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.

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