Macky's Is Back in Town

China Gate's proprietors resurface with dim sum in Issaquah.

Let's see . . . What I have for you?"I sat up straighter in my seat in the front dining room of Macky's Dim Sum and looked over the top of the stacked bamboo steamer baskets in the cart being manhandled by the smiling Chinese lady."Shu mai?""Yes.""Shrimp ball?""Yes.""Dumpling?""What kind of dumpling?""Very good dumpling.""OK, then. Yes.""Sticky rice?""Yes.""Hum bow? It's pork bun.""Um..." Thirty seconds in and my table was already getting full, spread with more food than any one reasonable person ought to eat for breakfast. I was so hungry, and the smell of it was driving me crazy."It's good..." the cart lady said, a wheedling tone in her voice. "I know because I already eat one off your plate.""Off my plate?"And she laughed—eyes crinkling and her face splitting in a huge grin. "No...I'm joking. The cook made me one. Extra one. Very, very good.""OK, then. But that's it.""No more?""No more.""For now," she said. I was already eating—transferring dumplings and buns and sweet, sticky rice with mushrooms and bits of unidentifiable meat to the woefully small plate set before me. And the waitress just grinned and said, "I'll be back."I wish all food was served dim sum style—tacos and burritos walked around taqueria dining rooms in baskets by smiling waitresses wearing tequila bottles in quick-draw holsters like gunfighters; duck a l'orange and bowls of cassoulet presented on rolling salvers in fine French dining rooms. I wish some enterprising young chef would do conveyor-belt tapas, or that some older chef—looking for a way to cash in on the all-things-retro trend and remembering not just the foods but the service styles of bygone eras—would open a nouveau automat-style cafeteria with hot cheeseburgers, fresh salads, steaming tamales, and cold charcuterie plates behind glass, each in their own little box with the tiny door you open to pull out whatever you want to eat.There's something about menus (all but the most poetic, anyway) that leaves me cold. They stand as a barrier between the kitchen and the hungry folks on the floor, putting the eater at one remove from the food he so desperately wants to consume. A menu is limiting, lacks surprises, looks too much like a rule book: You may eat this or this or this, but not anything else under the sun.But dim sum? The food is right there, and each time the server whips the top off another steamer basket, she's like a small magician, shouting Voila! and showing me one more amazing thing.One more amazing thing that I—a man who really just ought to have POOR IMPULSE CONTROL tattooed across his forehead as a come-on to every bartender, huckster, street-corner drug dealer, and dim sum waitress with something they want me to put in my mouth—will just have to eat. I have a legendarily bad track record at dim sum restaurants, a reputation for ordering, well, everything.The shrimp balls at Macky's were lovely—small, pink, and perfectly steamed, fresh from the kitchen to the carts. The pork buns were almost the size of baseballs, served three to an order, golden-brown, topped with a glaze of shining honey and stuffed with chopped, barbecued pork. The "very good dumplings" simply were. I still can't tell you what was in them.But the shu mai at Macky's were fat and round and made of pork with no shrimp, which I found a little strange. Missing that ethereal balance that the meat of the best crustacean can bring to the meat of God's favorite mammal, I found them lacking. And I wasn't the only one: Two tables ahead of me, a woman was asking Sonny Wong (the owner, along with his wife, Macky) about the shu mai."Pork only," he said to her. "Yes. But you like pork and shrimp dumplings? Next time, call me. I'll make them for you."It's a line I've heard a lot, from many different restaurateurs. But Sonny's a little different. He went to the counter, pulled a business card from the stack by the register, and gave it to the woman, insisting again that she just call him a half-hour before she planned to come in, and he'd have proper shrimp-and-pork shu mai waiting for her. "Or anything else you like," he insisted.Seriously, anything. During my hour-long breakfast, I watched Sonny do the same for other tables, offering a special duck preparation to one, off-menu Chinese vegetables to another. "Just call," he'd say. Ask and ye shall receive. "When are you planning to come back?" he'd add, as though a second meal was already a foregone conclusion.Macky and Sonny opened Macky's just a few months ago in this tucked-away pocket of Gilman Village in Issaquah—the place they fell back to after 20 years spent running Seattle's temple of dim sum and karaoke, China Gate, in the International District (which they sold in 2008 and which just closed, under the watch of the new owners, at the beginning of March).After China Gate, they ran the Vegetarian Bistro (also in the I.D., also now closed), and then partnered with Sonny's buddy Steve Katsandres, who owns Bad Albert's in Ballard, to open Macky's. Katsandres helped with the menu and the design of the dining room and kitchen, putting a slightly more American spin on the board and the wide-open, sunny room with its (faux) bamboo, hardwood floors, and seafoam walls.The food, however, is straight out of China Gate—uncompromising and in some cases strange. But also enduring, considering Sonny and Macky kept on one of their original cooks, a fellow by the name of Mr. Fook who's been with them for better than 15 years. When you see the split pineapples full of seafood, fruit, and fried rice being walked across the floor, or the pumpkins used as soup bowls, or the careful arrangements of fried prawns with candied cashews—that's Fook doing his thing. When the runners come jogging from the kitchen carrying plates of pale green spinach dumplings, sautéed pea vines with enoki mushrooms, or turnip cakes, or