Fortune Cookie #23: Dog Japon

Dining out at some of Seattle’s finest restaurants serving dishes made with delicate fresh ingredients prepared by the hands of some of the most talent chefs around can really take it out of you. It’s tough work, but we’re doing it all for YOU. Sometimes it’s nice to head back to your roots and take a break from the rigors of fine dining and eat the same foods that helped create who you are today both literally and figuratively. That’s right, we’re talking about hot dogs, the edible building blocks of 20th century America. But, since this blog has standards we’re not just talking about your run of the mill Oscar Mayer wieners slathered with mustard, we’re talking dogs loaded up with toppings such as bonito flake, corned beef hash, nori and yakisoba. Welcome to Dog Japon.

If you’ve ever ventured past 1st and Pike you’ve probably seen an Easy-Up tent with people hanging around it staring at a man furiously tending to a grill on a small cart loaded up with hot dogs, corned beef hash, caramelized onions and plenty of other ingredients tempting passers-by with his Asian influenced creations. Dog Japon has become somewhat of an institution in downtown Seattle and autographed headshots and napkins signed by athletes and celebrities taped to the cart and trailer clue you in that this is not your grandpa’s street-cart hot dog.

The toppings are purely Asian and at first glance seem more odd than tempting when imagined perched atop a hot dog. “A kielbasa topped with nori, carrots, Japanese mayo and teriyaki glazed onions? That sounds weird.” Well, you’d be wrong, ya big dummy, because it’s popularity #1. As we’ve stated numerous two times before, good signs when visiting an Asian restaurant are menus with pictures of the dishes and a majority of people from that culture eating the food. As you can see, picture menus are standard at Dog Japon and although the toppings are Asian, hot dogs are a decidedly American food and we’re happy to report Americans all over the spectrum from svelte and sexy (obviously us) to not-so-svelte but still somewhat sexy (most everyone else) were waiting for their gourmet Asian dogs. (sidenote: a 3rd positive indicator you’re going to get some awesome Asian grub would be strange translations and misspelled words, with bonus points for Comic Sans font…all found in the photo above)

As we had the uber opinionated discerning super fan of the blog Dougie Fresh with us, we sampled three different dogs. It should be noted that the dogs are huge; each one would most certainly make for a full meal and at $5 each you’ve literally got one cheap and delicious meal on your hands. No seriously, they’re messy…it’ll be on your hands. The Jaga Beef Hash was sloppy with katsu sauce and a meaty corned beef hash atop the dog and tasted great. The katsu sauce really took over here and the dog probably could have used a little less to better accentuate the taste of the corned beef hash and cheddar cheese, but that’s nit-picking; it was still super tasty. Bonito flake looks strange and stranger still sitting atop a hot dog, but it works with the Kabuki. Combine it with red ginger, cabbage and the aforementioned sloppy katsu sauce and you’ve got a dog you most certainly wouldn’t have touched with a whiffle ball bat when you were a kid but absolutely should try as an adult.

Leaving the best for last–it IS popularity #1, after all–you’ve got the Matsuri. Translated as “festival” in Japanese, the Matsuri was a festival of sweet and tangy, contrasting the Japanese mayo against the teriyaki glazed onions. Throw in nori (dried seaweed) and crunchy carrots and you’ve got texture contrasts to accompany your flavor contrasts, which we are huge fans of. It’s not hard to see why it’s popularity #1 and may have won the race to see which dog would be finished first. To be fair, none of us were really doing anything but focusing on our individual dogs and not really wanting to share so it was totally the honor system on who finished first. (editors note: there’s no honor amongst this group…we’d each eat each other’s arm off, even if it were not necessary for survival.)

You deserve a break from sit-down meal service and to go back to your less healthy, more awesome days of yore as a twenty-something child where eating a hot dog for lunch was standard operating procedure. Dog Japon is the perfect opportunity to feel like a kid again, but a kid who has the bravado to try a hot dog topped with seaweed and dried/flaked fish…and LOVE it.

