Category Archives: Japanese

Genki Sushi

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 6+

Genki's conveyor

Genki's conveyor

For some reason, hot weather seems to bring out the sushi fanatics in droves. I’m not one of them, but my husband and kids are, so we found ourselves at Genki Sushi for the umpteenth time this weekend.

Convenience isn’t the only reason we go–Sushiland is right across the street, and I’ve never returned after my initial visit. Genki is actually the best of the kaiten sushi options in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Granted, that’s not exactly high praise, but kaiten, or conveyor-belt, sushi isn’t exactly haute cuisine.

Still, when it’s well done, kaiten sushi is fun fast finger food, and there are lots of interesting combinations at Genki, such as the very Hawaiian Spam musubi roll and the fantastic Ahi Poke roll–which, we learned today, was just taken off the Seattle menu because there’s not enough demand for it here.

This is truly a sad state of affairs, because the poke at Genki–a zesty salad of ahi bits, onions, garlic and soy-sesame dressing–is the best poke we’ve had outside the islands. Not enough demand, the Japanese sushi chef explained. The Genkis in Hawaii and Japan still serve poke–it’s one of the chain’s most popular items. But not in Seattle. Hello?

Aside from the freshness of the fish and great deals ($1 sushi at Happy Hour!), Genki also offers fantastic options for vegetarians and hard-core sushi eaters, which may explain why two-thirds of the customers are visiting Japanese. My hunch is that this place is just a wee bit too authentic for the likes of Seattle. Seriously, folks: Who was going to grab those big hand rolls of natto riding along the belt? (If you’ve never tried these slimy fermented soy beans before, recall what you did with your finger and your nose as a small child…Natto is eerily similar…)

Speaking of kids: Genki is a great place for little ones. First, there’s the instant gratification of the kaiten: My daughter ate eight tobiko rolls that she grabbed off the line with her tiny hands. So what if she went to bed smelling like bait.

Then, there are the a la carte menu items, conveniently served in appetizer portions for bar-style grazing. This means that the order of tempura udon or chicken teriyaki is down-sized to perfect dimensions for little appetites. Considering that these items are all priced well below $5, you’ll be extremely pleased with the final bill.
Genki Sushi on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Japanese, Kid Friendly, Lunch, Vegetarian Friendly

Boom Noodle – Bellevue

Boom Noodle: Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Blue C: More times than I care to admit.

Bellevue Mall is large enough to have its own gravitational pull. Which may explain why I found myself adrift there the other day, trying to find the new Boom Noodle/Blue C Sushi outposts. Luckily, these two restaurants are located streetside, with excellent signage that’s visible from 8th. Even better, unlike sister restaurants Blue C Fremont, Blue C U Village, and Boom Noodle Capitol Hill (I haven’t been to Blue C Southcenter), there’s AMPLE free parking in the lot next door. That alone makes driving across the lake for a double-header of sushi and ramen a viable option for even the stubbornest of Seattleites.

But with food that keeps getting better and better, and a game plan that’s brilliant (pack ’em in at lunch, appeal to families as well as the happy hour crowd), Boom and Blue C are well-poised to ride out the depression-in-all-but-name. The shitake soba I enjoyed at lunch was so good, it inspired me to email owner Steve Rosen, to ask if they’ve been improving things at Boom Noodle and how the first two weeks of opening have been…

His funny and frank reply:

“It’s so funny that you had the Shiitake soba yesterday.  That, along with the chilled wasabi soba salad are my current favorites.  We just swapped out our soba noodle to a more expensive hand-made one and I think it has more bite.  Our previous ones were so irritating because they became soggy too fast.
“To answer your question, YES, the two weeks have been exhilarating and full of a lot of nervous energy.  Half of the kitchen equipment went down on our preview night for boom so that was interesting to say the least.
“As far as boom goes the thing we’re most happy about is that people are accepting the overall concept.  When we decided to open over there we had many people tell us they were doubtful about people on the east side taking to our style of communal dining, but so far it has gone over really great from what we can tell.  Along that strip of Bellevue way we are the only non “white table cloth” establishment so it feels as though the urban, casual environment is resonating.
“It has also been interesting to see people embrace us as a “local” restaurant.  Our intention was always to ring a non-national chain over to Bellevue like other Seattle places have done, but we could never be sure if people really cared one way or another.  In the days I’ve spent talking to guests they have been so curious about everything; how we started, where the original location is, where the artwork came from–it’s been really satisfying.
“I will say opening two restaurants within two weeks of each other was just about the craziest thing we’ve ever done.  It’s unbelievable how valuable take-out forks can be until you realize you forgot to order them…  ;)”

