Jae’s Asian Bistro and Sushi, at 2801 E. Madison St., is the result of a breakup.
Thoa Nguyen, the enterprising woman who launched Thoa’s, which used to be in the Market, and the Wabi-Sabi sushi bar in Columbia City, also had several restaurants named Chinoise (on Queen Anne, in Wallingford and in Madison Valley). Nguyen ran the Madison Valley location with the help of a veteran sushi chef named Jae Ahrens, but when she opted for a new spot (Sushi Chinoise) in the Issaquah Highlands, Ahrens—who trained at the Culinary Institute of America—stayed behind and gave the place his own name.
The interior looks much the same as it did before: a sushi counter spans the front of the restaurant, with the “hot” kitchen behind it. There's a long ramp that drops you down to the main dining room and garden patio, where you get the feeling you're in a different world entirely, with a high ceiling and plenty of natural light.
The wide-ranging menu owes a lot to the pan-Asian tradition of Chinoise (soups, noodle bowls, and the like). It still has the lovely, quiet patio out back, the same inviting sushi bar in the front, and a menu packed with staples such as bento boxes and wok-sautéed curries as well as Vietnamese rice-noodle salad bowls.
Alas, it was still too cool to sit on the patio when I stopped by recently, but just fine for a bento-box lunch at the front counter. Three fine pieces of nigiri (tuna, yellow tail, and a hearty specimen of shrimp). Eight pieces of California roll. A cucumber roll. Plenty of seaweed salad, a big hunk of pickled ginger, as well as a traditional salad of greens and cherry tomatoes. Not inexpensive; it was $16.95; there are similar such “sets” at several Japanese restaurants on Capitol Hill. ($12.95 at Ikina, for example; $14.95 at Ikiki on Queen Anne, in space once occupied by Chinoise.) Another annoyance: no beer on tap, and only one imported bottle (Tsing Tao); this at a restaurant that offers everything from chilled salad bowls to spicy phad thai, from crispy Szechuan chicken to Mongolian beef.
The Lemongrass Chicken salad bowl, $11.95 at lunch, $12.50 at dinner, found stir-fried chicken, lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro, and cucumber slices atop a bed of rice noodles with a beaker of nuoc nam sauce on the side. It's a big bowl, quite filling. There's a white board at the front door with daily specials; most patrons don't even look at it, but you could always ask the wait-staff for details.
By late afternoon, you're into the happy hour menu with $3 beers and $4 sake, Apps from the kitchen are priced at $7; handroll sushi runs $4 and a Five-Spice sablefish salad goes for $5.
If you're still thirsty for draught beer, head up the hill to Madrona, where Red Cow, 1423 34th Ave., has an interesting Happy Hour beer on tap. It's Reuben's “Crikey” IPA from Reuben's Brews in Ballard. And if that's too tame for your taste, try the Pfreim Pilsner, from the pFreim Brewery in Hood River, Ore. Four bucks at happy hour. I love sitting at the bar here and watching GM Johnny Violand concoct cocktails. On the food side, there's obviously a burger, but a bit more adventure will get you a brochette of hanger steak with frites for $10. Or, same price, curried mussels. It's not quite dinner, but that's okay, too. Remember your New Year's resolution to lose some weightRonald Holden writes about restaurants for Pacific Publishing. His latest book, Forking Seattle, a critical guide to local food & drink, is available on Amazon.com.