I’ve lost track of the number of times my husband has commented on how good something smells in the kitchen only to have me reply “it’s just onions and garlic.” Is there a scientific study someone can point me to that explains the olfactory pleasure we derive from those two alliums sizzling together in a bath of oil or butter? Take this wonton soup ($12.25) I got from Pho Em on Mercer Island.
The chicken broth was rich, but sadly the delicate wonton skins and egg noodles had steamed together, creating a homogenous lump of mush by the time I made it home. Saving the day entirely were the fried onions and garlic included as a garnish, plus a little bok choy, turning that rich chicken broth slick with schmaltz into something with almost smoky body, worthy of sipping without any additional ingredients. Put another tick in the win column for onions and garlic.
Luckily, the large portion of the Pho Em special ($12.25) has plenty of rice noodles to accompany both containers of broth. The pho broth itself had a deep, complex flavor that needed minor adjustments despite coming with ample amounts of basil and jalapeño. The special included a single meatball, a tissue-thin slice of rare beef and slices of brisket. I would go back for either, except next time I’d opt to make my own wontons and double up on the soup and fried garlic and onions.
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 3033 78th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island; 206-232-0828
Frizzled alliums weren’t the only thing I was excited about on Mercer Island. I found flaky croissants and an incredible lunch deal as well.
La Fête Pâtisserie Française
7 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 7605 S.E. 27th St., #112, Mercer Island; 206-257-0640; lafetepatisserie.com
The long pastry case at La Fête wasn’t completely filled the day I visited. The woman working informed me the cafe had recently reopened after a 19-day winter hiatus and they were still ramping back up to full production and therefore had no delicate patisserie-style treats. Still, there were plenty for my carb-loving heart. Crunchy twice-baked almond croissants ($5.50), chocolate croissants painted and swirled with raspberry pâté de fruit ($6.75), brioche filled with creamy goat cheese, fig and honey ($6.75) — and baguette sandwiches galore! I picked up all the above and a jambon beurre ($9.50), slathered with butter, slices of ham, Emmentaler cheese and little cornichons. Everything was flaky, buttery and absolutely wonderful. Going on a tip from the woman at the shop, I heated the fig and goat cheese brioche slightly in my toaster oven, warming the honey that lurked at the base of the figs and cheese into a gorgeous puddle, soaking into the brioche and pairing perfectly with the sour tang of cheese. This is one pastry not to miss.
11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 2717 78th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island; 206-230-4120; sushijoa.com
The menu at this strip-mall sushi joint is massive. An extensive selection of sushi, of course, alongside rice bowls, noodle dishes, tempura, gyoza, salads and more. A real hidden gem here are the lunch specials. Take the Tokyo Bento ($14.95), which includes three pieces of nigiri, four pieces of California roll, a full portion of chicken teriyaki, green salad, a scoop of rice and a cup of miso soup. I originally thought it was just sushi, salad and soup, so I also ordered the chicken katsu bento ($13.95) with four gyoza, rice, salad and miso soup. My jaw dropped when I got home and unpacked the multiple boxes of food. I was certain they had given me someone else’s order, but no! This was enough food to feed at least three adults. The katsu retained its crunch; the salad dressing was a zingy, ginger-heavy vinaigrette; and the teriyaki was the best version of that charred salty/sweet combination people either love or hate. The nigiri included prawn, salmon and tuna with firm, perfectly seasoned rice. The whole combination was just the comforting range of textures and flavors I needed to break up a gray February afternoon.