Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category

The Big Egg, Portland, Oregon

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Portland’s food cart scene puts the bulk of North America to shame. (Shame on you bulk of North America without a vibrant food cart culture.) And The Big Egg exemplifies the best Portland has to offer. Big thick slices of square bread filled with various combinations of egg/meat/dairy/veg goodness. There’s no shortage of butter or flavor in these breakfast sandwiches. The periodic use of mustard is inspired. I’m not sure what else to say other than go eat breakfast at The Big Egg. Now.

4233 N. Mississippi Ave (at Skidmore), Portland, Oregon, website

Canlis, Seattle, Washington

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

I enjoy fine dining. Not to the exclusion of street food. It’s just another category where I can find deliciousness. When I first moved to Seattle over a decade ago, Canlis was the name that came up most often when you mentioned fine dining. I have found that most people see expensive decor, a gorgeous view, fancy service, and a pricey bill and think that they have experienced the finest of dining. This is not to say that the food at Canlis was without value several years ago when I ate there, but it was completely unmemorable to me. More of a show than a redeeming culinary experience for me.

But, a couple of years ago, Jason Franey, took over the reins in the kitchen, and I started to hear good things. Very good things. I finally got to see what it was all about and I was not disappointed. (I should note, that they did google my reservation and knew that I was coming, but I also don’t believe that a restaurant can be better than it is just for someone writing a food blog. And I don’t believe we got any special treatment over and above the special treatment they give all their guests. Or certainly none that I could detect.)

Yes the service was impeccable. Yes the decor was warm, and fine, and modern. The view was sparkly. Yes it had all the accoutrements of the traditional fine dining establishment, but all that mattered to me was the food. We ate, in order, Sweet Potato Soup with Cranberry and Cinnamon, Young Beets with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt Sherbet, Pumpernickel, and Blueberries, Smoke-Cured Salmon with BLiS Maple Syrup, Steelhead Roe, and Caraway Seed, Chicken with Prosciutto, Salt-Baked Celery Root, and Matsutake Mushrooms, New York Strip Steak with Carrots, Curry, and Cauliflower, Pineapple with White Chocolate, Passion Fruit, and Coconut, and finally Creme Fraiche Custard with Oatmeal Streusel, Granny Smith Apple Sorbet, and Spiced Cider. We nursed our bottle of 2000 Clos Du Sarpe from home which was positively lush.

As with any established culinary genre, there are themes and conventions. And a chef’s first challenge is to master those. Picasso could paint a traditional painting with the best of them. But once mastered, he wanted to grow. And when you go to a restaurant that has mastered a refined expression of food, it’s certainly enjoyable in its own way, but it’s not exactly memorable. And often, it’s just boring. Creating your own identity, your own flavor palette is an exercise of constraint and restraint. And it takes someone with vision and security to create that type of signature. One where you can eat the food and know it’s them.

While I’ve eaten extensively across the planet, I won’t claim to be a definitive expert. That said, based on my moderate eating experience, Franey has created a distinct culinary style that I found refreshing, original, deep, and positively delicious. The main theme throughout the dishes was the use of the sweet part of the spectrum. I’m not a big dessert guy, and relish the savory over the sweet. I admit it’s a preference I have. And when sweet flavors are introduced into savory dishes, it can be cloying, overpowering, or just plain distracting. But the flavors I experienced in dishes like the sweet potato amuse, or beets melded sweet and savory in a delicate balance to create some entirely new compound flavor profile. The balance was perfect. And this threaded throughout the meal including the salmon which was served in the most distinct (and intense) salmon consomme I have ever tasted. It’s like I had visited a new planet and was eating food that simply didn’t exist here on earth. Did Franey bring this signature from New York? I honestly don’t know. But I’m glad it’s here in Seattle.

