Introducing Family Meal of the Week — a recurring column that explores the staff meals served in various restaurants across the Puget Sound. Today we feature Miyabi 45th.
There are meals in almost every restaurant serving off-menu items that you would never be lucky enough to eat unless you worked in the restaurant. They’re called family meals and they're served before or after service to feed those who work tirelessly to bring good food to your table — staff members who rarely get a chance to eat during their busy shift.
After Mutsuko Soma told me about this Korean Loco Moco that one of her cooks sometimes makes for family meal at her Wallingford restaurant, Miyabi 45th, I quickly invited myself over for dinner to document the process. Uihan (YOO-hawn) Kim was already busy making the dish when I arrived. The smell was intoxicating.
For the fried rice he mixes celery, ginger, garlic, kimchi, serrano peppers and Portuguese sausage that he smuggles back with him when he visits his family in Hawaii. He fries it all in pork or duck fat.
The gravy is basically beef fat and roux. But instead of using butter for the roux, today it’s the fat from a reduction of oxtail.
The composition of this Hawaiian "fast food" is traditional: a hamburger patty on top of the rice, topped with a fried egg and gravy. When the egg is broken, it mixes with the gravy creating some sort of saucy supergroup.
Kim tells me the dish takes about 30-45 minutes to make if everyone helps out. Family meals here are typically eaten after the restaurant closes for the night.
I guess I showed up at a good time. Kim only makes this dish every couple of months when he has some of that Portuguese sausage in his possession.
“It sucks,” says Soma. “He usually makes this dish on Monday — my day off! He makes good food when I’m not here.” She likes the dish not only because she loves spicy-sweet things, but because it utilizes the leftover rice the restaurant usually has at the end of the night.
“A good staff meal should come from the soul,” Kim tells me. “Everybody here has their different histories. We all come from different places — Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Guatamala; I’m from Korea and Hawaii. We’re all trying to do something. We’re all here trying to make money and this is like…we all have goals and dreams but for now, we’re just sharing time and helping each other out. Especially if it’s busy, we’ve got to take care of each other. As long as we make [the family meal] from the soul, something that made us happy when we were kids…It’s like that Ratatouille moment when the critic eats the ratatouille and flashes back to his childhood. Each plate tells a story.”
He and the other cooks take turns cooking. “If we’re in a rush, we’ll make something off the menu for each other."
This Korean Loco Moco is a good, heavy meal. “You won’t have to worry about being hungry later on!” says Kim. And that's the point. You should go home happy with a full stomach, according to him.
“We just eat, drink a beer, tell stories — it’s like family. We all get together at the end of the night and just enjoy each other’s company. I feel like that’s what restaurants should be about. Just having that connection with people.”