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Eating Out

Wednesday, December 15th, 2004

Wild horses, please drag me away

I have a dilemma. I want to write about all my food experiences as honestly as possible, but what do you do when a good friend treats you to a dinner out and it’s awful?

I guess you write about it. Maybe I’ll just leave out names and details to protect the innocent. That, and hope he doesn’t read my blog for the next few weeks…

My friend and I did some work for RUI a while back and they gave him a gift card as a thank you. He wanted to use it, so he asked me to join him for dinner at Palomino. I was really excited to see him, but I wasn’t as excited about the restaurant.

Palomino has always seemed schizophrenic to me. The decor is trying to be upscale, but it’s located in a shopping mall (granted Barney’s of New York is in same building, but it’s still a shopping mall) and the menu is all over the map in price range and style. So you can get deep fried poppers for $6 or a filet mignon for $32.

I think that our problem may have been in what we ordered. It seems like the best thing to order in places like this are the plain, non-fancy things, like the pizza or cheese fries. We decided to order more ‘upscale’ and ‘healthy’ things; the mushroom salad, crab & artichoke dip, rotisserie chicken and Dungeness crab stuffed prawns.

The mushroom salad was good, but certainly not healthy; it was the richest salad I’ve ever eaten. It was a warm salad with hedgehog mushrooms in a rich, gravy-like sauce over a smattering of leaves with cheese piled on top. The crap appetizer was probably my favorite—but then again I’ve never met a crab dip that I didn’t like. Which is weird because I have VERY strong feelings against cream cheese in dips, but I guess that’s what actually makes them good. The dip was appropriately cheesy and gooey and served with pizza chips that desperately needed salt.

My chicken was rotisseried to death and stuffed with a strange filling that was not what I pictured when I ordered it. The menu said something about ‘pancetta’, so I figured “How could I go wrong?”. I guess you can’t go wrong if it actually is pancetta, but I think the kitchen is using that term loosely.

The best thing I can say about my friends stuffed prawns is that they tasted like something you’d get at Skipper’s. When he offered me a bite I had a flash back of visiting my aunt when I was a kid and her taking us out for a ‘special treat’ at Skipper’s. I guess even back then I was a food snob.

So, when the bill came to over $100, I was a little surprised. If I was going to spend that much on a dinner for two, I know of about a hundred other places I’d go first. What I couldn’t figure out was why the restaurant was absolutely packed—just like the Cheesecake Factory.

Are the Cheesecake Factories of the world putting the Cassis’s of the world out of business? Or maybe this only happens in the states…

Palomino on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 12th, 2004

Jones Barbeque

When I used to live in the North end I had a Christmas-time ritual of getting a steaming hot bowl of Pho at the Than Brothers’ on Aurora and then heading up the block to get a $5 tree at Chubby and Tubby. I’d always follow the footprints painted on the store floor that led to the Christmas tree lot, even though I’d been getting trees there since I was a kid and knew the path by heart. Then after purchasing the tree, the cashier would hand me a key and I’d head back into the store and follow a different set of footprints to see if my key would open the treasure chest packed with Chubby and Tubby merchandise.

Now that I live in the South end and Chubby and Tubby is no longer (sniff), I have found the need for a new ritual. I still like to go to the Chubby and Tubby lot, since they open once a year just to sell trees, but now I go to the one down South in Rainier Valley. And what could be a better food pairing for an event like this than Jones Barbeque, just a few blocks away on MLK?

Jones is a small B.B.Q. joint that is dive-y in a wholesome way and serves damned good barbeque—the best I’ve tasted in Seattle. They aren’t open late, so when we got there at 6:15 they had already closed up the dinning area and were out of everything but the ribs. But we didn’t need much else besides two orders of ribs to go.

