Story by BEN GARRISON
UW News Lab

Combining elements of Vietnamese, Thai and Malaysian cuisine, Made In Kitchen offers a unique blend of fusion food and modern architecture seldom brought together in the International District.

The downfall at many restaurants in the area is usually not with the food. Having anything more than the compulsory conversation while ordering or getting a water refill after inundating your pho with Sriracha is often difficult. And let’s face it — dingy fish tanks and fluorescent lighting don’t exactly make for an intimate meal.
But Made In Kitchen brings more to the table than just good food. Alice On, who runs the restaurant with her husband and parents, says that service and style were two things they focused on. It was in these departments that other nearby eateries were lacking.

The atmosphere, like the food, is a fusion of various Asian elements with a modern theme. On worked closely with Catch Design Studio on the interior, making liberal use of warm colors on the walls and soft lighting throughout. Even the rest rooms reflect the overall design concept. The final result is a place that looks as though it could fit just as comfortably in Belltown or on Capitol Hill.

So while their location slightly off the beaten path may take a little more marketing and word of mouth to raise awareness, On finds it fitting because it further solidifies their niche as being a little different than the rest of the International District.

Aesthetics aside, food is the final word at any restaurant. The dishes are as visually appealing as the décor and it almost seems a shame to ruin them, but eventually the temptation to taste overwhelms.

Small details are not overlooked here. The Jasmine Pearl tea that On gets from her uncle’s tea shop is much better than the standard. It’s light and refreshing with no unpleasant aftertaste.

The coconut juice, a mainstay at many Vietnamese restaurants, was a standout. While serving it in an actual coconut looks a little gimmicky, it actually comes with a lot more coconut meat. The juice itself was very good and not sucrose-saturated like the sugar IVs served by many other places.

As for food, the “Kitchen Special” is a good place to start, providing a sample of three signature items from the Made In Kitchen menu. It includes a juicy grilled pork skewer, a crispy imperial roll with crab meat, shrimp and glass noodles, and a golden shrimp cake — all accompanied by vegetables and vermicelli noodles. Like many other dishes, the portions make for good leftovers, and at $10 you can’t get a wider range of tastes for your palette.

Cooked in a caramel sauce with red chilies, the “Claypot Catfish” sounded enticing but would have been an expensive gamble ($12) if it wasn’t. Fortunately, it turned out to be delicious.

The unique flavors in many of the dishes come courtesy of On’s parents. No strangers to the restaurant business, they owned A Little Saigon in the ID 20 years ago. Many of their old signature dishes, like the “Curry Duck” and “Lemongrass Pork Chop,” make an encore appearance at Made In Kitchen.

Her parents also developed the new recipes for the menu and help manage the restaurant when she isn’t there. Surprisingly, Made In Kitchen is actually a side job for On, although she seems just as passionate about the restaurant as her normal 40-hour-a-week job in the financial district downtown.

“I’m happy,” she says. “And I’ll keep doing this until that changes.”

Her husband also works elsewhere during the day and assists with managing the restaurant at night. That’s in addition to maintaining the Web site and doing the advertising and marketing for Made In Kitchen.

The restaurant is also available for special events. At a recent birthday held there, a live DJ was brought in and the tables were pushed aside for a makeshift dance floor. On and her husband are happy to fulfill such special requests. As she says, it’s about providing “a place for people with good food and a good atmosphere.”

After only six months of business, it seems Made In Kitchen is doing just that.

(BEN GARRISON is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.).

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