Just when I thought I understood the meal came the sous-vide chicken dish with the mini-mirepoix floating in the center of the plate. The sweet was present in this dish but in more of an emotional sense. To be blunt, this dish almost made me cry. It was home cooking. It was the flavors of home. The smell of family dinner. The taste of warmth, but expressed with this incredible refinement. The dish touched my heart. Just when I thought the meal was all about new flavor profiles and plating that resembled modern art, I was confronted with this dish that tugged at my heart strings.

And dessert? It flipped the equation. The savory and sweet elements switched places and gave me an inverse version of what I’d been experiencing throughout the meal. Sweet was now dominant, but savory didn’t disappear. It was a perfect bookend to the meal.

People were still proposing to each other on the evening we were there. Couples still came there for an occasion. And some of the long time customers were still there as they likely are on a regular basis. The environment seemed preserved from Canlis of old. And tradition is good. But the food was all new and exquisite. Creating something new, and maintaing it thematically to tell a story through the course of a meal is vision+execution at the highest level. And that’s what Canlis is doing right now.

2576 Aurora Avenue North, Seattle, Washington 98109, (206) 283-3313, website

Yang’s Dumpling House, Bellevue, Washington

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Another round of sparkling Parent Teacher conferences regarding my three angels dragged my ass from Seattle to Bellevue. It’s not a trip I like to make… ever. But near the school a small steamy joint with a sign that said “Dumpling House” got my attention. I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs when it comes to dumplings. We gave it a shot. Two dudes in there when we arrived. One running the show who spoke no English, and one guy stuffing meat into dough (not a euphemism). He spoke even less English than the first guy. We got there just in time before a swarm of folks arrived. We ordered the steamed dumplings and the pork dumplings. They’re all steamed despite the sign that advertises “fried dumplings”.

Holy crap. They were unbelievably delicious. Delicate, soft, steamy, the meat inside is a generous portion that’s perfectly balanced ratio-wise with the dough around it. The meat itself is flavorful but not over the top. It’s a clear savory note. These are no frills dumplings. Nothing to hide behind if they get it wrong. Just perfect texture, balance, and flavor served with little plastic cups of soy and vinegar for you to adjust based on your personal saucing preferences. I’m not a fan of heading out to Bellevue, but if you’ve got to go to the eastside, definitely move into Yang’s Dumpling House — you will NOT regret it.

509 156th Ave SE, Bellevue, WA 98007, (626) 400-9256

Elo’s Philly Grill, Seattle, Washington

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Located in an industrial section of south Seattle, Elo’s Philly Grill is basically a hole-in-the-wall. A faux-woodgrained, worn-linoleum, hole-in-a-wall that is covered in positively awful art. I was taught to not judge a book by its cover. I also don’t judge by an angry owner who doesn’t want me to take pictures and won’t tell me her name. But here’s what matters to me… far from being a fan of the Philly cheesesteak which I’ve generally found to have a gritty texture, I am a fan of the Boston cheesesteak that I grew up with. Usually made in Italian pizza shops all over the Boston area, it’s a perfectly balanced steak and cheese sub, filled with freshness and flavor. I have search high and low in Seattle, and Elo’s Philly Grill is the only place that approximates what I miss from home. I can’t speak for ANY of the other food on the menu other than this: I order a Steak, Cheese and Mushroom sub with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and raw onions. Then before the proprietor wraps it in foil, i give it a good shake of salt and pepper. A little olive oil would be nice too to approximate home, but that’s not to be had at Elo’s. The sandwich needs to be eaten quickly. It only has a shelf life of 3-5 minutes, so I wouldn’t do take out. It’s balanced, it’s flavorful, it’s warm, it’s hearty, it’s a steak sandwich like they still make back in Brookline, Massachusetts where I grew up. And it’s delicious. (Feel free to get cooked onions, remove the mayo, add peppers if you must, but stay close to my formula for the best results.)

