South Lake Union is the scene of Chef Christine Keff’s relocated Flying Fish restaurant. I went in for a tasting menu experience, expecting a series of small bites, but was blown away by a big, welcoming platter of crabs. Keff explained that she loves to serve such platters (which can also be sizzling Gulf shrimp by the half-pound or a whole fried rockfish) because they immediately break down barriers at the table. She smiled saying that she enjoys seeing business workers or people on dates “getting their hands in the food, getting dirty.”
Two of us dug into two pounds of salt and pepper Dungeness crabs, accompanied by comforting sesame noodles and fresh, crunchy bites of carrot daikon salad. It was indeed fun to crack open the crab to extract the succulent morsels of meat within. There’s a nuoc mam-like dipping sauce, but we agreed with those who prompted Keff’s comment that some people find the sauce overpowering. The salt and pepper (with slight bite, leading me to believe that it’s Szechuan pepper) provided the perfect amount of seasoning for the sweet crab.
Next came a couple of small plates, starting with ahi tuna poke. (Note that the photographs show half-portions, as the plates were shared.) The fish was fresh and flavorful, with just the right amount of soy sauce and green onions. I liked the macadamia nut togarashi (a peppery condiment that’s great sprinkled on certain noodle dishes or even plain rice), with the macadamia adding to the “Hawaiian-ness” of the dish, and the sweet potato strings offering additional texture.
Curried lamb ribs were tender and delicious, strong enough to stand up to the sweetness of currant chutney, which I loved. The pickled punch of green papaya on the side helped round out this dish.
And then it was time for the shared entrée: troll King salmon with sunchoke purée, matsutake mushrooms, and Concord grape chutney. I immediately leaned into the dish to inhale the earthy scent of the matsutake. Delightful. As for the fish, I admittedly tire of salmon (and halibut) served in restaurants, but the second straight chutney put an interesting twist on the dish.
We were feeling full at this point, but not enough to prevent us from finishing dessert. The cheesecake was refreshingly light and the perfect canvas for huckleberries.
For those wanting to sample Keff’s cooking but lacking time, On the Fly recently opened adjacent to the restaurant. This intimate retail shop serves up salads, sandwiches, baked goods and more. (The crab cakes looked especially compelling when I visited.) You can take advantage of outdoor seating, or simply get your goods to go. Note that there’s a nice selection of reasonably priced wines, and you can also peruse the artistically arranged cookbooks from Keff’s personal collection.
First published on TheSunbreak.com on October 27, 2010. (Thanks to Flying Fish for the interior photo at the top of this post.)