Dish: Singapore Noodles
Place: Bako, Capitol Hill
On the plate: Per the menu: "Wild prawns, honey roasted (char siu) pork, bean sprouts, curry, rice noodles." Note that the dish also includes red bell peppers, carrots, and egg, with corner garnishes of carrot and green onion, as well as pieces of cilantro (which you might want to steer into the noodles).
Supporting cast/What to do: If you want to spike the spice level, ask for some chili sauce, which will come plated with one of the cutest little spoons you'll ever see.Noodling around: In last week's episode of Top Chef, Beverly Kim made it back to the competition, and then advanced to the finals with her Gulf shrimp and BBQ pork over curried Singapore Noodles. (You can see her recipe here.) Perhaps influenced by her success (and certainly surprised and impressed by her courage, as last-minute cooking in a wok has its risks), I was eager to try Bako's Singapore noodles the day after viewing Bev's version.
Like many Asian dishes found in America, Singapore noodles don't originate from the East. They're a Western creation that you won't likely find in Singapore.
Made with rice vermicelli noodles, Bako uses a "Vietnamese version of Madras curry" with good spice level--resulting in a dish considerably stronger than most of the rest of the food served in the restaurant. The shrimp had good snap to them, the char siu contributed some welcomed fattiness, and the cilantro offered its fresh flavoring.
Bako has one other noodle dish on the menu: ginger-scallion noodles ($8). As the name indicates, these noodles (egg-based) come with green onions and ginger, along with aged soy sauce. If you're looking for protein, you can add shrimp ($6) or chicken ($8).
If you want more: Gua bao ("Chinese burgers," typically made with braised pork belly) are the rage in restaurants these days, and you might feel tempted to pick up a couple of Bako's nod to these: man tou buns with char siu pork, pickled daikon, and cilantro ($9, or $5 during happy hour). Seeking greater contrast with Singapore noodles, I recommend a little cherry tomato and ginger salad with mâche and citrus soy ($3 during happy hour, with an option to add salt and pepper prawns for $3 more) as a counterpoint.
Be aware/beware: Bako is one of many new, upscale, wining-and-dining destinations in Capitol Hill, with prices predictably higher than you'll find in most other Chinese restaurants. Many come for the cocktails, with the bar counter a friendly place if you're flying solo. Be attentive to your needs and desires. Service can be a little slack, so give explicit instructions if you have special needs or special requests for the sequence and timing of your dishes.