One of the things that's always impressed me about Seattle is the ease with which we can find people in unexpected positions.
Thank our melting pot of cultures and traditions.
For example, a woman born in Burma serving as a restaurant hostess isn't surprising in and of itself — but she's at the door of an Italian restaurant in Green Lake.
Her Chinese husband, in the open kitchen behind her, was born in Malaysia, and learned his craft in a passport-worthy tour of restaurants in the Bay Area: Chinese, burgers, steaks and (more to the point for this review) Italian. As part of his training, he learned to speak Italian, too. Now, even the most culturally insensitive diner understands the similarities between Chinese and Italian cultures (i.e. the importance of family, the importance of food), so it's not really that strange that David and Lily Kong would have their own Italian spot at 1319 N. 49th St.
Why not? Put that sentiment into Italian and you’ve got a fine name: Perchè No.
For a neighborhood spot, this is a big place. A hundred seats on two levels, rooms for private events, a patio out back, a full bar, a kitchen wide enough for three or four cooks that can also function as a production and catering facility. The property was once a family residence, gutted and re-purposed as a restaurant, then rebuilt again after a kitchen fire. The Kongs own it, so, as long as they make their mortgage payments, they're not tied to the demands of a lease or a landlord.
As a result, prices are lower than you'd expect, given the high quality of what's on the plate. Pastas are made in-house, and don't usually depend on expensive ingredients (unless you top the ravioli with shaved truffles), but Perchè No isn't that kind of pretentious restaurant. Nothing over $20 on the pasta side; you have to get into the lamb and seafood main courses before you reach $25.
That said, I would have liked the supplì to be hotter inside, in order to melt the mozzarella filling of the rice ball. I would also have liked more creamy béchamel (white sauce) to complement the standard-issue bolognese (tomato & meat) sauce in the lasagna; at least the pasta itself was thin and tender.
Don't get me wrong: I realize you don't have to be an old-country paisano to prepare more-than-decent Italian food, but there's a reason people of all cultures will tell you there's nothing like their Mamma's cooking. It might come down to the tiniest pinch of nutmeg in the ragù, not even a question of taste but a matter of instinct.
The wine list at Perchè is extensive; some 300 labels are offered, and over two dozen wines are available by the glass at reasonable prices. I only wish you could find even a partial list of those offerings on the restaurant's website.
Meantime, the youngest member of the family, Alex Kong, having grown up in David's kitchen, now runs a food truck called Mangia Me (“Eat Me”). Location varies, and is posted online a week in advance.
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Next, let’s head over to Laurelhurst, where Edouardo Jordan has revealed plans for a second restaurant, just a few blocks from Salare, in the home of the shuttered Heidelberg Haus at 2122 NE 65th St.
Junebaby, as Jordan plans to call this sophomore venture, will draw on the owner’s southern roots in Florida and Georgia. The menu will focus on the “humble ingredients that shaped America's culinary history” (corn, peas, rice),” he said. “The food will tell the story of my family and ancestors.”
Jordan is a Florida-born African-American chef whose career has taken him from St. Petersburg to Michelin-starred kitchens in New York City (Per Se) and California (French Laundry); to Italy, for hands-on experience with cured meats; and to Seattle for stints alongside celebrity chefs like Jerry Traunfeld (The Herbfarm) and Matt Dillon (Bar Sajor). Jordan, was brought up in a tradition of “southern” food, with its Louisiana boudin blanc. If you're not familiar with ingredients like the Fuyu persimmon (Greek), egusi sauce (Nigerian), dukkah (Egyptian), tsire yoghurt (West African), you soon will be.
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Finally, over to Fremont. You already know about Pomerol, 127 N. 36th St., the classy French bistro from owner and chef Vuong Loc, and I’ve mentioned that he's opening a new spot, China Pie, next door.
Now, coming to 119 N. 36th St. is The Helm, a full bar and small-plates kitchen. In charge of that open-style kitchen is executive chef Travis Stewart, who used to cook at Canlis restaurant. The bar manager is Kyle Takacs, previously of Kirkland’s Bottle and Bull and Bellevue’s Lot No. 3.
“Fremont is home to a lively and fun bar scene,” said co-owner, Phil Megenhardt. “Several times of year, the neighborhood swells with guests attending some fantastic events and the businesses here burst at the seams with people enjoying themselves.”
Megenhardt and The Helm’s other owner, Andrea Drachler, have a long history using food and beverage events to attract an audience and build community. Megenhardt is the president and creative director of Fremont-based Bold Hat Productions (BHP), founded in 1997, and Drachler is BHP’s chief operating officer. For years, the pair have led the company’s production of some of the Seattle area's most notable events: Fremont Oktoberfest, Seattle Scotch & Beer Fest, Kirkland Uncorked and Fremont Solstice.
Ronald Holden is a restaurant writer for Pacific Publishing. His new book about the history of local food and drink, “Forking Seattle,” was published in September, and is available on Amazon.com.