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SEA: Shi'an Restaurant

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jenn Nov 1, 2007 11:47 AM

Months back as we prepared to move to Seattle, some one on this list recommended this restaurant. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/408539

Well, once we got to Seattle, both pups were homesick for our traditional weekend Chinese hit so on our first Sunday in Seattle we went to try Shi'an. On Monday we went back. Both times the food was very good. For the curious, you can't even find a food with Shaanxi [sp?] food in LA so we are especially pleased with this place.

Restaurant is called Shi'an, address is 12534 Lake City Way NE, just past 125 NE. I have no idea why they have chosen the what is to me, curious way to spell Xi'an as opposed to the standard pinyin.

Whatever you do, Disregard the stupid signage on the outside that refers to Mt Baker Café or the Chinese American food or american breakfasts. They really need to change the sign---I imagine a lot of people are running away thinking that the place is serving 50's style chinese food. Oh and disregard that when you walk in, it looks like an old 50s coffee shop that serves ice cream and burgers. It really is a chinese restaurant with chopsticks and pots of tea and everything.

The menu is divided into scary american food followed by Chinese food including appetizer things, xi'an speciallities, noodles, dumplings and more "regular" chinese dishes---soups, etc. Note if you are into fish, this is not fish oriented chinese food. The owner of the restaurant is originally from Xi'an. To my mind and tastebuds, the Xi'an food they serve tastes pretty much the same as what we had in Xi'an.

If you like lamb, one of the best things to order is the soup. I can't remember the name of it but it is listed under specialities and it comes in two sizes. This is essence of lamb soup---very lamb tasting with cut-up noodles that I think are mung bean as opposed to rice or wheat. It is also participatory. If you order the soup, you will be handed two flat round bread things. These are to be torn up into little [dime size at most] pieces. When you do that, they will take the bowl of torn bread away and eventually bring your soup. Traditionally this soup is made with stale bread but I suppose US health codes get in the way of having the kitchen staff tear up the leftover bread each night. So you get to tear your own. When the bread is returned to you, its mixed with broth, noodles, and hunks of lamb. You also get pickled garlic, sesame oil, what looks/tastes like kimchee and more lamb stock. Each person takes some soup and then mixes all this stuff to taste. The little bread bits end up being like dumplings. Very very tasty stuff.

The little bread rounds also appear in these sandwich things. They have a version with pork which is very good. They also have a lamb with cumin which is very very good. Each of those costs about $4.95 and they make a great lunch. Usually, we get one or two and share. This last time, in a fit of greed, we ordered 4. 1 1/2 went home for the next school lunch.

They have two types of boiled dumplings--10 to an order. We have tried both and liked the pork and chive the best. We tried the pork and shrimp on the first trip and were not as excited. They have pot sticker style dumplings as well but we haven't tried those. Family favorite leans towards how they do dumplings in Beijing which is mostly boiled. The menu also has steamed buns but the bun expert in the house, aka younger pup, has just not been in the mood to try them. Perhaps next time.

They have a lot of noodle dishes and can do hand pulled noodles on all of them. I think right now they are not getting enough people ordering the noodles so they are keeping the dough cold which makes them hard to pull. The best noodle place we used to go to in LA kept their noodle dough out of the fridge and ready to pull on a momments notice but then they sold more noodles. Shi'an restaurant seems to be keeping the dough in the fridge so it comes out cold and is difficult to pull. The guy pulling seemed a bit embarassed the first time because the dough was uncooperative but the noodles tasted fine. The noodle puller does it right in front which the kids always like. I suspect my son is secretly hoping that if we go often enough and he watchs diligently enough he will a) learn how to pull noodles and b) convince the noodle making guy to give him lessons. Can't argue--it worked for him in LA [we used to go to Malan for the curious.....

]

We have only tried a couple of noodle dishes but they were very good. They have zhajiang mien and dan dan mien. The dandan is listed under soupy noodles, the zhajiang under dry. Both are very very flavorful and tasty.

Veggie wise, we keep hitting the same green beans. I have to say, they do awesome green beans--the spicy kind with garlic and slightly wrinkled skin. I'm not sure if there is meat in the black beans [our fav hunan place in LA [Dong Ting Spring] seemed to put a bit of chopped ham in the beans] but they are very very good and are also fine left overs if by unusual circumstance, you don't finish them. Other veggies look fine as well---I think we ordered bok choy the first time and it was also very good.

