Friday, January 20, 2012

Best French Toast Spots in Seattle

Seattle Weekly posted a blog about the best French Toast spots recently:

The summery french toast @ Smith. They change it seasonally.
While these are really excellent suggestions, I'd like to add a few spots that offer amazing French Toast. When it comes to breakfast, I am both an eggs benedict and a french toast connoisseur. French toast has to have a nice crust on the outside, yet be soft and fluffy throughout. The common issue with french toast is that a lot of cooks don't soak the bread in the batter enough so you get dry spots in your toast. Of course, if you soak the bread for too long, your toast gets soggy. 

Here are other notable spots:

If you're friends with Nick & I, you know we go here just about every Sunday. For a reason. I sort of don't want to spoil it by letting you know about this place and have it be overcrowded. On second thought, go to Coastal Kitchen across the street.

They only do it on weekends but their bread pudding style toast is custardy and amazing. 

Hi Life
If you're going to hit up a Chow Foods nosh spot, I would try Hi Life's french toast. The toasted, sugared hazelnuts and vanilla espresso marscapone is a winner here.

I would post Patty's Eggnest's peanut butter banana stuffed French Toast as one of the suggestions but I'm pretty sure that gave me a heart attack or type 2 Diabetes or something like that.

What other places give good toast? Let us know!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Plate of Beans

We went to Tilth for a restaurant week foray and were pretty excited since it's nearly impossible to get a reservation there for res week. In fact, we had to wait outside for 20 minutes because they were running behind and we were awarded some delicious bubbly for our patience. But whatever, yada yada yada who cares.... It all boils down to a plate of beans. That plate of beans was my favorite entree of this entire restaurant week. If you stop reading this blog right now, just remember two things: 
  1. Tilth
  2. Bean Cassoulet

Jeff is so sophisticated.
Got that? Good. Everything else we had was delicious, including the free "sorry you had to wait outside in the cold" sparkling wine.  We had a lovely amuse bouche, followed by delicious starters. My soup was delicious with a great texture while Nick had a modernized salad niscoise. Tilth is known for using seasonal, certified organic or wild ingredients which is pretty much a given for most Seattle restaurants. However, Tilth is one of the best and Chef Maria Hines has a James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Northwest to prove it. 

A pretty amuse bouche
Tuna salad niscoise

Then the entrees came. The boys ordered beef which came in a very modern and artful pile of beef on top of mashed potatoes, heaped with colorful vegetables and a pretty splash of sauce around the side of the plate. It was a beautiful, composed dish you would expect from a restaurant with the kind of caliber Tilth has. The photo doesn't do it a lot of justice considering the dim lighting in Tilth but it was a gorgeous pile of food.  

Then, I got a plate of beans. Yep. This is what it looked like:
The most delicious and magical dish!
A freaking plate of rustic, brownish beans. To be clear, heirloom, smoked beans but a plate of beans nonetheless. I could barely contain my disappointment and disdain; I laughed and made a comment as the boys plowed into their cute, neat little colorful piles as I stared at my joke. A little voice in my head screamed, "This is what you get for not eating meat! A pile of beans." So then I had a bite. And it was the most savory, flavorful, delicious bite of restaurant week. I had another bite and another before telling everyone at the table that they needed a bite of the most delicious, smoky, complex-tasting beans they would ever have, with a lovely texture from the added crunch of breadcrumbs and sprinkle of herbs. There was umami from the mushrooms that lingered on your tongue along with the smokiness of the beans and broth. And the boys kept eating off of my plate along with me. Those guys just kept on dishing beans into their pieholes, looking begrudgingly at their half eaten, pretty little heaps of beef and wishing they could have ordered beans.

A couple at a table next to us couldn't help but overhear our cassoulet enthusiasm and they exclaimed that they too were there for the beans. "I had this a month ago and I knew I had to come back when I saw it was on the restaurant week menu. It's so good, it's my favorite dish!"gushed the lady seated next to us.

