Shanghai Café’s Surprise Casserole


What do you get when you blend perfectly cooked squid and shrimp, succulent chicken breast, meaty shiitake, shaves of dry cured and smoked ham reminiscent of a Smithfield, chicken meatballs and nappa cabbage, each revealing its essence in a rich chicken broth as fine as I’ve ever tasted? You get the Shanghai Café Tofu and Cabbage Casserole (☆☆☆☆), a hidden treasure in an already first-rate menu. It really is a soup with surprises beyond its unremarkable name, casserole only referring to the serving vessel. In a way, it’s like hotpot that the kitchen has already prepared for you. Adding to the soup’s cornucopia are tofu, snow peas, exquisitely carved garnishes of carrots and mung bean noodles. At $18.95, it is a good-sized meal for three people.

If my wife and I hadn’t seen another patron eating it some years ago, we might never have tried it on our own. This is a soup, casserole, hotpot or whatever, that is now one of our comfort foods when there is a chill in the air.

Spicy cucumber

Spicy cucumber

Shanghai Café
12708 SE 38th St
Bellevue, WA 98006
425.603.1689

Lunch at Seven Stars Pepper


On the heels of eating at Chef Cheng Biao Yang’s Uway Balatang did a friend and I have lunch at Yang’s previously-owned restaurant just down the street, Seven Stars Pepper, in the Ding How Shopping Center in Little Saigon. Truth be told, this was not our first choice today but rather Lemongrass in the same shopping center for its magnificent (Vietnamese) beef stew. As we walked through the door, someone intercepted us and informed us that they were not open (for reasons unexplained), even though the neon “open” sign was lit and the front door unlocked. That’s how we wound up upstairs at Seven Stars Pepper instead.

Widely regarded as cooking authentic Szechuanese dishes, Chef Yang made quite a name for himself at Seven Stars Pepper where then rarely known dishes like chong gin hot chicken, cumin lamb, dan dan noodles and Szechwan crab became popular and beloved among non-Chinese Seattle diners, one big impetus being provided by the rave reviews of Nancy Leson, Seattle Times food critic at the time (and now its food writer). (I make the ethnic qualification because the Chinese community has its own network of the latest Chinese food and restaurant developments well before the English-language press reports on them.) Yang eventually sold the restaurant, reportedly unhappy about the dismal parking situation at Ding How (poorly lit, cramped underground parking where all weight-bearing posts show signs of vehicle scrape marks), and opened Szechuan Chef on the Eastside where more generous suburban parking was presumably more to his liking. He has since sold Szechuan Chef and gotten involved in two more restaurants, including his latest, the aforementioned Uway Balatang.

Despite Yang’s departure, Seven Stars Pepper is still short-listed by food critic Jay Friedman (Serious Eats) as serving some of the best Szechwan food in the city.

Friend and I shared two dishes: chong gin hot chicken (from the regular menu) and pickled vegetable fish (from the lunch menu).

The fish dish derives its distinctive flavor from the pickled vegetables (mustard greens) and pickled red chiles, and Szechuan peppercorns. Seven Stars Pepper uses a subdued amount of peppercorns which greatly diminished the dish’s typically fragrant and numbing impact. With tilapia, the kitchen also added thin diagonal slices of celery, carrots, tree ears and baby bamboo shoots to add crunch. Overall, while it doesn’t have the traditional tingling peppercorn quality, this was a tasty and savory if mildly spicy entrée (☆☆☆).

Pickled vegetable fish

Pickled vegetable fish

The same restrained hand with peppercorns made the chong gin chicken, shall I say, inauthentic but not necessarily without merit. While the crispy nuggets of battered chicken thigh, dry-fried greens beans, scallions and a liberal amount of dried red chile peppers were fine enough to earn good marks (☆☆☆), the hallmark má là quality was missing. For a more potent sinus-clearing and mouth-numbing experience, I’d have to go to one of Yang’s current restaurants (Uway Balatang and Spicy Talk Bistro) or Spiced.

Chong gin hot chicken

Chong gin hot chicken

I have to wonder if the decision to use less peppercorns has to do with appealing to a wider palette. This seems like an odd decision for a restaurant primarily catering to a Vietnamese and Chinese clientele.

