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Wednesday, October 19, 2005 - Page updated at 06:45 AM

Taste of the Town

Scott Simpson sticks a Fork in Capitol Hill

Seattle Times restaurant critic

When chef Scott Simpson — a guy as quirky as he is talented — sold the fun-and-funky Blue Onion Bistro last year, he assured me he was "born to cook" and expected to get back into the business in the not-too-distant future. Well, the future is now.

Simpson has leased a space in the historic Loveless Building on Capitol Hill and expects to debut his venture in December. The name? Fork. The location, 806 E. Roy St., presently home to Bacchus Greek restaurant, set to close by month's end. As for the concept? Oh, pa-lease! Trying to pigeonhole chef Scotty is a tough call, so I'll let him speak for himself:

"It'll be contemporary American food, affordable fine-dining, but unique — not like anything else anywhere else. I'll open for dinner first, then add lunch and late-night service. The kitchen won't be a brigade system, it'll be a chef-collective. This time, I don't want to kill myself doing everything."

Simpson says he won't be killing himself over a remodel, but he will do a decorative face-lift, retaining much of the restaurant's decorative history. Though we've known it as Bacchus, and before that as the Byzantian, this site was a restaurant as far back as 1931 when it opened as the Russian Samovar. Its original hand-painted murals were adapted from illustrations from a fairy tale by Alexander Pushkin, its leaded-windows based on folk tales of three children lost in the woods.

Though Simpson envisions his 54-seat restaurant as a serious one, his infinitely entertaining style is certain to shine through. Though he'll have a liquor license, with cocktails available, there will be no bar. "I want somebody in a hard-hat to feel comfortable coming in to eat a meal here," he says. "And, being across from the Harvard Exit, I'll be offering a selection of quick, inexpensive dishes in addition to entrees that will range from about $15 to $28." With Fork, Simpson hopes to move into another level of dining, and I for one, look forward to following him as he makes that climb.

Crying for Korean

My kid and I raised our voices in a resounding "Waaaaaaaaah!" late this summer after driving to our favorite neighborhood Korean barbecue-joint to find it shuttered. But while the closure of Mi Rak in Lynnwood was a sad day for us, the happy news is it's quickly been replaced by Soojung Korean BBQ (19226 Highway 99, Lynnwood; 425-778-9292).

We're obviously not the only ones happy about that news, as evidenced by an e-mail rave from foodie-friend Joe Vinikow, who wrote: "Fabulous BBQ, seafood pancake, black cod with squash and daikon. Scoop it while you can!" I scooped it alright, just last week: with chopsticks and a spoon.

The "it" in question was a big bowl of chilled naeng myun (slippery buckwheat noodles) topped with chewy slices of skate wing and beef in a sweet, spicy chili paste ($10). This bowl of garlicky goodness came garnished with hard-boiled egg and tossed with daikon radish and other crunchy vegetables. What's more, Soojung offers an especially generous array of complimentary panchan — nine (!) side dishes that ranged from the standard kimchee to sweet little dried fish to a warm egg custard that I'm craving as I write. Can't wait to go back and try the tabletop barbecue. Soojung is open daily for lunch and dinner.

Oh, man! That Fu Man!

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And if that's not enough to thrill my Asian-food-loving soul, a bold banner touting "Grand Opening" and "Homemade Dumplings" caused me to veer off the road last month to see what was cooking at tiny Fu Man Dumpling House (14314 Greenwood Ave. N., Seattle; 206-364-0681).

Here, in a spiffy little cafe painted like a ripe peach, Ming Tzou proudly oversees this family operation, directing fans of Chinese food to one of 30 seats, handling takeout orders and telling newcomers: "It's all good! It's homemade!" He pours tea, brings complimentary dishes of pickled vegetables and insists you try the house specialty: boiled dumplings ($5.75 a dozen) "handmade to order!" behind a large, low-set window onto the kitchen. You're given fair warning that you must wait for these and be patient, then you're invited to peer through that window to watch family members roll, stuff and pinch these pork- and vegetable-filled morsels.

"Uncle" Ming tells no lies. Those dumplings are well worth the wait. But this critic insists you also try the cold roast chicken ($7.75/half; $14.75 whole), leek pancakes ($4.25) and a Fu Man Chinese beef sandwich ($2.50). As for additional warnings, here's mine: Those dumplings (served with soup, if you'd like) are addictive. And as reader Ann Bergstrom so rightly wrote while alerting me to a find I'd already found, their garlic-fueled dipping-sauce is "worth the three-Altoid alert!" Fu Man is open daily for lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and dinner 4:30-9 p.m.

Bless their soul (food)

Reader Jo Ann Feher alerted me to new-restaurant-action in the Central Area at the former La Louisiana Cajun & Creole restaurant space. "I believe the name is JoAnna's Soul Café and Jazz Club, " she e-mailed. "Do you know anything about it?" Well, I do now:

JoAnna's (2514 E. Cherry St., Seattle; 206-568-6300)is the low-key, down-home offshoot of Belltown's flashy upscale soul-food restaurant and bar, Alexandria's on 2nd (2020 Second Ave., Seattle; 206-374-3700). It's slated to open early next month serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily before morphing into a jazz club late in the evening.

This, too, is a family operation, coming to us courtesy of brothers Jim and Joseph Buchanan, Seattle sons and proud graduates of Garfield High just across the street. They'll run the place with the assistance of their mother, JoAnna, soon to retire from Boeing. Jim — who does double-duty as a music producer — says they've been working on a remodel over the past six months and that the family looks forward to serving the community in a variety of ways.

Alexandria's executive chef Michael Franklin will oversee the menu, offering classics like chicken sausage with buttermilk biscuits at breakfast (along with collard-greens-laden "soul omelettes"). Jim notes, "Our price-points will be inexpensive, and we want to have some lunch items — po' boys, catfish sandwiches and gumbo — that will appeal to Garfield students." Specialties like oxtail may be had at dinner, and a liquor license has been secured.

A private room in back has been outfitted with a flat-screen TV and Internet access and will be available as a meeting-place where business can be conducted over a meal. In the next few months they hope to build a cover over the back patio, install a fence and outdoor heaters and increase seating capacity to 106, Jim says.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or taste@seattletimes.com.

See more columns at seattletimes.com/nancyleson.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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