Prima Taste Singaporean La Mian Instant Noodles

Prima Taste's laksa la mian (image from

Prima Taste’s laksa la mian (image from

While browsing through T & T Supermarket in Richmond, B.C., some instant noodles caught my eye. What intrigued me was that they were manufactured in Singapore, by a company called Prima Taste. At C$2.99 each on sale, they were a better bargain when converted to US dollars (about $2.33 at the time). I would discover later when I got back home that they’re available from Amazon at $3.87 each for a package of 12 or as much as $6.50 each for a package of two! Pricey. At least, here in the States. Of course, I had no idea at purchase time whether I’d like the noodles or not, so I only bought a single package each of laksa la mian and curry la mian.

In hindsight, I wish I had gotten more. And I wish I’d purchased chili crab la mian as well. Next time I’m in Vancouver.

Here are my tasting notes. Let’s start with the dried noodles themselves. They’re air-dried in a similar manner like Myojo with its line of excellent Chukazanmai packaged dried ramen. No frying in saturated fats. The instructions recommend that the noodles be boiled for 7 minutes, which for most instant noodles would be far too long, turning them into soft, pasty messes. But, incredibly these noodles remained firm and held their chewy resilience from beginning to end, clearly their outstanding virtue.

The different ‘flavors’ come in two packets, one holding the coconut powder that forms the milky basis for the soup, the other the spices, herbs, and whatever else constitute the primary taste. You can adjust the proportions of each according to your own taste.

The broth is quite milky, almost like a New England clam chowder, and briny from a touch of shrimp paste. Combined with the mix from the other packet, they’re also a bit spicy. The laksa la mian can hold its own against good ones served at restaurants, rich and flavorful. The curry la mian has excellent curry flavor. Both have hints of shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and warm spices. These noodle soups will not appeal to as broad a consumer base as instant ramen might. But to me, they’re delicious especially with the addition of shredded rotisserie chicken, fish cakes or surimi, boiled egg, cilantro and plenty of minced green onions. I’ll need to be patient before I can buy any more up north. I haven’t found any locally in the Seattle area. If I get desperate, there’s always Amazon.

Update (7-18-18): Seattle’s Asian supermarket, Uwajimaya, now carries this line of noodles. I first saw them last year. I am now a happy camper that I don’t have to wait until my next visit to Canada.

Breakfast at Blue Moose Café (Port Townsend, WA)

“If a messy kitchen is a happy one, this one is delirious.”

How can you not like a café that has the chutzpah to post that above their kitchen?

How about, “The reason we’re not all here is because we’re not all there”? There is even a banner on a wall emblazoned with a single word: BACON! Add to that a pretty carefree approach to interior design, mainly the abundant use of primary colors (especially blue) and enough visual clutter to make you wonder where Waldo is, you pretty much have an idea what it’s like in the Blue Moose Café. Open only for breakfast and lunch, it’s secluded in the back part of Haines Street in the middle of Port Townsend’s Boat Haven shipyard. If I hadn’t found out about it on TripAdvisor, I might never have discovered it on my own.

The interior isn’t large. Some tables are squished almost right up against one another. Each table has its own bottles of catsup, Tabasco sauce and Huy Fong rooster sauce, not to mention a jar of killer housemade apricot jam. You can also sit at the counter on one of four stools. The entire floor is sealed concrete. Coffee is supplied by Port Townsend’s popular Sunrise Coffee, which itself has a building just down the street.

But funky decor is not what makes Blue Moose. It’s the food. Beyond the tongue-in-cheek names for some menu items (like This Ain’t No Atkins’ Special or Last Night I was Dreaming About Elvis), the basics are here: eggs, bacon, ham, pancakes, corned beef hash (“No can openin’ here!”), omelettes, biscuits ‘n gravy, oatmeal, etc. But, there are also interesting twists on classics, such as Smokin’ Joe (a Joe’s special with smoked salmon instead of ground beef) or a french toast made with housemade brioche and dipped in vanilla custard, served with honey-pecan butter. Many items appear to be originals, the most popular of which are the scooters, lightly grilled flour tortillas filled with various stuffings, reminiscent of burritos.

Deciding what we wanted was a chore, a happy one, to be sure. It was at least ten minutes after we were handed the menus that we finally decided.

