Is There More to Tacoma than Aroma?


Tacoma don’t get no respect. At least, not from its big sibling to the north. Even if it’s the third most populous city in Washington, and only a half hour away by car, Tacoma has been playing second fiddle to Seattle for, what, forever? This situation is not helped by Tacoma’s public relations problem—the sulfur-like, pungent odor that sometimes permeates the air from paper mills to the east, sarcastically known as the Tacoma Aroma. For me personally, I have never stopped in Tacoma, not even to sightsee. Truthfully, the only thing I notice about it when driving past along I-5 is the Tacoma Dome, a runt compared to Seattle’s colossal, now long-gone Kingdome, replaced by CenturyLink Field, even if the Tacoma Dome is far more attractive than the Kingdome ever was.

My wife and I decided to change our perception of this city of 320,000 by making it a destination among our recent flurry of staycation activities. Not only that, we decided to take Amtrak there, again leaving the driving to public transportation entities, including a bus from Bellevue to King Street Station.

We planned our arrival to the train station so we’d have enough time for dim sum at Jade Garden in the International District, one of the very few places open for breakfast at an early hour.

King Street Station is so much nicer than it used to be, entirely restored from years of neglect and ill-advised “modernization” efforts. The ugly acoustical drop ceiling has been removed and the interior restored to its original appearance, even when many architectural elements have long since been removed and lost. The clocktower, a replica of the one in St Mark’s Square in Venice, has also been structurally reinforced.

King Street Station

King Street Station

King Street Station ticketing and waiting area

King Street Station ticketing and waiting area

The Amtrak Coast Starlight train bound for Los Angeles was a pleasant surprise. While it has luxurious first-class and sleeper cars, the double-decker coach cars feature large, comfortable seats whose legroom puts airline pitches to utter shame. Not only that, there is a foot rest and a folded section of the seat that can be flipped up to provide support for your lower legs. With the back rest fully extended, it is possible to enjoy much better reclining comfort than any airline’s. The Starlight also has a lounge car that has floor-to-ceiling windows for admiring the passing scenery, attended by National Park Service guides to elaborate on points-of-interest. Not once did we feel short-changed in comfort. We enjoyed the experience so much that we were truly disappointed to deboard at the Tacoma Station after only a 45-minute ride.

Coast Starliner interior

Coast Starliner coach seats have plenty of legroom

Retractable roof sections of Safeco Field (as seen from train)

Retractable roof sections of Safeco Field (as seen from train)

Amtrak no longer uses Union Station in Tacoma, the beautiful building taken over by the U. S. District Court, but stops at a smaller, more utilitarian station more removed from the new downtown core. Our first destination was the Glass Museum, about a mile on foot from Amtrak. Along the way, we walked past the monumental Tacoma Dome Station that serves Tacoma Link light rail, Sounder train and a number of Pierce County buses. Along Puyallup Avenue, a nicely restored Texaco garage building has been converted to an art gallery.

Gallery 301

Gallery 301

To bypass the train yard and industrial section, the newly constructed D Street overpass connects areas on both sides of the Thea Foss Waterway to the Dome district, with pedestrian lanes in both directions. It took us a while to recognize this in order to get to the museum, having at one point gone down a dead-end street. Once on the overpass, which we mistook for a freeway onramp, we noticed built into the concrete walls separating foot and vehicle traffic shapes that represent the tugboats that used to ply the many waterways here and beyond. The approach to the museum along Dock Street provides a panoramic view of the striking East 21st Street cable-stayed suspension bridge, part of SR 509 that spans the Foss Waterway. Also visible from the elevated walkway is the vast Tacoma rail yard.

One of many representational tugboats on the 'D' Street overpass

One of many representational tugboats on the ‘D’ Street overpass

21st Street bridge

21st Street bridge

As we approached the Museum of Glass, an enormous architectural cone that appears tilted on its side came into view, part of the striking design. The galleries themselves are housed in an adjacent building. The famed Canadian architect Arthur Erickson designed the complex. As the name suggests, the museum is a tribute to glass arts, a movement in Washington that was promoted by Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, who in fact also had a significant hand in the museum’s plan. There is an impressive system of stairways that encircle and lead away from the cone, letting you get different views of it. The structure has spiraling rows of parallel and crossing, diamond-shaped sections of glass, a pattern reminiscent of a pineapple.

