For our first dinner out in England we decided
to stay local to the area we were staying - Islington (pronounced
Rough Guide to London Restaurants 2002 was our guide. Its author
Charles Campion says that every restaurant in the book is
"wholeheartedly" recommended so we put our fate in his hands. London is
rich with ethnic restaurants and while it's atypical for them to be at
the top of Debbie's list something
about the London fog has changed changed her wiring. No complaints from
me as ethnic restaurants are
always at the top of my list. Our destination for dinner was
Pasha. Mr. Campion
said two things that piqued our interest: 1) the restaurant was
dedicated to "producing fresh, light, authentic Turkish food", and 2)
you are encouraged to eat "Turkish Style" served lots of small dishes ("meze").
This sounded like our kind of place.
Sure enough within 30 seconds of being seated
in this lovely restaurant with an open face to the summer weather we had
made our choice and ordered the "Pasha Feast". It required a minimum of
2 people, and there were two of us so we were in business. Things started
off with a series of "mezes" which appears to mean several small salads.
They were as follows: Tarama - a kind of fish/dairy spread; Cacik -
Turkish yogurt (or "yoghurt" as they spell it here) with cucumbers and
spices (think of it as Turkish Tzatziki); Hummus; Barbunya Pilaki -
(lima?) beans with tomato sauce and spices; Kisir - couscous with a
light tomato sauce and chunks of chickpea and onion. In addition to the
mezes we received a bread basket containing "Turkish bread" which
consisted of a bunch of warm yummy pita and some warmed over slices of
what appeared to be baguette to me. This was also accompanied by a
sampler of hot items: an oblong Falafel unit (funny shape) that had
sesame seeds in it; Cizbiz Kofte - a minced lamb kebab; and (I stupidly
forgot to write the Turkish name down) a courgette fritter (a courgette
is the French word for zucchini which they use in England). The best of
the bunch were clearly the Kisir which was a surprisingly good mix of
couscous and sauce - the chunks of chickpea and onion made for a nice
textural contrast; the yogurt and cucumber mix was quite tasty, and the
lamb kebab was fantastic, the pita was warm and stretchy, and the
courgette fritter had a yummy eggy center with a crunchy outer crust.
The flavorful tomato sauce on the beans was also quite good.
As we browsed the drink menu I noticed them
offering the Pasha Mojito, and the Champagne Vyagra mixed drinks. I
think this is part of the restaurants attempt to be "hip." (Debbie
thought the "y" in their "Vyagra" came from an alcohol that was part of
the drink called "Vya" and not just a
Next up was the Kebab platter: a mixture
of four different kinds of kebabs, a yummy rice with bits of vegetables,
a roasted tomato or two, and sprinkles of green onion. On the side was a
Turkish vegetable salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber cut small), and a
sort of spicy Turkish chunky salsa. Overall things were pretty good but
there were highs and lows. The lamb kebab (on the bone) was definitely
the best - juicy, spice infused, lamby, yummy. A close second was more
of the minced lamb kebab we'd had earlier. Still juicy and delicious.
The chicken kebab was juicy but bland, and the beef kebab was not only
bland but dry. The vegetable salad was a bit too oily, but the spicy
stuff was just great. Chunky. Delicious.
We got our requisite dessert platter - decent
baklava, cinnamon ice cream, and some additional Turkish pastries.
Bottom line: Pasha had some yummy moments. And we're definitely not the
worse for starting our London food adventures there, but I do expect to
raise the bar with our very next outing.
While we'll be spending a lot of time eating various
cuisines that are not British, one example of the native foodstuffs that
is world class is cheese. One glance at the cheese aisle in the local
Sainsbury's will tell you all you need to know. Forget slices of
American, or simple wedges of Cheddar and Monterey Jack - the cheese
aisle contains countless examples of interesting and yummy cheeses
Hereford, various triple crèmes, the Gloucester, and its friend that's
twice the fun - Double Gloucester. And in addition to the cheese aisle, there is a
cheese counter with an additional decent selection of yummy goodness.
Our early selections were Tintern, Cambozola, and of course Cheddar. But
strangely enough the biggest and baddest Cheddar flavor wasn't local but
came by way of New Zealand's Anchor Special Reserve Cheddar. Tangy.
Strong. Rich. Delicious. (Note: I've looked for this cheese on the web.
An old mention on a
cached page is the best I can find. If anyone knows how to find this
cheese in the US, let me know.)
Attentive readers will note that this site was in a frozen
state for the month of August. Don't think we were goofing off during
that time. In fact we were traveling in Europe trying to get you
critical food information from "across the pond". We spent most of the
month in London, with short trips to Israel and Paris during the course
of the month. Some might ask: why London? Why not a month in Paris and a
short trip to London? A not uncommon recent perception of London (and
England in general) is that the food is terrible. While I think most
people know this is a thing of the past, there are some who still cling
to that view. I think this historical reputation may be a conflation of
British food and food available in Britain. Anyone who's eaten Indian
food in London knows that the two are not the same. An "international"
city (which I think London qualifies as) with 15,000 restaurants cannot
be ignorant of good food. Our task is simply to find it, eat it, and
document it. To the Batmobile!
As I mentioned before, Jeffrey Steingarten's
The Man Who Ate Everything is my new favorite food book of all time
(don't ask me what my previous one was as it's been completely eclipsed
by this book and I simply don't remember).
DebDu recommended the
book and I'm embarrassed to admit that at first I was nervous because I
thought it was by David Rosengarten, the former Food network
personality. A book all about his perfect wine pairings seemed not super
interesting. Luckily, Jeffrey Steingarten is the food critic for Vogue.
His 1997 book is a collection of essays detailing his adventures with
food. The spectrum includes everything from traditional eating and
cooking all the way to understanding much of the science and reality
behind food, cooking, biology and more. But that description doesn't do
the book justice.
There are two things I love about this book: 1) the
intelligent and clever writing, and 2) the obsessive focus on the
ultimate food experiences. While I write about food and have been
described (along with our gaggle of friends) as having an obsessive
focus on food experiences (and a variety of other things), in both cases
my contributions are paltry shadows of Steingarten's stories. His
writing is funny, intelligent, slightly sarcastic without overdoing it,
and fun. Even more exciting is that there is no topic that passes in
front of him that he doesn't throw all his energy into discovering and
Each essay follows the same (fun) formula. An
idea, factoid, or opinion (microwaved fish is excellent; ice cream
originated on a snowcapped mountain in Sicily; Wagyu beef is the best in
the world;) triggers an adventure in obsessively tracking down every
detail about the idea, traveling the world to try things first hand, and
then slavishly trying to recreate the experience in his Manhattan
apartment. The chapter on subsistence diets starts out: "Years ago
I read somewhere that the absolutely cheapest survival diet consists of
peanut butter, whole wheat bread, nonfat dry milk, and a vitamin pill.
Eager to try it, I rushed to the supermarket, returned home with
provisions for a week's survival, and went to work with my calculator
and butter knife." The chapter proceeds debunking the FDA's
recommendations and delivering quality criticism of the gastronomic
value of it and other subsistence culinary recommendations. Ultimately
the chapter ends with Steingarten's recipe for Perfumed Rice with Lamb
and Lentils - subsistence with flavor.
Another chapter on Choucroute (an Alsatian
dish of sauerkraut and pork) contains the following passage: "Whenever I
travel to France, I like to hit the ground eating, but my urgency on
this trip was even more intense than usual - a brief week in Alsace was
barely long enough to sample fourteen authentic choucroutes." My brief
disappointment at the lack of originality of our eat-off/tour of the top
pizza establishments in Manhattan or the "creation" of second, third,
and fourth dinner, was quickly replaced by admiration and respect for
Steingarten, his focus on important things (like 14 pages each on how to
tell when fruit is really ripe, and comparing 33 different ketchups
including two homemade to find which one is best - all tested on mounds
and mounds of McDonald's French Fries), and his incredible attention to
There's no hint of snobbishness as his love
for good food knows no bounds, geographical or economic. Also,
throughout the wonderful narrative no claim is unquestioned or
unverified - Steingarten debunks myths around fat, sugar, and salt with
glee. The book is worth it alone so you can quote from it to people who
have propagated these myths to your face in the past. And finally, Each
chapter typically wraps up with a recipe or three so you can enjoy the
fruit of his labors right in your very own kitchen. And as is common
with books you fall in love with, nothing's better than finding out
there's another one after you've resigned yourself to having run out of
pages to read in the first one. Sure enough, in 2002 Steingarten put out
another tome of inventive food writing -
It Must've Been Something I Ate. I'll report on it soon. I'm sure it
will be great.
The best I can do after being inspired by The Man Who
Ate Everything is to try and pay homage by doing a good job in my
own food adventuring. My writing may never be as entertaining. My lack
of free time and short attention span may never allow me to delve into
the details the way he does. But I will do my best to try and have as
much fun eating as possible and document that fun in as exacting detail
as possible for your enjoyment.
