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Originally published Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Pacific Cafe Hong Kong Kitchen: Fusion with a funky edge

Pacific Cafe Hong Kong Kitchen dishes up crowd-pleasing versions of cha chaan teng, a type of fusion cuisine popular in Hong Kong, at its Seattle location in the Chinatown International District.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Pacific Cafe Hong Kong Kitchen

Chinese

416 Fifth Ave. S., Seattle

206-682-0908

www.pacifichkcafe.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesdays-Mondays, closed Tuesdays.

Etc: Cash only; street parking; no obstacles to access.

Prices: $

Pacific Cafe Hong Kong Kitchen provides an excellent, digital cheat sheet for diners who need some help with cha chaan teng cuisine. Don't know what an "oven bake" is? Glance at the flat screen to catch a glimpse of the chicken version loaded with chunks of meat, potatoes and onions in a curry sauce topped with flaky coconut, before it morphs into a pretty picture of an herb gelatin shake.

Casual cha chaan teng, a type of tea restaurant, can be found all over Hong Kong, and the food served is like fusion gone slightly berserk. At Pacific Cafe in the Chinatown International District, French toast has a peanut-butter center, a corned-beef sandwich is listed as an appetizer and beef stew shows up several times alongside more traditional Chinese treatments, such as chicken and bitter melon in a black-bean sauce.

The peas and carrots dotting almost every dish are a reminder that this is essentially Chinese diner food. But plenty of local fans clamor at the lunch hour for Pacific's red-bean shakes and grilled pork chops smothered in a savory black-pepper sauce.

The menu: It will take a few trips to put a decent dent in the big menu, which offers soup noodles, rice dishes, oven bakes and steaks with sauces such as spicy garlic. Fried salted pepper chicken wings ($6.25) are addictively crisp and savory, and the seafood oven bake ($7) — with fish, scallops, squid and shrimp — is served over rice with a comforting, creamy sauce. A red-bean shake ($3) is like dessert, or succumb to actual desserts like black sesame mochi with sweet ginger purée ($2.95).

What to skip: A minced beef dish ($5.75) — mixed with mushrooms, peas and carrots, and blanketed by a sunny-side-up egg — didn't have quite the punch, i.e. oyster sauce, that it needed.

The setting: The food is dished up in a minimalist, slightly frenzied cafe setting, where bamboo plants clustered in glass Coke bottles attempt a Zen outlook against a backdrop of bright green walls. Service can be uneven, with dishes arriving at different times.

Summing up: The total for an oven bake, rice dish and fried-wings appetizer was just under $20, and there was plenty for two people. The food won't dazzle you, but it's not supposed to. Pacific will keep drawing the crowds by doing cha chaan teng right.

Nicole Tsong: ntsong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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