Museum of Glass

Museum of Glass

Martin Blank's Fluent Steps are displayed in the museum's reflecting pool

Martin Blank’s Fluent Steps are displayed in the museum’s reflecting pool

Inside the museum, the studio glass of Australian artists was featured in the current exhibit, “LINKS: Australian Glass and the Pacific Northwest.” While the Australians also excel at blown glass, their work with fused glass, textures and opaque surfaces was awe-inspiring to me, many cold-worked pieces whose intricate details and subtlety of color are so different from the brightly colored, blown glass so popular locally. We could have spent our entire time in Tacoma in this museum alone.

The Bridge of Glass connects the Museum of Glass to the downtown core. It was designed by Dale Chihuly and architect Arthur Andersson, spans 500ft across I-705 and has several eye-catching displays along its length. Two 40-ft crystal towers look like suspended chunks of blue glacial ice. The south-facing Venetian Wall showcases 109 of Chihuly’s pieces, back-lit by the sun through frosted panes. The Seaform Pavilion makes you feel as if you’re going through an ocean tunnel with colorful sea creatures floating overhead. To the south, the bridge has an expansive view of the Tacoma Dome, 21st Street bridge, I-705, Foss Waterway and railroad tracks. It’s an impressive vista of modern man’s engineering and industrial accomplishments and a modern pathway connecting parts of the new, urban Tacoma. To the north is Union Station that is on the National Register of Historic Places and now a U. S. District Courthouse. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit and admire its interior.

Venetian Wall

Venetian Wall

Union Station, now a U. S. District courthouse

Union Station, now a U. S. District courthouse

Crystal Towers

Crystal Towers

Seaform Pavilion

Seaform Pavilion

At the western end of the bridge facing Pacific Avenue is the Washington State History Museum, owned and operated by the Washington State Historical Society. Though built 1995, the building’s architecture echoes the arches of Union Station just to the north.

Washington State History Museum

Washington State History Museum

Inside there are thoughtfully designed areas that cover both the natural and human history of Washington. The current special exhibit was one devoted to D. B. Cooper, the airplane hijacker who extorted $200,000 from Northwest Orient Airlines, jumped out of flight 305 by parachute, was never caught and subsequently became part of modern folklore. The exhibit was attended by quite a few people, many of whom were obvious experts in this incident, judging by their conversations. Cooper’s escapade prompted the FAA to issue stricter regulations to prevent future such hijackings, regulations that could be seen as the precursor to procedures employed by TSA today. We had a late meal at Harmon Brewery across the street. Also opposite the History Museum on Pacific Avenue was a nicely designed stairway into the heart of the University of Washington Tacoma campus.

Dan Cooper, aka D. B. Cooper

Dan Cooper, aka D. B. Cooper

On our walk back to Tacoma Station, we detected the Tacoma Aroma for the first time. Our return trip to Seattle was on the Amtrak Cascades, a less modern and decidedly less comfortable train than the Coast Starlight this morning. It also stopped at Tukwila Station and was briefly delayed by crossing train traffic that resulted in a longer 75-minute trip.

Our day ended when we got back home as the sun was setting. For certain, our appreciation of the new Tacoma has grown measurably.

Lunch at Southgate Garden Restaurant


I enjoy chiropractic adjustments not only because I feel better afterward but because my chiropractor is a good friend and fellow foodie. At our sessions, my wife and I wind up talking to him more about food than our spinal health. So, it was with great surprise and excitement that today we were given the highest endorsement for Southgate Garden Restaurant, only blocks away. Ever since taking over the Denny’s spot in Bellevue, Southgate had been a mediocre restaurant, not bad but not great either. Recently, there had been an ownership change though the name remained the same. As I understand it, the folks who prepared banchan at the back corner of Paldo Market, now closed, took over. Our chiropractor told us that a few of his Korean patients gave their recommendation. He is now a regular customer. Could there be a challenger to Seoul Hotpot, our favorite on the Eastside? We immediately went there after our adjustments to find out.

The first thing we noticed was that the parking lot was full, even at lunchtime. This was very rare before. When we walked in, there were no obvious physical changes to the layout or decor, basically the same as before. But most of the tables were occupied, consistent with the parking situation outside. We were seated in one of the remaining free booths.

