Category Archives: Restaurant

Horse or Not, Head Over to Giddy Up for Hamburgers

Giddy Up exterior Back from my Asian travel and food immersion, an all-American hamburger was high on my wish-list. So I appreciated an invitation from Giddy Up Burgers & Greens to try out some of their creations. I’d driven by the location in “Frelard” many times, and was excited to finally give it a try.

The restaurant has a casual vibe, with counter ordering and table delivery. There’s a lengthy bar befitting a lengthy beer menu (I enjoyed one of the weekly rotators: a refreshing Illusive Traveler Grapefruit Ale from Traveler Beer in Burlington, Vermont), and a bar of a different type, not seen so much these days: a salad bar. (Hence the “Greens” part of the restaurant name.) Note that it’s not the “all you can eat” variety, but instead salad by the pound.

My main focus, though, was the burgers. My meal came just before David Chang published his Lucky Peach manifesto about the ideal burger. I agree with much of his argument, particularly about the simplicity of the best burger. Just give me a squishy bun (hold the brioche), meat cooked medium-rare, American cheese, and no crazy toppings.

Buckaroo burger with haystack onions
Buckaroo burger with haystack onions

With that in mind, I started as always with a search for the basic burger. On Giddy Up’s menu, you have to skip all the specialty burgers to find the basic Buckaroo burger. This is one you customize, coming for with a quarter-pound patty, lettuce, pickle, and Giddy Up sauce. I added tomato and onion at no charge, plus American cheese for a dollar. For $6, I was more than satisfied with this burger. The sesame (on both halves!) bun was nice and squishy, and there was a good balance of ingredients. Minor quibble: the meat—hand-formed, I’m told, was packed a little too tight for my taste.

The Giddy Up burger with hand-cut fries
The Giddy Up burger with hand-cut fries

Next was the namesake Giddy Up burger ($9.60), which ups the meat to one-third of a pound, and includes bacon, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickled jalapeños, and fire sauce. Bacon lovers will like this one, as will heat-seekers. The specialty burgers, though, come on a house bun that the chef described as a cross between brioche and a Kaiser roll. It works, though I prefer something squishier.

Acropolis burger
Acropolis burger

From the specials board, I tried an Acropolis Burger. They say they’ve moved from 50/50 to 75% lamb and 25% beef, but I think it could stand to be even more lamby. Anyway, this burger had a good balance of flavors from the feta to the pickled red onions to the generous portion of arugula.

Kickin Fried Chicken
Kickin Fried Chicken

Finally, per on-site recommendation, I sampled the Kickin Fried Chicken. This felt a little forced in getting fried chicken on a hamburger bun. Good flavors, again, from the buffalo sauce and pickled jalapeños, but it pales in comparison to something like Skillet’s Fried Chicken Sammy. Better to stick with beef. (Or maybe try the Sloppy Joe? And choose the hand-cut fries over the haystack onions, in my opinion.)

There are 10 specialty burgers on the regular menu, plus specials, as well as endless ways to customize your own. All-in-all, Giddy Up Burgers & Greens is a good addition to the local burger scene. In fact, I was happy to endorse it as part of Eater Seattle’s best burger list, published just yesterday.

A Pleasing Pig Roast Dinner at Bell + Whete

Bell & Whete pig head For some, the sight of a pig head on a street corner causes trepidation. For me, it creates salivation.

To be fair, the pig head I saw at 2nd and Bell didn’t surprise me, as the restaurant on that very street corner had invited me in to try their weekly pig roast dinner platter. Each Sunday evening, Bell + Whete fires up the above ground Caja China (a coal-operated metal roasting box) around lunchtime to have a Heritage Meats pig ready for dinner service. They leave the pig head out on the box for giggles and gigs. (Bell + Whete can cater your home or office party in similar fashion.)

For $24 each, diners get a plate of mixed pulled pork meat, cracklings, citrus chili garlic drippings, a seasonal vegetable, a starch or grain side dish, and housemade bannock bread—which some use to make simulated tacos. On this particular day, the sides were a farro and lentil pilaf, Moroccan-spiced summer squash salad with yogurt, and a smear of harissa.

Pig roast platter (for two)
Pig roast platter (for two)

Personally, I’d prefer a sampling of different pig parts, but I understand that would create quite a logistical issue. The mixed pork was incredibly moist, such that the drippings weren’t necessary—but liquid pig only made dinner more decadent. The cracklings were terrific (especially if you break them into small pieces if you’re making the aforementioned “tacos”), and the Middle Eastern-influenced sides had nice flavors. Harissa’s always a winner for me.

