Crispy salted chicken (yan su ji) is so popular at Taiwanese night markets that it’s doubtful there are stalls that don’t serve it. Served as a snack, chicken pieces are cut up into nuggets and normally double-fried. They get their distinctiveness from a subtle five-spice flavor, batter of sweet potato flour and fried Thai basil leaves that accompany them. So, it was with some anticipation that I saw it listed on a lunch special menu taped inside Kung-Ho Chinese Cuisine‘s storefront window.
Oddly, there were no basil leaves but rather a sprinkling of minced and fried celery and green onions, which was in itself tasty enough, but hardly genuine. All other components were consistent with yan su ji, particularly the five-spice flavor and sweet potato flour batter. It is possible that the menu item is something else, which would be confusing since the limited English description typically refers to yan su ji. Served with two scoops of rice (a la Hawaiian-style), the crispy chicken satisfies (☆☆½). It’s even better paired with their house-made dumpling sauce that comes in a jar on every table, looking for all the world like some sort of pickled vegetables, full of minced ginger, garlic, green onions and what appears to be bits of a leafy green (bok choy?), all suspended in a slightly sweet soy sauce-vinegar blend.
I’ve had better versions of hot-and-sour soup (☆☆½) locally. The soup (or egg drop soup) comes with most things on the lunch menu. Mainly the broth was a little too sweet and without much of a white pepper kick. Still, the soup was chockfull of lacy egg drop, tofu, shredded bamboo shoots, chopped straw mushrooms and shallots.
Hot and sour soup
Kung-Ho’s forte may be its Taiwanese breakfasts, which is somewhat legendary in these parts. A Taiwanese friend of my wife’s recommended it. Breakfast is served only on the weekends.
Kung-Ho Chinese Cuisine
3640 Factoria Blvd SE
Bellevue, WA 98006
On the Eastside, I Love Sushi is one place to get good sushi. While the chefs may not bask in the fame of the big names in Seattle, they quietly go about their business of making praiseworthy sushi which reflects extensive training in Japan, a rarity in this age of cookie-cutter sushiya. There are two locations, one on Lake Union in Seattle, the other here on Lake Bellevue. While sushi has always been the main attraction, I used to go there for excellent udon. Their broth was second to none, the noodles an example of what glorious heights they can achieve. As I said in my previous post, I was surprised to discover that the old location had been torn down to make way for new construction, only to find out later that the restaurant had moved to new digs nearby. Yesterday at lunchtime, I once again went to the new location for udon, and again, my udon lust was not to be satisfied; it is no longer served at the Bellevue location (Seattle still offers it).
I suppose I could’ve elected to have one of the lunch menu’s many sushi plates or sat at the long sushi bar that impressively overlooks the lake, but the chicken bento box called out to me. And what an impressive combination it was (☆☆☆½). Though the chicken is advertised as being grilled, it seemed simmered instead in a light dashi base hinting of a touch of lemon juice. The chicken thighs were tender, thickly cut, and served atop shredded iceberg lettuce. What sushi I did get made an appearance as four slices of a fine spicy tuna roll. Also impressive was a poke salad of very fresh tuna, yellowtail, salmon, cucumber and red onion tossed in a sesame oil dressing. As if these weren’t enough, tempura (fried in rice bran oil) of shrimp, garnet yam, kabocha and zucchini was exemplary—the batter light and crispy, almost greaseless.
I’ll have to get my udon fix elsewhere.
I Love Sushi
23 Lake Bellevue Drive
Bellevue, WA 98005
My lunch excursion started out as a drive to I Love Sushi for a bowl of their terrific nabeyaki udon, but alas the restaurant (and every other place in the lot) was gone—demolished because of new construction, presumably another high-rise project, having met the same fate as other strip malls in the valuable downtown Bellevue real estate market. (I later learned that I Love Sushi relocated to Lake Bellevue, only a short distance away.) Then, I went over to Ginza Japanese Restaurant in Old Bellevue, but the door hours indicated that lunch is not served on Saturdays. It didn’t take too much longer to decide on Monsoon East, on the next block over, where my wife and I have had many outstanding meals.
