Excerpts from her blog, All You Can Eat "Please come to Asteroid's closing party," said the e-mail invite from the longtime anti-war activist...

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Excerpts from her blog, All You Can Eat

“Please come to Asteroid’s closing party,” said the e-mail invite from the longtime anti-war activist who did big business out of a teensy Wallingford shack before blasting off to fancy new digs in Fremont in 2006. Oy, I thought: Another one bites the dust. Then I grabbed the phone and hit speed-dial for Marlin Hathaway, owner of the Italian ristorante with the otherworldly name (at 3601 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle; 206-547-9000). “So, are you sorry you moved the Asteroid?” I asked the outspoken purveyor of pasta and “progressive” politics. “Absolutely,” he said.

There’s a reason I’ve regularly described him as wearing “his heart on his sleeve and the Earth on his arm.” Marlin told me he’s sorry he didn’t put the $134,000 he spent on tenant improvements to the old Red Apple Market space in downtown Fremont into the rickety restaurant he’d leased prior to the move. “I should have given the money to Fern!” he said, honoring the name of his Wallingford landlord. “My rent was $850 a month there. Now it’s $8,000.”

Yikes! What was he drinking — some of that acqua pazzo (translation: crazy water) he’s selling? Describing a clear-cut case of bigger not being better, Marlin said that despite the fact he was “busting out of the seams” of the Wallingford original and had high hopes for his new thrice-as-big Asteroid in Fremont, he’s fallen behind on his lease payments — again. “I have enough for payroll, but not enough to pay vendors, and I’m three months behind on my taxes.” Yet he hopes to remain in business through this week, throwing his bye-bye-bash on Sunday.

Meanwhile, he’s got “a signed deal” with a (potential) buyer for his handsome newish restaurant: a turn-key operation with 60 seats plus a bar and lounge. If the sale were to go through, he said, he could pay off his landlord and still have enough to “get out of hock and have a little left over.” What’s more, the new buyer wants to keep his crew. Whether the buyer finds financing and the landlord OKs the deal is another story, he said.

“I told the crew a week and a half ago I’m in trouble.” The crew was supportive, Marlin said. “I was trying to make it an honorable out.” Which is more than one might say about many other restaurateurs, who’ve given short (or no) notice to their employees before selling their restaurants and/or closing the doors.

“What can you do?” Marlin asked. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years. In the last month I’ve cried, I’ve gone through fear and anxiety and I’ve wondered how I’m going to raise my kid. It’s freaky, scary. The economy is hurting. In the next six months things are going to get really heavy. I’ve talked to other restaurant owners who appear to be busy, but they’re behind on [paying for] their food and their utilities.”

So, what will Marlin do once he relieves himself — for better or worse — of the burden of his Italian restaurant? Well, he’s talking to a successful restaurateur who’s looking to unload a little place only slightly bigger than the original Asteroid. An intense, counterculturally conscious guy who just happens to own the building his restaurant sits in. A fellow who just might consider leasing the place to an outspoken guy who wears his heart on his sleeve and the Earth on his arm.

Sweet surprises at Pal-Do World

Recently, I had a few hours to myself. So I went to Korea for fried chicken. Actually, I wasn’t expecting to have fried chicken. I had gone to Pal-Do World (17424 Highway 99, Lynnwood) for soondubu. That spicy soft-tofu soup is served with complimentary banchan (side dishes) at Cho Dang Tofu, a small cafe inside the 40,000-square-foot Lynnwood shopping complex. I’ve long been a fan of this Korean supermarket-slash-minimall, though I’ve neglected to mention its sibling locations, which might be closer to where you shop in Bellevue, Federal Way or Tacoma. There’s even one as far south as Beaverton, Ore. (Note: The Federal Way branch of Pal-Do is soon expanding into an old Target complex, according to the company Web site.)

Since 99 Ranch Market opened far closer to my front door, I’ve made fewer trips to Pal-Do World to stock up on Asian condiments, rice noodles, inexpensive produce, cross-cut short ribs and “exotic” fish parts. And if I’m in the mood for soondubu, I can get that at BCD Tofu House next door to Ranch 99, or at nearby Hosoonyi — where I’ve been feeding my soul for years with spicy soft-tofu soup and excellent banchan.

Now, imagine the look on my face — joy! awe! wonder! — when I walked into Pal-Do World on a Sunday afternoon to find women offering banchan samplings at the entrance, and this new place — billed as “Korea No. 1 Chicken!!”

I figured I’d buy some fried chicken for dinner, and indulge in some soondubu first. But when I sat down, the waitress brought my menu and — cue the Hallelujah Chorus! — along with the usual stews, the bibimbap and barbecued meats, Chicky Pub had its very own page. A reasonable $8.99 bought me six plump joints of fried chicken worthy of any flag-flying American’s proper picnic basket, plus crunchy-sweet pickled daikon and a hearty mustard for dipping. Oh, and (yes!) a half-dozen variations on the banchan theme (including another picnic-basket staple, apple slaw): Chicky Pub is a franchise, my waitress explained, and it opened at Pal-Do 10 months ago.

While I waited for my chicky-basket, I was joined at the next table by the Chungs, fourth-generation Korean Americans from Honolulu: Unlike me, Matthew and Jan were on an actual vacation, visiting their son, Nick (who lives in Seattle’s University District) and their daughter Kristin (here from Nebraska, where she attends college). Because they had a hankering for dolsot bibimbap and soondubu, Nick brought his parents and sister to Lynnwood to show off Pal-Do World. They were duly impressed. And when they sat down (with a bagful of kimchee, made in-house — as were the banchan offered by the front door), they, too, were surprised to find the Chicky Pub menu tucked inside their menu-cover. Much discussion ensued regarding whether to order some chicken. They wanted it, but figured after nibbling their way through the store’s many samples (banchan! blood sausage! seafood pancakes! walnut cookies!), they didn’t need it.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “you can share mine.”

“We’ve got a lot of Asians living in Hawaii,” said Matthew, after we stuffed ourselves silly, “but we don’t have Korean food this good.” The chicken, by the way, was amazing: golden, juicy and crisp but not too oily. Its crunch rivaled Ezell’s.

Unlike at Ezell’s, where you can finish up with sweet-potato pie or peach cobbler, Pal-Do World sells “fish cakes” hot from an incredible contraption. It’s a good thing I ceded a wing and a breast-hunk to the Chungs (who offered some of their lunch in return — though I declined), because when I roamed the store in search of goodies, I found Korea’s answer to Krispy Kreme in the rear of the store. I bought a boxful of the sweet black bean-stuffed beongohbbang (that’s Korean for “Take it from me, you want some!”), made to order by a smiling fellow. I ate them at home, later, with a nice cup of tea.

Let’s see: Time alone from my kid, the dogs and a multitude of Sunday chores ($2 worth of Chevron’s finest); lunch with the charming Chungs ($8.99 plus tip); fish cakes for later ($5); and an authentic taste of Korea 12 minutes from my house? Priceless.

This blog material has been edited for print publication.

Nancy Leson’s blog excerpts appear Wednesdays. Reach her at 206-464-8838 or nleson@seattletimes.com