Each order comes with a good coleslaw that has a nice, balanced blend of mayonnaise and vinegar. We also got an order of their baked beans; the really good, really thick, ketchup-laced, sweet kind. I ordered ribs with a mild sauce, because I’m a wimp, and Zach ordered the medium ones. His were hot (in my opinion) and the sauce was thin and tangy. Mine were also hot, but the sauce was sweeter and richer. The meat on both was smoky and falling off the bone. I love to put hunks of rib meat into the whiter-than-Wonder-Bread bread, add a spoonful of slaw and then run it through the sauce until the bread is falling apart and I can barely get it to my mouth before it disintegrates. It’s a perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.

Jones Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 4th, 2004

Osteria de la Spiga

I love la Spiga. Yes, it’s basically in a strip mall underneath the Capitol Hill QFC. Yes, it can be really expensive, especially when you go with a large group. Yes, it’s really small and can sometimes be hard to get a table.

But the piadina! Where else can you get piadina sandwiches that taste this good?

For lunch we split my favorite piadina sandwich: fresh mozzarella, prosciutto and truffle mushroom paste sandwiched in between a biscuit-like flatbread and grilled to perfection.

We also split an order of the special of the day; a farro with squash. It was very good and really different from the farro squash dish we had at Lark. It was less like a creamy risotto and more crunchy and nutty. Different, but equally as good.

They also have one of the most simple, but delicious salads. It’s just romaine, frisee, radicchio, carrot and arugula dressed with olive oil, vinegar and salt & pepper. I’ve decided it must be really expensive olive oil that makes it so good. I keep trying to make it at home, but it never comes out as good. It could also be the lettuce mix; it’s always fresh and sweet lettuce. I wonder where they get it—for damned sure not at the QFC.

Osteria la Spiga on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

Lark, second time around

When my dad comes to town it’s our tradition to have a nice dinner out and shoot some pool. I chose dinner at Lark, since I was craving their pork rillettes and I wanted to see if it would be just as good as the first time I ate there.

There were three of us for dinner and the waitress suggested ordering 2-3 dishes a piece, so this is what we chose:

Pork Rillettes, Apple Bread and 12th Century Chutney ($9) – Good, but not nearly as good as the first time I ordered them.

Chorizo Pamplona with Spicy Olives & Breadsticks ($8) – Also good, but I was expecting hunks of chorizo and this was sliced very thin like salami, so it was hard to taste the full flavor.

Warm Spanish Mackerel Escabeche with Fried Capers & Chorizo Oil ($11) – Mackerel is usually too fishy for me, but the crisp, briny capers really mellowed out the flavor.

Roasted Oysters with Herb Butter, Pernod and Bacon ($14) – These looked beautiful, but somehow the flavors didn’t really come together right for me. Dad loved these.

Farro with Black Kale, Red Kuri Squash & Mascarpone ($12) – This was my favorite. The farro had a texture like risotto and was sweet from the squash. It paired beautifully with the bitter kale.

Baked Anson Mills Taragna Polenta with Roast Pork & Sage ($13) – The polenta was really good and cut into cubes, but the pork seemed a little dry and was sliced thin like deli-meat and then layered on top.

Squab with Yellowfoot Chanterelles and Trofie Pasta & Parmigiano Regiano ($14) – This was my second favorite. I usually don’t like squab, but this one was perfectly cooked (very rare) and was really flavorful with a taste and texture more like meat than poultry. It came with an amazing sauce and hand rolled pasta that looked a little like spaetzle.

We ended our dinner with a selection of three fabulous cheeses:
Pont l’Eveque – Normandy Cow
Charollais – Burgundy Goat
Thistle Hill Farms Tarentaise – Vermont Cow

After the cheese course, we were too full to eat anything else, so we went to play pool for a while, then headed to Le Pichet for a late night dessert of apple cake and pastis.

Lark on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

Sandwich in a box

The last workday before a long holiday weekend always seems like it deserves a special lunch, so Zach and I went to the Baguette Box.

