Category Archives: Kid Friendly

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

Tutta Bella

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 2+

Tutta Bella Pie

Tutta Bella Pie

Seattle is not New York or Chicago, so you can fuhgeddabout all the fine distinctions that make pies worthy of either the Big Apple or the Windy City.

Still, Seattle’s trying. Tutta Bella isn’t exactly news anymore, but it’s representative of the wave of artisanal pizzerias that have recently opened up.

Without naming additional names, let me say that there’s an eerie similarity to these pizzerias, and I’m just holding Tutta Bella up as the most obvious and established offender: paper thin crusts splotched by bubbles of black char.

Burnt dough simply doesn’t taste good–I don’t care how much sauce, cheese, or creative topping is surrounding or covering these ugly boils. And yet for some reason, the local fancy pizzerias insist on offering up these offenders. Why?

Until I actually experience a pizza that is not partially burnt, sooty, or charred, I cannot recommend Tutta Bella without reservations. That simply hasn’t happened yet. At best, I can salvage a piece or two from an entire pie. And then I wonder: Is it really worth the trouble and expense?

That rhetorical question makes me think of the ne plus ultra of American pizzerias, Pizzeria Bianco. Located in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona, Bianco offers up the kind of pizza that I will gladly suffer a trip to the dessert just to eat–pizza that’s worth a great deal of trouble and expense. (And Phoenix is much closer than Chicago and New York!) In April, we ate there twice; I stood in line for an hour both times to hold our places. As we were boarding the flight back to Seattle, my husband and three children walked on carrying their own boxes from Pizzeria Bianco. “Is it really that good?” someone asked. My children nodded solemnly, clutching their boxes for dear life. They’re still talking about the experience wistfully, asking when we’re going back. “Mama, that pizza was the best pizza in the world.” “Not quite,” I say. “There’s a couple places in Italy I gotta show you…”)

South Lake Union
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Columbia City:
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wallingford:
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (Wallingford) on Urbanspoon

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Filed under 15654811, Casual, Italian, Kid Friendly, Lunch, Pizza

Vios

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 3+

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All roads lead to Vios. Especially if you’re driving a minivan with children in tow. The play area in the back of the restaurant is genius–as inspired as the house tzatziki, which is an infinitely repeatable yogurt dip that transforms a glass of wine, olives, and some bread into a satisfying meal. I dream about the tzatziki here–scooped up with triangles of pita, dipped into with a stick of souvlaki, slathered all over a sandwich, spooned up all by itself…The best setting for this creamy, savory yogurt sauce? The grilled eggplant sandwich, served at lunch.

I’ve eaten at Vios so many times I must confess to personal bias in my assessment: owner Thomas Soukakos definitely knows who I am. Still, that knowledge doesn’t affect the kitchen in any way–the food here is quietly delicious and well prepared no matter when I go. The salads are immaculate, thoughtfully composed and artfully dressed; any dish made with lamb is always amazing. Best of all, the children always eat well when they come here.

Stray off the regular menu into the specials on the chalkboard, and you’ll find some lovely surprises: perhaps some soothing avoglemeno, a lemony chicken soup that’s perfect for wintry weather, or a crunchy slice of baklava dripping with honey.

Vios Cafe & Marketplace on Urbanspoon

Note: Vios at Third Place is now open; the menu is very similar and similarly well-executed. Go for breakfast (french toast!), or meet a friend for drinks in the pub after the kids have gone down.

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Filed under Casual, Greek, Kid Friendly, Vegetarian Friendly

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

Alexa’s Garden Cafe

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 1

Alexa's Garden Cafe

Alexa's Garden Cafe

When the sodden gray of a Seattle winter starts dampening my spirits, I look for comfort in food and eat out. Lunch is the best meal to get the most pleasure for your money, especially if you enjoy dining alone with a good book or newspaper in hand. It is rare to find a space one could actually linger in, for hours at a time.  So when I found Alexa’s Garden Cafe, improbably hidden in the far back recesses of Swanson’s Nursery, I blinked, thinking it was an hallucination.

Hidden by lush tropical foliage and several ponds of enormous koi, Alexa’s feels so faraway from Seattle that it might as well be a wavering mirage in the desert. I found it quite by accident, while on a quest to buy houseplants. Trailed by my three young children, I went in search of a ficus and found, instead, food.