There is a lunch menu, a welcome change from the “old” Southgate, consisting of a variety of bibimbop (rice bowls with savory toppings), soups, stews and soon dubu (soft tofu stews). The barbecued items are reserved only for dinner. We also noticed on the dinner menu eun dae goo jorim, an incredibly tasty braised black cod dish that we enjoyed with friends at a Korean restaurant in Lynnwood.

The meal started off well with very tasty banchan (☆☆☆), six of them in total. Exceptional were the potato salad with corn, cucumber and surimi; pajeon (pancakes with green onions); and kongnamul (bean sprouts with sesame oil). One in particular we’d never had, a square of what looked like a slightly yellowish soft tofu but combined with egg, yielding a custardy appetizer.

Banchan

Banchan

Usually preferring spicy dishes, I chose a beef and egg soup (yook gae jang). In the soup were shredded beef brisket, egg, green onions, bean sprouts, taro stems (torandae) and sweet potato noodles, all arriving at the table bubbling hot in an iron pot. It was so hot, in fact, I burned my tongue on the first sip. This was a delicious soup (☆☆☆½), at once spicy and savory, and substantial enough (especially when I mixed in my white rice) to satisfy an empty stomach.

Yook gae jang

Yook gae jang

My wife chose one of the soft tofu soups, Spicy Soft Tofu with Egg and Vegetables, dialed down in spiciness per her request. The broth was relatively clear and tasty. The soup was chockfull of tofu, three kinds of mushroom (enoki, white and oyster) and topped with a raw egg by the waitress at the table. Like my soup above, the soup came to the table bubbling hot, also in an iron vessel.

Spicy Soft Tofu with Egg and Vegetables

With the reinvention of Southgate, the Eastside Korean restaurant scene has dramatically turned for the better, a wonderful development for us because it is much closer to home than Seoul Hotpot. In fact, if other dishes turn out as well as those we had today, we might make it our go-to Korean restaurant.

Update 10-8-13: We returned here with friends to celebrate a birthday. Here’s what we ordered: japchae, seafood pajeon and braised block cod (eun dae goo jorim). 

The yam noodles (japchae) were adequate (☆☆). The vegetables were cut rather large (cabbage, carrots, napa) and the flavors of sesame oil and soy sauce were faint. This was a surprisingly bland version compared to others we’ve had.

Yam noodles (japchae)

Yam noodles (japchae)

The seafood pancake (haemul pajeon), on the other hand, was praiseworthy (☆☆☆), generous amounts of squid, octopus and green onions in a thick “omelet” made of egg and rice and wheat flours. The pancake was accompanied by a dipping sauce (soy sauce, garlic, green onions, rice vinegar and sesame oil).

Seafood pancake (haemul pajeon)

Seafood pancake (haemul pajeon)

The best dish was the braised cod (☆☆☆½), served bubbling hot in a stone casserole. Several pieces of sablefish steaks were combined with tofu, rice pasta and white radish, braised in a thick, briny gochujang broth, and topped with sliced green and red bell peppers, cooked egg strips and enoki mushrooms. Mildly spicy, it is one of those dishes that satisfies with its boldness and, to the newly initiated, surprising ingredients. The radish in particular, doing a good imitation of turnip, was soft and flavorful. At current market prices for black cod, it is also an expensive dish ($32.95), roughly the going price at any Korean restaurant that serves it.

Braised black cod casserole (eun dae goo jorim)

Braised black cod casserole (eun dae goo jorim)

Update 10-19-13: Three of us had lunch here. Besides the beef and egg soup (yook gae jang, see above), we also ordered the Bibimbop with Bulgogi in a Sizzling Stone Pot (bulgogi dolsot), a very good dish (☆☆☆½) with generous servings of namul (shiitake, bean sprouts, shredded carrots, zucchini), a fried egg (rather than a raw one) and shredded, toasted seaweed. And the bonus, of course, is the crusty layer of sesame oil-flavored toasted rice on the bottom of the bowl which can be scraped off and eaten. There was little fault to be found with this bibimbop.