We have only tried two dishes from the regular Chinese menu. We have ordered the twice cooked pork. I think this is generally a hunan dish involving bacon and it is a favorite in our house. It comes with baconny meat and cabbage and a redish oily sauce. If you don't like fatty meat, you won't like this but I thought it was very well prepared. The spicy level was very good for our family but if you aren't used to such things you may think it very spicy so be sure to order rice to go with it. We have also ordered the pork stir fried with cucumber and that was also very good.

Service is good but some might think it slow because everything is made to order. We are thinking that next time, we might call in our order ahead since there are certain things we know we will order every time we go.

They take credit cards and there has always been ample street parking is out front. Whenever we have been there, its been too darned empty so I feel obligated to spread the word and, since the food is so good, the joy.

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    tbilisi RE: jenn Nov 2, 2007 02:55 PM

    Jenn,
    What a great write-up. I can just picture the tear your own bread routine and the noodle-pulling exercise, and you know your regional Chinese cooking. Keep the comments coming!

    1 Reply
    1. re: tbilisi
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      jenn RE: tbilisi Jan 17, 2008 03:40 PM

      but have you eatten there yet????????????????

    2. n
      NickZ RE: jenn Jan 18, 2008 01:08 PM

      Went here last night. Worth a visit for the ambiance alone - cheesy American diner decor with a few pieces of Chinese flair. Where else in Seattle can you have a Chinese meal on a stool at a lunch counter? I'm sure some would be turned off by this, but it gets points in my book. If you are into funky, slip on your skin tight jeans and Chuck Taylors and get down there now.

      As for the food - it was good. I traveled through Shaanxi/Northwest China a few times and found the food to be...ummm...a little "rough." This ain't no Imperial cuisine, but rather hearty, peasant food. On that note, the dumplings in hot and sour soup were good, as was the noodle dish we had (sorry - can't remember the name). It has pine nuts in it - don't remember this in Shaanxi, but maybe I just missed it. The noodles were pull noodles - thick and chewy. The Cumin Beef was way over-cumined. I think this place should start doing lamb and beef kabobs with the cumin stuff over a grill like they do in street stalls - that stuff rocks and would bring me back again and again.

      Very nice people that worked there. If I lived in Lake City it would be on my regular rotation. I wouldn't say this place will knock your socks off, but it will give you a taste of some things that you just can't get elsewhere.

      6 Replies
      1. re: NickZ
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        jenn RE: NickZ Jan 18, 2008 03:19 PM

        "As for the food - it was good. I traveled through Shaanxi/Northwest China a few times and found the food to be...ummm...a little "rough." This ain't no Imperial cuisine, but rather hearty, peasant food."

        but thats whats great about it---its different from the American stereotype of what constitutes chinese food. Its also ideal for this type of climate, at least at this time of the year. And one more thing, Seattlites---in Shi'an, you have a type of Chinese food that you can't find in LA/San Gabriel--Chinese food mecca of the western world. Really. No Shaanxi food in LA and very very limited Chinese Islamic [I think they are down to one place]. So go, try, enjoy, appreciate.......

        NickZ, I have no idea what you mean by "over cumin'd"---is there such a thing??? All the cumin lamb/beef I have ever had exploded with huge quanitites of cumin and I've come to accept thats really the way its supposed to be. Next time, try the lamb in the little bread things---very very tasty and good the next day as well. The last time, we ordered too many and took the leftovers home to pack for the pups' lunches. Those were some darned happy pups. Also, you might try suggesting some additions to the menu. They seemed pretty open to ideas whenever we have been there.

        1. re: jenn
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          equinoise RE: jenn Apr 20, 2008 11:49 PM

          Inspired by jenn's write-up, I visited Shi'an today after buying something on craigslist in the area. Really enjoyed the rough, rustic flavors. We had the pork and chive dumplings and the "middle" lamb stew (the dish with self-tear bread). The homemade quality of the plump dumplings was endearing and the filling was quality. The stew broth was complex, rich and animal...the lamb quite tender. I really enjoyed the accompaniments to the stew which are described above. The staff gave me a demo on how to bite the skin off the sweet garlic and cautioned me against overdoing the chili in the broth and overriding its purity. Very sweet of them.

          Unfortunately, never been to china, but the food vaguely reminded me of the very unique cuisine available at this uighur place i went to once in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. The uighurs live in a semi-autonomous region west of shaanxi along the historic silk road.

          Shi'an Restaurant is so unique...I really hope that they are appreciated enough to do well in their delightful, kitschy diner digs. I'm returning for the noodles and the "shi'an humbow". The staff was stoked on their being named to the "top restaurants" in Seattle magazine.