Dog Japon
1st and Pike (downtown)
Open for lunch

Fortune Cookie #22: RN74

We’ve been accused by some loyal readers/friends of being too nice, never saying anything bad or posting a negative review of any place we’ve been to as if we have some vested interest in protecting the reputations of the places we try. That’s a little unfair as we honestly haven’t been to a place yet that’s been sub-par and worthy of saying anything negative and we are yet to receive advertising money from Seattle restaurants whose reputations we would supposedly have a vested interest in protecting; we’re as unbiased as they come (but would still love some advertising money, if you’re reading this, restauranteurs of Seattle). While we could nit-pick about our water being refilled a litttle slower than we’d like or the overwhelming use of cheap Ikea art or make a giant deal out of slightly-too-salty side dishes at a few places, we’re not A-holes; go read myriad other blogs where people make a living off of being sour. With that said, this review is for YOU, the haters, as we honestly have a bona-fide reason to let our negative sides shine through: RN74.

RN74 is one of the newest eateries in downtown Seattle. It’s hip, it’s trendy, it’s gorgeous, it serves sexy food, sexy people eat here and even sexier people ate here once we walked in the door (high-five!!) But, that’s about all we can say that’s positive with RN74, from our point of view.

First off, parking is a joke. There are about 6 street parking spots in downtown Seattle within 4 blocks of RN74 before 7PM and parking in a lot will run you $4/hour or you can valet for $10. Not RN74’s fault, but it got us off to a bad start. Once inside RN74 you’re taken aback by the chic, beautiful setting with tons of trendy/cool furnishings…and the loudness bouncing off the high ceilings from the suits slurping down $9 Hilliards in coozies (more on that later) and a soundsystem belting out beat-heavy music. We were seated at a table in the dining area in the back of the space and were quite close to the table directly next to us. Should we have needed a salt shaker on the far side of their table we could have easily reached it.

Now, we will give props to one very cool aspect of RN74: their “last bottle” train board and wine list. This mechanical board changes to show when there is 1 bottle left of a certain wine from their extensive–and expensive–wine list that’s now been “deeply” discounted. It was cool to watch and hear it cycle through as bottles were ordered sparingly, however when a bottle is at a “deep discount” and can be had for the bargain price of $189, we’ll stick to watching the board rather than ordering from it.

As for the food, it was SRW and we opted to take advantage of that menu. The first course was good: a nice leek soup served in a cute Staub cast iron mini fondue pot and a charcuterie plate that was good but nothing to get excited about. Main course was Moules Frites. Tasty yes, but it’s mussels and fries how do you really mess that up?  Oh, by serving straight from the fridge cold dipping sauce for your fresh out the fryer fries, that’s how. The cassoulet was good but a bit under-seasoned and nothing too special; I’m not sure we would be happy diners paying full price for it. Dessert was…somewhat silly. The creme caramel about the size of an Oreo Big-Stuff was served in a bowl that was about 9″ across and 6″ deep, the same sized bowl that held the generous portion of Moules Frites, and owed any positives to the compressed smoked pineapple and passion fruit geleé accompanying it. The semifreddo was just OK but at least it looked sexy; no serious gripes, there.

As for the “little things” those fell short, too. The service was helpful but too helpful when asking if we needed more water or bread; better than less-than-helpful but there seemed to be an army of pitcher-wielding servers that were just too eager to fill glasses and interrupt conversation. Having a menu that includes $20 appetizers being explained by wait staff dressed in jeans and plaid shirts seemed more Ballard than some upscale place downtown.  The bread was cold though the butter was soft and spreadable which made for a really weird combination; how about we agree on room temperature across the board?