Bulgogi bibimbop (bulgogi dolsot)

Bulgogi bibimbop (bulgogi dolsot)

Southgate Garden Restaurant
3703 150th Ave SE
Bellevue, WA 98006
425.603.9292

The 12th Man and Other “Statements”


It was on many homes as we walked through West Seattle, the banner proudly hung from roofs and windows. No doubt this is true all over the region. The Seattle Seahawks’ 12th Man flag. Pete Carroll has managed to assemble a young, scrappy, talented team that fans are hoping will take them all the way to the Super Bowl. Hawks mania has reached a fever pitch around here that carries over to the stadium on game day. If there is any doubt, at last Sunday’s game against the 49ers, a Guinness world book record had been set.

12th man banner

12th man banner

On another topic, this was painted on the privacy wall of a property near Alki Point. While I normally hate graffiti, it made me pause and wonder, “When is graffiti art?” or visa versa. It’s almost a parody of the form, as if the artist is challenging us to take sides on his artwork. In the end, I still didn’t care for it, even if I admired the humor.

Is this art or graffiti?

Is this art or graffiti?

By and By: Alki and West Seattle


In a place like the Pacific Northwest, good weather poses certain problems. If you’re the type who enjoys the outdoors, a sunny day might force you to consider postponing chores or indoor activities, even running errands, in favor of doing something outside. The Seattle area continued to have the longest streak of warm weather in recorded history. After a weekend of heavy rains and thunderstorms, things got back to “normal” with clear days and temperatures ranging from the high-70s to 80s. In fact, it would turn out today that Seattle reached a record-breaking temperature of 90+o F for this date. With time running short before typical weather patterns return, as early as this weekend, my wife and I decided to go on another field trip, this time to West Seattle.

On a Segway outing in West Seattle with friends last month, we discovered that a water taxi operated by King County makes frequent runs between Pier 50 on the waterfront and Seacrest Park, a mere 10 minutes on the water. To make the excursion entirely on public transportation (except for the drive to the park & ride), we also took a bus to downtown Seattle, a drop off point (4th Avenue & Cherry) only a few blocks from Pier 50. On arrival at the boat terminal, we were surprised by the number of commuters making use of it. There is enough capacity for 172 passengers. The 77-foot catamaran set out to sea and made its quick journey westward. The view of the Seattle skyline from the cabin and especially from the outside decks was spectacular.

Water taxi at Pier 50

Water taxi at Pier 50

Seattle skyline from water taxi

Seattle skyline from water taxi

As soon as we docked at Seacrest, we were ready for breakfast at Marination Ma Kai.

After breakfast, we headed north along the Alki Trail. Washington state’s motto, “Alki” is a Chinook word meaning “by and by,” which I always found so non-descript. “Hope for the future,” another translation, sounds more affirmative though perhaps not as accurate. There were already paddle board rowers out in the water. Enormous freighters with their unbelievable loads of containerized cargo were plying the waters.

freighter

Among the sea of high-rise condominium buildings that line Harbor and Alki Avenues, I have to give “thumbs-up” to cottages holding out against development. Two adjacent buildings that caught our eye were festooned with pots, hanging baskets and planter boxes filled with flowers and other plants, looking more like enthusiastic garden projects than homes. A plaque on both structures indicated they were wildlife habitats certified by the National Wildlife Federation. As we were admiring them, one of the residents was returning home and informed us that caring for the plants is a shared responsibility among the tenants/owners and that in fact all sorts of wildlife do visit, including many birds and river otters.

At one time, Seattle had a seaside amusement park (Luna Park) that included a carousel, roller coaster and public sea-water swimming pool, then called a natatorium. Looking around, I couldn’t imagine where the complex was situated. The Luna Park Natatorium was built at the turn of the twentieth century but was destroyed by fire in 1931. All that remains is a grassy area, a seawalled square, which gives no hint of its previous use, except for interpretive plaques along the Alki Trail. An old anchor that divers dredged up offshore in 1958 is mounted along the trail. The original bathhouse is now used for private functions.

All that remains of the Luna Park Natatorium

All that remains of the Luna Park Natatorium

Alki Bathhouse is now used for private functions

Alki Bathhouse is now used for private functions

Luna Park Cafe and Natatorium (from Wikipedia)

Also along the seawall are stairways that lead directly into the water, looking like easy ways for swimmers to jump in. These are probably canoe or kayak launches.

canoe launch

Alki Beach is very popular with the locals in the summer. The beach is also the site of the Denny party landing in 1851, the first white settlers in the area, commemorated by a stone obelisk. There is very little about the Duwamish tribe who lived here long before. The most notable of them was Chief Sealth (Seath) after whom Seattle was named. Odd as it may seem, short palm trees grow along a short stretch. Our guide on the Segway tour last month also pointed out several more in the residential area.

