Sunday, August 26, 2007

Taste of India

Everything I had was good here and I plan to go again. Samosas are my favoite thing to order, perhaps my favorite food ever, and these did not disappoint. Crispy, flaky shells with tender potato insides and the twin sauces accompanying were good if somewhat standard. Even better though, at this particular restaurant, is the naan. I ordered garlic naan and was very pleased to chew on the hunks of garlicky goodness, not burnt or tough or limp like other Indian establishments but fresh, hot and flavorful. The only dish that I could have lived without was the Palak Masala Paneer, frankly I've had better. The paneer, a mild cheese, was not as fantastic as I've had before, and the creamed spinach that is palak was a bit too creamed and one dimensional in flavor for me. Not bad, just not great. The service and atmosphere were both pleasant and unassuming, I am eager to go again and delve deeper into their extensive menu and see what tastes of India wait to be discovered.

Baguette Box in Freemont

Not a bad sandwich (I had the pork with cilantro and red onions) but a bit over priced and lacking in wow. I felt as if it was missing something, some tang or heat, pickled peppers perhaps? Nothing really wrong with the food or place, just that it could be so much more for the money, with Paseos just up the hill with better food and more generous portions for the buck, I can't imagine bothering with this place, too bad to, it's conveniently located and I imagine they are getting by on that.

Etta's Seafood

Well, I've only had the soup and bread but it was very good. The clam chowder had a subtle white wine and brine flavor to it and was good till nearly the end when the heaviness of the cream started taking its toll. I just stopped in for a very early dinner and filled up on the chowder and very decent bread. The room itself is relaxed and the large windows afford good views of tourists strolling by. The entrees seemed a bit expensive but looked beautiful, not a place I'd go often on my own but would be great to take visiting relatives to after a day at Pike's Place.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Il Terrazzo Carmine

I've been missing the cutting edge cuisine of Chicago but not missing the prices. Here in Seattle most of the food is more directly rooted in the traditions of the countries the cuisine originates from, which can be fantastic when done well. Il Terrazzo Carmine is an example, probably the best example, of this traditional approach done extremely well, at least for Italian dining.

The room is formal but not overly stuffy, they managed to not sneer at my bohemian attire and were politely welcoming, though certainly not effusive. My server, Brian, was a friendly young man (the servers were all male on this night) from Jersey, he was capable and attentive to everyone equally. Over all the service is just as polished as the attractive silverware but had a relaxed feel, I felt comfortable despite being so obviously out of place in my Sketchers and T-shirt.

Il Terrazzo Carmine has exceptional food. The soup I ordered, the Zuppa di Pesce, was a revelation of properly cooked seafood. Tender calamari rings, moist salmon, and fresh mussels swim in the light tomato, garlic, and basil infused broth, powerful but balanced, a difficult dish to follow. Indeed the Ravioli Di Capriolo, a very good pasta stuffed with veal, spinach, and mushrooms with a heady veal based sauce, was a very good dish, it simply didn't seem as spectacular in light of the amazing soup that it followed. I was also pleased with the bread and butter served, I finished off my little basket worth happily, eagerly tearing away at the bread and dipping it into my soup to sop up the goodness.

Sticking to a small serving of pasta and devouring all my bread, I was able to have one of the more satisfying meals of my life without breaking the bank and left happy and full into the night to walk along nearby Puget Sound, a romantic evening sadly for one, though not so sad as I was able to fully concentrate on the transcendent Italian cuisine.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Catering Life

My boss and I swung by for some more terrific Sichuanese after work the other night. We usually don't have time to go out after catering big weddings but this time we were just doing the rare dinner party for twelve. We had pork with pickled veg and hot and spicy prawns, both fantastic dishes but I still love the cumin lamb the best.

The party for twelve was a fun gig, we served perfect Filet mignon with a red wine and mushroom demi glace based sauce. We served this with garlic mash potatoes and fancy little veggie bundles. My boss is into the classical French fare and really knows how to make this stuff taste great. We usually do more Americanized and International type food for the weddings though, because it's what the customers ask for.

Even though I catered a half dozen weddings when I owned the Mr E Cafe (cheesy name, right?) I never really had the catering business figured out; how to price things, the timing of champagne toasts and what not. Most wedding caterers aren't really chefs, but my boss is, and I've been super impressed with how good the food we manage to produce for large crowds is. It's inherently difficult to cook in unfamiliar kitchens (often home kitchens) and get the food out hot, on time, and cooked properly. I think we do it with great aplomb and I have been enjoying the job immensely. It's been nice to be a small part of so many peoples big day!

