Uni Fixation

'Tis the Season—For a Best Bites of 2019 List

It was a very good year...for carbs.

By Allecia Vermillion December 20, 2019

L'Oursin's spiny, buttery namesake.

When I began thinking about my most memorable bites of 2019, the first thing that came to mind was the hash brown breakfast sandwich at Great State Burger. In my defense, I was suffering the ill effects of last night's cocktails, my body and compromised brain both screaming for that greasy, carby union of egg, cheese and English muffin. Sliding a hashbrown patty into the mix felt like bold, game-changing genius.

Which is to say, every bite has its exact right moment. But these are the ones that ring out when I scan through the past year.

Pasta Bolognese at GH Pasta

Yes, the waits for takeout lunch can be a little out of control here in Peak Amazon. But Brian Clevenger’s first foray into fast casual makes pasta that’s astonishingly good, considering the frenetic kitchen and compostable bowls. I inevitably struggle to choose from the day’s seven-ish options (fusilli with walnut pesto? tonnarelli with truffles and black pepper?) but the Bolognese made with a bit of lamb is both savory and nuanced. 

Sinigang at Archipelago

The miki noodle course at Aaron Verzosa and Amber Manuguid’s singular Filipino-flavored tasting menu restaurant is the dish I want again and again, whether served with dungeness crab and bacon marmalade, or soft scrambled eggs and crab roe. But the sinigang encapsulates Archipelago’s particular brand of cerebral magic; it replaces traditional tamarind with Northwest cranberries, for a sensation that’s both true and unfamiliar. 

Urchin at L’Oursin

Weirdly for all the times I’ve eaten here, I’d never had the spiny ocean creatures from which this Central District French-Northwest restaurant gets its name. Until one night in February when one arrived split over crushed ice, its interior strips of saffron-colored meat curled like flower petals inside. It didn’t really need the grilled bread and butter that come along—not that I excluded either of those from the proceedings. 

Grilled Cabbage at Samara

You expect Eric Anderson’s signature dish to be delicious. It’s a patty of charred short grain rice topped with dungeness crab and a ludicrous amount of butter, after all. You don’t expect the same emotional highs from a bowl of cabbage. But Anderson puts a ton of unseen care into his entire menu (see also: the smoky mushrooms); in his hands our humblest brassica is oven roasted to caramelized perfection, deposited in a pool of emuslfied dashi and butter, then showered with crunchy puffed rice and charred green garlic. 

Testaroli at Il Nido

It might be summer (of 2021) before I can next wrangle an Il Nido reservation from the Resy gods, but in the meantime I shall warm myself with memories of the pasta special I ordered one night at the bar—essentially delicate Italian crepes cooked in the morning, cut into diamonds, boiled again, and tossed with pesto, then placed atop squash blossoms. As you do. When Mike Easton said his new restaurant would serve more labor-intensive pastas, he wasn’t kidding, but all that effort yields something I recall wistfully, and vividly months later. While we’re on the subject, this might be my favorite thing I wrote this year

Nam Kao at Viengthong

This salad of crispy rice, funky pork sausage, herbs, peanuts, lime, and fish sauce was just random Sunday night takeout, but it’s one of those dishes that deserves to be as ubiquitous in Seattle’s food landscape as pad Thai. I’m excited to try Lao newcomer Taurus Ox in the former Little Uncle space, but Viengthong has been bestowing these big flavors and textures on Seattle since 1992. The dining room is pretty sharp after a recent-ish remodel, too. 

Lil Sammy Burger at Eden Hill Provisions

Confession: I know the Big Max is the burger that built Maximillian Petty’s new bistro, but I’m more partial to its single-patty sidekick on the kids menu. The Lil Sammy has all the elements that make the regular burger great (pickles, smoked gouda, squishy bun, the best housemade ketchup in town) but dialing down the beef brings all the other elements into sharper focus. (I fear there’s already a lot of uni and pasta on this list, but when I tried the new tasting menu down the street at Eden Hill, the spaghetti with uni and truffle course literally showed up in my dreams that night.) 

Lengua Taco at Mexican Grocery

New-ish chef and partner Dave Valencia has quietly reinvented the menu at one of Pike Place Market’s most enduring occupants. He’s slowly transitioning the space into more of a restaurant (he’s already brought the grand total of seats up to…six) and now punches out tortillas to order from his supply of fresh masa. The cubes of lengua get an assist from a very hot grill and excellent salsa verde. Shoutout to the papas taco, filled with the equivalent of tiny, crispy hashbrowns. 

Barracuda on Uni Rice at Taneda

My best barracuda experience to date happened in close proximity to vape pens and tight fades inside Broadway Alley. The initial charm of Hideaki Taneda’s sushi and kaiseki restaurant lies in its unexpected location, but the rest is fully his skill with raw fish and ornate seasonal dishes. The best dishes happen when he strays from tradition, like his lightly torched snippet of barracuda atop rice so savory with uni that the chef, rightly, likened it to risotto. 

Mochi Doughnuts at Dochi

Yes, I totally stood in line outside in the rain, next to speakers that blasted Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” to entertain occupants of the queue, most of whom probably weren’t born when this dope jam graced the nation’s discmans (discmen?) in the mid ‘90s. Worth it, though, to procure these chewy pop-bead rings of fried mochi, a rare instance when food built for Instagram is also culinarily legit. Chewy and glutinous, their trip to the fryer adds depth to the supersweet drizzled toppings.

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