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Friday, April 22, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dining Deals

A menu full of Japanese snacks? Kampai!

Special to The Seattle Times

Maekawa Bar


601 S. King St., Suite 206, Seattle; 206-622-0634

Japanese

$$

Hours: 6 p.m.-midnight Mondays-Thursdays, 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays, closed Sundays.

Full bar / credit cards: V, MC / smoking (there is a nonsmoking section in name alone) / obstacles to access (stairs to second floor).

Rating: recommended.

Surely the most popular leisure activity in America is snacking. Isn't it odd, then, that there aren't more restaurants built around snacks?

It's 11 p.m. and you're out for a beer. What are you going to order with it? Fries? Jalapeño poppers? Yawn. How about stir-fried squid legs with kimchi?

That's just one of dozens of options at Maekawa Bar, a Japanese pub in the Chinatown International District that offers a staggering array of snacks as well as some unusual drinks to wash them down.

Maekawa is not the easiest place to find. The address is on King Street, but the entrance is on Sixth Avenue, and you'll need to take the stairs to the second floor.

Once there, however, you'll want to linger. Sit at the bar and watch the cooking theatrics, or find a table by the window and take in the street life. It's a small place — just a little too bright and friendly to be called a dive — populated mostly by young people, and it gets busier as the night goes on.

But don't get too distracted. There are some important decisions to be made. The menu includes inexpensive plate meals featuring Japanese classics like tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet, $8.75) or broiled mackerel ($8.75). Or, before ñ0 p.m., you can build a combo meal with smaller portions of any two entrees for $8.25.

Flip the menu open, however, and you'll be in snacking territory. This is where Maekawa shines. The small plates are full-flavored and well-salted, engineered to be perfect partners with your drink of choice. You may build a whole meal of snacks, but there's no pressure to do so.

I would like to see the equivalent of Maekawa for every cuisine: a place where you can pop in early or late, have a drink and eat as little or as much as you want. We have tapas and dim sum, of course, but what about Thai, French or Indian small plates?

Then again, if these other places don't have squid legs with kimchi, I may have to go back to Maekawa instead.

Check please:

Geso kimchi: The aforementioned squid legs with pickled cabbage. If you believe, as I do, that tentacles are the tastiest part of the squid and kimchi is the tastiest way to eat cabbage, you will love this dish.

Torisenbei: An age-old question: How do you get the crispiest crust on fried chicken? The answer: cornflakes. The proof of concept: torisenbei, boneless chicken dredged in crushed cornflakes and fried to corny perfection.

Negimaki: Wrap a thin sheet of beef around a small handful of scallions, sauté the whole bundle and you'll have this chewy, savory bite.

Katsuo tataki: A large plate of lightly seared tuna, drizzled with ponzu and scallions. The acidic ponzu and mild fish make this a perfect palate cleanser between bites of fried food.

Isobe age: Think of this as the opposite of katsuo tataki. Isobe age are torpedo-shaped whitefish cakes, breaded and fried until chewy but not crisp. A little bland next to its crunchier, saucier neighbors.

Yaki onigiri: This is it: the epitome of snack. Yaki onigiri are nothing more than balls of rice grilled until crunchy on the outside, but few single-ingredient dishes are more addictive.

Shochu with grapefruit: A mix of grapefruit juice and shochu, Korean fermented vodka. Shochu is said to be a hot new drink, but like any vodka, unless you try it straight, its flavor will be obliterated by the mixer — which is not to say that this big glass of adult grapefruit juice wasn't perfectly refreshing.

Itemized bill, meal for two

Geso kimchi $3.75

Torisenbei $3.75

Negimaki $4.75

Katsuo tataki $5.50

Isobe age $3.75

Yaki onigiri $3.25

Shochu with grapefruit $5.00

Shochu with oolong tea $6.00

Tax $3.32

Total $39.07

Matthew Amster-Burton: matthew.reviews@gmail.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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