Friday, January 16, 2009

Filling up in Seattle, WA

Another Christmas present from my dear love... a trip to Seattle, Washington! 

He says it will be a culinary adventure. 

I nimbly reply, "Do you think we'll see Spoon Man?" 

We arrived on Sunday and before even checking into our hotel, Matt raced us over to Columbia City Bakery which closes at 3pm on Sundays. We made it and rewarded ourselves with a couple warm cups of joe, a croissant, a doughnut cupcake, and a sticky bun, all of which were terrific. It's fun to watch all the action going on in the kitchen as the staff is jovial and adroit. Crusty baguettes were featured by themselves and in an ice box made into delicious looking sandwiches for $6.

After checking in, freshening up, yadda, yadda, yadda, we headed to Poppy, and Reader.... I was NOT looking forward to this one. Thai food? This is not what gets me up in the morning, but Matt insisted and so I obliged. Firstly, our server, Luis, had us at hello. He immediately 

embarked on suggestions and explained the menu. It was no problem he said for us to split a tasting, but do start out with an appetizer which we did. Eggplant Fries. Wow! These were outrageous. The eggplant was hand cut and dredged in chick pea flour, then fried and drizzled with clover honey and fleur de sel. We inhaled them.

Okay, I'm jumping ahead of myself because Luis also sold us on the cocktail menu where the bitters and infused liquors are all house made. We tried three and they were all unusual and difficult not to gulp down.

The tasting menu is called a Thali which changes monthly and consists of about 10 different little dishes all served at once, each capitalizing on an herb or spice like fresh juniper which led us to ask Luis who the chef was. Turns out it's Jerry Traunfeld, author of Herbfarm!! I love this book!! Not only does it school you on how to grow herbs in the garden and in containers for us apartment dwellers, but it also hosts a wide array of innovative recipes incorporating all sorts of herbs and edible flowers. Love it!

In the Thali was an albacore dish cooked just a bit past rare served with soft cashews and apple. Another standout was the lavender-crusted muscovy duck leg, crispy and juicy, seemingly confit. 

Luis implored that dessert was a must sighting the pastry chef was amazing. Well here again, another surprise. She is none other than Dana Cree who has done time at The Fat Duck in London. We ordered the dessert tasting menu immediately, and oh crackers, I am sorry to confess, so excited was I to dig into this marvelous array of little plates, again all served at once, that I ruefully neglected to record a picture for all to see, however I doubt I could have captured how deliciously exceptional this finish was which included a hot date cake with a subtle banana ice cream and butterscotch sauce. Also a glass of meyer lemon frozen yogurt with a fresh huckleberry sauce (brought in by their mushroom forager Luis told us), and a couple soft and chewy ginger cookies, decadent chocolate caramel truffles covered in cocoa, a little bowl of cracker jacks, and the most addictive item... a chocolate layered nutter butter square. Simple, seasonal, and fun.

Please note: It takes a lot to get me excited about dessert because I am surrounded by it all the time. Furthermore I am discouraged with so many restaurants that cut back by letting their pastry chef go leaving the dishwasher to make a cake or two from an Internet recipe the chef provided and thinking that's okay because they have an ice cream maker. A customer should never notice financial strain which can always be detected in a shoddy dessert menu.

Final Word: Have a cocktail, order the eggplant fries and Thali, do NOT skip dessert and ask for Luis!

Next stop, the highly regarded Spring Hill. Touted as one of Seattle's best, we were very anxious to dig in for ourselves. We were seated promptly but our server took over twenty minutes to take a drink order and we never received any bread like the table next to us. It being Sunday with the restaurant only half full, this seemed rather sloppy, especially since no apologies were given, but because we had just eaten at Poppy, we weren't famished so our mood was far from sour. We ordered three entrees, each taking an excessive amount of time to land at our table where they were dumped with no explanation. One entree was completely wrong so we had to flag down another server because ours wasn't in the habit of checking in. Our correct order was shouted out to the kitchen "on the fly" and the misfired dish was swept away and placed before the chef/co-owner, Mark Fuller, who was leisurely sitting at the bar facing us. As the manager of the staff, I found it curious that he would pick up his fork rather than walk to our table. Clearly, on this particular evening Chef Fuller was content to lazily sit on the laurels of his good reviews at the expense of customer loyalty.

