Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jack's Tapas Cafe

5211 University Way

Despite this place’s name, it’s NOT a tapas bar. It’s a Chinese restaurant. This sets a dangerous precedent: if a Chinese restaurant can call itself a tapas bar, then the adjectives you might use to describe any restaurant lose all meaning. An accurate description of things is the basis of language. Jack’s Tapas Café is obviously some Orwellian attempt to destroy English by rendering the descriptive powers of the language completely corrupt. After all, if a Chinese restaurant can use the word “tapas,” then what’s stopping Burger King from changing its name to “Sushi King?” Wendy’s could become “Jenny’s.” Pizza Hut could easily become “Delicious Hut.” Your mom could describe herself as “sexy.” Arby’s might be able to call itself “Food.” Don’t we have false advertising laws to prevent shit like this?

Fortunately, it’s easily apparent when you walk into Jack’s that it isn’t a tapas bar because there’s lots of Chinese writing (and people) everywhere. If it actually were a tapas bar there would be wine bottles everywhere and lots of overpriced almonds. And probably some dude with a ponytail. So if you really wanted tapas, it would be pretty apparent to you that you were in the wrong place, and then you could turn around and leave, although I’d advise against leaving because Jack’s Tapas Café is tasty as fuck.

We started with one of the house specialties, the Stir Fried Noodles ($9.95). Hand shaved noodles were sautéed with cabbage, onions, scallions, slivered carrots, and your choice of meat. We chose beef. The meat was cut into tender strips, nestled in among julienned shards of cabbage and onions which still had a little bit of crunch left in them. The hand shaved noodles were thick and doughy, irregularly shaped, with an almost leathery texture, yet very soft to the bite. It was almost like eating some kind of raw, savory cookie dough. You can substitute the hand shaved noodles for regular noodles in every noodle dish for $1 more, and why WOULDN’T you? If you turn down the hand shaved noodle option you should get an MRI immediately because something is seriously fucked up in your brain, and you are a retard.

The tea smoked duck was all right. For $12.95 you get shitloads of duck meat, chopped up into succulent chunks the way the Chinese like to do and piled up on the plate with a tiny ramekin of hoisin sauce. The duck had a subtle smoky flavor, but it was a little dry. The vegetarian green beans ($8.95) were just a cheesy name for a classic Chinese standby: green beans in garlic sauce. This dish had umami pouring out of its ass. The green beans were soft and pleasingly charred on the skins. Large soft brown chunks of sautéed garlic peeked out from between the beans, and everything was glazed in a rich soy glaze that was just a whore’s hair away from being too salty.

Except it didn’t really matter that the green beans were almost too salty if you got the sesame scallion bread, AKA the Best Motherfucking Bread I Have Ever Tasted, and I’ve Been to France (BMBIHETIBF bread for short). This fucking bread was a goddamned revelation: $9.95 gets you a giant round loaf of flaky fluffy layered bread, sliced into wedges, flecked here and there with little slips of scallion, and topped with a scattering of toasted sesame seeds. This doughy, flaky sesame scallion bread fucking rules, although it’s more like a biscuit than bread, but perfect: the perfect Platonic biscuit, the kind of lofty ideal of pure biscuity biscuitness, that if it actually existed would appear on your plate amid fanfare and electrical noise, like Voltron made out of dough, to rule the bread world with a cruel but just hand. You remember how good your grandma’s biscuits tasted to you when you were a kid? Well fuck your grandma. Fuck her biscuits too. Jack’s sesame scallion bread does not tolerate any challenges to its domination of the pastry universe, and it punched your grandma’s pussy biscuits in the face with its gigantic Voltron fist which isn’t just a fist, it also has LION’S TEETH on it so it punches AND bites your stupid grandma biscuits at the same time. Like I said, the green beans may have been a little salty, but if you split open the magnificent layered sesame scallion bread and piled some green beans and a little tea smoked duck in there, you could make the kind of badass makeshift sandwich that people usually throw together on the day after Thanksgiving.

We closed with the General Tso’s Chicken. Let me tell you motherfuckers about General Tso’s Chicken. This tale is long and melancholy, so grab a snifter of brandy and settle down into a leather wing- backed chair, and get ready to weep as rain patters the window, and the fire dying in the hearth casts shadows upon the wainscoting, for this is the Story of Seattle’s Best General Tso’s Chicken.

