Ma’Ono Fried Chicken (University Village)

Overall: 4/5

/blows dust off blog

/checks last posting date

/faints

I know, it’s been a long time since my last post. I wish I had better a good excuse for the inactivity, but it was nothing more than laziness and procrastination overtaking my ambitions. Anyway, time to get off the snide and get back to (non-income generating) work! And what better way is there to get back in the groove than to start off with something deep fried?

In the newly christened University Village location of Rachel’s Ginger Beer is a walk-up order window for Ma’Ono Fried Chicken, a renowned local institution for Hawaiian fried chicken. Judging by the heat that radiates from the walk-up window, there is intense deep frying going on in the kitchen. On a recent trip home, I was lucky enough to avoid the crowds and place a large order to go.

Fried Chicken Sandwich ($11) – Chicken breast on King’s sweet bun with bread and butter takuan (Japanese pickled radish), ono sauce, and iceberg.

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With their fried selections, you can customize the heat level between naked, mild, medium, HOT and BRING THE PAIN. When I asked for BRING THE PAIN, I was discouraged, in a friendly but unmistakably ominous manner, to stay away from THE PAIN. I was glad to follow her advice because the HOT version brought plenty of heat.

This is a well-conceived sandwich. The hearty piece of fried chicken breast protrudes beyond the reach of the sweet King’s Hawaiian bun. The crust on the chicken was crispy, the interior was just a touch dry but did not affect my enjoyment. The heat arrives fashionably late for the hot sauce glazed on the crust. When it does arrive though, the “HOT” level delivers a long-lasting sear. The crisp lettuce and pickles work to offset the heat. The choice to use daikon instead of cucumbers for the pickles was a wise substitution. Daikons have less water content and prevent the sandwich from getting too soggy. The ono sauce, which appears to be some kind of aioli, was overshadowed by the heat level.

Chicken Fried Tofu Sandwich ($10) – Chicken breast on King’s sweet bun with bread and butter takuan, ono sauce, and iceberg.

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The vegetarian option replaces the chicken breast on the chicken sandwich with a large piece of chicken fried tofu. This was disappointing because the tofu in the interior was flavorless. Thus, the flavors from the sandwich condiments dominated, supported by a crispy, but bland custardy tofu patty. The sandwich looks great, but falls far short of the chicken version.

Chili Kimcheese Fries ($6)

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The melty-greasy chili cheese sauce goes well with the crispy fries. Surprisingly, but the kimchee flavor is pretty muted. Their chili cheese sauce has hints of chili oil and mild heat. But there is little here that calls to mind the acid or fermented flavor that one associates with kimchee. Overall, this was pretty good, but those looking for a pronounced kimchee flavor might be disappointed.

Fried Chicken Digits ($8) – Honey hot-mustard dip, bread and butter takuan

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Without a doubt, this is far superior to the equivalent from Chick-fil-A. As with the chicken sandwich, there is little to complain about with regards to the chunks of crispy breaded breast meat. The hot honey mustard is also fantastic. There is a horseradish/wasabi-like kick to the otherwise sweet mustard. As you can see from the picture, the heat level for this order was also HOT. It may be overbearing for some to mix the heat from the hot sauce with the kick from the mustard. Even as someone who enjoys spicy foods, I was overwhelmed when I dunked the HOT tenders into the mustard.   I would recommend ordering the tenders as mild for full enjoyment of the mustard.

Overall, the Ma’Ono walk-up counter delivers an excellent fried chicken experience. The non-chicken selections could be improved, but these guys know they do that one thing very well; so much so that they named their store after it. So why tempt fate when the right choice is staring at your face? Sit down, grab a fizzy drink, order some fried chicken – your reward awaits.

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Ma’Ono Fried Chicken (University Village)

Great State Burger

Overall: 3.5/5

The latest addition to Amazon’s Doppler complex is Great State Burger, a new venture from the Huxley Wallace Collection restaurant group. Led by chef Josh Henderson, the group “owns and operates restaurants throughout the greater Northwest, providing handcrafted food, spaces, and experiences in beautiful Washington State.”

Common to other Huxley Wallace restaurants such as Westward and Quality Athletics, the Great State Burger offers a carefully curated dining experience. Emphasizing quality over variety, Great State Burger offers a limited menu focused on burgers. Aesthetically, the place pays homage to old school diners, like an indoor Dick’s Drive-In with a fresh coat of paint and high ceilings.