IMG_4191

IMG_4211

We were pleasantly surprised by several double-row surreys being pedaled by mothers with their children. A shop along Alki Avenue rents them as well as other pedaled vehicles.

surreys

Another landmark along Alki Beach is the Statue of Liberty, a small replica of the monument in New York Harbor. This is not the first attempt to draw some link to the great eastern city. This peninsula was called Alki New York at one time and Luna Park was named after the one on Coney Island.

statue of liberty

Just north of Alki Point, public access along the beach gives way to private property. While walking behind the beachfront homes along Alki Avenue, you can’t help but come across a house decorated in front with cobalt blue glass bottles, reminiscent of jetsam that washes ashore. A closer look reveals additional artistic details.

blue bottle house

blue bottles

Eventually, we reached Alki Point. There, we could get a glimpse of the lighthouse above the neighborhood roofline, but we couldn’t get any closer, only to discover later that afternoon public tours are available June-August on weekends.

Rounding the point, the foot path becomes The Avenue of the Stars. No, it’s not a tribute to celebrities but a guide to 27 constellations in the sky viewable at certain times of the year. The outline of each constellation is laid in the concrete walkway, annotated with the best season to view it against the backdrop of the 10pm sky. At the southern end of the walk where Beach Drive intersects 63rd Ave SW is the Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint, where a tiled mural illustrates the various kinds of intertidal sea life in the local waters and, about 25 feet away, a concrete-rock-copper “tide pool” embedded in the street commemorating Constellation Park & Marine Reserve.

avenue of the stars

tidepool art

From here we traveled north on 63rd to Admiral Way and then to Schmitz Preserve Park. Schmitz is rare among Seattle parks for retaining old growth forests from the time it was donated to the city by Ferdinand Schmitz in 1908. Even back then, Schmitz was concerned about rapidly disappearing forests. We entered the park from Admiral and 55th using a steep stairway on the west end of the overpass that crosses the ravine. The underside and retaining walls are all covered in graffiti, which made me cringe. The trail system was not marked at all, so we had to rely on the sun’s shadow to work our way south. The noises of the city rapidly disappeared in this densely forested preserve. Eventually, after climbing up a steep narrow footpath crossed by fallen trees, we emerged from the park on 56th Ave., north of Charleston St, not knowing if we had traversed the entire length or not. It turned out we hadn’t.

schmitz preserve park

By now, the warm and moderately humid weather was beginning to wear us down, but we managed to get to California Ave and then have lunch at Elliott Bay Brewery and Pub.

Bakery Nouveau was on our checklist of must-go places, located in the so-called West Seattle Junction, defined mainly by the intersction of Alaska and California Avenues. Business was brisk here, obviously a local mecca. We purchased a few things and (later) concluded that their pastries were too sweet.

The free shuttle got us back to Seacrest Park where we had time to have a shave ice from Marination Ma Kai before the water taxi returned us to Pier 50. At 4:15pm when we deboarded, there were two long lines of people on either side of the loading pier waiting to go to West Seattle.

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Other urban walks

Lunch at Elliott Bay Brewery and Pub (Seattle)


After 4 hours of trekking in warm and humid weather on our urban walk in West Seattle, I was ready for a cold beer. Already 2:00 in the afternoon, we hadn’t yet had lunch, actually nothing since breakfast at Marination Ma Kai at 9am. It wasn’t that we were hungry so much as we needed some refreshment. Elliott Bay Brewery and Pub was recommended by the proprietor of a kids’ clothing consignment store as a good place for a meal, located in an area called West Seattle Junction where many shops and restaurants do business.

Like many taverns, Elliott Bay is dark. Even at 2pm, there were a good number of customers. To the brewery’s credit, it manufactures seven certified-organic beers, all of which were on tap. The gold medal-winning Alembic Pale Ale was a solid brew, their best-selling beer. My No Doubt Stout was dark and smooth with a pronounced coffee flavor.

For lunch, the Luna Weizen Calamari (☆½) was a clear failure. Not only did the batter not adhere, but the calamari itself was not fried quite enough, just past raw, and was not seasoned at all. Normally, well-made fried calamari tastes good on its own, but frequent dipping in the lemon and chipotle aiolis was necessary to give them some semblance of flavor. These were among the worst calamari I can recall ever having had.