The wine list is crazy impressive as is the selection of booze but as we are both beer folk, we have a huge beef with RN74. All the beers are in bottles or cans with the cans served in coozys. Yes, people wearing Rolexes, $3,000 suits, Chanel bags and Louboutins were holding beer cans in coozys like it was 4th of July on Havasu and the next stop was a float trip down the river. We have nothing against coozys and love them in the proper setting, but this was novelty that made us nauseous much like seeing your Dad wear his Nextel phone on a belt-clip; a badge of honor displaying how hip and trendy he is, or rather, he thinks he is. What’s next: Cristal served in a fishbowl with silly straws or a lovely Bordeaux in one of those helmets with 2 can holders? Better yet, the prices are notably outrageous. To wit, Hilliard’s 16oz tall-boys were $9. Even the folks at Safeco and Century-Link Fields would blush at the newest Ballard microbrew (seen elsewhere for $4-5) costing $10+ with tax/tip.  Listen, we understand you gotta pay the rent but there is no beer served in a can/coozy in the world that should be $9 nor a beer in a can/coozy that should be served at a place this nice. Oysters were $3 each, to make matters worse, while $12 foie gras sliders were there in case you wanted to be a part of both the slider and foie gras crazes that likely wore out their novelty some time ago and were last seen as the “it” things in the Midwest in the last couple years (sorry, Midwest readers; we still love you and your BBQ). It really felt like they were leveraging the dirt RN74 is built on to justify charging what they did but you don’t get the feeling if Canlis or Tom Douglas’s swankiest new joint set up shop next door they would feel right charging those prices for that caliber of food/drink, which leads us to our ultimate conclusion.

RN74 does not belong in Seattle. It’s a swanky, trendy, expensive place with just OK food (relative to other places in that price range) that caters to a downtown crowd with deep pockets and a desire to be seen drinking $9 beers in a can, because they’re $9 beers in a can. Basically, it’s Los Angeles or San Francisco (where the other RN74 is located). The bar was packed with suits and pretty people young and old, which promptly emptied when happy hour ended, so budget is still a concern for the patrons unwilling to pay full-price whether they’d admit it or not. The Brooklyn a couple blocks away has a far better, cheaper, more popular happy hour and is more old-world classy and not nearly as trendy and maybe that’s why RN74 works for the younger crowd or the older crowd who are trying to feel young. But, in the long run the novelty of RN74 seems too much for a downtown crowd that has several other options that are cheaper and serve better food within 4 blocks in any direction.

We had to rappel down to the bottom of this bowl to get the dessert.

Ultimately, we really didn’t like RN74.  At all.  It’s tough to know who to recommend this to other than out-of-town business folks staying downtown eating on the Company’s credit card.  It’s too loud/crowded to leverage the beauty/trendiness of the space as a place for a nice/fancy dinner date, it’s too expensive to see coming here frequently for a happy hour or dinner with friends and the food isn’t good enough to justify spending that much. There are plenty of places downtown in this price-range or slightly cheaper with much better food and other places with the same level of ambiance or cool décor that are much easier on your wallet and remind you that you’re in Seattle not Los Angeles or San Francisco, lack of parking aside. If you’re a downtowner who likes to be seen in a sexy place and pay  more than you should, RN74 may be your place. If you’re anyone else wanting to give it a shot, we hope your experience is better than ours and please let us know; we’re still reeling from the experience 2 weeks after the fact.

We hate being haters but RN74 really brought it out in us. To everyone who said we couldn’t say a bad thing, enjoy eating your crow and washing it down with a $9 beer in a coozy…and we will now go back to writing positive reviews; it feels so much less dirty.

RN74
1433 Fourth Ave (downtown)
206.456.7474
http://michaelmina.net/restaurants/locations/rnwa.php 

Next up…

With SRW out of the way (Cuoco review here, RN74 review coming soon) it’s back to our regularly scheduled program…er…blog. Much like The Doobie Brothers, we’re takin it to the streets with this one. Next up, we’re off to…

Dog Japon! No, we don’t know why it’s called Dog Japon instead of Japan Dog and we doubt we’ll discover why but we will discover some super tasty and unique hot dogs from a cart not far from Pike Place Market that’s garnering a ton of buzz from downtowners in search of a delicious, cheap, quick lunch.