3431 Airport Way South Seattle, WA 98134-2119, (206) 467-8989, website

Santé, Spokane, Washington

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

There are lots of places to explore that are driving distance from Seattle. Spokane has always enticed me with its turn of the century architecture and access to local agriculture. I’m head over heels in love with the Davenport hotel which is a wonderful example of the former; we decided to try Santé for dinner to experience the latter. Known for house cured charcuterie, the duck prosciutto plate and the bucket of warm bacon bits served with the spinach salad didn’t disappoint. Our parade of small plates made it clear that the kitchen had breadth as well as depth. Buttery mushroom gnocchi could have used slightly more pan frying for a little textural diversity but were extra buttery and flavorful. Often restaurants trying to make great food in smaller towns show their geographical insecurity by overreaching, as well as over architecting and over doing each dish. Santé is comfortable in its own skin. The dishes are creative but focused and well executed. I hope Spokane realizes how lucky it is to have Santé.

404 West Main Avenue Spokane, WA 99201-0214, (509) 315-4613, website

Dakota, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Thanks to a commenter on my first ever Minneapolis post for a recommendation for my second dinner while visiting. I’m at Dakota, Jazz Club and Restaurant. Unfortunately the live music is happening later tonight but the food is still a reason to come. They’re clearly proud of the food as equally important to the music as a reason to come. I think they’re right. Also… Lobster Rolls are on the menu. So yeah. The roll btw is the best lobster roll I’ve ever eaten. Evah. Buttery warm perfection. The bread and lobster were like a gradient of smooth warm flavors. On the side was the most intense lobster bisque I’ve ever tasted. It was EXTREME!!!

1010 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403, (612) 332-1010, website

Solera, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

I’ll admit my expectations were low. I’m in the dead downtown area at night. I went to the front desk of my hotel and told them I was hungry. The lady asked me what I wanted to eat. I told her, “something not depressing.” She asked me if I wanted to stay in the hotel to eat, while she pointed at the ultra-depressing sports bar behind me. I looked at it and them turned back to her with a look on my face that said “you’re joking of course as we can both see that the place is sad with a capital K for Kevorkian.” She looked back at me as if I was insane. I promptly ignored her advice on the nearby places with good atmosphere and cabbed over to Solera.

I was worried as it looked a little overly concerned with decor and was situated across from the aptly named Rock Bottom Brewery chainbaremporium. But shockingly, the food is stand out delicious. Solid, creative, restrained. Scallops seared to perfection and the lentils with soft boiled egg are standouts. The Brussels sprouts were great too.

900 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403, (612) 338-0062, website

Eltana, Seattle, Washington

Friday, February 4th, 2011

I am declaring the long drought over. It’s been 160 years since the Denny Party arrived and founded Seattle in 1851. And the Duwamish were here long before that. And just as 2011 dawned, Stephen Brown and Daniel Levin decided it was (finally) time to bring world class bagels to the Emerald City. They’ve positioned their new bagelry – Eltana – well (both literally and figuratively) for the self-conscious Seattle trendsters, but more on that in a bit. First let’s establish my own personal baseline for bagel quality. (Cue insecure Seattleites to point out what an asshole I am for having an opinion.)

  • Seattle Bagels – A motley collection of bad impressions of New York bagels and chain puffery. Meh. I suspect they’re no better than what you can get in Indianapolis. (I’ve only been to Indianapolis once and I never plan on returning so that comparison will have to remain unproven.)
  • New York Bagels – Overrated. Classic American confusion – large does not equal good.
  • Montreal Bagels – World class, small, almost pretzel-like. Chewy, darker, delicious. Densely flavorful. St. Viateur’s in Montreal is the standard bearer here.
  • Toronto Bagels – World class, puffs of airy deliciousness. You can eat two before you even make it to the car from picking them up. Gryfe’s Bagels in Toronto is the standard bearer for this perfect creation. (I personally have a slight preference for Toronto bagels but I will not deny Montreal their due. They produce some kickass bagels as well. And I like that they’re in a different style. Diversity and all that…)
  • Israeli Arab ‘Baygelah’ – These aren’t really bagels per se. They’re not boiled. But they are hoops (bigger than bagels) and every piece of surface area is covered in sesame seeds. The flavor is starkly fresh. And when mixed with Zatar spice medley it’s positively heavenly.