The next night we did a plated wedding (we plated everything rather than setting up a buffet) which is an added challenge. To plate so much food fast and get it to the tables quickly is always tough. We figure out a way to set up an assembly line and then just blast it out, "table five; three salmon, two chicken, two beef...let's go people!" The sun was setting on the water when we got out, there was a picturesque ferry boat tugging along in the distance, pretty fantastic sight after several hours in the kitchen. We headed back to unload the van and cleanup, ending an eleven hour shift of constantly being on my toes, lifting heavy loads, and snacking on delicious foods. Not an easy job but satisfying when we see everyone smiling and thanking us for a great meal! Then we wake up and do it again...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Roxy's Diner

Roxy's makes one mean Reuben! The meaty sandwich arrives piping hot and oozing goodness. I took several photos before consuming and it hadn't lost its savor and sizzle one bit by the time I bit. Though seductively good from the first mouth full I found the allure fizzled slightly by end due to the saltiness of the meat, and frequent readers know I like the salt. They do have turkey and pastrami options if corned beef isn't your thing. If alone again I will definitely try the turkey, I'd be happy to split the corn beef as it's huge and so very good! The decor of the place is casual, funky, and fun. I sat at the bar and was served by Jamie, a lovely girl who did her job well, and made a newbie feel at home.

I've heard they do other things well so I'll have to post again when I get the chance for a repeat date with Roxy's.

Jahnjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine

The staff here is about as friendly as it comes and the food is very good. Everything was so good; from the friendly welcome, to the comfortable decor, the pleasant background music, and the tasty tofu with red curry was rich and creamy with veggies cooked just right- I really have nothing to say bad about the place. Was it an amazing, transcendent experience? No, but for the price I wouldn't expect a restaurant to be. Definitely worth stopping for, even if you aren't vegetarian, and especially if you are having a hard time finding a friendly and unassuming place that's clean, just a little stylish, and very tasty.

(in Wallingford)
1718 N 45th St
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 632-1484

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Black Bottle Bistro

Black Bottle Bistro is one sexy restaurant. I clean up OK, I'm by no means a hipster, but I felt perfectly at home sitting at the bar with the fabulous people sipping martinis. The bar tender was a friendly and refined fellow and the food felt just as welcoming. So far I've only had the dried cherry and smoked chicken flat bread, I say so far because everything here looked fabulous coming out of the kitchen and smelled great too so I intend on returning soon. I had to restrain myself from stealing morsels from my neighbors at the bar. I've actually made flat breads at a fancy restaurant in Chicago under the direction of an Iron Chef contestant, so it's no light recommendation that I say the flat breads here are worth a trip for. I did request some salt, but that's pretty standard with me. The balance of meat to cheese with the earthy sweetness of the cherries and occasional hint of rosemary was spot on, very close to perfection, my hats off to the chef!

I walked there all the way from the Elliot Bay Cafe in Pioneer Square, which for me wasn't a long walk, but I was approached by crazed meth heads (at least their eyes were glassy) on two occasions. Where are the cops in this town? One of the guys punched a metal sign just a few feet from me and was stomping around as if looking for easy prey, lucky for me I don't flinch easily and he moved on. I've felt at ease in Seattle until this occurred, I assume it's a problem in that area, so watch yourself.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Chiso Sushi in Fremont Seattle

My favorite coffee shop in Seattle is quite a trek for me but I don't mind so much when there are other great reasons to be in Fremont, such as this wonderful sushi restaurant.

Chiso has great atmosphere and a knowledgeable and friendly staff, at least my server was top notch and the others seemed to be doing a great job as well. I chose to try some non-sushi dishes this time out. I started with ankimo, which is a pate of monk fish liver. The smooth, rich, and subtle pate was served on top of seaweed with ponzu, a bright, vinegary tasting citrus dressing. The ponzu was a great addition to the pate, some of which, the gray parts, were a bit dry and tasting of canned tuna; the pate was a mix of pink and gray, the pink being more rich and addictive in flavor. I would order this over and over again, nearly a perfect dish, they even added a touch of spicy minced tuna as a garnish, just fabulous, and the dry, chilled sake my server recommended was an excellent accompaniment.