Seven Stars Pepper
1207 S Jackson St
Seattle, WA 98144
206.568.6446

Noodlemania in Little Saigon: Uway Malatang


In the relative obscurity of the Pacific Rim Center that sits just east of I-5 (and therefore qualifies it as technically located in Little Saigon instead of Chinatown), the art of hand-pulling noodles is being practiced by Chef Cheng Biao Yang in his latest restaurant venture, Uway Malatang. The man seems like a restless spirit who every few years sells a successful restaurant, only to open another one soon thereafter. He’s made a full circle as Seven Stars Pepper, which he once owned, is just down the street, with stopovers at Szechuan Chef in Bellevue and Spicy Talk Bistro (which Yang’s brother now operates) in Redmond in between. Uway Malatang represents a new addition to Chef Yang’s culinary repertoire as he is now the master noodle maker, an art he learned in China only recently.

I had lunch here with a friend, a direct result of a feature article written by Nancy Leson that appeared in the Seattle Times this past Sunday. We were seated at first at a table by the entrance. But the waitress offered to reseat us so we could watch the chef make the noodles in a small room visible behind a glass window. The seeming effortlessness with which he pulled the noodles speaks to the countless hours he practiced to perfect the technique. Such exhibitions are rare in the restaurant industry, much like being able to watch a master pizza dough maker spin and toss the dough in the air. You can watch the manufacture of the xiao long bao and other dumplings at Bellevue’s Din Tai Fung through glass windows at the entryway. The only other time I’ve witnessed a master make fresh Chinese noodles is at the now-closed Bamboodles in San Gabriel, California.

Both my friend and I ordered different dishes so that we could get a taste of each other’s. I knew what I wanted already, Szechuan style beef noodle soup. Even with a choice of hand-shaven noodles, I opted for the pulled noodles for obvious reasons. They arrived in a large bowl, so attractively garnished with cilantro and green onions that I wanted to dive in immediately. The first bite of noodles was excellent, fresh-tasting and glutinous with a slight springiness. But, as the minutes ticked by, they began to soften in the hot broth. This is sort of expected for thin noodles that are made with no more than wheat flour, baking soda and water. Which means that the broth should do its part in noodle soup appreciation, for while the star begins to fade, the supporting cast has just as big a job to keep the customer happy. I found the broth disappointing, salty and lacking depth. There was some flavor from the beef chunks, which were hit-and-miss tender and gristly, cabbages and onion, but the overall impression was one of thinness (☆☆½). This problem reminded me of the shortcoming of the above-mentioned Bamboodles, a collection of broths that didn’t measure up to the noodles. While the sinewy texture and fattiness of meat don’t appeal to Westerners, their almost ubiquitous appearance in all kinds of Asian cuisines indicates that they are not considered a defect.

Szechuan style beef noodle soup

Szechuan style beef noodle soup

All was not lost, because my friend’s hot and spicy sauce over hand-shaven noodles with beef dish was memorable (☆☆☆½). The noodles were equally as fresh as hand-pulled but the sauce was anything but weak. It was savory with a touch of tartness (likely from black vinegar), caramel overtones and spicy. Contrasting crunchiness was provided by cucumber slices, green onions, tree ears and aforementioned beef gristle. Friend was so impressed by this dish that he swore to bring his wife here. When I return, I’d likely order the same.

Hot & spicy sauce over hand-shaven noodles with beef

Hot & spicy sauce over hand-shaven noodles with beef

Uway Malatang makes a big deal of its hot pots, too. In fact, when you first enter the restaurant, there are chilled ingredients on the left which you can mix and match (one-pound minimum) to make your own hot pot, augmented by a choice of eight broths. These might require some experimentation before you find what appeals to you.

Hot pot ingredients

Hot pot ingredients

Also included on the menu are many of the favorites that have appeared at Chef Yang’s previous restaurants. Chongqing chicken or cumin lamb, anyone?

Update (5-17-14): We had an early dinner here with another couple.

(Fried) salt and pepper squid is generally a good dish to order whenever a Chinese restaurant has it on the menu. The calamari has a thin, crispy batter typically made with cornstarch; the flavor is boosted by addition of scallions and a bit of green chiles to add a touch of heat. An important consideration is not to overcook the squid, which Chef Yang is careful not to do. The intriguing addition is ground Szechwan peppercorns, which added their characteristic numbing quality and floral fragrance, raising this entrée out of the ordinary (☆☆☆).

