I first visited Mike's Noodle House in the company of the rare Seattleite who was newer to town than me, a young woman who'd tracked me down through an alumni association. We'd never before met, but we shared an alma mater. Or a summer camp. Or something.
While I don't remember anything about the person who sat across from me at Mike's, I clearly recall the congee, a superior rendition of bubbling hot rice porridge. (No offense meant to the lady: It was conversation-cancelling congee.)
Mike's offers a range of fixings for its congee - the menu lists congee with rock cod, congee with tongue and congee with liver, among dozens of other options - but the promise of smoke and salt beckoned me toward a congee with dried oysters and pork.
In an era of tyrannical chefs who don't hesitate to withhold salt or coach customers on how bites should be combined, congee is a joy. It's meant to be personalized with hot sauce and soy sauce and whatever else a diner feels fit to throw in the bowl. What leaves the kitchen is merely a rough draft.
But congee has to stand up to customization. It must be creamy and thick, and - trust me on this oxymoron - not so aggressively bland that every garnishing splash and stir feels wasted. Mike's congee, lulling and warm, is perfectly on target. Best as I can recollect, my lunch companion thought so too.