Next I sampled the hamachi kama, Yellowtail collar, a grilled fish dish I love for its tender, mild flesh. I was expecting to order rolls after this but the hamachi was very large and my appetite sated. I should have ordered a side of rice as this was a lot of protein for one person to consume but it all tasted great! I'll be going back soon to try their sushi offerings.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Bokchoy For Breakfast?

Here is my version of a dish my friend Thao makes, mine is a little Americanized. Having no fish sauce on hand I simply used salt and pepper to season. I cook the eggs first (in butter) then set aside, insuring that they aren't overdone, next I saute the white parts of some baby bokchoy then add the rice (left overs) and the green parts, along with some water and flat leaf parsley (because it was there); after a minute or so. I also stirred in some Vietnamese chili and garlic paste for a little added Oomph! Not your typical American breakfast but maybe it should be, the chilies definitely woke me up a bit!

I am helping to cater three weddings over three days (and nights) this weekend. Luckily after my long day yesterday I was able to sleep in a little. Hopefully this meal will give me the boost I'll need for another long one.

Good eating everyone!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Spanglish Dish

Today I made an early dinner of grilled chicken thighs that I shredded and mixed with black beans that had been simmered with garlic, thyme, bay leaf, oregano, and minced cilantro stems (they have lots of flavor). What made the dish for me was the perfectly plump corn that I grilled in the husk after soaking in a water bath for twenty minutes. The corn steams inside its own skin and comes out beautifully sweet and tender, just watch it, mine caught aflame a bit but was easily tamped out. Browning both sides of the corn in a medium hot space on the grill should do it, squeezing with the tongs you should be able to feel a bit of give that will let you know it's done. I mixed the corn, chicken, and beans together, making sure to add the delicious juices of the chicken that came out while cooling. To this I added some extra virgin olive oil, just a bit to round out the flavors, and adjusted salt levels to my liking. Served over rice, topped with sour cream, sweet sauteed onion, a bit of chili paste, and some fresh sprigs of cilantro. A simple dish that's made great by the addition of the grilled chicken's juices, and by using local corn in season you transform something simple into the sublime.

Paseo Carribean in Fremont

Yesterday I traveled two hours by bus and foot just to eat this sandwich and let me tell yah' it was oh so worth it. It's a monster Cuban, filled with the juiciest pork you'll ever eat, tender caramelized onions, peppers, cilantro and special mayo sauce on crusty bread. If you get the chance, or even if you have to commandeer an airplane, try the #8 Midnight Cuban, all future sandwiches will just be a sneering reminder of how much better your lunch could be.

This place is not on any major traffic artery, but it's always packed. I ate at two and was lucky to get a chair to sit in, no table, just a chair on the side walk, I would have happily sat on nails! Seriously though, the food came quickly despite the crowd (there's only seating for maybe a dozen so it goes quick) and the local vibe is a welcome thing in this cookie cutter world. Visitors; feel free to skip the Space Needle and head to Fremont for an out of this world gustatory experience.

Sichuanese Cuisine

Had a great dinner tonight in Chinatown. This place may not be swank, in fact it's a dive, but the food is excellent and the servers are actually prompt and friendly! I had the Cumin Lamb, xinjiang style, I guess that means rockin' style, my loose translation. I was surprised at the volume of lamb and the heaping mound of rice they served with it, I nearly polished it all off too, the spice fueling my appetite. I honestly don't remember forking it in with such gusto in recent memory, the lamb was perfectly tender and the multitude of sauteed onions were a treat.

My only regret is that the cutie at the adjacent table didn't agree to join me, well, we'll always have Sichuanese...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Grilled Chicken For Family

I made this quick dinner for my brother and his wife. The weather was perfect so it was a no-brainer to throw some chicken thighs on the old barbie. I use thighs because they are so much more juicy than breasts. The thighs I marinaded in olive oil with rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper; nothing crazy. For veg I tossed wax beans in hot olive oil with garlic, and sauteed briefly then covered till tender. At that point I added bokchoy leaves I tore up and dashed the whole lot with soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and sugar. Everything over Jasmine rice, because regular rice just pales in comparison, and with the crispy skinned chicken we had a mighty fine dine!

Monday, July 30, 2007

35th Street Bistro

Pictured is the almond crusted trout on mashed potatoes with lemon butter that I enjoyed as an early dinner at this pleasant bistro in the Fremont area of Seattle. If you add a nut crust to any meat I'm probably going to sample, it's a great way to add flavor and a bit of crunch to tender meats. Almonds were a nice mellow paring for the trout and the perfectly smooth and delectably seasoned mash potatoes threatened to outshine the fish for star of this dish. My only complaint was for the undressed and bitter greens on top.

