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Saturday, November 3, 2012 - Page updated at 05:30 a.m.

Nancy Leson
Chef Nathan Crave talks cheap eats, good cocktails and tamarind soup

By Nancy Leson
Seattle Times food writer

In this occasional series, Nancy Leson introduces you to food folks you should know. They eat (at one of her subject's favorite restaurants). They talk (sometimes with their mouths full). No one leaves hungry.

Say hello to Nathan Crave, sous-chef at Seatown Seabar & Rotisserie (2010 Western Ave., Seattle, 206-436-0390, Crave was leaning over a trout when we met. It was 2008. He had just opened Spring Hill in West Seattle as Mark Fuller's sous-chef (the two worked together for years at the Dahlia Lounge). Since then, I've spotted the Shorewood High grad, 33, at Bellevue's Monsoon East (where he did a stint as head chef), followed his path to Etta's (and his move next door to Seatown) and gotten a kick out of running into him — out and about with his wife and kids — at our neighborhood farmer's market.

Where we're eating: BCD Tofu House (22511 Highway 99, Edmonds; 425-670-6757,

Why here? "It's the secret gem," Crave says over lunch. "It's near my house, it's rarely full and the ladies who work here are beyond nice." BCD is also open from 9 a.m. till 3 a.m. — 24 hours Fridays and Saturdays — making this a great place to show up, whatever the hour, with a posse of hungry co-workers. "First they say, 'I'm not driving to Edmonds!', but once they eat here, they can't wait to come back."

His standing order: Beef octopus soondubu, a bubbling caldron of spicy Korean tofu soup ($12), whose complimentary sides include whole fried yellow croaker and an array of banchan (side dishes), on our visit, marinated mung beans, fish cake, pickled daikon radish, kimchi and rice.

My meal: The soondubu combo with pork bulgogi ($15) because I'm crazy for soondubu, especially if it's nasty out, and Crave says the pork bulgogi is his wife's go-to dish at BCD.

Love at first sight: Crave was 13 when he moved here from upstate New York. On his first day in town, his stepfather brought him to the Metropolitan Grill — through the kitchen entrance. "It was possibly one of the coolest things ever," says Crave, whose stepdad, a general contractor, did construction work for the Met's parent company, Consolidated Restaurants. "There were so many people in that kitchen. It must have been 5 o'clock, the dinner rush. It was chaotic — and amazing."

First restaurant job: Line-cook at the (since-closed) Lake Washington Grillhouse and Taproom in Kenmore. "It was a good job: you learned what you never wanted to do."

Cheap eats hookup: The salchipapas at San Fernando Roasted Chicken in Lynnwood (20815 67th Ave. W., 425-275-9597) "They slice hot dogs in rings, deep-fry them, toss them with French fries and served them with ketchup, mustard and cilantro mayo. For $5. It's freaking ridiculous. I wasn't hung over when I had it, but I totally wish I was."

Speaking of drink: Where to, and what's your poison? Bathtub Gin (2205 Second Ave., Seattle, 206-728-6069, for a Manhattan.

Your girls are 5 and 6. Great family-friendly restaurant?

T&T Seafood Restaurant (next to BCD Tofu House, 425-776-3832). "It's my mother-in-law's favorite place. If I'm at work and she's in town, they always go, and I know there will be honey walnut prawns for me when I get home."

What's cooking, Dad? "My kids love sinagang, a Filipino tamarind soup and it's my wife's favorite dish." Unlike his Filipino mother-in-law, he doesn't boil his sinagang. "I tell her to turn down the heat and she says 'No!' They boil everything." Crave gently cooks tamarind broth with tomatoes, bok choy, green beans and pork. "I use pork shoulder, though pork ribs are really delicious."

Food shop stop: H Mart (3301 184th St. S.W. Lynnwood, "It's like a Korean Uwajimaya. It's a beautiful store, and on weekends their kimchi bar is amazing."

Cook's tip: "If you're pan-searing fish, pat it dry first with paper towels. If you put it in the pan when it's wet, it sticks. That goes for any kind of meat: dry the skin off."

Feeding a need: "I'm a big Teen Feed pusher," says Crave, who regularly volunteers with the University District nonprofit that provides evening meals to homeless youth daily ( "I love that group. Every time I make a meal with them, the better it gets." This year, Crave started something new at Teen Feed: "guest-led meal teams." He plans the menu and five or six homeless youth — health cards in hand — show up at 4 p.m. to help him prep and cook. By 7 p.m., they're dishing up dinner for 30 to 50 hungry street kids. "It's awesome."

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or On Twitter @nancyleson.

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