So there you go. A plate of beans but the most unctuous, multifacted and wonderful plate of beans you could ever think of. Cassoulet! Which is French for slow-cooked bean stew of awesomeness delivered from the heavens.

I posted some photos of dessert below. But who cares! We got cassoulet!

Pumpkin panna cotta

Pear sorbet crisp

Chocolate mousse

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why 12th Ave is now the epicenter of Seattle's food & drink scene

Seattle is very neighborhood-centric. I often think that Seattle is one of the few cities that could pull off a North American version of Siena's Palio. And our hoods are spread out, with distinct geographical boundaries: Green Lake, Capitol Hill, Queen Anne Hill, The University District, Ballard, West Seattle, Magnolia, First Hill, SoDo, Mercer Island, Fremont, etc etc. All very identifiable without street signs or electric billboards, unlike Portland, which is probably too granular for it's own good.

But as far as a "foodie epicenter," no neighborhood really has staked the claim as "ruler." And I'm sure many in the restaurant biz could give two shits about being in the "epicenter" but it's always interesting to see why some neighborhoods draw those looking to start the newest food mecca in Seattle.

You could make a strong case for certain stretches like Madison Ave (Crush, Luc, Rover's, Harvest Vine, Cafe Flora) or Ballard Ave (La Carta de Oaxaca, The Walrus & The Carpenter, Bastile, Staple & Fancy). But the span of 12th Ave from Jefferson Ave and the south end of Seattle U, to Pine St. has quickly become the best stretch of bars and restaurants Seattle has seen in some time.

In little over three years, 12th Ave has become home to the following:
  1. Ba Bar - Buzz-worthy Vietnamese street food with a well stocked bar, a serviceable pho, and some nice pastries.
  2. Canon - Cramped for a reason, this cocktail closet features awesome concoctions and is always crowded. Worth the wait, but go early to snag a table.
  3. Cafe Presse - French bistro that's an elder statesman on the block. Good drink menu and atmosphere. Even the service seems French (aloof and uninterested).
  4. Manhattan Drugs - Newest to the block, Manhattan Drugs is what would happen if a Morton's Steakhouse fucked a Portlandia extra. A salvaged confessional, a mounted ram's head with gold M16 horns (photo above) and some serious steaks are the highlights here.
  5. Momiji - New Japanese spot toward Pike with awesome omakase and a great sake menu. Highly recommended for second dates, if you know what I mean ;)
  6. Tavern Law - Only a few years old, this speakeasy was one of the first to get the spirits renaissance off the ground in craft beer country. Still the best dirty martini in town.
Add these to an already impressive lineup of mainstays like Barrio, Eltana, Boom Noodle, Lark, La Spiga and Plum Bistro, 12th Ave has definitely snatched the throne. But if you think I'm incorrect, make the case in the comments section...would love to hear your opinion!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cook me! Mushroom and Leek Tart of Savory Awesomeness

Want to cook something fairly easy but is impressive to your family? Make them a savory dinner tart!

The most difficult part of making this tart is that you have to work with the dough in several batches: putting together, refrigerating it, taking it out and rolling it out, putting it back in the fridge and waiting, etc. However, this was a fairly simple to construct item which is perfect for entertaining since you can do it all ahead of time and pop it in the oven as guests come in. Dinner will be ready in the 35-45 minutes it takes to bake, your guests will be impressed and your house will smell absurdly yummy.


Published January 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.


Cutting a few small holes in the dough prevents it from lifting off the pan as it bakes. A pizza stone helps to crisp the crust but is not essential.


