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Originally published April 20, 2012 at 5:32 AM | Page modified April 23, 2012 at 1:43 PM

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Restaurant review

So long Spring Hill; aloha Ma'ono

Ma'ono Fried Chicken & Whisky is the new name for the former Spring Hill restaurant in West Seattle. The new concept allows chef Mark Fuller to mine his island heritage even more, and gives the dining public access to something it's been clamoring for: His fabulous fried chicken, once a Mondays-only special, is now available seven nights a week.

Special to The Seattle Times

Sample menu

Manapua $6
Ma'ono dog $8
Saimin Noodles $14
Whole rainbow trout $19
Fried chicken (for two) $38

Ma'ono Fried Chicken & Whisky3 stars

Hawaiian

4437 California Ave. S.W., Seattle

206-935-1075

www.maonoseattle.com

Reservations: Recommended

Hours: 5-10 p.m. daily; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Prices: $$$ (salads, sides and small dishes $3-$16, entrees $14-$34)

Drinks: Full bar, emphasis on whisky

Parking: On street

Sound: Loud

Who should go: Fried-chicken fans and Hawaiian food lovers

Credit cards: All major

Access: No obstacles

Most Popular Comments
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$19 for plate of FRIED CHICKEN? Only in Seattle... MORE
Now if they dusted their chicken in black truffle shavings... MORE
Some people never learn from their mistakes. In this case, the bloated ego of the owner... MORE

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A name change typically signals a new direction or at least a new look: Think Stefani Germanotta becoming Lady Gaga. So it is with the West Seattle restaurant formerly known as Spring Hill.

It's now called Ma'ono, Hawaiian for flavor, a quality never lacking in chef/owner Mark Fuller's cooking at Spring Hill. But the new concept allows Fuller to mine his island heritage even more than before, and it gives the dining public access to something it's been clamoring for: His fabulous fried chicken, once a Mondays-only special, is now available seven nights a week.

The recipe originated with his grandmother, said Fuller's wife and co-owner, Marjorie Chang Fuller. But his method involves lengthy brining, secret seasonings and double-frying. Just before serving, the pieces are flash-finished in the fry basket. They emerge with a gorgeous nut-brown exterior that is crisp and salty, with just a little spicy heat.

Order the chicken with dipping sauces on the side, or have the kitchen toss it in a sweet, fiery Korean-style chili glaze, or a spicy, Chinese-style honey-mustard. Half-sauced and half-plain is another option. Either way, it's smart to reserve your bird when you book a table: They fry only 30 a night.

The chicken is $38 for a whole bird served with a mounded bowl of sticky rice and a jar of house-made kimchi. The meal is meant for two (leftovers are great the next day, even cold), but it satisfied four augmented by salads, sides and small plates that show off Fuller's flair for mixing color, texture and flavor.

Put these on your must-try list: butter whipped with porky pan-drippings and Fuller's family's proprietary Hawaiian sea salt spread on pillow-soft sweet rolls. Steamed BBQ pork buns (manapua) that are as good as any I've had at Momofuku in New York splashed with harissa-spiked soy sauce. The Ma'ono dog, a soft bun cushioned with chicken liver pate cradling cilantro sprigs, pickled carrots and a skinny Portuguese sausage feisty with garlic, is a banh mi, Hawaiian-style.

The sausage is house-made, as is the spiced ham that stuffs musubi, Fuller's improvement on the popular Hawaiian snack traditionally made with Spam. Pork cracklings freckle the facade of his elegant onigiri, triangular rice packages stuffed with pickled plum.

Two salads impressed. In one, horseradish yogurt and pickled seaweed nip at sweet Chioggia beets and tart rectangles of compressed Nashi apple (a type of Asian pear). Another pairs Honey Crisp apple slices dipped in hot mustard and sesame seeds with lomo (cured, air-dried pork): a great idea undermined by slightly leathery meat.

Such faults were few and minor. Tough pork belly turned up in an otherwise satisfying saimin, a giant bowl of smoky broth packed with egg noodles, pungent mustard greens, toasted seaweed, fish cake and a halved soft-boiled egg lounging on top. Curried fried rice studded with bacon and fresh peas tasted murky, as if the spices hadn't quite opened up.

The burger and a whole grilled rainbow trout are both carry-overs from the Spring Hill menu. The burger comes with excellent fries and is a class act on every level: from the seeded bun to the tangy sauce to the creamy blend of teleme and Beecher's cheeses that hugs the juicy, half-pound patty.

Lemon, cilantro, scallions and ogo (pickled seaweed) complement the trout's salty, blackened skin and sweet flesh. The server who offered to fillet it needed more practice, but overall, service was smart, even on a busy night. Niceties include moist napkins, tightly rolled to keep them hot, handy for wiping fried-chicken debris from fingers and faces.

Desserts by former Dahlia Bakery chef Garrett Melkonian range from the expected — crisp-bottomed banana cream pie dimpled with cocoa nibs — to the unexpected: popcorn ice cream so good it befuddles the brain.

Physically the interior has changed little: a tall, 10-seat counter now flanks the marble-topped bar, adding to the pleasing geometry of planes — pale wood, metal and mirrored — in the long rectangular space. Ma'ono is less a transformation than a recalculation that allows the Fullers to satisfy their neighborhood clientele without sacrificing the kitchen's creative edge.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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