The dessert menu consisted of two types of cake and a medley of ice cream. Pass.

Final Word: The three entrees we tasted were all perfectly prepared by the sous chef with varying textures and heat. The service was appalling, if not offensive, as was the dessert menu.

Monday morning... coffee. Let me just sum up that for the most part, we were let down. In the city that launched Starbucks, we found a bunch of copycats. Throughout our trip we hit Caffe Umbria,  Caffe Ladro, Cafe Vincenzo, and Cafe Vita, all of which were good but their eagerness to structure a franchise rendered them void 

of any charm. The one exception was Stumptown Coffee Roasters where vinyl is played and kitchen spoons are used in place of wooden or plastic stirrers which of course contribute to mindless corporate landfill. Stumptown  serves pastries from the laudable Macrina Bakery and rotates it's drip coffee throughout the day which is brewed in french presses. 

Final Word: For a respectable caffeine buzz from a place with some independent zeal, head to Stumptown Coffee Roasters on Pine or Columbia City Bakery.

Not to deny the spirit of a tourist, we ventured to Pike's Place Market. As I meandered around snapping photos, Matt sparked up a conversation with one of the fish mongers and asked where he got his stash from. Much to my surprise, Matt relayed to me that it was Honolulu Fish Company, the same Hawaiian purveyor he uses at the restaurant. So much for the romance in the catch of the day!

For lunch we climbed some stairs to get to the Seattle staple Matt's in the Market. In 
contrast to Pike's Place, it was packed with locals in

business suits and light cotton (at 45F, I wore two layers under a wool sweater, So Cal native 
that I am), many of them enjoying a local beer from a wide selection. With two dinners planned, we paced ourselves and ordered the pan fried Louisiana Cat Fish sandwich dressed only with a spicy mayo and some greens, served with a roasted garlic "simple" salad that was special enough to order

on it's own. What made this sandwich so exceptional was the potato bread from Columbia City Bakery,
untoasted so as to savour it's freshness. Although we did not order from the dessert menu, it did in fact look appealing, and the lamb sandwich on brioche with bacon is reportedly off the charts.

Final Word: Let the locals speak...  this place is worth coming back to.

Next up, Quinn's, a popular new rustic pub with late hours for Seattle which impressed us as a sleepy town despite the whole grunge affiliation and easy access to caffeine (The Pink Door caberet was closed by 11pm). Although the menu boasts house-made sausage and wild boar, we settled for good ole' fish and chips and ordered a beer on tap, Pink Killer, which was indeed pink due to a grapefruit infusion that rendered it light for a Belgium inspired brew and slightly sweet. Sitting at the bar, we

noticed 14 other beers on tap, many of them local, and 53 top shelf whiskeys.

The beer battered fish and chips were fresh rather than frozen, but they were accompanied only by the traditional vinegar and ketchup. I'm a tartar sauce fan myself, so our server brought out some horseradish mayonnaise which worked out fine.

The dessert menu wasn't noteworthy but I'm sure pleasing as it is prepared at Quinn's fine dining  sister, Restaurant Zoe.

Final Word:  Great food, great beer, great atmosphere, late hours.... I'm sure this place has a ton of regulars. Wish we could be a couple of 'em!

Although Chef/Owner Maria Hines was not in on this particular Monday, we hear she is a 4'10" culinary force, and let it be known, so is the staff in her absence. Tilth received a well deserved notice in the New York Times as one of the top 10 restaurants outside Manhattan. The restaurant is a converted craftsman house

actually, with a porch, front yard, and upstairs tenant. There is no post for a hostess and your server makes the cocktails from a clever menu incorporating fresh juices and infused syrups. 

Tilth has a relatively small dinner menu where you can choose tasting or entree portions for each dish.... all the better to try more because there appears to be no weak link here. Immediately we were greeted with a little gift from the kitchen, crostini with peppadew puree and olive walnut tapenade. Nice. 