Chilled Ocean Snacks
Chilled Ocean Snacks

Bell + Whete boasts a menu of 60 beers. I paired my pig with Backwoods’ Copperline Amber, though what I enjoyed even more was the Lagunitas CitruSinensis with its distinct blood orange flavor. I savored this while nibbling on an order of “Chilled Ocean Snacks.” At $28, the seafood comes in at a higher price than the pig platter, but with a pretty presentation, and the Kusshi oysters the king of this particular plate.

The Mein Man: Summer Ramen Alternative on the Eastside

Santouka mazemen 1727Dish: Mazemen

Place: Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, Bellevue

Price: $12.50 (for a 7 ounce portion, with a 4.5 ounce portion available for $11.50)

In the bowl: Broth-less ramen in a soy sauce-based sauce, with chunks of chashu (braised pork belly), menma (fermented bamboo shoots), kikurage (wood ear mushrooms), and ribbons of green onions.

Noodling around: Ramen fans who don’t feel like slurping soup noodles in the summer will find joy in mazemen, Santouka’s seasonal offering. This is ramen without the soup, making it a “dry” dish that’s still full of the regular ramen components. No pork fatty “tonkotsu” broth, but the chunks of chashu will satisfy your porcine cravings. Menma and kikurage are mixed in, and the whole thing is sauced with notes of soy sauce and “negi abura” (green onion-infused oil) sneaking through. A generous portion of green onions top the noodles; the curly ribbons are fun but a little too large in terms of flavor balance.

If you want more: It’s nice to see takoyaki on the menu, but these “octopus balls” are frozen and deep-fried rather than made fresh. A better option is the small appetizer portion of tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet, $6.00) that comes with a lemon wedge, karashi (spicy Japanese mustard), arugula, and tonkatsu sauce. Besides, this opens the door to the potential playful order of tonkatsu/tonkotsu.

Santouka tonkatsu Be aware/beware: I continue to believe that the signature tonkotsu shio ramen is the best choice at Santouka (and likely the highest quality ramen available on a daily basis in the Seattle area), but it’s nice to see new choices on the menu. Another option: toroniku goma miso ramen, with the tonkotsu broth having a nice balance of sesame and miso flavors.

The Mein Man: Hand-Shaven Noodles (and More) at La Bu La

   

Chow mein with hand-shaven noodles
Chow mein with hand-shaven noodles

 Dish: Chow Mein

Place: La Bu La, Bellevue

Price: $10.95

On the plate: Hand-shaven noodles with chicken, green onions, carrot, cabbage, and bean sprouts.

Supporting cast/What to do: Just eat and enjoy.

Noodling around: You can order this dish with hand-shaven noodles or egg noodles, and a choice of chicken, pork, beef, seafood, or vegetables. You definitely want the hand-shaven noodles. In the kitchen, the chef holds a block of dough on his arm, and with a free hand, uses a knife to expertly flick strips of dough into boiling water.

Making hand-shaven noodles
Making hand-shaven noodles

Boiling is where the noodle-cooking ends if you order the Cheng Du Hand-Shaven Noodle dish. But for the chow mein, the boiled noodles are brought over to a wok station to be stir-fried with the rest of the ingredients, along with garlic, regular and dark soy sauce, and some oyster sauce. The result: slightly chewy noodles with just a bit of smokiness from the wok.

If you want more: As the Chow Mein is a very mild dish, you’re almost obligated to balance that with something spicy at this Sichuanese restaurant. I strongly suggest you “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” by selecting something from the more interesting “Wild Side” menu. Items like Young Bamboo Shoots in Chili Oil ($8.95) or Fiery Cucumber Pieces ($7.95) will give you something fresh and fiery, but if you’ve got the appetite, try a platter of Chong Qing Hot Chicken ($14.95) for some addictively numbing and spicy (and a little sweet) deep-fried chicken morsels, plated with a scattering of blistered green beans.

Chong Qinq Chicken
Chong Qinq Chicken
Tender Fish Morsels in Fiery Broth of Two Kinds of Chili Peppers (I enjoy all of these fiery fish dishes)
Tender Fish Morsels in Fiery Broth of Two Kinds of Chili Peppers (I enjoy all of these fiery fish dishes)
My favorite dish at La Bu La: The Other Parts of a Pig (with pork blood, intestines, etc.)
My favorite dish at La Bu La: The Other Parts of a Pig (with pork blood, intestines, etc.)

