Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang is not only good at keeping the city safe, he’s also an expert at cleaning his plate.
Every time I see him he tells me about restaurants to try and why. The latest is Hani Hani, which opened in August in a strip plaza off Mukilteo Speedway.
“I’m working through every item on the menu,” he said. “The Korean fried rice is phenomenal.”
I met Cheol at Hani Hani a few weeks ago to talk shop for a story about him for the winter issue of Washington North Coast magazine, a quarterly Herald publication. The small diner was an ideal place to chat and for photographer Andy Bronson to get a photo of the chief in action. Anthony Bourdain action, that is.
I confess that I also had an ulterior motive: Get the foodie chief to write the dining review. Yes, I shamelessly tried to get Cheol to do my work. After all, I am so bad at culinary critiques that he could arrest me for impersonating a food critic.
Obviously, my ploy didn’t work, but Cheol did write me a few paragraphs.
Hani Hani is a bright and cozy place that seats about 20. One wall boasts a mesmerizing vinyl wrap of a Hawaiian scene of surf, reef, beach and sunshine.
It’s inspired by a trip to Maui, said Hani Hani owner Ken Tang. He was a sushi chef for about 18 years in North Carolina. “My friend had poke and ramen in California, and I went to visit him and he said it was an up-and-coming thing,” he said.
Marriage to a Boeing worker brought the sushi chef to Washington a year and a half ago, and Mukilteo seemed a good spot to open an eatery.
“The poke I already know from being in the sushi business,” he said. “For the ramen, we make our own soup base. It’s not the dry ingredient. We boil every day, with the pork bone and the vegetables.”
Seating is at the counter or a long row of tables.
The place has a friendly vibe. The people at the next table didn’t mind when Andy rattled things around to get a photo of the chief in front of the colorful wall.
Cheol got Korean fried rice ($9.50). Features editor Sara Bruestle ordered the geisha bowl ($12.50) poke of ahi tuna, yellow tail and salmon.
I ordered the Hawaiian grill plate with chicken ($8.95), which came with the choice of two sides: white rice, fried rice, brown rice, steamed vegetables, macaroni salad, ginger salad or miso soup. I chose fried rice for both sides, and was glad I did. My plate was heaping with tender, flavorful chicken. It was laden with crunchy vegetables that were tasty — that’s a huge compliment from someone who doesn’t like vegetables, especially those that taste like vegetables.
The portions are supersized here. There was enough for a repeat meal later.
Appetizers include Japanese fried chicken or karaage ($5.99) and Spam musubi ($3.99), popular in Hawaii, composed of a slice of grilled Spam on top of a block of rice, wrapped together with nori. Spam is also an ingredient, along with pineapple and shrimp, in Hawaiian Fried Rice ($9.50).
To learn more about Chief Kang — such as how to pronounce Cheol, his dining suggestions, where he met his wife, who’s his doppelganger — pick up an issue of Washington North Coast. It arrives in stores next week.
I plan to go to lunch with Cheol again. Maybe next time I can get him to write the whole thing. What do you say, Chief?
Here is what my dining companions said:
“My personal favorite meal at Hani Hani is the Korean fried rice. This is a deliciously new take on a traditional kimchee fried rice dish. Traditional kimchee fried rice is a simple dish that finds a way to use older kimchee (normally with a vinegary taste) and whatever other ingredients you may have available, with copious amounts of rice.
“The Hani Hani version uses kimchee but adds in three types of meat (chicken, pork and beef). The beef used is actually kalbi rib meat, so they are not skimping on the quality of meats here. They add in the obligatory rice and an assortment of vegetables with a right mix of cabbage kimchee. I appreciate the fact that they cut up the kimchee into small bite-size portions to enjoy with each spoonful of stomach-warming goodness.
“To top this all off, the dish is literally topped with a fried egg. In traditional bi bim bap style, the egg has a runny yolk that you’re supposed to mix into the rice dish. This is what I would call Korean comfort food. The dish has a little bit of spice to flavor the meal, but not too much to overpower the fusion of flavors from the kimchee, vegetables and meat. The portion is generous; so generous that I normally eat just half of the plate and save the rest for a meal later in the day.”
“The geisha bowl came with rice, seaweed, edamame, cucumber, cilantro and imitation crab meat. The sushi wasn’t as melt-in-your-mouth as from Ono Poke in Edmonds, but I loved the addition of crunchy cucumber and fresh cilantro in my bowl. The imitation crab seemed unnecessary, considering all the fish that comes with it, but it added yet another flavor to my meal. (Those fish are all of my favorites when I go out for sushi, so this was one poke bowl I had to have.)
“My bowl came with a packet of wasabi, and I added it to my leftovers the next day. Yes, there was more than enough left for a second lunch. Just don’t keep your poke any longer than a day. It is raw fish, after all.
“I find it interesting that this restaurant serves poke, ramen and Korean barbecue. Three different Asian food groups! Well, you know what I mean. I will be back.”
Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; email@example.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.
If you go
Hani Hani, 9999 Harbour Place, No. 105, Mukilteo; 425-512-0188; www.hanihanipoke.com.
Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Sunday and 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.