I have to mention that Sarah, my server, did a fantastic job because fantastic is a word not often associated with service in America.

El Camino

Yesterday I had a great little lunch at El Camino in the Fremont area of Seattle. Nothing revolutionary here but for just six bucks you can score these delicious steak tacos, which are featured at the top of their bar menu. The meat inside the soft corn shells was tender and accompanied by fresh cilantro and onions. Included is a bit of guacamole, and while lacking a bit in acidity and salt, was perfectly acceptable especially since there are nice bits of crisp plantain chips wedged into it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

East Meets Lazy

I've been living like a lazy bachelor and not cooking much these last few months but today I roused myself to cook an impromptu lunch. I've been taking advantage of the great farmers market that is held Tuesdays just a few blocks from my residence and getting some really great produce.

I simply sauteed crimini mushrooms with garlic and onion then tossed in spinach and basil at the end with a mix of soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and sugar. Surprisingly it needed more salt, because the spinach was greedy for it, and a little olive oil at the end added depth of flavor and a better mouth feel. I spooned this mix over some hot pasta and that was it. I think I'll add some red pepper flakes next time but this definitely made for a vegetarian dish you would never miss the meat in.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Imo sushi

Found a nice sushi spot. I sat down for an early dinner at the upstairs bar. The bartenders and regulars at the bar were all friendly Indie vibe twenty somethings. The sushi was good and the music and decor fun and comfortable, lots of seating, I was there on a slow Monday early so I'd be interested to see how they do on a weekend night, I've read on Yelp that it isn't as great when busy.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Seattle Pho

Seattle is a great town for Pho, a wonderful Vietnamese soup with rice noodles and a terrific beef broth. This one I had downtown on 3rd at Cafe Pho and it was very good and affordable. I love this soup because it is filling but not heavy or fatty like most American food. The bun at the bottom was purchased at Sun Bakery in Chinatown and despite the cheap cheese used it was excellent! The dough was sweet and just slightly salty, think ephemerally light cheese pretzel, the big soft doughy kind. I was lucky to get three buns right out of the oven as I showed up at 11 for an early lunch (my breakfast). Not shown are the BBQ pork and curry beef buns I also eagerly consumed.

If anyone out there knows about the Seattle food scene, please drop me a line about any favorite places I should visit. I love affordable ethnic places and the more creative of the high end type restaurants. I'm also looking for foodie dining buddies so let me know!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Creamy Crimini Soup

Here is a simple soup I've made before but improved a bit with the addition of white truffle oil. The oil is a rather strong and distinctive flavor I've tried before on eggs and pasta but a light hand is required or it will overwhelm these subtle flavors. Potatoes however contain large starchy molecules that can absorb lots of flavor so more is necessary, just as potatoes require a good deal of salt to taste seasoned. This time the soup was started with a saute of criminis, garlic, and leeks; to which diced peeled potatoes were added then covered with chicken stock and left to simmer till tender. I cooled the soup quickly with chicken stock ice cubes, pureed most of the soup, passed through a sieve to create a more luxurious mouth feel, then added back to the pot with some of the chunky bits I wanted for textural contrast. The soup was gently reheated with a touch of cream then finished by stirring in the truffle oil and garnished with a few more, nicely seared criminis. Quick, simple, and deeply satisfying, perfect for a rainy day meal.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Game of Squash

Acorn squash with almond oil, honey, garlic and sage butter over jasmine rice. The picture really says it all.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Midnight Snack Musings

Midnight snacks are about primal urges and though I will always love Ramen noodles and grilled cheese sandwiches, sometimes something new will only do. Late night snack improvisations are the stuff of legends, everyone has a favorite story to tell of the amazing sandwich made with left overs or the odd food combination magic inspired by drunken laziness. After cooking for work all night and getting home late I rarely want to extend much energy so Ramen will do, but last night, out of noodles and wanting more, I turned to the can of smoked sardines in oil I keep tucked in the cabinet for emergencies. Raiding the fridge for mise en place I came away with freshly bought pitas Thao had picked up, cream cheese she claimed I would never use, four lonesome olives huddled together in a forgotten jar, and some preshredded cheese, a parm and mozz mix with garlic flavor added. I pretoasted the amazingly light and fluffy pitas then topped with said ingredients and popped back into toasted oven briefly on broil to finish. In minutes I was rewarded with one of the best, simple and rustic, soothing and satisfying snacks in memory. Paired with a Goose Island honkers ale, I was in snack heaven.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Simply Ceviche