• Dough

• 1 1/4cups (6 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour

• 1/2cup (2 3/4 ounces) whole-wheat flour

• 1 tablespoon sugar

• 3/4 teaspoon salt

• 10 tablespoons unsalted butter , cut into ½-inch pieces and chilled

• 7 tablespoons ice water

• 1 teaspoon white vinegar

• Filling

• 1 1/4 pounds shiitake mushrooms , stemmed and sliced thin

• 5 teaspoons olive oil

• 1 pound leeks , white and light green parts only, sliced ½ inch thick and washed thoroughly (3 cups)

• 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

• 2 tablespoons crème fraîche

• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

• Salt and pepper

• 3ounces Gorgonzola cheese , crumbled (3/4 cup)

• 1 large egg , lightly beaten

• Kosher salt

• 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley


1. FOR THE DOUGH: Process flours, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, 2 to 3 pulses. Add butter and pulse until it forms pea-size pieces, about 10 pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle water and vinegar over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix until loose, shaggy mass forms with some dry flour remaining (do not overwork). Transfer mixture to center of large sheet of plastic wrap, press gently into rough 4-inch square, and wrap tightly. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.

3. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Roll into 11 by 8-inch rectangle with short side of rectangle parallel to edge of work surface. Using bench scraper, bring bottom third of dough up, then fold upper third over it, folding like business letter into 8 by 4-inch rectangle. Turn dough 90 degrees counterclockwise. Roll out dough again into 11 by 8-inch rectangle and fold into thirds again. Turn dough 90 degrees counterclockwise and repeat rolling and folding into thirds. After last fold, fold dough in half to create 4-inch square. Press top of dough gently to seal. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

4. FOR THE FILLING: Cover mushrooms in bowl and microwave until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to colander to drain and return to bowl. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add leeks and thyme, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender and beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to bowl with mushrooms. Stir in crème fraîche and mustard. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

5. Adjust oven rack to lower middle position, place pizza stone on oven rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes. Roll out on generously floured (up to ¼ cup) work surface to 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. (Trim edges as needed to form rough circle.) Transfer dough to parchment paper–lined rimmed baking sheet. With tip of paring knife, cut five ¼-inch circles in dough (one at center and four evenly spaced midway from center to edge of dough). Brush top of dough with 1 teaspoon oil.

6. Spread half of filling evenly over dough, leaving 2-inch border around edge. Sprinkle with half of Gorgonzola, cover with remaining filling, and top with remaining Gorgonzola. Drizzle remaining 1 teaspoon oil over filling. Grasp 1 edge of dough and fold up outer 2 inches over filling. Repeat around circumference of tart, overlapping dough every 2 to 3 inches; gently pinch pleated dough to secure but do not press dough into filling. Brush dough with egg and sprinkle evenly with kosher salt.

7.  Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees. Bake until crust is deep golden brown and filling is beginning to brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool tart on baking sheet on wire rack for 10 minutes. Using offset or wide metal spatula, loosen tart from parchment and carefully slide tart off parchment onto cutting board. Sprinkle with parsley, cut into wedges, and serve.


Ann's notes (and recommendations from Cook's Illustrated)

  1. Yes, the dough will be crumbly and loose. It's okay. Resting the dough in the fridge allows the flour to hydrate apparently while minimizing gluten development so the crust stays tender and flaky rather than too chewy. It will be a bit hard to work with at first but just tough it out since it will get better as you fold it more and more.
  2. I used a mix of Shitake and Crimini mushrooms since Shitakes are more expensive. Crimini mushrooms contain a lot more water so you need to ensure you drain the mushrooms properly after microwaving. You don't want the tart to be too soggy after all.
  3. Save the mushroom stems instead of composting them. You can use them to make broth afterwards or mince them in a processor with roasted garlic and parsley for a bruschetta topping.
  4. Whole wheat makes this healthier and lends to a nuttier, earthier flavor and better texture in the crust. I keep whole wheat flour on hand anyways since it's better for you.
  5. Most people don't have a bench scraper - this just calls for something fairly sharp and flat. You can use the blunt end of a chef's knife to get under the dough and fold the dough over or something similar - perhaps one of those small, thin, foldable cutting boards or something.
  6. Creme Fraiche is a lighter, milder, richer textured fancy french sour cream. They have it at Whole Foods next to the sour cream. I went to Top Food and the head of their dairy department gave me a puzzled look and had no idea what it was. Eff them for their lack of food-snobbery. :) And check out this South Park episode: