Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Posts Tagged ‘Chinatown-International District

Chinatown-International District. I’m sceptical about this hyphenated neighbourhood in Seattle. It was eerily quiet on Chinese New Year (農曆新年) last year. The streets were devoid of people and absent of colour. There were no red lanterns, no auspicious posters and no lion dances. It was a forlorn hour as I wandered up and down King Street.

In contrast we were greeted by a cacophony of sounds at Dragon Fest last month. Dull drums and sharp cymbals reverberated through the crowds as the nimble lion pranced and leaped. We were there for the $2 Food Walk to sample the multicultural eateries. Sea Garden (一定好) was last on our list and their salt and pepper chicken wings were a highlight.

I return for weekday lunch the next week and shared four items between the three of us. The walls were painted a drab olive green, and the dining room was furnished with laminate tables and wooden chairs.

Thickened by corn starch, morsels of tofu and shiitake mushrooms were suspended in the savoury bowl of complimentary soup.

A tangled mess of egg noodles were crispy on the bottom and topped with brown sauce. The pork and bean sprout chow mein (肉絲炒麵) was a hearty and toothsome dish.

A neon orange, the sweet and sour pork (咕嚕肉) was sticky and bold. Chunks of tender pork were tossed in a sugary and vinegary syrup.

These six crescents were deep fried prawns (炸蝦球). Similar to beer battered fish, the prawns had an airy coating and were dipped in plum sauce.

Last was eggplant Sichuan style with minced meat (魚香茄子). Silky and spicy, its richness was tempered with plain rice.

The Chinese name of Sea Garden aptly translates to ‘certainly or definitely good’.

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I had a sandwich for lunch every day during secondary school. It was a utilitarian meal of chicken or tuna with mayonnaise, Kraft Singles, tomato slices and iceberg lettuce. Weary of soggy bread, limp lettuce and mealy tomatoes, I avoided sandwiches in my university years and I still rarely them.

A recent highlight was Fusion on the Run‘s coconut ginger chicken bánh mì at last year’s Mobile Food Rodeo. Naomi suggested Sub-Sand (潛水艇) for a weekday lunch. Located next to Fuji Bakery, Sub-Sand specialises in bánh mì style sandwiches.

Coral walls and a black menu with orange print was the backdrop for the sandwich counter. An illuminated light box displayed photos of dishes.

A shark motif decorated the dining room. Shark shaped lamp shades were on the ceiling and a hammerhead sharks mural was painted by the owner.

We ordered two sandwiches to share. The ingredients were layered in crusty baguettes and pinned by a toothpick. Both were garnished with batons of pickled carrot and cucumber, slivers of red onion, shredded lettuce, sprigs of coriander and jalapeño.

Aromatic and succulent, the lemongrass chicken was a delicious contrast of meaty, crunchy and chewy textures.

I had expected the salt and pepper tofu sandwich to be stuffed with cubes of deep fried bean curd, instead they were marinated slabs smeared with mustard. A curious combination in a sandwich, the silky tofu was pleasingly savoury.

I had spotted egg waffles (雞蛋仔) displayed in the window and was delighted that they made my favourite traditional Cantonese street food. I devour a bag a day when I’m in Hong Kong!

A thick batter was poured into a pockmarked waffle iron and rotated for even cooking. The sweet scent perfumed the air, so much so that a guy asked us what we were eating as we exited the restaurant! Crispy edged and spongy inside, the bubble wrap lattice was a light dessert.

Priced between four and six dollars, the generous portions were excellent value!

Seattle has a reputation for authentic Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines. I’ve had Tamarind Tree on my list and I finally dined there last month. In Asian Plaza on the corner of Jackson and Twelve, I had to circle the mall a couple of times to find the restaurant at the back.

Our group of five gathered for a weekday lunch. The modern interior was decorated in warm tones. A majestic pot of fuchsia and white orchids was on the bar.

We were seated by a thoroughfare with a view of the kitchen.

Featuring a classic wise men motif, the ceramic teapot was handmade Bát Tràng porcelain, as were all the serving plates and bowls.

A caddy of fiery condiments was on each table.

Myra recommended sửa đá chanh, a blended beverage of fresh lime, condensed milk and crushed ice. It was a refreshing milky drink laced with citrus notes, tempering the bold flavours of the meal.

