The bakery goods at Regent Bakery & Café are the real deal.
A new restaurant opening on Capitol Hill hardly counts as news. But a Chinese restaurant, the offshoot of a long-established Redmond eatery that has such a techie following one of its cakes inspired a reward in the video game Portal? Now that’s intriguing.
In Portal, the cake is a lie, but at Regent Bakery & Café the cakes, buns and other pastries are the real deal — consistently good and made with quality ingredients. It’s the cafe side that feels like a chimera.
By my third visit, wildly erratic meals left me frowning like an Angry Bird, an expression not unlike that of the server who, when I declined an offer to box up the remains of my lunch, grimaced and said, “I guess those oysters really were kind of weird.”
Those oysters should never have been served. What the menu described as “deep-fried fresh oysters” tasted as if they had emerged from the freezer, not the fryer. At least the ginger and scallion sauce had flavor, unlike the watery broth in the shredded pork noodle soup.
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And yet, in the same meal, I had the best egg foo young I’ve ever eaten: velveted beef and scallions in a rich brown sauce cradled in a puffed, golden omelet.
Every meal staggered down the same unpredictable path. Expertly fried salt-and-pepper calamari jolted with jalapeño was followed by greasy-tasting popcorn chicken that made me long for McNuggets.
Respectable roasted duck, crisp skinned and fragrant with star anise, came with plum sauce that tasted moldy. Gloppy, overcooked rice noodles ruined beef chow fun. Excellent fresh pea vines were lightly blanched then gently sautéed, but frozen peas and carrots undermined blandly sauced ma po tofu.
Frozen peas and carrots turned up all too often. They were prominent in Indonesian fried rice, which also contained small shrimp and some mystery seafood but neither raisins, green beans nor a trace of hot and spicy tomato sauce; in fact the dish bore little resemblance to the menu’s description.
And yet, the same kitchen produced lovely honey walnut prawns; a fine ginger-spiked hotpot of sole and eggplant glazed with spicy XO sauce; and curry-powdered Singapore fried rice noodles loaded with shrimp, barbecue pork, bean sprouts and scallions.
I chatted with a woman at another table who was having the honey prawns. She comes in regularly just for those and said she often whiles away an afternoon here with her young grandsons, who are fond of the taro buns. The kids are on the right track.
The bakery items were beyond reproach. I would come here for the densely filled cream puff — Beard Papa’s rightful Mama — and it’s sibling, a soft, cream-filled bun dusted with microplaned coconut. Buttery kouign amann, a disk of multi-folded, sugar-sweetened dough, seemed light enough to float.
Exquisitely decorated cakes come in myriad flavors: green tea, chestnut, tiramisu and Black Forest among them. They are light and layered with mousses that have the right balance of creamy and airy.
The cakes are available whole or by the slice, each wedge tidily encased in cellophane. The buns, which come in both sweet and savory versions (try the curried beef), are packed in cellophane bags. Many customers grab and go, but the very accommodating staff will happily plate any dessert for you to enjoy there, perhaps with a pot of freshly brewed tea.
The Capitol Hill Regent is flashier than the Redmond original. Furnished with a touch of opulence, it has a bar serving specialty cocktails that tend toward the fruity and sweet. The dining room’s thickly cushioned chairs and banquettes are built for comfort and the staff couldn’t be more obliging, but the kitchen is clearly overwhelmed. The Loh family, owner of both restaurants, brings years of experience to the table, but to thrive in restaurant-rich Capitol Hill, they will need to play a more consistent game.
Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic, co-hosts “Let’s Eat” with Terry Jaymes at 4 p.m. Saturdays on 97.3 KIRO FM. Listen to past shows at www.KIRORadio.com/letseat. Reach Cicero at firstname.lastname@example.org.