The menu entirely consists of beef burgers (either with single or double patty), veggie burgers, fries, shakes, soda (Jones instead of the Coke/Pepsi lines), and beer. You can opt for a “Top That” option on the burgers, which gets you grilled onions, picked, and extra sauce for an extra $1.50.

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Double Combo (burger, fries, soda $12)

About five to six dollars more than a McDonald’s combo meal, but there is a difference in quality. The beef patties were juicy, with a slight touch of pink in the center. The beef patties had some chew to it, suggesting beef that was not overly processed. The patties also had a strong black pepper taste, similar to Japanese pepper-steak. The State sauce felt like a creamier and blander version of thousand island dressing.

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On a separate visit, I ordered one with cheddar cheese and topped with the extra options. This was less preferable because the cheese and extra sauce undermined the pepper flavor from the patties. However, the briny pickles and the caramelized grilled onions were nice touches.

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Also, the crinkle-cut fries were excellent. Crispy and golden on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and seasoned with just a right amount of salt.

Veggie Burger ($8.5)

This was disappointing because the grain-and-vegetable patty was completely overwhelmed by the State sauce and the cheese. It would have been nice if they doubled the patty or limited the sauce for balance.

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Vanilla Shake (8oz, Vanilla, $3.5)

Shakes were made from Parfait organic soft serve. Thick with a very assertive vanilla flavor, this was also good except for being too sweet.

Great State Burger accomplishes the goal of serving burgers made from high quality ingredients at relatively reasonable prices. The place has the goods to grab your attention, even in the increasingly crowded Seattle burger-chain scene (along with Dick’s, Burgermaster, Blue Moon Burgers, Lil’ Woody’s, and Lunchbox Laboratory). Those craving for burgers in downtown Seattle could save a few bucks by going to the McDonald’s just a block away, but splurging for Great State Burger instead would be the wiser option.

 

Great State Burger

Serious Pie & Biscuit

Overall: 3.5/5

Serious Pie & Biscuit is a part of Tom Douglas‘s Seattle restaurant empire. While Seattleites have appreciated his contributions to the local food scene, many grouse about the premium they have to pay at his establishments.

Serious Pie & Biscuit is located in the South Lake Union (SLU) neighborhood (there are other Serious Pie locations near Belltown and Capitol Hill), right next to the Amazon campus. The SLU branch is situated to feed the ravenous life science researchers, college students, and Amazon employees that roll through the region on a daily basis. It was the perfect place for some to-go breakfast on a wet and chilly Sunday morning before a Seahawks game.

“The Zach” – Biscuit with Fried Chicken, Tabasco Black Pepper Gravy Biscuit, Fried Egg and Bacon ($14)

Good, but could have been even better had the gravy been served on the side. The gravy had a strong black pepper flavor with a tailing kick of Tabasco. But given the richness of the other ingredients, the gravy was overkill. The fried egg was disappointing because the yolk hardened from overcooking. Drenched in gravy, it was hard to discern any unique taste or texture from the biscuit. On the plus side, the fried chicken was juicy, and the bacon was thick-cut and a jerky-like texture.

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Biscuit with Truffle Frittata, Tomato, Caper, Arugula ($9)

This is more balanced and refined than the Zach. The frittata lacked airiness but had a faint garlic/earthy truffle flavor. The tomatoes and caper provided a good combination of sweetness and brine. The arugula added some herb-like fragrance and contrast in texture. The biscuit was appropriately flaky and fluffy with a good crust on top.

If you intend on dining on site on the weekends, I recommend coming before there is a line during the peak breakfast and brunch hours. The sandwiches are not cheap, but it is very unlikely you will walk away hungry. More than likely, you will want a nap afterwards. Plan accordingly.

Serious Pie & Biscuit

Rain Shadow Meats

Overall: 4/5 (tentative)

Within a Russell Wilson throw from Century Link Field on Occidental is Rain Shadow Meats, an artisanal butcher shop that straddles the divide between modernity and nostalgia.

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The decor is coherent with the brick and cobblestone aesthetic of Pioneer Square. When you walk in, you will immediate notice the carefully manicured meats lining the display cases. When I visited, the place was immaculately clean, despite the fact that there was a cadre of butchers busy plying their wares.