We ordered several dishes to share. Spring rolls (gỏi cuốn) and egg rolls (chả giò chay) were appetising. Vegetables, herbs and rice noodles were wrapped in rice paper parcels.

A salad (gỏi đu đủ) of shredded green papaya, steamed prawns, pickled jicama, julienne carrot, roasted peanuts and fresh herbs was a symphony of tastes and textures.

A golden cratered crescent was filled with prawns, sliced pork, slivers of shiitake mushroom and bean sprouts. The rice flour and coconut milk crêpe batter was crispy and stuffed with ingredients, a delectable version of bánh xèo.

A favourite homely rice pot (cơm gà tươi Hải Nam), the rice was cooked in chicken broth and topped with Hainanese steamed chicken. It was fragrant and rich, brightened by splashes of ginger fish sauce (nước mắm).

The final savoury dish was bún chả Hà Nội, Hanoi grilled pork noodles. I wrapped grilled pork portions, rice noodles and herbs in lettuce leaves and ate the rolls by hand.

The waitress suggested two desserts. First was flan, a dense silky custard in a pool of caramel sauce.

The second dessert was bánh chuối nướng Cognac, Cognac red banana cake. We tipped the glass of warm Cognac coconut milk over the spongy cake, a sticky sweet adult treat.

I understand why the dining room was full for the two hours we were there!

I have lamented the lack of authentic Chinese food in Seattle. I was pleased with Chiang’s and love the consistency of Din Tai Fung but I really miss yum cha (飲茶), the traditional Cantonese lunch of dim sum (點心). I was adamant that Seattleites have to travel north to Richmond in Vancouver for variety and quality until Shirley introduced me to Jade Garden (翠苑酒家).

Regal in red, a festive cartoon dragon (龍年) denoted the Lunar New Year (農曆新年).

A school size chalkboard listed the daily specials in calligraphy (English) and scrawl (Chinese).

As with many Chinese restaurants, the interior is austere. Drab walls, plain tables, sturdy chairs, chipped china and Lazy Susans are the standard! Jade Garden is a labyrinth of dining rooms. When I was directed to our table at the back I thought I had to walk through the kitchen!

A card was stamped to record orders from the carts.

The condiments (醬油) tray consisted of salt and pepper shakers, soy and vinegar bottles, and a mysterious stainless steel container.

Shirley explained that it’s the homemade chilli sauce (辣椒醬) which was a well blended paste.

Stacked high with steaming bamboo baskets, ladies (and it’s always ladies) wheeled carts to hawk their dumplings. First were pork and prawn dumplings (燒賣). Minced pork, prawn and shiitake mushroom (冬菇) are lumped in a thin wrapper and dotted with roe. These were a tender version of the meaty morsels.

The other classic was prawn dumplings (蝦餃). Translucent and pleated, the starchy wrapper encased chunks of succulent prawns. The skin was a little thick and I doused these in the homemade chilli sauce.

These beige blobs were deceptive in appearance. We happily slurped the fragrant broth of the soup dumplings (小籠包).

Tinged with green, the prawn and chive dumplings are a variation of prawn dumplings.

Similarly, the prawn and crab dumplings had mounds of shredded crab on top of the wrappers.

Fried food was next. These awkward objects were taro dumplings (芋角). The puffed taro outer shell was crispy, crumbling at each bite, contrasting with the porky texture inside.

Golden and football shaped, these mochi like dumplings (鹹水角) had a glutinous, sticky coating. Its sweetness contrasted with the salty filling.

The final savoury selection was stir-fried noodles (炒麵). Curly thin noodles were tossed with bean sprouts and chives, a homely vegetarian dish.

Rolled in sesame seeds, these mochi balls with lotus seed paste (蓮蓉煎堆) were nutty and chewy.

And finally my favourite Chinese dessert, custard tarts (蛋撻). Traditionally baked in a flaky crust with an intense, creamy set custard, these are best savoured fresh from the oven.

The more the merrier for yum cha!

This is our first full winter in Seattle and I’m learning the art of layering, and loving the essential quartet of coat, scarf, gloves and boots. I’m searching for a hat and considering ear muffs! There is only one walking pace on a frigid day and that is brisk. My glasses fogged up when I entered King Noodle for lunch with Naomi.

A banner tacked to the window announced the opening of the restaurant. A small room with about half a dozen tables, the décor is simple and homely. A blue bird and cherry blossom decal is featured on a cream wall.