When we meet here, we usually each get a different sandwich and split them so that we can try all the flavors. So far we’ve had the Drunken Crispy Chicken, the Salumi Salami, the Kobe Beef and the Gravlax. Lately, I seem to have gotten stuck on the Salumi Salami sandwich (how can you resist Mole salami!?) and Zach usually orders the Crispy Drunken Chicken, so we both decided to try something new today.

Zach tried to order the hoisin pig ear sandwich, but they were out of it. Who knew pig ears were so popular? He ordered the lamb sandwich with yogurt instead and I ordered the red-wine braised pork sandwich. They were both delicious. Mine was especially messy with all of the braising juices squirting out of the tender pork and mixing with the mustard-seed spread. Zach’s lamb had roasted red peppers and a delicious Greek-tasting yogurt sauce, which totally made the sandwich. I can’t wait to go back and try the rest of them—I’m especially interested in the beef and veal meatball sandwich.

Baguette Box on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 13th, 2004

Dim Sum

My mourning period for Top Gun has officially ended. Ever since they closed last summer, I had been wandering around Chinatown lackadaisical and noncommitted to the other Dim Sum options. I even drove out to the relocated Top Gun, which was in a Factoria strip mall (don’t bother).

Zach said he heard about a new place that a few friends had recommended. I was skeptical since I thought we had already tried everything in the ID, so I was surprised when we rounded the corner and headed toward Sun Ya—a place that my grandma used to take me to when I was a kid, but had forgotten about.

We happily stuffed ourselves silly, grinning at our fortune of finding Dim Sum that was maybe even better than Top Gun.

Shrimp Balls – This was the only slightly disappointing dish, as the shrimp didn’t taste as fresh as they could be.

Sticky Rice – Really good rice with lots of bits of tender pork but no lop chong, which I love (but know most people don’t).

Steamed Hum Bow – Perfect, small, pillowy packages stuffed with delicious and meaty bbq’d pork filling.

Baked Hum Bow – I was never a huge fan of these until now. The dough was slightly crunchy and sweet, with a sticky outside and the same perfect filling.

Pot Stickers – Really good, stuffed with nicely seasoned pork and water chestnuts that gave it a nice flavor and crunch.

Garlic Spareribs – This was the star of the meal. We special ordered these and they were strangely addictive. The spareribs were fried and crunchy but not at all greasy, with a fantastic garlic flavor that was both subtle and strong at the same time. I wanted to stuff them into my cheeks like a chipmunk.

Sesame Seed Dessert Balls – I don’t know what was in them, but they were a lot like my grandma’s tai doi—slightly sweet, chewy, fried balls of goodness.

Even though I couldn’t possibly have eaten another bite, the bbq window we passed on the way home was making me drool. Next time…

Sun Ya Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 12th, 2004

Monkey Slaves & Gucci Shoes

We started off the night with a great dinner at Matt’s in the Market—the perfect place to be on a cold and rainy Seattle night. It was warm and cozy at the bar, with a bird’s-eye view of the ‘kitchen’. We marveled at the fact that they can turn out so much food with two single burners and an oven.

We ordered the pan-fried smelt with bacon braised chard and garlic aioli for an appetizer. Mmmmm. The smelt was so crunchy and it paired wonderfully with the tangy and salty chard. Zach had the lamb shank with charmoula, which really was delicious, but I am so spoiled by my beef short rib recipe, that it didn’t really compare. I had the pan fried trout with pancetta and calvados-braised lentils. I was a little worried that it would taste too much like the appetizer, but it was very different with sweet and fruity overtones. It was sooo good.

Then we dashed off to see Sedaris speak at Benaroya Hall. I laughed until I cried until I hit my head on the back of my seat from laughing so hard. He talked about monkey slaves and now I want one. I’ve decided I will teach my foster monkey to fry bacon in the mornings and take my cat for walks around the neighborhood while I’m at work.

And though it seems like the night couldn’t get much better, it did. We played some pool at the Nite Lite and then Zach schooled me at darts.

