Thursday, December 30, 2010

What I'm eating right now...


Grapeseed Oil
Lite Soy Sauce
Sherry Vinegar


A take on Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Noodles, with mirin soy glazed mushrooms, bacon, and fried egg.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Food of New Orleans

New Orleans. Two things come to mind when you think of this magical city; I do not mean boobs and beads but food and music. It has long been a magical culinary melting pot with easy access to great gulf seafood, amazing cultures and jazz - spicy and deep as a musical genre which lends soul to cuisine.

New Orleans has recently been in our minds due to hurricanes and oil spills but it's a fantastic city with plenty of rich culture and varied people who love the city; with that, comes amazing food.
 I went to Nawlins for the second time but both times were for work conferences. My team and I made it a point to eat well since we wanted to do as they do in New Orleans and eat like crazy. The first big team dinner was NOLA:

Emeril's casual restaurant has a homey bistro feel with exposed brick, black chalkboards and tall ceilings.
For an appetizer, I had the crab cake. A singular crab cake surrounded by corn. Delish. Other folks had chicken which looked awesome as well as an arugula pizza with a fried egg on top - very rustic and I am a sucker for fried eggs. Not happy I didn't get a bite.

It was difficult ordering an entrée since a lot of the options sounded wonderful; I settled on shrimp and grits which is a signature dish (although mine was sans bacon). Who could resist fresh shrimp on top of cheesy creamy grits? The grits were perfect except that I would have liked more of it; they were flavorful with a good balance of creamy without taking away from the grit texture. We weren't so pleased with the shrimp; they were decently cooked although some pieces were tougher than others and they were smothered in an overseasoned barbecue sauce which I think took away from the shrimp. It was as if your tastebuds were too stupid to handle real subtle flavors and needed to be covered up in sweet, salty, spiced, charred sauce in order to be palatable. However, we realized that in the south, flavors are completely in-your-face like a mardi gras in your mouth. Everything is packed with spice and salt. If you are watching your sodium intake, this is not the place for you.

A Pat O'Briens Hurricane
The Alcohol
 Maybe you need to try a mint julep, a hurricane or a hand grenade. Or maybe not. Most bars make the syrupy, pre-mixed versions of these drinks and not the classic versions. I would stay away from these sweet, caloric bombs; not only will they go to your gut, they will make you misbehave. Each hurricane is packed with at least four shots and probably four shots of sugar so it's begging you for a headache in the morning. Unless you want to miss your morning presentation, or as a co-worker of mine did, miss an entire day - stay with something light.

Oyster Po'Boy
This is the holy land for those who love gumbo and po' boys. My friend SV declared that the gumbo he had was the best thus far in all of New Orleans. From the ordering line, you could see the kitchen staff slap luxuriously messy heaps of meat, sausage and condiments on rolls, dish up sloppy ladles of gumbo and greens which made your mouth drool in anticipation. I ordered the oyster po' boy. Great but for me, not the most amazing oyster po' boy although I could tell that the oyster was well prepared - not too greasy and the oyster was fresh. Remco and SV shared a Ferdi special in addition to other goodies. They took huge bites with duck debris dripping all over the plate. However, (and I did not take a bite mind you) the two said it was good but weren't terribly impressed with this famous staple. One thing to note - Mothers is not inexpensive anymore. It probably once was… but they are beyond that now.  Be prepared to wait in line and pay tourist prices for their food.

Last year, my team had a partner event at a private event facility called Calcasieu; I recalled how delicious and elegant the food was. I asked my former teammate who had organized the reception about the place. The restaurant that served it was named Herbsaint so I was determined to get folks there and was even more excited to learn that the chef had won the James Beard award for best chef of the South in 2007. We were originally seated at a table for 8 but we had extra friends so the restaurant was kind enough to seat us in a private back area where we could be loud and obnoxious. I dared to order a Pimms cup to drink - I adored this British summer staple and wanted a refreshing quencher since summer in New Orleans is at hot and humid as you can imagine. It was crisp and delicious, garnished with cucumber. In fact, everyone kept ordering these all night long!
We started the meal with a rocket salad with goat cheese which was decent but quite typical and uninteresting; Seattle places dress up their arugula with more surprises. A few of us opted for a fried soft shell crab for an entree which is a tasty, New Orleans staple. No one had a clue how large the crab would be; basically it was a giant, full-sized crab served a top a nice Asian-inspired cucumber salad with balanced use of fish sauce and mild chilies. The flavors were wonderful and the salad's crispness and acidity cut the fattiness of the fried crab although my crab was a little on the greasy side.
We pretty much ordered everything for dessert. Banana tart? Yes please sir, some more. The goat cheese beignets had a unique flavor but were pretty good.

