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Uwajimaya: first visit = last visit

Living in the NE end of Seattle, Uwajimaya is not on my usual shopping route. In fact, it's at least five, maybe 10 years since I've been there. But I needed some specialty items at PFI and thought I'd pass by on my way back. I just wanted a lunch snack and remembered having good pot stickers there years ago at the take out counter.

Well, for me the Food Court was totally new. That should have been a warning sign. But I still went to the Uwajimaya counter in the court. Pot stickers and bbq pork buns, what could be simpler? My mistake. The only taste was filler, not meat or seasoning, and even the filler was nondescript. The pot stickers were white, not browned anywhere. Yeech.

So then I remembered hearing that U was a good place to buy fish. I asked for a half pound fillet of Copper River salmon, reasonably priced at $13/lb. He put a fillet on the scale - .85 lbs. He trimmed off a little and wrapped it. When I looked at the label, it was still well over ($2) half a lb. He never mentioned it, and I didn't bother to argue. But I know that any experienced fish monger who starts with a fillet like he did can cut it to within an ounce or less. If not, at least they'll say: "Sorry, a bit over, is that ok?"

Adding injury to insult, when I got home I found that there were several obvious bruises and the flesh was separating a bit. It didn't smell old, but it sure wasn't as fresh as I'd expect to find at a good fish store.

So that's why my title is "first visit = last visit." Could also be: "3 strikes and I'm outta here."

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Uwajimaya
600 5th Ave S, Seattle, WA

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  1. Huh. I've never had a similar experience. Well, the food court is an absolute no-go----there are a dozen better bites within five minutes. But I've never had anything but excellent fish and service at Uwaj. If I ask for a 1/2 pound and it comes up .60 they always ask if it's OK. Some of the fishmongers aren't exactly bursting with friendliness, but they've always been fair and knowledgeable and accommodating. And, most importantly, everything has always been super-fresh.

    5 Replies
    1. re: eight_inch_pestle

      My experience is similar... Uwajimaya is one of my go to places for fish due to the freshness. I've been buying fish there for most of my life and generally find it to be very fresh.

      I will say that the service in the fish department is not quite what it used to be but I think that is due to turnover and having less experienced people. If you look at the job section on the site they now have cutters and wrappers so if you get a wrapper then you are probably not getting the same level of experience.

      I have found the food court food edible but mostly a waste of time. What the Uwajimaya section does well is the roast pork, BBQ pork and duck. I usually only get those. I have tried the Chinese buffet section and found it edible but really like a steam table just like any other place that has one.

      I do like the Beard Papa cream puffs. I usually just look at all the food in the court and either get the meat in the window with rice or go to a real restaurant nearby.

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      Uwajimaya
      600 5th Ave S, Seattle, WA

      1. re: seattleviking

        I agree they do roast pork belly, bbq pork and roasted duck well. I prefer Uwajimaya over Kau Kau which was my former go to place for roasted meats.

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        Uwajimaya
        600 5th Ave S, Seattle, WA

      2. re: eight_inch_pestle

        We went here this morning after dim sum at Jade Garden. I want to LIVE in that store, esp. the fish market. Everything looked beautiful. Our daughter's cooking us a Thai dinner tomorrow so we didn't "do" the whole store. But, in addition to dinner fixings, we bought a tiny piece of tuna for a snack later and some flying fish roe ($3 for 2 oz!). Y'all are, IMO, very lucky to have such a place. BTW, I walked past a couple having pho and it looked quite good.

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        Jade Garden Restaurant
        7th S King S, Seattle, WA 98101

        1. re: c oliver

          c oliver: If you like fish, there is an excellent small market in north Ballard on 80th, aptly named Fresh Fish Co. Pretty good little meat market there, too. Gets the best ahi poke in Seattle.

          Keep enjoying your visit.

          1. re: kaleokahu

            I'll let Becca know. Thanks. Great lunch at Matt's. Will post soon.

      3. I also agree that the food court is surprizingly awful. It's the only place I've ever had a truly bad pork bun. But I love the grocery side of the store.

        1 Reply
        1. re: runwestierun

          IN RE: "Surprisingly Awful"
          I find it to be about par with the ubiquitous Shopping Mall food courts, but with a wider range of mediocre food and an occasional treat.

        2. The food court in general is not very good. Some dishes at the Korean place, Shilla, are tasty. Uwaj is best for the supermarket side and the great selection of kitchen items. My visits there are a pleasure---their free parking is great. Walk through the store and go to
          the next block on 5th for bbq and takeout poultry items (salty chicken! roast duck!) at King's BBQ, then back for other items and validated parking.

          Getting too much weight at meat/fish/deli counters is a pet peeve of mine---it seems like it happens everywhere--Whole Foods, PCC, QFC. To keep my blood pressure down and my good mood intact, I always ask for about 3/4 of the weight I really want. Inevitably it is about 25% over and I happily accept it. Sometimes you have to outwit the Man, Randy, to achieve your goals and maintain harmony

          1 Reply
          1. re: itsonlyfood

            You're probably right about ordering less than you want, itsonlyfood, though it bugs me to play those games.

            I remember as a teenager going to Cheese of All Nations in lower Manhattan with my grandmother. I heard time and again that phrase "just a little over." Whenever it was my grandmother's turn, she'd make it very clear that the portions better be exactly what she asked for, and that's what she always got. Not more, not less.

          2. I would not expect them to trim a fillet to meet my half pound desire. I might ask for a smaller fillet, if possible. Anything that they trim off is no longer worth $13/lb. I suppose being picky about the weight is ok if the base price includes a substantial profit margin.

            However I am quite happy to buy a package of salmon trimings from $3-4/lb at 99Ranch or HMart. Especially if the trimmings are from the belly.

            1. Their prepared food has ALWAYS been bad, even at the previous location. Groceries are excellent for Asian stuff. Their produce department improved significantly when they went to the new location and is now very good. I prefer buying seafood at Mutual Fish or University Seafood & Poultry. Sukiyaki meat there is good. Haven't bought anything else at the meat department

              1 Reply
              1. re: PAO

                When I'm really late, and really hungry, the Uwajimaya food court can sustain me, but only because I've learned, through proximity, a few things that work (though more that don't). The main steam-table will probably not kill you, but unless General Tso's (which my Taiwanese friend politely castigated as "sugar-food") is your thing, I'd avoid it.
                It's a jungle out there, but do not fear, Pho Bac is mere blocks away.

                Uwajimaya's produce section has gone from good to quite-good in the new location. Always look to the displays near the door for real bargains, and while you are bargain hunting, do not forget Big John's PFI, barely 2 blocks south, at 1001 6th Avenue South (it's down that steep drive, don't worry).

                Mutual Fish remains first choice for me, for fish, though their open-hours are tough, and I often make Uwajimaya my #2. They are sometimes spectacular - I stopped in a few weeks ago for a pound of fish for a Ceviche. When the nice man behind the counter heard my goal, he filleted a Snapper for me, on the spot. Yes. Nice Ceviche. The fact that I have not, since, made this request, speaks, I think, to a suspicion that in-consistency is not unusual here.

                So, go with "shields up," but prepare to be delighted.

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                Uwajimaya
                600 5th Ave S, Seattle, WA