Not having Vietnamese beef stew (bở kho) for lunch, I settled on their beef noodle soup (phở bở) which the menu describes as being made with an oxtail broth. At $10, it qualifies as the most expensive bowl of phở I’ve ever paid for, but the provenance of the beef is the Painted Hills consortium of Oregon, which supplies high-quality meat to the Northwest’s finer restaurants. Would I be able to tell the difference? Indeed, I could. Thin slices of both rare and well-done beef were extraordinarily tender, literally melting in the mouth. This possibly might be the first time I’ve ever had rare beef so delicate, not surprising since it comes from a Wagyu breed. In other restaurants, these rare slices become chewy as the hot broth toughens them. My usual choice for beef slices in phở is well-done brisket; it is always more tender and flavorful because of higher fat content. Monsoon’s was among the best. Though both cuts were generously sized, teeth or chopsticks easily cut them to smaller size. Because of adhesion, it also took a bit of work to separate individual slices. I dipped each piece in a little dish of chile sauce and a stellar hoisin sauce that very well could be house-made. The rice vermicelli was a combination of thin and thicker noodles, perfectly cooked, and not coiled in a sticky ball that many restaurants cook ahead of time for convenience. There was a generous amount of bean sprouts and Thai basil as condiments, with sliced jalapeños and a wedge of lime.
And what about the broth? It was very dark, concentrated in flavor, intensely tasting of beef, with a slight tang, and boldly revealing warm spices of star anise and cinnamon stick. It might be the finest phở broth ever to cross my lips. It’s no wonder since it’s made with ox-tails, simmered in the stock over three days, releasing their flavor and gelatin, and Painted Hills beef and aromatics. The broth was replete with green onions, cut small and in larger pieces. There were also slices of red onion. Is the phở worth $10? Yep. This is a breathtaking soup (☆☆☆☆).
It’s a welcome shift in the industry that more burgerias are starting to offer grass-fed beef on their menus. I’ve been on the lookout for grass-fed beef burgers. I haven’t found an outstanding one yet. It isn’t that grass-fed beef doesn’t taste good. I’ve used Costco’s organic GFB in meat loaves with wonderful results.
At the Issaquah Farmers Market over two weeks ago, the BUNS food truck appeared alongside Maximus/Minimus. And wouldn’t you know that BUNS uses only “natural” grass-fed beef for their burgers?
The menu is short. For the beef-averse, there are chicken and salmon burgers. At the head of the list though are beef burgers with (“The Cheesy”) and without (“The Classy”) a slice of white cheddar cheese from Beecher’s (a local, nationally renown cheese maker), accompanied by a tomato slice, lettuce, red onions, pickles and a housemade sauce. Other variations include a burger with bacon and pineapple (“The Maui”), a New Mexican-style one with mild green chiles (“The Easy Hottie”) and a spicy one for chileheads (“The Flamethrower Hottie”).
The equipment in the truck includes a commercial charbroiler and deep fryer. You can see the flames lapping up through the grates. Everything is made-to-order, which translates to a wait time of approximately ten minutes, a good thing knowing that nothing is made ahead of time other than condiments.
I root for vendors who have the commitment to feed the masses without CAFO beef. Could BUNS deliver on excellence? It’s almost impossible not to overcook ground beef over a very hot broiler. More to the point, purveyors have to comply (by default) with health-code standards to cook patties to the well-done stage. BUNS, like any food vendor serving ground beef (grass-fed or not), is forced to conform because the large-scale, mechanized slaughterhouse industry that by its very scale and feed practices could not guarantee food safety. Our “Cheesy” burger partly suffered an overcooked fate even if its flavor was beefy and lightly smoky. Beyond that, the patty harbored bits of gristle that was off-putting. The sandwich was wrapped in an excellent, light Kaiser roll-like bun, made by local Grand Central Bakery. Despite the (required) warning of undercooked beef, you can request that BUNS cook your burger to any degree of doneness, I discovered later. I like my patty to be on the medium-rare side. So, while BUNS’ burger (☆☆½) represents an admirable step forward toward a healthier burger, I will continue in search of the great grass-fed example.
Eight-petaled flowers are rare, so it was a mild surprise to see plantings of Crowned Beggarticks (Bidens trichosperma) near the Museum of History and Industry. The button (or disc) in the flower’s center is just beginning to blossom, ringed by a “crown” of eight pistil-like structures to mimic the number of petals and each aligned with a petal’s axis. Isn’t Nature fascinating? They are native to the Midwest states and the southeastern part of the U.S. where they thrive in peatlands.