Tag Archives: Casual

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

Kingfish Cafe

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 1

Gumbo with rice at Kingfish Cafe

Gumbo with rice at Kingfish Cafe

Twelve years ago, I wrote my first review of the Kingfish Cafe, for Seattle Weekly. I raved about the down-home, deep-fried, long-simmered Southern cooking and the gorgeous Coaston sisters who ran this popular new eatery.

Back then, blogs didn’t exist. Newspapers ruled, and reviewers relied on word of mouth to get a feel for the next big story. An amazing new restaurant often spent up to six months waiting to be reviewed; in that time, their customer base grew by word of mouth, and the kitchen got their act together with plenty of trial and error.

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same–and thank god the Kingfish is the same homey, comfortable space I remember, with the same wistfully Southern menu: fried chicken, gumbo, hoppin’ john, okra, collard greens, cornbread, biscuits and gravy, catfish, Red Velvet cake. These classics are as fiesty and finger-lickin’ as ever. And the elegant twins, Leslie and Laura, still greet diners at dinnertime, who flock here to see them as much as to savor the fare. There aren’t many tried-and-true classics like the Kingfish in Seattle, so if you haven’t been in awhile, it might be time to take a stroll down memory lane.
Kingfish Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Casual, Southern

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

Le Pichet

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Le Pichet's civilized duck salad

Le Pichet's civilized duck salad

Some restaurants can transport you to another place and time. Le Pichet offers up a romantic incarnation of a Parisian bistro, circa 1940. With its tiled floor, dark banquettes, and high ceilings, this bar-by-day and cafe-by-night could have easily come straight out of  a black-and-white photograph by the late great Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The food is just as classy and well-composed, too. Even at lunchtime, when many Seattle restaurants (if they serve lunch at all) let their pants drop.  I defy anyone to find another dish in the city as supremely civilized and lovely as Le Pichet’s duck salad ($9), with its rosy fan of cured duck slices and piquant-crunchy-savory-sweet tangle of watercress, pistachio, avocado and orange.  So delicious that when I craved it the next day, I went back. It was even better the second time around.

Everything at Le Pichet is superb, in a low-key, confident way. The food doesn’t scream out to be admired; it just wants to be eaten. And the folks running the kitchen aren’t distracted by becoming the next food celebrity–they’re just quietly going about their business. Which may be why the the moules frites ($16) are so hauntingly good. The briny funk of mussels plays off the clean, sharp taste of sauteed apple and leeks, while the restrained curry-cider fumet adds an intriguing, subtle wash of flavor. The accompanying frites? Amber-crisp with brown speckled edges and immaculately fried– among the best in the city.

My husband, a regular, always orders the same dish at lunch: a side of frites with the egg plate ($8), two pillowy eggs broiled with ham and Gruyere ($8). Simplicity and perfection.  Meanwhile, the onion soup ($11)–not French but Lyonnaise–was deeply savory–but, thankfully, not too salty, as such soups often are. I just wish there were more broth–the gigantic crouton filled the plate and soaked up more soup than I did. For the always lovely quiche of the day, go early, before 12:30, when it has typically sold out.

Though there is considerable crossover between the dinner and lunch menus,  a few items are offered only in the evening. Such as the roast chicken for two ($34) , a crackling, glistening, juicy bird that will convert anyone who believes, like I do, that life is too short to eat chicken.  If chicken you must have, then for God’s sake, do it with dignity. Take yourself to Le Pichet.

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Filed under Casual, French, Late Night Dining

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