“French toast!” shouted my daughter with delight. “Vegan banana bread!” exclaimed my food-allergic son. My youngest just wanted scrambled egg, like always. We had just tried to eat some fried slop from a fast-food restaurant I’m too embarrassed to name. I had gotten rid of the barely bitten evidence in the garbage can outside the store and was hoping we could buy a plant and rush back home for something real. Instead, we ate first, then got our tree.

The French toast was lovely. The thick, chewy slices of bacon perfectly cooked. The egg, gently scrambled. The blueberry muffin was obviously home-made, as was the vegan banana bread. My children ate every bite while I drank black licorice tea and studied the tempting menu, with its list of breakfast items on one side, lunchtime options on the other. I chose to get a Mom’s Plate ($6.50), just a simple egg over easy, with whole wheat toast and a bowl of immaculately fresh melon and grapes. The food was simple, clean, and pleasant–nothing to gush over, but far better than the breakfast places on Queen Anne.

If you have small children, or like the rest of Seattle, suffer from chronic Vitamin D deficiency, Alexa’s Garden is worth whiling away a few hours in, especially for a weekend brunch, when every other place in the city is mobbed. Prices are all well below $10, and the children’s menu is filled with smart, nutritious options.  If Alexa’s offered an Internet connection, the place would probably be filled with writers, sunning themselves while nursing a latte next to their laptops.

Alexa's Garden Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Breakfast, Casual, Kid Friendly

Kawon

Repeatable: Yes! Visits: 6+

Where’s the best Korean food OUTSIDE Korea? If you grew up second-generation Korean-American, the most likely answer would be, “At my mom’s house.” (Except for a friend of mine who hated Korean food when he was growing up. It wasn’t until he visited Korea that he realized he loved Korean food and that his mother was a terrible cook. But I digress.)

Typical banchan assortment

Typical banchan assortment

 
The second best place for Korean food outside Korea is Los Angeles. After that, most people would guess New York. But having eaten at all the top Korean restaurants in New York, I would have to insist that Kawon, a humble dive in Everett, Washington, kicks the pants off any Korean restaurant in the Big Apple (or Flushing).

A 40-minute drive north of Seattle’s city center, Kawon is hidden in a little strip mall behind an oil-change outlet.  Once you actually find the restaurant, those very same barriers to entry will help you find it again with ease. And, believe me, you’ll be going there again. My two NYC-based sisters make it a point to stop at Kawon every time they visit Seattle. Utter Manhattan snobs, even they concede that the food there is better than anything in New York.  In fact, Kawon is so much better than all the other Korean restaurants in the Puget Sound region that there’s no reason to eat anywhere else.

Here’s why Kawon is so repeatable:

Banchan Assortment: Kawon’s kitchen finesse is readily apparent in the astonishing array of top-notch side dishes  that freely accompany any order of grilled meat. The kimchee is pungent, well-balanced, and superb. The dressed spicy cucumber slices are always fresh and perfectly seasoned, as are the mung bean sprouts, wilted spinach mix, and grated daikon. In addition to these, there might also be a little bowl of daikon cubes in salty brine broth (known as “water kimchee”), crunchy cubes of spicy daikon, brown fish cake slivers sauteed with peppers and onions, and quivering slices of beige acorn jelly, dressed with a spicy soy-sauce mix. If you order kalbi, you’ll also get a free side of spicy, stinky Korean miso stew–recommended only to advanced eaters and served to non-Koreans by request only. All of these dishes are wonderful, but the crowing glory of the banchan selection at Kawon is the fresh Romaine salad platter–torn leaves of Romaine and slivers of green onion tossed with a sweet and savory dressing of soy sauce, sesame, and chili paste. Don’t be alarmed by the heaping size of this salad, because you will finish it.

Grilled Meats: For most people, Korean food means barbecue–and Kawon scores sky-high on this measure. The yang-nyum kalbi here is presented in long strips attached to the bone for table-top grilling. The seasoning is finger-lickingly balanced–not too sweet, not too salty, not too garlicky. A great alternative to beef is the hyuk daeji saeng-gyup sal–or black pig pork belly. These chunky slices of bacon grill up meltingly tender-chewy and are addictive when dipped in the accompanying chili-miso paste. Children love eating “bacon” this way, along with a bowl of kelp soup and strands of sprout and spinach salad.