Luna Weizen Calamari

Luna Weizen Calamari

On the other hand, my wife’s Tomato Parmesan Soup (☆☆☆½) that was part of the soup and sandwich special was very good. The special salmon sandwich (☆☆) suffered from less than fresh fish, probably previously frozen,  and like the calamari, it was unseasoned, served with cucumber and red onion.

Elliott Bay Brewery and Pub
4720 California Ave. SW
Seattle, WA 98116
206.932.8695

Breakfast at Marination Ma Kai (Seattle)


As soon as you step off the water taxi at Seacrest Park, Marination Ma Kai is directly in front of you, slightly to the right. It’s hard to miss since it’s the only building on the dock. The two women (Kamala Saxton, who hails from Hawaii, and Roz Edison) responsible for this restaurant first began business with Marination Mobile, which in 2009 was named by Good Morning America as the best food truck in America and then followed by a succession of praise from the local media and even a plug from Anthony Bourdain. The mobile truck has had a fanatical following since its inception. Marination Station soon followed in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, a brick-and-mortar operation that presumably came about because Seattle’s strict regulations made it difficult to run a food truck operation there. Marination Ma Kai is the third and latest undertaking in the mini-empire. Incidentally, ma kai (makai) is the Hawaiian word for “toward the ocean” when giving directions (mauka meaning “toward the mountain”), no doubt a reference to the restaurant’s location.

The food served by all three can be loosely described as Hawaiian-Korean-Mexican fusion. Think, for example, of Korean tacos, a version of which was made famous in the LA area by Kogi. Marination fills their corn tortillas with a choice of kalbi, miso-ginger chicken, spicy pork or tofu, along with slaw, pickled jalapeños and their special, commercially available Nunya sauce. There is also Kimchi Quesadilla and fish tacos featuring grilled miso-sake fish and Nunya sauce. You get the picture.

Marination Ma Kai has a breakfast menu that none of the other outlets offers, which we partook of as soon as we arrived in West Seattle in the morning.

Situated on the pier, Marination has a spectacular view of the Seattle skyline to the east. There are plenty of park picnic tables outside to enjoy the view and take in warm, sunny weather. Inside there is seating for more people, including a bar facing the south-facing windows. Customers place their orders at the counter, given portable wireless alerts, and pick up their orders when ready.

Awesome is the word for the Double Coconut Muffins (☆☆☆☆). Served warm, they were tender on the inside, nicely browned on the top, insanely buttery and filled with generous shreds of coconut, an outstanding muffin.

Double Coconut Muffin

Double Coconut Muffin

Since we’re not loco moco fans, the two remaining savory choices were Sunrise Burrito and Breakfast Sliders. Rolled inside the burrito (☆☆½) were Portuguese sausage, scrambled egg, potatoes, green onions and crema. The sausage is housemade. Unlike typical Portuguese sausage, it isn’t dry but rather like a crumbled patty, which had a hint of clove flavor. While my wife didn’t care for the kimchi addition, I thought it added a distinct Korean/Hawaiian stamp. We both agreed that the crema, which seemed like a variation of Nunya sauce, made the burrito too wet. A wedge of lime came with the burrito, which to us added too much acidity. Still, it was an innovative burrito.

Sunrise Burrito

Sunrise Burrito

The same Portuguese sausage was used for the Breakfast Sliders (☆☆☆), sandwiched between Hawaiian-style housemade sweet buns that were not as sweet as King’s. Shredded Cheddar and Jack cheese, fried egg and Nunya sauce completed the ingredients in this rather good breakfast sandwich.

Breakfast Sliders

Breakfast Sliders

Exactly what is Nunya sauce, you ask? Marination will not reveal all of its ingredients, outside of mayo, kojuchang and garlic. What other spices are used is a closely guarded secret, as in “nunya business.” You can purchase the sauce in jars though as well as T-shirts and undies.

Undies

Undies

In the afternoon, while waiting for the water taxi back to Pier 50, we decided to have a shave ice (☆☆) from Marination. Two problems. The ice was too crunchy, not shaved finely enough—a snow-like quality that defines the best Hawaiian shave ice—and passion fruit and mango syrups that were timidly fruity, making this the equal of any other shave ice we’ve had locally, namely, meh. Why can’t anyone do this right? For starters, you have to have the right ice machine. Still, the ice cold refreshment hit the spot after a long day of walking around in rather warm, humid weather.

