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Monday
February

14

2005
12:49 AM




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Depressed, February 14, 2005 I have to confess, I am starting to feel that Seattle sucks for food. I really do try to make this website about more than Seattle, but little things like job and family mean that travel can't be a weekly occurrence. And while I mean no disrespect to the truly high quality food experiences in Seattle (of which there are a decent handful which I have documented ad nauseum on this site), overall this city is lacking. It's depressing me. I blame the citizenry. They settle. I can't tell if it's because they don't know the difference between good food and food posing as good food, or they're just enamored of what's trendy and popular. Either way it sucks.

And if you think I'm a snob for taking this position, I really don't care. I'm way beyond caring what other people think. And in fact, I believe that the people who are settling for this appalling lack of good food DO care what other people think. They flock to new trendy restaurants like sharks to chum. They love whatever's hip and new and cool. The only care what other people think. They aren't listening to their taste buds. I am, and my taste buds are not happy. In order to please them I have to to the same 5-10 places. And while at least those few exist, diversity they do not make.

A couple of years ago I ran into Kathy Casey at the airport. She is a local Seattle "food celebrity". I introduced myself and my little website. She was nice enough. As happens whenever I meet with someone else who's into food I go through a sort of ritual where we exchange what our favorite restaurants are. This has two purposes. First it's like a sort of pH test letting me know where someone's likes and dislikes are, but even more importantly it is a good source of suggestions of places to eat. Many of the best places I've eaten have been recommended to me by others. Kathy, who has lived and eaten in Seattle for many years answered the question by mentioning to me a couple of restaurants that were brand new and "hip". She even mentioned that what she liked about them was they were cool places to be. I have no problem with people liking to go somewhere for the atmosphere. And I don't assume that just because a restaurant is popular, that it can't have great food. But to live in Seattle for many years, and be unable to come up with examples of restaurants you like because they have great food, and instead focus on where the "buzz" is, seems wacky to me.

It will be a while before I post the specifics, but suffice it to say that last night we went out to dinner at one of these local hotspots. I hate to say it, but it was really disappointing. Kind of all over the place. I'd been there for lunch once and I knew it was going to be like this. But the local food press (an only slightly unfair generalization) keeps raving about this place and how great it is. And sure enough, this restaurant has ticked off just about every box on the food reviewer's checklist: small plates, fresh seasonal ingredients, tasting menu, chef's table, local chef, new American cuisine, etc, etc. It's the archetype for popularity among today's traditional food media. And it was not good. And since it's passing for "good" in this town, I not only found it disappointing but depressing. It may not be fair to lay the current sad state of food in Seattle (and in America) at this one restaurant's doorstep, but it's definitely what set me off.

And honestly, what's so confounding is that good food is really timeless. It's about people not settling until they get something that's so full of flavor, they can't contain it anymore. It's about caring, and knowing the difference between something that appears special, and something that truly is. When you make special food you don't need to be trendy or hip, because flavor is always "in".

Ultimately I think I'm part of the problem. The truth is that there are two relatively food focused cities nearby - Vancouver and Portland. And to be honest I've done a poor job exploring the food they have to offer. So, consider this a formal apology, and a request for suggestions - suggestions of where to eat in the Pacific Northwest. From Vancouver all the way to Portland. I am prepared to travel and eat at as many places as I can to properly find out what this region really has to offer. If Seattle doesn't offer enough, I'm prepared to suffer through some long car trips. And given the horrors of traveling with my family at a young age on seemingly endless car trips, if that doesn't represent a commitment to seeking quality food experiences, then I don't know what does.

Various and sundry links sitting in my inbox:

  • This is not super recent, but still a good story. David Ross tells of his adventure in the Master Chef contest.
  • Focusing on Chinese food. This is a good thing.
  • Benjamin Christie is an Australian chef who asks me to link to his website pretty much every week. While the form letter is annoying, his website is actually kind of interesting, so here it is.

For some time I've also felt that the food markets of the world need proper representation. On this website we definitely spend quite a bit of time on restaurants and other establishments that prepare food professionally. That said, there is the next layer of the food ecosystem that deserves recognition. It's a modest start, but the various food markets that work to bring quality ingredients to you are a key part of the "food chain" as it were. We only have listings for Seattle and New York right now, but it's a start.

 

     
     
     
     
     

 

 

 

 

 

   

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Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.


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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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