Salt and Pepper Squid

Salt and Pepper Squid

Besides pulled noodles, chef Yang also makes hand-shaven noodles, which make an appearance in chow mein. Other than the pasta having a slight powderiness, the sauce was good, with thin pieces of tender pork, green onions and cabbage (☆☆½).

Hand Shaven Noodles with Pork

Hand Shaven Noodles with Pork

The best dish of the afternoon was tofu with eggplant (☆☆☆½). Chinese eggplant slices were meltingly soft, likely after having absorbed a prodigious quantity of oil, in a savory sauce mixed with fried tofu and scallions. But, it is an oily dish.

Tofu with eggplant

Tofu with eggplant

It’s a little worrisome that there were only two other dining parties this afternoon. Foot traffic seems to plague all the businesses in the multi-story Pacific Rim Center, no matter what time of day. Even with ample free parking, its location on a steep hillside (which provides a little thrill when the car enters the parking structure tilted sideways at 30o) at the edge of Little Saigon, physically separates the shops from the main commercial area up the block, where most people do their shopping on foot. Could it be that Uway Malatang is therefore too much out of the way to make the effort worthwhile? If so, that’s a shame because there is talent in the kitchen.

Update (4-11-16): Chef Yang no longer helms Uway Malatang. As of July 2015, he opened Country Dough where he is now making Szechwan guo kui, flatbread filled with meat or vegetables.

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Uway Malatang Restaurant
900 S Jackson St
Seattle, WA 98104
206.467.0600

Spicy Szechuan Chicken at Spiced


For authentic Szechuanese food in the Seattle area, I’ve yet to find a place that is more so than Spiced (a previous review here) in the Crossroads area of Bellevue. The menu seems to have gotten more extensive if that’s possible; there were plenty of items on the older one. New to the menu are helpful photographs to help the uninitiated decide on what to get. Today, what struck my fancy was a spicy chicken dish whose menu name I failed to record. It arrived sizzling in a mini-wok served over an alcohol burner. The entire dish is a feast for the eyes and nuclear heat for the tongue. Chicken thigh pieces were mixed with sliced baby yellow bell peppers, green onions and celery in a savory sauce pungent with loads of fragrant Szechuan peppercorns, dried red chile pods and sliced jalapeño peppers, underlain with a generous amount of mung bean sprouts. Herein lies a problem with these kinds of spicy dishes—the blistering heat of the chiles and mouth-numbing qualities of the peppercorns mask any subtle differences there might be among dishes that use them. In other words, what the Chinese call and , the numbing and spicy sensations, hit you fast and hard before nuances of flavor are detected. Despite Spiced’s use of MSG and copious amount of oil, I would still rate the chicken dish highly (☆☆☆).

Szechuan spicy chicken

Szechuan spicy chicken

On a subsequent visitSpicy Wujiang Fish Fillets is listed under Chef’s Specialties. It came in a large vessel. One look was all it took to know that this was going to be one helluva spicy dish. The broth was bright red from chiles, either paste or ground. Whole and crumbled dried red chile peppers sat menacingly on top. The intimidation didn’t stop there because pickled chiles were lurking in the broth. Add to that Szechuan peppercorns with their tingly, numbing properties, and you might be tempted to think nuclear accident. I sipped the broth and, through the hotness, there was quite a bit of savoriness. A generous portion of perfectly cooked fried fish fillets looked like they were occupying the whole tureen, but underneath was a bed of mung bean sprouts and a small amount of thin, flat starchy noodles (similar in texture to cellophane noodles). Adding to this complexity were pickled baby bok choy. Even if this was throat-searing and excessively oily, it was nevertheless an amazing dish (☆☆☆½).

Spicy Wujiang Fish Fillets

Spicy Wujiang Fish Fillets

Lunch at Szechuan Bean Flower (Issaquah)


Without a GPS unit or an internet map, it would be difficult to find Szechuan Bean Flower, a Chinese restaurant that, being so hidden away in Issaquah, surely has to be concerned about customer volume. You can’t even see it driving along Gilman Blvd, the main drag past Gilman Village that parallels I-90. From what I gather, this is the third venue for the restaurant, having started out on Aurora Avenue in Seattle, then moving to Snoqualmie, before settling in 2010 at its current address. Still, the reviews on the popular internet rating sites have been good.

We joined friends here for lunch today. When we arrived, there was only one other table occupied by customers. And by the time we left, there was still only a single table being served. Like I said, getting enough customers is a challenge here.