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Filed under Casual, Eastside Restaurants, Japanese

Bluefin

Repeatable: Yes Visits: 6+

Bluefin's banchan bar

Bluefin's banchan bar

All-you-can-eat buffets are definitely not for the faint of heart. And in the case of Northgate Mall’s Bluefin, definitely not for the uninitiated either.

 

To fully appreciate this Japanese-Chinese-Korean smorgasbord ($15.99-17.99 lunch; $25.99-27.99 dinner), one needs more than a passing familiarity with these cuisines—which may explain why Bluefin’s devoted clientele is mostly Asian. Depending on what kind of eater you are, Bluefin’s dizzying array of options will either provide a fascinating playground of colorful tastes to explore, or it will simply turn you off.

 

Fussy gourmets who cannot bear eating anything but the most pristine and impeccable of ingredients, cooked to order just for them, should stop reading now. This post is for the fearless culinary explorer–the ones who understand the romance of corn dogs at state fairs and fried dough from street stalls in faraway countries.

 

If you’re a true gourmand, the only problem you’ll encounter at Bluefin is deciding exactly where to start loading up your plate. Most people start at the colorful sushi bar, where the goods are attractively displayed on large platters set atop ice. All the usual suspects are here–California, shrimp, tuna, cucumber, tobiko, etc.–and often of a quality that surpasses what goes around most local sushi conveyor belts. Exercise restraint, because there is much, much more to discover.

 

As you journey counter-clockwise from the sushi, you’ll pass a display of seafood–steamed crab, lobster, chilled shrimp, oysters, and clams, along with various vegetable mixes, like seaweed salad, cucumber and crab, maybe even a Caesar platter. Ebi is always piled high in a bowl next to a heaping tray of soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles) and jap chae (Korean sweet potato “glass” noodles). Congee (rice porridge) is kept in a steaming bowl with a ladle. If you aren’t already pacing yourself, you’ll never make it to the end of the line.

 

Moving away from the large central buffet and towards the perimeter, you’ll find a lineup of tried-and-true Chinese classics: crab in black bean sauce, kung pao chicken, Mongolian beef, wok-fried noodles, fried rice, and more. Sometimes there’s duck or sizzling scallops. These dishes are often as good as or better than their counterparts in many local Chinese restaurants.

 

Then there are the Korean options. This is where Bluefin reveals the ace up its sleeve: A grill that constantly turns out freshly cooked strips of kalbi, teriyaki chicken, and salmon. Next to these wildly popular options are the very pleasant fried gyoza and addictive miniature bin dae duc pancakes—fat savory rounds of crunchy vegetables with little bits of meat, held together by a deliciously savory batter. There’s even a little banchan bar, with four different types of kimchee or pickled vegetable. Help yourself from the huge vat of steamed rice or ladle out a bowl of spicy Korean beef soup.

 

Unbelieveably, there’s more. But I’ll cut the food description short and get to the heart of the matter: How to get the best out of a buffet. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

 

Go early, when the food is fresh. Buffet-diving is best done when the restaurant opens; you’ll often see lines outside Bluefin at 5pm.

 

Pay attention to what’s running out. Empty platters usually mean the dish is good. It also means that it will be replenished soon, so watch and wait for a fresh serving instead of taking the dregs.

 

Get a seat near the action. You won’t be able to notice when the grill tender is taking freshly cooked kalbi off the flames if you’re sitting in no-man’s land. The best seats go early.

 

Keep exploratory portions small. Don’t heap your plate with that mystery meat until you’ve tasted it first. Avoid waste.

