There were always two elderly people sleeping in the corner of my favorite restaurant, their heads nodding to the side on a raggedy couch, as much a fixture as the tables and chairs we ate at. Their presence, though, was no quirkier than the restaurant's name: Jack's Tapas Café, Mainly Chinese. Curious to some, off-putting to others, it was a cultural mish-mash that did little to describe the expertly-prepared regional Chinese cuisine hidden within.
Dishes that weren't yet known in Seattle popped up: addictive hand-shaved noodles, mind-blowing pickled cabbage and lamb, and large, round breads, whose sesame crust hid a multitude of soft, pillowy layers. The bread, if taken to-go, came in a pizza box, making you feel smugly as if you were in possession of the best pizza ever. This wasn't the cheap General Tso's-style Chinese food that peppered the rest of the Ave, offering $3.99 takeout lunches; this was something better. The service wasn't the same either.
The hostess would call me by my first name, as she did every returning customer. She learned it when I left my credit card at the restaurant my second time there, and never forgot it. Later I would come with friends, who were, separately, also regulars. She seemed confused to see all of us together, as she greeted each one of us by name. We all ordered the same things, though, starting with the hand-shaved noodles, whose texture was the dictionary definition of al dente, contrasted with brilliantly flavored, lightly crunchy vegetables and bathed in a light but savory sauce.
Then, with little warning, it was gone. We had time for one last dinner, a huge group of us, a last hurrah, and the restaurant closed. The hostess told us to check the website: maybe they'd reopen. I checked for a long time, and then the domain finally expired. All hope was gone--until a restaurant further south on the Ave boasted of having chef Jack Tai in the kitchen.
Making a beeline to Chopsticks, sure enough, there was Jack, outside, smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk. I went in and ordered a few dishes off the paper menu. The three or four tables were filled with college students eating out of takeout boxes, so we took it home to try. It was good ma po tofu, even great pancake with eggs, all of it perfectly fine. What it wasn't, though, disappointingly, was Jack's.