BELLINGHAM - Fast food is seldom so good. Good food is seldom so fast.
Dashi Noodle Bar has come up with a way to provide fascinating and flavorful food for people with limited time and discretionary income. Get a big bowl of soup chock full of homemade noodles, meat and/or vegetables, or an Asian-style steamed bun. Either way you'll have a filling and savory meal in minutes.
I must admit that I found the format off-putting at first. Dashi asks you to custom-build the contents of your soup bowl from a selection of toppings, noodles, meats, broths and extra add-ons - a process that demands more mental energy than simply pointing at something on a menu.
Don't overthink it. Just go up to the counter and pick some ingredients at random. That's what I did, and it worked out fine: chicken in mushroom broth with thick and chewy udon noodles. I skipped the extra add-ons such as egg and ginger bacon and didn't miss them, tempting as they did sound.
The mushroom broth was dark and distinctly mushroom-flavored, suggesting shiitake. The noodles were hearty and satisfying. Besides chicken, the soup contained Asian greens, chopped green onion and sweet-and-sour pickled bamboo shoots. It was an excellent meal for $11.
My lunch companion veggie soup with chicken and pork broth, $8, and added the boneless fried chicken special of the day for another $3. This soup's broth was also dark and full of flavor, and the ramen noodles she chose went well with it.
We split a steamed pork bun, $6. This looks like a gyro when it arrives at your table, but the resemblance is purely visual. The steamed bun is soft and chewy, and the seasoned meat and vegetable filling is Chinese in concept. One of these would make a decent meal, and you can't dine out any better at this price.
You can ignite the buns or the soup with some of the house-brand hot sauce at your table. This is a medium-spicy concoction of Thai chili and red bell peppers that was especially good on the pork bun.
Dashi also provides a serve-yourself selection of Japanese and Korean-style pickled vegetables such as kim chee cabbage, daikon and turnip. You can put it in your soup or nibble on it for an appetizer in the few short minutes it takes for your soup or bun to arrive at your table.
We also were impressed with the subtle stylishness of this place. It shows a real flair for design, and an attention to aesthetic details that provide a suitable setting for the equally sophisticated and subtle dishes.
You also can choose from a selection of craft beers and wines by the glass - unusual in a restaurant in this price range.
Dashi has quickly become one of downtown's top culinary attractions, with an approach that is utterly original locally. More of this kind of creativity would be welcome in Whatcom County.
DASHI NOODLE BAR
Address: 1311 N. State St.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday.
Price range: $6-$14