Thursday, October 4, 2012

Restaurant Ramblings: U:Don (Seattle, Washington)

I was in Seattle for less than 24 hours this past weekend.  I had big plans for eating.  I was going to try to squeeze in as much food as I could.  I got to Seattle at about 4:30pm on a Sunday.  I was starving by then (having skipped lunch thinking I could double up in Seattle).  I was staying in the University district of Seattle, near the University of Washington campus.  I had originally planned a Japanese food binge (sushi) but in my research, I read about a new udon shop that had opened this year on "The Ave" near the university.  Since I was within walking distance, I decided to give it a try.  Bonus: they made all the udon noodles in-house! 

The small eatery is call U:Don (pronounced You-don).  I instantly loved the sign.  Who could resist a restaurant name with a happy face imodicon in it?  :D 
Inside, you'll find a very clean and contemporary space.  The noodles are served cafeteria-style and you are responsible for bussing your own table.  Just que up in like.  Look over the board for your choices.  Here's the Cliff Notes version for ordering:

1) Select your noodles: There are currently 8 choices on the menu and some come in hot or cold form.
   - Soup Udon: udon noodles served hot in an original dashi broth with sliced green onions and grated fresh ginger (vegetarian broth also available) 
   - Sauce Udon: udon noodles served hot or chilled and lightly dressed with dashi-shoyu sauce, sliced green onions, fresh grated ginger & ten-kasu
   - Zaru Udon: udon noodles served chilled with a fragrant soy dipping sauce, sliced green onions, grated fresh ginger, ten-kasu and wasabi (upon request) to add to your dipping sauce
   - On-tama Udon: udon noodles served hot or chilled and lightly dressed with dashi-shoyu sauce, an on-tama (hot spring egg), sliced green onion and grated fresh ginger
   - Oroshi Udon: udon noodles served hot or chilled with generous helpings of grated daikon radish, dashi-shoyu sauce, sliced green onions, grated fresh ginger and a lemon wedge for squeezing
   - Niku Udon: udon noodles served as soup or sauce noodles with sukiyaki braised beef, onions, sliced green onions and grated fresh ginger
   - Kitsune Udon: udon noodles served hot with extra thick fried and marinated tofu (atsu-age), sliced green onions and grated fresh ginger
   - Curry Udon: udon noodles served in a spicy Japanese curry dashi soup with beef, onions and sliced green onions

2) Select your bowl size: small, medium or large

3) Select your toppings and sides: Along the line, there are small plates.  Grab one and grab as many sides as you like (remember each is priced individually).  They'll add up quickly but you'll want to try one of everything.  Among your choices are fried tempura (I love that you can choose which ones you like) - they have shrimp, sweet potato, kabocha squash and other varieties.  They also have karage fried chicken (yum!) and onigiri rice balls.  They even have takoyaki (double yum!).  Don't forget to sprinkle some free tempura bits on your udon noodles while at the noodle counter.  

4) At the register you'll pay and be able to order drinks and/or dessert.  

Pretty simple eh?  For me, I ordered the medium on-tama udon that came with the egg.  I got mine with the hot soup and some fresh grated ginger.  I sprinkled some tempura bits in my soup and topped it off with a sprinkle of shichimi togarashi (available at the table).  I also couldn't resist one piece of karage fried chicken and a takoyaki skewer.  My dinner came to $10.   
This place totally reminded me of a udon noodle shop I visited while in Tokyo.  It's the same concept.  If you're looking for a flavorful bowl of noodles like pho, nabeyaki udon or ramen, you probably won't like or appreciate this type of udon.  This is the Sanuki-type of udon and is popular in the Kagawa prefecture of Japan.  It's more of a simple yet delicious bowl of noodles.  The noodles are served slightly al dente in a simple dashi broth.  I read an article during my research that the owner ships in ingredients from Japan.  That should speak to his love of a good bowl of noodles! 

The noodles at U:Don are handmade.  The owner ships a specific wheat flour over from Japan that he feels has the right protein and gluten content.  Handmaking udon noodles is a loving process.  It is proofed (or allowed to rise) at two different temperatures, once for 2-4 hours and again for 18 hours.  For me, the udon noodles were delicious.  It had just the right amount of chewiness to make it a slurpy delight!  Have I told you how much I love noodles???

The broth was also delicious.  It is pure and comforting.  Here, the owner imports anchovies and sardines from Japan to make the broth.  It's a process that takes 2 days to make.  

The on-tama egg (hot spring egg) is named because in Japan, eggs are sometimes cooked in the hot springs.  The hot springs are at a perfect temperature for cooking an egg.  When you crack the egg, it is not hard boiled but very softly boiled.  The whites should be completely cooked and the yolk heated through but still runny.

The karage was good but small pieces made me feel that I didn't get my money's worth.  The takoyaki however was delicious!  I haven't had takoyaki in a long time.  Takoyaki is a ball shaped snack made of a wheat flour batter, minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps and green onions.  They are cooked in a special takoyaki pan or mold.  It is then covered with a sauce (usually mayonnaise or teriyaki).  It is a popular street food in Japan and so yummy!  It was so good, I seriously debated whether to get some to go for a midnight snack.  I resisted...this time.

If you happen to be near the campus of University of Washington in Seattle, be sure to check this place out.  I emailed the owner when I got home to thank him for a great bowl of noodles and to beg shamelessly for U:Don to come to Portland.  I even pretty pleased him.  His response?  Yes, he did email back!  He's working on opening a second location in Seattle but thinks Portland maybe a great place for U:Don.  "We will be there in the near future, I promise!"  A promise is a promise and hopefully he is one that keeps his promises! :D

You're probably wondering, "Wow, I wonder if she ate all of that food?"  The answer is heck yeah!!  And I enjoyed every last bite of it.  I was so full but I didn't care.  It was a small price to pay to be transported to Japan (if only for a little while).  What are you waiting for?  Go get your noodles on!

4515 University Way NE,
Seattle, WA 98105
ph: (206) 453-3788