 

Bring your children or grandchildren. All kids adore Bluefin. For parents,  Bluefin is a godsend–instant gratification and something for everyone. Just be warned that there is a soft-serve ice cream machine and a very tempting dessert kiosk. You may have to bargain two bites of broccoli for a chocolate cream puff. Fortunately, the desserts are all cut into diminutive, nibble-friendly portions.

 

One last suggestion: Dig out your fat pants. You will definitely end up overindulging. (If you’ve heard horror stories about people getting sick after a buffet, overeating is most likely the cause. I’ve eaten at Bluefin–and for that matter, buffets on cruise ships and in Vegas–many, many times with my extremely delicate stomach and never had a problem. Just remember to exercise some self-control, and you’ll be fine.)

 

Bluefin on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Casual, Chinese, Japanese, Kid Friendly, Korean

Boom Noodle

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 1
Boom Bento Box for kids

Boom Bento Box for kids

My first reaction to Boom Noodle was, “Wow, this place reminds me of Blue C Sushi!” Same breezy modern decor, same Japanese urban kitsch, same fetishizing of young Japanese girls wearing knee socks. A bit of googling revealed why: This place was started by the same folks. (When no one sends you press releases anymore, you actually have to do your own background research.) No wonder my 6-year-old immediately announced she wanted a cream puff when she entered the premises (both places offer “Tokyo Sweets,” aka cream puffs, for dessert).

My tasting companions on this trip were all under 4 feet: a 4-year-old, two 6-year-olds, and an 8-year-old. All four kids are child prodigy gourmands who’ve eaten at way too many fancy restaurants, so they make great tasters. The 4-year-old’s first observation was that the space was “too loud.” And indeed it was–the folks at Boom seem to have carried the concept over to the acoustics, but noise is a typical side effect of artsy, high-ceiling, exposed beams decor.

The kid’s menu is one of the best I’ve seen outside Honolulu–bento boxes with a choice of chicken skewers, braised pork loin, gyoza, fried shrimp, or fried tofu ($5.95). The gyoza arrived burnt, but the two hungy kids ate them anyway. There was a bit of char on the chicken, which caused one child to turn her nose up at it, while the other one wolfed it down. Another youngster sitting at our same table had the ramen ($4.50); she seemed to enjoy hers far more than the bowl of shitake soba ($9.50) that I got, which was beautifully presented:

Shiitake Soba at Boom Noodle

Shiitake Soba at Boom Noodle

The broth–a critical component of any Japanese noodle dish–was actually quite good. But the noodles were overcooked, and I couldn’t find a mushroom to save my life. My friend John’s Tokyo ramen dish ($9.95), was not at all close to what he enjoys in Tokyo on a regular basis. “Too much pork, sliced too thick,” he said. Still, for these prices, we’re willing to compromise.

The curry potato korokke ($4.50)–potato croquettes–would have been lovely had they not been bludgeoned with curry powder. The kids each took a bite and made faces, spitting out the offending mouthful into their napkins. The mizuna salad ($9.95) was composed of the sturdiest, most mature mizuna I have ever encountered–they were mizuna on steroids. I felt like a cow as I munched through these strangely flavorless greens. Grilled chicken was supposed to be garnishing this salad; it must have fallen off in transit. Tori karaage ($5.95), Japanese fried chicken, had a hard time measuring up to my friend Megumi’s home-made version. John tried it and pronounced them just OK. The drumettes were huge; the chunks of chicken small and overcooked.

Regardless of its imperfect cooking, business will most likely Boom here (couldn’t resist). Its approximation of Japanese noodle shop fare and izakaya bar food is adequate enough to fool anyone who’s never actually eaten in Japan. Boom clearly understands its target demographic, which is the same as its sister restaurant Blue C’s: From 5-6:30 the long communal tables are filled with families with young children. After hours, the highly tempting and well-lit bar probably reels in the bar-hoppers and wild young things.

Despite the fact that the food was just OK, I’ll probably go again. The price was right, the kids actually ate something healthy, and it’s not too hard to get to in a minivan (street parking after 5pm, however, is a tough prospect).
Boom Noodle on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Casual, Japanese, Kid Friendly