Japanese comfort food that will warm you all the way through.

 

There aren’t a lot of things I miss about living in Seattle but inexpensive yet amazing Asian food is one of them. There really is nothing like a steaming vat of pho and a pile of fresh rolls, simple and fresh teriyaki chicken, or a sushi and sake happy hour at an unassuming hole-in-the-wall to generally improve my outlook on

img_5180
The cucumber roll that my (insufferably picky about sushi) son devoured and katsu don. My pictures are always terrible because I really dislike taking photos of food in restaurants so I do it as fast as I can. 

 

the world. If you have found these things in Ellensburg, please share with the class. While it’s not really the same, there’s a place here that might be even better. So as to not bury the lede, I’ll just say that it’s Kiku-Chan. 

As you may remember, dear readers, I really love Oyama Japanese Steakhouse for fancy sushi, but there’s another category of Japanese food that is probably less familiar to many but equally important in my cuisine hierarchy. Kiku-Chan offers simple, authentic, Japanese comfort food, in a small casual restaurant. I will disclose that my husband is of Japanese-American descent so many dishes served at Kiku-Chan are his childhood favorites that have since become dear to my own heart and stomach.  Enough ado, let’s talk food.

My aforementioned husband eats lunch at Kiku-Chan about once-a-week and almost always orders the Katsu Don. It’s a fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu) chopped up and mixed with onions and egg, served over rice. That’s the simple description but the dish, when done properly, is more than the sum of its parts and Kiku-Chan totally nails it. The same can be said for their miso soup.

I haven’t had a ton of sushi at Kiku-Chan but what I have tried has been really good. You are not going to find a lot of tempura-crab-inside-out-upside-down-spider-rainbow-roll or whatever there but sushi rolls need not be complicated and are often better for their simplicity. If the rice is cooked and seasoned well, the nori is fresh, the fish and vegetables are impeccable, and if they are rolled not-too-tight but not-too-loose, then you don’t need gimmicks or drizzled sauces and the like. Now that I write all of that out it sounds just as difficult as it is. I’m rambling, but this is all to day that Kiku-Chan makes really lovely rolls.

img_5185
Again, bad picture of good food. Clockwise from top: shrimp and vegetable tempura, ahi sashimi, spring rolls, steamed rice. 

In my experience, you can’t go wrong at Kiku-Chan. The super-nice people who work there are genuinely committed to the integrity of the food and it shows in every dish. I won’t bore you with an essay on each meal I’ve eaten there, but I’ll say that I have always enjoyed it. My last meal was an ahi tuna sashimi bento special. It says a lot about my faith in a restaurant if I order straight-up raw fish for lunch. For the record, it was great.

Man, I’m really hungry now. I’ll leave it there and just say Kiku-Chan is one of my favorite places in town. With lunches around $10, it’s a nice spot if you’re looking for something a little different for a midday meal, and the cozy dining room would lend itself well to a relatively inexpensive but totally impressive date. I will use my two years of high school Japanese for the first and probably last time and say Kiku-Chan wa oishii desu ne! That’s supposed to say “Kiku-Chan is delicious!” but feel free to tell me how wrong I am.

 

 

 

The Boss is boss.

Pardon the outdated slang, but Ellensburg’s newest restaurant, The Boss Brazilian Barbecue is a very welcomed addition to our little town. Like most people, I imagine, I did not know much about Brazilian BBQ prior to eating at The Boss last night, but now I’m hooked.

The Boss very recently opened up in the odd little structure across from the Verizon Store and Fred Meyer. I’ve lived here about a year and a half and I’ve never had any idea what that building I pass daily was until I went in for dinner last night. The interior is a cozy space with a handful of tables and benches, and a small galley kitchen. At first I wondered how they made any kind of real food there since the kitchen is more befitting a hotdog stand than a proper restaurant. The answer should have been obvious: all of the cooking takes place outside (even last night when the temperature was in the single digits) because, well…it’s BBQ.

There is a limited beer and wine menu that, while nothing to blog about, is entirely appropriate for the food and place. So, yeah, let’s talk about the food. I ordered the lamb meal and my husband ordered the sirloin. Both meals came with rice, beans, a hunk of bread, an herbaceous tomato salad that even this tomato-hater took a few bites of, and a large skewer of meat. In addition, each plate has small cups of both a cassava flour, which adds some nice flavor and texture to whatever it touches, and an unexpectedly delicious tomato-onion vinaigrette, both of which I dumped on everything once I tasted them.

