2319 2nd Ave
The first thing I noticed about Kushibar was the smell: hanging in the air was a mixture of greasy smoke and old fish that smelled like what I imagine a Viking’s funeral pyre would smell like. If you’d like a less theatrical example I’ll give you this: it smelled the way the alleys in the International District smell on a hot day. This wasn’t offensive to me; there are a million awesome seafood markets all over the fucking Cajun country that smell exactly like Kushibar: places that sell lots of seafood all day and then don’t mop the floors. Besides, with the rickety wooden porch seating they’ve got, plus all the blue neon, I’m thinking they’re trying to go for some sort of late- night back- alley Tokyo vibe. Plenty of tables were available, but we chose seats at the bar anyway to observe the action. We quickly placed our order, and the plates started trickling in.
Almost as soon as we ordered it, the Yakisoba Pan ($5) arrived. This was a sandwich of ramen noodles, stir fried cabbage, tempura zucchini, crispy bacon slices, and avocado, with mayo, on a toasted HOT DOG BUN, of all things. While this sandwich wasn’t bad, if I had one question to ask the guy who came up with it, it would be multiple choice. “Chef,” I’d say, “when you invented the Yakisoba Pan, were you: a) super stoned, b) totally wasted, c) bombed out of your motherfucking MIND, dawg, or d) all of the above?” I then wouldn’t wait for the chef to even answer, instead quickly filling in choice “d)” for him immediately (except I would never actually say the word “dawg”), because you’d have to be COMPLETELY FUCKED UP to put that much randomness on a bun.
In fact, the last foodstuff I have seen that even APPROACHED the ludicrous ingredients on the Yakisoba Pan really WAS created when someone was stoned: years ago my friends and I all sat around eating some pot brownies all night. When the munchies inevitably hit the best thing we could come up with to eat were burritos made of saltine cracker crumbs mixed with Thousand Island dressing, wrapped in flour tortillas. I personally didn’t eat one of the cracker crumb burritos, being too busy laughing at a Neosporin commercial, but I’m sure they were just as good as the Yakisoba Pan.
Next, the skewers we ordered arrived, lined up and resembling a picket fence of mediocrity on the plate. The negi ($1.50) was 3 or 4 short lengths of green onion, lightly charred on the outside and softly grilled all the way through. I wish they’d sliced these lengthwise before threading them onto the skewers; every time I bit into one, the slippery inner layers of onion skeeted out onto the floor. $2 got you the aspara, which if you haven’t already guessed, were a couple grilled slices of asparagus. Tasty, but I can grill asparagus at home, thanks, and $2 will get me HALF A POUND from the farmer’s market. The buta bara ($3) was a grilled slice of pork belly. I was hoping that they would have braised it first before grilling, so it would be all melty and yielding inside, like your mom’s crotch, but they didn’t. Instead, it tasted like a tough bland piece of thick bacon. The shiro maguro ($3) was a couple chunks of grilled albacore. This was unfortunately very fishy smelling (and tasting), like they went dumpster diving behind Shiro’s. Just as stinky was the reba ($1.50), grilled chicken livers dusted with toasted sesame seeds. The livers had a good creamy silken consistency, but they tasted the way a wet dog smells.
At this point a pause in the action allowed me, from my vantage point at the bar, to observe the kitchen action. And it was pretty goddamned, motherfucking action PACKED: the chefs skittered around, doing the soft- shoe routine that dudes who are accustomed to working quickly in a confined space with each other do. They slashed open plastic bags of ramen, scooping them up into sieves which they plunged into a roiling cauldron filled with either very rusty water or (hopefully) some kind of stock. Long skinny charcoal grills ran parallel to the bar, crowded with patiently roasting skewers. The grill directly in front of us seemed like it wasn’t in use; at least, I hope it wasn’t, since there was an ink pen stuck into it. Or maybe the ink pen was actually on the menu and I didn’t notice it: after all, everyone knows that ink is edible because it’s frequently served with pasta. Maybe the Yakisoba “PAN” was a typo on the menu, and it really read Yakisoba “PEN.” A Bic sandwich! What a great idea! You get your choice of size (fine point, medium point, or roller ball) AND your favorite flavor (red, blue, or black)!
A couple handfuls of the complimentary bowl of curried popcorn allowed me to cleanse my palette before the spicy ginger chicken ($7) arrived. This dish was awesome; a breath of fresh air after a shitstorm of disappointment. Tender chunks of chicken breast were sautéed in a flavorful ginger sauce with plenty of caramelized onions. It's subversively spicy; the heat sidles up to you like a chikan on the Tokyo subway and gropes you with its sweaty hand as if your taste buds were an innocent schoolgirl.
If I owned Kushibar I would have called it “The Great Northwestern Skewered Foods Company: Purveyors of the Finest Grilled Meats, Vegetables, and Seafoods,” but of course that doesn’t have the crisp mod “zazz” that everything in Belltown must have. I just don’t like the name of this place. “Kushibar” is a bad word, and it sucks to even have to SAY it. “Kushibar” is like “Zayda Buddy’s”: it’s one of those incomprehensible words that, if I hadn’t already seen it in print, if someone said it to me I would have to keep having them repeat it over and over again until they became frustrated and finally just spelled it for me. This is like the time a couple years ago when I got into an argument with some kids in a bookstore. I overheard them muttering something that sounded like “Sammasossa, sammasossa is so awesome.” “What’s ‘sammasossa?’” I asked. They looked at me, then turned to each other, incredulous that I didn’t know about Sammasossa’s awesome existence. Turns out they were discussing baseball legend SAMMY SOSA. I don’t follow baseball, so I didn’t know that Sammy Sosa had broken the single- season home run record. I told those little bastards to enunciate, next time. Needless to say, they heeded my request by clearly pronouncing the words “Fuck you.” Mission accomplished, at least.
Yet even though I hate the name, and most of the food stinks, I HAVE GOT to admit that Kushibar is a SPECTACULAR deal: two of us got out of there for $29 after tax and tip. That is fucking dirt CHEAP. They’re obviously aiming at the drunken last call crowd, and I have to give them credit for that because there isn’t enough late- night dining in Seattle because most restaurants are for pussies. The Yakisoba Pan is okay; it will obviously soak up lots of alcohol with its two- pronged, carb- on- carb assault. But if I were you I’d go with a couple orders of Spicy Ginger Chicken and be done with it. That’s because, if it’s 2 AM and you’re trying to head off a thermonuclear hangover, you’ve got to think strategically: which of Kushibar’s menu items will taste the best on the way back up?
Rating: 4 chikan out of 10