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I'm a Renton restaurant reviewer!

Hey Madeleine readers...

It's been a long time since I've posted, BUT I AM writing again. I'm now a restaurant reviewer for Renton Patch. Feel free to give me feedback.

My reviews will be coming out every Thursday. Enjoy & HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Love & to a delicious 2011,

Catherine

The Scent of Great Papaya

Expand your flavor palate with coconut, ginger, lime and cilantro at Papaya.

By Catherine Reynolds | Email the author | December 23, 2010

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bánh canh tôm cua Credit Catherine Reynolds
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bánh canh tôm cua Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o2.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/5cd2cc31ee86f512115f3207eb649df4
coconut juice Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o5.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/a410f265626e4526ed5090e436ee61c
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soft shell crab fresh rolls with young coconut juice Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o2.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/3670a60e56a569a136cf0adfe46caeb2
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The first time I walked into Papaya was on a summer afternoon. I came looking for a salad as light and cooling as the lime green walls, but as a bowl of pho passed by my table the smell of house broth (slowly rendered bones, star anise, peppercorn and cilantro sprigs) had me captivated. It's taken me a while to move about the menu as it's easy to fall upon favorites here, a small price to pay for quality service and selection. Thankfully as a south-end resident, I no longer need to visit Seattle's International District to satisfy my cravings for authentically-crafted, original Vietnamese dishes. 

While many of the customers dining during my most-recent December visit at the early hour of 5 o'clock were Asian families, this is a place that should attract all palates who crave flavorful cuisine and quality ingredients.  A soulful kitchen welcomes you from the moment you walk in. 

Not that I can call Papaya's external atmosphere homey, with its glassy high-reaching windows in The Landing's "pedestrian village," but there is soul in the kitchen. It is the smell of slow-cooked stocks and the sight of parents spooning broth into a bowl for their toddler. 


Should you be looking for a basic bowl of pho, the classic warming noodle soup, or an artfully prepared Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich replete with craving-inducing yam fries, you can fill up fast for under $20. If you are feeling adventuresome, you will be rewarded in selecting some of their more unusual offerings . 

In Vietnam, pho is a dish to cool off with while seeking nourishment with a bowl of steaming broth and chiles in a balmy climate. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is the perfect healthful dish to enjoy year-round, especially on a crisp evening, the sight of a wintry full-December moon rising above a Doug Fir strung with lights at The Landing.

For the more adventuresome, I highly recommend the steamed coconut (bone-in) chicken rice in a cast iron pot for $12. This is a dine-in dish only, & the cast iron pot creates its own magical crust on the rice, much like a Spanish socorrat which is the crisp layer so prized in a paella. Lightly golden coconut rice mingled with ginger presents itself in joyfully crisped spoonfuls surrounded by tender chicken thighs. Asian soul-food indeed. It had my chef-husband swooning and he packed half of it home for lunch the next day.

The second dish we ventured out on was the bánh canh tôm cua, or Dungeness crab & quail egg croquettes, shrimp and pork dumplings udon soup for $12. Another winner. Unlike pho, which is anchored by a rich beef broth, this stands out with the clearest of chicken stocks, and has enough original flavor to shun the usual bean sprout, lime and basil side plates. Scallions, cilantro leaves and fried shallots float in a pool of fragrant chicken stock, bobbing with two curled shrimp, sausage slices, a seafood encased quail-egg, and pork dumplings — all floating above rice-based udon noodles. 

Next on my must-try list is the soft shell crab with braised egg noodle, soup on the side for $11, or the bún riêu cua: soft shell crab, shrimp & pork dumplings, tofu in tomato rice noodle soup for $12. I encourage you to give me your reviews of Salmon, taro and tofu skin rice noodle soup which sounds extremely intriguing, and the savory crepe (bánh xèo) filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts or tofu, enoki mushroom and bean sprouts.

There's plenty to explore here. Come back often, and choose boldly if you will.

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I love going to Renton and trying different restaurants. Foods are all awesome there.

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