And if that's not enough, whereas his book is all text
(how traditional), we've got pictures.
I got to thinking about the new lesson learned from my
adventures exposing my family to new and different foods. We are raised
to determine what we do and don't like in advance based on what
ingredients it contains and not based on how it's prepared. If my
two-year-old is any indication there must be biological roots in this
pattern of behavior. Maybe to avoid poisons children are biologically
programmed to taste enough foods to give them sustenance and then stop
trying new foods for fear of being poisoned. Then again, maybe not.
Maybe (whatever the biology) humans just like the comfort of the
familiar. It's easy to eat things we like. It's hard to try the unknown.
And to a certain extent this serves us well. There are
some ingredients that people just don't like. It doesn't matter how many
times you try it, in what form, how it was prepared, or by whom. That
said, I have been out to eat too many times with picky eaters only to
see them try something prepared by a talented chef with an ingredient
they don't like only to see them new fans of said ingredient with a
religious fervor reserved exclusively for recently reformed smokers.
How do you explain cilantro? Two years ago, a fouler
green did not exist on my flavor roster. The smell? Atrocious. The taste.
Overpowering. In my food? No thanks - makes it taste soapy. "No cilantro
please" was my motto. And now???
I can't get enough of it. It has an
incredible smell and flavor that brighten everything it's in. I keep it
on hand at home in bunches and think about things I can make with it. In
the same time period, this cilantro conversion has happened to two other
people I know. Did the genetic makeup for cilantro crops world-wide
change over the last two years to make it suddenly pleasing and
palatable? Were we somehow hypnotized by the "Cilantro Council"? Or did something more insidious
What happened is that I got used to it. And once I was familiar
with the flavor, I wanted to get familiar with it as often as possible.
If this could happen with an ingredient I used to despise, why not with
any ingredient I simply don't like or prefer. And remember, it wasn't just me, this
happened to two other people.
This is even more counter-intuitive than it
seems. It's not just people's likes that define them, their dislikes are
equally (if not more) visible signs defining their personas.
People love to proudly declare their dislike for various foods. And it's
not just limited to the fast-food set. The "enlightened" can be even
worse, deriding simple pleasures like good street food, and breakfast
diner buttered white toast. As hard as it may be to put something in
your mouth that might not taste good, once you've decided you're brave
enough to do that at least once per food item, you realize that by
trying things you might like them. And what if you all of a sudden like
the food that for years you've made fun of your friends for eating?
The weirdest (and for me most embarrassing) thing is
that not all of these dislikes are based on actual experience. Yep. I've
found that not all things people dislike have they actually tried. In
fact (while I await funding for my scientific study) I will venture a
guess that most foods that people claim to not like, they have never
I realized recently that I like cherries, capers, and
Given that I've been writing this website for over a
year, it's pretty shameful to admit, but that's right, I hadn't really
eaten a cherry up until recently. Thirty-four years without tasting a
real fresh cherry. The funny thing is that I was absolutely certain I didn't
like cherries. How did that happen? I think Cherry flavored cough syrup was the
main culprit. I still find that flavor vile. Of course only recently did
I realize it tastes nothing like cherries. It tastes like cough syrup.
Of course I did have lingering doubts about my cherry phobia only because the
medicine-ish cherry-flavored Luden's "cough drops" are so yummy.
With capers, it was just that they looked yucky. And
then I realized (after I actually tried one) that they were little pods
of salty goodness.
With beets, I never tried them and they somehow ended up
in the dislike bucket. I admit that I wasn't immediately super in love
with their flavor, but golden beets have a lighter flavor that led me to
fall in love with the whole beet family. How many people are out there
not eating yummy food because of cough syrup. I believe people have a
list of food they eat and a list of food they don't. Long gone are the
reasons items showed up on the don't list.
The psychological warfare I am engaged in with my
two-year-old son sheds a little light on the subject. Before his birth
and during the first few months of his existence when his diet was
pretty regulated, I planned long and hard about all the food adventures
we'd have together as soon as he could eat real food. I imagined us
going to dim sum every Sunday morning, fighting over the last piece of
sushi at dinner, and hunting for the perfect Vietnamese restaurant
together. The picky eater that took over my son's body has no place in my fantasies. Months of peanut butter on matzah forced me to develop new
pathways of creativity when it comes to getting him to try new foods.
Reasoning with a two-year-old is not a path to success.
For awhile I thought his preference for certain foods
was really about their flavor. I was so proud the day I got him to eat
chicken satay at the Thai restaurant after I shoved it with some peanut
sauce between the toast points they gave us. I started to wonder if it
really mattered what was between the pieces of toast. It seems that the
satay benefited from the peanut sauce, which he was already comfortable
with because of his peanut butter obsession. That said, when he does
taste a new flavor it does take him a minute to adapt and decide whether
he likes it or not. And there are so many things that I wanted him to
try that I thought wouldn't work between two pieces of toast.
He likes to eat apples. We always have granny
smith in the house, so those are apples. Anything else round and edible
is a different colored apple. For awhile, oranges were orange apples. I
used to disabuse him of this notion. Now I leave it in place. The
association is critical to him being comfortable with eating the fruit.
When he insisted on eating a "red apple" recently I made no objection or
correction. And now he's a big fan of plums.
The proudest moment of inspiration was
recently when somehow I got him to take a bite of a red pepper - and he
liked it. I sliced the top off, emptied out the insides and then called
him over to show him how I could open and close the pepper like a little
container with a top. When I took a bite of the top, that was fun, so he
took one too. Progress! Before we knew it, we had eaten so many bites
that what was left of the piece attached to the stem of the pepper was
no longer an effective top for the pepper "bowl". With the fun gone, his
willingness to eat pepper disappeared as well. I offered him any part he
wanted of the other 90% of the pepper, but tops were all he wanted. I
started to scheme furiously at how I could use up all that extra pepper
with him only eating pepper tops. (The similarity to the Seinfeld
"Muffin Top" episode was not lost on me.) And then inspiration hit
- pepper stars. Sure enough, the very same pepper cut into little star
shapes was acceptable and even considered yummy by my son.
Freud aside, I think in some ways most people
are stuck at two when it comes to food. The list of foods we don't like,
won't try, have never eaten, etc. is not necessarily rational, but it
exists. Maybe if people try the food they dislike in the shape of stars
or hearts their worlds might open up a bit. As much as I love pepper
stars, I have to admit, I am already counting the days until my infant
daughter starts eating solid food, as the first Sunday following, she
and I will be taking a road trip to Vancouver, B.C. to wolf down some
All this musing leads me to shamelessly steal a page from
Jeffrey Steingarten's book -
The Man Who Ate Everything. I will go on
and on praising him and his incredibly inspiring book in a later entry,
but for now I will take a page from his [play]book. When he started out
as food critic for Vogue he realized that to be a completely neutral
observer of all things culinary he needed to dispense with any of his
prejudices. He spent long hours determining that biologically there is
almost nothing we can't eat, and in fact - as human beings - we're
supposed to eat as many things as possible - we're designed for it.
He lists out everything he dislikes including Greek food, desserts
served at Indian restaurants, and blue food to name a few. He then goes
on a program of exposure and open-mindedness where he overcomes
essentially all his food phobias. I did note when I read the book that
he didn't include bugs. Though in the sequel - It Must Have Been
Something I Ate - he does come back to bugs and in fact has made
progress in that arena. I will not be discussing bugs either. Not now,
not ever. Bugs are yucky. Maybe if someone decides to pay me to do this
job then I'll consider it, but doubtful even then. Anyway, back to
things I don't like other than bugs. Here it is: my all time list of
major dislikes when it comes to food. These are the items that will
cause me to not eat something. These are things I will pick out of other
- Raisins. These are the cockroaches of the dried fruit
world. Yes, I like grapes. Yes, I like other dried fruits - apples,
apricots, etc. Yes I like grapes. Yes I know that raisins are just
dried grapes. But I cannot abide raisins. They are small, and chewy,
and usually inserted into dishes where they don't belong as tiny
invisible smart bombs of yucky overly sweet chewy fruit taste when I
was just enjoying my Persian rice or my challah. I don't know if I'll
ever get over my hatred (and yes, I mean hatred) of raisins.
