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Originally published November 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 18, 2007 at 3:48 PM

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Taste of the Town

Joule brings joy to Wallingford | Bada Sushi sashays into Shoreline

It's been a long time since I made myself comfortable in a new restaurant, opened the menu, scanned the offerings and thought: "Whoa! I'll have one of...

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Food for Thought with Nancy Leson

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It's been a long time since I made myself comfortable in a new restaurant, opened the menu, scanned the offerings and thought: "Whoa! I'll have one of each!" But that's exactly what happened to me at several terrific new restaurants.

Joule (1913 N. 45th St., Seattle, 206-632-1913, www.joulerestaurant.com) had only been open a few days when — due to circumstances beyond my control — I stopped in for a slender flute of sparkling sake and a quick bite: grilled octopus with Chinese celery pistou and black vinegar tomatoes ($13) plus a darling canning jar full of cucumber and shiitake mushroom kimchi ($5). My uncontrollable urge had to do with the fact that this petite cafe is owned and operated by Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, late of Coupage (1404 34th Ave., Seattle, 206-322-1974; www.coupageseattle.com).

It's been a year since Yang and Chirchi, who met at Alain Ducasse in New York, moved to Seattle at the behest of Portland chef Tom Hurley, gaining rave reviews (mine among them), for their Korean- and French-influenced menu. And when the newly married couple's "marriage" to Hurley ended last spring in a professional divorce, they left Coupage in search of a little restaurant to call their own.

They found it in Wallingford, taking over the lease at Palmyra Mediterranean Cuisine (née Clara's Food for the Soul, née Wally's Scoop), re-envisioning it as the kind of casual, 40-seat restaurant with open kitchen that every neighborhood deserves. Half their staff, including a chef, dishwashers and their lead server, came from Coupage, says Yang, who insists her staffers "knew what we wanted to do, knew what kind of standards we had."

Sitting at the counter, I watched and listened as orders rolled in, taking in the show as the couple did their Ducasse-schooled dance. "Chef!" "Oui!" went their call and response, as Chirchi simmered Manila clams with house-made XO sauce and a purée of roasted fennel, serving it up as a steaming bowl of soup ($6), then used a mortar and pestle to smash Spanish anchovies, lending their flavor to bagna cauda offered with roasted potatoes ($5). Meanwhile, his wife prepped a whole branzino, grilling the fish whole before serving it with tapenade and pickled grapes ($21), and took tongs to a bison's hanging tender, serving that steak with a garlic-chive chimichurri ($20).

"When we first met, we said we wanted to open a restaurant together by the time we were 35," says Yang. With their 30th birthdays in the offing, the couple are practically pinching themselves as they arrive to work each morning. Working in their close-quartered kitchen where Chirchi's father built a drying rack for their handmade pasta, they wave at neighbors passing by. As word gets out, they're greeting guests who come in, as I did, to enjoy the marvelous meld of Asian-influenced contemporary American fare that garnered such praise elsewhere. "We couldn't be happier," Yang says. Joule serves dinner only: 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays (closed Mondays).

Live sushi? Bada bing!

While making a beeline for lunch at a Shoreline taco bus last week, I made a detour into the parking lot at Bada Sushi Seafood & Lounge (16301 Aurora Ave. N., 206-542-5066, www.badasushi.com) to get a quick look at this new Korean-style "live sushi" restaurant. One look at the seafood tanks in the lobby — where baby octopus, sea cucumber, abalone, trout, halibut and eel (among other treats) lay in wait of their final whack! — is it any wonder I never made it to the bus?

Eyes wide open, I sat at owner/chef James Kwak's sushi bar, where he and his chefs catered to customers who'd come for seafood stews, grilled mackerel, spicy octopus and other Korean favorites, as well as the house specialty: sushi and sashimi, served in large lacquered tray-tables housing a multitude of fresh seafood. The enormous trays are heaped with shredded daikon radish then arranged with everything from nigiri sushi (salmon, tuna, etc.) to sea cucumber, oysters and whole lobster, whose raw tail meat is sliced and returned to its shell and whose antennae waved a halfhearted goodbye as it made its way into the dining room.

Despite prices that range from $90 to $200, these family-size meals are actually quite a good value, explained the nice Korean gentleman seated next to me enjoying a beer and a bowlful of natto (sticky fermented soybeans). Those combos come with a multitude of complementary side dishes and spicy fish stew, and I expect to get back there as soon as possible, with a crowd in tow, to enjoy one.

For the record, my kid deemed his oversize spider roll the best he'd ever eaten (he's right, it was first-rate, as it should have been for $11.95), and I'd certainly recommend Bada's version of chirashizushi, a generous array of sashimi arrayed over seasoned rice and scattered with dried seaweed ($15). There's karaoke in the lounge after 10 p.m., and they're open 365 days a year from 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m.

Oh, brother — I loved it!

And then there was Quinn's: Restaurant Zoë's groovin' little brother (1001 E. Pike St., Seattle, 206-325-7711). Scott and Heather Staples' much-anticipated gastropub — named after their son, sister to Zoë — opened a month ago on Capitol Hill, and when I showed up last week and snagged a seat with a view (on the mezzanine level overlooking the bar), I went nuts trying to decide which of the small menu's "snacks" "sides" and "plates" I couldn't live without. Tough call, that.

Sipping a smooth Boddingtons ($5), one of more than a dozen beers on tap, I knocked back a soft-centered boiled duck egg ($3), split, sprinkled with sea salt and topped with slivered boccarones (the same marinated white anchovies they're mashing into the bagna cauda at Joule). That was clearly the right way to start. Next: the creamiest brandade I've ever eaten ($7): The warm salt-cod spread was a perfect dip for the thin, crisp, house-made potato chips served alongside (and replenished, gratis, by our thoughtful waiter).

Of course I had the wild boar Sloppy Joe. And I'd have loved it even if that rustic ragu-on-a-bun ($10) wasn't topped with delightful little crunches of fried shallots and sage. And when my pal offered to share her salad — a well-slicked toss of fennel, croutons, tomatoes, radish, dry-cured olives and that famous Scott Staples-staple, grilled romaine (the greenery the chef's been serving since his Third Floor Fish Cafe days) — I made short work of that, too. Quinn's is open nightly from 5 p.m., serving food till midnight Sundays-Thursdays and 1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays.

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

More columns available at seattletimes.com/nancyleson.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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