It’s a bar, the owners insist. There’s no takeout, and the menu isn’t pages long. But restaurant or not, the food pairs well with the creative tropical drinks and slushies on the menu.
On a quiet stretch of California Avenue, New Luck Toy’s gilded front glints like a gold tooth in a pirate’s grin. Inside, under a canopy of tasseled Chinese lanterns, behold a platoon of golden maneki-neko, 120 strong. The cats beckon manically to their mirror image across the front room of this new-spangled West Seattle bar.
I use the word “bar” advisedly. “It’s not a restaurant,” insist co-owners Mark Fuller of Ma’ono and The Rhino Room’s Patric Gabre-Kidan, a front-of-the-house veteran of Book Bindery and various Ethan Stowell restaurants. New Luck Toy aspires to dive-bardom with beaded curtains, Skee Ball, a karaoke room and a jukebox. (Useful tip: The digital jukebox overrides a house playlist that blasts music raunchy enough to make parents glad the whole place is off-limits to minors.)
It’s not fancy, but dive bar — defined by the Urban Dictionary as well-worn, unglamorous and often serving a cheap, simple selection of drinks — might be stretching it. The drinks are far from simple and the food is quite good. Fuller conceived the menu and tapped one of his Ma’ono lieutenants, chef Khampaeng Panyathong, to keep the kitchen humming.
New Luck Toy ★★½
5905 California Ave. S.W., West Seattle
Reservations: not accepted; no takeout; 21 and older only
Hours: kitchen open 4 p.m.-1 a.m. daily; bar closes at 2 a.m.
Prices: $$ (plates $6-$19)
Drinks: full bar; frozen, tropical and tap cocktails; local beers on tap; others by the can or bottle; a house red, white and sparkling wine poured by the glass
Service: swift, efficient
Parking: on street
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
The menu covers the essential Chinese-American canon — noodles, dumplings and egg rolls, pork, beef, chicken, shrimp and tofu — but, with fewer than 18 items, offers a tiny fraction of the options you’d find at a typical Chinese restaurant, which this is not. Among other things, they don’t do takeout. They tried it for a few days after opening in late October.
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“We could tell it was really going to be a disaster and it was going to make it more of a Chinese restaurant,” says Gabre-Kidan.
It certainly looks like one when you walk in the door. Barbecued ducks and pork loins hang in a glass box through which you can peer into the kitchen. By way of a greeting, a hand-printed note directs customers to the bar in the rear, where those who want a table take a number, as you would at a deli or the DMV.
Count yourself lucky to snag one of the 10 cushy swivel chairs at the bar, which juts out like a ship’s prow under more lanterns. House wines are $6 a glass and cocktails are $8-$9, which does make them cheap in today’s world. Brendan McAuliffe, a former cook turned barkeep, created the list of tropical drinks and frozen slushies adorned with paper umbrellas. An adroit multitasker, he can shake a coconut mojito in one hand and pull a $5 draft with the other. His orgeat-sweetened Mai Tai is finished with a splash of dark rum. His apple jack old-fashioned ripples with orange. The frozen “Lucky Colada” sells like crazy, on a par with the “General Oh Tso Good” fried chicken.
It’s no surprise this dish catapults to the top of the charts since Ma’ono is famous for its fried chicken. Here the chunks of thigh meat have the same ruggedly battered exterior that stays crunchy even laden with a sauce that is neither overly sweet nor overwhelmed with chilies. Want more heat? Bite into one of the bird’s beak chilies the kitchen tosses whole into this and other dishes, including a side of wok-seared long beans.
The mustard-like heat of broccoli rabe contributes complexity to Mongolian beef. Five-spice seasoning lends fragrant warmth to half a barbecued duck, chopped into tender, if boney, pieces. The chicken, beef and duck come with pickled cucumber slices and a heap of steamed rice. Don’t let that stop you from trying the deliriously good fried rice, packed with pineapple, basil and porky Chinese sausage. Noodle dishes include the “Chinese Spaghetti Bowl,” a version of dan dan noodles crunchy with cabbage and mung bean sprouts and tossed with an aromatic but mild sauce of pork, cilantro and Sichuan chilies.
About our restaurant reviewsStar ratings: Assigned by Seattle Times restaurant critics ★★★★ Exceptional ★★★ Highly recommended ★★ Recommended ★ Adequate no stars: Poor Average price of a dinner entree: $$$$ — $25 and over $$$ — $15-$25 $$ — $10-$15 $ — Under $10
The level of chile heat tends to be moderate. A couple of dishes skewed salty. Saline overload kicked in halfway through the pungent hot and sour soup, dense with maitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and glass noodles.
The menu is a checklist. You mark your choices and hand it to the server. The food arrives rapidly and all at once. Everything is served in shallow platters, cups or bowls that are disposable and compostable, as are the wooden chopsticks and plastic utensils. It’s all meant to reinforce the idea that this is a bar, not a restaurant. When it’s time to pack up the leftovers, they bring you the lids. “Everyone always over-orders Chinese food,” notes Gabre-Kidan. “We know you’re going to ask for [a box], so why not just start with one.” Ingenious, really.
You aren’t likely to have any salt and pepper shrimp or spare ribs to take home. The former are lightly battered with a hint of Old Bay seasoning and smothered in fried garlic, chopped scallions and sliced jalapeños. The latter are bite-sized nuggets, braised into submission, then deep-fried. Both the ribs and the syrupy side sauce deliver strong notes of cinnamon, clove and star anise from the same house-blended five-spice powder that perfumes the duck. Both are compelling bar nibbles, as are fat egg rolls loosely stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, cabbage and pork; and steamed shrimp-and-pork-fat dumplings dabbed with Sichuan chile oil.
“Here’s a million dollar restaurant idea …” has been a running joke between Fuller and Gabre-Kidan for years. Their friendship dates back to their days at Dahlia Lounge. If the crowds taking numbers here are any indication, they may have struck gold with New Luck Toy, whose name commemorates the West Seattle cafe founded by the late Alan Louie of China Gate fame. It closed in 2006 but its spirit survives, even though this New Luck Toy is emphatically not a restaurant.