- Coffee. My parents loves coffee. They consider themselves
coffee gourmands. They have all sorts of apparatuses for grinding,
filtering, and brewing it. I grew up around it, and never fell in love
with it. Quite the opposite. Coffee tastes to me like someone found an
old car in a junkyard that belonged to a chain smoker, scraped the
ashtrays, added hot water, steeped, and poured the resulting liquid
into a mug and offered to dilute it with cream and sugar. (I always
hear of incidental association between coffee and cigarettes as a fine
pairing for people who are into both, but that's something to
investigate another time.) The funny thing is that I've grown to love
the smell of coffee. Brewing, roasting. It smells great. You'd think I
was halfway there, but every couple of years I take a sip (of high
quality stuff I'm told) and I find it yucky. Fall back to the slew of
coffee-type products - the frappucinos with all sorts of enticing
flavors - even coffee ice cream; I don't like any of them. I will
admit to having mixed a tiny bit of ground coffee into my recipe for chocolate spread (it gives the spread
a bittersweet tinge). But beyond that I really just don't like coffee.
As their appears to be a crack in the armor of my dislike, I think
there's a fighting chance coffee will eventually leave this list. At
least in one of it's watered down forms - like the multitude of
desserts or dessert beverages that are so overloaded with dairy and
sugar products that the coffee is reduced to a mere essence.
- Tea. This is coffee's "friendly" cousin. Take the
recipe from above and substitute flowers for ashtray scrapings and
voila - tea! I know tea lovers across the planet are horrified at my
generalization. I must be referring to herbal tea. Nope. It all tastes
like flower water to me. I'm not entirely sure of the odds of
overcoming my dislike of tea. I think in order to be on the road to
solving a problem you have to be able to visualize the solution and
frankly I just can't picture myself drinking tea.
Note: my aversion to the world's agreed upon
hot drinks is especially difficult for waiters and waitresses at the end
of meals, and hosts and hostesses in cultures where serving someone a
hot drink when they visit your home is missed only on pain of death. Hot
chocolate? Hot water with lemon? Chicken consomme? None seem to be realistic
alternatives when a friendly host is pushing their ashtray/flower water
on me. Though I will say Starbucks' menu of "Coffee Alternatives"
(they're alternatives to tea as well but the Starbucks folks didn't mind
this technical inaccuracy) is quite delicious. They have a vanilla "creme"
drink that's like a warm vanilla milkshake. Not an appetizing
description but quite nice once you try it. Their caramel apple beverage
is also excellent. Thanks to Steve and Kira for turning me on to these.
Anyway, back to my food therapy.
- Shellfish in the shell. This may seem like a nit since I've
overcome my "dislike" of shellfish. In fact it never was quite that.
More of a fear since I grew up in a house without - Kosher. Now I
adore shrimp, am having a love affair with scallops, guzzle clam chowder, and even like buttery
morsels of lobster tail. But serve those in their native homes and I
am grossed out. I think this is too reminiscent of the bug ban. A big
lobster in the shell looks too much like a cockroach for my taste.
Sucking on those spindly legs (are they legs?) is just too much for me
though I'm sure the flavor is quite lovely. This one may never get
fixed. (On a related note: I also find certain shellfish too rubbery in certain forms -
squid, octopus, cuttlefish, etc. Though I've had them roasted or in
other forms that were quite nice so I guess they don't really count.)
- Ethiopian food. This one is probably too silly to mention.
I tried it once at a restaurant in Washington DC. Lentils are ok. But
this was like a huge mash of tasteless gray lentils spread across an enormous
pita. I should probably try a good Ethiopian restaurant and be
- Stews. They're just a big soppy mess. Everything kind of
merges together and gets dull. Paella counts too. I have to assume
that there's a stew out there that will blow me away.
- Cooked green peppers. For years I thought I didn't like
peppers. My first exposure too any kind of pepper was cooked green
peppers. The bitterness that's more prevalent in the green pepper
(versus the other colors) is accentuated in a distasteful way (in my
opinion) when you cook it. My phobia of all things pepper went on for
more years than it had to likely because my budget didn't allow for
spending $5 a pound on a red, orange, or yellow pepper. Needless to
say, when I finally realized what I was missing, I measured my career
success by whether my salary let me buy red peppers without a second
thought. That's rich!
- Black Licorice. Gross. Though, maybe it's the concentration
that bothers me. I love anise and fennel. I couldn't imagine my
vietnamese pho without that flavor.
- Root Beer. Maybe I should put this one under the tea
phobia. It's kind of flowery to me. My friend Steve knowing that I'm
not shy about taking food from other people's plates, drank root beer
all throughout college even though it wasn't his favorite, just so I
wouldn't take any.
- Mint flavored desserts. I've been working hard trying to
pinpoint the issue here and only figured it out recently. At first I
thought I didn't like mint. But I brush my teeth with minty
toothpaste, and eat minty gum. Then I thought I didn't like mint mixed
with anything else, but in fact the mint in Vietnamese dishes like Goi
Cuon or Pho is quite delicious and essential. Then I thought I didn't
like mint in desserts, but I've had a couple of sprigs on a sorbet
that were refreshing. And then it finally distilled into its essence:
I don't like desserts where one of the main flavors is mint. Mint ice
cream is really gross. The only thing worse is the combination of mint
and chocolate. Truly despicable.
That's it. The whole list. I've tried to be exhaustive
here even to the point where it's just embarrassing. But nothing can be
done about that. I figure, if I'm going to try and be as honest as
possible about the food I love, then it's critical that I'm just as
honest about the foods I avoid. Everything else is pretty much "on the menu". Some
things I love. Some I'm just ok with, but I'll eat them all. I can't
promise that I'll overcome each of these dislikes, but I am doing my
best to put them behind me by exposing myself to the best in each
category when I have the time (and energy). At least now though, you can
read what follows enlightened about my blind spots.
My parents recently came to visit their new
granddaughter here in Seattle. She and her brother are quite captivating
(if I do say so myself), but I hoped to give my family some exposure to
some of the best food Seattle has to offer -
Lampreia of course. It's a risky
proposition to be honest. My mom is a picky eater. My father is
semi-adventurous. My sister I think could be a real honest-to-goodness
chef someday but all of them to one degree or another are much like the
old me. Comfortable with the food they know and like. (Not to mention
that none of them eat any shellfish.)
Of course, the right way to
experience Lampreia is to let it's Chef, Scott Carsberg, cook for you.
No ordering off the menu. Whatever the chef sends is what we eat.
"What if we don't like it?" they all chimed in. The one
restriction/request Scott has been consistently comfortable with is
making a version of dinner vegetarian.
Lauren has to eat too you
know. Knowing that Lauren always has to share bits of her dish
with all of us while she can't eat many of ours, I thought this might be
a nice solution. I'd order my family all vegetarian tasting menus and
they'd have a hard time finding an ingredient they were averse to, and
might even give dinner a chance.
Dinner was scheduled for Tuesday. On
Monday events did not portend well for our trip to Lampreia. After a
quick stop at
Malay Satay Hut (well received) my father and I went out
to Pike Place market to shop for fresh ingredients with which to make
dinner. We came home with gorgeous raspberries, a variety of yummy
vegetables, and some beautiful pieces of sashimi grade tuna. My mom
immediately declared that she didn't like tuna. "Why?" I asked. "It's
always too dry." Sashimi grade tuna, dry? Always?
I prepared the
tuna with one of Tom Douglas' rubs and just seared the outside of it
before depositing it on a bed of greens and drizzled some sauce over it.
Despite the fact that we ended up getting her some salmon she ended up
trying the "tuna salad". She said the tuna was great and not dry. Let's
take her at her word (and not assume she was being polite) as I tried
the tuna and it was definitely juicy and not dry.
This got me thinking. Throughout our lives we
are trained to determine what we like based on what ingredients it
contains and not based on the attentiveness with which it was prepared
or the quality of the ingredient itself. First question asked by a
person eating some type of ethnic food for the first time: "what's in
it?" Would it matter if they knew there was fish sauce in the Thai food?
First of all, fish sauce bears little resemblance to fish in its final
form. Second, fish sauce bears little resemblance to the dish in which
it's used as fish sauce alone is pretty powerful, yet when used as part
of a Thai dish, strangely complementary despite its potency. What good
would knowing what was in the Thai food help the first time diner with
determining in advance whether they liked it? I suppose if you pick from
ingredients you do like in other contexts then it helps with the
transition, but it's still a pretty limiting way to think when it comes
to trying new foods.
I took a moment after the potentially dry yet
juicy tuna incident to muse on this new bit of insight to my family as a
way of getting their minds more open for our trip to Lampreia. I knew
they were still stressed out about going to a meal where they didn't get
to pick their dishes, though the vegetarian filter their dinner was
going to pass through calmed them to some degree, but we marched on.
Tuesday night came and we went to dinner.
Dinner was of course magnificent. Things
started off smashingly where the first dish we all received was only
distinguished for the non-vegetarian orderers by the presence of duck
carpaccio. Needless to say I immediately pounced and pointed out to my
parents and my sister that their conservatism had deprived them of duck
carpaccio. Though I made sure that I didn't deprive them of any and gave
them some of mine. Score 1 for broadening your horizons.