15385325_1523089084373706_810573870710429714_o
Photo via The Boss’s Facebook page because my pictures were terrible. Mmmm, delicious meat. 

If this doesn’t sound good to you, you are completely insane and owe it to yourself to try it. The meat was so, so good. Like, even though they’re completely different cuisines, I will never eat at that other place in town that serves kebabs again after eating at The Boss. Each of the meats is marinated overnight and then legitimately barbecued to pinkish perfection. The exterior is rich with whatever magical stuff is in the marinade and then seared to a nice crust, all while not overcooking the interior.

Ok, now I’m just torturing myself. I suppose you can tell that I really enjoyed The Boss Brazilian Barbecue and will be returning. I think it will be a wonderful place to go when we finally defrost and can enjoy what looks to be a lovely patio area. While it’s not unusual around here, I must mention that everyone working there were incredibly gracious hosts. I really hope that you try The Boss Brazilian Barbecue as well because it’s the kind of place we need more of around here.

 

The Nicest of the Nice

With the holidays almost over and on the last day of a troubling year, I am compelled to unload what is probably the most unabashedly positive review I have in the vault (my head, that is). I certainly hope that anyone who has lived in Ellensburg for any amount of time is familiar with Daily Bread and Mercantile and all the wonders that lie within that unassuming strip mall storefront.

I know very little about German Baptists but I do know that the ones who own and run Daily Bread are, without exaggeration, the nicest people in town.  I don’t typically take my sandwiches with a side of religion, but I’ll buy anything Daily Bread and Mercantile has to offer. Because of this I usually order whatever sandwich they feature that day, as it is always a creative combination and has allowed me to try some things I would not have ordered on my own, such as the sweet Bologna. I have yet to be disappointed with featured sandwich (though the horseradish on my roast beef gave me a real punch in the sinuses the other day), but you can choose from a rotating menu of fresh and flavorful meats, cheese, vegetables, sauces, etc. and order a sandwich to your liking.

How did I almost forget about the breads!?!?? Their house-made breads are what sandwich breads should all aspire to: pillowy-soft, full of flavor, and just sturdy enough to deliver delicious meats and cheese to your mouth hole.  I never knew that I could crave a deli sandwich until Daily Bread and Mercantile showed me the way.

If you’re a regular reader (thanks, by the way!) then you know I don’t eat a lot of sweets, but I rarely leave Daily Bread without a pastry of some sort. The scones are spectacular: dense but flaky and so soft but not crumbly. If you’re unfamiliar with a kolaches, I suggest you acquaint yourself immediately. It’s like a fluffy version of the best fruit danish you’ll ever have. See below.

img_3130
Sorry, I couldn’t help take a few bites before snapping a picture.

I’ve tried several of the salads because you can add them to your sandwich for a few bucks and they’re all amazing. They all hit that elusive balance of freshness, crunch, sweet, and savory that salads should be. I’ve only sampled a few of the ever-changing soup offerings, but, surprise, they’ve all been very good.

Daily Bread and Mercantile gets very busy at lunchtime but I never mind a short wait because it affords me the chance to wander through the mercantile side of the store. It’s my favorite place in town to buy dried herbs and spices, and looking at their curated collection of baking supplies, candies, and other food goods just makes me smile.

img_3119
Behold.

So, yeah, I really like Daily Bread and Mercantile. The only negatives I could point to are not actually criticisms but just me being greedy. For example, I would love to taste what they would do with a breakfast sandwich (because I’m slightly obsessed with breakfast sandwiches) and I wish they were open weekends. But, alas, I’ll count my blessings and enjoy Daily Bread and Mercantile as it is because it’s truly a gem.

As a footnote, I would like to say thank you to all of you who have read, shared, and commented on my posts in this past year. I’ve learned a lot and I hope you have enjoyed my musings. I’m looking forward to “seeing” you all in 2017. Thanks and Happy New Year!

–your friendly neighborhood food critic

Day 15- Nice

Curbside on 5th should be a less than shocking addition to my Nice list but they get bonus points for (maybe) heeding some advice I offered in my first review by uncomplicating their menu. Let me believe that, ok? Since I first wrote about Curbside on 5th (per a reader’s suggestion) it has become my go-to for take-out in Ellensburg. Need I say more? I especially appreciate their eagerness to accommodate all diets and tastes so there’s never any excuse to not just pick up some Curbside on 5th. Keep up the nice work, Curbside!