Be aware/beware: Here’s the backstory of La Bu La, as I recently reported for Eater Seattle:

Bamboo Garden, the beloved Chinese restaurant previously located next to an adult toy store in a Bellevue strip mall, quietly reemerged as La Bu La on April 25. Just feet from its former site, La Bu La is in the new Soma Towers development, where it trades the darkness of its previous cave-like locale for a light-filled dining experience, thanks to floor-to-window ceilings. The ambience is contemporary but with classic Chinese touches, such as the antique chests scattered throughout the dining area, as well as the soldier statues towering above the bar.

The new bar (photo courtesy of La Bu La)
The new bar (photo courtesy of La Bu La)

Translating to “spicy not spicy” (as in, “How do you want your food?”), La Bu La opened with a new sit-down bar replete with expanded beer, wine, and cocktail options, and the same trust food offerings from Bamboo Garden. While part of the menu deliberately appeals to diners who don’t want to dabble in the typical heat of Sichuan cooking, true fans will want to turn to the popular “Walk on the Wild Side” menu, which basically takes the typically inaccessible Chinese language menu and makes it available—and appealing—to non-Chinese clientele. Favorites include “Fire Swimming Fish,” “The Other Parts of a Pig,” and the restaurant’s most popular dish: “Chong Qing Hot Chicken” that’s both numbing and spicy (ma la, in Chinese).

Gorgeous new digs (photo courtesy of La Bu La)
Gorgeous new digs (photo courtesy of La Bu La)

Bamboo Garden was featured as part of Eater Seattle’s Chinese map back in September—a high honor since Sichuanese is the Chinese cuisine which Seattle does best. With improved atmosphere and service (as well as private dining options) added to its previously popular menu, La Bu La is even more of a destination-worthy drive from Seattle for Chinese food. And that’s not even mentioning the xiao long bao (soup dumplings) coming to the menu in the weeks ahead…

Delicatus Delivers Diverse Sandwiches and More in Pioneer Square

Best sandwich of the visit was The Rebel: hot pastrami with white cheddar, jalapeno-lime aioli, picked red onions, jalapenos, and cilantro on a 10″ Italian roll (half sandwich shown), served here with potato salad and pickles
Best sandwich of the visit was The Rebel: hot pastrami with white cheddar, jalapeno-lime aioli, picked red onions, jalapenos, and cilantro on a 10″ Italian roll (half sandwich shown), served here with potato salad and pickles

In addition to its German association with delicatessen, the word “delicatus” has Latin meaning of alluring and charming and “that which gives pleasure.” It also means voluptuous. Hang out at Delicatus in Seattle’s Pioneer Square enjoying the sensual sandwiches, and you too may become more curvaceous alluring.

While some sandwich shops specialize in, say, just three sandwiches, Delicatus greets you with three towering chalkboards chock-full of sandwich choices. The left and right boards are loaded with the “traditionalists” and “progressives,” while the middle goes even further with a handful of “extremists.” Ordering might take time as you contemplate the interesting ingredient combinations, Wooden Table meats, and thoughtful bread choices. Note the variety of aiolis and the number of peppers that spice up many of the sandwiches.

Lots of sandwiches
Lots of sandwiches
Inside Delicatus
Inside Delicatus
A closer look at that important quote above the counter
A closer look at that important quote above the counter

The friendly staff will help you with your sandwich selection, which come with chips by default, though I recommend an upgrade to the German-style potato salad (delightfully spiked with mustard seeds) for less than a dollar. Save room for a corn flake cookie. This thin guy is easy to overlook, but has a captivatingly crispy texture and just the right levels of chocolate and salt.

Delicatus gives you a large number of sandwich choices, as well as a large number of seating options. You can sit out on the sidewalk, in the sun-filled window, at the counter, in the back dining room, or upstairs in the mezzanine.