          1. re: equinoise
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            jenn RE: equinoise Apr 22, 2008 02:06 PM

            You are too kind but mostly, I'm very glad you liked it. Hmm, if you had only gone on Saturday, we would have nearly met! We just got back from China a couple of weeks ago and the whole family felt in need of a visit on Saturday.

            I am a bit familiar with Uighur food---there's a great muslim restaurant in Beijing that we've been to several times---I was led to believe it was a Uighur restaurant and not just a muslim place. Haven't really seen any Uighur places here or in LA though LA used to have several Muslim Chinese places.

            For future visits, the grilled lamb with cumin on the same small round breads is awesome and the dan dan mien with hand pulled noodles is also very very good. Also the brocelli with garlic is perfectly cooked and has tons [a plus in our family] of garlic.

            We were very excited about the inclusion of the place in the Seattle's best review. The people are so very nice--we can't help but want them to suceed.

            Not to mention whatever would we do for lamb soup and dumplings if they were to go away?

            1. re: jenn
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              equinoise RE: jenn Apr 23, 2008 08:39 AM

              I too hope they never go away. But, other options for good dumplings include Szechuan Noodle Bowl (but don't get the dan dan there--very emasculated), and I've heard that Mike's Noodle House makes excellent won ton.

              Uighur is a rare bird in the U.S. as I understand it, only maybe a few places in NYC. The one I went to in Brooklyn was called Cafe Kashkar. Great salads, noodles, and small kebabs. Sounds like it may be similar to xinjiang cuisine, but you can detect a Korean influence too.

              1. re: equinoise
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                jenn RE: equinoise Apr 24, 2008 10:33 AM

                mikes does make very excellent wontons but wonton [hontons?] are not the same as the more northern style dumplings at shi'an. if your Szechuan Noodle bowl makes northern dumplings [thick skin, almost chewy & filling with more texture] we will have to give them a test run. Where are they located?

                1. re: jenn
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                  equinoise RE: jenn Apr 24, 2008 11:03 AM

                  Jenn- The dumplings I had at Szechuan Noodle Bowl are quite similar to those we had at Shi'an. My understanding from other post is that they are northern style. see http://www.chowhound.com/topics/43239...

                  SNB is at 420 8th Ave. in the ID, right next to Green Leaf, which is superb vietnamese if you haven't tried it yet.

      2. e
        evilbusdriver RE: jenn May 20, 2008 06:21 PM

        I want to bump this back up because if ever a pretty darn good restaurant needed patronage it's this one. I've been a couple times and the Xi'an specialties are really good. They serve up dishes that I don't think can be had anywhere else in Seattle. but the place has been so empty that I've a feeling they'll be gone before too long which is a shame. In fact the only person who came into the place ordered chicken strips! Good grief.

        The lamb w/cumin sandwich alone is worth a trip.

        1. s
          sambamaster RE: jenn May 21, 2008 06:15 AM

          this place sounds wonderful. Do they, by chance, serve Biang Biang Mian, an amazing noodle dish? Just had Xi'an food at a food stall in Flushing, Queens NY...also had a great cold noodle dish which was a standout, had some interesting dough cubes which helped soak up the sauce. Also, those little lamb or pork burgers, like bing, were only about $2.50. Wonder why they are so much cheaper in NYC?
          I might have to drive up from Portland to try this place....
          So, by all means, yall up there need to patronize it as much as possible... or be condemned to a steady diet of Gen. What's HIs Name's Chicken...

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            HungWeiLo RE: jenn May 21, 2008 09:02 AM

            I've been there for the last two Fridays (and a...few Fridays before then). We actually ran into a group of friends on each occasion. We ordered so much food (and actually did finish most of it) that the waitress questioned whether we needed that much food.

            After Shi'an got onto Seattle magazine's best restaurants list, it's always amusing to sit by the window, watch the people who are dressed for a Friday night date come by, then turn around even before entering the restaurant because of the questionable decor of the place. I guess they'd be happier at the Macaroni Grill.

            1. p
              Patti Isaacs RE: jenn Jun 4, 2008 10:32 PM

              The lamb soup you are referring to is "Yang rou po mo" and has been a Xi'an specialty for many years. I first tasted it when I lived in Xi'an in the early 1980s (restaurants were rare in those days.) I returned to Xi'an in late 2005 and was delighted to discover that Yang Ro Po Mo is a celebrated local specialty now available in many restaurants. It is traditional to tear the bread yourself--it's a good excuse to make conversation with your tablemates. The noodles are "cellophane" bean thread noodles.

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