It’s like being in Japan…in Bellevue

Facebook has been kind enough to remind me this week that two years ago we went on a curated culinary adventure in Japan.  Our Thai friends are professional foodies and not only booked the restaurants in advance but pre-ordered some off-menu specialties for us.  These restaurants were tiny and so off the beaten path that the cab drivers walked us in to make sure they were real establishments.  Over one week we ate at the best of the best, ranging from 1 to 3 Michelin stars.

Anyway, all that to say that I’ve had some of the best Tokyo has to offer, and though I am appreciative of Japanese food in the States, I anticipate in advance it’s not going to be as fresh, as authentic, as good.  Last night, I tried a new restaurant in Bellevue that came very close to Japan-level goodness.  The Seattle area in general has a lot of great Japanese chefs and restaurants, but happy to have one so close to home.

The menu is decidedly different than most “Americanized” Japanese restaurants. We took the kids and there wasn’t any chicken teriyaki to be found (they enjoyed the steak served on hot lava rocks and chicken karaage instead).

Here is the Omakase offering I had last night at Minamoto:

Sake filled to the brim

The bartender knew the perfect drink for me — a Blushing Bride — Nigori sake with prosecco and St Germain

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Caviar with gold leaves atop tuna tartar? Yes please!

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A5 Waygu — cooked for 5 seconds each side, then slathered with seaweed salt and jalapeno

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How to make Chawanmushi even better? Add truffles!

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Green tea custard, and because I love truffles so much, I had to try the truffle ice cream even though I was stuffed

Le Resto

On one wall in the kitchen of my furnished Parisien flat is a blackboard. On it, travelers and tourists alike who have slept in the same bed as I have written recommendations and favorite things and “must-sees!”. Tonight, I decided to use the board as my personal Yelp, and chose a restaurant called “Le Resto.”

I was dressed casually, so double-checked with the Internet gods that this was acceptable. It was. I then checked Google Maps while I still had wi-fi.
“Go outside. Turn right.” The screen might as well have added, “Dumb ass” at the end to tell me that I could have walked and found it just as quickly.

I walked in and saw one young man seated by the window. I said Bonsoir trepidatiously, not sure if he was on a break, or a patron. He gave me a blank stare. Then another young man came from the back and walked towards me. I smiled and said Bonsoir again, thinking he surely was the man who would seat me, but he explained in French that he was definitely not. Then, a third man came from the kitchen and told me I could sit anywhere. Clearly he belonged here. He brought me a mid-sized framed chalkboard listing 3 entrees, 3 plats, and 3 dessert choices.

A woman then ran in and said Bonjour to me in passing. I didn’t say anything, not even sure now who worked here. She then put on a half-apron and came by to take my order. She had just smoked a cigarette, and the smoke was fresh on her breath and fingertips. As the smell dissipated, I found her to be very kind and friendly, though knowing French was an advantage as she didn’t speak English (the fact that she didn’t try to respond to my French in English was a sure sign). The main plats looked too heavy for me, so I asked if I could order each of the three entrees. She said that was fine, but then I changed the order, choosing only two. She silently seemed to agree that was the better choice.

Behind me, I could hear her cutting a baguette and a few seconds later I was presented with its slices in a basket. Quite possibly the freshest bread I’ve received in a non-starred restaurant.

The small space filled up within minutes — some of the patrons were like me, not native French speakers.

My first dish was a cold pea soup. In the middle there was a large dollop of cream. It wasn’t until I dug into the white pile that I saw a sliver of red. Had I accidentally received the “fraises,” one of the dessert choices? No, the kind waitress told me, it was poivres. I thought that meant pepper (as in salt and), and so she further explained they came in red, yellow, and green varieties. Ohhh, bell peppers, I exclaimed. She pulled out her iPhone to validate the words with a photo. It was delicious.

My next course was a soft-boiled egg served with mushrooms and radishes atop an artichoke purée. As I’m a big fan of artichokes, I was a bit disappointed that the only semblance of the vegetable was in non-chewable form. But, the tastes were all great and I found the gray-ish mixture of yolk and purée to be a perfect partner to my baguette slices.

My dessert, which I chose after my first two entrees, was a “Charlotte,” a chocolate cake filled with whipped cream and topped with strawberries and a verline (vernil? Sorry, I didn’t make note of the spelling and now can’t find the appropriate word) infused scoop of ice cream. The chocolate cake was actually purple, likely another infusion, but a bit dry. I ate the ice cream and some of the strawberries and then asked for the check. The waitress was concerned I didn’t like the dessert, and I accidentally agreed with her that I did not, instead of just saying I was too full.

Two entrees and a dessert came out to 31 Euros (10 + 10 + 11). The check was presented in a cute little bucket, accompanied by two caramels.

I left a mix of bills and coins and got up to leave, making sure to catch the waitress’ eye and to move out of the way so she could carry another table’s dishes to the back. I said, “Merci, au revoir,” dutifully. She told me in French we should “faire la bise,” so we kissed each other’s cheeks and said a more intimate goodbye. I have never felt more like a local.