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Friday, March 1, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Neighborhood Deals

At Sandie's, Chinese food is still mysterious and challenging

Special to The Seattle Times

Sandie's Gourmet


Chinese

$$

Recommended

212 Fourth Ave. S., Seattle

206-652-9136

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursdays-Tuesdays; closed Wednesdays.

No obstacles to access / MasterCard and Visa / no liquor license.

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This small one-woman show of a restaurant came to my attention after I wrote an article about Chinese scallion pancakes. A reader sent an e-mail singing the praises of the pancakes at Sandie's Gourmet.

When I finally found time to visit the place, I discovered they were closed Wednesdays. Of course, it was Wednesday. The next day I marched right back and ordered Sichuan-style beef noodle soup ($6) and scallion pancakes (charmingly billed as "green onion pies," $3), and darned if they weren't great pancakes, thin and feathery with the right mix of crisp exterior and doughy center. A little short on the scallions, but the ideal pancake is always down the road.

Sandie's Gourmet is the kind of place you'd walk by 10 times, wondering if it's worth going in. It's a nondescript box on a relatively quiet corner in the Chinatown International District. There's a cheap lunch special on the whiteboard and plenty of Chinese-American food in English on the menu, but also a number of offerings printed only in Chinese.

When I returned to Sandie's Gourmet, I invited my reader and some of her friends and family along. They helped decipher the Chinese-language dishes and order a balanced dinner (with plenty of scallion pancakes, of course).

I wondered how much of the Chinese menu consisted of food Westerners generally shy away from. The answer: only some of it. Yes, the first thing on the menu ($6.50) is an appetizer platter consisting of tea-smoked eggs, pork intestines, tripe, pig's ears, smoked tofu and seaweed. Some of it was admittedly challenging, but everything proved quite tasty except for the eggs, and that's only because I don't like hard-boiled eggs.

On the other hand, it's hard to imagine who wouldn't like hot dish No. 4 ($8.95), yellow chives with shredded chicken. Yellow chives come from the same plant as green chives, but the shoots are grown under paper bags so they won't produce chlorophyll. They end up mild-flavored with just a bit of chive crunch, served here with a garlic sauce.

Sichuan preserved vegetables show up in a number of dishes, such as Salted Si-Chuan Vegetable with Pork ($6.75), bits of tender (tenderized, let's admit) shredded pork with tangy preserved mustard greens.

The staff generally consists of Sandie Wang in the kitchen and her husband out front, and the restaurant is small enough that the duo is sufficient. You may have to holler for tea or a water refill, but help isn't far away.

At Sandie's Gourmet, Chinese food is still a little mysterious and challenging, and if you're not up to a plate of organ meats, have a second order of scallion pancakes instead.

Check please

Scallion Pancakes: If you've never tried a scallion pancake, here's the perfect place to be introduced to this unusual snack and appetizer. A simple unleavened wheat flour dough is layered with scallions, rolled out like puff pastry, and pan-fried until crisp on the outside and chewy within.

Ma Po Tofu: A standout rendition of this Sichuan classic in which small cubes of tofu are topped with a dark sauce full of ginger and ground pork.

Shredded Beef with Green Chile: This is no timid pepper steak. The green chiles here are seriously hot, but temper with some rice and you'll get a nice combination of beefy and vegetal flavors, with plenty of heat to bind it.

Salted Si-Chuan Vegetable Soup with Pork: A thin, tangy broth with large pieces of pork stomach. The pork is chewy, the vegetables (preserved mustard greens) crisp, and the broth refreshing.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Scallion Pancakes: $3.00

Shredded Beef with Green Chile: $8.50

Ma Po Tofu: $6.50

Salted Si-Chuan Vegetable Soup with Pork: $6.00

Tax: $2.23

Total: $26.23

Matthew Amster-Burton: mamster@mamster.net.

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