicely flavored), nettles with doenjang and pine nuts (a seasonal offering), and sesame-crusted tofu (delicious!), along with grilled eggplant and dried anchovies with toasted almonds.

Girin yukhoe 7450

Yukhoe (Girin spells it yukhwe): raw beef, pear, pine nuts, and egg yolk. From my experience, yukhoe is usually made from beef strips or chopped/ground beef, and is typically more seasoned, but this was still fantastic.

Girin haemul pajeon 7478

Haemul pajeon: green onion pancake with seafood. While the outside could have been crispier, the pancake had great interior texture with its slight chewiness.

Girin tteokbokki 7488

Gung jung tteokbokki: crispy rice cakes with roasted mushrooms (king trumpet, maitake, and pioppini) and soy glaze. In contrast to the spicy red tteokboki that I found on the streets of Seoul, this “royal court” tteokbokki is more refined, meant to be a lighter dish. It usually comes with beef, but even without the dish was satisfying, as it was full of earthy flavor. I only wish the rice cakes were cooked slightly more; instead of an undercooked chewy texture, they should have a soft, mochi-like chewy texture.

Girin ssam skirt steak 7518

Ssamjang marinated skirt steak was perfectly cooked and full of flavor. This plate (with the leaves and all) runs $28, whereas an upgrade to rib-eye would cost about three times the price.

Girin ginger sausage 7537

Charred scallion and ginger sausage was bursting with ginger. The sausage starts to approach soondae texture (a little soft), but without the earthy delights that soondae typically offers.

Girin persimmon sorbet 7560

Persimmon sorbet: This was the most talked-about dish at my table, as it had a slightly satoimo-like, slimy texture that was a little disconcerting to most.

Girin interior 7570Revelry at Girin.

Testing and Tasting Some Ethically Credible, Happily Edible Eggs

Prosciutto and eggs upon arrival to Stoneburner
Prosciutto and eggs upon arrival to Stoneburner

I’ve been playing a lot with eggs recently.

So it was with great interest that I attended an egg event for food writers last month. Vital Farms was in town to show off their Alfresco Eggs, with Jason Stoneburner serving them up for Saturday brunch at his namesake restaurant. I was curious to learn more about what Vital calls humanely, pasture-raised eggs, newly pushed in the Pacific Northwest with availability at QFC and Fred Meyer.

Breakfast festivities began with a video look, a la Portlandia, at the “girls” gone wild: hens from Vital’s 50+ farms around the country that are released from their coops each morning to run free on 108 square feet of pasture per bird. The “moving chicken spas” mean the hens essentially “engineer their own crop rotation,” in the words of Dan Brooks, Vital’s director of marketing & communications. This results in brightly colored (deep orange) yolks that come from the xanthophylls in the grass. But be forewarned: Other eggs can have such color (from marigold feed, etc.), so it’s not the tell-tale sign of a true pasture-raised egg.

I’m not convinced that Alfresco Eggs actually tasted better than the eggs more commonly available at the grocery store, but as Brooks inferred, consumers might simply find the pasture-raised eggs to be more (ethically) palatable. These eggs are free from use of herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. Plus there’s the promise that the hens’ “salad-based diet” and exercise yield eggs with 25% less saturated fat, up to 50% less cholesterol, more Omega-3s, and significantly higher amount of vitamins A, D, and E.

It was great to finally get to Stoneburner for the first time, and the nice brunch treatment means a desire to return for more. Some of the egg dishes:

Meatballs with eggs
Meatballs with eggs
Pizza with eggs
Pizza with eggs
Omelette with mushrooms
Omelette with mushrooms
Perhaps the best way to eat fresh eggs: poached
Perhaps the best way to eat fresh eggs: poached

Meanwhile, I picked up some eggs at the store to try out on a few Asian dishes I like to cook at home. Here’s a look:

Miso ramen with ajitama: seasoned soft egg
Miso ramen with ajitama: seasoned soft egg
Fried rice with egg
Fried rice with egg
Biang-biang noodles with side of seasoned soft egg topped with XO sauce
Biang-biang noodles with side of seasoned soft egg topped with XO sauce
Mul naengmyeon with hard-boiled egg (perhaps the "worst" way to prepare fresh eggs)
Mul naengmyeon with hard-boiled egg (perhaps the “worst” way to prepare fresh eggs)

Seattle Lamb Jam (and an Oyster New Year “Appetizer”) Coming in November

Lamb Jam TourThe first weekend in November will be a fun one for food lovers, as the Seattle Lamb Jam takes place here for the fifth time. This is one of my favorite food events of the year, as (along with Cochon 555, which skipped Seattle this year) a single ingredient cooked in competition seems to bring the best out of the participating chefs.

