There's a lot to like at Café Soleil on the Mukilteo Speedway
Café Soleil on the Mukilteo Speedway dishes out East-meets-West comfort food at a moderate price.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Hayashi Rice with cutlet||$12|
|Tiger Prawns & Vegetable Tempura||$16|
9999 Harbour Place, Mukilteo
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, noon-9 p.m. Saturday.
Prices: $$ (Appetizers $4-$15; lunch entrees $8-$11.50; dinner entrees $12-$19.)
Drinks: Sake, beer, wine, soft drinks.
Parking: Free in lot.
Who should go: Japanese comfort food ideal for the budget-minded with big appetites; a quick and convenient pit-stop on the way to or from the Whidbey Island ferry.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard.
Access: No obstacles.
The "Grand Opening" banner draped across the former domain of The Grouchy Chef caught my eye a few months ago as I zoomed along the aptly named Mukilteo Speedway.
Further reconnaissance revealed that sure enough, Grouchy is gone. Now behind the counter of this open kitchen and tending to the half dozen or so tables you'll find smiling (smiling!) men in chef togs who await your order, their sunny dispositions no doubt the inspiration for the restaurant's new name, Café Soleil.
New owners Shinichi Nakagawa and Junji Ichikawa call their bright and cheery eatery a "Euro-Japanese Kitchen," but "yoshoku" is the Japanese term for the kind of East-meets-West comfort food they dish up: hamburger smothered with hayashi sauce, for example, or curry-sauced rice topped with a fried cutlet.
It's rib-sticking home-style cooking, for the most part, capably executed and moderately priced. If the menu seems a bit hodgepodge that's because the origins of yoshoku go back to the mid-19th century, when Western cooking and customs brought by traders from many foreign nations began influencing Japanese culture.
Hence hayashi sauce, its beefy heft closely akin to pot roast gravy, its carroty sweetness not far removed from Bolognese sauce. I enjoyed it ladled generously over short-grain rice and topped with a boneless chicken thigh pounded into a cutlet breaded and crisply fried, but you can order it with a similarly prepared pork or tofu cutlet, or with deep-fried prawns.
Café Soleil's sweetly complex curry sauce is gently spicy (though you can ask them to amp up the heat) and served much the same way. It's also poured over French fries, for a unique take on poutine that uses mozzarella instead of cheese curds melted on top.
Much of the menu is fried, including dainty prawn and vegetable tempura with kabocha squash and potato among the veggies, but chicken breast, salmon and lamb are also prepared grilled or teriyaki-style. I liked the firm fillet of Atlantic salmon glazed with not-too-sweet teriyaki sauce; even better was sake- marinated lamb rib chops, lightly charred and oven-finished to just-right medium-rare.
Dinner entrees, like the salmon teriyaki, are substantial. They come with rice, French fries, salad (dabbed rather than tossed with pear-sweetened mustard vinaigrette), and excellent miso soup harboring soft diced tofu. The lamb, though accompanied by a small green salad, is not an entree; it's on the "tapas" menu.
That motley collection of various-size plates roams from edamame drenched in garlic butter to tender barbecued eel tucked into a fluffy omelet drizzled with sweet soy glaze to rosy slices of chilled duck breast encircling a green salad, both moistened with vinaigrette. I highly recommend all three.
Lunch entrees are ample, too, and even less expensive. A special of udon noodles richly laced with fatty beef brisket came with well- seasoned sautéed potatoes, macaroni salad and green salad for just $8.95.
In a nod to customer demand, sushi rolls are an option, too. The lineup involves the usual suspects (California, Spider, Caterpillar) but I'd steer you toward a terrific salmon skin roll that delivers a salty snap, crackle and peppery pop.
Like the rest of the menu, desserts lean toward homey and soothing. Among them: soft, almost spoonable chocolate cake warm from the oven, unfrosted but with a dab of whipped cream; and an ersatz Sundae made with two scoops of ice cream — green tea and vanilla — flanking cool caramel flan.
Stripped of the Grouchy Chef's hostile signage and staffed with friendly faces, Café Soleil is a relaxed and inviting neighborhood destination for lunch or dinner. It's quick (in case you are headed for the ferry) and kid-friendly (French fries with practically everything!), not to mention well-suited for prodigious appetites on limited budgets.
As for the glowering Grouchy Chef, he hasn't moved far away. You'll find him just off the Speedway a little farther south at 4433 Russell Road.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.