The scene: Opposite sides of Fourth Avenue, 2500 block. The Sidney on the east, the Centennial on the west. Not a battlefield; far from it. Two camps: one is setting up shop, the other welcoming a new senior officer.
The newcomer is Fish Cake Factory, previewed here on Cornichon two months ago. Jo and Arnon Kaseter have opened their Thai restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Zeitoon. The chef is a cousin of Arnon's, Vimonsri Wongjaraen, formerly of Bai Tong. Salmon croquettes, Phad Thai, assorted curries and spring rolls are fairly standard, but a couple of items on the menu will attract adventurous eaters, including ginger-steamed fish, trout salad, and, above all, Tod Mun Pla.
The Tod Mun cakes are made with a product called ladyfish paste, blended with red chili paste and kaffir lime, with some sliced beans thrown in for crunch. What is ladyfish, you ask? It's also known as Poor Man's Tarpon and Spanish Hogfish (no help at all there), a sleek but bony, 20-pound animal that swims in warm, shallow tropical waters. It's harvested off the coast of Florida and in many parts of Asia. You won't find ladyfish in most fish markets, though, because it's too bony (for human consumption, anyway) unless it's ground up and made into paste.
And if you think that it's gross to eat ground fish, a reminder: the exquisitely elegant French delicacy known as quenelles de brochet, a fluffy mousse of white fish, is also made of fish paste, brochet being the truly ugly pike-perch. The Tod Mun version is chewier, denser and spicier than a French quenelle, but no less tasty. At $11.95, it's a shareable lunchtime platter. Or you can sample the whole range of fish cakes for $16.95.
Across the way, Mark and Katie Stern, owners of Big Picture movie theaters in Belltown and Bellevue, also own Henry & Oscar's, a spot that channels the memory of supper clubs like Toots Schor's in New York and the Pump Room in Chicago. They've had staple, standby comfort food like meatloaf and beef stroganoff on the menu from the beginning, but that wasn't quite enough.
Says Stern: "We're looking for the next level, from good to great. We want the guest to say, 'Wow!'"
On hand as of Tuesday is a new executive chef, Phil Collins, a 35-year-kitchen veteran, most recently chef de cuisine for Artisanal in New York. Collins was born in Carlisle, England, and grew up in San Diego, where his parents owned a charcuterie. Before heading to Manhattan, Collins worked briefly at ViaVita in Bellevue. (Artisanal also had a very high-profile restaurant at the Bravern in Bellevue, but it lasted less than a year.) Collins promises local, seasonal and sustainable dishes. "Seattle diners want to know where their food comes from."
Kurt Schmidt, who had stepped into the lead spot when H&O's original exec chef Mark Wadhwani departed this summer, will stay on as executive sous-chef.
Note: these posts previously appeared on Eater.com