The lunch menu sports 40 items, ranging in price from $6.99 to $8.99. Three of us ordered from it, while the fourth person picked something from the regular menu. With the lunch menu, you get rice and a choice of soup (egg flower or hot and sour). Our friends said the addition of corn made the egg flower a very good version. Spicier than most, deriving its heat from chiles rather than white pepper, hot and sour soup (☆☆½) didn’t have the characteristic vinegariness that I like.

The sauce in my wife’s Cashew Chicken (☆☆☆) had an uncommon tartness from pickled celery that she disliked but that I thought was really interesting. Also in the mix were marinated chicken, cabbage, red bell peppers, water chestnuts and cashews.

Cashew Chicken

Cashew Chicken

I ordered my Chopped Pepper Hot Fish (☆☆☆½) at a spiciness level of 4 out of 5, which was plenty incendiary. The waitress asked me if I was sure. “Yes.” All I can say is that the kitchen didn’t hold back. Quaffing down hot tea with it was a minor miracle. Mild white fish fillet pieces were combined with chopped jalapeño chiles, crushed red chile peppers, green beans, pickled vegetables, shredded romaine lettuce and green onions, all tied together with a very savory sauce. This was one of the better Chinese fish dishes I’ve had in a while, even as it burned its way through my system.

Chopped Pepper Hot Fish

Chopped Pepper Hot Fish

One friend selected Kung Pao Fish (☆☆☆) from the lunch menu. The cabbage and onion pieces were cut rather large, stir-fried with fish fillets, unskinned peanuts, red bell peppers and green onions, but the overall dish was tasty. At a moderate spice level, it was enough to open up the sweat glands.

Kung Pao Fish

Kung Pao Fish

The last item, one that our other friend ordered from the regular menu, was Chongqin Spicy Chicken (☆☆½), a dish that gets authentic treatment at places like Szechuan Chef, Spiced and Spicy Talk Bistro, all on the Eastside. It is distinguished by not only a liberal amount of whole dried red chile peppers but equally liberal amount of Szechuan peppercorns. This last spice lends Szechuan dishes its tongue- and throat-numbing spiciness as well as an intensely floral taste that many diners may have difficulty getting used to. Szechuan Bean Flower’s version does not follow this recipe. While there were dried red chile flakes, green beans and scallions, there was a marked absence of the peppercorns, smattering of dried chiles and saltiness from a generous hand with soy sauce. Even so, the dish had its virtues.

Chongqin Spicy Chicken

Chongqin Spicy Chicken

With 191 items on the regular menu, it will take time for a diner to go through it. You wonder if a menu this large leads to many dishes being minor variations of the same ingredients. Still, Szechuan Bean Flower doesn’t dumb down to American tastes, especially in the spice department. One notable exception is the reluctance to use Szechuan peppercorns, which is actually understandable. Szechuan Bean Flower is a good enough restaurant worth trying again.

Szechuan Bean Flower
525 NW Locust St
Issaquah, WA 98027
425.677.8749

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

Black Bean Chicken at Yea’s Wok (Newcastle, WA)


There are many good things on the menu at Yea’s Wok, which I’d been patronizing for many years. It was an immediate success when it opened and has been going strong ever since. The dish that I seem to order more often than anything else is their Chicken with Black Bean Sauce (☆☆☆½). Spicy from fried red chile peppers, it is an umami bomb from its gravy of soy sauce, sugar and garlic for a start, other magical ingredients lurking underneath, suffering only from being somewhat salty. Today’s serving had a tad too much garlic. But, as the name suggests, most of its incredible flavor comes from fermented black beans that have an appealing fermented and salty taste that only those who’ve eaten it can appreciate. The chicken breast pieces here are always tender, likely having been mixed with baking soda. Zucchini, snow peas, carrots, baby corn, red bell peppers and mushrooms are happy companions.

Chicken with Black Bean Sauce

Chicken with Black Bean Sauce

A friend with whom I’ve been coming here on many occasions has settled on his own favorite, Szechuan Style Noodles (☆☆☆½), a generously sized bowl of noodles, tofu, mushrooms, baby bok choy, edamame and ground pork mixed in a very savory, spicy sauce. It was so good that next time I might have to forsake my usual.

