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.

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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!

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!


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