Such was our experience at Chinoise Cafe.
According to their website, chinoise means Asian-like, and is French for feminine. But we think of the kitchen tool, which Wikipedia defines as “an extremely fine meshed conical sieve used for straining soups and sauces to produce a very smooth texture.” That’s a perfect metaphor for the restaurant! Chinoise may be smooth and polished, but we crave what gets caught in the sieve: the character, the imperfections, the special bits…the grit.
We want to like the place; it certainly seems popular enough. Nearly all the tables were taken, but then we did a double-take. No Asians in the restaurant. Not surprising, given the neighborhood, but an ominous sign for the food.
The “Garlic Noodles & Grilled Beef” ($13.95) jumped out at us on the menu, suiting our carnivorous mood. The dish features flank steak, marinated “Korean style” and then grilled, served over stir-fried Chinese noodles in a dark sesame soy sauce. Sounded good, looked good… but the taste was another story. The only way to describe it: brown. Non-descript. Nothing memorable. Where’s the garlic in the garlic noodles? Do they sieve out the Asian tastes for the Caucasian clientele? Maybe it’s our mouths, but come to think of it, our Spicy Garlic Prawns also brought a yawn, as we think they can rename the dish simply “Prawns.”
Don’t get us wrong. Chinoise is not bad. But it’s nothing special. It’s kind of like the Queen Anne neighborhood itself: safe, but a bit bland. Next time, we’ll grit it out and instead go to the International District (interestingly, the ethnic neighborhood where Chinoise closed shop), where we’re sure to dine with double the flavor at half the price.
Originally posted at Seattlest (where “we” = me) on October 6, 2006.