Kawon has many other dishes of note, including their famous savory pancake (haemul pae-jun), hot pot mixed rice (dolsut bibimbop), and in summer only, the best cold water noodle-soup I’ve ever had (mul naeng myun). There are also hauntingly delicious grilled whole fish dishes, mouth-watering stews, and spicy soups–all worth trying if you have a Korean friend who can help translate some of the specials that are posted on the walls in Korean.

If you don’t have a friend like that, send me an email. I just might be having a craving.

Ka Won on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Casual, Kid Friendly, Korean, Puget Sound Restaurants

Steelhead Diner

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 1

Red Beans & Rice with Chickn Andouille Gumbo

Red Beans & Rice with Chicken Andouille Gumbo

Most Seattleites eventually make it to the Pike Place Market at some point during the year, usually with kids and visitors in tow. During these rare visits, you don’t want to wait forever for a seat at Matt’s in the Market and you don’t really want to walk in the street dripping take-out down the front of your shirt either.

So you go to Steelhead Diner, a large, well-lit space next to the northern entrance to Pike Alley that’s been open for almost two years. The adorable owners, Kevin and Terresa Davis, have spent considerable amounts of time in the same places I’ve spent considerable amounts of time, so maybe that’s why diving into the deep menu felt like plunging into a pool of nostalgia.

Taste of New Orleans: Chef Kevin survived his start in the kitchens of the legendary Arnaud’s, one of the Crescent City’s most storied restaurants (he would fall back on that experience when he opened Sazerac in Seattle). Thankfully, none of Arnaud’s high-falutin’ Creole cooking is found here–just the down-home easy-going goodness of Cajun classics like chicken gumbo ($6.95, real and real good), rice and beans ($4.95, oh, my! properly cooked beans! without cumin! heaven!), and “dressed” po-boy styled sandwiches (means with all the fixin’s, like shredded lettuce, ketchup, mayo, etc.). There’s even junk food, a la “poutine,” french fries with gravy and cheese curds ($7.95). All this stuff really, really made me miss N’awlins.

Fish with Flair: The kitchen’s deft hand with seafood is most likely the result of the chef’s 5-year stint at the helm of Oceanaire, one of Seattle’s most reliable seafood restaurants, despite  (or maybe because of) the fact that it’s  part of a boutique chain. The jumbo lump Dungeness crab cake ($14.95) was a lightly formed patty of crab meat, with a piquant bit of sauce Louis (another Nawlins import; think mayo kicked up a notch). Delicious.  The Totten Inlet mussels in Purgatory ($12.95) were definitely hellish–with salt. The spices and flavors of chorizo, garlic, serrano, basil, and orange zest were tantalizingly promising–but someone had clearly made a mistake and dumped an extra teaspoon of salt into the batch and almost ruined it. I say almost because I still finished it, even though I needed to suck down most of my beer doing so.

California Dreamin’: The couple’s time in Napa–he in the fabulous kitchen of Tra Vigne–is evident in dishes like the crispy pork shank carnitas ($9.95), two tender legs served with a plate of corn tortillas. I think I would have enjoyed this dish a lot more if I hadn’t gorged on rice and beans and gumbo first. In an attempt to inject lightness into the meal, I got a plate of organic lettuce slalad with Chukar cherries, goat cheese, spiced walnuts, and white balsamic vinaigrette ($7.95).  Alas, it was overly dressed, so I didn’t get any respite from all the bold flavors at the table. The plate of pan-roasted brussel sprouts, however, were superb ($7.95).

One of the kids at our table got the so-ubiquitous-it-might-as-well-be-diner-fare kasu black cod ($19.95 for a half-portion), which was flaky, moist, well-flavored, and perfect. The real kid’s meals were impressive: a hand-shaped hamburger on french roll and grilled cheese on thick slices of herbed bread. Beecher’s mac ‘n’ cheese was also an option for the wee ones, but I know from experience that my kids won’t touch it–it’s “too cheesy” for their tastes.

So would I repeat the experience? I think so. I’ve barely skimmed the menu, and I haven’t tried any of the po-boys yet. Be forewarned that despite the moniker, this high-end grub ain’t exactly diner fare. And like all restaurants in the Market, prices here aren’t exactly a bargain. On the other hand, the place is open 11am-10pm ALL DAY every day, in true diner fashion. I just love knowing I can pop in and get a bowl of gumbo at 2pm  if I want to.
Steelhead Diner on Urbanspoon

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