The Seattle Cure: cured albacore tuna bresaola, salmon lox, lemon-caper aioli, shaved red onions, sweet peppers, and field greens on a toasted ciabatta roll (the lox flavor prevails), served with pasta salad with asparagus
The Seattle Cure: cured albacore tuna bresaola, salmon lox, lemon-caper aioli, shaved red onions, sweet peppers, and field greens on a toasted ciabatta roll (the lox flavor prevails), served with pasta salad with asparagus
Pavo Diablo: hickory-smoked turkey, sliced avocado, spinach, havarti, roasted poblano peppers, spicy chipotle aioli, and cilantro on sourdough bread (a “soft and comforting” half sandwich that wasn’t really spicy), served with a nice house salad
Pavo Diablo: hickory-smoked turkey, sliced avocado, spinach, havarti, roasted poblano peppers, spicy chipotle aioli, and cilantro on sourdough bread (a “soft and comforting” half sandwich that wasn’t really spicy), served with a nice house salad
Fists of Fury: tender pulled pork, sliced jalapenos, carrots, cucumbers, shaved cabbage, tobiko caviar (!), wasabi aioli, and cilantro on a toasted Italian roll (half sandwich pictured, like a banh mi), served with potato chips
Fists of Fury: tender pulled pork, sliced jalapenos, carrots, cucumbers, shaved cabbage, tobiko caviar (!), wasabi aioli, and cilantro on a toasted Italian roll (half sandwich pictured, like a banh mi), served with potato chips
Cheesecake with the corn flake cookie in the background
Cheesecake with the corn flake cookie in the background

But it’s not just sandwiches. Non-sandwich eaters will find a few brunch options on the weekends. (I saw some terrific-looking challah French toast paired with bacon—or is that a sort of deconstructed sandwich?). Plus, dinner is served weekdays with focus on a few classic preparations. (The shepherd’s pie looks especially intriguing.) There’s also a little bar, which is the perfect place to enjoy happy hour, perhaps with a sausage plate. Or take home the makings of a charcuterie plate (some meats are made in-house, while others are sourced from fine local to international artisans) along with a bottle of wine.

As for that wine, it comes from just two blocks south at The Kitchen by Delicatus. Consider this the creative space of the Delicatus team. Here you’ll find Sous Sol Winery and a 1,500 square foot private event space, which at times plays host to guest chef/pop-up dinners. It’s also the site of a regular dinner series by Delicatus’ own staff. Much like the sandwiches, these are casual and playful affairs, with slightly elevated but not stuffy presentations and service.

Operating owner Derek Shankland told me that Kitchen evolved “as a creative and experimental center that seeks to celebrate our industry while bringing our community together for many diverse and unique food and beverage experiences.” A sneak peek at the menu for the May 16 Slovenian dinner shows Triglav mushroom soup, lamb loin with cherry knedle, and flancati filled with rhubarb and topped with fresh cream cheese. On May 30, Delicatus’ chef Aaron Willis teams with Lost Angeles’ Barolo Joe team for a Northwest Heritage dinner featuring courses that range from smoked venison agnolotti with Shaanxi-style shaved noodles (two noodles in one dish?) to Korean bbq to deconstructed tiramisu. Diverse and unique indeed.

I was invited to attend the recent “Cold Water Excursion” dinner, which featured the following four seafood courses (plus dessert):

Char-grilled octopus salad with baby arugula, Calabrian peppers, Cerignola olive relish, rosemary cracker, Alhema de Queiles organic arbequina oil, and aged sherry vinegar
Char-grilled octopus salad with baby arugula, Calabrian peppers, Cerignola olive relish, rosemary cracker, Alhema de Queiles organic arbequina oil, and aged sherry vinegar
White shrimp bisque with chili oil-poached shrimp, served with basil pistou (and bread)
White shrimp bisque with chili oil-poached shrimp, served with basil pistou (and bread)
Semolina-dusted New England scallops with Gothberg Farms chevre gnudi, micro greens, and salmon roe (favorite dish of the night), served with creamy morel buttered English peas with thyme
Semolina-dusted New England scallops with Gothberg Farms chevre gnudi, micro greens, and salmon roe (favorite dish of the night), served with creamy morel buttered English peas with thyme
Seared Alaskan king salmon with asparagus and tomato salad, pancetta lardons, fried rosemary, Bormane Rivera Italian evoo, and 25-year Oro di Reggio Emilia balsamic vinegar, served with pecorino polenta
Seared Alaskan king salmon with asparagus and tomato salad, pancetta lardons, fried rosemary, Bormane Rivera Italian evoo, and 25-year Oro di Reggio Emilia balsamic vinegar, served with pecorino polenta
Inside The Kitchen by Delicatus (this photo courtesy of Derek Shankland)
Inside The Kitchen by Delicatus (this photo courtesy of Derek Shankland)

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