My TD Lunch: Tom Douglas’ New Assembly Hall
Tom Douglas Seattle restaurateur extraordinaire has a new “place” to add to his portfolio of exceptional dining establishments dotted around the Seattle area; Assembly Hall. Assembly Hall, at 6th and Lenora is… well, different. Assembly Hall is more than just one restaurant, but the overall experience of being immersed in a complex of small eateries that include food, ambience, and much more.
The overall tone of the place is unusually hard to explain. At first it seemed like an indoor food mall but not, then maybe a cafeteria, no again; it’s more of a modern day music smashup in food form. Everything you see when you enter is Tom Douglas but with noticeable differentiations for each food vending area. The first area I encountered was a coffee/juice bar/bakery with amazing looking baked goods and vivid fruit concoctions. As I continued through the Hall I was taken back when I reached the fourth section, as it was setup very different than the ones I’d walked through and thought I may have reached the end of the Hall. I decided to ask the person on the other side if the counter if it was part of Tom Douglas’s new experience to which he said, “yep, everything is TD here.” “TD”… got it.
I decided to choose option two and sat down at the eating bar which seemed to be some kind of Asian fusion but it was unclear what it it was fused with exactly. There were still carpenters working on finishing the wine racks in the middle of this area which did not surprise me too much as I understood the place had just opened a few days earlier. Sitting at the bar had its own entertainment other than food as this portion of the Hall had a very open kitchen bustling with activity. I was surprised to see how open it really was when I noticed the dishwashing area is also wide open for viewing. Not something I remember ever seeing in a Northwest restaurant. It was pretty busy for 1:30 in the afternoon, with a diverse cross section of patrons. It would seem the word is spreading fast.
The menu I was presented with stated this restaurant was called Tanaka San with a large cephalopod tangling around the name. The menu focused primarily on Dim Sum variations with added items such as Ramen, Chicken Wings, and rice dishes. I leaned quickly to the Caramelized Coconut Beef and two Ramen dishes. In the end I went with the Tonkotsu Ramen, a pork broth with pork belly, brined egg, and pickled mushrooms.
As I waited, I noted that the staff never slowed down, working on all variety of foods and prep work for dishes I assumed were to be offered later in the evening. The waitress mentioned the menu changes out for the evenings, the new one offering a much larger variety of food. The staff was friendly, yet seemed preoccupied in learning how to prepare the new menu, conversing with each other on ingredients and steps in specific food creations. Soon the Ramen made its appearance in front of me and it was much more than I expected. The menu, being primarily Dim Sum, made me think that this too would be a smaller portion, not the case; a large bowl of ideal visual design presented itself to me.
The dish was as quite tasty and each ingredient stood on its own while hinting its flavors to the overall experience. The broth was very good as were the noodles. The eggs and mushrooms were perfect each in their own way and I found they had disappeared quickly.
The pork stomach was good but not my favorite part. I was introduced half way through to TD’s collection of four sauces and found the bean and garlic sauce to be the best for this particular menu item. The Ramen was very good although I would of preferred it to be brought at a higher temperature, before I was half way through the broth had become cooler than I would have liked.
As I was finishing up I noticed one of the chefs working on a dish that really piqued my interest, as it looked like a breakfast feast in a pan. As I am a big fan of breakfast I watched intently the artistry as he created.
He had a very large skillet and was filling it with all sorts breakfast ingredients including hash browns, raw bacon, green onion, peppers, and then egg after egg, after egg. I counted over 10 as the shells went flying and got very interested as I did not see this item on the menu anywhere. He took the skillet and put in a small pizza style oven. Having just finished my soup, I took the opportunity to ask what he was making and what it was called on the menu. He stated it was “staff meal”. Confused, I asked what that was exactly. He clarified, attempting not to directly call out my stupidity, explaining it was a meal for the working staff of the restaurant. A massive potpourri of breakfast wonderfulness. Ok, maybe not quite in those words, but an omelet to be split amongst the cooks. TD you big tease… I told him he should get that on the menu and I’d be there everyday.
Having left the counter I made my way back across the Hall. I noticed there was a flower kiosk selling fresh roses, flowerpots, and garden plants. Yes, to my surprise, pallets of small garden plants. The delicatessen styled area called Home Remedy, looked very good and a great place for a classic grab and go lunch. It had a fantastic salad bar, a “Sandwich Artist” creating made to order bread mitts of incredibleness, customizable rice bowls, pizza, and soups. The area also had wine, chips, snacks and more. It was like a little slice of all the things that make a corner delicatessen / grocery great.
I headed back towards work and paused, passing the first area again, Assembly Juice and Coffee. I had to get a juice for the road right? I ordered a combination of wheat grass and other fresh fruits juiced by hand. As I watched at the juice pick-up area, I noticed that against the wall this area of Assembly Hall also sold small bags of coffee, cloth umbrellas, little clay dishes and bowls, specialty towels and terrariums? Wow…glass terrariums. Cool. I quickly had my attention drawn back to the juice creation process as I noticed the man preparing it check it for taste, taking out a portion with a small straw stirrer. I did not expect that but it made sense based on my experience over the previous 45 minutes. TD has to make sure everything is perfect. The juice had a “boomerang kick” to it, which is the best way I can explain the spark it gave right after swallowing the frothy green goodness. The juice was great and a good chaser to the Ramen lunch.
I still am not sure what to call Assembly Hall. It’s not a single restaurant, nor a single experience.
It’s an amalgam of eating, shopping, and living in a city. Its a little New York City, Asian market, and farmers market a rolled up into one Hall, or Assembly Hall.
Thanks TD for the good lunch!
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