The meal continued with a large number of
wonderful dishes both ones that excluded meat and fish and ones that
were not. The
poached egg with truffle was absolutely delicious. Give credit to my
shy family that they appeared to be genuinely enthused about the
truffleness. The corn veloute was the perfect essence of just sweet
enough corn in liquid form. And the encrusted lamb was yet another dish
that made my family wistful for limiting themselves to the vegetarian
dishes. Though I must say, if you're going to be a vegetarian, eating at
Lampreia is still an incredibly enjoyable and luxurious experience. When
we got to dessert and a
slice of pineapple was used as a dumpling wrapper we were all
impressed. And it was delicious.
So what did my family think of the meal? They
said nice things, and I think they enjoyed the adventure. But I think it
definitely took them out of their comfort zone, and I'm not sure they
really enjoyed it as a meal per se. I have a feeling that they were a
little bummed at the (from their perspective) "small" portions (by the
way, there were 7 courses - count 'em 7 courses and while the portions
were not Claimjumperesque they were not microbial by any stretch). And
of course the moderation of size is what made the courses enjoyable and
let us try so many of them. Nobody walked away hungry.
Ultimately I give credit to my family for
trying. Among our friends there are parents that wouldn't even be
willing to give it a shot, and mine definitely did. Afterwards I thought
to myself that maybe I had pushed a little too hard for them to broaden
their food world view. They were comfortable where they were, why should
I push? My measure of a meal I love is often that there's at least one
dish that I can remember with deep affection months or years later.
These are courses that make deep and lasting impressions. A week after
our trip to Lampreia I get a call from my mother and my sister: "Hi,
we're trying to recreate the corn soup from Lampreia. Any tips?" Maybe
our trip to Lampreia was the the tipping point for my family after all.
Postscript: my mom and sister's attempt at recreating
Scott Carsberg's Corn Veloute was unsuccessful. While I need to ask him
how he did it, I conveyed to them that I was sure it involved some
ungodly number of hours of preparation, possibly a vegetable stock that
didn't give away a hint of its presence except to support the essential
"corn-ness" of the liquid, and an amazing amount of straining through a
chinoise. This simple soup was not so simple anymore.
It's time to give a quick update on some of the dining
options in Redmond, WA. These are critical as they're near where I work
and therefore define much of my weekday lunch experience.
Unfortunately none of them bear more than a quick mention.
Chopsticks is a relatively new Chinese place in Redmond Town Center.
The dishes are light and fresh, and (unlike many crappy Chinese
restaurants) are not oversauced. Unfortunately, the dishes often have
odd flavors. I don't think it's creativity. I think it's just off a bit.
Saigon City is a Vietnamese place in Redmond. I've been there a few
times now, and always leave a bit disappointed. They don't seem to
really have great attention to detail when it comes to the food they
serve. Things are sort of thrown together, and not as fresh as they
Looking for decent Seattle eastside falafel I went to
Byblos Deli. A
nice little Arab market in Bellevue. However, as soon as I saw the
proprietor microwaving my falafel balls before putting them in my
sandwich I should have known it was not going to be a premium
experience. While better than most Falafel in the region, it doesn't
hold a candle to Kosher Delight. Byblos is still a fine spot to stock up
on your Middle Eastern groceries. The small pickles in brine are
absolutely delicious and a bit spicy too. They come in cans.
I've been desperate for good kebabs for some
time. When Kebab
Palace recently opened I had high hopes. Maybe too high. I thought
it would be Middle Eastern, but the restaurant is basically Indian. Not
a huge deal since I love Indian food, but I was hoping for the other
center of gravity. The two times I've been there have been oddly
similar. In both cases there were only two types of kebabs available.
Two kebab variations does not a palace make. In both cases one type of
kebab was super delicious (typically the lamb) and the other was not
great. And in both cases, they quickly ran out of the good kind and took
almost forever to replenish the container in the buffet. Bummer.
Always on the look out for decent food to eat near work.
I recently explained our interesting experience at
Campagne's less formal sister bistro
located downstairs. Ketchup
incident aside, I was really looking forward to eating at Campagne.
It's not just that I'm always looking to expand the roster of
favorite Seattle restaurants, but in terms of word-of-mouth
recommendations, I really could not go on any longer without seeing for
myself what everyone loved about Campagne. And the truth is, this wasn't
really my first time there. We'd gone there for a fantastic dessert
once to repair our psyches after a dinner gone wrong at nearby
Campagne is a beautiful restaurant located
right in the heart of some of the busy market buildings that look over
Puget Sound. From the window by our table we were able to see the street
slope down towards Pike Place, and the sun set over Puget Sound.
Beautiful. The table was set with bowls of olives and Spanish almonds,
and we also got some French Bread with yummy butter. Things really
started off with a bang with the Pan-roasted Sea Scallops on Carrot
Puree with Carrot, Fennel, Ginger Emulsion and Crispy Bacon. The searing
had turned the scallops a beautiful golden color. The flavor was
amazing, and the combination of ingredients - especially the sweetness -
The beef tartare dish had bold flavors but was
a bit salty. The salad of endive and radish on the side was delicious,
but the toast was lame and crumbly. Next up was a Sweet Onion and
Parmesan Gratin topped with a Salad of Watercress, Arugula, and Verjus.
It was stunning, rich and creamy in flavor, and textured beautifully. We
also really enjoyed the beet dish - Roasted Baby Beets with Beurre Sale
on Asparagus Drizzled with Pistachio Oil. The beets had great color, and
were tender and young. And finally, the Sauteed Champignons Sauvages
with Pearl Onions and Thyme on English Pea Fondant was delicious as well
- the onions had a nice soft texture.
We also had a beet dish with goat cheese. It
was nice, but not special. We had the Salad Verte - which was... a
salad. Nothing out of the ordinary here. Salad is certainly hard to
screw up, but it's also hard to make it special. I would love to eat a
really special salad some day. The Marinated Asparagus with a Poached
Aracauna Egg and White Truffle Mousseline could have used a pinch more
salt, but had stellar flavor. The truffle mousseline was amazing. And
the runny yolk inside the egg was a lovely surprise.
In terms of entrees the Roasted Squab Breasts
and Confit Legs on Artichoke and Foie Gras emulsion was the best except
for the psychotically oversalted fennel bulb. The creamy sauce had a "grilly"
quality. We also had the Entrecote Roti Boneless Rib-Eye on Wilted
Spinach with Braised Shallots and Garlic in Red Wine Foie Gras Sauce.
It's easy to get my attention when combining steak and foie gras. Though
I don't think "wilted" is the word that shoots to the top of my list
when I want to describe food in an appetizing way. The dish was decent,
nothing memorable. Lauren
had the Vegetables of the Moment on Golden Beet Spetzli with a
watercress and Marsanne Roussanne sauce. Apparently, the "moment" was
one of extreme saltiness. She sent it back, it still came back too
salty. Deb liked the Sea Bass
special with grapefruit sauce and chickpeas. I thought it was
uninspiring and didn't hang together. Then again, Deb was also inspired
enough by one dish's adornment to ask aloud "why do people think candied
fennel is a good idea"? We then had the Grilled Lamb Loin and Roasted
House-Made Lamb Crepinette, with Potato Galette, and Red Wine Olive
Sauce. As they had at the cafe, they had knocked the the lamb burger out
of the park. The grilled loin was ok. The sauce caught whatever was
afflicting the vegetable plate. We also had the Pan-Roasted Alaskan
Halibut on English Pea and Tarragon Puree with Caviar Cream. It
was tasty, flavorful, and herby, but not really exceptional. Desserts
were good including a yummy berry sorbet, an Opera with Passion Fruit
Mousse, and the best of the desserts - Twice Baked Chocolate Gateau
served warm with Toasted Cashew Ice Cream and Apricot Ginger Creme
The meal had begun with high expectations
starting to get realized with delicious dishes like the beets, scallops,
and gratin. But it just got worse and worse over time. Roughly two hours
into the meal Chris pointed out that Campagne "is only good when there's
food, and there's only been food a quarter of the time". The pacing was
not good. To be fair to Campagne, there were eight of us, which did not
seem typical. But still, the wait was often interminable between
courses. Inconsistency seemed to be the rule of the realm unfortunately.
There were small things like Deb asking for her dessert with mixed berry
sorbet and getting rhubarb instead. There were big things like the
random acts of saltiness throughout the meal. And then there were the
little things that added insult to the injury of the big things, like
when Lauren had to send back her egregiously oversalted plate of
vegetables, the waiter eventually replaced her dish with the comment
"the Chef apologizes that the dish was not to your liking". None of us
were looking for an apology from the Chef or anyone else. But we
certainly didn't want a passive aggressive apology to accompany our
hunger. (And, no we're not crazy people who are hyper-sensitive to salt
perceiving Wasa crackers as being too salty). The best word we could
come up with to describe the evening was "bummer". It's so clear that
Campagne has the ability to make really flavorful, fresh, and
comfortable (in a good way) food. It was also so clear (at least on the
night we were there) that they were all over the map. We'll definitely
need to go back. I'm hoping rough spots at our visit were just
The LA Times talks about some of the problems in
running a restaurant which is already a notoriously difficult business in
which to succeed. People making reservations and
not showing up is a real blow to profitability.
friends at work had been telling me to eat at
in Seattle's Madison Park neighborhood for some time. And I
And it was pretty good. I had to go back to really decide how good. And
I can say that after this last visit, I think about returning. Often.