Photo via Facebook

Day 14- Naughty

copy-of-efc-non-2

I’m trying to write this before my DayQuil kicks in and I get weird. Today’s entry to the Naughty list is a rerun, but since writing my first review they’ve slipped from an “eh?” to a “nah.” To be honest, I don’t know if this is fair. When I really think about it Sugar Thai is fine if you want Thai food but my recommendation ends there. I know my vegetarian and vegan friends are big fans.

What do you think of Sugar Thai? Should I give it another shot?

Day 13-Nice!

 

I’m back from a loooong weekend in the mountains and ready to hit the ground running! Let’s start this week off Nice with a review I’ve been meaning to write for a very long time. I teased this awhile ago, but Cornerstone Pie is easily my favorite pizza in town and, if my lists were in any particular order, would rank very high on my Nice list.

1466105_372701352875161_1447618203_n
Photo via Facebook

Picking my favorite pizza from Cornerstone is not easy but the four that I always go back to are the Potato and Arugula, Tre Fungi, Pepperoni with Caramelized Onions, and the Sausage and Fennel. I’ve tried others and enjoyed them all. I could pick apart what makes each of these pizzas special and why you should try them if you haven’t but let’s keep it simple. Cornerstone crusts are crispy, never doughy, and function perfectly as topping delivery system rather than a spongy, greasy, carbohydrate bomb. The toppings are of great quality and perfect quantity and the combinations are smart and creative.  

I believe I have had all of the salads besides the Caprese. I need to come clean about something: I hate fresh tomatoes. I know, I know, it’s my tragic flaw as human, a cook, and a restaurant critic, but I’ve tried my whole life and just can’t eat raw tomatoes. Anyways, that’s just to explain why I will never order the Caprese salad despite it probably being as delicious as the others. Most notable of the salads is the Caesar. I am a Caesar snob of the highest order and Cornerstone makes the best I’ve had in town besides my own. No goopy, creamy dressing in sight. Caesar salad should be light, lemony, anchovy-y (yeah, I made up a word), and dressed sparingly. Cornerstone nails it.

I can’t really complain about the appetizer menu because it’s all good, it just doesn’t excite me for some reason. While the adobo wings and Spanish camarones are really quite delicious I’ll always just be looking forward to the pizza. The Fries with Benefits (think nachos on fat french fries) are tasty but unwieldy and I’m never quite sure how to eat them. I would much rather start my meal at Cornerstone with one of their cocktails.

Oh, the cocktails! The Grey House is definitely my go-to. It’s vodka, grapefruit juice, and muddled mint. It’s spectacularly refreshing and now I want one. Actually, this whole review is making me hungry so let’s wrap it up.

Cornerstone Pie makes amazing pizza, serves excellent drinks (I forgot to mention the wine list and the beers on tap, including growler fills, but they don’t disappoint), and is just fantastic place to eat. Very nice, Cornerstone.

Day 8

Well, damnit. I guess they closed down. 😦

Nice-

There are restaurants in Ellensburg that I hate to love, those I love to hate, and a small handful that I love to love. Valley Cafe is one of the latter. It warrants a more thorough review than this but I’m going to give them some love because I think that they are somewhat overlooked and they deserve attention for what they are doing.

1947809_10152201983300342_1002863365_n
Photo via Facebook
Valley Cafe checks a lot of boxes on my list: owned and operated by a lovely family, historic building with character out the ears, focus on local and seasonal foods, and kick-ass drinks (I was definitely not expecting a rum bar when I walked in for the first time). But, most importantly, the food is really, really good. I ordered one of my all-time favorites, a Reuben sandwich, the first time I ate there and was very pleased. I wish I could remember more about it but it was a close to a year ago and I was a few rummy cocktails in by the time we left. It was delicious though, trust me.

Luckily, I have a better memory of the Cuban that I ate the next time I visited Valley Cafe. The bread was beautifully crunchy, the pork succulent but not greasy, and the cheese didn’t overwhelm the crunch and tang of the pickles and mustard. If you’ve never had a Cuban before and that sounds a little strange to you, just try it. You’re welcome.

Of the other dishes I have tried, the one that really shines is the Puerto Rican pulled pork with rice and beans. While Valley Cafe does many things right, I think it’s at its best when they lean into the owner’s Puerto Rican roots. Food like that just makes me feel warm, happy, and grateful that places like Valley Cafe exist. Stay nice.