Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

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It was a pleasant May in Seattle. I did not feel sodden as I did last spring and we were blessed with many glorious days as a prelude to the northern summer. On a pleasant Saturday we enjoyed apéritifs at Tavern Law and sauntered down to Momiji (紅葉) for dinner with a group of Australian expats and tourists.

The sister restaurant of Umi Sake House in Belltown, Momiji is Japanese for maple. Painted burgundy, the front bar featured a curious white latticed lampshade and was saturated in natural light.

With the exception of the wide street frontage, the layout of Momiji is the same as Umi’s. A corridor opened to a spacious dining room. The counter had a prime view of the sushi chefs deftly slicing sashimi and shaping nigiri.

At the centre was a serene Japanese garden.

We perused the comprehensive menu as I sipped a summery cocktail, The Getaway. In a tall glass was Hendrick’s Gin, Pimm’s and soda topped with a lychee.

We ordered an array of dishes among the seven of us. First was ahi pokē. Diced ahi tuna and cucumber were tossed with onion slivers, shichimi (Japanese seasoning), soy sauce and sesame seeds. The first time I ate pokē was at a Flying Fish cooking class. A Hawaiian salad, it had a luscious contrast of textures.

A plate of prawn and vegetable tempura was coated in a lumpy batter and pleasingly crunchy.

Poached beets, and a mound of arugula and shiso were drizzled with lemon vinaigrette.

Portions of grilled king crab was paired with ponzu dipping sauce and mixed greens. A generous serving, the crustacean was charred and meaty.

Soft shell crabs were pan fried to golden brown. The spindly morsels were sweet and succulent.

Wrinkled and charred, the half dozen prawn and scallop gyoza were juicy parcels of seafood encased in a thin wrapper.

Buckwheat noodles were stir-fried with cubes of tofu and an assortment of vegetables. Garnished with green onions, pickles and nori, the triangular bowl of yakisoba was a symphony of flavours.

With casual ambience and quality ingredients, Momiji is a delicious addition to 12th Avenue in Capitol Hill.

I’ve never owned a car. I’ve always lived in cities with an integrated public transport system where it’s cheap and convenient to navigate work and play on buses, ferries and trains. By American standard, Seattle has an adequate (and expanding) network of buses and light rail. The one exception that has foiled me time and again is getting to the University District from Downtown. There is no direct bus route! Thankfully generous friends have driven me there for meals at Shun (sadly closed), and iced chocolates at Fran’s. We deviated from routine a couple of weeks ago for lunch at U:Don.

A ‘fresh Japanese noodle station’, there was a sign at the entrance outlining the order process.

There were eight styles of udon on the menu in three sizes.

An extensive list of tempura and sides were neatly written on a chalkboard.

Black and white prints, red accent walls and birch furniture, the dining room was minimally modern. We watched the chef dunk and scoop udon and customise the bowl, and like a cafeteria, slid the tray along to select tempura and sides which were priced per item.

I gripped my tray tightly and perched precariously on the square stool. In a steaming dashi broth, my udon was garnished with grated daikon and ginger, green onions and shredded nori, and topped with an ontama (coddled egg). The broth was light and clear, and the house made noodles firm.

Kakiage, a vegetable tempura fritter, had starchy strips of root vegetables and cauliflower florets. I love eggplant but the fanned wedge was a little raw.

It was a speedy experience at U:Don!

There is a popular Malaysian eatery in Sydney with queues on the footpath day and night. We time our meals at Mamak to avoid the crowd by dining early or late. Mamak is famous for their roti. The street frontage has a wide window with a view into the kitchen where chefs efficiently stretch and twirl the pale unleavened dough. It is oiled and seasoned, cooked on the searing griddle where it blisters and colours, and morphs into flaky bread.

We haven’t had Malaysian cuisine since we’ve been in Seattle and I suggested dinner at Malay Satay Hut when we were in Redmond on a weeknight. Located in the Overlake East Shopping Centre, a familiar ‘congee, noodles, rice’ neon sign greeted us.

We walk through a thatched hut entrance into a spacious dining room. A bamboo roof shaded the bar.

A large poster of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur decorated the wall.

A whiteboard listed many specials. The gung pao frog legs and Milo ice piqued my interest!

Photos of Malaysian ingredients introduced the menu.

Singha, a Thai lager, was a refreshing contrast to the strong flavours of the food.

We ordered several dishes to share family style. Roti telur, slivers of sautéed onions were folded in golden layers of roti and dipped in a bowl of curry.

