Monday, June 08, 2009


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

Kushibar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Fresh Bistro

4725 42nd Ave SW

When I heard that this place had just opened, I thought it was called FRENCH Bistro. All day long I was skipping around, kicking up my fucking heels, a smile on my face like a leprechaun was hiding in my pants, tickling my asshole with a feather boa, thinking that an honest- to- Charles de Gaulle FRENCH BISTRO was opening up in West Seattle! You can thus imagine my disappointment when I realized that it was, in fact, run by the chumps who sell cookies at the West Seattle Farmer’s Market. Still, it would have been rude to dismiss their efforts without even trying the place, so off we went to Fresh Bistro.

I was immediately struck by the dining room’s interior. I don’t usually comment on a restaurant’s ambiance, but Fresh Bistro is OVER THE TOP. There’s too much stuff inside; too many clashing patterns like glass panels printed with bamboo, copper menus, weird lampshades that dangle like my dad’s nutsack, AND napkin rings that look like a scrunchie a robot hooker would wear (it’s obviously not a high class robot hooker), AND tiny planters of LEMON GRASS on EVERY TABLE. It’s like they wanted to be all sleek and modern, but also wanted to be “busy.” Some of you, my dear readers, are familiar with our local scion Elemental, a veritable how- to manual on the starkest of stark minimalism. Elemental takes its philosophy VERY seriously. If Elemental were a black metal band I’d listen to it ALL FUCKING DAY, even in the shower. Seriously, there are no curves inside Elemental, and EVERY angle is 90 degrees, and there are only 2 colors in the entire place: brown and light brown. Well this is what Fresh Bistro is like: it’s like Elemental and an Applebee’s fucked, and the baby that came out of Appleby’s face/ asshole, like some mythical Greek monster, was Fresh Bistro. It’s a visual riot that would drive an Aspberger’s Syndrome sufferer to commit seppuku. Plus they’ve got a cold, shady east- facing patio that won’t be much fun unless they start serving brunch, because on those brilliant Seattle summer evenings that make people want to sit outside drinking Mojito after Mojito, or whatever girl drink Sex in the City’s philosophical replacement told you to drink this year, Fresh Bistro’s patio will be in the SHADE!

Am I being too harsh? Not really, since as I’ve made clear many times, I don’t really care about ambiance. Then why complain about it for 500 words? Dude, I’m just saying.

Anyway, the food: we started with the asparagus soup ($9), which was a little fibrous but rich and creamy, especially once you got to the ball of melted goat cheese, sweet and hidden like a schoolgirl’s crush, at the bottom of the bowl. The asparagus flavor itself was bright, though the army- green color was a bit off- putting. The soup was garnished with a single tempura asparagus spear. This by itself was phenomenal: the batter was light and perfectly salted, ensconcing an asparagus spear that was still just a little crisp inside. I’d like to see these motherfuckers put tempura asparagus on the menu as a dish of its own.

The Caesar baby salad ($10) had a confusing name. It wasn’t little; in fact, the salad was a good portion. Nor did it have baby lettuce. So why “baby?” Do they think that if they sneak a cute word into each menu item, we won’t get mad if we don’t like it? After all, who besides a total psychopath would send a baby back? Not even me, although I might be tempted to sell my salad into white slavery in the Ukraine. Would I REALLY sell a helpless baby into slavery? No, but I would totally do that to your mom. Maybe Barrio could take a page from this play book and put “Magical Smiley Elf Tacos” on THEIR menu, both to justify the $11 price tag of their tacos (since as everyone knows, overfishing has notoriously driven up the price of elf meat), and to keep you from getting mad about it. But I digress; the Caesar baby salad was good, with soft leaves of Bibb or butter lettuce, glazed with a light coating of a mild Caesar dressing. There was one giant crouton, which was actually a piece of baguette sliced on the bias and all crusty with broiled parmesan and garlic. In an interesting twist, the ubiquitous Caesar salad anchovies were deep fried WHITE anchovies, with a muted fishy flavor and a crispy fried batter coating. All in all this was a solid, if non- traditional, Caesar salad with a dumb name.

Berkshire pork bellies ($9) had a straightforward, albeit misleading name. I was expecting a large chunk of succulently braised pork belly, yielding to the bite and melting its cholesterol straight into my aorta with seductive ease. Instead what you got was two perfect cubes of polenta cake, crusty outside but with a satin finish within, topped with a superfluous (but pretty) pile of shredded yellow and orange carrots. Where were the pork bellies? EVERYWHERE! There was a lot of it, strewn all over the dish, but it was cut up into tender braised lardons of soft yet chewy pork. The whole thing swam in an amazingly rich, glossy, salty demiglace, and perched on the very top was a pile of tiny amber spheres that could’ve been either some kind of roe or some kind of grain, but I couldn’t tell because the flavor of that powerful demiglace punched those tiny dots in their tiny faces. Which was what they deserved, for trying to barge in on this orgy of salty pork and creamy polenta.

