Versus: Talkin' Teriyaki

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Okinawa's spicy chicken teriyaki
As Seely pointed out last week, Kauffman and his awesome, sprawling piece on teriyaki got a nod from John T. Edge in The New York Times. There was a lot of chatter and debate among food types in the days after--which piece was better, why does teriyaki have to be known as Seattle's signature dish, which places serve up the best in town, etc. Well, all that talk of teriyaki can gave a girl a serious craving.

This week, Versus is all teriyaki. I went straight to the source--Kauffman's original article--for inspiration: "The two shops I will seek out again? The one around the corner from my office, and the one just down the street from my house." And so, Downtown's Okinawa Teriyaki faces off against Capitol Hill's Teriyaki Madness in a spicy chicken teriyaki battle.

Okinawa's (1022 Alaskan Way, 447-2748) spicy chicken teriyaki glistens with that unmistakable, sugary teriyaki glaze. And while the sauce is very sweet, it's certainly more complex than that of the average teriyaki joint, with some noticeable ginger flavor. The sweetness is also kept in check by a hefty spoonful of sambal oelek, which adds a nice garlicky heat that builds up with each bite. The chicken is moist and tender cubes of thigh meat (though a few pieces are perhaps disturbingly too tender, an unfortunate and seemingly unavoidable scenario in teriyaki shops all over the city) with some nice char marks from the grill and a light smoky flavor. It's served with a perfectly proportionate amount of rice, molded sweetly into the shape of a tiny football, along with a refreshing salad of iceberg lettuce and carrot strips coated in that distinct, creamy, sweet and vaguely spicy teriyaki shop dressing.

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Spicy chicken teriyaki at Teriyaki Madness
When your plastic (formerly styrofoam) box of spicy chicken teriyaki at Teriyaki Madness (127 15th Ave E, 328-0144) is handed over to you, brace yourself. If unprepared, the weight of the thing may snap your wrist. Teriyaki Madness is not fooling around when it comes to portions, and it seems like nearly two pounds of chicken and rice are served up in each order. Madness serves up a mix of thinly sliced breast meat mixed with dark thigh meat, all juicy and all bearing delightfully blackened, char-grilled edges and tips. Miraculously, you could call this teriyaki sauce a few other things before you even got to sweet: garlicky (it's studded throughout with plenty of chopped garlic), gingery, peppery, rich with soy. Instead of the iceberg salad, Madness serves their teriyaki with a side of vinegary (and decidedly sweet) cucumber salad.

Verdict: Okinawa's teriyaki is classic, and this is its greatest strength. You're not likely to ever be disappointed by this food, but you'll always be full and satisfied, which is the whole point. Teriyaki Madness is serving up some pretty straightforward food as well, but when put side-by-side against Okinawa, Madness's complex teriyaki sauce seems almost revolutionary. Teryaki Madness for the win.

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