Shave ice with passion fruit and mango syrups

Shave ice with passion fruit and mango syrups

Marination Ma Kai
1660 Harbor Ave SW
Seattle, WA
206.328.8226
Menu

Ghost in the Chocolate


No sooner did I think that habañero and Scotch bonnet peppers were the hottest chiles in the world than the ghost pepper wrested that title away. At a Scoville scale between 300,000 and 1,000,000 units, it is armed and dangerous. Then in 2012, the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper was declared the absolute ruler at a blistering Scoville scale of up to 2,000,000 units, lethal enough to do serious bodily harm. Can people actually eat this stuff and still have a stomach left? The idea of combining chiles and chocolate goes as far back as the Aztecs, who must have discovered earthly pleasure in their union. Molé poblano, that complex sauce made in the Pueblan and Oaxacan states of Mexico, is nothing more than a marriage of chocolate and dried chiles with nuts, spices, herbs and dried fruit tossed in.

So, it was no surprise that confectioners started doing some experimentation of their own. Theo Chocolate, headquartered in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, makes Ghost Chili Salted Caramel in Dark Chocolate (☆☆☆☆). Salted caramel wrapped in dark chocolate by itself is divine, but the additions of ground ghost and ancho chiles, with a sprinkling of Hawaiian red sea salt and chile flakes on top, are an unbelievably sublime recipe. Contrary to what you might think, the chile is not blistering at all, but instead sneaks up on you with a tolerable flame in the mouth and definite tingle in the throat, definitely not just for the adventurous and cast-iron-stomached. Which begs the question of why use this blistering chile at all if not to exploit its fiery fury. Theo claims that ghost chiles have an exquisite flavor. It is without doubt my favorite chocolate candy, even more than truffles—or Snickers. At $8 for a box of four, they are an indulgence.

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Dinner at Huê Ký Mì Gia (Kent, WA)


Despite the name’s association with businesses Chinese, especially with 99 Ranch Market its anchor store, The Great Wall Shopping Mall in Kent also houses restaurants of other Asian nationalities. There are Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese restaurants inside, besides Chinese ones. Among them is a Vietnamese, or more accurately, a Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant, Húe Ký Mì Gia, that also calls itself a Chinese noodle house. A quick glance shows separate menu sections for egg noodle soups, rice noodle soups, bún (rice vermicelli salads), chow mein, chow fun and stir-fried rice vermicelli. There are also appetizers, stir-fried dishes and rice dishes. A restaurant like this one would expect to find in Little Saigon, and sure enough there is a branch there. But, there are lots of Southeast Asians who live in the South end—Renton, Kent, Federal Way and Auburn—and the growing number of restaurants that cater to their tastes is a reflection of this demographic. We had an early dinner here with friends.

The Fried Wonton (☆☆½) had the thinnest of skins. While crispy, light and somewhat oily with ground pork filling, they were unremarkable.

Fried Wonton

Fried Wonton

To have at least a semblance of ordering something relatively healthy, we ordered a simple stir fry of BBQ pork and vegetables (baby bok choy, carrots, broccoli, snow peas, onions and cilantro). The sauce was flavorful enough but the dish failed to impress (☆☆). The sauce was too watery, pooling at the bottom rather than coating the more than adequate amount of vegetables.

Stir Fried BBQ Pork with Vegetables

Stir Fried BBQ Pork with Vegetables

We had a choice of having our noodles crispy (Hong Kong style) or soft. The soft chow mein had much more vegetables than seafood, consisting of shrimp, squid, imitation crab and fish balls, but it was nonetheless tasty (☆☆☆), sauced very nicely. The fact that the vegetables were exactly the same ones in the stir fry leads me to wonder if the kitchen uses them in any menu item with vegetables. While they were perfectly cooked, it was monotonous. I’m of the opinion that bok choy is not a good vegetable for pairing with chow mein, or any other pan-fried noodles, because of its high water content. They are better suited for soups and stews.