Very often. There is something fresh and exciting about the food at
Harvest Vine (though not everyone had
reactions that evening). Their authentic Spanish Tapas menu is
certainly part of the allure, but the food just tastes fresh. Here's
what we ate last time we were there (which was too long ago).
Dinner started off with some yummy doughy crusty bread. No butter or
oil. But yummy. We had a glass of red wine a 2000 Les Terrases. It had
some nice tannins, but it was served cold. I'm not a fan of cold red
wine. I've heard that in some parts of France they serve red wine cold
to cover for poor quality. Also some people serve red wines from
Provence or Beaujolais cold. I remain to be convinced. Maybe it's a
Spanish thing. I'll need to investigate further.
That said, the food was fantastic. First up was the dish that made me
fall in love with golden beets. A plate of thinly sliced
beets drenched in oil, amazing garlic, herbs, and salt. It's so
simple, fresh, and delicious. Next was a simple and perfect plate of
It brought memories flooding back of of shops in Madrid with row after
row of cured pigs hanging from floor to ceiling.
am having an affair with gazpacho. Don't tell my wife. I can't get
enough of it. I think about it more than I'd like to admit. The
at Harvest vine was sweet, tangy, and super liquidy. The pulp was almost
too small, but not quite. There were beautiful pools of olive oil
resting on the surface of the soup. The entire effect of the soup was
almost like that of a wine with the flavors dancing on my tongue and an
incredibly long finish. I went as far as looking around the room to see
if the coast was clear before I decided that I couldn't get away with
licking my bowl. I can't guarantee that I'll be able to stop myself next
tuna. Yep. Debbie wasn't hot on
it. She said it "smelled like dessert". Dessert fish? She may be right
that it smelled like dessert. But she was wrong on her assessment of
whether it would be good. It was fantastic. The flavor combination was
interesting and (most importantly) tasty. The wonderful Spanish sea salt
made a reapperance. The flavors hit your tongue in layers - vanilla at
first, then herbs, fish, and salt. Yum! I thought the tuna could have
been a touch more rare, but I still really enjoyed the dish.
Next up was a dish of
beans in tomato sauce. The beans were good, but the tomato sauce
that covered them was the star. The plate of
was quite nice though a touch too chewy. (I'm not sure if it's supposed
to be like that, but I thought it was a bit tough.) Super smoky strong
with roasted garlic. It had almost a touch of peanut butter flavor.
Finally we had the
It was just great. I've never eaten anything that made me want to eat
the fat. But there I was eating it. The fact that it was super crispy
helped certainly. The sauce, green onion, and orange section completed
Harvest Vine is
The staff is friendly. And the food is fresh, interesting, authentic,
and super flavorful. I need to get my fix, soon. And be warned if you're
easily offended, I will definitely be licking the gazpacho bowl.
and co-worker Ted has been bugging me for awhile to try
Matt's in the Market - a tiny
little restaurant/kitchen buried in the nooks and crannies above Pike
Place market in the heart of Seattle. Finding it is a little tough, though surprisingly it's
nestled among even more tiny restaurants that make this spot their home.
quick impression. The entire restaurant is a narrow rectangular space with the open
kitchen behind the bar along one side and the seats all the way in a
little area at the end of the room. Charming and relaxed and "cool" are
clear first impressions when you walk into Matt's. In addition,
the promise of an establishment on top of Pike Place Market is that the
food is super fresh as it comes daily from "the market". And while
Matt's certainly has all the ingredients to make a lasting impression,
other than the cool space, they unfortunately didn't. It's true that the cod fish cake was super fresh tasting.
And the tuna
was good. But none of the dishes were really moving or memorable. There
was nothing wrong with our dinner. But the food didn't make an
impression on me that makes me dream of going back either. All the
ingredients are certainly there. Maybe they will gel into something
special over time.
First things first. When you tell people to have
breakfast at Sears' in San Francisco you must always pay the tax of going
through the interminable discussion assuring them that this Sears' is in
fact different from the hardware and appliance purveyor. And, that no
you don't expect them to eat their breakfast with Craftsman tools
instead of a fork and knife. With
that out of the way we can get to more important things like
pancakes. Yes. That's it. Little Swedish pancakes - 18 of them
to be exact. "World famous" according to the folks at Sears' Fine Foods.
Swedish pancakes? They are super thin. Not fluffy and
thick like their IHOP compatriots. They are almost crepe-like except
that when properly griddled they have a
either side, and their edges are almost crispy. What little mass they
have inside is filled with air bubbles that give these little morsels
structure. That structure is a good place for the
butter and syrup they serve with your pancakes. The heavy feeling that
can accompany eating a stack of pancakes does not make an appearance
here. Instead you wolf down 10 or 11 of these things before you realize
that you're (sadly) more than halfway done.
The rest of the experience is super complementary.
Traditional diner food (good greasy breakfast food, lots of pork
products, etc.). Traditional diner waitresses (friendly and gruff at the
same time). Traditional diner decor (lots of pink). And traditional
pictures on the wall of the proprietors and celebrities including local
sports stars and Lou Ferrigno (one of the proprietors is into
bodybuilding). All in all a complete and wonderful experience. When you
go to San Francisco, deal with
that goes out the door (it moves quickly) and have breakfast at Sears'.
And of course, when you go,
order the World Famous 18 Swedish Pancakes. Delicious!
I knew a trip to San Francisco
had to include some favorites, there was also the matter of trying
something new. New to me that is. Chez Panisse came to mind
first, but a trip to Berkeley seemed a touch out-of-the-way.
Gary Danko was
also at the top of my list in terms of restaurants I wanted to try. A
member of the high-end Relais Gourmand affiliation of restaurants I knew
there was a high chance Gary Danko would deliver an excellent meal in a
setting, and an even higher chance it wouldn't be priced for every
day dining. Luckily, only one meal is required in order to savor the
flavors and the experience for months on end.
There were four of us eating, and it was just
enough to sample under half of what was on the a la carte menu. There
was also a tasting menu which consisted entirely of items from the a la
carte side, so for diversity's sake we crafted our own tasting menus.
The table was
and set the right tone for our upcoming meal. First up was a small item
from the kitchen not on the menu, a
Leek Soup with Smoked Duck Breast. An excellent combination, just
delicious. The duck was completely balanced in flavor and the drizzle of
oil on the top was great. Starting off the meal with good strong flavors
like fennel and duck was like a shot across our bow, saying: "pay
attention, we're not wasting any time in creating a great meal." And
indeed they weren't.
First up were appetizers. The
with Lobster, Rock Shrimp, Spring Vegetables and Sage Oil was
dreamy. It had a perfect texture, awesome green oil, and tender seafood
that was a subtle but solid flavor in the dish. The
Bisque with Mussel, Clam, Scallop and Lobster was a table favorite
with a special milk flavor and a light great seafood essence. The
Foie Gras, Caramalized Red Onions and Oven Roasted Apricots had a
touch too little foie gras. I know I am always complaining about
portions that are too large, but this one seemed on the smallish side.
The apricot was also a bit too sour. But the foie gras was delicious
with amazing flavor and texture. I wrote in my notes at dinner that it
had "perfect substance". That's always a good thing. And finally, the
Lobster Salad with Artichokes and Mustard Tarragon Vinaigrette was also
subtle (in a good way) and tender with five different flavors and a
range of textures complementing each other beautifully. All the
appetizers were really perfect in terms of how much flavor they had. The
bisque was the best example with its amazingly focused flavor. The
risotto though was our favorite.
courses didn't miss a beat in terms of keeping silly ear-to-ear grins on
our faces. We started with
Scallops with Braised Artichokes, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Sauce Marechal.
The perfect tiny scallops were excellently sauteed without a hint of
rubbery texture. The sauce was an echo (but not a repetitive one) from
some of our appetizers. The beet wedges and artichoke hearts were so
very tender. Next up was
Tuna with Red Pepper Eggplant Marmalade and White Asparagus. Before
we could discuss what we thought of the dish, the last of the sweet
creamy sauce on the now empty plate was being mopped up with bread. The
Maine Lobster with Asparagus, Morel mushrooms, Tarragon and Potato Puree
was essentially perfect. Normally roast lobster is a bit crisp, but this
was super soft. "Tastes like chicken" is the cliche description of frog
legs, but they really did taste like chicken. Really good chicken in a
smoky yummy sauce. I suppose that's to be expected when they are
Pancetta Wrapped Frog Legs with Sunchoke Garlic Puree, Potato, Lentils,
and Parsley Sauce. One tweak might be that the pancetta was slightly
overpowering. It kills me to advocate less pancetta in anything, but
that was our impression when we ate it.