The restaurant’s namesake and signature appetiser, the satay chicken was a highlight. Slathered in chunky slurry of satay, the skewered chicken was tender and smoky. The cucumber nuggets emptied the satay bowl.

Half a Hainanese chicken was served with chilli and ginger sauces. Poached in stock, the boned poultry was fragrant and succulent.

String beans and shelled prawns were stir-fried in belecan (fermented shrimp paste). A peculiar umami taste, the beans were vibrant and the prawns toothsome.

A mound of coconut fried rice was studded with prawns and onions, and flecked with egg. The generous portion was light and aromatic.

To me Malay fare is synonymous with char kway teow. In a miniature wok was flat rice noodles tossed with bean sprouts, chives and egg. Supple strands intertwined with threads of vegetables.

Salt and pepper squid is an Asian staple. Crusted in a delicate batter, the pieces of molluscs yielded to bite, and was spiked with chilli and green onions.

I’m pleased that the original Malay Satay Hut is in Seattle!

I check the weather forecast every day. In Sydney it was the maximum temperature. In Seattle it’s the precipitation. There have been winter days where I turn on all the lights at home, in defiance of the stubborn clouds. Flickering candles and mugs of steaming tea are comforting but there is optimism and contentment derived from sunshine that I miss dearly. So on days when the ashen clouds dissipate, Seattleites rejoice and squint.

It’s been months since I’ve dined at Seatown and congee (粥) had lured my return.

The undercover patio is perfect for a summer sunset over Puget Sound, viewed with freshly shucked oysters and a chilled bottle of wine.

Nautical themed, a steering wheel greeted patrons at the entrance. A panoramic painting of the Seattle cityscape featured on a peach wall.

The bar is the centrepiece of the dining room.

A skewered wedge of lime balanced on the rim of a hibiscus coloured blood orange fizz.

I eagerly awaited my bowl of congee. A popular breakfast food in Southeast Asia, the rice porridge is also the equivalent to chicken noodle soup. The Seatown version is topped with a poached egg and a scattering of green onions, and with sides of braised pork, bean paste and Chinese doughnut (油炸鬼).

Opaque and gelatinous, the congee was thick and gooey. The yolk was just set and I stirred through the pork and a dollop of sauce.

Although a little oily, the three batons of golden Chinese doughnuts were pleasingly crunchy.

Shirley ordered the orange maple French toast with apple butter. We shared sides of hash brown and smoked chicken sausages.

Stout and plump, the meaty sausages had a hint of smokiness and were well seasoned.

A mural of a peculiar plant that flowered knives and tongs.

Seatown was full by lunch time. We gladly vacated our table to enjoy the weather.

It’s been nearly two months since our meal at Momofuku Seiōbo. David Chang‘s first restaurant outside of New York City is located in The Star. The owners of the only casino in Sydney spent one billion dollars on the refurbishment over two years.

Torrential rain and peak hour traffic had us worried we would be late. We walked briskly, determined to be on time. Except we didn’t know where we were going. Located on the ground floor, there were no signs to direct you through the labyrinth. I recognised the names of the new restaurants and when we stopped outside Adriano Zumbo I panicked as we were at an exit. I looked left and right, and finally spotted the signature peach.

A wall of white slats and tinted glass was the exterior of Momofuku Seiōbo. We stared at the mirrored peach, squinting for an inside glimpse and I hesitated on how to enter the restaurant. Push or pull? And on what? Thankfully the door was opened for us!

A little flustered, we sat at the bar for an apéritif as we waited for our dining companions. We had returned from Brisbane that afternoon and we got into a confusing conversation with the bartender and maître d’ about where we were from and how far we had travelled for this dinner!

The half a dozen tables in the dining room were empty as patrons were seated at the counter of the open plan kitchen. A modern design of concrete walls and slate tiles, the interior was accented with artwork.

The dim lighting and muted tones showcased the open plan kitchen, radiant in stainless steel and a mirrored ceiling. Four of us sat at a right angle corner with a perfect view of the busy but quiet kitchen. An eclectic soundtrack of eighties and nighties pop and rock played in the background.

There was no à la carte menu at Momofuku Seiōbo. The fifteen course tasting menu was AU$175 per person and an additional AU$95 for beverage pairings.

Snacks were eaten by hand. Clockwise from top right: mochi, shiitake chips, nori and unknown. I did not take any notes and some of the courses were different on the printed menu and thus, my apologies for the unknown which was listed as smoked potato.

I had been to Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Má Pêche in New York but the pork bun eluded me. Wedged in a pillowy steamed bun was tender pork belly garnished with cucumber and hoisin sauce. A cute bottle of Sriracha was optional condiment. If David Chang opened a pork bun food truck, people would queue for blocks for these. Christina Tosi bakes crack pie, David Chang makes crack bun.

Our first course with cutlery was lightly cured striped trumpeter with blood orange jelly and dusted with nori. Ethereal and fresh, this whetted our appetite for local ingredients.

Spears of caramelised white asparagus and green onions accompanied a lump of marron sprinkled with Szechuan pepper.

We were enjoying watching the chefs cook, plate and serve. We noticed a man at the back mixing a vat of by hand and we speculated that it was kimchee. The man looked up and we gasped. It was David Chang! He was in the kitchen most of the evening, supervising, tasting, steering. The chefs huddled and listened intently when he spoke.

In a large ceramic bowl, a beautiful layer of radish and edible flowers shielded mini cubes of beef, fermented black bean and burnt watermelon oil. It was pungent and had a distinct Chinese character.

Beneath charred chunks of Jerusalem artichoke were slivers of smoked eel and pink grapefruit.

There was a collective sigh as we ate our first bite of swimmer and spanner crab in butter and pepper sauce with Yorkshire pudding. It was delicate yet intense, an accent at the half way point.

Silky steamed egg custard was simply enhanced by toasted rice and brown butter broth.

The hand torn pasta was a curious but delicious course. Wide ribbons were covered with pickled cherry tomatoes, whipped goat cheese and deep fried basil leaves. Spiked with chilli and mint, it was a tangy, textural combination laced with heat.

After nine courses a glazed pork shoulder appeared at the plating station under a heat lamp. Various chefs took turns staring at it. We glanced at it between courses and mused that it could be a staff meal.

An encore from the striped trumpeter manifested as a fillet with fennel and wakame.

Seared lamb neck, halved pickled turnips and a quenelle of roasted puréed daikon was elegant. The acidity and bitterness balanced the meaty medallion.

A whimsical interpretation of cheese course, the sharpness of finely grated Pecorino was tempered by honey liquorice and bee pollen.

The first of two dessert courses was shards of chanterelle shaped milk skins stacked atop the wattleseed meringue, a native Australian bush food, and malt ice cream.

Asian cuisines are not known for desserts and I was surprised that there were two on the tasting menu. Separately, miso ice cream, pickled strawberries, toasted rice pudding and mochi seemed like a flavour sampler. Mixed together though and it was a delectable medley of sweet, sour and umami.

The degustation had progressed at a steady pace and the wine, beer and sake pairings were exceptional. We had whiled away two and a half hours and we were considering digestifs when we were presented with the slow cooked pork shoulder that we had been greedily eyeing! In a shallow pool of marinade, we gently pulled at the caramelised pork with our fingers and it was the perfect conclusion.

A printed copy of the tasting menu was souvenir for an impeccable experience.

Sydney has a high cost of living and this was the most expensive meal we’ve had. It’s been a challenge to articulate the details so please read the professional reviews by Pat Nourse and Terry Durack. Momofuku Seiōbo was my highlight of 2011!

I miss Asian food. I still cook stir-fries and curries at home but we’ve rarely eaten Thai, Chinese, Indian or Malaysian, all favourites in multicultural Sydney. I’ve been feeling dejected about having to cross the border to sate my love for these cuisines. With the exception of Din Tai Fung, the American palate for Asian food seems sweet.

Naomi gathered a group of intrepid food lovers on a weekday evening for a family style dinner at Chiang’s Gourmet (敘香園).

Located on Lake City Way with plenty of parking, Chiang’s had a bright and spacious dining room. Chinese watercolour paintings and calligraphy decorated the walls. To go orders were brisk business as we perused the Chinese and American menus. I giggled at the American menu of sweet and sour pork, and lemon chicken.

Tea was poured as we chatted and the lazy Susan was full of dishes as the waiter shuffled plates and bowls. An apt name, the spicy hot fish fillet on Romaine lettuce (水煮魚) was fiery and appetising. Succulent white fish fillets were doused in a saffron coloured sauce, its heat tempered by crunchy cos leaves.

Flatbread filled with minced green onions, the green onion pancake (蔥油餅) was light and crispy.

The enoki and black mushrooms wrapped in bean curd (素黃雀) was plain in appearance. I could eat half a dozen of these flavoursome, wrinkly parcels.