Buttery rolls
The same folks that own Herbsaint own Cochon, an ode to authentic cajun and the pig. The restaurant has a warm, modern feel - casual, unpretentious and slightly unfinished chic. Brandon, Kevin and I ducked in for a pre-dinner drink and apps after a long day at the conference. Cochon had these large rolls which were served warm, fresh and buttery-perfect. The catch is not to eat too many. The baked oysters were lovely - a perfect mouthful of spice, heat, sweetness, acidity and fresh oyster on the halfshell. I ordered this crawfish pie which ended up being fried crawfish etoufee wrapped in a pie/empanada pastry shell that was spicy - not exactly what I had envisioned so I would skip it if you get the chance. Kevin ordered some sweatbreads and other meaty things - everything was good although some items were more special than others. I would definitely hit this place up again for a more substantial meal - it felt comfortable and the service from our bartender was excellent.

Baked Oysters - nom!

One evening, we forayed to Bon Ton and felt bad for them since we had a party of - I don't know...12 turned 20 people? It's a classic New Orleans establishment and looked as if it hadn't changed much in 100 years with classic décor and homey service. Everything was reminiscent of a time long ago - from the drinks to the plating and the recipes were probably what folks ate in the 1800's.
I started with Denise's salad after it was recommended by the server. When it appeared, it looked underwhelming - a salad with some asparagus, crabmeat, shrimp and tomatoes; the salad was arranged geometrically straight from cooking 101. However, the salad had wonderful flavor which brought out the sweetness of the crab and shrimp. It reminded me of the dressing from back home on Arnie's hot seafood salad. Looks aren't everything and this ended up being a win.
Eggplant, crab, shrimp etoufee
I opted for an entree of eggplant, crab and shrimp etoufee. The mushy eggplant lent a nice flavor profile and texture but the lack of purple eggplant peel made the color of the dish unappetizing; instead of vibrant red or orange, it was a dull green like tomatillos or green tomatoes.
Dessert was their famous bread pudding with a whiskey sauce… which we soon realized meant it was in practicality, a whiskey cocktail with bread pudding garnish. You could seriously get drunk off of dessert and several friends mentioned that they would not have been able to drive home after consuming it. Imbibe or eat with caution.

Palace Café
Fried and green and saucy
We hit up another famous institution for one of our last meals. I started off with fried green tomatoes with crawfish tails. I love crawdads but the dish was a bit too rich with a creamy sauce and not enough acid to cut into the buttery, creaminess and the fried tomatoes. My main dish was grilled tuna panzanella; the tuna was cooked medium more than medium-rare which is more than what I had desired but the salad was a decent balance to the fish and was light, flavorful with fresh tasting bread croutons and fresh spinach - a rarity in New Orleans. Half of the crew had a bottled beer called the Andygator which apparently was very high in ABV - some sort of local doppelbock that was rich and potent. The Palace Café didn't impress me very much - it was a bit heavy handed and obvious compared to the other places we dined at but we still had a decent meal.
Panzanella salad

Café du Monde
How could I almost neglect to mention Café du Monde? One of my favorite spots in New Orleans and one that only takes cash! Even better, this place is open 24 x 7 which makes it not only a great breakfast and afternoon snack spot but a perfect place to walk to at 3am to sober up and grab a greasy pick-me-up.
There are only two items worth mentioning here:
  • The famous doughnuts which are beignets - fried drops of dough rolled in powdered sugar. They are fresh, warm and amazing with a surprisingly balanced texture - not too airy, not too dense. People snort them up like cocaine along with powdered sugar noses and lips to match.
  • The frozen café au lait - basically a simple but not too sweet frozen blended coffee to balance the warmness of the beignets 
Yes, me and beignets. Sigh.
I love this place. It is affordable, open all-of-the-time and is quaint and comforting. Do not settle for beignets anywhere else until you have had a bite of these.

