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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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…
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 Delicatusin 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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Be aware/beware: The adorable dumpling art on the wall? It’s by Jason.
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.
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.
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.
Haemul pajeon: green onion pancake with seafood. While the outside could have been crispier, the pancake had great interior texture with its slight chewiness.
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.
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.
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.
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.