Soft Seafood Chow Mein

Soft Seafood Chow Mein

The star of the show was Fried Garlic Chicken Wings (☆☆☆½), which our friends highly recommended. I can understand why. They were coated lightly with a garlicky and slightly spicy batter, sprinkled with salt and pepper. Simple and somewhat greasy yet delicious, meaty and addictive, the dish had a bonus of flavors in the little bits of batter that detached from the chicken and settled on the bottom of the serving dish, fried garlic mixed with green onions. Could the garlic stay put in the batter without making the batter too thick? Probably not, so I’ll have to content myself with nibbling on these tidbits instead. A superfluous sweet chile sauce was served on the side.

Fried Butter Chicken Wings

Fried Butter Chicken Wings

Huê Ký Mì Gia Chinese Noodle House
The Great Wall Shopping Mall
Suite 152
18230 East Valley Highway
Kent, WA 98032
425.282.1268

Belgian Sour Beer at Brouwer’s (Seattle, WA)


Last year, my wife and her friends happened to be passing by a beer fest being celebrated at Brouwer’s, a highly regarded tavern in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. There was a line of people outside and a sandwich board that advertised a Belgian sour beer, among other kinds. Our first taste of sour ale was at Monk’s in Philadelphia that was paired with steamed mussels and fries, a great combination. Anxious to try such a beer locally—it’s difficult to find around here—we stopped in to share a pint during our neighborhood stroll through Fremont. The Strubbe Ichtegem’s Grand Cru on tap was really nice, dark and sweet, a little foamy, with an understated but definite sour zing. Our bartender was kind enough to give us a sample of their other sour, Petrus Aged Pale Sour, which was bone dry, bracingly puckery, best with food than drunk alone. We noticed that Brouwer’s food menu has two kinds of steamed mussels, something we’ll have to go back and try in the future.

Stubbe Ichtegem Grand Cru sour beer

Stubbe Ichtegem Grand Cru sour beer

"Episserating" fountain in Brouwer's

“Episserating” fountain in Brouwer’s

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Brouwer’s Cafe
400 N 35th St
Seattle, WA 98103
206.267.2437

Lunch at Revel (Seattle, WA)


At around lunchtime, we were enjoying the Fremont neighborhood sights along Phinney Ave N. The question of where to eat was settled when we knew that Revel was just up the street. It is one of two restaurants operated by chefs Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi whose mission it is to fuse Asian and Western foods, with a particular emphasis on Korean. Their other restaurant is Joule, also in Fremont but on the other side of the Aurora Bridge and next door neighbor to The Whale Wins. We were seated immediately and chose to sit outside on the covered deck to enjoy the warm though overcast weather. The restaurant interior is decorated in minimalist colors of black and gray, suggestive of the modernization of traditional Asian offerings.

The lunch menu was divided into salads, pancakes, dumplings, rice and noodles with a limited selection in each category. What caught our eye immediately were a bibimbop and dan dan noodles.

Though not labeled as bibimbop, Rice with Albacore Tuna, Fennel Kimchi and Escarole (☆☆½) clearly was. Here was an example of classic fusion food where non-traditional ingredients were used to make a Korean preparation. Thinly shaved fennel was an interesting choice of material for kimchi. It was very sour from vinegar with no sweetness, garlickiness or spice normally associated with the most traditional Korean condiment. Was the kitchen afraid of offending or turning off some customers? A proper sear was applied to the tuna, which otherwise was not as fresh as it should have been, displaying a slight fishiness but coated with an interesting and tasty rub of fennel and coriander. Outstanding was the roasted escarole, charred and sweet, that gave me encouragement to try it on my own. The dish was topped by a raw egg yolk.

Bibimbop of seared tuna, fennel kimchi and escarole

Bibimbop of seared tuna, fennel kimchi and escarole

Dan dan noodles are served in almost every Szechuan restaurant. Revel’s version, Dandan Noodles with Smoky Pulled Pork and Peanut Crackling (☆☆☆), another excursion into fusion territory, was distinguished by fork-tender, delicious pork that the waiter revealed was smoked in their kitchen for over four hours. Another big plus were freshly made noodles, wide and thin, that had an eggy consistency. The dish was sprinkled with ground peanuts that had kochujang paste flavors, a nice touch, and sautéed chard. The only drawback was a more than subtle sweetness overall that did not appeal to me.

Dandan noodles, smoked pulled pork, peanuts

Dandan noodles, smoked pulled pork, peanut crackling

Revel
403 N 36th St
Seattle, WA 98103
206.547.2040