As a family of two, (actually three, but our little black cat Eek doesn't do dining reviews) it's often tough to order the way I'd like at most Asian restaurants. Which is to say you start with one or two well-loved dishes that can't be passed up (your litmus test so-to-speak), then delve into the unknown with regional delicacies & intriguing menu entries with often comically translated descriptions like "Dried Durnip" or "Spicy Beaf on Roman Lettuce".
Ken has an innate ability to almost always pick the dish I wish I'd ordered in any restaurant--perhaps because of his journey through chefdom--but he usually points out that if a place has say, "Terikayi & Tempura" painted in bold letters on the window... Well, that's probably what you should focus on. You'd think I'd catch on, but what's the fun in sticking with the basics? Me, I like to pull the wild card which sometimes results in disaster at which point I bat my eyelashes & ask to share my husband's wisely chosen bowl of curry or dan dan noodles.
But last weekend we had a rare treat--not only did we have two dates on the calendar to go out for a family-style meal, but both were arranged by a "native eater" which means that you get the royal treatment & a culinary tour through hidden gems on the menu!
So our adventures began with a Mandalay reunion at Chiang's Gourmet, a surreally 50's diner meets spaceship landmark in Lake City... For those of you not in the know, the Mandalay Cafe was that sweet bungalow in Wallingford (now the home of Tilth) where my husband & the gang cooked up some of the best pan-Asian fare in Seattle (they consistently kicked Wild Ginger's butt in the Zagat!)
Former owners, Janny Mathias & Erik McWilliams (that's Erik, and that's not Janny to his left) were in town to cast their ballot (they now live on Vancouver Island up in serene Sooke, BC) & Janny managed to bring together a nostalgic round table of friends & family from the Mandalay days.
Janny hails from Taiwan, so she took charge of the ordering & soon we had a table full of curious Taiwanese breakfast items such as bowls of sweet soy milk & round rice dumplings wrapped around shredded meat, sugar, dried seaweed & fried Chinese doughnuts. Wow! That brings a whole new meaning to sweet & savory. I'd been warned that Chiang's is likely to slip westerners an entirely different menu, so I was psyched to be getting the real deal.
Although nearly empty when we arrived, shortly after noon families & large groups began to pour in... You might just want to have something in your belly before you arrive for breakfast because tables seemed to turn very slowwwly, & some of our dishes would randomly arrive 30 minutes later, long after we'd forgotten we'd ordered them, & some didn't come at all. And that's with a translator.
But don't let me scare you off--despite its quirks, I am anxious to return, delving even deeper into Chiang's "authentic" menu (I might not be quite ready for Pig Intestine, Bloodcake, Sour Vegetable, Odor Tofu w/Hot Sauce In Hot Pot), & was especially thrilled to hear that there is a Chiang's outpost closer to home in Renton as well.
Now it's my turn to round up a group of friends, because I'll walk in already committed to re-ordering the "Owner's Pick": house-made noodles with ground pork, diced dried bean curd, & fresh cucumbers in a bean paste sauce, but I'm pretty intrigued by items such as "Chicken w/Ground Green Beans Sheets". Could be another one of my disastrous stabs at finding greatness in the unknown, but that's why there's safety in numbers.
7845 Lake City Wy NE, Seattle 206.527.8888
17650 140th Ave SE, Renton 425.235.8877