In addition to being a butcher shop, Rain Shadow Meats also offers a menu of sandwiches, salads, and charcuterie. Seating is limited though there is a standing counter available.

Ranger: seared steak, caper aioli, grilled rosemary red onions, arugula, french bread ($12)

This was a fantastic sandwich. The pleasant surprise was the grilled french bread. Warm, crusty and firm enough to hold all the ingredient piled underneath. The sliced steak retained a pink, juicy center. The aioli kept the sandwich from being too dry. The abundant arugula balanced the sweetness of the caramelized onions. The accompanying pickled veggies were tart and laced with a hint of celery salt. The quality and the substantial portion size redeemed the price of the sandwich.

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House Greens, romaine, herbs, pecorino, croutons, green onion vinaigrette ($7)

To make myself feel better about downing a massive sandwich, I ordered a salad to balance the scales. The salad was tasty but probably did not do my waistline any favors here. The greens were on the verge of being overdressed. I suspect that any potential health benefit from eating my greens were whittled away with the inclusion of the buttery pecorino and the crunchy croutons.

I am leaving the score incomplete for now because I want to come back and sample some other fare. But, so far, I’m impressed.

Rain Shadow Meats

Jade Garden

Overall: 3.5/5

The consensus amongst connoisseurs is that Vancouver is the undisputed champion of the dim sum scene in the Pacific Northwest. However, Seattle is not entirely without representation.

For example, Jade Garden is a well-known institution for dim sum located in Seattle’s International District. So much so that there is usually an intimidating line during brunch/lunch hours. Indeed, such daunting lines have rebuffed all my past attempts to visit. My opportunity finally came on a weekday when I was able to corral some of my co-workers for lunch.

With worn carpets and fixtures, the interior decoration graded slightly above “hole-in-the-wall” quality. The place felt sufficiently clean to me though individuals preferences may vary. The push-cart ladies were friendly, at least on the first several passes. Price wise, the tab came out to a reasonable total of $65 for three people plus tax and tip.

On to the eats!

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Clockwise from top-left: Tofu-Skin Rolls; Shu Mai; Beef Balls; Har Gow (Shrimp Dumplings); and Crab and Shrimp Dumpling

The tofu rolls are a personal favorite of mine, and these were pretty on the mark. The sauce underneath was a little too greasy, but the filling underneath had a good ratio of pork, bamboo shoots, and shiitake. The shu man had big chunks of shrimp mixed in with the pork. The beef balls had an off-color but were otherwise fine, having a bouncy texture contrasted with the water chestnuts mixed in.

The har gow had a very nice snappy shrimp filling with hints of sesame oil and white pepper. It also felt like there were scallops mixed it, but I cannot say for sure. The rice-flour skin was a tad too thick. The crab variation of the dumplings tasted more or less the same.

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Turnip Cake (top); Pan Fried Shrimp and Chive Dumplings (bottom)

The turnip cake was disappointing because they were cold. Although it was peppered with chunks of Chinese sausage, the cake contained too much flour which overpowered the daikon. The dumplings were ok; the skin was too gummy for my taste, although the shrimp and chives mixture inside was well-seasoned and fragrant.

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Char-Siu Pastry (top); Taro Dumplings (bottom)

The pastry was surprisingly good, flaky and not too dense. The char-siu filling comprised of chunks of sweet, lean pork. The taro dumplings came disappointingly lukewarm. The crispy exterior became limp, and the interior became like mashed potatoes when it should be more gooey. These could have been good if they were served hot.

Xiao-Long Bao (left); Steamed Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce (right)

The XLB were unimpressive. These were clearly the last of a prepared batch. Because it was not served fresh, the skin XLB had tightened up, and the interior became less juicy. When I asked for the Chinese broccoli on the cart, the lady informed me that the serving on the cart was old and brought us a fresh one from the kitchen. These veggies were good, blanched just right so that the roots had bite without being crunchy. The leaves had the expected bitterness, and the oyster sauce provided the needed salt.

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Rice-Sheet Roll with Shrimp

These came fresh from the kitchen and were pretty good. The skin had an al dente, glutinous texture. The shrimp underneath were fresh and had a snap to them.