Szechuan Style Noodles

Szechuan Style Noodles

Good hot and sour soup is hard to come by, but Yea’s (☆☆☆½) version is very good. Sour, peppery and spicy, it really satisfies. The soup contains tofu cubes, ribbons of egg, shredded bamboo shoots and green onions in a silky broth.

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour Soup

Yea’s Wok
6969 Coal Creek Pkwy SE
Newcastle, WA 98059
425.644.5546
 

Lunch at Szechuan Chef


When chef Cheng Biao Yang, one of Seattle’s luminaries of Chinese—and specifically Szechuan—cooking sold Szechuan Chef to pursue another restaurant opportunity, fans began to wonder the inevitable. Would there be a decline in quality? As the weeks went by, there began to be reports that, yes, things have started to go downhill. I used to go there regularly when chef Yang was at the helm, always impressed with the menu. In particular, visions of Chongqing Chicken and Szechuan Dungeness Crab danced in my head. The Cumin Lamb, with its copious use of the musky herb that never appealed to me, had legions of fans. I went one more time without having realized that ownership had changed hands, but I noticed an entirely different wait staff. I don’t recall what I ordered, but I do remember that the dish tasted differently than before, not quite as good. When I found out that chef Yang had gone, I made the decision not to come back. That was back in 2009.

For lunch today, we decided to have some banh mi at Yeh Yeh’s Vietnamese Sandwiches, which opened a branch last year in Bellevue after the original Lynnwood restaurant started getting rave reviews. Aren’t most restaurants open on Sundays? Not Yeh Yeh’s, as we discovered when we drove up. So the next choice was Kukai Ramen (in the old K-Mart Plaza now dominated by Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market) that has been getting lots of kudos since its opening only months ago. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and there was a line of people waiting outside. Apparently, this is always how it is. Maybe we should go to Szechuan Chef? I asked my wife. I thought you didn’t want to go there again, she replied. Hesitatingly: Maybe we should see if things have improved. My wife, ever the good sport, agreed to go.

The interior was the same as it was before, except that the walls were lined with sconces that looked like a full moon glowing through a thick fog. A poetic touch. Better yet, the tables were mercifully more diner-friendly than before when the legs were big rectangular posts that bumped up against your knees. The walls were painted in lighter tones. The same line of plastic bamboo stalks separated the entrance from a portion of the dining room.

A big plus was that the lunch menu was being observed seven days a week. On the regular menu, Chongqing Chicken and Szechuan Dungeness Crab would have to wait for another day. Instead, we ordered Pickled Pepper Chicken and Hot Black Bean Shrimp from the lunch menu.

Hot and sour soupHot and sour soup was bracingly tart from an excess of vinegar. It wasn’t unpalatable but did downgrade a soup otherwise fine with the pungency of white pepper and chockfull of tofu shreds, bamboo shoots, tree ears, dried chile flakes and bits of egg. This soup is becoming quite common in many Chinese restaurants, and there are some excellent versions served locally.

Despite being designated with 3 chiles (on a 1-5 chile scale), Pickled Pepper Chicken was muted in flavor and not spicy enough. Young bamboo shoots, julienned carrots, sliced napa cabbage, tree ears, preserved vegetables, pickled red chile peppers and tender strips of chicken breast were almost upended by lots of sliced celery, which always seems to me a cheap substitute for better vegetables, a way to add inexpensive crunch. Still, the entrée was not bad, just somewhat spiritless for a Szechuan dish.

Pickled Pepper Chicken

Pickled Pepper Chicken

My wife’s Hot Black Bean Shrimp had a different problem. Fermented black beans should be a noticeable presence, let alone flavor, in an entrée named with it (the great Black Bean Chicken at Yea’s Wok comes to mind). Though a few beans could be seen in the mixture, their flavor was barely detectable in the sauce. Still, the dish was tasty enough with other flavors, though milder than my wife would’ve liked. Like my lunch, it too had bamboo shoots, carrots and celery, but used green cabbage instead of napa in a savory garlic sauce, with a few whole dried red chile peppers to add a touch of heat. Again, not a bad dish, just not a memorable one.

Hot Black Bean Shrimp

Hot Black Bean Shrimp

In summary, these two dishes failed to generate much excitement. Even without ordering the two outstanding courses that I loved from the original Szechuan Chef, a restaurant trying to carry on with the same name should stand on its own with dishes that call you back rather than reminisce about what you miss from the old place. I likely won’t be going back.

