Archive for August, 2009

Genki Sushi, Seattle, Washington

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

If you were to ask me for my favorite food, for the last 20 years the answer would (and continues to) be sushi. I find its freshness, lightness, diversity of forms, and general clean yet present flavors to be heavenly. The bites are small which lets me try a lot of different varieties, and you get to try different creative combinations making it basically the Lego of food. And Seattle is lucky to have (in my experience) one of the best, if not the best, sushi restaurants on the West Coast — Nishino.

But Nishino isn’t exactly cheap, I can’t eat there all the time. I also have children and I definitely can’t afford to have them eat there all the time. I thought teaching them to love sushi was a good idea, but it’s come with some cons as well — namely, they want to eat sushi all the time. I’ve spent a lot of time and effort figuring out how to go out to eat with my kids and still eat decent food (and not yucky “kid-friendly” food). I’ve documented that in this post about eating out with your kids. One key secrets of taking kids out to eat sushi is finding a restaurant with a conveyor belt. In Japan, this is called Kaiten Sushi. At some point, some restaurateur who wants to appeal to parents will realize that you can put other kinds of food on a conveyor belt, not just sushi. But that day has yet to come and that’s not the focus of today’s discussion.

Seattle is lucky to have three different establishments specializing in conveyor belt sushi, some with multiple locations. They are Sushi Land, Blue C Sushi, and Genki Sushi. Sushi Land, also called Marinepolis Sushi Land (or even Marine Polis Sushi Land) is a pacific northwest chain with locations in Portland and all around Seattle and its suburbs. Blue C Sushi is a local endeavor and has five locations around Seattle and Bellevue. And finally, Genki Sushi is a chain of restaurants from Hawaii with their new Seattle location as their first outpost on the mainland.

Conveyor belt sushi is a staple in Japan and I’m glad it’s finally gotten to the states. Given that one of my standard activities with the kids is to take them out for lunch and the latest kids movie, we have sampled each of the local establishments multiple times. In truth, I never expected to write about any of them here on Tastingmenu. Mainly because I try to write only about restaurants that I love or really like. Chain sushi delivered in mass quantities typically doesn’t get there. But in the case of Genki Sushi, at least for me, it has.

I’m not claiming that Genki Sushi is delivering the best sushi of all time or even authentic sushi. In fact, it’s a relatively recent development (and a feedback loop from America) that sushi choices like the Spicy Tuna roll can even be found in a handful of sushi establishments in Tokyo. The complicated makis, the alternative wrappers, the fancy combinations appear to be all non-traditional innovation in the sushi arena. And that’s fine. I like tradition, and I also like innovation. Sometimes separately, and sometimes together. Genki is squarely in the innovation camp. In fact, many of their items are some type of riff on the classic spicy tuna, or incorporate non-traditional ingredients like Thai sweet chili sauce. There’s also a nod to their Hawaiian roots with spam ngiri (a Hawaiian staple – though typically in musubi form – which is pretty good in my opinion). Mainly though, Genki Sushi is enjoyable because the food is fresh, the ratios in terms of fish to rice are good, the variety is creative and especially flavorful, and they are not expensive. (Blue C is pretty pricey in my experience relative to both Sushi Land and Genki Sushi).

I used to go to conveyor belt sushi cause I needed to economize as my kids wanted sushi almost every week. And while it’s no Nishino (as almost nothing is), we now go to Genki Sushi periodically, not because we have to, but because we want to. I can’t argue with my desire to return which is ultimately what guides my decisions on which restaurants to write about.

For the address of this restaurant as well as all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries check out our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.

Delancey, Seattle, Washington

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

Two weeks ago Seattle readers had a chance to shoot their arrows at my post about Ten Restaurants that Seattle Needs Now. Note number 11 (yes, it was the bonus entry):

11. Pizza. Actual real good New York pizza. (BONUS #11) — While I’m not a fan of NYC’s bagels, just about any random pizza place you walk into on any corner in Manhattan is going to be way way better than the best pizza you can get in Seattle. I don’t know if it’s the water, or the temperature of the oven. And no, I don’t want to bake it at home. My oven is not suitable for baking a pizza no matter how many bricks I jam in there. Memo to the next person who’s dying to open a restaurant that serves lots of salmon and other pacific northwest specialities [sic]. The salmon are endangered and I’m sick of them anyway. Good pizza… not endangered. Just impossible to find. Like the sasquatch. When you open your new pizza place, a trip to Totonno’s on Coney Island will be necessary for reference.

Anyone offended by my putting eleven items in a ten item list can now rest easy. Number eleven has been delivered in the form of Delancey. I’ve known through friends that for months that Brandon Pettit was slaving away at creating incredibly high quality authentic pizza here in Seattle. The oven gets to 900 degrees, the pizzas don’t bake… they are essentially being fired in a kiln… like they’re supposed to be.

The pizza I desire, the pizza I need, is the pizza that I tasted at Totonno’s on Coney Island in New York. The dough is thin and unevenly cooked but in a good way. Splotches of burnt blisters and stretches of chewy goodness. A Totonno’s pizza is not carefully cooked, it’s blasted. And frankly, nothing else compares. Savory sauce, fresh mozarella, possibly some basil, it’s not thick, it’s not deep, it’s a grilled disc with all the ingredients, textures, and flavors in perfect balance.

