Saturday, March 29, 2008

Best Potstickers in the World?

Recently I was invited to the Dunham Winemaker Dinner hosted at BOKA restaurant in Seattle by my dear friend Kathy McLean. I was talking to new friend Kathy McGoldrick about my recent trip to Honolulu and my love for good Ramen. Eric Dunham, the winemaker, told us we just had to try SZECHUAN NOODLE BOWL in Seattle's International District.

So we all decided right then to make that our next outing.

It took about a month to get all our schedules worked out, but we finally managed to find our way to their tiny storefront pushed up and under the I-5 overpass with parking beneath. The pillar supports of the freeway here have been painted Chinese lacquer red & yellow-- and golden koi fish fancifully dance up the columns.

Walking in, you knew immediately this was a find! There were only 7-8 tables, the place was clean and overly brightly lit with fluorescents, and the smells were wonderful. All good signs. Better still—two Chinese women were occupying one of the precious few tables and making fresh dumplings and potstickers right in the dining room!

I sat down with Kathy McGoldrick and her son Corydon visiting Seattle from college with his gorgeous girlfriend from Honolulu, Melissa. The forecast threatened snow and the steaming pot of good jasmine tea set before me was perfect. I immediately noticed when I sat down that the linoleum covered floor tilted backwards at a rakish angle-- a geological reminder that we are over-due for our next earthquake.

We decided not to order anything while we waited for our dining companions Kathy McLean, and famous Chef Monique Barbeau to arrive. In the meantime, I think we drank about 40 pots of that delicious jasmine tea.

After Monique and Kathy arrived and were properly hugged all around, Monique let us know that another good chef friend of hers was to join us: Chef Danielle Custer –and coincidentally like myself—a fellow Food & Wine magazine Best New American Chef (1998) and she was also a James Beard "Rising Star" in 1999. She currently oversees the food services of the Seattle Art Museum, and TASTE restaurant.

We immediately ordered a plate of the scallion pancakes. It arrived crisp and cut into sixths, a little bit tough/chewy (as if the batter had been slightly over-worked?), and just a little bit on the greasy side. In other words-- delicious! With a dollop of intensely red garlic chili sauce they were perfect. Approving moans and groans were heard all around the table.

No longer strangers, when the second plate arrived elbows were flying and the second pancake disappeared as quickly as it hit the table.

Next came the potstickers. I had never seen potstickers rolled into shapes such as these. Almost like stubby Cuban cigars or chubby taquitos. The beauty of this shape is that it maximizes the ratio of crispness to the flip/side softness of the steamed noodle.

Most unbelievably--the plate held 8 huge potstickers!

Nicely browned, almost burnt around the edges (and like I am fond of saying) color equals flavor --and were these ever flavorful!! Pork-filled and fragrant with ginger, the light & vinegary soy dipping sauce a perfect foil.


These were definitely the highlight of the entire meal and worth a trip just for the potstickers. We chefs all agreed they might be the best potstickers we had ever had. The filling delicious. Well seasoned and fragrant. The wrappers handmade and nicely crisp, yet impossibly tender.


....Up next we ordered a variety of the Noodle Soups.

.I had the Szechuan Beef Tendon. The broth was rich and beefy with a few spicy drops of red chili oil pooling on the surface. Medium-spicy, the broth reminded me a bit of the Phở we used to make when I was the Executive Chef of Le Colonial, a high-end French Vietnamese place in Beverly Hills, as the soup was redolent with cinnamon, star anise, and the five spices. Steamed emerald green baby bok choy bobbed on the surface, tender chunks of braised beef took up the other half of the bowl—and weighted down—barely submerged beneath the surface—were tangles of thick ropy, doughy-thick noodles.

The noodles in all the soups here are the same - very thick, almost the thickness of udon noodles, and very floury. To my palette, and admittedly I do not know Chinese noodles that well, they seemed overcooked compared to the Japanese Ramen I am so fond of…and when I asked the other chefs later, they too had the same reaction, that the noodles seemed overcooked to our taste. I do not think they were in fact over-cooked, I think that is their style.

Kathy McLean ordered the Wonton Soup Bowl. The broth looked watery but had a wonderful gingery chicken-y intensity that was both subtle and powerful. And the wonton dumplings in the soup were ethereally light and delicious. Monique was saying to everyone--"You have to try these!" Buried beneath the dumplings, were some of the additional superfluous ropy/doughy noodles an unnecessary addition that should have been avoided.

...Kathy McGoldrick ordered the Cold Sesame Noodles. Although passable she pronounced them not as good as the version her sister makes. And I had to agree.

Looking outside as the light began to fade from the sky and the cold rain began to sleet and then to snow—surrounded by friends at a communal table, the comforting sounds of soups being slurped, steam and spices rising fragrantly into the air— I was reminded how truly comforting and healing soup is.

Highly recommended for colds, which I was nursing.

Also and most definitely for hangovers!