Moose bagel features a toasted Bob’s bagel (also of Port Townsend), your choice of three kinds. My wife picked the everything, a savory bagel studded with poppy and sesame seeds. She also opted for a vegetarian sausage (instead of ham, bacon or sausage) that was made mostly of pecans, which was quite flavorful. Scrambled eggs and cheddar completed the fillings, a very good breakfast sandwich (☆☆☆).

Moose bagel with vegetarian sausage

Moose bagel with vegetarian sausage

My scooter was filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo and cheddar and jack cheeses, and topped with salsa, sour cream and a darn good cilantro-chile sauce. Instead of the standard black beans, I substituted potatoes. The black beans might’ve worked better because the potatoes were mealy, exacerbated by steaming in the tortilla wrap. Overall, a good menu (☆☆½) item.

Scooter with chorizo and cilantro sauce

Scooter with chorizo and cilantro sauce

The waitresses were all extremely friendly and accommodating—substituting the potatoes for the beans, giving me extra cilantro sauce when requested, ever filling up our coffee cups without our asking. A pretty happy bunch, they obviously like working here. Blue Moose’s seclusion well outside the historic district doesn’t keep customers from coming, however. Even if today were a Saturday morning, I get the feeling it’s busy all the time. This is one place we’ll be sure to have breakfast every time we visit Port Townsend.

Blue Moose Café
311 Haines Pl, #B
Port Townsend, WA

Dinner at Isarn Thai Soul Kitchen (Kirkland, WA)

Isarn Thai Soul Kitchen has an uncommon menu, at first glance more interesting than the run-of-the-mill Thai restaurant. The menu is limited, concentrating on what the Facebook page says are Thai comfort foods. Its name implies the regional cooking of Isan (Isarn). It does not serve, for example, phad thai during the dinner hour (though it now does for the insistent lunch crowd). Is it because the famed Thai noodle dish is not a staple in the northeast part of Thailand? Sticky rice, another Isan dietary staple, also makes an appearance. The name, therefore, is confusing, for if the idea is to promote Isan cooking, why are dishes from other Thai regions on the menu (and therefore, why not serve phad thai)? These are all questions best left unanswered and the business of tasting the food should take center stage.

Wall decoration

Wall decoration

One of the happy hour dishes included grilled squid. At only a single serving, our party of four ordered so each of us could taste one. Whole squids were individually threaded through with a bamboo skewer and lightly grilled. They were downright tender, bolstered by a spicy dipping sauce of fish sauce, cilantro, dill, lime juice, garlic and chiles (☆☆☆).

Grilled Squid

Grilled Squid

The other three dishes were ordered from the regular menu. Isarn Fried Rice (☆☆½) was plated as a half dome no more than four inches across, mixed with vegetables (kale, carrots, green beans and onions) and cooked egg. Surprising companions were fried beef cubes that were predictably chewy but tasty. Garnishes that stood off to the side like decoration were two cherry tomatoes and sliced cucumber.

Isarn Fried Rice

Isarn Fried Rice

I would have rated Roasted Ribs in Tamarind Sauce (☆☆½), another Isan dish, more highly if half the pork ribs weren’t dry and unappealingly fibrous, while the rest were just fine. The thick sauce was flavored with tamarind and made slightly sweet from caramelized pineapple, showing admirable restraint. An interpretation of this dish (si krong muu) helped put Little Serow in Washington, D.C., on Bon Appetit’s 2012 list of top ten new restaurants in America.

Roasted Ribs in Tamarind Sauce

Roasted Ribs in Tamarind Sauce

A southern Thai favorite, Hat Yai Fried Chicken (gai tod hat yai) (☆☆☆½) was the star of the evening, a small fried half chicken with crispy skin (which would’ve benefitted from a little more salt), sliced through the bone, sprinkled with a liberal amount of fried garlic and paired with a very good sweet chile sauce. Traditional recipes call for a rice flour batter, but it would surprise me if there was any. The garlic was a killer condiment, crispy and redolent, popular enough on its own for some diners to purchase as a side just to sprinkle on other foods, so the waiter was proud to tell us.

Hat Yai Fried Chicken

Hat Yai Fried Chicken

The waiter tried to interest us in dessert. Despite the temptations of a coconut shell filled with coconut milk, dried coconut flakes, tapioca pearls and a poached egg, or sticky rice topped with mango, we didn’t bite. Because of its menu, Isarn Thai Soul Kitchen deserves a repeat visit.

