Magical grilled cheese in Interbay. Promising ramen in Issaquah. And a winning cafe/bike-shop combo in the Central District.
Sandwiches 3204 15th Ave. W., (Interbay) Seattle; open Tuesday 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; wizardsofcheese.com
Making the perfect grilled cheese takes magic. It’s easy to end up with burnt bread and unmelted cheese, or a soggy, flavorless pile of grease. But you’ll find none of that at Cheese Wizards, where grilled-cheese mastery has been achieved far beyond Muggle abilities.
The wizards in charge, brothers Tom and Bo Saxbe, have been on the road around Seattle in their food truck since 2012. Now they have a brick-and-mortar location as well (a home base for Floo-powder transportation?), with swords, ball-and-chain flails and other weapons (they’re fake) mounted on the black-painted walls. The small space seats just eight, and is jammed between a teriyaki place and a cabinetry store on an odd corner in Interbay, making parking a bit difficult. It’s probably best to apparate. But the “Nom-Nomicon,” as the menu says, is worth the trip.
The menu: Four sandwiches. Six sauces. Soup. Salad. Bacon (“Because, bacon”). And that’s plenty. No need to overcomplicate things here.
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The grilled-cheese sandwiches have the perfect crunch and a cheesy, gooey center. They’re just the right amount of greasy, making the concept of dipping them in a sauce all the more appealing. The Cheese Wizard, a classic made with a mix of Tillamook cheddar and Monterey Jack, paired well with Wizard’s Fire, a zesty sriracha and black-pepper aioli. And the Forest-Lord sandwich, a caprese-esque concoction, begs to be dipped in more pesto aioli.
Meat-lovers will appreciate the Voldemortadella, layered with mortadella, salami, Black Forest ham on herbed olive muffuletta. But you must also love olives, for that pungent, sour flavor overpowers the rest.
Don’t miss: Get the tomato soup. Creamy and fragrant with basil, it tastes so fresh you’ll wonder if they robbed Professor Sprout’s greenhouse. Turns out the potion’s secret ingredient is coconut milk. It’s no dragon blood, but it gets the job done.
The least magical: With a mix of greens, croutons, cheese (of course) and a zesty dressing, the salad brings a nice freshness to a potentially heavy meal, but isn’t worth sending an owl home about.
A tip: The half-sandwich combo is the best deal. For $9.75 with tax, you also get a good-sized cheesy (of course) salad, a bowl of soup and the sauce of your choice.
Prices: Three half-sandwiches served with soup and salad ($9.75 each) totaled $29.25, with tax.
— Paige Collins, assistant features editor
Japanese comfort food 5625 221st Place S.E., Suite 120, Issaquah; open daily 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m.; 425-391-9999 and on Facebook
Ramen Bushi-Do approached its opening in the most maddeningly cautious manner. In June, the owners posted that this Issaquah noodle house was up and running, but that they would “serve only 20 people each day,” although for free. In July, they had limited hours but offered half-off specials as they continued to collect customer feedback. And in mid-August, when we visited, the polite server apologetically informed us that the Kobe beef appetizer on the menu would not be offered because the kitchen was still tinkering with “the presentation.”
They can afford to be patient. The investors hit a home run with their last venture, the wildly popular dumpling spot Dough Zone, with two locations in Bellevue, one in Redmond and a fourth coming to Issaquah likely by October.
In the meantime, they’re focused — still — on Ramen Bushi-Do, which has been two years in the making, with the staff flying to Japan and Singapore for R&D. It’s an ambitious noodle house with great promise, featuring both traditional and modern interpretations of ramen.
The aesthetic is Eastern modern — simple, clean lines, bright hues and deep-walnut-brown tables to match the chopsticks and ladles. There’s Rihanna belting and Katy Perry announcing she’s gonna roar. But in a spot that acts like it’s got all the time in the world, the tinkling of water might be a more apt background track.
The menu: Ramen choices are divided into traditional and modern takes ($10.75-$12) while most appetizers ($3-$5.75) are traditional fare plated with flair. All the noodles, tofu and dumplings are made in-house.
