The Truck: Gourmet Dog Japon, Second Avenue and Pike Street.
The Fare: Novelty Hot Dog.
The Stop: After waiting a few minutes behind several Japanese tourist customers, I asked Nikaido, the proprietor of Gourmet Dog Japon, whether the bulk of his clients tended to be tourists. "No, American!" he exclaimed gregariously. But, I suppose, Gourmet Dog Japon is the type of establishment in which everyone is a tourist, embarking upon a novelty blend of Americana dogs and Japanese flavors. Nikaido has been at this location downtown for almost two years every day of the week--10 a.m. to 10 p.m.--with a stand inside Pike Place Market for even longer.
Gourmet Dog Japon, with anatomical visual displays as a menu, offers around 15 different options for your dog, many of which are combinations of traditional Japanese garnishes. The Matsuri--labeled as "Popularity No. 1"--holds a sausage with nori (shredded seaweed), teriyaki glazed onion, and green onions on top. The Kabuki is adorned with bonito flakes, red ginger, and cabbage. (In his Sexy Feast column, Jay Friedman described the Kabuki as "sweet, salty, acidic, and fishy [...] boosted by the umami of bonito, it reminded me of the takoyaki [fried octopus dumplings] my partner and I like to cook at home.")
Some selections seemed to lean on the novelty at the expense of taste: The Yakisoba dog, with noodles piled on top of the dog, just seemed technically difficult to eat and was reported to me as bland; the Pizza hot dog, with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, seemed frankly unnecessary. A Chili Maru Cheese + Bacon (diced) option, garnished with green onions, was perceptibly the most gluttonous of the options. They also offer the "Seattle Hot Dog," which is of course the cream-cheese-and-grilled-onions option available at every other Seattle hot dog stand everywhere. All the selections can be modified with different sausages: a smoked Louisiana hot link, a Kielbasa, or a Tofurky dog.
We chose the Samurai--chicken-apple sausage on the bottom, with green onions, oroshi (radish), and wasabi mayo on top--and the "Limitted" Sukiyaki Beef, which promised a pile of marinated beef and onions atop the dog. Both were $4.99.
Jordan Nicholson The Samurai Jordan Nicholson The Beef Sukiyaki
The Sukiyaki Beef was a bit of a let-down: While pretty in its presentation, the promised pile of grilled onions and beef were not to be found. While the beef was well-seasoned, it acted more as a light topping--flecks--to the dog than anything. The Samurai's toppings were fresh--and I particularly liked my one bite with soy in the oroshi, which activates its flavor--but the boldness of the chicken-apple with the light tang of the toppings tasted discordant to me. What was exceptional on both dogs was the wasabi mayo--creamy but not heavy, with the perfect amount of wasabi bite--to the point that if I return, I may just get the plain dog with extra mayo.
Perhaps the plethora of options detracts from the ultimate quality of each. These are pricier dogs than most: Most options are in the $4-5 range, and substituting a tofurky dog costs $5.45, which means vegetarians lose. What the stand does offer as an intriguing substitute is the "Cup Dog," which is simply the sausage in a plastic cup with the choice of garnishes and a toothpick. For $1.82, it is the way to sample and take part in the Gourmet Dog Japon experience without committing to the bun.
You'll also note that in lieu of tips, you can toss your extra change--or more--into a jar dedicated to the Japanese Red Cross' ongoing relief efforts for victims of the tsunami. That warrants a visit for a couple of Cup Dogs, I'd say.