Update (6-20-12): We returned to Isarn today for lunch with a couple of friends. The lunch menu has many of the items on the dinner menu, at smaller prices. The Hat Yai Fried Chicken had somewhat less fried garlic pieces. No matter though, because the dish was as good as before. And, as we were told on the previous visit, phad thai was on the menu, a very good version, this one ordered with pork.

phad thai

Phad thai with pork

Then, we had a most delicious curry dish. Consisting only of beef in sauce, Gang Hung Lay (☆☆☆☆), a specialty of Northwest Thailand, was a magnificent curry. The sauce was thick and dark, standard recipes calling for tamarind, nam pla, sugar and spices that make up the curry. The stew is cooked for hours, rendering the beef supremely tender that it yielded to the gentlest prodding. By itself, the sauce was so outstanding that it called for more rice as accompaniment than you might normally want to eat.

gang hung lay

Gang hung lay

Chile tray

Chile condiments


Isarn Thai Soul Kitchen
170 Lake St South
Kirkland, Washington 98033

Cinco de Mayo at Ricardo’s Torero (Bellevue, WA)

Cinco de Mayo “celebrations” in the U. S. have largely been co-opted from a national commemoration in Mexico to an excuse for Americans to get loaded with margaritas. And who among us Americans don’t like Mexican food? It wouldn’t surprise me much if Cinco de Mayo were promoted by restaurants here to increase patronage. Regardless, Americans love excuses to party.

Last year, we had lunch at El Tapatio in Bellevue, only to be disappointed that there didn’t seem to be anything specially prepared for the celebration.

Tonight, we decided to try Ricardo’s Torero in the Factoria area. An encouraging sign as we walked through the doors was a cinco de mayo special written on the blackboard, carnitas de res with the works. A lady was stationed at the tortilla machine that churned out flour tortillas, suggesting in my mind that we should opt for these instead of corn.

tortilla machine

I also noticed advertised throughout the dining room that “celebrations” had been going on for five days (since May 1), including a $5.25 house margarita. The complimentary chips and salsa were pretty good, thin and crisp fried tortilla chips and a tangy, mildly spicy tomato-based salsa. With the special margarita pricing, it wasn’t the time to order any with premium tequilas (and Ricardo’s does have a good selection) and special liqueurs. Both the blended and on-the-rocks margaritas were surprisingly good (☆☆☆), possibly the best of any house margarita we’ve had even if they were served in plastic cups. They were not cloyingly sweet as many made with pre-made mixes, and were bracing with limes, even as the nation is facing a lime shortage.

house margarita

The carnitas de res plate was enormous, which we predicted and therefore made sure to split. Slices of beef were sautéed with onions and bell peppers, served with rice and refried beans, a tasty slaw, equally tasty scoop of guacamole and four flour tortillas. The meat had good beef flavor, some of the slices a bit chewy and gristly, otherwise a good entrée (☆☆½). Puffy and gluten-y, the flour tortillas were really quite nice (☆☆☆), almost like a softer naan and equally thick.

Carnitas de Res

Carnitas de Res

fresh flour tortillas

We were pleasantly surprised by our experience here, a cut above the standard Mexican restaurant.

Ricardo’s Torero
4065 Factoria Blvd SE
Bellevue, WA 98006

Traditional Korean Beef Soup (Federal Way, WA)

No, the title of this post is not a subject line but the actual name of the restaurant that serves seolleongtang, or ox-tail soup. It’s an indication that the Korean dining scene, at least in Federal Way (and Lynnwood), has matured to the point where a restaurant can specialize in one or two things. K-Town in Los Angeles especially comes to mind.

Located across the street from H-Mart, Traditional Korean Beef Soup (henceforth, TKBS) is tucked away in a strip mall, difficult to spot as you’re driving along divided Pacific Highway South, difficult to get to if you’re pointed in the wrong direction (south) on the other side of the divider. We had to make a U-turn at S 320th and, having failed to spot the restaurant the first time, go around the block, until we spotted the storefront.

As soon as we entered, a comforting savory aroma greeted us. Every table already had a menu, a roll of paper towels and an earthenware jar filled with coarse salt. The lone waitress there hardly spoke English, so there was much menu pointing to convey our choices. There are four choices of seolleongtang: beef brisket, tongue, mixed (cartilage, tendon and tripe) and cartilage & tendon. You also have the choice between white or clear noodles.

