Dinner at Kama’aina Grindz


I am always in search of good Hawaiian food in the Northwest. Not surprisingly, what we get here is not in the same league as what you’d find on the islands, but not for the lack of places that serve it. The numbers of Hawaiians living up here ensures some level of demand, not to mention local visitors to Hawaii who may want to relive what they ate there. By one estimate, there are nearly 20,000 Hawaiians in the Seattle area alone, surely not a huge number but still a good size. So, if you’re on the hunt for spam musubi, saimin, Portuguese sausage with eggs, loco moco, poke, lomi salmon and the like, you’d likely find one or more in the local restaurants. Uwajimaya also has a very good stock of Hawaiian goods and food from its deli.

Recently, there has been an uptick in interest among Hawaiian-born chefs to offer menus inspired by island flavors and ingredients. In Hawaii, you could say the trend was started by the likes of Sam Choi and Roy Yamaguchi, who subsequently spread their wings across the nation. Not content to put forward only traditional foods made in the traditional way, they’ve come up with fusion eats that borrow freely from the islands. There is usually an attempt to “update” the food with more vegetables, both fresh and cooked, for Hawaiian plate lunches are notorious for being largely absent of them. These chefs typically have cut their teeth in the restaurant industry, eventually deciding to demonstrate their talents on food they grew up with. Locally, the Marination chain and Ma’ono (though known primarily for its fried chicken) are examples of this trend. Of the celebrity chefs, Sam Choi’s empire runs a food truck (Poke to the Max), while Roy’s had a brief but unsuccessful run here on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle.

Into this mix has come Oahu-born Dean Shinagawa who previously helmed at the prestigious Tulalip Casino restaurant by way of Piatti Restaurant and Roy’s in Seattle. His Everett venture is called Kama’aina Grindz, which translates loosely to “local (Hawaiian) eats.” There is nothing in the interior in the way of Hawaiian ambience except for a few island-inspired paintings on the brick walls. Shinagawa and his sous chef can be seen working behind a high counter, punctuated only by a welcoming sign, “Friends & family gather here.” The maitre ‘d, who doubles as the bookkeeper, was very welcoming and warm, the embodiment of the aloha spirit.

One look at the menu spoke volumes about what the food was going to be about: familiar island ingredients used in imaginative ways and traditional foods reinterpreted. Our good friends, who brought us, have eaten here a few times and loved it. They spoke highly of the Portuguese sausage bibimbop (called Maui style on the menu), which none of us ordered today.

My wife picked the Asian Style Ahi Tuna Salad Sandwich (☆☆½). The cooked tuna, cucumber and red bell pepper mince, bound together in a mayonnaise-like sauce, was tasty but personally I would’ve preferred raw tuna, as in poké, but then it would hardly qualify as tuna salad as we think of it. The fries were steak-cut and tossed in a sriracha-style sauce, sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds. These too were very tasty but somewhat mealy (☆☆☆).

Ahi tuna salad sandwich

Ahi tuna salad sandwich

My Broiled Unagi and Smoked Chicken Fried Rice was quite good (☆☆☆). Savory and slightly sweet, the rice was attractively presented, as if inverted from a ramekin, mixed with pieces of tasty smoked chicken. It was obvious on first bite that the eel was fresh, superior to the packaged, pre-frozen kinds from foreign lands available at Asian markets. Topping all this was a mound of lightly dressed spinach mingled with carrot and daikon (white radish) shreds, crispy wonton slivers and white and black sesame seeds.

Broiled unagi and smoked chicken fried rice

Broiled unagi and smoked chicken fried rice

One of our friends ordered miso ramen with shiitake mushrooms, but she remarked that the broth was weak and the noodles overcooked, though to be fair Islanders prefer their noodles that way. Our other friend asked for a modification to a menu item. Instead of a “Huli Huli” Chicken Breast Sandwich, he requested and got just the chicken with a side of rice. The entrée arrived with a spinach salad and fried taro chips. The only comment he made was that the chicken needed more flavor.

Miso ramen

Miso ramen

"Huli huli" chicken breast with rice

“Huli huli” chicken breast with rice

Because Kama’aina Grindz is located in the downtown area of Everett, close to Comcast Arena, we’re not likely to drive over here just for a casual meal, but we would most certainly do it when we’re in the area. The menu is too interesting not to.

Kama’aina Grindz
2933 Colby Ave
Everett, WA 98201
425.322.5280

Dinner at Thai Ginger


My wife and I made arrangements to have dinner with a couple of friends at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants (Shanghai Cafe), but when we arrived, a sign posted on the door informed that the kitchen was undergoing renovation for another two days. One of our friends then suggested Thai Ginger, right around the corner in the Factoria area of Bellevue. Until three years ago, I had been a regular customer there, but for a variety of reasons, among which was the appearance of other very high quality Thai restaurants, I had stopped going. Likely another reason was its ridiculously small parking lot right off the major thoroughfare, Factoria Blvd, that can try the patience of Job. Still, one of Thai Ginger’s outstanding dishes in the past was chicken cashew nut against which I compared other restaurants’ versions.