Sweetbread stuff from Cochon

New Orleans is truly lovely; the people are warm, welcoming and have a great sense of humor and optimism that is rare in places that have been hit  by multiple hardships.  It is a bit like Vegas; you can't stay for too long or else you run yourself into the ground but is still a great place to visit and an even better place to eat at. Unlike Vegas which feels phony and dispassionate, the Big Easy has soul.  Deep passion, love, creativity and spirituality flows around New Orleans and the feeling is infectious. The food is like the music - brassy, bright and rich. Almost too rich at times and definitely lacking in healthy roughage as with the rest of the south but delicious nonetheless. Although I missed vegetables and the lightness of fare back home, I did enjoy the culinary delights and traditions of a great, American, multi-faceted city.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Our faves - Everyday Nosh Joints

We're some serious food fans (at least that's what we told Thierry Rautureau) and our friends often ask us, what's your favorite place in Seattle to eat?  Have you guys found any new and great restaurants?  What's a good place to take our out-of-town guests to that won't be too extravagant?  Good questions - we sort of have a few categories of places where we love to nosh: every day places with amazing and simple food, pricier favorites that are good for a special occassion or a bit of a decadent night out as well as new places we were impressed by and want to explore more of. In this post, we'll explore our favorite everyday places - if you want to eat fantastic food all of the time and don't feel like cooking.

Our staples....

These places are our regulars; these are establishments with dishes that we crave, with a unique or friendly atmosphere and with a little twist to the menu such as spicy surprises, homemade chewy pasta and zippy sauces.  These aren't in particular order because to stack rank them would be sacrilegious. Also, the caveat is that these are not perhaps the most refined restaurants or even the best restaurants of their genre but hey, we love them and think they are awesome-sauce.

1. How to Cook a Wolf
2. Paseo
3. La Carta de Oaxaca
4. Black Bottle
5. Toulouse Petit

How to Cook a Wolf
Hamachi crudo

Not sure how we should start but this place was a fanfreakingtastic addition to the top of Queen Anne. It's a small, blink-and-miss joint nestled on Queen Anne Ave proper but is worth the inevitable wait if you happen to dine on a busy evening. The place is small because it has to be small; the kitchen is tiny!  Your home kitchen may be bigger but the surprise to this place is that there is almost no refrigeration - no giant walk-ins or typical line and prep areas since it is all right in front of you.  While there are some menu staples, my favorite Ethan Stowell restaurant relies on food that is fresh, seasonal and fairly simply and rustically prepared but with unique ingredients and pairings. Their veggies were probably harvested from the farm that morning and their pasta is homemade with that awesome chewy nutiness that only comes from freshly made pasta.  Our favorite is their hamachi crudo - served with a sprinkling of lime, avocado and chiles. The avocado cools the heat of the chiles and the flavors and textures go together wonderfully. Despite its saltiness, the spaghetti with anchovies and chili is another favorite with flavors that remind you of eating at your Italian grandmother's kitchen - that is, if you have an Italian grandma.

Spaghetti with anchovy and chili


We all crave it. Behold the splendor of Paseo which contains the sloppiest of sandwiches that make you greedily and crassly lick your fingers as the garlic juices dribble down your chin! The Caribbean/Cuban flavor profile stuffed into a banh mi is almost inconceivable - can bread can hold such explosive flavors?  Can you get such satisfaction for less than $10? Paseo is quite literally an unadorned red shack on the hill in Fremont with only a few tables and nothing but the wafting aroma and the line of patient people waiting outside to even alert you of its existence.  (Another even smaller shack with no seating has opened in Ballard but we have yet to dine there). Paseo is barely a step up from a street cart but has some of the most amazing food in Seattle - this salad with beets that can make you actually like beets, corn on the cob that is slathered in garlic butter, red beans and rice that make your knees quake and a heap of entrees and the amazing sandwiches that drive you mad. Some people swear by the pulled pork or midnight cuban while I adore the luscious juicy prawn sandwich. The generously sloppy and sauced sauteed onions, the garlic mayo special sauce, the secret baguette - everything about those sandwiches calls to you like a drug addiction until you are too weak to resist. I have Paseo on speed dial. Succumb.