Look for more ethnic influences this year than in the past, and be ready to judge your favorite dishes, as the event will again allow you to vote for the “People’s Choice” title. (I’ll be sequestered in the “professional” judging room!) There’s an exciting lineup of chefs, including Sarah Lorenzen of Andaluca—last year’s Best in Show winner for her fresh lamb sausage in socca (a chickpea flour crepe) with pomegranate tomato jam.

Lamb Jam takes place on Sunday, November 2, with general admission at 2:30pm. Tickets are $60, which gives you a chance to sample 16 globally inspired lamb dishes, taste Washington’s best brews and wine, mingle with local shepherds, and visit the DIY spice rub station to mix a take-home tin of lamb rub.

If you’re game, you can instead ante up $75 (in advance) to attend a “Curriculamb VIP Pre-Jam.” This entitles you to early entry, with an opportunity to spend time with Northwest shepherd Reed Anderson of Anderson Ranches and chef Holly Smith of Café Juanita as they offer a butchery demo, prepare American lamb appetizers, and provide home cooking tips and wine pairing recommendations.

Organized by the American Lamb Board, a portion of the ticket sales will benefit the University District Food Bank. Seattle Lamb Jam takes place on the waterfront at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center at Pier 66.

Elliott's PMS ILLUSTRATOR13If you’re lucky, you’ll also be at Bell Harbor the night before for the 22nd annual Elliott’s Oyster New Year. This popular event (moved this year due to the massive seawall project) is sold out, but perhaps keep your eye on Craigslist and elsewhere for tickets.

Elliott’s Oyster New Year features 30+ varieties of local oysters shucked to order at a 150-foot oyster bar, along with the famous oyster luge and a fresh seafood buffet. Over 75 wineries will be present, as well as a lot of local microbrews. Live music adds to the festivities, and proceeds benefit the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Patxi’s Packs a One-Two Pizza Punch

Pizza, fresh from the oven
Pizza, fresh from the oven

Pizza lovers can now find unique pleasure in going to Patxi’s—the small, California-based chain that’s opened three restaurants in Denver and now one in Seattle. The opportunity: Start the meal with one type of pizza and end with another.

14" thin-crust pie with prosciutto and arugula
14″ thin-crust pie with prosciutto and arugula

Place your drink order and pick a thin-crust pizza, and both will come to your table in mere minutes. Patxi’s thin-crust pies spin in a special rotating oven, and then speed their way to your table. The thin-crust pie at Delancey is better if you’re in Ballard, but the pie at Patxi’s is quite satisfactory, and you don’t have to worry about waiting in line. The thin crust allows the high-quality toppings to shine, and I enjoyed mine with Zoe’s aged prosciutto and fresh arugula. (Next time, I’m tempted to try one with the Creminelli prosciutto cotto.)

Half-order of Brussels sprouts with pancetta
Half-order of Brussels sprouts with pancetta

While waiting for your deep-dish pizza (which takes about 30 minutes to bake after time to construct), some sides are well worth a try. I especially enjoyed warm Brussels sprouts with pancetta. Just be sure to toss things together to integate the sherry vinaigrette. This is a labor-intensive dish; instead of cooking halved or quartered sprouts, Patxi’s pulls the individual leaves. They don’t cook to a char like other preparations, which makes this dish more like a refreshing salad, with green apples adding tartness and red grape halves adding sweetness.

Padron peppers
Padron peppers

Also good are the padron peppers, oven roasted and served with a sprinkling of sea salt and a side of spicy tomato sauce. Seems the night I went shishitos substituted for the padrones—still a fine choice, though smaller and less spicy than I prefer.

Deep-dish delight
Deep-dish delight

As for the deep-dish pizza, like the thin-crust, you can order from the chef recommendations or build your own pie. I did a hybrid, spotting a promising Smoky Diablo pie on the specials sheet but wanting pork instead of chicken breast—which is not my favorite pizza topping. No chicken also meant eliminating the house-roasted corn, so I asked the server to have the chefs surprise me with the substitution. They did well in choosing Zoe’s hot coppa to go with the Diablo’s intended smoked chipotles, jalapenos, and cilantro.

Inside Patxi's
Inside Patxi’s

The deep-dish pizza is a man-made wonder. It’s hefty, which means knife-and-fork food. The deep-dish features a “double dough.” First, there’s a thick layer of dough pressed into a pan, with toppings done in reverse starting with meat, then cheese, and then tomato sauce (simple but good)—placed on top to allow caramelizing for stronger flavor. But if you look carefully, you’ll also notice a very thin second layer of dough, with holes poked through to allow steam out. The crust is biscuit-like, a little crunchier than I expected, but enjoyable. Kids especially like eating the crust with a little local honey (purposely placed on the table) drizzled on. This is in lieu of having a dessert menu, simplifying matters though maybe not appealing to those with a real sweet tooth. Then again, I’m not sure how many people would want dessert after devouring both thin-crust and deep-dish pizzas.

The view from the sidewalk
The view from the sidewalk