Don’t miss: The scalding tonkotsu miso comes with al dente noodles for a thick, wheaty bite. The cuts of chatsu pork weren’t fatty, but the porky broth was so rich, they didn’t need to be.
Tantanmen, its version of Chinese dandan noodles, comes with a creamy broth almost as thick as gravy. It’s cut with a spicy kick of chili pepper and punched up with peanut for a distinctive, savory spin.
The “spinach towers” were the most impressive appetizers — the leaves, twirled together and coated with sesame and bonito seasoning, tasted like seasoned seaweed. The crispy chunks of dark meat in the fried chicken karaage were redolent of sake. And the chicken pot stickers came in a springy shell with a juicy belly (though on a second visit, the shell was much thicker).
What to skip: The fried tofu smeared with miso was bland. The dense, rubbery Jiang buns lacked that warm, marshmallowlike texture. And mazemen, a cold noodle dish with salmon, boiled egg, cucumber, onions and tomato over a sweet sauce, tasted more like dessert than a main course.
Prices: Miso tofu ($3.50), karaage fried chicken ($4.75), pot stickers ($3.75), tonkotsu miso ramen ($12.50) and tantanmen ramen ($12) totaled $36.50 before tax and tip, plenty for two.
— Tan Vinh, staff reporter
Cafe 1220 E. Jefferson St., (Central District), Seattle, 206-569-4265; open Wednesday and Friday 8 a.m.-9 p.m., kitchen closes at 4 p.m.; Taco Thursday, kitchen 5-8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., kitchen closes at 4 p.m.; pelotonseattle.com
A peloton is the mass of bicyclists in a race — not the ones out in front or the poor souls trailing behind, but the group at the heart of the thing. Viewed aerially, it’s a mesmerizing, ever-changing organic shape — a deceptively calm-looking collective made out of the intense striving of many individuals.
Peloton in Seattle is half bike-shop and half cafe, all in one pleasant, high-ceilinged room on Jefferson near 12th. The bike mechanic works diligently, tools hung tidily on the wall behind him, just steps away from the barista/counter-service person. It might start out feeling a little Portlandia — e.g., the customer with the fresh plastic-wrapped tattoo advocating for the abolition of all parking spaces. Give it time, though, and the conversation at the tiny bit of counter seating might turn to buying tires at Les Schwab — yes, car tires (new-tattoo man had since departed).
The menu: “Peloton is the product of serendipity,” according to its website; the three co-owners “met each other because we ride bicycles and embrace the culture that comes with that passion.” But it’s also an excellent spot to just embrace some very good food.
The menu is the purview of co-owner Mckenzie Hart, whose credentials include Cafe Presse, Sitka & Spruce and The London Plane. It’s short: granola, four items under the heading “stuff with eggs,” a daily soup, a couple salads and a couple sandwiches. The same menu is served daily from opening until the kitchen closes at 4 p.m., with the exception of Taco Thursday, when the kitchen’s only open from 5 to 8 p.m. (There’s also local beer — biking’s a thirsty business.) It all seems casual, but the preparations show the kind of thought and care that’s rare.
Don’t miss: Hart herself might bring your food out to your rough-hewn, varnished table, recommending that you add some radish/red onion garnish to each bite of your egg, kale, sweet potato, feta and chorizo breakfast burrito. “And we have an array of hot sauces,” she gestures to a shelf with a big, genuine smile. She’s completely right about the garnish on the burrito — it’s genuinely delicious, the sweet potato playing off the chorizo’s spice. A generous, fresh spinach salad is enriched with artichoke hearts and Parmesan, enlivened with fresh dill and a lemon-dill dressing, and given the pop of perfect cherry tomatoes (though the pale pine nuts needed more toasting).
Also good: Surprisingly, a brisket sandwich got outshone by the rest, though it was still tasty with its pickled peppers, chipotle aioli and frisee. The side salad of peppery arugula with a light, tart vinaigrette again showed Hart’s skill with — and attention to — even the simplest things.
Prices: A breakfast burrito ($9), a spinach salad ($10) and a brisket sandwich ($14) totaled $33 before tax and tip, amounting to an ample brunch for three.
— Bethany Jean Clement, food writer