Need a relaxing meal? Just go with the Flo
Flo may be Bellevue's best-kept dining secret. Restaurant review by Providence Cicero.
Special to The Seattle Times
1188 106th Ave. N.E.; Bellevue
Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Monday-Thursday 5-9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
Prices: $$/$$$ (lunch specials, bento boxes and sushi combos $11.95-$16.50; all-day menu $5.50-$28.)
Drinks: Premium Japanese and American sakes, sake cocktails, beer and wine.
Parking: Free on street or in visitor's section of Palazzo parking garage.
Who should go: A soothing spot for Eastside sushi mavens and Nippon-ophiles.
Credit cards: All major.
Access: No obstacles.
For more than a year, "calming spa day" has been a punch-line between my BFF and me because that's how long we've tried to make time for one. When we met recently for lunch at Flo, however, we decided it just might be the next best thing to a hot stone massage.
We found tranquility in an ivory pool of Bartlett pear and leek soup. Its sweet-savory depths spoke of autumn as plainly as the soggy russet leaves that blew past our window nook. We discovered bliss in bites of sweet, smoky eggplant glazed with miso and feathered with bonito flakes. We were invigorated by hamachi carpaccio, raw yellowtail jazzed with shaved jalapeño, garlic chips and tart ponzu sauce.
Flo may be Bellevue's best-kept dining secret, perhaps because this 5-year-old Japanese restaurant sits on a quiet block far from the madding mall crowd, or perhaps because those in the know don't want to disturb the peace.
Even when it's full, the room feels serene. That's due partly to the décor. Water ripples down a pebbled fountain. The pale, textured walls wrapping around the sushi and sake bars suggest a Zen sand garden. A sea-blue carpet carries the wavy motif into the sunken dining room, where polished wood tabletops are uncluttered and well-spaced.
But the calm is also attributable to the composure of a well-schooled staff whose desire is clearly to please. Patrons are greeted by a chorus of greetings, from executive chef Wayne Taniguchi and sushi chef Chios Luong, both stationed behind the sushi bar, and from manager Michelle Eguchi, who seems to be everywhere at once.
Eguchi tended to guests at the sushi bar one day, when I lunched alone, conspicuous for being the only one at the counter without a personal communication device at my elbow. I saw a lot of bento boxes go by. The $14 deal comes with shrimp and vegetable tempura, soup, salad and your choice of two additional items from a roster that offers several sushi rolls, teriyaki, chicken katsu, grilled mackerel and agedashi tofu.
But I zeroed in on the fresh sheet, where daily specials might include a spicy "Louisiana roll" stuffed with crab and crayfish; fried smelts tossed in vinaigrette, along with carrot and red onion; Kona kanpachi (Hawaiian amberjack); and ankimo (monkfish liver), which was outstanding. Steamed, chilled, it came in a deep-blue bowl, sliced over a seaweed and radish salad — a crunchy, tart and spicy backdrop for the liver's mild flavor and creamy texture.
Kona kanpachi turned up among sashimi. I let the chef choose (Omakase) and set a price of $40. That bought a goodly assortment of seafood, nine items in all, plus a generous dollop of fresh wasabi, which is included in the price of all sashimi here. (It's available for an extra charge with sushi.)
The chef's pleasure that day ran to sliced sea scallops sprinkled with orange fish roe, and tender octopus, both interspersed with lemon and lime slices that gave them a faint citrus note. All of the fish was thickly cut, the pieces large (at least two bites each), which I thought lacked artistry, but I couldn't quibble with the sparkling fresh taste of each bite. In addition to amberjack, there was silver-skinned mackerel topped with grated ginger and scallion; maguro, toro and lush slabs of escolar (sometimes called super white tuna); as well as salmon and velvety-textured halibut.
Among the daily specials you'll also find dishes from the kitchen, as well as cocktails and desserts. Look there for terrific pork riblettes, soft meat barely gripping thumb-length bones basted liberally with a lilting Asian pear BBQ sauce; for the improbably refreshing Flo Float, a cocktail layered with red wine, lemon and lime juices; and for the must-have dessert — warm orange-scented beignets with blueberry-ginger sauce for dunking.
Look to the regular menu for pan-fried pork and cabbage gyoza, house-made dumplings as pungent as they are fragile; ethereal calamari tempura with nori salt for dipping; and bite-size beef negi maki, tender rib-eye slices wrapping fresh asparagus and scallion.
Contrasting textures were a hallmark of many dishes. At the sushi bar, the chef gifted patrons with a tiny bowl of smoked calamari, roseate ribbons of pliant squid in a tangle of several seaweeds. At dinner I enjoyed rich, satiny black cod, sweetly sauced with Saikyo miso, that had a chunk of fried tempura batter splayed like a sea anemone on its back. Salmon skin added subtle flavor and crunch to mixed greens dressed tartly with yuzu. It also provided the crowning touch to salmon fillet, lightly crusted with crushed curried rice and served under a canopy of its own skin broiled to a brittle, crackling slab.
Sake is the drink to have, and Flo carries several Japanese and American brands in many styles and flavor profiles. The wine list not only offers a helpful sake primer but also samplers. There are wines, too, a brief selection, well-matched to the food, with most available by the glass.
The ultimate dining experience at Flo is the chef's Omakase tasting menu for $85 (advance reservations recommended). The five courses and four sake pairings are "designed to allow you to experience the essence of Flo's cuisine." My BFF and I are considering it. Even with tax and tip, it'd still be cheaper than a day at the spa.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.