Once more the MSG150 crew headed up Weller to find our next spot. This is a dense part of the ID and there are three other restaurants on the half a block between J Sushi on the corner and the alley to the west. The first is A & B Cafe, formerly known as J & L Cafe.
Luncher: AdamLunch: #62 - Assorted Meats Rice Noodles - $6.25
I was in the mood for food-venture... so I went with a slightly vague option: Assorted Meats Rice Noodles. That was definitely a mistake. There were a couple pieces of BBQ Pork that were good. Then there was really chewy chicken (at least I think it was chicken). Then there was some decent squid. But the kicker were the meats that I had no idea what they were. They were also disgusting. There were no less than 3 unidentifiable food-stuffs.
Yes, I know that its my fault for ordering something that I had an inkling would be disgusting. But, not only was my food bad... it took forever. We waited for over half-an-hour for our food, which is unacceptable for lunch food... especially as we watched other patrons enter, order, eat, and leave before us.
The wait for our food was ridiculous. I'm not going to be headed back to this place again.
Luncher: GearyLunch: #71 - Satay Beef with Rice - $4.95
We were seated quickly by a very friendly server. The restaurant was sparely decorated but clean and had a good sized lunch crowd of predominantly young Chinese folks. The menu is huge. There are over a hundred and fifty options on the English menu and then another menu under the glass of the table top with hundreds more items in both English and Chinese. The waiter came by and suggested some "Baked Rice Bowls" off of the in-table menu as she delivered forks. I suspected profiling. Doug and Emmett were suckered in. Adam apparently hasn't learned anything in our visit to the 50 previous restaurants and ordered an item with "Assorted" meats. I went with #55, Satay Beef with Rice Noodles.
The meal started with a bowl of cabbage tomato soup. It was very basic, just cabbage in a light, slightly tomatoy, clear broth, but it was good. This was immediately followed by nothing. Then a long wait and more nothing. After about 30 minutes the food finally started to arrive. My #55 somehow got turned into a #71, which is the same Satay Beef, but on rice instead of noodles. The Satay Beef is beef with onions and green peppers in a brown sauce. It had a nice, simple taste, but nothing grand. I can see how this might remind someone of their home and be a nice comfort food, but for me it was just boring. Looking around the table, however, I felt like I really lucked out. My three chopstick yawner was the the best thing going. I had the best dud at the table. If A & B has any winners in it, none of them showed up for us today.
Luncher: EmmettLunch: Baked Seafood Rice Bowl - $7.50
This place started off normal enough - another ordinary restaurant among many - plain interiors and a sizeable lunch crowd. This could be great. It wasn't.
Perhaps the first sign was that they changed the name of the restaurant. Yelp still reports it as being J & L Cafe. Maybe they wanted to start fresh? Cover something up? Who knows.
At the waitress's urging I ordered the Baked Seafood Rice Bowl. Forty-five minutes later the food came. The dish was steaming, large, loaded with fish and rice. It looked good. I dug in. Basically, it is some fried rice, topped with some seafood, coated with some creamy gravy, and then baked. It wasn't bad, just a little odd. The gravy is what got to me. The dish kind of tasted like Fish Pot Pie, though I've never had Fish Pot Pie, but hopefully you get the idea. Michael commented that you could easily pass this off as Midwestern food to a farmer and they would enjoy it. True enough.
All in all, not the worst dish, but I wasn't overly impressed. I sampled some of the other cuisine and nothing stood out as being particulary good. The service was slow. I'll probably never come back.
Luncher: RobLunch: #81 - Black Bean Fish Fillet with Rice - $4.95
Soon after we arrived, the A&B was packed, and I felt like we'd just discovered another little gem. When I asked the waitress what sort of fish was in the black bean fish fillet, she shook her head and said, "Don't know." Smiling, she continued, "Good fish." So I ordered it, and she repeated back to me, "Black bean fish fillet with rice." What I received, over a half hour later (don't order the baked rice bowls if you're in a hurry), was just fish fillet and vegetables with rice. Not sure what happened to the black bean part of the meal. The first two pieces of fish I tried weren't even Good Fish, and I was tempted to give up. Everyone else was just beginning to eat, however, so I soldiered on, and fortunately, the rest of the fish was okay. The size of the portion left something to be desired, as well, although there was certainly plenty of rice. In the end, I considered the whole thing to be an oddly entertaining experience, but one that left me unsatisfied.
Luncher: MichaelLunch: #52 - Fried Rice Noodles with Beef & Scrambled Eggs - $6.25
Don't waste your time. Lunch took a long time to arrive, our tea was never refilled, and our waitress seemed to push us into ordering what turned out to be bland americanized casserole dishes. There was some amusement to be had in Doug's obviously ketchup based 'tomato' sauce, and Emmett's casserole was actually very good. That corn syrup in the ketchup gave an otherwise boring dish some appeal, but this just isn't what we are looking for in a Chinese restaurant. The casserole that Emmett got wouldn't have been out of place in a midwest family diner. And my dish? Good but forgettable.
Skip this one.
Luncher: JoeyLunch: #72 - Beef & Scrambled Eggs with Rice - $4.95
A&B Café formerly known as J&L Café is part of a growing trend in Chinatown... HK style cuisine restaurants. Going back only 5 or so years ago the only HK style restaurant I knew of in Chinatown was ABC Garden, which is no more. Now there's LA Café, HK Cuisine, Purple Dot, A&B Café, etc (I’m probably missing one). HK style restaurants have been in Vancouver, BC, for a while and have finally made their way to Seattle. If you’re used to traditional Cantonese/Mandarin cooking then you may be caught off guard with the ingredients and preparation of the food. Many rice dishes for example are baked with creamy sauces on top. Other dishes will have corn and peas, which you won’t usually find in other Chinese food. I think about half of us opted for a baked rice dish. I got rice with beef and scrambled eggs. The scrambled eggs were thin and mixed into a creamy sauce. I suspect they mixed it with water and corn starch. The best way I can describe this dish would be to call it comfort food. The combination of the creamy sauce, rice, and beef was satisfying and made me feel at home. I could’ve gone without the corn mixed into the sauce, but I didn’t mind too much. I give A&B Cafe a 3. I would go back just for the reason that they have a huge menu and I want to see what else they have.
Luncher: DougLunch: Baked Beef Rice Bowl - $6.50
1 chopstick FAILFAILFAIL. I wish Chinese restaurants wouldn't assume white people only like bland gross food. I ordered some vague "Baked beef" pot pie monstrosity that looked like a Chinese interpretation of American food. Waitress recommended it. They used ketchup! Blech. Run away. It makes me ill just thinking about it. I couldn't believe it took 30 minutes. I had to leave my half eaten ketchup beef dish to be finished off by Adam and Michael. If we were running an A/B test of the A&B café... never mind.
A & B Cafe PhotosA & B Cafe
English Menu Details
Tomato Cabbage Soup
#71 - Satay Beef with Rice
Baked Seafood Rice Bowl
#81 - Black Bean Fish Fillet with Rice
#62 - Assorted Meats Rice Noodles
#72 - Beef & Scrambled Eggs with Rice
#52 - Fried Rice Noodles with Beef & Scrambled Eggs
Baked Beef Rice Bowl