This is what Brandon has created at Delancey in Seattle. It is unquestionably authentic, and incredibly delicious. Seattle finally has real pizza. To those people who urged me to leave Seattle if I wasn’t happy with its lack of quality pizza, I urge them to never go to Delancey. The presence of extraordinary pizza in their town would clearly upset them to the point that they might have to leave themselves.

It’s really unfair to go to a new restaurant on the second day with any intention of forming a judgment. I rarely write about restaurants I don’t like, and I was fully prepared to give Delancey multiple chances over the next few months before forming an opinion. But my enthusiasm for the pizza we ate: a Brooklyn with mozarella, grana, and basil, a pepperoni, and a crimini mushroom with thyme was so overwhelming that I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone.

Delancey pizza isn’t a uniform food. It’s a combination of ingredients that only stay connected in a very narrow window. Think of the dough, the cheese, sauce, and veggies/meat as elements from the periodic table that only combine when conditions are just right. A few degrees off in either direction and you have a mess. The crimini mushroom pizza wasn’t a block of cheese and dough with sad dessicated mushrooms dotting the landscape. It was all the ingredients joining together voluntarily to present a varied experience for your mouth. Crispy grilled flavor, subtle cheese, oh there’s a hint of the thyme, the mushroom is cooked just right… not overcooked but rather… soft and almost buttery, and so on.

Delancey has other items on the menu. It also has wine. It’s a sit down restaurant and doesn’t take reservations except for parties of six or more where it has one table available per night. Personally I would prefer they strip out all the tables, get rid of the waitstaff, and make nothing but pizza all day and all night. But that’s my selfish desire to increase the output. In truth, having a bit of a sense of how hard Brandon has worked on Delancey, I wouldn’t presume to tell him what to do. Especially given how good the pizza is on only the second day of being open to the public. So instead, let me say this: any young pizza dreamer who hopes to one day make incredible pizza should go intern for and work for Brandon. Maybe one day he’ll let you open up another branch of Delancey that’s closer to my house. But my sense is that it will take you years to earn his trust that you’ll do it just so. So you better get started because I’d like a branch of Delancey to open closer to my house as soon as possible. Until then, I’ll be making the trek to Ballard on a regular basis. And if I look a little doughier over the next few months, blame Delancey.

(My camera should be back from Canon this week. Apologies in advance for the pictures as they were taken on a loaner. I promise to go back to Delancey and take better ones.)

See all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries as well as addresses for all the Seattle restaurants we write about at our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.

Chatterbox Cafe, Seattle, Washington

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

I do my absolute best to not judge restaurants based on how they look. Ultimately the food is all I really care about. But I’ll admit, it’s not always easy. Some out of the way adorable hole-in-the-wall with immigrants from the country that originated the cuisine actually making said cuisine for other immigrants from said country will invariably get my hopes up. (Yes, I use profiling in choosing where to eat.) And the house restaurant at a Ramada Inn, I’m usually pretty sure I don’t need to sample it to know what they’re about. That said, prudence is crucial, as one can never tell.

The Chatterbox Cafe, located just south of Seattle’s Capitol Hill district is one of these barely decorated, bubble tea, we serve everything kind of places. They run on a shoestring, and cater to the local businesses and students who need a place for a sandwich or a drink. They’ll get you coffee, bubble tea, a smoothie, as well as a Chicken Caesar Salad, a “Zesty” Roast Beef Sandwich, and Singapore Curry. And this hodgepodge of food all comes out of a kitchen that (from my vantage point) looks to be just barely bigger than the hot plate sitting on a microwave I imagine they’re cooking on.

That’s why it was so strange to eat their Chicken Katsu. Tonkatsu is a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet, often served with a brown sauce and rice. It hails from Japan. And while I’m no expert, I am not without some experience eating the real deal. And to be honest, the Chicken Katsu (Tonkatsu’s chicken cousin) made at Chatterbox is pretty phenomenal in my opinion and (to me) tastes quite authentic. It’s crispy on the outside and soft and juicy on the inside. The sauce has just the right sour notes. Yum yum. (Is the mayo in the realm of authenticity? My recollection is no, but you never know. I do recall some surprisingly liberal mayo distribution while I was in Japan.)

I ate at Chatterbox a year ago and thought it must be a fluke. But here I was again and the Chicken Katsu was just as good. This time I also had the Chicken Satay which was also quite good. Juicy, soft, thick and meaty, and quite flavorful. Also sauced beautifully.

The Thai Green Curry with Chicken (we were having a “chickenganza”) was the only loser in our meal on this day. The meat was dry and flavorless. I enjoyed the curry broth even though I found it thin. I thought the flavor was peppery and enjoyable. My dining companion who claims to be a Thai Green Curry expert wasn’t even pleased with the broth which he thought didn’t have much flavor.

To me, the Chicken Katsu and Chicken Satay are good enough reasons to go back alone. I’ll try and get up the courage to gently explore the rest of (at least) the Asian menu to see what else measures up. But even if these two dishes are the only winners, I think they’re a great reason to head to the Chatterbox Cafe. In my opinion, they make the best Chicken Katsu in Seattle. And if I’d eaten it in Japan I still would have felt good about it.

See all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries at our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.