Next up was the
Herb Duck Breast with Rhubarb Compote. This was the best duck breast
I'd ever had. The herbs were incredible. The meat was super tender. And
the tomato confit was a perfect sweet tangy complement to the duck. Also
cool was the duck confit done hash brown style sitting under the duck
Crusted Loin of Lamb wit Potato Gratin, Roasted Beets and Fennel won
over one newly former lamb avoider at the table. There wasn't a hint of
gaminess. The beets and the gratin were just delicious. The
Spiced Venison Medallions, Cranberry Onion Compote and Braised Endive
was excellent. The hint of bitter flavor was counter-balanced by the
mandarin orange in the dish. The
Medallion with Wild Nettle Risotto and Mushroom Confit was
surprisingly great. (Though you have to wonder why being served
something great at this point was surprising at all.) That said, the
duck was the clear favorite of this course.
Before full on dessert there was a pretty
cheese cart. We had a nutty blue cheese, a triple cream from
Cowgirl Creamery, and a
cow's milk cheese where the farmer knows the names of all 177 of his
cows (I apologize as my notes are garbled and I can't tell you the name
of that particular cheese). For wine, I brought with me a pair I had been
dying to try. A brand new 2000 Clos De Sarpe that was chewy, soft, and
delicious with delicate but present tannins. Later in the meal we opened
a 2001 Pride Syrah. It was huge with a big bouquet, some chocolate
notes, great tannins, and a bit of spice on a long long finish.
We were so full we only got a couple of
desserts (these were before the amazing tray of
Creme Brulee with Cookies, and
Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Chocolate Sorbet and Hot Chocolate.
Not only was this super yummy, but included a perfect ice cold plain
milk chaser. It's like they read our mind in terms of what would be
perfect after all that chocolate. Though I suppose it would be on most
people's minds. That said, most high end restaurants forget some of
those simple combinations. And the beauty of the dinner was that there
were many combinations that seemed simple on the surface but were the
results of amazing effort on the part of the kitchen. (Speaking of the
kitchen, we got a quick
as well which was nice.) Gary Danko was an absolutely elevated food
experience. I am counting the days until I get to go back.
AP courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times writes about a new
food-ish book. Amanda Hesser's new book
Cooking for Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, With Recipes is the
subject of the writeup but there's also a decent list of other
"liter-eat-ture" as the author calls it.
funny. San Francisco by all rights should be a great place for food.
They have a large population with a significant percentage of people who
appreciate food as well as large ethnic communities. In addition San
Francisco lies south of the bounty of Napa and Sonoma Valley and east of
the Pacific ocean. Life should be good. Yet there are still funny
anomalies in San Francisco's food scene - for example, there is no
world-class sushi there. Luckily that is not the case for Chinese food.
Hunan Home is a fantastic Chinese restaurant located in San Francisco's
Chinatown. Almost every time I'm in the bay area I go there for lunch,
dinner, or both.
Lunch was simple. Hot and Sour Soup, Potstickers, Hunan
Spiced Garlic Beef, Sizzling Prawns, and Asparagus Beef in Black Bean
Sauce. My lunch companions Ted, Tjeerd, and Mark came to Hunan Home
slightly doubtful. The wild look in my eye, and the grandiose
descriptions of the quality of the food didn't help my credibility. Yet
when those first dishes showed up I calmly watched as understanding
flooded their faces. We were here to get some really really really good
The hot and sour soup was excellent. Ted commented that
there was no tinny or gummy aftertaste. Mark felt it was the best Hot
and Sour soup he'd ever had. Tjeerd said it had great balanced spiciness
so it was hot but you could still taste the flavors. I loved it and
thought it had a nice kick. The potstickers were light and delicious.
They were perfectly pan-fried. The beef was excellent as well. It was
tender beyond belief accompanied by perfectly cooked asparagus.
Typically I'm not a fan of sweeter sauces, but the sauce on our shrimp
was slightly sweet, garlicky, and delicious.
Hunan Home consistently delivers fantastic,
fresh, and scrumptious Chinese food in the heart of San Francisco's
Chinatown. If I had one thing to complain about it would be my fortune
cookie. It was the same factory-made slightly orange tasting
cookie-cutter cookie. And I know that Hunan Homes doesn't specify the
fortunes. But if you get a fortune cookie it should contain a fortune,
not a baseless and inaccurate observation/assessment. Mine was: "you are
quiet and unobtrusive". Never mind that I am neither quiet nor
unobtrusive. Never mind that the person that wrote the fortune has never
observed me personally and has no basis on which to make that kind of
judgment. The inaccuracy doesn't bother me nearly as much as the fact
that an observation (even a wrong one) is not a fortune. When I get a
fortune cookie I want to know what the future holds. One thing I know
for sure, my future contains many more trips to Hunan Home for fresh
flavors, flavorful sauces, and perfect cooking.
Short and sweet. That's the story of the oddly named
Noodle Bowl Alex and I ate at
in Seattle's International District. Oddly named as their specialty is
dumplings. A more
non-descript and unassuming restaurant you'll be hard pressed to find
(although it's usually easy to find understatement in Seattle's
International District). We ordered a variety of dumplings off the menu.
They were all good. Some better than others. Dumpling nirvana? No. Nice
place to stop for lunch when you're in a hurry and want to eat about 100
never-ending search for decent Italian food in Seattle,
Pasta Freska is a novel
entry. Situated near Lake Union, the friendly chef at Pasta Freska comes
to your table, asks you if you don't like any particular ingredient, and
then makes you dinner. Dishes come out of the kitchen, when they're
ready, steaming hot on family size (or bigger) platters. Cool! Double
points as the chef is Persian, and was eager to prepare us some Persian
specialties also. This restaurant is kind of like what I thought
Craft in Manhattan
was going to be like (and wasn't).
Salad started things off. Really good feta cheese, but
not quite enough vinegar. The garlic bread was delicious. Next up was
Persian Green Rice with Dill. The herbs really made for an aromatic
treat. Chicken with Prunes was next, which I have it on good Persian
authority was authentic. I thought it was tasty. This was followed by
Spaghetti with shrimp and salmon. It was creamy and flavorful. Next up
was a dish of rice with ground beef and greens. This was more of a
Persian style dish rather than an authentic recipe.
While most people (unless they ask) won't get the
Persian dishes, for Italian food, Pasta Freska is a positive experience.
The food is good, and the atmosphere is fun and easy.
Campagne is a
local Seattle restaurant serving modern French-ish dishes in a lovely
downtown restaurant. In their two-story spot near Pike Place market they
not only have their main restaurant but their bistro -
While I've been meaning to try Campagne for some time, on this day I
found myself at the Cafe. I'd been there before for brunch a couple of
times and enjoyed myself. This was the first time for lunch.
Cafe Campagne offers a $15 prix fixe lunch that includes soup and a
sandwich. I'm always a fan of that combination for lunch. It seems to
cover all the bases, be simple, and yet be filled with possibilities -
gazpacho and grilled cheese? clam chowder and turkey breast? onion soup
and a hamburger? You see what I mean. Soup and a sandwich is "good
eats". (Who says "good eats"? Apparently I do. Weird.) Even stranger is
that despite my affection for the soup and sandwich lunch, we only went
for sandwiches. I think we might have been saving room for dinner. I
know. Room schmoom. Lame.
Things started off with some good crusty bread with a slab of creamy
butter. (I think good butter offered in anything smaller than slab form
is just not going to be enough.) Debbie ordered the Lamb Burger which
was served with balsamic grilled onions, roasted peppers, aioli, and
pomme frites (a.k.a. french fries). I got the Croque Savoyard. This is
Parisian ham and melted gruyere cheese with vine ripe tomatoes, with a
salad on the side. I'll admit that I've always felt embarassed ordering
Croque Monsieurs, Madames, or Savoyards I suppose. Not that I'm on path
to replace the Marlboro Man, but I've always felt somehow unmanly or
childish ordering one of these sandwiches. Not too worry, my love of ham
and melted cheese on buttered toast always overcomes any weird
insecurities I have.
The sandwiches were great. The croque was delicious (it's hard for ham
and melted cheese not to be). The caramelized onion was really amazing,
flavorful. The lamb burger was also super savory. As for the fries, I'm
just not a fan of the thick fry (also known as the steak fry). I like my
french fries thin. The thinner the better. All of this made for a lovely
lunch except that Debbie was not happy. What could she be unhappy about
with a delicious lamb burger and a pile of fries? Ketchup. Lack of
There are a variety of issues, so let's dissect them one at a time.