The BEST General Tso’s Chicken in Seattle isn’t available anymore. It was the specialty of the Broadway Wok & Grill on Capitol Hill, and at the Asian Wok & Grill in Fremont. Both restaurants were owned by the same guy, Danny Wong. When Danny died in 2006, his family sold the restaurants, and the recipe died with him. THAT fucking General Tso’s Chicken was an exemplar of its breed: they served it to you in a gigantic pile on an oval plate, crispy chunks of tender boneless chicken thigh meat in a tangy sticky sauce, bronze and gleaming like a pirate’s booty. It could only have been better if they served the chicken to you in one of those mini treasure chests you can put inside an aquarium. The sauce was complex: at once spicy and sweet, sugary for sure, but with a tangy peppery bottom note and an orange blossom finish. The batter was very light, probably corn starch- based, and subtly crunchy. Thai bird chilis poked their spicy red beaks up from this delicious menagerie. The meat was succulent and tender. Lightly steamed broccoli florets were wedged between the chicken chunks to remind you to eat some fucking vegetables. The dish as a whole was somehow much lighter and easier to eat than a plate of fried chicken with sugar sauce has any right to be.

But then Danny Wong unexpectedly died, and his mind- bogglingly awesome recipe for General Tso’s Chicken died with him. They buried him with a piece of General Tso’s Chicken to give to Charon instead of a coin as payment across the River Styx. Danny’s family sold his restaurants. The Broadway Wok & Grill became some lame Mexican place. The Asian Wok & Grill became a gym, as if the universe was trying to work off all of the calories that had previously been sent out from that location. Sigh. And then I had to settle for inferior General Tso's Chicken, like the one you can get from China First, which tastes like McDonald's Chicken McNuggets doused in corn syrup. Sigh. Such is life.

But how does Jack’s General Tso’s Chicken measure up? Not too fucking bad, though the Story of Seattle’s Best General Tso’s Chicken is a tough act to follow. Jack’s General Tso’s is expensive: for $10.95 you only got maybe 8 pieces of chicken, round golf balls of breast meat lightly fried and doused in thin syrup. The meat was a little dry. The sauce was a one- note clunker, like an out of tune piano, cloyingly sweet and drippy and not very spicy, like they took some Aunt Jemima’s and mixed it with a little 5- spice powder. Two or three limp spinsterly broccoli florets looked on from the sidelines, wishing you would eat them but knowing that you probably wouldn’t and then writing bad poetry in their notebooks about rejection.

Jack’s Tapas Café might have a misleading name, but the cuisine is solid. The sesame scallion bread, which pummels your taste buds into submission with its weapons- grade deliciousness, is by itself reason enough to go there. I’m going to start using that shit as my regular sandwich bread. I was vaguely disappointed by the General Tso’s Chicken, but that’s only because I’ve been spoiled by my shimmering idealized memories of past iterations of that dish. Probably the ONLY thing about Jack’s that actually really sucks is the “artwork,” and I use that term as loosely as your mom’s vag: for $30 you can buy these cheesy scrolls, upon which is scrawled some sloppy folk music lyrics of the kind which is usually written by chicks with bad teeth and huge tits who love to make sure that everyone knows they once lived in their cars. But I’d call that a minor quibble: it’s not an art gallery, after all. I doubt the Whitney or the Saatchi sell very good Chinese food.

Now I’m feeling pensive. My mournful reverie of the Broadway Wok & Grill has put me into an introspective mood, so forgive me: I must retire to my drawing room for some absinthe and a chaser of laudanum. Your mom will be providing the sodomy, and Black Sabbath will be providing the background music. God save the Queen, you fuckers, God save the Queen.

Rating: 7 strolls down memory lane out of 10

Jack's Tapas Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 03, 2009

Perche' no

1319 N 49th St

Perche’ no is located in a McMansion in Wallingford. The building is fucked up looking: gross salmon- colored stucco and pointless quoining indicate that they’re shooting for the “Six Flags Over Italian Food” conceit. It looks out of place in the neighborhood; it really looks like it should be located in a mall parking lot. The prerequisite replica of Michaelangelo’s David swings his disappointingly tiny marble pecker down at you from a corner of the roof. Why try to emulate the Olive Garden? That’s as fucked up as buying a Real Doll that resembles your own mom (note: I have a Real Doll that looks like your mom).

The first difficulty we encountered was the menu: it isn’t exactly written in the Queen’s English. It reads like the dialogue from a poorly translated Nintendo game circa 1988. In fact, with its awkward phrasing and vague subject- verb agreement, it’s more like a Chinese food menu than Italian. According to this menu the cappellini con sardine features “Chef flavor pasta.” As an upstanding citizen I object to being served pasta that tastes like a person; cannibalism is ILLEGAL, you motherfuckers! Another dish has the puzzling ingredient “spine shape pine nuts.” And I always thought they were oblong.