Served in a basket lined with aluminium foil, there were equal qualities of chicken and chilli in the five star spicy hot chicken (辣子雞). Similar to popcorn chicken, the morsels were coated in a spiced batter and despite the amount of chilli, were surprisingly mild.

The requisite mound of sautéed green vegetables was refreshing.

Tender and earthy, pieces of tea smoked duck (精緻樟茶鴨) were wedged in steamed buns and eaten by hand.

A platter of homemade pan fried noodles Shanghai style (上海粗炒麵) was rustic comfort food. Dense noodles were tossed with slivers of pork and spinach.

A literal translation, steamed tofu of strong odour (蒸臭豆腐) was a bubbling crimson pot. You can smell the fermented tofu before you see it and it is a traditional street food of Hong Kong.

From Xinjiang, an autonomous region of northwest China, the spicy hot lamb with cumin flavour (新疆羊肉) was pungent. Slices of lamb, onions and chilli were homely and warming.

And lastly, a side of steamed corn bread bun (窩窩頭). Steamed in bamboo, the cone shaped corn bread was hollow for scooping up sauces.

Our delectable feast concluded with fortune cookies from Tsue Chong. I will have an opportunity!

Sincere thanks to Naomi for introducing me to Chiang’s Gourmet!

Dim-sum-couver (點心哥華) continued onto Peaceful (和平飯店) in Yaletown. The smiling chef attached to the sign was a contrast to Peace Hotel, a violent Spaghetti Western film starring Chow Yun Fat (周潤發) of the same Chinese name as Peaceful Restaurant.

On a thoroughfare Peaceful was busy mid-afternoon. We were seated at the front window booth and pleased to connect to the free Wi-Fi as we sipped tea.

We ordered three items to share. Our enthusiastic waitress delivered each dish with flair. The first was xiao long bao (小籠包) or ‘soup dumplings’. A generous serving of eight, these had a thinner wrapping and lighter broth than the ones at No. 1 Shanghai Cuisine.

Sticky with hoisin sauce, four large portions of beef rolls were slices of five spice (五香粉) beef and green onions rolled in crispy flat bread.

The highlight at Peaceful was a bowl of blade sheared noodles (刀削麵). A thick tangle of handmade noodles was garnished with diced garlic, green onions and sizzling chilli oil. Steamed Chinese cabbage (白菜) tempered the heat. Each slippery noodle was swirled in the pungent sauce and slurped with glee.

As we waxed poetic about the blade sheared noodles, we noticed a Guy Fieri graffiti on the wall at the entrance.

I would drive to Vancouver just for another bowl of blade sheared noodles at Peaceful!

A delicious yum cha (飲茶) lunch at Vivacity (名都) whetted our Dim-sum-couver (點心哥華) appetite. On the next block was Kam Do Bakery (金都餐廳餅店). A delectable selection of pastries and buns were displayed in glass cabinets. There were golden pastries filled with red bean, green bean, lotus seed, taro and date pastes. We each bought a paper tray to take home. Mine had their speciality, wife cake (老婆餅), and my favourite, pineapple bun with custard cream (菠蘿奶黃包).

Flat and round, wife cake is a traditional Chinese pastry filled with winter melon and almond paste. The disc was flaky and the glutinous winter melon and almond blend was mellow. Pineapple in appearance and not in flavour, the crumbly crust was the highlight of the pineapple bun with custard cream.

Sadly the third place on our schedule was closed on Wednesdays. The photo menu at HK BBQ Master (明家燒臘專家) enticed us to return at the next Dim-sum-couver for their Chinese barbecued meats.

It was a short stroll to No. 1 Shanghai Cuisine (滬上). I’ve visited Richmond several times and the blocks of malls still confuse me. I’m thankful for Naomi and Sally Simpleton‘s directions!

We were at No. 1 Shanghai Cuisine for their bao (包). We shared a serving each of xiao long bao (小籠包) and sheng jian bao (生煎包).

Steamed in a bamboo basket were six pleated xiao long bao or ‘soup dumplings’. Dipped in black rice vinegar, I nibbled the top off the delicate parcel to release steam and carefully slurped the broth. The wrapping was a little thick but the pork mince was well seasoned in a pool of intense liquid. We ate these in silent appreciation.

Five large sheng jian bao or pan fried buns were sprinkled with black sesame and shallots. The seared bottom was crispy and these were doughy versions of the xiao long bao. The juicy bun squirted with each bite!

The Shanghai (上海) dumplings were warming and soothing on a wintry day.


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