Our beef brisket soup came bubbling in a dolsot (stone bowl), looking for all the world like Japanese okayu with a similar milky liquid. One sip of the broth was also like okayu—namely, very bland—which is exactly what I expected from reading the reviews. Instead of rice providing the milkiness, seolleongtang’s comes from simmering ox leg bones for many hours. Whether TKBS actually uses ox bones (or beef bones instead), I can’t say. I only wonder because oxen are not very common in the U. S.

beef brisket seolleongtang

The idea is for the diner to season the soup according to taste. Coarse salt from the jar is the beginning. Black pepper can also be added. Served simultaneously as the soup are a bowl of sliced green onions, kochujang paste and baechu (nappa cabbage) and kkakdugi (daikon) kimchis. Any and all of these can be stirred into the soup, not to mention the purple or white rice that comes with the meal.


By the time I was done adding, mine had a bright orange-red color.

after condiments

Slices of brisket were very tender. After all that, the soup was less bland, spicier, saltier (☆☆½). It’s one of those food items that one likely appreciates more after having grown up with it. I must say though that TKBS’ kkakdugi (☆☆☆☆) is the tastiest we’ve ever had, a standard now against which to compare others.


Traditional Korean Beef Soup
31248 Pacific Hwy S, Suite E
Federal Way, WA 98003

Tonkotsu White at Jinya Ramen Bar (Bellevue, WA)

I was seriously thinking of not going in. I stood outside for a minute or two, but decided to give Jinya Ramen Bar a shot anyway.

A little background. Our good friends ate there after it soon opened in Bellevue in March, along with so many other eager rameniacs that the two of them had to sit at the bar. They ordered Tokyo Yatai Ramen, which had several problems, among them being a soft-boiled egg (tamago ajitsuke) that was too salty, chicken chashu (which my friend called an “abomination”) that had a chemical taste and subpar marinated bamboo shoots (menma). Furthermore, another friend went twice, the first visit not being particularly impressed with the noodle quality, the second visit worse than the first. With reviews like these from people whose opinions I value, it was all I could do to forgo my reluctance. But, in the interest of evaluating a highly regarded ramenya, I walked in.

I was seated immediately. There was only one other couple toward the back and a lone diner at the counter. Jinya has a minimalist interior, like most Japanese restaurants. Along the back wall is the open kitchen, the counter artfully decorated with alternating red and black ramen bowls. Each table has a quartet of condiments: ichimi togarashi, red pepper paste, gyoza sauce and something called seasoning sauce, which was quite salty and garlicky.

I ordered the Jinya Tonkotsu White, the restaurant’s signature ramen. Besides, I love tonkotsu. It arrived ten minutes later, nicely presented in a black bowl. Two squares of toasted seaweed (nori) were nestled along one arc, an egg half-peaking out of the broth along with two slices of roasted pork belly, spinach, green onions, fried onions and slivers of cloud ears (kikurage). The tonkotsu broth was practically perfect, milky, thick and seasoned properly. It also coated the mouth with gelatin, which feels sticky on the lips, indicating the hours of extracting it from pork bones. The thin noodles were likewise perfect, exhibiting the best kansui property of being springy without the use of eggs. The egg had no excessive saltiness, which my friends noted from their visit. The yolk was ever so slightly congealed yet managed to ooze its bright yellow yolk out into the broth. Finally, the pork belly chashu could not have been better roasted, supremely tender and unctuous. In short, this was a ramen that can take its place among the best (☆☆☆½).

Jinya Tonkotsu White

Jinya Tonkotsu White

Could the same be said for the other ramen that are not pork-broth-based? I doubt whether my friends who tried them will ever come back after their terrible experiences.

You may have caught the fact that I was immediately seated with only a handful of customers inside. This does not typically happen at a highly regarded ramen restaurant. Kukai Ramen still has enough customers throughout the day that waiting to get seated is still pretty common. My only explanation for Jinya is that the rocky start took its toll. It’s possible that problems did not get fixed fast enough that the damage became almost irreparable.

“Did you like the ramen?” the waitress asked when I was done.

“Yes, I did.”

“Would you come back?” she followed.

“Yes, I would.”

“Please bring your friends and family.”

Did I detect some concern? There absolutely is no excuse for a restaurant of Jinya’s caliber, having garnered many awards and citations for its excellent ramen at other venues, including a glowing review from Los Angeles food critic-extraordinaire Jonathan Gold, to have had quality-control issues from the start. None, whatsoever. Management clearly dropped the ball. It will take time to repair its reputation. Jinya can only hope it’s not too late because other ramenya are moving in.