La Carta De Oaxaca

I picked up Nick from the airport one evening after a business trip and he was exhausted and famished after a long and arduous day. He wanted something comforting to eat. Knowing his love of latin cuisine, I naturally took him to La Carta de Oaxaca. I think it saved his day! If you want some authentic Mexican but don't want to crouch in a parking lot where your local taco cart is, come to Ballard. La Carta de Oaxaca is unpretentious but an utterly delicious spot if you're craving flavorful and expertly spiced Oaxacan dishes; you know, the stuff that doesn't come with refried beans and greasy rice. You'll be delighted by the flavors and choices here - comforting posole (pork and hominy stew) or caldo de pescado (fish soup with tortillas), mole negro on tamales or with chicken or pork, fried comfort food like molotes and quesadilla fritas and be-still-my-heart!  Real enchiladas with a fried egg. They have fresh-tasting tacos al pastor or carne asada on homemade tortillas as well and a great salsa bar. This place just plain makes us happy. The prices will make your pocketbook happy as well; we think that the most expensive entree is $10 or maybe $12. If you're from SoCal, it probably doesn't compare to what you can get on the streets of L.A. but it's definitely Seattle-rific.

Black Bottle

Anna kissing her food she loves it so much

If I wanted to open up a restaurant, it might be something similar to Black Bottle; a warm, comfortable place for friends to hang out, share food, share wine and drinks but not have to save up dinero for the excursion. The service at Black Bottle has never been anything less than fantastic for me personally and while the food perhaps isn't the absolute best in Seattle, the total package of this place makes it a fave of ours.  We love the idea of share plates - especially since that's how folks do it in Asia - and our friends usually eat off each other's plates and give bites anyhow. Black Bottle has nice dishes to nibble on with pals and nothing is too expensive for the portions you get to share. Their blasted broccoli is our crack although it is extremely simple to make (roast broccoli tossed in olive oil, sea salt, pepper and a little garlic salt and finish it off in the broiler for a bit of blasting). Some of our friends don't like the dryness of the burnt tops or saltiness of the broccoli but we like the texture of the crispy pieces and the generous seasoning. I enjoy the mussels marseille-style even if Nick doesn't like shellfish as much and their brie-leek french country flatbread is simple and completely tasty. Plus, their wines are reasonably priced, you can rent out the back for a private party with completely doable and reasonable minimums, and their peach blueberry kettle with fresh cream is so tasty delicious, you'll want to keep that all for yourself. Go ahead and slap that hand and fork away!

We love the peach blueberry kettle tart!

Toulouse Petit

Sure, Toulouse and Pesos can become Jersey Shore-like bars some evenings but you can't deny that these joints have amazing brekkies for hangover recovery. In all seriousness, Toulouse has some fantastic french and cajun-inspired food in this trendy, candle-covered joint. Take it from someone who had a food tour of New Orleans this past year (blog to come): Toulouse isn't that far off despite what NOLA snobs may espouse. Their beignets are definitely pricier and a bit heavier than those at Cafe du Monde but surprisingly come close to the cocaine/powdered sugar fried delights. Their po' boys are tasty and served with a generous heap of frites which have a perfect double-fried texture and crunch. Their menus are so large, you can be lost in the piece of parchment forever trying to decide which dish you'd like (and yes, the fried green tomatoes are lovely) but that gives plenty of options for the picky eaters. Out of their meal options, we probably have explored their breakfast the most; sometimes we both order the Eggs Forestiere because that mushroom, herb, asparagus and gruyere scramble is perfectly done. Also, their eggs benedict menu is as expansive and delicious as Pesos' options and well... there are those beignets...
Biscuits and eggs forestiere


Stop whining. We know that there are a few other everyday joints that we love that are missing. Umi, Serious Pie, Kaosami Thai and Thai Tom or the best late night soak up place that we may not otherwise eat at during the day - Purple Dot.  We could live off of the cajunized tater tots at any McMenamins chain. Brouwers has great frites and I crave the verde veg burger at the Red Mill. We adore these places too but as in High Fidelity, we could only pick our top five. We were pretty torn up too but just want you to enjoy those places - you'll be happy you're part of the few who read our blog.