Belltown's Kushibar offers fast, filling and cheap Japanese food
Step into Seattle's Kushibar restaurant, in trendy Belltown, for fast, filling and cheap Japanese grilled food and soups plus tasty cocktails.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Assorted kushiyaki||$2-3 each skewer|
|Spicy oyster nabe||$10|
2319 Second Ave., Seattle
Hours: Open 4 p.m.-
1 a.m. daily.
Prices: $ ($2-$11; $10 per person minimum purchase).
Drinks: Cocktails, beer, wine, sake.
Parking: On street or in nearby lot.
Who should go: Youthful Belltown revelers looking for cheap, filling eats to kick off or wrap up the night.
Credit cards: Visa, MC, Amex.
Access: No obstacles.
A street-food restaurant is an oxymoron, but Kushibar, a new Asian eatery in Belltown, kinda sorta does have a street-side presence.
If you're a Belltown habitué you've probably noticed Kushibar's glowing stripe of blue light. It traverses the front of the restaurant and continues along the top of a semi-open deck that extends south. Perhaps you thought it was a pedestrian walkway to the parking lot below, or some odd urban picnic shelter, but in fact the deck is a serene, wood-framed 40-seat annex to the cacophonous concrete cavern that is Kushibar proper.
Kushi means "stick" and refers to the skewered meats, seafood and vegetables cooked over coals on narrow braziers that run the length of a long counter fronting the kitchen, sending smoke into the maw of an enormous hood that roars like a subway train.
Kushibar specializes in the kind of sustenance and snacks you might purchase from a subway kiosk in Tokyo: kushiyaki, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, noodle bowls and assorted grilled and fried bites. It's food that's fast, filling and above all, cheap — so cheap, the restaurant imposes a $10 minimum per person.
That minimum charge is easy to reach if you add a cocktail, which is worth doing. They are an elegant, food-friendly bunch.
"Murasaki Mist," a potent purple martini poised between dry and sweet, hints of violets. The elegant "Cashmere Cocktail" tastes of fruit and almonds. The tall, frosty "Billy on the Beach" is an Arnold Palmer spiked with Kettle One Citron. It's named for Billy Beach, co-owner of Kushibar along with Steven Han, who also owns Umi Sake House nearby.
Beach also is Kushibar's executive chef. That's him in the royal-blue shirt and silver bling behind a case of raw fish. Anchoring a line of busy cooks, he coolly surveys a scene that, like much of Belltown, grows hotter as the evening marches on. Servers keep up with the quickening pace admirably.
You can munch on curried popcorn while you ponder which of many directions to go on the menu, rather clumsily stapled to a large block of wood and annoyingly difficult to decipher.
Among the wide-ranging skewered and grilled bites, veggies and seafood were most rewarding. Grilled asparagus and scallions were crisp and tender. Ruffled oyster mushrooms, meaty shiitake and slender green chili peppers were vividly seasoned and gently charred.
But tuna turned up rubbery, and after encountering grainy chicken livers and undercooked chicken skin, I didn't have the heart to try the chicken hearts or the rest of the innards.
Skewered prawns, butterflied and embedded with shiso leaf, were deftly cooked, as were delicately fried shrimp tempura. But corn croquettes were utterly charmless pucks, greasy, heavy and topped with cold kernels of what tasted like canned corn.
Three types of mackerel are among the grilled dishes. Whole boneless saba, the priciest at $10, was wonderfully moist under salty, crispy, blackened skin complemented by a generous garnish of scallion and grated daikon.
Soup bowls proliferate on nearly every table. The house ramen is made with a 2-to-1 ratio of chicken broth to pork and includes a few thin slices of pork, corn kernels, bean sprouts, scallions and half a hard-cooked egg. The fresh noodles are excellent, but the broth lacks depth. You might take the menu's advice and add a scoop of butter for 50 cents extra.
Stir-fried yaki udon, thick noodles laced with cabbage and nuggets of pork, was fragrant with ginger and soothingly bland. But for noodle nirvana, try spicy oyster nabe, a fiery red broth crowded with thick udon noodles, kimchee and oysters.
Oden, a noodle-less, dashi-spiked chicken broth, offers a choice of add-ins that range from pigs feet (tough knuckles), hard-cooked eggs (good), fried tofu (better) or burdock-stuffed fish cake (best). Make sure to stir the seriously spicy mustard clinging to the side of the bowl into the broth; it makes all the difference.
Okonomiyaki, a savory griddle cake packed with shredded pork and cabbage, seems almost as popular as ramen — and no wonder: It's delicious. Golden and crisp outside, soft and light inside, the thick, round pancake is cut into wedges that are grilled on all sides. Presented with a drizzle of mayo and a sweet brown sauce under a blanket of bonito flakes and pickled ginger, this is the dish to have after one too many Murasaki Mists.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
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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.