Update (6-24-14):

At dinnertime, the patronage was way up from what I experienced above. There was a slight wait of ten minutes before my wife and I got seated.

I had expected Jinya Tonkotsu Black to be almost ebony like the Black Garlic Oil Ramen at Setsuna, but there was hardly a resemblance. The tonkotsu broth was as light-colored as the Tonkotsu White (see above). The difference was in the broth, which is entirely pork-based for the Black, while the White is derived from pork and chicken. Not surprisingly, it had a noticeably porkier flavor with a touch of gelatinous stickiness and more flavor from garlic chips. The broth was quite good, milky and lower in sodium than, say, Kukai’s. The thin, straight noodles were perfectly textured, firm and springy, qualities that lasted a surprisingly long time. The roasted pork belly slices were the tenderest in recent memory with an equally impressive pork flavor. Fried onions, nori squares, kikurage and green onions rounded out the condiments. The notable shortcoming in the ramen was a half-congealed soft-boiled egg that was very salty, which my friend KirkJ also criticized when he ate here. This makes me wonder if there is any quality control on making ajitsuke tamago, which was perfect during my last visit. Nevertheless, the tonkotsu black was an impressive ramen (☆☆☆½).

Tonkotsu Black

Tonkotsu Black

The egg in my wife’s Hiyashi (cold ramen) wasn’t salty at all, but had a milder flavor more suited to the tare sauce. Cut in half, her egg too was partially set. The noodles were thicker and curly with substantial chew. The remaining ingredients included pork chashu, cooked spinach, cucumber, bean sprouts and ginger. The hayashi ramen is on special for the months of June and July, along with a non-traditional cold ramen soup with diced tomatoes, cilantro and lime. Like my pork belly slices, the chashu was equally tender, cut into cubes. Made with soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sesame seeds and sugar, the tare sauce was sweeter than it needed to be. Otherwise, my wife said she’d order this dish again (☆☆☆).

Hiyashi (cold ramen)

Hiyashi (cold ramen)

Jinya Ramen Bar
15600 NE 8th St
Bellevue, WA 98008

Barbecue Choice at The Boar’s Nest (Seattle, WA)

It has been getting warmer in Seattle. Warm weather tends to stimulate my appetite for barbecue. Only a few blocks from my daughter’s condo, maybe The Boar’s Nest would fit the bill.

BBQ sauces at every table

BBQ sauces at every table

Opened in 2011, The Boar’s Nest specializes in pulled pork and ribs, though there are also chicken and links on the menu. Looking through the Yelp reviews, I gather that beef brisket used to be offered, but is no longer. The two guys who run it are from Tennessee, thereby laying claim to a pedigree of Southern cooks who churn out some of the nation’s best barbecue, the Midwest being the other region. So, what regional style does The Boar’s Nest adhere to? None, it seems, though a diner could reasonably expect Memphis. The pulled pork sandwich does come topped with cole slaw. Instead, the restaurant offers a choice of eight different barbecue sauces, running the gamut of the barbecue belt (Kansas City, Memphis, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Alabama and Kentucky, with a house-made roasted habañero tossed in for good measure). The meats are slow-roasted only with a dry rub; the customer chooses the sauce. At each table, five of them are in squeeze bottles, a worn-out outline of the state identifying each (except the habañero); the other three (North Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky) are presumably available when ordering.

Sides include not only the standard slaw, fries (including sweet potato), baked beans and collard greens, but also a couple of unusual items: fried pickles and fried mac and cheese.

Several meats can be had as sandwiches—pulled pork, fried chicken, smoked sausage and links. I decided on the pulled pork plate, which includes cornbread, Texas toast and a choice of any two sides. I had to try the pickles and mac & cheese to satisfy my curiosity.

As I was waiting for my order to be served, I sampled each of the five sauces in the squeeze bottles. Overall, I preferred the KC.

South Carolina — mustardy and sweet with a bite
Texas — very sweet and tangy, tomatoey
Memphis — spicy, mildly sweet, tangy, a little heavy on dried thyme
Kansas City — sweet, vinegary
Habañero — spicy, fruity, balanced

Lunch arrived on a tray with generous portions of everything, clearly more than I’d be able to finish at one sitting.

