Monday, October 24, 2011

Off the grid and on the spot - A secret Seattle shop of succulence

Any alliteration cannot do justice to the billowing boldness and befuddling brilliance of a new hole-in-the-wall gyro joint that has quietly graced Seattle with its presence. There's no sign announcing its presence. No carefully crafted press release mass-distributed to Seattle foodie culture. No quirky Twitter account bellowing out happy hour deals. It is an enigma - and dammit, we'll keep it that way...for as long as we can.

But it will get out.

The drippings alone made me lick my plate. Yeah, that's right. I went at this recycled cardboard plate like hungry happy Labrador, prepping dishes for the dishwasher. Inside this gyro, a voluminous variety of veggies viciously vexed in form, a volition so vivaciously violent that I asked the voluptuously pregnant server if I could have a bib. Or a feed bag. She smiled and brought me a wet bath towel. "This will help," she said. Methinks I'm not the first to ask.

The meat, though. Oh my sweet lord. What evil lord presided over these lambs and fed them nothing but rainbows and salted caramel ice cream?! And had Padma sing them lullabies as they drifted off to sleep, dreaming of meadows filled with chocolate torts and warm apple cider and cashmere bathrobes? Because I'm quite sure these are the only conditions in which such delightfully delectable lamb can be rendered.

So,I've pontificated enough, and most certainly have ran through my monthly allocation of SAT words, I've left one key piece of information out. The location...and the name. There is no sign. No menu. And I was disallowed from flash photography. I can tell you that a handy neighborhood search using the latest in check-in software might yield a result that *perhaps* looks like a house, or humble abode, of gyros, run by a man who may, or may not be named, Samir. That's it. I've probably said too much.

Restaurant Week reviews begin later this week. Sneak preview of the pads we're previewing:
Spring Hill


Friday, October 21, 2011

Got Me Black Keys Tickets

Lookie what I got!

I had to wait in line for an hour at the U-Village Microsoft Store grand opening for these bad boys and met some nice people including a man who said, "I have a 14 year old daughter. What band do you think she would like?" I told him, "14 year old girl? And you're trying to be a cool dad? I would go with OneRepublic." 

a) I actually think most 14 year old girls would prefer OneRepublic unless they are super super cool 14 year old girls who listen to real music. My little cousins are awesome but wouldn't know who the Black Key were and like my teammate David, would mistake the Black Keys for a Black Eyed Peas typo.

b) I also sort of told him to get OneRepublic tix to save more Black Keys passes for true fans. Ohh well.

I do admit that OneRepublic creates songs with good hooks. The 'Apologize' song is catchy and has gotten stuck in my head multiple times. Damn you Timbaland.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Friends' garage bands have come a long way...

Food often dominates this blog so here is a quick post about the musical passion.

People are often curious about the music profession and about bands that I know of personally or inquire about friends who are in bands. Despite my secret desire to be a blues and rockstar or a lounge singer, I don't have any real ties to the music industry other than some awesome friends who happened to sort of fall into it. I'm proud of them all and I love supporting local music that's

Here is the list:

  • Out Like Pluto - I adore my friends in Out Like Pluto! I know four fifths of the band members really well and once got decked out in K$sha gear for one of their shows. Hey, they put on a fun live show and I just wanted to participate! They started as a jam project between my good pals Kari and Andy and spiraled from there.
  • Kay Kay and His Weathered Undeground - One of my favorite local groups period. My friend JJ doesn't really play with them anymore (he and his wife just welcomed their first baby) but I am hoping he'll start again since I love going to their live shows and shouting at JJ like I am a crazed fan. The problem with them getting bigger and opening for other big bands is that their shows are often sold out... But I owe JJ big for getting me into a Cap Hill block party with a VIP wrist band - you have access to a lounge with food and get to sit on pillows!
  • The Classic Crime - The MacDonalds are practically family and this is Matt's band. Imagine my surprise when their song popped on the radio as I was driving around - I immediately pulled over and texted Nate MacDonald to tell him his brother's single was playing on 1077.7 The End.
  • Kris Orlowski - I have once sat at the Microsoft Commons to watch Kris perform... and heckle him a little. Kris' music is nice and folksy - perfect for some autumn music.
  • The Fascination Movement - My cousin Jennifer recently started to help manage them and I dig their electronic vibe. Reminds me a bit of what I love about 80's new wave and electronica but is also modern with some tracks reminiscent of Washed Out.