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Salt and Pepper Calamari

The final dish of the session and it was a winner. The calamari was tender; the batter was hot and crispy. The scallions brought aromatics and the jalapeños brought spiciness to the dish. We were pretty full at this point in the meal and still ate the whole thing. A high note to end the meal.

So, did Jade Garden live up to the hype? You should walk away satisfied as long as you have reasonable expectations. With consistency and execution issues, not every dish is going to be a home run here. But then again, everything generally tasted as it should. That is a good thing for Seattleites in the mood to satisfy their dim sum cravings without the need for a long drive north.

Jade Garden

Country Dough (鄉村饃饃)

Overall: 3/5

Country Dough, from Seattle chef Cheng Biao Yang, is a small eatery crammed into a corner of Pike Place market. To find this place, locate the crowd waiting to enter the original Starbucks store, find the sign/doorway about halfway through the line, and walk all the way to the end.

Whether by design or by choice, this is a place that eschews appearances. The menu consists of Szechuan flatbread sandwiches, crepes, noodles, and soups.

They also sell boxes of American ginseng for purchase, for whatever reason. Around the ordering counter is the “kitchen and bakery” where middle-aged Asian men are busy forming the dough and baking/frying the bread used for the flatbread sandwiches.

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Szechuan Flatbread with Chicken ($5, in front) and Stewed Meat Flatbread with Chicken ($5, in back)

The freshly prepared bread was good, having a charred crust, and a layer of doughiness underneath. The Szechuan version had a dressing with the expected numbing/tingling spiciness. The stewed version had a dressing that suggested soy, five spice, and star anise. The sandwiches also had lettuce to provide crunch, pickled cucumbers for acidity, and cilantro for fragrance. The main problem was the chicken – so minced that I had a difficult time even tasting it.

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Hot & Sour Soup ($4)

The flavor is consistent with what you would expect from an Americanized Chinese restaurant or buffet. The version here had too much thickening agent. As a result, even though the soup was warm, I found unappetizing jello-ish clumps of soup.

So what’s the verdict? Country Dough is a welcomed novelty for eats in Seattle. There are few places like this in the Pacific Northwest. The place also looks like a family operation to me, with friendly people manning the counter. The prices are very reasonable, and you can have a decent snack/meal for around $10 per person. Having said that, there are some disappointing issues with execution. But, this will be a place that I revisit on occasion when I am in the mood for something different.

Country Dough (鄉村饃饃)

The Wandering Goose

Overall: 4/5

Finding parking in the Capitol Hill neighborhood can be daunting. That is why I prefer to visit the area on weekend mornings – when you are more likely to find a sanity-preserving parking spot within shouting distance from your destination.

On a strip of shops and restaurants on 15th Street is The Wandering Goose, a “Southern influenced cafe” manned by chef Heather Earnhardt. And it is truly a “cafe” as opposed to a restaurant because the dining space is very limited. The interior pays homage to a country general store without falling victim to cliché.

We made our visit early on a Sunday morning to check out the eats, unencumbered by crowds and the need to engage in vehicular combat for a parking spot.

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Hangtown Fry 

Just look at this thing! If health and diet permits, I highly recommend this dish. Fried oysters, pork belly, and poached eggs top a good portion of roasted potatoes. The massive oysters, fried in a buttermilk cornmeal coating, were sweet and briny. The pork belly was cured and tasted like a cross between bacon and beef jerky. The poached eggs were well executed. The roasted potatoes underneath were a touch underdone, but otherwise served as a suitable starch with the other ingredients.

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Veggie Hash

With seasonal vegetables replacing fried oysters and pork belly, this was the healthy alternative, but not by much. The vegetables included beets, bitter greens, and bell peppers. The beets stood out for me; they were tender and sweet. The eggs and the potatoes were the same as the Hangtown Fry. Another very good dish.

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Fried Chicken Thigh

When I first walked in, I saw a serving of this come out of the kitchen and knew I had to try it. Crispy, juicy, and peppery, the taste and texture felt very close to the Taiwanese fried pork/chicken chops.

Finally, note that the prices are reasonable, but not cheap either. Although Seattle does not lack its share of good places to grab brunch, places with a Southern flair are far fewer in between. With its niche fare and cozy atmosphere, Wandering Goose left me with a favorable impression.

The Wandering Goose