Stay tuned…

Fortune Cookie #21: Cuoco

There are few universal truths that no matter our age, race or religious beliefs everyone can agree on.  One of these universal truths is that Michael Keaton is a national treasure.  From Beetlejuice to Mr. Mom to Batman Returns to Jack Frost to Johnny Dangerously he consistently entertains us in non award-winning movies.  Okay, so we lost you at Mr. Mom but can we at least agree that we’ve all seen and love Michael Keaton in Multiplicity?  No?  Dangit!  We’ll catch you up.  The Plot:  “Construction worker Doug Kinney finds that the pressures of his working life, combined with his duties to his wife Laura and daughter Jennifer leaves him with little time for himself. However, he is approached by geneticist Dr. Owen Leeds who offers him a rather unusual solution to his problems – cloning”.  Genius, right?!  The problem comes when the clones are all in their own way flawed and consistently less better than the original.

This all brings us to the Seattle juggernaut that is Tom Douglas.  How could a guy who started with Dahlia Lounge 23 years ago possibly continue to create inspired, delicious cuisine 3 cookbooks, 16 Rubs with Love, 1 catering business and 11 restaurants later?  Wouldn’t he have to clone himself to keep up with the demand?  Wouldn’t the service or the quality of the food degrade somewhere along the way?  Nope!  His latest venture, Cuoco, is fantastic!

Keep in mind, we were sampling the Seattle Restaurant Week menu which, from our experience, can be hugely disappointing or surprisingly wonderful.  We should also mention that their final seating for lunch is at 2:00;  our reservation was for 1:45.  We set ourselves up for a potential noodle nightmare but Cuoco did not disappoint.

For starters we chose the simple salad with pickled onions and the 20 month aged Parma prosciutto with honey crisp apples and arugula.  Both simple.  Both delicious.  You may be inclined to pass on bread service but you really need to order it if only for the rosemary lardo.  Luckily, the serving is an appropriate teaspoon size because we could’ve eaten a chowder bowl full of this stuff!

Our mains were house made tagliatelle with asparagus, Parmigiano & pancetta and the mushroom cannelloni.  Now, some reviewers have stated their disappointment in Tom Douglas for not being more imaginative with his dishes but for us we think it’s the perfection in the simple things that set you apart.  Different for the sake of different doesn’t always equate to appetizing.  With food, pasta especially, we want it to taste like it’s a family recipe that’s been handed down for generations.  Our dishes had that history in their flavors.  The tagliatelle was brilliant. Asparagus, Parmigiano, pancetta, fresh pasta, that’s it. It tasted superb. The pasta perfectly cooked, the asparagus bright and tender, the pancetta offering just the right amount of salt and fat and the serving was the perfect size to feel like you enjoyed a wonderful bowl of pasta without the “why did I just eat that much?” regret that comes from a typical overly ambitious late lunch appetite.  As a lover of mushrooms, the cannelloni was a no-brainer.  Salty, smoky, earthy, cheesy, creamy and toothsome, it was delightful.

By the time dessert came around we were both pleasantly full but ready for a couple bites of something sweet after all of the savory.  Of course, the tiramisu and panna cotta were just too good to not finish completely, so we did. Much like the previous two courses, they were simply made and showcased the ingredients and skill used to make them perfectly.

After such a delightful lunch neither of us could come up with a good reason why we went into this meal with such reservations.  Neither of us have had a bad Tom Douglas experience and Cuoco certainly did not disappoint.  Maybe after living in Seattle and seeing the Tom Douglas brand grow to such epic proportions the expectations naturally seem to diminish but the reality is his restaurants continue to put out amazing food.  His establishments are the ones you take friends and family to that are in from out of town because you want them to experience something very Seattle and because they won’t disappoint. Michael Keaton may be a national treasure (still no?) but Tom Douglas is Seattle’s treasure.

We highly recommend you head down to South Lake Union and try Cuoco at your earliest convenience. You’re still here? Go to Cuoco. Now.