Pulled Pork Plate with fried pickles and fried mac & cheese

Pulled Pork Plate with fried pickles and fried mac & cheese

Let’s start with the sides. Who ever thought of frying dill pickles? They were pleasant enough (☆☆½), crispy from cornmeal batter, tangy, boosted by dipping them in the remoulade, served in a little plastic tub. The fried mac and cheese was unremarkable (☆☆), big balls of fried cheesy pasta that are just crunchier versions of the popular combo. There was little cheese flavor. As many a Yelp reviewer opined, the cornbread was flavorless (☆½). The pulled pork was smoky and moist, oddly watery (☆☆½). It didn’t outdo Stan’s version closer to home on the Eastside.

The Boar’s Nest wants to appeal to a broad range of BBQ preferences. I’m not sure this is a good strategy because barbecuing in the States is so regionally specific, encompassing several kinds of meat and cooking styles. It’s easier to get away with it here in the Pacific Northwest far removed from the meccas.

The Boar’s Nest
2008 NW 56th St
Seattle, WA 98107

Happy Hour at Golden Beetle (Seattle, WA)

Maria Hines is a celebrity chef around here. She was recognized with a James Beard award (Best Chef Northwest in 2009) and had beaten out Chef Morimoto on Iron Chef. Her restaurant that she opened in 2006, Tilth, is noteworthy not only for its fine cooking but its use of mostly organic and sustainable ingredients. In 2011, she opened Golden Beetle and, the following year, Agrodolce.

Golden Beetle is in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, on NW Market toward the eastern edge of Ballard’s commercial core. The food is described as Eastern Mediterranean, which includes the Middle East, Turkey, Greece and Egypt. Italy is apparently not represented; Agrodolce fills that bill.

It was the dinner hour when I was looking for places to have happy hour. As luck would have it, Golden Beetle offered one.

The happy hour menu has a good selection of Mediterranean items, including a serrano chile and orange zest hummus and mixed marinated olives. Chicken wings combined with harissa, ginger and peanuts, and pizzas also make an appearance, as does a stew of chickpeas, lemon, walnuts and yogurt. But two items struck me immediately: fried pistachios and spiced french fries. The latter includes among its ingredients sumac and harissa aioli. It is also fried in beef fat, which many of you may recall McDonald’s used to do before public concerns about cholesterol forced them to switch to vegetable oil. Whatever side you take on this debate, there is no argument that fries cooked in beef fat are tastier. While they can be ordered separately, I also noticed that the HH mini burger came with said fries, which would let me sample them. Done. I also got the raw winter greens salad.

At 3 ounces, the burger was small enough that I could manage the fries and salad at one sitting. It was a respectable one (☆☆½), garnished with pickled onions and tomato-garlic sauce. Somewhere was a hint of tarragon, which is not one of my favorite herbs. On the other hand, the fries were terrific (☆☆☆½). Looking overly browned, they nonetheless were wonderfully crispy and fluffy, sprinkled with flaky Mediterranean sea salt and, of course, savory from you-know-what. Accompanying the fries was an overly small dipping dish of excellent harissa aioli (I had to ask for another one), much more subdued than the equally first-rate harissa paste on every table.

Mini Burger with Spiced French Fries

Mini Burger with Spiced French Fries

The sole defect of the salad was its saltiness. Otherwise, the chard, pickled chard stems and feta, dressed in a cumin vinaigrette, was quite good (☆☆☆).

Raw Winter Greens Salad

Raw Winter Greens Salad

Golden Beetle
1744 NW Market St.
Seattle, WA 98107

Seattle’s Restaurant Week, Monsoon’s Catfish Claypot

It was the Spring run of Restaurant Week again earlier this month. Over 130 Seattle area restaurants offered three dinner courses (a starter, main and dessert) for $30. Some restaurants also had a lunch menu for $15. Monsoon East in Bellevue (and its sister restaurant, Monsoon, in Seattle) always seems to participate in this and the similar October festivities, which is great news to those of us who love this restaurant.

One of their signature dishes—and one which we practically get every time—is the Catfish Claypot (cá kho tộ). Even if it is one of their most popular dinner items, it was fantastic to see it on the Restaurant Week menu. It is a delicious entrée of catfish (☆☆☆☆) braised in a thick, savory and caramelized sugar sauce and served piping hot in a claypot, with shallots, ngo òm, morning glory stems and sliced jalapeño to wake up the taste buds. Fish sauce lends this dish its savoriness and balances its sweetness. Despite the dish being a little spicy, no less so because of cracked peppercorns, my wife devours it, as I do, as if there were no tomorrow. On steamed rice, the sauce is ridiculously tasty. Unlike most other places we’ve had it, the catfish has no hint of muddiness, a testament to the kitchen’s prowess.

