Be prepared for happy surprises at the Fremont newcomer.
Chef Heong Soon Park modeled his Fremont restaurant, Tray Kitchen, after the trendsetting San Francisco eatery, State Bird Provisions. But unlike the California restaurant’s inscrutable name, Tray Kitchen’s gets right to the point: They offer most of the food on trays, Chinese dim sum style.
The printed a la carte menu lists about half a dozen items, plus desserts. It also serves as a score card. The waiter keeps a tally in numbered boxes as you select from more than a dozen other dishes that circulate on the trays, each bearing discreet signs indicating prices ($3-$9).
“We are all about grazing and instant gratification,” a waiter explained. Asked if there was a printed tray menu, he acknowledged there was, but they don’t like to give it out. “We want the experience to be a series of little surprises.”
Tray Kitchen ★★★
4012 Leary Way N.W., Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Prices: $$ (a la carte $11-$24; tray items $3-$9)
Drinks: full bar; craft cocktails; broad-based, intriguing wine list
Service: smart, experienced, thoughtful
Parking: on street; a few spaces on site
Sound: very loud when full
Who should go: Flexible grazers who enjoy being surprised
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
They are, by and large, happy surprises. Park made a big splash three years ago with tiny Chan in Pike Place Market, where he creates modern interpretations of the food he grew up eating in South Korea.
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Tray’s menu is more eclectic, but the Korean influence is evident. A soy-cured egg yolk nestled in a clay pot filled with duck confit and maitake mushroom fried rice is a dish that elegantly evokes dolsot bibimbap.
Slippery, chewy, Korean rice cakes frolic with steamed mussels in a squash broth murmuring of coconut milk, cilantro and ginger. Korean fried chicken wings retain a resounding crunch beneath their fiery-sweet glaze.
The wings are among a la carte offerings that also included spectacular pan-seared black cod. The fish maintained its crackling skin even floating with daikon and bitter greens in a shallow bowl of dashi broth. Ancho chili aioli gently countered the char on tender bites of grilled octopus. Kimchi-flecked pork sausage draped in spicy mustard came with caramelized onions and sautéed savoy cabbage deglazed with pickling juice — sort of a Korean-style Costco dog without the bun.
Many tray items rely on vegetables, most sourced from local farms, including Park’s half-acre in Woodinville. (Fragile microgreens sprout right in the restaurant, under lights high above the wine racks.)
Farro laced with brittle roasted kale and meaty oyster mushrooms, finished with good olive oil, lemon juice and a spoonful of creamy house-made ricotta was especially inspired. Quinoa salad, though packed with diced kabocha squash, radish and currants, lacked the same punch.
Garlicky tomato confit vinaigrette turns grilled Treviso and leeks into an invigorating salad, with sourdough croutons for crunch. Brussels sprout leaves with finely diced apple and brittle pancetta bits made another vivacious threesome.
Bite-size cubes of deep-fried pork belly provided appealing counterweight to roughly chopped raw parsnips and beets tossed with citrus, jalapeño and dill. A hot, sweet and sour Thai-style sauce sparked shrimp paired with butter-poached broccoli.
If smoked trout mousse happens by, grab it. The satiny mousse is layered in a small glass jar with chili sauce and avocado. The fingerling potato chips provided for scooping are a little too fragile for the job, but irresistible.
Farro with mushrooms & kale $5
Smoked trout mousse $7
Duck confit fried rice $13
Pan-seared black cod $16
Korean fried chicken wings $12/$24
Tray Kitchen’s concept is unique but its look is familiar. Graham Baba Architects (RockCreek, Revel, Walrus and the Carpenter, and many more) designed the spare interior using natural wood, white tile and filament bulbs. The kitchen, fronted by a butcher-block prep counter, is a stage visible from every table.
A small bar occupies one corner, dispensing original cocktails like an Old-Fashioned “refashioned” with bourbon, gum sugar and grapefruit bitters, chilled with spherical ice. The intriguing wine list traipses from Rheingau to Piedmont to Rhone, taking side trips to Corsica, Lebanon and Slovenia, then heading home to Walla Walla and the Willamette Valley.
Bartenders, like servers, take good care of customers. One slipped me the tray menu saying, “Not everything makes it to the bar, so if you see something you really want, let me know.”
Tray Kitchen is the 32-year-old Park’s third restaurant. (He also owns Bacco, a cafe adjacent to Chan). His personality is evolving along with his food. On my first visit, he was everywhere, cooking, expediting, running trays, removing empty plates, asking guests, “How was that?”
When he wasn’t there, the energy was noticeably different, the pace more leisurely, trays circulated with less frequency. The food didn’t suffer, but I missed his exuberance.