First of all the burger and fries were served with aioli. No fool,
Debbie says "I'm not eating my burger with mayonnaise." I respond: "It's
not mayonnaise, it's aioli, don't you know the difference?" Debbie
snaps: "I don't know the difference, and neither do you, because there
isn't one. It's mayonnaise and I don't like it." Fine I like mayo, she
doesn't. Nothing can be done about that. She's a picky eater. (Her
pickiness is complicated. On the one hand, I'm truly in pain that she
doesn't like onions and missed out on the wonderful caramelized onions
served with her burger. On the other hand - more for me!)
Even if I couldn't understand her hatred of aioli/mayonnaise, I could
definitely relate to her need for ketchup. I say, if you're going to
serve fries, you need to serve ketchup. Ketchup is wonderful and fries
should never be without it. However, Debbie asserted that it was not the
ketchup that demanded fries but the burger. This was pretty
mind-boggling. Where she got it into her head that the serving of a
burger without ketchup is somehow unacceptable, but naked fries are fine
is absolutely beyond me. I am starting to wonder what other weird
surprises lay in store for me when she expresses her view of the world.
Then she asked the waiter for ketchup.
Now, I'll admit that there's no way for me to know what the waiter was
thinking. But I am a relatively good read of people, and he seemed to
take a bit of pleasure in informing her that there was no ketchup
anywhere in the restaurant. He didn't say, "sorry we don't have
ketchup". He made it clear that no ketchup was to be found anywhere in
the restaurant. That was his first response. It's as if the folks at
Cafe Campagne hate ketchup and love serving ketchup friendly food to
unsuspecting customers only to gloat that giving them ketchup for the
burger or fries is a physical impossibility.
I started to wonder why this was. Was it snobbery? Let's say they were
trying to be strictly French. I'm not convinced that a lamb burger is
really authentically French, I'm not sure why ketchup would be any
less so. Maybe it's the attitude that they don't want to serve any
packaged products. I suppose I can understand that, though Heinz Ketchup
I think should surely qualify for an exception. But even so, why not
make your own ketchup then? That would be a nice addition to the menu
and an expression of what the kitchen is capable of that's harmonious
with the quality food. Whatever the motivation I sense some anti-ketchupists
at Cafe Campagne. I stand by my claim that fries demand ketchup. Don't
serve the former without the latter. Debbie of course added another
wrinkle by rejecting my homemade ketchup alternative saying that only
store-bought would do.
Anyway, Cafe Campagne made us a lovely lunch. Just if you go, sneak in
some ketchup packets in your pockets so you can really have a complete
Seattle does not have a large Jewish community. There
are no Kosher butchers, only a couple of supermarkets that offer narrow
to middling selections of Kosher meat. When the
Dahlia Lounge - one of
the best restaurants in town - announced a series of three themed
dinners based each on a different Jewish Cookbook, I got excited. It
wasn't Kosher of course, but still supposedly an expression of the food
of my cultural heritage executed by a highly skilled kitchen. Done and
done. While I was only able to attend one, I'm still glad they tried it
and hope they do so again.
The dinner we attended was based on Claudia Roden's
The Book of Jewish Food. Jewish food is
a funny thing. Since for most of their history Jews have
lived dispersed among other people's countries and cultures their
cuisine typically consists of some adoption and favoring of the local
cuisine attached to Jewish cultural and religious events. It makes
you wonder if there really is a Jewish cuisine, but that's a topic for
another day. Things started off quite nicely with a first course that
came from Syria, Turkey, and Spain. The Pipiruchkas had an amazingly
focused pepper/tomato flavor with a cheese and spiciness. The Muhamarra
was delicious. The Dolma not super interesting.
Things were not quite as good from then on. Next up was
a Moroccan Pastilla. The Bastille Jews take credit for this dish
according to the host of the meal who is explaining as we eat. There are
Borekitas from Istanbul with a chicken that's a bit too sweet. I felt
like I made better Lahmejun (a ground lamb on pita, pizza-like in form,
concoction) at home. We were also served pigeon that was frankly too
dry. Dessert included a candied orange item. It's not my thing, but then
again, candied orange items are never my thing. But the Mascarpone
sherbet (which Jews pioneered this dish?) rescued dessert.
Here's the thing. The meal was not really great at all.
It had a couple of minor moments but was in general - "eh". I'm still
thrilled that Dahlia Lounge did it. And I hope they do it again. Here's
why: 1) having the kitchen at a really great restaurant prepare dishes
that are different than the ones they usually prepare is a treat for
their customers who'd like to try interesting new food done well, 2)
having the kitchen at a really great restaurant prepare dishes that are
different than the ones they usually prepare may stretch the staff into
doing new things, as well as have new ingredients and flavors that work
particularly well find their way onto the regular menu. I know it didn't
come out that well this time, but maybe the cookbook they chose was to
blame. Maybe they thought Jews like food that isn't great. (A common
mistake.) Maybe this was their first time and their working out the
kinks. Whatever the reason I hope they do it again. Maybe a Vietnamese
or Moroccan theme next time - attached to a particular cookbook or not.
It's a cool idea, and when it comes together I hope to be there to
In the outer reaches of Seattle's east side
lies the sleepy suburb of Sammamish. Not the hotbed of dining
experiences that I wish. Actually I'd settle for a decent Vietnamese
place, but that's not likely as I doubt any potential Vietnamese
restaurant proprietors would imagine that the population of this sleepy
suburb would make a Vietnamese restaurant successful, but I digress...
There had been a small Italian place nearby that was unfortunately
not very good. Recently they appear to have been new ownership and the
restaurant is now called
They apparently had an Italian restaurant in Seattle some years ago that
got at least one good review in the local paper which they proudly
display at roughly ten times its original size on a large poster board
at the entrance to the restaurant.
The Italian restaurant I'm looking for (and
still haven't found in Seattle) is simple simple simple. Fresh
ingredients. Cooking a la minute. And bright flavors. Salvatore isn't
it. Dinner started off on an odd note with an order of grilled prawns
with guacamole on the side. Is guacamole a traditional Italian
accompaniment? I'll have to look into it. The prawns were fine. The
entrees of Veal Marsala and Spaghetti Carbonara were ok in a pinch, but
nothing to write home about. The fact that the mediocre food is
surrounded by a flat decor and my fellow suburbanites marveling at the
Italian accents of the staff makes the whole experience kind of
depressing. It pains me to be negative about an intrepid restaurateur
who is trying to bring a little flavor to the outer reaches of sleepy
Sammamish. But maybe success that the previous management didn't find
can be had with a simpler approach that focuses like a laser on flavor
I think it's time to start planning a serious eating
trip to Vancouver, BC,
Canada. Deb and Peyman
recently went to Vij's
and said it was fantastic.
Nearby in Whistler, BC, is
Whistler's Food and Wine Celebration on November 5-9, 2003.
Interesting food-related website -
gayot.com. Not quite sure what it is
The Boston Globe writes briefly about
This is cool. The LA Times (free registration
required) discusses a guy who goes around selling fancy kitchen
equipment to chefs from his
Always searching for simple and superb Italian food my
quest landed me on this evening at Seattle's
Melina Ristorante. Funky, noisy (in a good way), and with a weird
organ performer in one corner (not in a good way), Mamma Melina had a good vibe. Things
started off with Baby Greens with Gorgonzola and Walnuts. The walnuts
were covered in brown sugar and were delicious. Next up was a Crostini
of Portobello grilled with Tomatoes. The Caprese they served was quite
good. There was also a mushroom dish. The mushrooms were drenched in
oil, but in a good way. The mushrooms were fresh and delicious and the
basil was quite nice.
Next up with Ziti di Sorrento. An oven-baked Ziti with
meatballs and mozarella. I like the tomato sauce (which needs to have a
modest kick for me), but Debbie
didn't like it. This was followed by Gnocchi di Ricotta - homemade baby
ricotta dumplings baked in tomato sauce with mozarella and basil. It was
fresh and delicious - on path to the dream Italian restaurant I
wish/still hope is located somewhere near me. The Pollo al Marsala was
not amazing but solid. The Bistecca al Pepe Verde however was so chewy
that the texture of the meat distracted from the flavor. The Saltimbocca
Alla Romano was also solid. Same with Scampi al Grigli which had a great
All in all, Mamma Melina is one of the better Italian
restaurants in Seattle. We even compared it at times to Cafe Lago which
is probably the best in town. Unfortunately while a solid meal is good,
it's not the transcendant and memorable experience that is so very
possible with fantastic Italian food. Italian food should not just be
functional, it should be magical. With an incredible combination of rich
fresh flavors all coming together at the very last second on your plate
and in your mouth. We'll likely return to Mamma Melina, but in the
meantime, the search continues.