We started with a soup, elegantly served table side, of velvety sweet potato with house smoked hangar steak and creme fraiche. It was sumptuous. The steak rolled on the tongue as a pad of butter would. Marvelous. Next was a dish so unusual and decadent, I am wobbly kneed just in my recollection. It was a smooth porcini custard served in a ramekin like a brulee, with a turbinado sugar crust, topped with frisse dressed in vanilla bean along side a striking garnish of porcini powder.  One had to place each component on the spoon so as to experience it's complete decadence. **For me, the Porcini Creme Brulee was the best dish of the trip. **

**The Mini Duck Burgers were the standout of Seattle for Matt** Served on brioche with fried fingerling potatoe chips and house made ketchup that can be purchased in cute little jars to take home, these burgers were divinely tender and lacking any trace of gaminess. 

Next we savoured a sous vide Alaskan Sablefish served with chickpea cake, cauliflower and charmoula, all prepared to perfection. Although we ourselves did not try the smoked heirloom bean cassoulet with wild mushroom and truffle, our neighbor exclaimed it was heaven come to earth.

For dessert we had a meyer lemon semolina pudding cake with fig streusel and caramel and our neighbor, who we had befriended by this time, insisted we try his blood orange creme brulee with hazlenuts and candied citrus. At Tilth there is no pastry chef, but Chef Hines, is clearly caring enough to construct basics like semolina cake and creme brulee into something original.

Final Word: This restaurant beat out Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc among other notables for the NY Times 10 Best New Restaurants in the Nation. Do yourself a favor and go there.

To end the night we went to Cascina Spinasse,  a homey little Italian place that is reminescent of the nonna you never had. There are six communal tables with mismatched chairs and an open kitchen where no plastic deli cups could be seen. Nonna keeps it all in glass jars with the pasta rollers and raviolli cutters that have been passed down for generations and decorate her walls.

Actually the chef is Justin Neidermeyer who isn't Italian at all, but studied there to learn how to make pasta that looks as delicate as the lace that drapes his restaurant's front windows. After Tilth, our bellies were at their tipping point so we left our dining to fate, if two seats opened up at the bar within 5 minutes, we'd order a meat platter. This is what happened.

I'm afraid that without a stomach transplant, we were wholly unable to give this place it's fair due. Rather than order more from the straightforward Northern Italian menu, we sipped on a traditional whiskey drink and used our seats to observe the athletics of the kitchen where all the boys were dressed in button down shirts and jeans as if they planned to tie one on after their shift. By the time we left, I felt as if friends had been cooking for us at an impromptu party that we had been invited to at their farmhouse and was vaguely wistful when nonna didn't emerge to help us with our coats and kiss our cheeks, asking when she'd see us next before turning back and shouting at the boys to clean it up a little.

Final Word:  Although it was impossible to indulge due to prior gastromic excess, from the perfection of the meat platter and it's pairings of tonnato, fried capers, and gremolata, Spinasse deserves recognition as a foodie destination.

Tuesday morning brings us to our farewell of Seattle and it's rich adventure of culinary ecstasy. We could squeeze in one stop more and narrowed it down to Salumi, a casual sandwich shop that cures all their own meats. We sampled their decadent mole sausage made with chocolate and ancho chile and ordered a roasted and grilled Colorado Lamb sandwich with smokey red bell pepper on a cibatta roll. I didn't think I had it in me to eat the whole half of it (portions are large), but somehow I managed alongside the hearty eaters around us in construction boots and suits alike. Mario Batali's father founded Salumi and his sister has expanded the business online so their salumi's can be enjoyed all over.

Final Word:  Design your own house-cured salumi sandwich for under $10  and have a glass of vino while you're at it. Slam dunk.

Parking in Seattle was surprisingly terrible, but the people were un- pretentious and friendly, and the weather accommo- dated long, relaxing walks where we encountered a delightful amount of used bookstores, the best being Elliot Bay Book Company. On our drive to the airport, we made a detour through the Washington Park Arboretum where bright green moss clung to all the naked winter trees, and the two of us fell silent to savour the natural beauty of a hospitable city.

Restaurants We Regrettably Missed:

Harvest Vine, Madison Valley
Txori, Belltown
Lark, Capitol Hill
The Corson Building, Georgetown
Tacos GringosCapitol Hill


Chef Paul said...

Ok, now I am jealous. I want to go to Tilth so bad I can taste it. The fact that you didn't bring me back at least a finoccina & Mole Salami from Salumi is unforgivable!!! I many not speak to you for several day but I will come back to read more of your writing...You give good BLOG

Anonymous said...

Great post! You might wanna check out these videos The Seattle Times recently did on a few of your highlights.


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