The green olive and pecorino crusted halibut ($22) was as un- understandable as the Republican party platform. A filet of halibut was served atop a bed of fava beans, white beans, peas, and cherry tomato halves. Lurking on the bottom was some green eggy custard- like thing, which tasted rather watery. The halibut filet itself was juicy and tender inside, but the crust tasted like neither pecorino cheese nor green olives, although it was kinda salty, which makes sense given the alleged ingredients in said crust. The beans were okay but I thought the cherry tomatoes were bland and tasted washed- out and dragged down the other flavors.

Beef Wellington ($28) had some cutesy name that I forget, but it doesn’t matter because it was fucking AWESOME! A tender filet of medium rare beef, slathered in pate de foie gras, was wrapped in a shroud of puff pastry. The beef was so tender I thought it would evaporate if I didn’t eat it fast enough, which was why I wolfed it the fuck down. The puff pastry was flaky, doughy, and perfect, and the pate raised its voice just enough to be heard over the angelic chorus of divine virtue coming from the beef and pastry. It seems that lately foie gras is being overused; when even ice cream is made with it I think it’s time we all stood back and took a deep collective breath. After all, foie gras is a sword that shouldn’t be unsheathed lightly. Still, I’ve had lesser Wellingtons that used duxelles paste instead of pate, and it just isn’t the same. The Wellington was served in a pool of rich pan reduction sauce. Accompanying were a couple grilled young red onions. There was also a grilled mushroom, which was tender and satisfyingly meaty. It was also really weird looking: I’ve never seen such a mushroom outside of Super Mario Bros. Unfortunately, unlike the fungi commonly found in the various Super Mario games, this mushroom neither doubled my height, nor gave me an “extra man,” as my brother likes to call a 1up. The concept of the 1up is fucking weird: a MUSHROOM which gives you EXTRA LIVES. What sort of Satanic bargain did Mario have to strike in order to be provided with ANOTHER LIFE? It chills the very soul to ponder the ramifications. I prefer to think of the “extra men” as a mercenary army, chosen to be the same height, weight, hair color, and mustache thickness as the original Mario, sort of like the Rockettes. And you know times have changed when “Rockettes” triggers your spell checking software but “1up” does not. After all, who needs a row of sexy dancing dames when you’ve got Mario? Answer: obviously not anyone who works at Microsoft.

Dessert slid in under the radar with the Coffee & Cream with Sugar ($6), a cutesy name for a mocha flavored bread pudding. It wasn’t very sweet, and in fact tasted like bread that had been dipped in coffee, and to add an even deeper layer of cuteness, was served in a COFFEE CUP! How precious! Protruding from the center of the pudding was a glassy amber shard of brittle which had actual hazelnuts and whole coffee beans embedded in it. This made it look sort of like fly paper. I didn’t like this very much. Yet somehow, I liked the crème brulee ($6) even less. Normally, you may have noticed that I love crème brulee. Well, not with basil and tomatoes in it, I don’t. The menu simply said “seasonal crème brulee,” these motherfuckers didn’t even WARN me that they’d gone all faggy with it. I consider myself an adventurous eater, but after that Wellington, which was so old school you’re legally required to spell it “Olde Skewl,” I was ready for a glass of brandy and a classic end to the meal. But of course we can’t always get what we want. The crème itself was smooth and luxurious, with a good crackly sugar crust, but it wasn’t sweet enough. Plus there were cherry tomatoes on top, which leaked their limpid watery juices down into the custard below, and even –gasp!- some balsamic vinegar. Puzzlingly, despite all their proclamations of it being a “seasonal” crème brulee, tomatoes aren’t even in season yet! The sad thing is that I would’ve totally enjoyed this as an appetizer, but please, PLEASE don’t fuck with me on dessert. As a dessert it was too tangy and herbal to be an effective deal closer.

Despite my complaining about the décor (and other things), I’m actually optimistic about Fresh Bistro. The tomato- basil crème brulee shows that they’re shooting for high concept, which is sorely needed in West Seattle since Spring Hill currently has the monopoly on it. Yet they manage to pull off the Beef Wellington with ease, so they’ve obviously studied their history books and can do the classics as well. There might have been a glitch or two here and there, but they haven’t been open too long. I’m sure they’ll smooth the menu out shortly. But the glimmering memory of that utterly perfect Beef Wellington, the VERY DEFINITION of pure BRITISH STEEL, will definitely keep me coming back.

Rating: 7 extra men out of 10

Fresh Bistro on Urbanspoon