Szechuan Chef
15015 Main St
Ste 107
Bellevue, WA 98007
425.746.9008
 

Ramen at Fu Lin (Seattle, WA)


This was interesting. A Chinese restaurant that serves ramen and large signs in Japanese clearly in view behind the expansive storefront windows. A good friend of ours recommended this place for ramen.

Located in the International District, Fu Lin has a special ramen menu, among which are included variations of shoyu, miso and tonkotsu ramen. Marketing ploy? An attempt to lure Japanese customers? It turns out that the owner/chef, born and raised in China, lived and cooked in Japan for ten years before crossing the ocean to settle here.

Though my wife and I were eyeing the same miso chashu ramen, I changed my order to tonkotsu chashu ramen so we could sample both kinds. The noodle soups were served in large bowls with the broth a good inch and a half below the rim. An important component of a good ramen is the noodle itself, in this case perfectly cooked and having great texture. In Asia, serious eaters will finish the entire bowl very quickly in order to enjoy the pasta texture throughout the meal. Eaters here don’t eat as furiously, so inevitably the noodles will soften.

The charsiu, five large slices in all, were lean, very tender and slightly sweet, wonderfully flavorful. Not pork belly slices that rameniacs like, these will appeal to diners who eschew too much fat. Five spice flavors infused the menma (seasoned bamboo shoot slices), leaning more toward Chinese flavors than Japanese. Bean sprouts, wakame (seaweed) and a good dose of sliced green onions rounded out the toppings of both ramen.

Miso charsiu ramen

Miso charsiu ramen

Tonkotsu charsiu ramen

Tonkotsu charsiu ramen

The miso broth was rich and thankfully not too salty, admittedly impossible to make a good, low-sodium miso broth, and having slight ginger overtones. Always in the hunt for a good tonkotsu broth, I found Fu Lin’s to be milky and flavorful, though middling on the pork-flavor intensity scale. The same friend who recommended the ramen here is of the opinion that, in the Seattle area, Fu Lin serves the best version. So far, I have no argument with that. Ramen addicts would do well to walk just a block up the street from the inconsistent Samurai Noodle and have their fix here instead.

Fu Lin
512 S King St
Seattle, WA 98104
206.749.0678
Menu
Map

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Dinner at Din Tai Fung (Bellevue, WA)


All the times before that we’ve dined at Din Tai Fung, we were never able to get seated at a table right away. Always there was a wait. It is that popular. Tonight was an exception. We waltzed right in after seeing Amour at Lincoln Square Cinemas (a remarkable, unsettling, superbly acted movie, by the way). Our taste buds were still remembering the excellent noodle soups we had here recently, so we could easily have ordered them again. But, in the interest of trying something different, we settled on Vegetable and Pork Wonton with Spicy Sauce and Shrimp and Pork Wonton Soup.

For an appetizer, we started with the tersely-labeled Cucumber, Kirbys sliced about 3/4″ thick, dressed with vinegar, sugar and sesame and chili oils. Refreshing and crunchy, they cleansed our palates for what followed.

pickled cucumbers

Pickled cucumbers

The shrimp and pork wontons were served in the same delicious, pure chicken broth that graced the Noodle Soup with Pickled Mustard Green & Shredded Pork last time, with no additional ingredients like vegetables, making for a spartan soup. The dumplings themselves were very flavorful.

Eight spicy wontons were served in a shallow dish over a pool of dark sauce made from chicken broth, black soy sauce, chili oil and minced green onions. What gave the sauce extra dimension was the flavor of five spice powder with notes of licorice and warm spices, which along with a dipping sauce of black vinegar and finely shredded ginger, given to everyone, made for two tasty ways to garnish the dumplings in the Chinese soup spoon. Difficult to detect without our waitress’ help were the vegetables in the wonton—Chinese cabbage (napa) and bok choi—tasty companions of the ground pork. This, as it turns out, is DTF’s most popular wonton dish, and deservedly so.

Dining at Din Tai Fung can become a pricey affair, especially if you add cocktails like we did. The lychee mojito is a killer drink. But, everything is freshly made and the dedication to quality is definitely apparent. By the time we were done with dinner, there was the typical flock of people waiting to be seated. The rumor is that the Taiwanese chain is looking to open a Seattle location, perhaps in the University Village, which can only ease the crowds here.

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Din Tai Fung
700 Bellevue Way Northeast #280
Bellevue, WA 98004
425.698.1095