Bringing It to Ballard
The Good, the Bad, and the Totally Stoned of the North End's Moveable Feasts
Despite my best efforts, I am no Josephine Cool—I routinely get irrationally excited about random things and have the worst poker face on the planet. So I'm just going to blow my wad immediately here and state the only really important thing I learned from exploring the delivery options in Ballard: Life is good in Ballard, if for no other reason than you can have hand-shaved noodles with spicy sesame sauce and ground pork ($7.95) from Szechuan Bistro (212 N 85th St, 781-1818) delivered to your home. While you're wearing sweatpants! If you're as lucky as I was on a recent weekend night, and I suspect you will be, these fiery noodles (which exemplify the best of what "hand-shaved" has to offer—thick, irregularly shaped, textured, silky, and delightfully slurpable) will arrive at your home in under 20 minutes, delivered by a cute, petite, and somewhat stern-looking middle-aged Chinese woman. Szechuan Bistro's cumin lamb ($8.95) is wonderfully fragrant and abundantly dusted with cumin and red pepper (some fresh parsley adds a welcome bit of lightness and tang), though the texture of the meat—best described as chewy—is a bit disconcerting. But back to those hand-shaved noodles (which may even rival those of Shanghai Garden's in my heart): They come in a tall plastic tub, which you can eat out of directly, and the cold leftovers I had for breakfast the next day were even more flavorful and satisfying.
I've been hearing for years now, from many different sources, that Zagi's Pizza Ristorante (2408 NW 80th St, 706-0750, www.zagispizza.com) makes some of the best pizza in Seattle, and I was ready to dig in and fall in love. I've also heard that Zagi's service tends to be on the "stonery" side of things. I like stoners. It took six calls to Zagi's phone number (and five encounters with Zagi's recorded phone message, delivered by a stoned-to-the-bone-sounding Father Guido Sarducci impersonator) to reach a human being. I did not jump to any conclusions—Zagi's is a busy place, after all, and they do get points for being upfront and honest about the fact that it would take an hour for the food to arrive. Indeed, one hour later, a sweet D&D-playing sort of dude with a blond ponytail showed up with our food. While I copied our order and prices onto a sheet of paper (so as to have an itemized receipt), blond ponytail stood in the doorway and told me that employees at Zagi's each have a unique shorthand which they use to take orders, and how that can sometimes create confusion in the kitchen, ha ha ha. Um, ok.
Zagi's linguini putanesca ($11) is damned tasty. The saltiness of the sauce—from anchovies, capers, and olives—is right on the mark, though the whole dish could stand to be spicier and the pasta was a bit overcooked. But Zagi's errant stonerism came through with full force on the Hyak pizza ($19.95), billed as being topped with "mozzarella, pepperoni, meatballs, sausage, onions, mushrooms, and red sauce," which had NO SAUCE. I mean, seriously? NO SAUCE. We were dumbfounded. How does this happen? All the other toppings were there (and yummy; the presence of meatballs and onions was particularly lovely), but again—NO SAUCE. Zagi's: I don't care how busy or stonerish you are, you should be able to remember the sauce.
Full disclosure: I'm not keen on the idea of ordering delivery Japanese food (sushi just tastes better fresh in the restaurant rather than from a Styrofoam or plastic container), but we were forced to call upon Mori Japanese Restaurant (101 N 85th St, 783-7708, www.morijapaneserestaurant.com) because the original plan to order Mediterranean food from Olive You (8516 Greenwood Ave N, 706-4121, www.olive-you.com) fell through. And by "fell through" I mean that when I called Olive You, which promises delivery every night, they told me they would not deliver. I was profoundly disappointed, as I've heard the food is delicious and garlicky and fresh, but I was also quite peeved because the guy I spoke to did not provide any acceptable explanation of why they wouldn't deliver on this particular night. I don't like to harbor ill feelings toward a popular neighborhood business that feeds people good food, but I'm sorry, Olive You, that's bullshit.
I am grateful to Mori Japanese Restaurant for being there in my time of need, and this is why I will gladly gloss over their completely serviceable but thoroughly mediocre deluxe sushi entrée ($14.50)—10 pieces of nigiri sushi and a California roll. Lucky for me, Mori's sukiyaki ($10.75) is terrific—thinly sliced fatty beef, vegetables, soft squares of tofu, and translucent rice noodles in a sweet, rich, comforting oily broth. The food, at the door in under 30 minutes, came courtesy of the most adorable delivery guy in all of Seattle—a young, ESL Japanese snowboard aficionado (complete with Burton sweatshirt and knit cap) with shaggy black hair and blond highlights who chanted "Arigato! Arigato! Arigato!" while he bowed and headed backward down the walkway and into my heart.