I AM PAINFULLY AWARE that Fried Chicken is not a Northwest regional dish. The lack of public outrage over the fire at and subsequent disappearance of Ezell's Fabulous Fried Chicken drove this point home. Still surrounded by chainlink fencing, a tattered sign announces Ezell's triumphant reopening in February 2000, which has come and gone without an update, without candlelight vigils, without a press release. "I want answers!" I scream as I ride by on my bicycle, shaking my fist at the sky--but I am beginning to understand that Ezell's reopening is one of those little lies people tell to ease the pain of loss. Like when my dad told me that our dog, Science, went to live on a farm.

I am older now, and I know about those farms.

Ezell's perfection still galavants in my mouth's memory, that spicy crisp skin crackling to release moist, flavorful meat. Simple biscuits, fresh and fluffy. Always the right ratio of cabbage to mayonnaise in their coleslaw. For months I fantasized about Ezell's Fried Chicken and my city reuniting; shy, with lowered lashes at first, folks mumbling their orders. Then the fantasy would spin wildly out of control. Breast, thigh, and drumstick raised to our lips, the lascivious consumption of each morsel accompanied by groans of ecstasy as we masticate feverishly.... Maybe that is why I got a car. To stop the slo-mo orgiastic fantasies, to hurtle past Ezell's, turn my tearstained face away and jam my foot into the accelerator. My Fried Chicken eatin' soul wanders Jefferson and 23rd, lost and rail-thin, moaning softly to itself. I drive and drive, looking for decent Fried Chicken in faraway places.

After last week's car-ownership victory ride turned roadside curse-a-thon, this week I went a-wandering beyond city limits and then proceeded to get stuck in rush-hour traffic. I should add that, for dramatic effect, there was a howling infant in the back seat, and, most insidiously, we were on the Eastside. How did this unlikely band of tattered station wagon, food critic, and sobbing child find themselves in Bellevue, ON FIRE?

Yes, ON FIRE. Absolute and total standstill traffic sent both car and kid into hot, sweaty tantrums. The car's emergency brake suddenly began "malfunctioning." It would not let go. The brake was ON, brake pads gripping the brake disc, and, as I pushed through the brake's squealing and grating protests, friction, as we know from survivalist movies, creates heat, which eventually becomes FIRE. In an interesting parallel universe, my baby was busy cutting three new teeth, grinding her jaws together to produce a fingernails-on-blackboard type of sound, providing a fretful stereo-surround sound effect of metal against metal, tooth enamel against tooth enamel. Smoke appeared from under the car, and filled my nostrils with its dentist office-esque odor. When flames snapped out from the tire wells, I pulled over.

This sad tale brings us to the point of my tirade. Upon returning home, my comrade, Mr. Mustache, suggested we go out for Fried Chicken. I wept, "There is no Fried Chicken! Nevermore!" But I was wrong.

Following a hot tip, we slid into a booth at the octopus-decorated Takohachi. "Tako" is Japanese for octopus. "Hachi" means "Excellent fried food here!" (I think). Their menu caters to every comfort food need, combining an infinite variety of different treats; the common thread throughout being that everything, at some point, enters the deep fryer, and is the better for it--just as I was after wolfing down the most delicious Fried Chicken since Ezell's burned down. Mr. Mustache ordered the Fried Chicken & Croquette combo (large $7.25, "small" $6.25), so large it required an annex plate. Croquettes are the Japanese cousin to Cuban papa relleno, mashed taters laced with ground beef, deep fried. All fried items were light on grease; perfectly crisped, tempura- style. I got the spicy Teriyaki Teri-Kari ($6.50), which, quite simply, is Fried Chicken plus spicy and sweet teriyaki sauce. Everything comes with a mountain of steamed or fried rice (imbued with a slightly smoky flavor from all the ham and mushrooms), crunchy pickled bean sprouts, and a shredded cabbage salad dressed with special sauce, garnished with two slices of pressed ham. Hallelujah. The man behind the deep fryer reverently fries Chicken, with respect for the art form and excellent craftsmanship. My anguished soul can rest peacefully once again, in the cradling wings of Fried Chicken, blissed out and oblivious to car fires--thanks to Takohachi's genius.

Takohachi

610 S Jackson, 682-1828. Lunch Mon-Fri 11:30 am-1:30 pm, dinner Mon-Sat 5:30-8:30 pm, closed Sun. Sake and beer. $.

Price Scale (per entrée)

$ = $10 and under; $$ = $10-20; $$$ = $20 and up

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