juggling stacks of steamer baskets full of God-knows-what to refresh the carts as they roll across the floor? That's Fook, too.During my second late breakfast at Macky's, I watched Sonny joke around with a table full of suburban moms, all drinking tea and eating dumplings. Fook was in front of the coolers behind the short counter at the center of the room, digging around for something, buried up to his shoulders."Whatever you want," Sonny was saying, "we can do. The cook?" He jerked his head in the direction of Fook, who suddenly stood, his arms full of supplies, stacked to his chin. "He can do anything."Right now, the dim sum menu at Macky's is short—maybe two dozen items all told, most of them variations on the dumpling or the bun. There are little mango custards, as bright and yellow as a crayon sun, for dessert, thin Chinese crepes, and one or two vegetable plates. There are chicken feet if you ask for them, and Shanghai-style soup dumplings, too, which when I ordered them came a bit gummy and thick and difficult to poke through with a chopstick to drain the broth into my pho spoon.The trade-off for the short menu, though, is that dim sum is served every day. Most popular on the weekends, it is nonetheless available whenever you might have a hankering for it, feeling the sudden urge for a basket of shrimp balls, some hum bao, and a plate of dumplings.What's more, Macky's also has a straight a la carte menu for lunch and dinner, filled with the aforementioned pumpkins full of seafood and curry, pineapple fried rice, sweet-and-sour this and General Tso's that. It's an odd menu that strikes an unusual balance between the kinds of plates you can find at any Chinese restaurant (beef with broccoli, lemon chicken, ma po tofu, plates of pot stickers) and those unique to Sonny, Macky, and Mr. Fook.The pork chop is listed as the "Chief Special," but I first heard about it from Sonny on my second time through the dining room, as I was gathering my things, back when I thought that Macky's did nothing but dim sum."You like ducks?" he asked. And though it seemed like a slightly odd way to make conversation, I allowed that yes, I did in fact like ducks quite a bit."We have roasted duck," he said "Whole duck. Half a duck. On the regular menu.""Regular menu?" I asked. "Like, a separate dinner menu?"And Sonny lit up. "Yes!" he said. "Look!" He darted off toward the counter and came hurrying back with a faded, two-sided photocopy of the dinner menu. There was fresh roasted BBQ duck with plum sauce, roasted whole duck, and a two-course Peking duck presentation with Chinese pancakes and hoisin sauce."We do pumpkin soup," he said, "in a pumpkin. And pork chops in a special coffee sauce. My chef's special sauce. You should try it when you come in again." Because, again, there was no question in Sonny's mind that I would be back.And he was right. My first time, for dim sum, the cart ladies had made three runs at my table before I finally had to insist that I couldn't eat another bite, no matter what they brought. The second time, the same. A day later, I was back for dinner, curious about the way the Wongs had arranged this menu, so heavy on specials and uncommon preparations in a neighborhood so far from the endemic oddness of the I.D.I ordered the coffee pork chops because Sonny had told me to. I ordered the duck for the same reason, then a plate of Szechuan crispy beef just because it sounded so good—a bit of heat to balance all the savory and sweet. I asked for Hong Kong–style chicken wings, fried with salt and pepper and garlic, and ate those and drank a steaming pot of green tea while I waited, listening to Sonny cajole his few dinner guests into coming back for Mother's Day, asking if they liked ducks, if their mothers liked dim sum.The duck, when it arrived, was awesome—crisp skin over fat over dark meat still moist and fragrant with duck's gamy perfume. Fook had gone after it with a cleaver, leaving it in rough chunks that, if reassembled, would almost make up half a real duck again.The plum sauce, however, I wasn't crazy for. It tasted of melted SweeTarts and 10 pounds of sugar—too sweet for the savory meat in front of me. But the duck I sucked clean off the shattered bits of bone, then turned to the crispy beef (served in a thick, dark, sweet sauce of ginger and garlic and topped with the rattling, dry pods of Szechuan chiles) and made that vanish like it was garnished with $100 bills.After that came the pork chops in coffee sauce—a strange mix of flavors with a high note of honey and a deep, dark base of espresso that I found overpowering and distracting. The sauce was clotty—thick and lumpy like scratch gravy—which might've been fine except that the coffee flavor was so strong that I couldn't stop thinking of drinking a steaming mug of chunky java while I was eating. I made it through half the plate before having the remainder boxed, pleading a surfeit of duck and chicken wings and eyes bigger than my stomach.Just a few months in, things are still coming together at Macky's. The room is there. The crowds are coming—finding it slowly, as I did, as a dim sum joint first and a regular Chinese restaurant second. The menu is still in flux, still trying to reach that ideal balance of authenticity, uniqueness, and ease without slipping over the edge into suburban American shopping-plaza banality. But considering Macky and Sonny's years in the business, I have no doubt that they'll find their proper groove on Gilman—somewhere between the chicken feet and the shu mai, the crispy beef and the coffee sauce.And with Sonny working the floor, handing out his phone number, always talking up his ducks, his pumpkins, and his cook, I know I won't be able to help but go back.jsheehan@seattleweekly.comPrice Check

  Dim sum  $2–$5

  BBQ roast duck  $13/$24

  Crispy beef  $12

  Coffee pork chop  $13

 
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