The weather is improving and it is feeling like it could be ceviche time again. I do not often like ceviche, it is often over done. Too much lime, too many ingredients, too long marinated. My first, as often is the case, was perhaps my best. A now defunct sushi restaurant in Florida had a very nice ceviche, well balanced with spicey red chilis, not too tart, with sugar to balance, and just enough salt. The place I work now has a ceviche of the day, which is to me a bad idea. It is too often cobbled together with left over ingredients and poorly conceived. The version pictured was one I considered carefully before assembling. The halved shrimp rest on slices of scallop, all marinated for a few hours in a mild mix of lemon, lime, honey, salt and citrus soda. At the end I topped with sea salt and a bit more fresh lemon juice for a bright, fresh flavor. The orange slices and firm red grapes added more sweetness and complexity, scallions offered a touch of grassy counterpoint, and the micro greens looked pretty on top but were not really necessary. For more thinly sliced fish a much more brief marinade will do, depending on the amount of acidity applied. On a recent tasting at a Chicago ceviche bar, one incorporated coconut milk to good effect but was sadly unsalted. For such a simple dish it is still important to have an experienced and thoughtful cook composing, and salt is nice too.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Perfect Pizza

Perfection is elusive, subjective, and ultimately unattainable but worth striving for nonetheless. Isn't an almost perfect pizza better than a pizza that doesn't even try. It seems the simpler things can be the hardest to perfect. A pizza has just a few components, so there is no hiding for a flawed crust, a lackluster sauce, an unwise choice of cheese. No one pizza will be perfect for everyone but is it all subjective? Taste is ingrained and trained, some things I will never like, some things I've learned to love that I once despised. Pizza is like a haiku, so few words, so few ingredients, each must be perfect, or at least strive to be.

Each week I make pizza dough for work, each week I get closer to what I think an ideal dough is. It isn't fancy cuisine, but there is no hiding behind an expensive ingredient, or fancy equipment. Flour, water, yeast, salt. Just as a proper sushi chef must perfect his rice before being allowed to touch a fish, a proper dough is the foundation of pizza. Some may say the sauce is essential, but really, without the dough there is no pizza. I think there is a lesson in this, that there is something necessary and essential about focusing on the basic things in life, an obvious conclusion but something we often forget in the face of expensive ingredients and fancy techniques.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Kumquat Salad Improvisation

Here is a simple salad that I make many variations of. This time using kumquats, which are an odd little fruit I find a bit tart. To tame the tartness I sauted the kumquats with sugar in a little butter and oil then tossed in candied pecans at the end. I let this cool a touch then put on shaved romaine tossed with a lemon vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is simply one part lemon, one part honey, and two parts oil- it's easy to mix and see the proportions in a jar or squeeze bottle and always taste best when made fresh. Last I added goat cheese, a lovely creamy counterpoint to the bright flavor of lemon, and a drizzle of some orange oil around as a finishing touch with a sprinkling of minced chive. Instead of kumquats you can use uncooked orange slices or strawberries. Why eat a boring salad when something like this is so easy to do?

For more on improvisational cooking check out Workin' More Kitchen Sessions With Charlie Trotter, I was struck by his platings which are very similar to what I'm trying to achieve but have no where near his experience or mastery of so many ingredients. He has an admirable style, elegant but relaxed with rough edges. He wants to be the Miles Davis of cooking, I'll settle for being the John Coltrane.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Ono! Here We Go

Friday is the end of the week for most, but for me it is the beginning. I'll go in after two days off and hope my co-workers did their jobs and left my station at least some what prepped. Today too is the first day of my new blog. I'm opening with a photo of an ono dish I did for work. The fish was seared with a torch, cut thin, then I marinated with a dressing of orange oil, balsamic gastrique, white soy sauce, and lemon juice topped with sea salt and fresh cracked white pepper. Ono is an oily fish and the bright dressing cuts through to create a clean mouth feel. I was really happy with this one, for now it sums up my style and my approach to food, which is still somewhat nascent. I am interested in clean flavors that find balance. The Goldilocks ideal of just enough food and just right combinations, presented dramatically but without gimmicks. Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading, you're cool.