The inside of Grouchy Chef is intense.
Paper cranes hanging from the ceilings, walls covered with photos and all sorts of Americana, and a big quote, apparently from the chef himself, describing how Americans have lost their way and need to get back to being the proud, industrious people he looked up to back in the day.
When we finally sat down, my wife, Elizabeth, and I were sufficiently nervous. Obviously this guy has strong ideals. My wife ordered first and took awhile. He said something abruptly that I couldn’t understand, and in my nervousness, I began to order. He held up a finger and shushed me, paused, then allowed Elizabeth to continue.
If this was an act, he was definitely in character.
For the main entrees, Elizabeth ordered the lamb and mashed potatoes and I ordered the Asian beef skewer with mashed potatoes.
A four-course dinner for 15 bucks each!
We paid as soon as we ordered (cash only), and he zoomed off.
There were maybe five other tables occupied besides our own. The chef, Takayuki Masumoto, expertly juggled between waiting on tables and cooking. Although he was brusque, he was incredibly prompt and efficient and we were never waiting long between courses.
First course was a plate filled with interesting little hors d’oeuvres, cheeses, little bread things, a wedge of salad as well as other things we couldn’t really quite identify. It was colorful and pretty. We both enjoyed the variety as well as the interesting little bits that tasted like things we couldn’t quite put our finger on.
One thing to note: He had set down two spoons, two forks and two knives. It felt like a game of proper-etiquette Russian roulette. I was already a little nervous over the first bit of the “Grouchy Chef experience” and was nervous about selecting the proper tools. Big fork or little fork? This knife or the slightly elongated knife?
So I just guessed, and chose the fork to the left and the knife on the left to eat my hors d’oeuvres. When he picked up my plate, he picked up the used fork and placed it on the plate he had taken, but when he picked up the knife, he was about to place it on the plate, but paused, wiped the knife, and placed it back on my napkin, taking the unused knife instead.
He did all of this silently. It felt like he was politely showing me the proper tools to use, without actually telling me, which I found to be a strange courtesy of sorts.
Second course: Some sort of curry lentil soup, which was good and my favorite course of the night. I’m usually not so opinionated when it comes to soup, but man, I was blown away at how perfect the soup was. It had a deep rich curry-like flavor, and hit all these earthy and savory umami notes. Loved it.
Third (main) course: Very small and tidy portions. My glazed beef skewers, which came on a bed of mashed taters, were very tasty. Elizabeth and I usually let each other try a bite of the others main courses, but we were too nervous. So we kept our forks to our own plates, which was a shame, because I bet she would have really liked mine.
At one point around this time, the people next to us asked for a box. Masumoto gave them one, but not before reprimanding them (rather loudly) on how if they get sick eating leftovers, that it’s THEIR fault and not HIS fault. Elizabeth and I just looked at each other wide-eyed trying not to laugh.
Fourth course: Another miniature little smorgasbord, but with dessert treats: cookies, coffee-flavored ice cream, sorbet and flan. Again, we really dug the variety of things, which felt very Asian to us (even though it seems he’s going for highfalutin French presentation).
All in all, although he was brusque and grouchy as his restaurant name implies, Masumoto never went overboard. He just seemed like an incredibly idealistic fellow who works really hard at his job, and wants everyone to work really hard at being proper customers in his fine dining establishment.
4433 Russell Road No. 113, Mukilteo; 425-493-9754
Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. daily, by reservation only
Alcohol: Wine and beer
Prices: Start at $15