The compact menu is printed with checkboxes for self ordering. Customised noodle soup is the specialty and other dishes include congee and clay pots. There is a selection of soup bases, noodles, vegetables, proteins and other ingredients.

I ordered a red bean and sago coconut milk as it reminded me of my childhood. Served in a bubble tea cup, it’s always fun to pierce the sealed lid with the thick straw. The beverage was an icy blend of red bean paste, starchy sago pearls and sweetened coconut milk.

We pondered the noodle soup combinations and submitted our pieces of paper. We spotted a condiments bar which had a variety of chilli oils, soy sauces and fermented bean pastes.

An enormous steaming bowl of flat rice noodles, sliced mushrooms, chives (mistakenly listed as leeks on the menu), wontons and barbecued duck swirled in chicken broth. It was soothing to slurp the slippery noodles and the wontons were a flavour delight.

Naomi had a medley of QQ noodles (Taiwanese), tofu skins (bean curd sheets), sliced mushrooms and chives in spicy Szechuan soup.

I shall return for congee and clay pots!

I’m a meticulous planner. I purchase theatre tickets as soon as they’re on sale and schedule weekend activities several weeks in advance. I’m fastidious about aligning our calendars and knowing where we’ll be when and with whom. I’ve relaxed since we moved here and less anxious about spontaneous gatherings.

On a wet and windy day, a group cozied up at Green Leaf for an impromptu but nourishing lunch. Near the corner of King and 8th, Green Leaf has a narrow street frontage with a green awning and a simple logo.

A stain glass panel of a nubile woman separates the entrance from the dining room. The faux bamboo and patterned wallpaper interior is sepia toned. Laminated media clippings and celebrity photos decorate the wall near the stairs.

We ordered several dishes to share. First were two servings of rice paper rolls (gỏi cuốn) artfully presented on a plate. Prawn, pork, Thai basil, vermicelli, peanuts, crispy wafer and lettuce were wrapped in fragile and translucent rice paper, and dipped in a sticky peanut sauce.

Three skewers of silky grilled lemongrass eggplant were topped with fried onions and peanuts with a side of pickled vegetables. 

The combo was a large ceramic bowl of grilled chicken, pork, prawn skewer and spring roll covering a tangled mass of vermicelli.

Two steaming decagon bowls of beef phở were ladled out into smaller portions. Rare beef were swirled in the aromatic broth and a mound of bean sprouts and sprigs of Thai basil were crunchy and fresh. The thin rice noodles were politely slurped and the soup emptied.

Last were pork chop, shredded pork and ‘egg pie’ with steamed rice. Peppery and tender, we each ate bites of this slowly as we were just about full!

Fortune cookies accompanied the bill and mine stated ‘a routine will turn into an enchanting escapade’.

Green Leaf will open a second restaurant in Belltown, near the Olympic Sculpture Park, in early 2012.

I’ve been feeling really homesick this month. October is a lovely time of the year in Sydney. Spring, Crave Sydney International Food Festival, public holiday long weekend, last quarter of the calendar year, countdown to the festive season. I yearn for home. My senses have been hypersensitive to the taste, smell and sound that remind me of Australia.

The GastroGnome had recommended Henry’s Taiwan and I suggested Friday lunch. I had hoped that going to Chinatown-International District would alleviate some of my homesickness.

Located near the Chinatown Gate, the original Henry’s Taiwan has a plain entrance to a small dining room. A handful of booths and tables seat about twenty and is sparsely furnished.

The laminated menu is written in traditional Chinese and translated in English. It was invigorating to read in both languages!

Each granite table has a condiments tray. Service is polite and efficient, cups of hot tea are quickly refilled.

We ordered three dishes to share. Spicy and garlicky, a plate of sliced savoury hot tendons was succulent and warming. This would make a simple meal with a bowl of plain rice to soak up the delicious sauce.

Sticky rice is Chinese comfort food. I joked with Naomi that it’s been so long since I’ve eaten it that I’ve forgotten what festival these triangular parcels are for (Dragon Boat Festival). Wrapped in bamboo and steamed, the glutinous rice was served with crushed peanuts. There were chunks of pork but absent of Chinese sausage, shitake mushrooms, and dried shrimp and scallop.

A generous portion of pan fried noodles were slippery strands entwined with bean sprouts. I slurped these with delight.

We walked by the new Henry’s Taiwan several doors down. It seemed to have the same menu but in modern décor.


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