Seattle's Essential Dishes: The Specials at Maneki


The specials at Maneki:

Maneki's regular menu is a huge thing--a conclusive and nearly canonical reckoning of not just classical Japanese cuisine, but of a hundred year's worth of Japanese-American cookery as well. The restaurant itself, in one form or another, has been serving for more than a century. It is, in the very fact of its existence and every plate it serves, history personified. But what can truly make an evening here both memorable and unique to Seattle, the International District and this street alone, are the specials that Maneki posts every night.

Blue sprat brought in from Kyushu, salt mackerel in ponzu sauce, ankimo and bluefin tuna sashimi and whole fried fish, curled on the plate and still steaming from the eyes--each night, specials are posted on the walls at Maneki, spaced out here and there, tucked in amid the old photographs and decorations. They're hand-written on bright sheets of construction paper, written out first in Japanese and then some of the time (most of the time...) translated into English below.

The specials are themselves somewhat classic. Many of the sheets are kept in a box in the back of the restaurant, rotated on and off the walls depending on what the cooks can get their hands on that day, what's in the markets, what they feel like cooking. I've ordered things off the walls at Maneki that I've seen served nowhere else in the city. I've eaten things here that I know I'll be able to get nowhere else in the country.

The regular menu is an impressive tome, remarkable in its depth and breadth. But Maneki's specials always represent a more pure expression of what this place has been doing best for the past hundred years: serving Japanese food to a predominantly Japanese crowd made up of immigrants and families, businessmen slumping at the bar over their sticks of yakitori, and Asian-Americans looking for a taste of home.

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