Once I stopped feeling superior to the menu we ordered stuff. The Salumi alla Perche’no was a trio of house- made prosciutto: for $12 you got 6 paper thin slices, 2 each of regular pork, wild boar, and lamb prosciutto, each slice smeared with a drop of olive oil and some diced garlic. This seemed expensive, but what offended me more than the price was the fact that all of the prosciutto was almost inedibly salty. The traditional pork prosciutto was salty but otherwise unremarkable. The wild boar prosciutto was interesting: it tasted like pork, but “porkier,” somehow, as if you genetically engineered a pig so that its legs were made of short ribs instead of ham. Man, would that be fucking delicious. I hope ConAgra gets cracking on creating some shambling, horrific mutant pigs made entirely of short ribs pretty soon. The lamb prosciutto wasn’t that great. Unfortunately for Perche’ no, all lamb prosciutto in this town must inevitably be compared to Salumi’s. Did it stand up? Nope: Perche’ no’s version isn’t even qualified to shake Armandino Batali’s dick after he pisses. It was salty, gummy, and tasted like an old pot roast covered in dust bunnies.

The spinacci della casa ($8) was a spinach salad with sautéed onions and crumbles of pancetta. The spinach was lightly wilted and shellacked with a warm vinaigrette made from the pancetta drippings. Staring up at you from the spinach was a pale areola of watery mozzarella, and the whole thing was garnished with a couple anemic slices of mealy unripe tomato. This salad was actually pretty good, if maybe a bit greasy. The vinaigrette was flavorful, the spinach was very fresh, and there were lots of pancetta bits for crunch. However, the almost flavorless mozzarella was totally unnecessary. And the tomatoes sucked. If you can’t find ripe tomatoes, then DON’T FUCKING INCLUDE THEM. A good tomato is a thing of beauty: sweet as a 1966 Chevelle SS and as enthusiastically juicy as a 30- year- old divorcee. An unripe tomato, on the other hand, is a bitter spinster driving a moped (your mom, in other words).

Next up was the cappellini con sardine ($13). As previously mentioned, this was a dish of “chef flavored pasta.” I guess this particular chef tastes like garlic, sardines, and powdered parmesan cheese, because that’s what the cappellini tasted like. Chunks of roasted garlic peeked out here and there from a bird’s nest of angel hair pasta, which was cooked to a confident al dente. The occasional caper popped its head up now and then, and there were many flakes of fresh- tasting sardine. This was actually pretty tasty except for all the cheese: the waiter unceremoniously dumped a giant snowdrift of powdered parmesan all over my plate which instantly dulled the other flavors. That sandy, dry, fake parmesan with its shitty bouquet of aluminum cans and puke belongs only on late- night pizza, and NOT in the hand of a waiter at any serious Italian restaurant.

The salsicce pizza ($13) had an ephemeral, chewy, and bubbly crust, but the sauce was weird: thin and oddly sweet, it tasted like some kind of Chef Boyardee bullshit. Slices of Italian sausage dotted this crust like meaty hay bales in an Ansel Adams pizzascape. The sausage was juicy and flavorful, when you could actually get a piece of it into your mouth: they tended to unbalance the frail crust, so that when you grabbed a pizza slice, the sausage rolled off, ricocheting off the wooden board upon which the pizza was served. And oh yeah, the pizza comes on a wooden chopping board, which is an apparently significant enough detail for them to mention it on the fucked- up menu.

For dessert we had the Ciocollatta Amaretto Mousse ($7). This was just a simple chocolate mousse, piped up old school in a glass sundae dish. This pretty much sucked. Little lumps of chocolate kept interrupting the consistency, and the amaretto flavor left a nagging aftertaste with each spoonful. The OTHER dessert, however, was really good: raspberries! The waiter kept saying we should get the “raspberries” for dessert. This was apparently a dessert special. The guy danced around with excitement, seeming like he was going to whiz in his pants if we didn’t order it, so I got the fucking raspberries. I thought he meant raspberry gelato, but no, it really was just raspberries: a whole mound of them, red, ripe, and sweet, piled into a cup made of dark chocolate. This sugary ship floated in a pool of crème anglais which had been decoratively spiderwebbed with chocolate sauce. The crème anglais was smooth and not overpoweringly sweet, but really, the raspberries hardly needed the sauce. They were so sweet by themselves that I found myself ignoring the sauce altogether and just scarfing down handfuls of berries.

Perche’ no is the very template of the kind of shitty generic Italian food that’s too big for its britches, a paper tiger, an empty suit. If restaurants were people, Perche’ no would be Sarah Palin. They should’ve called this place “Perche’ FUCK no,” because that’s what I’ll say if anyone ever asks me if I want to go back there. It’s not really THAT terrible, but if it’s Italian cuisine you’re after, Cantinetta is right down the street. I’m sure some people really like Perche’ No, but those people are probably retarded.

Rating: 4.5 raspberries out of 10

Perché No Pasta & Vino on Urbanspoon