Each of the two times we walked by the place, it caught our attention. First for all the action. It reminded me of a night club with music and people spilling out of the door. A fast-moving woman bustled through the door with a wooden plaque in hand, thrusting it towards newcomers in the queue. What also caught out attention was that it was always busy.
Our last dinner in the "Yu Dub" district of Seattle, we decided to check out the big attraction. We were the third party in line, as we were presented with the menu, scuffed from much use, and a taped announcement at the bottom that prices had been changed to $7.50. The queue moved quickly and we were first in line when the server brought out pen and paper and asked what we wanted to order.
As we walked in, I was struck by how small the place was; a narrow walkway separates small tables against a wall and the counter seating. The counter forms a "L" shape around the kitchen galley where three people work with orchestrated harmony. But harmony is hardly the word to describe the frenetic pace as the chef moved between 4 to 6 woks each sizzling with individual orders, with music to match.
We were ushered to the end of the counter; on my left, the woman who had brought us the menu tallied bills and handed the orders to the chef. We were elbow to elbow. Another server swept the dishes to and from the customers, and wiped down the tables. A total of 5 staff, who were always on the move.
From my perch, I saw the award for the "Best of" in 2009. But my eyes were quickly averted to the chef who was stirring, adding, and shaking the pots on the open flames ahead of him. When an order was complete he would pick up the wok with his right hand, the serving dish in his left, turn around to the counter, slide the food into the dish and then turn to the awaiting assistant and flipped the now-empty wok into the waiting hand. This move I watched again and again, as we would watch a knife juggler. What I noted on watching the second time is that the ladle that was always in each wok was also a part of the toss, both held together by some scientific force, for there was always an instant when it wasn't be held by anyone.
The assistant walked back to the dish pit to the third team member, picking up a clean wok/ladle and bringing it back. This helper keep a sharp eye on the cook, replacing any empty food containers, chopping when necessary. Every once in a while, these two would break into laughter. Which was a delight in itself.
Because sitting at the counter, I was feeling the heat, and getting caught up in the busyness. It was intense.
Our food arrived. My choice was Swimming Rama, a combination of spinach, chicken, in a wonderful sauce. It was incredibly tasty! And so was the Pad Thai that BJ ordered. One of the women that ordered ahead of us had soup, which was made the same way that ours was. Fresh. On the spot. Individually seasoned. Great quality at a great price!
Thai Tom was definitely one of those "finds" that inspire!