Check out these bands and if you enjoy their music, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, go to their shows, download their music and support them in general.  These people rely on word of mouth buzz, honest feedback and support from their friends like me in order to continue doing what they love to do. I commend them for pursuing their passion and sharing it with the world!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ba Bar - Fancy Vietnamese Street Food

Ba Bar's bright windows
Nick insisted that I wrtite this blog. "You're Vietnamese, you should write it. You have stronger opinions about the food, " he said. So here is my caveat: because I am Vietnamese and because I have eaten the most delicious of Vietnamese cuisine (which includes my parent's food, my grandmother's cooking as well as the best selections from the O.C. - heyyo Bolsa-, noshes from the Bay Area and dishes from Vietnam), you should either take my opinion with a grain of salt or absolutely take it as the word from a walking Vietnamese food bible.

Ok, glad we got that out of the way.

Ba Bar is cute industrial-chic restaurant in the revived area by Seattle U's no-man's land between proper Cap Hill and First Hill. It's also a block or two away from Nick's place so he had been tracking it for weeks before its opening, eagerly awaiting a place that was touting its refined approach to street food with classically well-made cocktails. We went during its opening week with our good pals C&H to see if it could measure up to its assertions.  
The service can be sketchy at times, depending on who serves you and how busy it is but at least the space is lovely to look at with an open kitchen at the front. I like the large, paned windows that allow a lot of light in without making the restaurant seem too open.

Nom Nom Time

At first glance, the menu seemed a bit steep and had a wide variety of Vietnamese dishes, unless you are a vegetarian. After coming to Ba Bar a few more times, they have corrected this issue by lowering the price of many of their dishes as well as adding some no-meat options. The menu is a refined take on some classic Vietnamese dishes rathered than street food but isn't meant to be super-fancy either. There is a little bit of everything to get a general taste of Vietnam which has a long and varied culinary history.  Menu here: 

We started with the Hue Dumpling, which is a mung bean dumpling wrapped in a sticky, glutenous rice wrapper. It was average; the dumpling wrapper was a little too thick and sticky for my taste but the dish was presented beautifully.

Banh bot loc chay
Bun cha ca
I ordered one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes: bun cha ca or a seared Idaho catfish colored with tumeric, served over cold rice noodles. It was the only pescatarian option at the time but I was excited to enjoy something classically northern with high quality pacific northwest product. The first proper meal Nick and I had in Vietnam was this dish at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi, probably the most famous place for this particular dish (which is the only dish they serve there). When I finally got to tear into the dish, I was a little disappointed. The best thing about this dish is that the tumeric colors the fish but that the fish is infused with the taste of fresh dill. There was no dill in their version (which is a travesty) so the dish fell flat and lacked any depth of flavor. 
Nick had the claypot chicken which is not on the menu anymore. It's a southern dish and cooking chicken over a long time in the claypot should allow the juices and sauces to caramelize. However, Nick shrugged it off since it was dry instead of moist and sweet.

Claypot rice

Chris' pork belly and rice was the clear winner of the night with a good amount of spice and crisp. Hema duck soup (mi vit tiem) also got some raves although Hema noted that the duck leg was a little difficult to manage to eat in the soup.
Pork belly
Mi vit tiem - duck soup

Sip Sip Time

The drinks are something else entirely. Ba Bar had a bit of controversy with their original captain bartender who lied about his bartending credentials and liquored up on the restaurant's booze (read up on the drama here) but I enjoyed every drink we ordered including the pisco sours.
Cocktail time!
Nom Nom Redux

We've gone back several times since. I desperately wanted to give this place a chance because it's clear that there is a lot of love and passion that goes into this place, even if it's not great. Yet.

It has improved. As I mentioned, the menu is a bit more manageable in terms of selection and value. I am willing to pay more for delicious refined dishes as long as the food meets that bar; I just found Ba Bar's original pricing to be way off for their items originally. Their vegetarian vermicelli bowl is decently tasty and even the nuoc cham is really vegetarian, which most Vietnamese establishments do not regard.  Nick has been happy with the chicken over broken rice and considers the pho decent although unsure if it's supposed to be northern or southern-style pho.

One thing I have found disheartening is that every time we've gone to Ba Bar, the server informs us that something (or mostly many things) are no longer available. Once, we went early on a Tuesday night and they were invariably out of half of the menu items. While I understand that sometimes popular items are eaten up quickly, they need to get on top of their restaurant management in terms of inventory and product. If this proves difficult, they should have a daily or weekly menu that changes with the availability of items. Staples like pho should not run out. Period.
I will continue to go since it's so close to Nick's place and I can't wait to enjoy its late night menu. However, I think the next time I am craving Vietnamese, I will take him down the hill to go to Tamarind Tree. While maybe not as chic and hip as Ba Bar, the food is better and uncompromising.