(Photo to Rt Clockwise: Chef Monique Barbeau, Corydon & girlfriend Melissa, Chef Danielle Custer, Kathy McGoldrick, Kathy McLean)

International District
420 8th Ave Seattle, WA 98104
(206) 623-4198
Free Street Parking Beneath I-5 Fwy
Metered Street Parking & Pay Lots

No Beer or Wine!
Service: Absent-minded and not the point.
Oh- and they only take CASH

We Go (Back) to BLACK BOTTLE

Having decided we were not ready to end the night, especially since we hadn't had a single glass of wine yet (!) we debated whether to check out Quinn’s (the hugely popular new Gastro Pub) getting raves-but Danielle has an engagement there in a few days and didn’t want to go twice in a week (“the food is really rich”)—“oh yeah...? --but we want some of their famous poutine fries,” we protested. But she wouldn’t budge so I suggested my favorite standby—Black Bottle, in Belltown, the cozy winebar that attracts a stylish crowd from the neighborhood. We literally ran to our cars as the sleet turned to snow.

Thank God there were parking spaces nearby as that part of Belltown is nearly impossible to find parking. We got a great table up front for people watching as two in our group are newly single. They serve delicious small plates and have a good wine list and full bar all reasonably priced. The room is spare but warm, tall old brick walls, bare light bulbs, long tapers, and a lazy mobile casts dramatic shadows on the wall.

We are stuffed but I tell Kathy and the 2 Chefs that we “have to order” the amazing Flatbread with Béchamel & Prosciutto. They groan but agree. We are all excited that after that alcohol-free dinner at Szechuan that we can finally have some wine and cocktails, and we order all around.

The conversation quickly turns to famous Chefs we have worked for and loved (and loved to hate), restaurant concepts we want to open—how hard it is to find good help (even in Seattle?? Yep even in Seattle!!!) other good chef gossip, life, and love.

The flatbread soon arrives to ooohs and ahhhs...

See I say-- Isn’t that the coolest presentation? I feel as doughy as all those noodles we ate-- but the flatbread is beguiling in presentation and delicious, and it too disappears in seconds.

We look outside and a full blizzard is in progress on First Avenue in late March in Belltown!


Monique says she is going to make this flatbread at her next dinner party at home. "Don’t you think they just make these all in advance," I ask?? How easy! And what a great idea. And the presentation is genius it makes you want to bring people here to order it just because it looks so cool!

I go outside in the cold and snow to make a cell phone call cause everyone around us is having so much fun it is impossible to hear. I love neighborhood restaurants like this.

When I come back inside I ask if we can't please order just one more round? I don’t want this evening of Chef talk with friends to end so soon. And certainly not after only one glass of wine. Ok everyone agrees. And I am really enjoying this Argentinean Shiraz/ Malbec blend. Soon the talk turns to love, and then of course to sex. I love this group!

We make plans to get together again soon, but three of us have to drive to Tacoma and it is really snowing hard now, so 2 glasses of wine is going to have to be plenty for tonight.

We exchange hugs and business cards and conspire to get Danielle down to Tacoma for a night at Pacific Grill to further plan our next food ventures and dream our dreams.

We are all very like-minded and supportive. It is one of the things I love about chefs--the camaraderie! And who knows—maybe we will all someday work together on a project?

Now that is a dream worth dreaming!


Anonymous said...

T am soooo jealous about those amazing potstickers... They look absolutly wonderful. What a great night you must have had. I love to get together with indusry friends, and great food. Now that is a winning combination:)

Anonymous said...

I WISH seattle had good chinese food. Go to Vancouver, there are at least 5 places w better potstickers. I lived in china for 3 years and miss the food!

also for great malbec come visit the local vine in seattle may 7th for a tasting of my wine.


ChefGordonNaccarato said...

Wonderful night indeed, Pegster. You gotta get up there and try those potstickers, scallion pancakes and dumplings!

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

I loved Local Vine when I tried it a few weeks ago. And thanks for your suggestion about the Malbec tasting, which I have found to be a favorite "Chef wine".

I agree that Vancouver has better Chinese food than does Seattle. It is one of my favorite cities on the west coast. So beautiful too.

Anonymous said...

Chef, if you are ever in Palm Spring (just got some sun a few days ago), stop at Wangs... A upper scale Chineese Restaurant. Great food. The best Pork Dumplings (Not fried into a potsticker - Love em nice and brown too). They were PERFECT. I will seek out your recomendation too.
- MonkeyBob

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

Hey MonkeyBob, my best friend in the world Kevin has a place in Palm Springs--love the desert-- so try & get down there once in a while to try and dry out after the soggy winter.

Will try & get to Wangs to try those amazing sounding Pork Dumplings--are they located on the Main Drag in Palm Springs? Thanks for the tip.

Anonymous said...


Yes Wangs is on Indian Canyon (that is the north one way main drag to Palm Canyon which is the south one way main drag). They are on the south end of town but still downtown. Loved every bit I had there but those dumplings were tops! Take care