Cuoco
310 Terry Ave N (South Lake Union neighborhood)
206.971.0710
http://cuoco-seattle.com/

Fortune Cookie #20: Korean Tofu House

After 20 reviews we feel we need to be upfront with you: we are caucasian. Shocking, we know. We come from a cultures with largely unoriginal, bland, undistinguishable culinary backgrounds that lay claim to tater tots, hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches (all delicious in their own right, BTW). With that said, we need to level with you on another thing: we love eating non-caucasian food, especially Asian food. This is how we ended up at Korean Tofu House with empty bellies, wide eyes and a craving for ordering off a menu with pictures of each dish.

Hidden in the U-District, a block off “The Ave” and buried below street level you’ll find Korean Tofu House. It’s a simple place: small, a handful of tables, simple decor, nothing exciting. What IS exciting is what comes from behind the curtains in little black pots or on cow shaped skillets. What they lack in ambiance they more than make up for with delicious food.

As we stated in our review of Din Tai Fung, good signs when you go to an Asian restaurant are an overwhelming number of Asians happily eating their meals and menus with pictures and descriptions in a language comprised of characters containing multiple lines jetting off in every direction. Korean Tofu House had both. Awesome. What maybe wasn’t quite as awesome was the wait time in being served. Yes, they had a good number of diners in the restaurant but it wasn’t slammed, the waitstaff didn’t seem to be in any sort of rush taking orders and our painfully long wait time was a little off-putting, but at least the conversation was nice. So, if you’re looking for a quick lunch, walk one more block up to The Ave and take your pick of pit-stops to quickly fill your belly.

Okay, so the long wait wasn’t all bad.  It gave us a lot of time to gawk at everybody’s food.  How could we possibly resist ordering the seafood tofu soup which comes to your table still boiling over?  We’re not talking simmering bubbles hiding at the edge of the bowl, we’re talking full on angry, burping, sit back from your table boiling over cuz that pot–she’s a HOT!  Our server kindly asks if we’d like a fresh egg cracked into our soup.  Yes, please.  The BBQ beef with it’s caramelized onions was served on a sweet cow shaped cast iron skillet as a not so subtle reminder that while we may be dining at a tofu house, we were certainly not eating tofu.  As with all Korean meals, our order came with an array of side dishes including kimchi, scallion pancakes, bean sprouts, sweet potatoes, noodles and rice.  After letting our soup and its fiery bubbles and the raw egg to do their thing, we were able to enjoy the delicious seafood and tofu inside.  Heads on shrimp, oysters, clams and tofu melded with the not-too-spicy soup to make a delicious, sharable feast of flavors.  Perfect comfort food when it’s cold outside, you’re hungover or for us a Tuesday afternoon.

All in all, Korean Tofu House is legit. The flavors are spot on and it holds it’s own with other  legit Korean food spots and half of the management team here at FCF frequented Koreatown in Los Angeles quite often over a 10 year stretch so that’s saying something. It’s off the beaten path, it’s slightly under the radar and it’s certainly worth a go at lunch…just make sure you don’t have a meeting immediately afterwards.

Korean Tofu House
4142 Brookyln Ave NE (U-District neighborhood)
206.632.3119

Next Up…

It’s the Spring 2012 SRW! This adventure kicked off a year ago at Chiso during the Spring 2011 SRW and here we are 20 cookies later still doing our thing. Kudos to us! Where are we headed next for our first stop of this SRW? Next up, we’re off to…

Cuoco! Yes, it’s slightly difficult to say but we’re guessing it will not be that difficult to eat. One of Tom Douglas’ newest restaurants, Cuoco promises to deliver a wonderful Italian lunch and SRW is a great opportunity to try this spot that’s been garnering a lot of buzz, even for a Tom Douglas spot.

Stay tuned…

Our 3 favorite letters are back…

S-R-W!! Yup, it’s time for the Spring 2012 Seattle Restaurant Week. Not to get all nostalgic on you, but it was a year ago at Chiso that we kicked off this adventure…and here we are 20 cookies later still at it!

This go around there are some new spots, some missing but for the most part all your favorites are still here.

So, get out there and support the Seattle restaurant scene! We hear that the more you dine out during SRW the more sunshine we get* so you’re doing the entire city a favor by dining out!

* – no meteorologists were consulted to verify this claim, we just expect you to roll with it.