Seattle’s International Breakfasts

For the adventurous Seattle diner, breakfast makes for some worthwhile destinations.

Picky eaters have it easy. They don’t have to worry about spoiling their evening torta appetite with a lunchtime order of mantoo, or waste time wondering whether it makes sense to have squid-ball soup for lunch and omakase sushi for dinner. They’re not periodically crushed by the realization that there are simply too many kinds of food in Seattle to try while simultaneously holding down a full-time job.

But for promiscuous eaters who can envision no fiercer hell than a daily ham sandwich, there’s hope. It’s called breakfast.

Breakfast is the great untapped resource of most eating schedules. Two-thirds of Americans skip the meal completely, perhaps because the prevailing options are so lackluster: The most popular morning items in the U.S. are cold cereal and eggs, which might be scrambled on a home stove top, tucked into a microwaveable taquito, or plopped atop a Starbucks English muffin. It’s a wonder the majority of breakfasters don’t go back to bed.

Yet at a range of local restaurants, many specializing in cuisines that a goodly number of food explorers don’t consider until later in the day, breakfast is a far more compelling proposition. Here’s a brief introduction to three restaurants serving global meals that should provoke even the most breakfast-adverse to rethink their morning habits—and give adventurous diners fresh reason to believe they really can eat it all.

Cafe Turko

Istanbul Imports owners Sureyya and Gencer Gokeri last year reinvented their 20-year-old Fremont rug shop as a Turkish cafe, although it takes a moment for the transition to register with first-time guests: The wooden tables and mismatched chairs that function as a dining area bleed into the back half of the room, crowded with displays of clothing, jewelry, plates, and books for sale. But Gencer says the gift shop is shrinking.

“I added eight tables in the last two months,” says Gencer, who admits he was initially reluctant to install a starter pastry case for his wife. But Sureyya—a PCC cooking instructor from Gaziantep, Turkey, the purported birthplace of baklava—had a hunch cookies would sell better than luxury rugs.

“The rugs made me lose my hair and my health and everything,” Gencer says. “I had a million-dollar inventory, but when it doesn’t sell, it’s nothing.”

So Sureyya began to make sweets and stuffed flatbreads and dishes that daunt Turkish home cooks, such as çiğ köfte, painstakingly kneaded balls of tabbouleh and spices. After a recent weekend çiğ köfte production session, “her arms hurt all day long,” her husband recalls.

She also baked gorgeous böreks, flaky spinach-and-feta pies spattered with black sesame seeds. The iconic dish has a Greek analogue, but the Gokeris claim that spices unique to their homeland account for the Turkish version’s superiority. “If you look it up in Google, you’ll see the colors of God,” Gencer says of Istanbul’s spice market. “Ours is not only black pepper and salt.”

But the first dish on Cafe Turko’s ever-changing menu is the Mother-in-Law’s breakfast, a palette of Mediterranean staples, including a quartered hard-boiled egg; green and black olives; a splotch of sour yogurt, thick and white as shaving cream, garnished with garnet-red pomegranate seeds; cherry preserves; and, two by two, slices of tomato, cucumber, feta, and halal salami. It’s served with pita bread and hot tea.

“My mother believes breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Gencer says, explaining the name his wife gave to the platter. “So when she comes, we have to get up half an hour earlier so we can sit down together.”

Gencer’s mother is planning another trip from Izmir this May. This time she’ll find the meal she wants on a menu.

A & B Cafe

Breakfast is so stripped down at the International District’s A & B that a visiting Spartan might wish for more frills. The cash-only Hong Kong–style cafe, which used to go by the name J & L Cafe, serves hot milk tea, French toast, and fried eggs on white bread. When I first walked into the restaurant, the only other patron was a Chinese man chewing on a breakfast sandwich and contemplating a plastic canister of various pills. But the big morning draw is a pair of combination plates labeled BEST VALUE on the English menu, which is significantly shorter than the menu printed in Chinese.

For $3.95, patrons have their pick of “Western-style breakfast” (ham, sausage, or spam; two eggs; and a hot drink) or “Chinese-style breakfast,” a broad bowl of congee and a side of steamed rice noodles filled with dried shrimp. I went with the latter, shelling out another $1.60 for a pile of split Chinese doughnuts.

A & B’s breakfast would have been a steal at twice the price. The minced-beef congee was slightly soupy but sufficiently tacky to cling to the spoon (or a freshly fried, golden-skinned doughnut). Garnished with whole peanuts and diced scallions, the porridge was warm and mild, in the manner of the world’s best one-pot breakfasts.

Still, the standout was the was the set of floppy rice rolls, elastic as Silly Putty and glutinous as stamp gum. The tubular rolls were light, smooth, and porcelain-white until I splashed them with hoisin sauce, stacking sweetness atop the dried shrimp’s brine. As I was customizing my Chinese-style breakfast, two non-English speakers sat down at an adjacent table to order the same. One of the women motioned at my meal and flashed a thumbs-up. Without hesitation, I returned the gesture.

Sushi Kappo Tamura

Ritzy restaurants are often rougher during brunch, when staffers and patrons worn out by the night before are in the mood for loud music and strong coffee. Yet the lauded elegance of Sushi Kappo Tamura is kept intact on weekend mornings, when the restaurant serves a small selection of bespoke bento boxes and platters showcasing pristine seafood.

Owners Taichi Kitamura and Steve Tamura last November launched the breakfast service, offering broiled salmon, noodles, and nigiri sets at slightly discounted prices. My tray was crisscrossed by masterfully cut tuna, a British Columbia scallop, and local sockeye salmon that, nestled into gently seasoned white rice, made for a welcome revamp of the traditional Sunday-morning lox and bagel. The superlative sushi was accompanied by a tangle of tar-black hijiki and roasted squash, a cup of full-bodied green tea, and a soybean-and-octopus salad that tasted surprisingly like the porky beans beloved in Britain, another fish-for-breakfast culture.

Brunch is usually a lazy man’s meal, but it’s impossible to slouch in the face of Kappo Tamura’s high-def flavors. A breakfast here focuses attentions on the week ahead—and the eating opportunities it holds. E

hraskin@seattleweekly.com

Cafe Turko 754 N. 34th St., 284-9954, cafe-turko.com. 9 a.m.–8 p.m. daily.

A&B Cafe 670 S. Weller St., 625-0408. 7:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 7:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.–Sat.

Sushi Kappo Tamura 2968 Eastlake Ave. E., 547-0937, sushikappotamura.com. 5–9:30 p.m. Mon.–Thurs.; 5–10 p.m. Fri. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. & 5–10 p.m. Sat. 11 a.m.–2 p.m. & 5–9 p.m. Sun.

 
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