Ten years ago I used to love eating out at
even the thought of it makes me queasy. Five years ago I was making fun
of Lauren and Alex for eating asparagus soup out of egg shells at a
fancy restaurant in San Francisco. Now I'm licking the inside of the
eggshell to get the last drop while I wonder how they got the edges so
uniform. Something happened between then
and now that I don't fully understand. I feel like in order to introduce
other people to more interesting food, I have to understand how I was
able to expand my own horizons.
First, some background. I grew up in a
Kosher home (still keep Kosher at home today). No
pork. No shellfish. No mixing of milk and meat. Two sets of everything
- dishes, silverware, etc. Yet we did not keep kosher when eating
outside the home (this is a dichotomy that may seem odd but that I'm
comfortable with and can explain another time). While we ate "out" we
typically avoided ingredients that were innately unkosher. For
example, it was a lot more likely to get a cheeseburger (where the
combination of the dairy and meat was the first contributing factor to
the unkosherness) than a pork or shrimp dish (where no matter how it's
prepared it's never going to be kosher). I ate my first shrimp at age
18 at a Chinese restaurant with friends. It tasted rubbery.
We mostly stayed home to eat. My mom did almost all the cooking.
It's funny but I don't remember much about the range of dishes she
made but there must have been a variety as she cooked almost every
night. They were also all from scratch... no pre-made dinners at our
house. A few standouts do come to mind: the beef, tomato, and noodle
dish that was made many times during the early years of our family
when we couldn't afford much more - it wasn't one of my favorites
especially when it had green peppers in it; Friday night (Sabbath) dinners which
were good with chicken soup, chopped hard boiled eggs with a
super delicious fried chicken fat (grieven - sp?), and chicken wings - I
loved the ones that look like little drumsticks - "drumettes" they're
called by Empire Kosher; there were also wonderful apple pies and hamentaschen (little
mini triangular apple cookies for the Jewish holiday of Purim) that
essentially were like mini-versions of the apple pie; and a really
meatloaf my mom used to make - I never understood why they always made
fun of meatloaf on sitcoms - I loved the one my mom made.
Our standard exception to eating at home was going out for Chinese
food. And while my parents wouldn't partake of any of the meat or
seafood dishes, my sister and I would wolf down "Peking Ravioli" at Hsing Hsing Chinese restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge, MA.
I loved hot and sour soup too (even with the bits of pork in it). (Now
that I've had time to reminisce a bit we also ate out at this little
Italian place in Newton Centre, MA every so often - I think they're long
gone and the name escapes me.) (Note: someone wrote me and reminded me.
It was called Cantina Abruzzi.)
Once in awhile my Dad would do the cooking. Two things stand out:
getting cold cuts at the neighborhood deli and eating them for weekend
lunches, and him making us large meals of Italian food out of his one
and only Italian cookbook - Food alla Florentine, by Naomi Barry and
Beppe Bellini. He would work for hours on meals of
pasta with tomato sauce and veal marsala. These were always among my
favorites. These days he's expanded his repertoire and spends quite a
bit of time baking.
My grandmothers left some lasting impressions as well. One made
the best chicken soup I've ever had in my life - a rich yellow, with
pools of delicious chicken fat, and an intense chicken flavor. She
fried up eggs as "loction" and cut them into strips to put in the
soup. Up until recently we thought she had taken her soup secrets to
the grave. We have the recipe, but have been unable to reproduce her
soup. We had all sorts of theories - the water in Toronto; the chicken
in Toronto; she cheated and snuck in a bouillon cube, etc. For awhile
we think my mom was doubling the water - that didn't help matters.
This past year I thought maybe it was under-salted as my Mom
accidentally put in "too much" salt, but for me it was just right. There
was a point at which the soup started to bring back memories of the
original but later it turned into something else entirely. I might
have left the parsnip in too long. And finally, just during the last
couple of months, my father is convinced he's figure out the secret by
adding a bit of sugar to the soup. Anyway, the conclusion of this
quest is something for later. This same grandmother made mandelbroit
(kind of a biscotti - no anise)
and moon cookies (poppy seed cookies) that I loved as well. My other
grandmother had her signature recipes as well: smoked carp, peppery
gefilte fish, and apricot "pasties" (not for strippers but apricot
filling in little soft dough "purses" for dessert). Yummy.
Back to the question
of how I made the transition. Actually, maybe the question should be how
did I start the transition to lover of all things food, as it's by no
means complete. I may have painted a slightly bleaker picture than
really existed. There were seeds of the future. I always loved to cook.
My mother says I was watching Julia Child on TV religiously at a very
early age. My dishes may not have been fancy: creative milkshakes after
school, "egg-in-a-nest" and a variety of omelets, salads and salad
dressings, but I did have fun making and eating them.
I also had a
healthy appreciation for a variety of ethnic foods. Aside from the
Chinese and sometimes Israeli food I grew up liking, during (and just
after) college I
fell in love with Thai, Korean, Vietnamese and Indian as well. (Waltham, MA
where Brandeis University is located had a bunch of super cheap Indian
restaurants as well as a very inexpensive shack cum restaurant serving
Vietnamese yummy goodness. I guess lack of money drove me to some of these
It was also at that time that I somehow fell in love with
sushi. This is incredibly odd as I only remember two points on the
spectrum: going out to dinner with a friend and his family and them
having to beat on me to even try a cucumber maki, and sometime later not
being able to get enough sushi. Ever. How that evolution happened I'll
never know. However I still was relatively sheltered compared to my
current habits and awareness of food.
I think the thing that eventually drove me to a more
diversified set of food adventures was my metabolism slowing down. In
college I weighed 135 pounds. I'm not tall by any means but this was
still pretty skinny. I looked weird - like
Anthony Michael Hall in
Breakfast Club. Skinny geek. Sometime soon after college my metabolism
started slowing down. By 5 years after college my weight was up to 182.
I remember seeing my uncle Nat one day and in the way of the very old
(and the very young) he unceremoniously pronounced how fat I'd gotten.
Me? Fat? It freaked me out. I was a "skinny guy". By 1999 I was on track to getting married
and didn't plan on looking puffy at my wedding. Since exercise is
against my religion (not Judaism, but my own personal religion that
forbids me from spending countless hours bored out of my mind), I needed
to find a way to eat less. The first thing I realized was that since
through college I was able to eat any amount of any food at any time and
continue to be hungry that I had basically become immune to my body's
own signals that I was full. To turn insight into action I came up with
a new rule. Translated into plain English it goes something like "don't
eat when you're not hungry." It is amazing to me that something so
simple appears (at least for me personally) to be a challenge of
I started noticing several interesting behavior and
thought patterns that for years had existed only in my sub-conscious. 1)
I eat food I love. If there's a plate full of sushi, I'll eat it -
whether I'm hungry or not. Some shrimp sitting on a plate? I'll eat
them. Doesn't matter that I just had 500 shrimp. There are two more
sitting there and I love shrimp. 2) I eat food I don't love. I don't
like waste. This is deadly. The meal is over.
I'm full. There's some leftovers on one of the communal dishes? I'll eat
them. 3) I eat out of boredom. Bottom line: there was no situation where
I said "no thank you". As soon as I realized this I started noticing
this "sick" feeling I had after many meals. I started to feel a little
nuts. At every meal I would stuff myself until I was sick and not even
notice how yucky I felt. After this realization things started to
progress naturally. And while I did get a bunch of the weight off in
time for the wedding in 1999 (hopefully not to the point where people
are confusing me for Anthony Michael Hall) it was only a few weeks ago
that I realized the most important lesson - most people focus on
quantity of food. I now focus on quantity of tastes.
By focusing on tasting as many things as possible I am
becoming more and more averse to eating large portions of anything. And
by looking for as high quality tastes as possible I limit myself even
further so that when the opportunity arises to eat something that is
high quality I have room in my stomach, and can enjoy it. I'm averse to
eating large portions even of things that are of super high quality as I
want to preserve the memory of those first few bites and not ruin the
memory via repetitious overkill. I am aspiring to a state that exposes
me to as much high quality food as possible, and keeps me within some
reasonable bounds of being height/weight proportionate. In the interest
of full disclosure I must confess that in practice my old ways do still
find a home at my table. I find it almost impossible to leave a shrimp
or piece of high quality sushi uneaten. But if I'm still on track to try
as many interesting and superb dishes as possible is eating some extra
sushi such a terrible crime?
Administrative note: With this entry (since we
took August off) tastingmenu.com has officially had its first birthday.
Here's the very first
entry from Sunday, August 4, 2002, at 11:34 PM. Hopefully this first
anniversary will mark a point where you see even higher quality and
consistency and depth from the site. Additionally, while we can't reveal
details just yet, we are looking at ways to give you even more detailed
glimpses into some of our favorite restaurants, chefs, ingredients, and
recipes. More on that over the next couple of months. Thanks for your