At the Grouchy Chef restaurant, great food — served his way

Before you get to the menu, you first have to get through the manifesto.

It’s a binder of rules presented to diners at Mukilteo’s Grouchy Chef restaurant.

No shoveling food in your mouth like at some cheap eatery (or at home).

No blowing your nose or fixing your makeup at the table. No clinking crystal glasses. No shorts. No sandals. No personal requests. No frills. No substitutions.

Don’t like it?

Eat elsewhere, said Takayuki Masumoto, the chef with the curmudgeonly persona.

“This is not a mess hall. You don’t have to come.”

But people do come — and have for 12 years — to the nine-table eatery that’s now boxed in a nondescript suburban business park on Russell Road, away from the clamor of Mukilteo Speedway.

The chef’s reputation for serving beautiful, hand-crafted French cuisine attracts diners, albeit nervous ones, from all over the state.

What up with this place?

It’s a unique and unflinching vision of what a restaurant, and a restaurant patron, should be. There’s a reason it’s called Grouchy Chef. Just don’t confuse the person with the place, as hard as this might be.

“I don’t call myself ‘grouchy chef.’ My name is Mr. Masumoto. Grouchy Chef is the name of the restaurant,” Masumoto told me.

“If you see an obese person, do you call them ‘Chub?’ Or to an unattractive lady you don’t say, ‘Hey, unattractive lady.’ I never expect people to call me ‘grouchy chef.’ I disagree with that.”

Masumoto minces garlic, not words.

He also greets, seats, cooks, serves, buses. It’s a one-man show.

“Many people think my place is a freak show,” he said.

Online reviewers have compared him to the Soup Nazi a la “Seinfeld.” I found him to be a man who takes extreme pride in his work and means well. He’s actually a bit of a softie inside.

“One thing that gets on my nerve is when people come in, looking at me and laughing,” he said. “They try to push my button. It is disruptive. When I work I need to focus on what I do. Some people try to relax, I’m not that type.”

That’s part of his charm, and how he creates tasty, imaginative groupings of foods and flavors, presented with an artist’s flair.

“I used to work for expensive restaurants,” he said. “Some of my ex-workers told me, ‘You look grouchy.’ That’s why I pick that name. Also it sends a message, ‘I am not flexible for what I do.’”

His voice is gruff and forceful. His movements, swift and purpose-driven.

“It’s not OK to say, ‘I don’t want to eat a carrot, so can you change it to zucchini?’ ” he said. “I don’t do that. I’m not able to comply with individual requests.”

This keeps prices reasonable. Ridiculously reasonable.

A four-course dinner starts at $15. For real. Two people can easily have a gourmet meal on nice china for $50, including wine. Tipping is strictly forbidden.

Entrees include grilled duck breast, chicken burgundy and seared wild salmon. What you see is what you get.

Payment is cash-only: first, not last. It goes with the method to the seeming madness.

“If I’m working on somebody else’s table, I need to focus on that. I’m not able to deal with somebody coming to the counter saying, ‘OK, I’m ready to pay.’ It ruins the moment of the timing of the food,” he said.

Sit up straight, keep your elbows off the table, use the proper utensil and enjoy the meal as it is executed in grand style.

Masumoto has expectations for patrons.

“This is America. You can dress any way you want, but I take offense when men come in here in beach sandals and shorts. I do not refuse those people, but I do mention how I feel,” he said.

Those who wear sandals are admonished to walk carefully, because he keeps his floors polished and clean. Pick the wrong fork and he’ll politely point out the correct tool to use.

Manners, please. “It’s not a hamburger, it’s not ‘put your hands on it, bite it with ketchup.’ ”

Not satisfied? “I give full money back,” he said. “You should consider not coming back here.”

Love your meal? Don’t heap on the praise.

“Words mean nothing. The plate tells me everything.”

Good etiquette gets rewarded. “There’s one lady, I was so appreciative I gave her a dinner certificate,” he said.

He welcomes teens on dates or prom night. “To me, that’s an honor.”

Little kids, not so much. “I don’t have a kids menu. You can bring your kid. Probably not twice.”

Masumoto, a bachelor pushing 60, came to America 30 years ago.

“I worked at many different places. It took a long time, 18 years and 7 months, to open a restaurant. You struggle.”