Since the Factoria location, others have sprung up in the Seattle area (Redmond Town Center, Issaquah, Madison Park and Pacific Place), a scale of expansion often accompanied by declining or inconsistent quality. (I’d gone to the RTC branch, but its extreme noise level turned me off completely.) On getting seated, I noticed immediately that the menu was new, its pages slickly laminated and menu items printed in a classy, artful sans serif font. You probably wondered if these “refinements” portend higher prices. And you’d be right. Their “signature” dishes hover around $15-$20. One thing that hasn’t changed is its full-view kitchen, staffed by several toqued and uniformed chefs. It’s impressive when they do stir-fries over mighty flames that tower over the woks, looking to the uninitiated like a kitchen fire.

On the menu was a noodle dish called phad woon sen, which I first tasted and loved at Thai Kitchen (also in Bellevue). It isn’t sweet like one of Thailand’s national dishes, phad thai, but rather savory, and using bean thread noodles instead of rice noodles. The noodles are tossed with fish sauce and one or more combinations of soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic and sugar, and are accompanied by egg and generous amounts of cut vegetables. Thai Ginger’s is very good (☆☆☆½), the best I’ve had since Thai Kitchen’s (which no longer makes it as I liked it). Though it had no egg, the dish boasted pork, crispy napa cabbage, red bell peppers, onion, snow peas and carrot discs skillfully trimmed as flower garnishes.

Phad woon sen with pork

Phad woon sen with pork

What seemed intriguing was halibut cheeks, listed under signature dishes. At $19 and only five cheeks, it’s rather pricey, but the penang curry cut with coconut milk was delicious, perfect for napping on rice, which all of us did. There were also subtle hints of herbs, possibly galangal, cilantro and lemongrass. Green beans cut into ¼” pieces, basil leaves and red bell pepper slices lent nice color and crisp texture. Four perfectly cooked asparagus spears topped off the entrée (☆☆☆).

Steamed halibut cheeks

Steamed halibut cheeks

Finally, we ordered their chicken cashew nut which had been my standard-bearer. It was as delicious as ever (☆☆☆½), Thai Ginger’s version using a spicy chile sauce that takes it beyond all others I’ve had locally, including an insipid and bland-by-comparison one at Noodle Boat, one of my favorite Thai restaurants.

Chicken cashew nut

Chicken cashew nut

It was good to get reacquainted with Thai Ginger. Now, if only they did something about that poor excuse of a parking lot.

 
Thai Ginger
3717 Factoria Blvd SE
Bellevue, WA 98006
425.641.4008
 

Kansas City Beef Brisket at Stan’s Bar-B-Q


The best way to enter Stan’s Bar-B-Q is from the back, directly from the narrow parking lot that always seems crammed with vehicles, wedged in by Front Street to the west and railroad tracks to the east. En route to the front of the diner, you’ll pass walls plastered with sports photos and award plaques extolling the food within. On the right, you’ll catch a glimpse of the kitchen—or, I should say, “smoking” area—where the various meats on the menu are prepared. Then, you’ll enter the dining room/bar area that looks as much like a sports bar as any in Seattle around Qwest Field, complete with large overhead LCD TVs broadcasting all manner of sporting events. And the interior is dark even during the day, exacerbated by the dark decor.

This ambience is a cover for what some believe serves the best barbecue in the greater Seattle area. That it is located in the burbs means that eager Seattleites must cross a Lake Washington bridge and wend their way along “small town” Front Street which has long ago become an inadequate traffic thoroughfare. Issaquah is where proprietor Stan Phillips wound up by way of Texas, Kansas and South Carolina. Despite the fact that he offers smoked meats of all kinds, including chicken, turkey, ham, hot links, brats, meatballs (weekends only), pulled pork and baby back ribs, his trademark offering is the Kansas City Sliced Beef Brisket (sold by the pound), a recipe that he brought with him from hometown Kansas City, Missouri, one of the meccas of American barbecue.

From the menu, I’ve tasted several things over a period of many years. The smoked chicken wings, which are listed under appetizers, are quite good, while the hot links are made better elsewhere (my all-time favorite made by Leo’s Bar B Q in Los Angeles, now closed). You also can’t go wrong with Stan’s pulled pork, especially in sandwich form, even if the sloppy ones served at Pecos Pit in Seattle is a sight better. Once I discovered the beef brisket though, there was no turning back. Sliced along the grain in thick cuts, the brisket is very beefy, moist, lightly smoky, perfectly seasoned and mostly tender except the bark, outer portions exposed to slow heat, which are chewier and (in parts) nicely charred. The meat needs no sauce, a testament to its quality. Nevertheless, you have a choice of mild, medium or hot sauce, served in small plastic lidded tubs, all of them thick and based on the classic KC barbecue sauce ingredients of tomato sauce, vinegar and sweetener (probably molasses). Spices that I detected included cumin and celery salt. This is truly a wonderful brisket (☆☆☆½), which the first bite will confirm.

Kansas City sliced beef brisket, sides of slaw and baked beans

Kansas City sliced beef brisket, sides of slaw and baked beans

Sides include baked beans, cole slaw, creamed corn, and potato salad. Happy hour offers markdowns each day on a brewski (on tap) and menu item.

Stan’s Bar-B-Q
58 Front St
Issaquah, WA 98027
425.392.4551