Caramelized Idaho catfish claypot

Caramelized Idaho catfish claypot

The other Restaurant Week items we had were no slouches either, including a sautéed calamari dish that boasted perfectly cooked squid, and their cocktails are some of the best in town, but the catfish claypot stays in our memory. Perfection.

Monsoon East
10245 Main St.
Bellevue, WA 98004


Like this on Facebook

Degraves Street: Melbourne’s Café Culture

We were getting weary of the “big breakfast,” as Aussies and Kiwis refer to their eggs, bacon, sausage, roasted tomato, sautéed mushrooms and hash browns combination. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just that we wanted variety. Our hotel offered a buffet; components of the big brekkie were the extent of the savory offerings. We were going to ask the front desk later for recommendations on other places to eat.

Then, serendipity struck.

As we were walking toward the Tourist Information Office, we came upon Degraves Street. It really is an alley, easy to ignore when walking past. But, my wife and I both happened to look down the lane and noticed a café and what appeared to be big umbrellas lined up down the center with tables and chairs underneath. Curious, we went in further and found to our amazement that the alley was lined with tiny European-style cafes, all open toward the alley and having at least a few tables outside for al fresco dining. Offering breakfast were restaurant after restaurant, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, bakeries. And, it doesn’t stop at Degraves, which is only one block long, but continues in other alleyways and arcades, spread through the CBD. They are so popular now that they are the subject of a separate self-guided walking tour, as we later found out at the information center. Melbournians are proud of their café culture.

The quality of the meals has been quite good. We couldn’t believe our fortune. It is possible to have all your meals in these cafes for an entire week and still not run out of options. And only a half block from our hotel, the Citigate Melbourne, to boot.

At Degraves Espresso, located near the Degraves Street entrance, we drew from their largely Spanish menu for breakfast one morning. Green Eggs was a scramble of basil, onion and feta, served on a slice of toasted sourdough bread. Not a big fan of feta, my wife ordered it without, which explained why it seemed one-dimensional. The entrée also had a choice of bacon or smoked salmon. Spanish Baked Eggs was a lot tastier. A pair of eggs came piping hot in a zesty tomato sauce with chorizo, olives, and potatoes. Toasted sourdough was also served on the side. A couple rounds of long blacks and flat whites completed our breakfast.

degraves espresso

Degraves Espresso

Spanish Baked Eggs

Spanish Baked Eggs

Green Eggs

Green Eggs

Il Tempo sits at the northern end of Degraves. It has an Italian menu of salads, soups, bruschetta, pasta, risotto and a few mains. Risotto Calamari e Gamberi was respectable except for a slight under-doneness of the rice and overcooked calamari rings, but the shrimp was perfectly cooked. Lamb ragu was a nice alternative to bolognese in the well-prepared Tagliatelle e Ragu d’Agnello.

il tempo

Il Tempo

Risotto Calamari e Gamberi

Risotto Calamari e Gamberi


Tagliatelle e Ragu d’Agnello

Issus is not on Degraves but on Centre Place, the next stretch of amazing cafés a dog-leg to the north.

Before I continue, an anecdote. We were amused when the hotel clerk, in his words, “picked up on our accent.” Fair enough; we were Yanks in Oz after all. When we asked a café owner the name of the street we were gawking at, we heard him say “Seentah Plice,” which we couldn’t get a handle on until we saw the street sign. We hadn’t picked up on his accent.

Issus has a small dining area open to the alleyway, not to mention a few tables outside. It also has a small deli next door that sells prepared sandwiches and hot soups, the latter of which we ordered as takeout (or takeaway, as they say in the Commonwealth) for lunch yesterday. Like most other cafés along here, the menu is handwritten on boards or placards on the walls, adding to the European feel. Breakfast started with the usual espresso drinks, followed by house-made toasted muesli (as dried oats is called Down Under) with fresh yogurt (spelled yoghurt) and Middle Eastern Meatballs, cooked in a tomato sauce with mild Middle Eastern flavors, served with baked eggs and beans and bread sprinkled with zatar.

We met a Melbournian who told us she never misses a chance to eat on Degraves when she overnights at our hotel for special CBD events. We felt sorry for the guests who ate daily at the hotel buffet. Did they not know of the treasure just a half-block away or were they perfectly satisfied with the Big Breakfast?

Like this on Facebook