He opened his first Grouchy Chef in a busy strip plaza on Mukilteo Speedway. The rent was high and he said the lunch crowd drew too many “bozos.”

When he moved to his current spot, at 4443 Russell Road, he limited service to dinner only. Reservations are required. Don’t even think about just showing up.

Inside, you’ll find a mixed dining ambience with candles and soft music, against a backdrop of paper cranes, customer snapshots and some Americana thrown in.

The entry has a shrine to the America of the 1950s and ’60s when men wore suits and walked on the moon.

The chef’s sister’s kimonos are displayed in glass shadow boxes in the dining area. She died from cancer at age 32. “I just wanted her to be here, that’s all,” he said.

Masumoto offers “Grouchy Chef” logo T-shirts for $10 to raise money for cancer research in her honor. Wear the shirt on vacation (not to dinner) and snap a photo for the gallery of hundreds of pictures covering the walls.

The logo is all we could use for this story. Masumoto refused our requests to take a picture of him, saying he doesn’t want photos of him floating around the Internet (good luck trying to find one).

“Once the picture goes in the public, people use it without any responsibility,” Masumoto said. “Pictures of the food is OK. Food is a merchandise. Once I sell it to you, it’s yours.”

What does he do for fun? I just had to ask.

“Yesterday a lady in the bank said, ‘How was your weekend?’ I don’t have a weekend. I work everyday, ma’am. What is ‘off work?’ When I’m off work I go to Japan for my duty,” he said.

“My accountant tells me to quit operating the restaurant. He says I should work for someone. He knows how little I make.”

He turned the table to me: “You work for the newspaper. No matter how unappreciated you feel, you get paid for it,” he said.

He had some advice for this story: “I just want you to be fair. Don’t try to kiss me up.”

Does he ever smile?

“If I want to,” he said.

Dining review

For a dining review of the Grouchy Chef, see Friday’s A&E section.

Talk to us

More in Life

The trick to 1892 East’s crispy French toast is a combination of cornflakes and buttery palmiers, which add great crunch and rich flavor. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Is your bread stale? Don’t throw it away; make this treat

Cornflake French toast might seem a bit of a gimmick, but the added crunch is a marvel.

The Washington State Wine Commission is using August, known for decades as Washington Wine Month, to promote the Drink For WA campaign. The commission estimates it will generate 12 million impressions through advertising and social media channels. (Photo courtesy Washington State Wine Commission)
Washington wine commission rolls out Drink for WA campaign

Share an image of your special occasion along with tags of #DrinkForWA and #EatForWA.

It only takes a small amount of cash to build a homemade swamp cooler to make your home comfortable this summer. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Can a do-it-yourself swamp cooler beat the August heat?

Instead of spending $400 for an air conditioner, purchase $25 of simple parts and assemble one yourself.

Fried green tomatoes stand in fro fresh red tomatoes in this BLT sandwich. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Make a fried green tomato BLT when you can’t wait for ripe

Firmer than red tomatoes, with a zingy, slightly sour taste, unripe tomatoes hold their shape.

Thai Chicken Kabobs with Noodles. (Linda Gassenheimer/TNS)
This super-easy Thai-inspired dish has a slightly spicy edge

Peanut sauce flavors these Thai chicken kabobs with noodles.

Frozen blueberries team up with banana and yogurt to make a refreshing summer smoothie. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Make the most of your fresh-picked blueberries this summer

They can play a starring role in so many recipes, and we’re not just talking dessert- and breakfast-type dishes.

Rich Davis works on finishing the deck of his home in Mukilteo on June 11. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Mukilteo man’s pandemic project: A 500-square-foot deck

Rich Davis had never built anything before, but the shutdown left him with ample time to learn a new skill.

Oslo’s City Hall, with stirring murals and art that depict Norway’s history. (Rick Steves, Rick Steves’ Europe)
Rick Steves on Oslo, the polar opposite of ‘Big Box’ culture

The Norwegian capital city is expensive, but its charm and civility are priceless.

Also known as Rose of Sharon, hibiscus is a hardy shrub is one of the few that blooms in the late summer. (Nicole Phillips)
Hibiscus will bring a tropical look to your August garden

Also known as Rose of Sharon, the hardy shrub is one of the few that blooms in the late summer.

Most Read