Spinasse’s famous pasta dish makes a comeback
Spinasse and Artusi: 1535 14th Ave., Seattle; 206-251-7673, spinasse.com; 5-8 p.m. daily
Spinasse has been considered one of Seattle’s best upscale Italian places since opening on Capitol Hill more than a decade ago, with little sister Artusi coming along later to provide a more affordable bar-and-snacks situation next door. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, chef Stuart Lane says, “Everything felt as though it happened very quickly … We were a normal restaurant on Sunday and a takeout restaurant on Monday.” They did to-go for just a week before he felt too uneasy: “At that time, masks were not worn as commonly, and people were still crowding around each other and were a little more cavalier about how to move around the city.” He chose to shut both places down.
Now that everyone’s taking precautions more seriously — and hopefully will continue to do so — Lane’s brought Spinasse and Artusi back for takeout. Serious lovers of Italian food in Seattle will want to know that, yes, this means Spinasse’s famous tajarin. The nest of very thin, very tender, very excellent noodles comes with a pork-and-beef ragu, and if a thing can be delicately meaty, this is it — just traces of sauce cling to each and every noodle, along with the lightest dusting of Parmigiano. It costs $28, and if that number makes you blanch, the tajarin also is available to cook and sauce on your own for $10.
But how does the already-ready version of the beloved pasta travel? It seemed treacherous to carry something so ethereal any distance at all, but after a six-block ride in a bicycle’s basket, the tajarin untangled from its to-go container like a dream.
The greatness of the pork belly currently on offer from Spinasse/Artusi also strains credulity — it’s stuffed with an herbed prosciutto mix, then cooked low in a broth-and-vegetable bath and turned every half-hour for six hours, creating deep browning and amazing glazing, with the braising liquid becoming a thick sweet-and-savory sauce.
In yet more superlative meat, Artusi’s meatballs also made the takeout menu. Vegetarians may order the pale gold, nicely chewy cavatelli curling up with mushrooms, but it’s definitely not for vegans — the amount of high-quality butter used is fabulously evident. And an arugula salad was so freshly, fluffily big, enough was left for lunch the next day.
If the Spinasse/Artusi to-go prices on Italian wines seem extremely reasonable, with lots of choices under $20, that’s because they’re priced just a little above what distributors charge them, and my takeout came with the adorable surprise of a free little bottle of sparkling rosé. Cocktails to go — like the Amari-o Brothers, with Ste. Maria al Monte amaro, Cynar, Maraschino, Cocchi Americano and Angostura bitters — are $20 for enough for two to share (or two for you).
Hue Ky Mi Gia’s secret greatness
Hue Ky Mi Gia: 1207 S. Jackson St., Ste. 101, Seattle; 206-568-1268; 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. every day; and 18230 E. Valley Highway, Ste. 152 (inside the Great Wall Shopping Mall), Kent; 425-282-1268; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily; huekymigia.com
People go nuts for the butter chicken wings at this place in Seattle’s Little Saigon and Kent’s Great Wall Shopping Mall, and even the wing-opposed have to admit they make an excellent entry in the category. But family-owned Hue Ky Mi Gia says it specializes in noodles, of both Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines, and I firmly believe its true genius lies in a different one-dish wonder: the braised duck with egg noodles.
You can get this as a soup, but you ought not to. Every element of this beauty should be appreciated thoroughly both alone and in combination, and definitely not submerged. Order it dry style — you can still experiment with ensoupening with the accompanying cup of broth, housemade with free-range chicken and fragrant with star anise. I love every other element so much, I mostly forget about the broth, then drink it down at the end (and eat the plumping-up dried dates that’ve been bobbing in it).
The generous duck leg has gorgeous, near-glossy deep-brown skin, which slides off all soft with the fat rendered from a four-hour braise. The flesh is as richly dark-meat marvelous as duck gets, the savor imbued with Chinese five spice for good measure. The egg noodles are of the thin and squiggly sort, doing their job bountifully and well. Several whole shiitake mushroom caps, cooked to almost caramelized, complement both the tone of the duck’s skin and the taste of the meat, forest floor to the bird’s water and sky. Bok choy lies to one side with its pretty gradients of green matching the green onions scattered about, and it’s still crunchy for a contrast in texture. Also included: little cubes of crispy-fried pork fat — why not?
This is one of my favorite things to eat in the city, and while the empty dining room during these coronavirus times makes a sad sight, tasting it again at home made me intensely happy, at least momentarily. It also costs only $11 for more than you should probably eat at once. Pro tip: If you’re refrigerating leftovers, add a little vegetable or other neutral oil to the noodles and stir them up so they don’t stick together (and they’re not bad eaten cold, standing in front of the fridge like a savage).
While you’re at it duck-noodle-wise, you better just get an order of the butter wings, a big golden pile of them for $10 — they travel shockingly well, their thickish breading showing admirable crispy fortitude. The taste instantly brought back eating them in Little Saigon with my friend Tan Vinh for our Great Seattle-Area Chicken-Wings Taste Test one afternoon before all this started, and now I am nowhere near as wing-opposed as I was before.
One of Seattle’s best new restaurants: Paju
Paju: 11 Mercer St., Seattle; 206-829-8215, facebook.com/paju.seattle; noon-8 p.m. daily
GQ food writer Brett Martin didn’t include Paju in his recent list of the Best New Restaurants in America, though he does give Paju a shout-out in a roster of runners-up: “I wish you could try the weird and wonderful endive salad at Paju, in Seattle, each leaf cradling walnuts, burrata, and an emulsified, jellylike smoked vinaigrette, like a delirious ’70s canapé.” The good news is that it’s still available to go at the Lower Queen Anne modern Korean spot, or at least a version of it. The takeout edition has the same dressing, still oddly super-delicious — smoke and salad making unlikely best friends — with the burrata swapped out for Parmesan, and crunchy romaine subbing for endive. Walnuts are included, and also the grapes that were aboard when Paju opened in late 2019. It’s not the swellegant presentation of the former endive-leaf boats, but that’d be a mess by the time it got home. But this salad still does what Paju does so well, which is balance the unexpected with subtlety for surprising greatness of taste — less surprising when you learn that chef/owners Chunghoon Jeong and Bill Jeong met working at double-Michelin-starred Jungsik in New York. And for times that feel tight, the salad’s even more of a deal at $9 versus the former $13.
Speaking of prices, Paju’s menu should make a global Best Value list with its thrilling tastes in anti-stingy portions from $9 to $17. The ideally chewy Paju fried rice, darkened with squid ink, attains layers of flavor — it’s got a subtle amount of both kimchi and bacon, with none of that “I AM OCEAN” bludgeoning that squid ink sometimes does. Brick-red spicy pork, made with poblano peppers, has a heat that creeps and blooms instead of striking and burning. And it’d be dumb not to eat Paju’s sweet chili chicken wings anytime one can — they get brined, battered, double-fried, then thoroughly coated with shiny, orange-red, sweet-and-slightly-spicy sauce. These are wings so big and fat and tender, they might be mistaken for thighs.
Paju’s options have been truncated, with just a couple more dishes available for takeout in addition to the above, but it’s still fit for any Best list.