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Mistral, Seattle, WA, tasted on September 25, 2004 The other night Debbie and I ate at a local Seattle restaurant and realized that we still hadn't posted our description of our last meal there. Rather than wait any longer, that post is here right now. And to be honest, while it's taken awhile, I think it's worth the wait. Eating at Mistral over the last few years has been somewhat of an evolution. And even though we've only been there a handful of times, the evolution of the restaurant is quite clear. To be honest, things started out rocky way back when we first tried to eat at Mistral. That first visit and our second chance visit much later are documented in detail here. But since then we've eaten at Mistral twice, and it's now become a place we like to eat regularly. Let's get to the details.

I hate to characterize restaurants in some broad categorical way, but I do think a high level description of Mistral is not without its usefulness. Mistral is a cozy modern restaurant, tucked away on a downtown Seattle side street. The food is essentially modern French cooking. And strangely enough it reminds me mostly of French meals I had in London, Pied Terre in particular. Think refined, minimalist French. Definitely not overly sauced like more classical French cooking. Fresh seasonal ingredients. Extensive tasting menus. Mistral offers three different tasting menus - The Market Menu, The Chef's Tasting Menu, and The Mistral Experience. That last one is the most expensive and of course, the most inclusive. So of course, that's what we got.

It had been two years since we'd eaten at Mistral. I hadn't quite remembered the inside, a little dark in a romatic way, quiet, and comfy. Clean lines. We started off with a half bottle of Champagne - Billecart Salmon Brute Rose. It had a lemony touch to it. The amuse followed quickly - Japanese Hamachi Tartare with Cucumber, Yogurt, and Dill. It had simple, clean, tart, and fresh flavors. Kind of a Greek touch to it.

Soup was next. Specifically the Matsutake Mushroom Soup with Seared Sea Scallop and Rosemary "Cloud" (cloud means foam/emulsion). The soup was thick and rich like a yummy mushroom shake. Believe me this is a good thing. The scallop had little bursts of Indian spice as well as little crystal salt spikes on the tongue. The soup was quite delicious, but what followed was I think the emblematic dish of the evening - Pacific Sablefish, Kohlrabi, Chanterelles and Vanilla.

Sablefish is another word for Black Cod. The Vanilla was a nice touch. The grapes were little sweet and sour jewels dotting the landscape. The fish was beautifully cooked with a perfectly crispy top. The brussel sprout cups were also crispy not to mention crunchy and delicious. Yum! I need to give some context for this dish. As I mentioned above, I've almost only tasted fish prepared like this in Europe. And Mistral is definitely the only place that prepares it like this in Seattle. Imagine a cube of perfectly flaky buttery fish bound to a square of crispy skin and dotted with a few select perfectly cooked vegetables. It's just a singular experience and Mistral does it well. The fish that followed, Alaskan Halibut, Lobster and Beansprout "Risotto", was good as well, but as Mary Alice put it, the first was "exciting".

Foie gras was next. Artisan Foie Gras, Passionfruit Jelly, and Crispy Apple. The apples were definitely crispy and extra thin. The foie was decently salty. The passionfruit jelly was super delicious. The foie could have been even crispier but the salt spikes and fruit acidity were a good combination.

The entrees showed up next. Two of us got the Breast of South Moulard Duck, Berber Spice, and Cauliflower, and the other two got the Rack of Oregon Lamb, Organic Chard, and Fingerling Potato Puree. Both the duck and the lamb were quite yummy each with consistently warm savory tones. The extra smooth wide flavor of the respective meat in each dish expands slowly in your mouth and feels uniform across your palate.

We wrapped things up with some good cheese not to mention ice cream and a bit of layered cake. The dessert was refined, deliberate, and good.

Two years ago we felt that if Mistral kept working at it, they could really become a destination we'd want to eat at repeatedly. They have. It's not only that the cuisine is unique in this area, it also happens to be quite good. And when we went back this past week, Mistral didn't disappoint.

Surprisingly, Seattle is not the only place where you can eat Mistral's food. There's now a Mistral Bangkok. Neat.










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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