It was pretty late at this point, but we were getting hungry again and we weren’t ready to go home. So we ended up at 13 Coins, where we talked to this guy in the lobby who was wearing the most unbelievably ugly Gucci shoes. (Just because something has Gucci logos all over it, doesn’t mean you should wear it. In fact, it probably means you shouldn’t.) Anyways, we got a great booth and split the believer, which my brother turned me on to. And, oh do I believe.

Saturday, October 9th, 2004

Le Pichet

While I’ve never been to France, Le Pichet is the picture I have in my head of what a French cafe looks like. I love that it’s warm and sterile at the same time, that the table tops are made out of slate and that they smoke and play loud accordion music on Sunday afternoons. I had been hearing about the roast chicken for two, so this outing was specifically to try this dish.

Since the chicken takes almost an hour to cook, we started out with the charcuterie plate. The charcuterie was fantastic with great country-style (i.e. chunky) pork rillettes and marinated beef tongue. I haven’t ever (knowingly) had beef tongue before, so I was a little wary. Here’s my verdict: Beef tongue is good! It’s kind of like eating foie gras though—it’s so rich and fatty tasting that I can only handle it in small amounts.

Then we moved on the salad verte, which always amazes me in its simplicity and deliciousness. I want to figure out what they put in that dressing that makes it so good.

Then on to the chicken! At first, I was a little disappointed that the chicken didn’t come with pommes frites, but once I tasted the macaroni broth and bed of braised leeks that it came with, I was sold. It was an amazing and perfect roast chicken. The waitress recommended a great table wine, Domaine des Rozets Coteaux du Tricastin 2001, which we drank with the meal.

We were too stuffed for dessert, so we moved on and had drinks at Zig Zag. I had a Vesper (mmm) and Zach had something with Brandy that he really enjoyed, and I didn’t enjoy as much—which is weird because I really love single-malt Scotches, but I haven’t acquired a taste for Brandy yet. I do have to say that I would never recommend Zig Zag on a weekend night-it’s just too crowded and too insincere, but definitely worth it on a weekday night for a delicious drink.

Le Pichet on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 29th, 2004

In the kitchen with Bruce

Simple food is good when you have outstanding, fresh ingredients, but it’s even better when you take those ingredients and combine them to make something more complex with layers of flavor. This is why I love French sauces. And this is how I found myself taking cooking classes at Le Gourmand with Bruce Naftaly.

I really appreciate Bruce’s approach to cooking—everything should be made with the freshest local ingredients, using only what is in season. People know and love him for this, which is why his customers are always approaching him with extra produce from their gardens.

So the class works like this: We all squeeze into the kitchen in the back of the restaurant. Chairs are lined up in a row in front of the counter, so there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Bruce talks about what’s in season and outlines the menu. Then he starts making the dishes, while everyone takes notes and tries to keep up. My technique involves having a large notebook and starting every recipe on a different page and then flipping back and forth through the pages as Bruce goes back and forth between the dishes.

About halfway through the class, the regulars hand out bread and open several bottles of wine. In this class, we drank an Argi d’Ansa i Rouleguy 2003, which Bruce said was a rose cabernet made with Tannat grapes. It was a beautiful color, like cranberry juice, and was light and refreshing.

Then as the courses finish cooking, they are served. This was the menu:

Garlic & Apple Soup – Good and very thick; slightly tart.

Halibut with Fennel & Chanterelle Sauce – This was my favorite. The sauce was HEAVENLY paired with a simple poached halibut.

Roast Pork Loin with Huckleberry & Lavender and Plum, Dill & Garlic Sauces – The pork loin was fantastic, but I wasn’t wild about the two sauces; they somehow tasted raw to me. Bruce said that when cooking sauces for the restaurant they have a longer chance to reduce and become more melded.

Peach, Basil and Mint Sorbet – Nice flavor combination, but I would have added way more sugar. It was more like a palate cleanser than a dessert sorbet.

