Sushi and sashimi are standouts at Wabi-Sabi Sushi Bar & Restaurant in Columbia City
Wabi-Sabi Sushi Bar & Restaurant in Columbia City offers lots of comfort food.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Columbia City Roll||$9|
Wabi-Sabi Sushi Bar & RestaurantJapanese/Sushi
4909 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle
Hours: Hours: lunch 11:30- 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, noon-3 p.m. Saturdays; dinner 4:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 4:30-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4:30-9 p.m. Sundays; happy hour (15 percent discount; dine-in only) 4:30-6:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 9-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Prices: $$ (lunch appetizers $7-$10, entrees $8-$12; dinner appetizers $7-$11, entrees $10-$15; bento boxes $10-$25; sushi dinners $22-$25; sushi rolls $6-$13)
Drinks: Cocktails, sake, beer, wine.
Parking: On street.
Sound: Mellowed by a jazz playlist.
Who should go: Great for date night, dining solo or with a crowd; family friendly, too.
Credit cards: All majors.
Access: No obstacles.
At seven-month-old Wabi-Sabi in Columbia City, a boy and his dad slouch side-by-side on the slippery slope of the banquette's wooden bench. Junior is bemused by the fish silhouettes that seem to float in lanterns hanging overhead. Dad has a cellphone pressed to his ear. I overhear him say (probably to Mom), "We're getting something to eat at Yakisoba."
There is yakisoba at Wabi-Sabi, and the words are all too easily muddled in the middle-age haze of the parental mind. Or maybe "Yakisoba" is the family's code name for a place they frequent.
There were families aplenty that night in the pretty, coral-hued, brick-walled dining room. Adults sipped cocktails or sake, shared colorful sushi rolls or savored well-stocked bento boxes. Their progeny slurped noodles or relished their very own kid's bento (teriyaki chicken, of course).
Wabi-Sabi is a family affair for restaurateur Thoa Nguyen, proprietor of pan-Asian Chinoise on Queen Anne, as well as Thoa's, a Vietnamese restaurant downtown. Her son James Chon, 25, is general manager; her other son Jeffrey Chon, 21, works under head sushi chef John Gaffud, a 10-year veteran of Chinoise.
Variations on sushi and sashimi comprise more than half of the menu. I was particularly taken with several well-constructed maki (sushi rolls) that skillfully entwined texture, color and flavor.
Squid, salted plum and shiso make a rousing trio, one of the hosomaki, dainty small cylindrical hand rolls encased in crackling nori. More substantial is the Maui roll, draped with mango and tuna, stuffed with cucumber and cilantro, drizzled with spicy, pink mayo.
The riceless Columbia City roll wraps raw tuna and assorted lettuces in thin strips of cucumber instead of nori. Splashed with bracing ponzu, it has the refreshing vitality of a Vietnamese salad roll.
The Ceviche roll practically dances the tango on your tongue. Jalapeño and cilantro are bundled inside; lime-marinated scallops and salmon wrap the outside. Black tobiko and the finely grated zest of charred lime deliver a smoky, briny finish.
The Baked Scallop Roll, in contrast, is soothing comfort food, a distant relative to Coquilles St. Jacques. Cucumber, asparagus and avocado form its creamy/crunchy core. There's a bit of a spicy heat in the warm cream sauce ladled on top, thick with sliced scallops and smelt roe.
There's plenty more comfort food among entrees as well. Katsu Curry Don is a rice bowl topped with vegetables simmered in a gentle curry sauce and a thin, panko-breaded, fried pork cutlet. Niku Udon marries sukiyaki beef with udon noodles, fish cake and scallion in a broth so tame you'll want to make use of the togarashi seasoning, handily supplied with the soup.
Appetizers include an exquisite albacore tataki, the rosy slices of raw fish lightly seared around the edges, moistened with ponzu and adorned with pungent radish sprouts and crispy fried shallots.
Kabocha squash, shiitake and eggplant turn up on the bountiful shrimp and vegetable tempura platter. Tempura-fried soft-shell crab, just as delicately battered and fried, is presented with lettuce wraps; a good idea poorly executed with flimsy, wet leaf lettuce, few herbs, cucumber slices and cherry tomatoes too bulky to wrap and a dull dipping sauce.
The seafood-laden Tokyo Bento Box (one of four, including a vegetarian option) is a fine sampler of Wabi-Sabi's wares. You get tekka maki; tuna, salmon and hamachi sashimi; two tempura prawns; an orange carved into a flower; and, cushioned on rice, a togarashi- seasoned grilled salmon fillet with finely cut nori strewed over its cloak of tangy mustard cream sauce. But miso soup that comes with the bento box was forgotten; sunomono and tsukemono were missing, too.
The eager-to-please young staff is still learning the ropes. Cocktails are made with less finesse than they should be, and despite the designations of "Appetizers" and "Entrees" on the menu, food arrives all at once.
You might say Wabi-Sabi embodies its name, which refers to a Japanese aesthetic ideal that is sometimes defined as "the beauty of things imperfect."
Providence Cicero: Providencecicero@aol.com
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