I must say that Bruce loves his Cognac. It actually went into every single dish. By the end of the night I figured he went through about a bottle and a half. Every time he paused and said ‘I think this needs something’, the class would shout ‘More Cognac!’. It was a slightly raucous crowd and so much fun!

I think the food quality in the classes isn’t as good as if you ate in the restaurant, but it’s such an enjoyable experience being nestled in his kitchen, learning, laughing and eating great food.

Le Gourmand Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 14th, 2004

The Chef in the Hat

Ever since my mom and I saw Thierry Rautureau speak at the 2003 Cascadia Culinary Arts Conference, we’ve been wanting to eat at his restaurant. He was so personable, funny and well-spoken. I loved hearing about his childhood food memories and about the importance of supporting local, sustainable farmers. So when my employer gave me a gift certificate to Rover’s as a going away present, I knew who I had to take. I called my mom to pick a date and then booked the reservation.

We splurged and both chose the Eight Course Grand Menu Degustation ($125). I have never been, nor will ever be a vegetarian, but even the Five Course Vegetarian Menu Degustation sounded amazing. We asked for a white burgundy and our waiter presented us with a 2000 Meursault les Clous Bouchard Pere & Fils (mmmm).

Amuse-Bouche: A trio of Ginger Carrot Soup with Basil Oil, White Cheddar Puff Pastry Twist & Rabbit Mousse – A wonderful sip of soup with a crunchy puff pastry cracker. The mousse was delicious and came on what my mom dubbed ‘the communion wafer’. I could have eaten spoonfuls of the rabbit mousse, but since it was an amuse-bouche, it was about the size of my fingertip.

Scrambled Egg with a Lime Cr̬me Fraiche and White Sturgeon Caviar РHeavenly caviar mixed with just the right amount of perfectly scrambled egg, stuffed back into an egg shell and set in an egg cup. Beautiful.

Smoked Moulard Duck Breast with Frisee and a Plum and Apple Compote – Rich, smoky duck breast slices paired with a sweet compote and presented on a crisp frisee salad.

Soft Shell Bisque with Diver’s Sea Scallop Quenelle and Sea Beans – One of my favorite dishes. A rich tasting broth with beautiful and light quenelles. The standout ingredient in the dish was actually the sea beans—crunchy little morsels that burst with a sweet and briny flavor.

Maine Lobster with Braised Fennel and a Pastis Nage – Another favorite. Perfectly cooked lobster that was actually tender, served in a wonderful licorice broth.

Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Caramelized Peach and a Honey Vinegar Gastric – My absolute favorite. The plate came out and it looked like a painting, swathed in red and orange hued sauces with bright green accents. An amazing piece of foie gras that was made even more wonderful when paired with the rich sauces. The portion was so large that I almost couldn’t finish it, but of course I did finish it.

Troll King Salmon Tournedos with Romano Beans and a Soy-Ginger Glaze – This was good, but after all the fantastic things that preceded it, this ended up tasting somewhat plain—like a really good salmon teriyaki.

Sauvignon Blanc and Peach Sorbet / Black Tea with Silver Honey Sorbet – The peach sorbet was too sweet and cloying for my taste and the tea and honey sorbet had a very odd tangy flavor.

Roasted Lamb Loin with Zucchini, Onion Confit and a Moroccan Olive Sauce – This was good as well, but in my opinion, the most interesting dishes were all the seafood courses.

European and Local Cheese Assortment – All excellent cheeses and I can’t remember the name of a single one of them.

Symphony of Desserts – A trio of really beautifully presented mini-desserts, but they looked better than they tasted.

Jellies & Truffles – A nice assortment of chocolate truffles and jelly candies.

All in all, the dinner was amazing—beautiful presentation and interesting and delicious ingredient parings. However, I do think that the eight course menu may have been a tad bit too much food for me. Next time I go back I will order a five course menu and request mostly seafood.

Rover's on Urbanspoon