OK. Now that we’ve done our survey, Messr. Levin used to work (as an intern) at St. Viateur’s and brought his expertise to Eltana. Yay! He calls his bagels wood-fired and sells them out of his lovely establishment in Capitol Hill appealing to all the locals with a wall sized crossword puzzle that changes regularly. He can call the bagels eco-friendly, organic, hemp bagels for all I care. Whatever keeps Eltana in business with Seattle folk is fine with me, because these are the best bagels in Seattle. And, I suspect, they are the best bagels in the United States. I’d like to hear of challengers for this crown, but until I try something better I’m declaring default judgment in favor of Eltana.

The bagels themselves are small, almost pretzel-like. They’re made by hand and there are no blueberry or asiago versions. Just the basics – sesame, salt, poppy, pumpernickel (bad blogging memory), wheat, and plain. (Levin tells me he’s working on Zaatar and Cinnamon Raisin as well.) The flavor is clean clean clean. I was reminded not just of St. Viateur’s bagels but of the Israeli baygelah when eating Eltana’s sesame bagel. And that’s a good thing. There’s a density and chewiness to these bagels that reminds you that you’re eating a food of substance.

A competing bagel maker in Seattle once told me he got his recipe from food consultants in Denver. Denver!!!! I’d set aside my snobbiness at their origin if the bagels were any good… which they were decidedly not. Characterless facsimiles of oversized, novelty New York bagels (cranberry anyone?). The only thing I want from food consultants in Denver is a recipe for chips and salsa that goes well with Coors beer and a Bronco’s loss.

Eltana’s creators’ Jewish/Israeli cultural influences show beyond their staple in their spreads and salads. Thankfully absent are the faux Jewish cultural icons of the Noah’s bagel chain. Instead of “shmear” you get Zhoug Egg Salad (Zhoug being an Israeli/Middle Eastern mix of chopped hot peppers), Crispy Chickpeas and Leeks, Tahini with Cauliflower, and of course the Shakshuka – a savory and satisfying tomato pepper and egg stew. (I was too early to sample it but I’ll be back.) Make no mistake about it… Eltana is really an upscale modern Israeli cafe. The bagels are the least Israeli thing on the menu. And all that delicious food is wrapped in a Seattle friendly, non-threatening package. The owners of Eltana may have a brilliant plan or be crazily winging it. Either way, they are bringing fantastic examples of the food of my people to the Pacific Northwest. Let’s hope the Pacific Northwest realizes how lucky they are to have it.

1538 12th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122, (206) 724-0660, website

Schwa, Chicago, Illinois

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Imagine a dark crappy storefront. Covered up. Like it’s been abandoned but not quite. Probably used as storage for who knows what sort of illegal enterprise. Now imagine a street gang walking by and debating the merits of either a) dragging someone in there, beating the crap out of them, and taking their money, or b) taking all their attitude and energy to create incredibly clean fresh flavors that belie categorization. Basically, strip away all the bullshit of your typical fine dining establishment, inject all the anger and passion of the hardcore and hip hop blaring from the speakers into creating incredibly thick meaty yet delicate flavors with no pretense and an incredibly warm, generous, and informal approach to service. And then they take your money.

The gang chose option B and named it Schwa. Chef Michael Carlson has worked at three restaurants that I adore – San Domenico in Imola, Trio in Chicago (now closed), and The Fat Duck in Bray. I can’t say I’m surprised. Don’t mistake lack of pretense and overt formality for a lack of professionalism. And don’t think the frenetic energy coming from the kitchen and the staff is a lack of discipline. These guys are motherfuckers and so is their food. I would have told them that I had a crush on their restaurant but they probably would have kicked my ass for being a wuss.

(There was almost no light in the restaurant so the pics are pretty grainy.)

Hot Doug’s, Chicago, Illinois

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

There’s a reason the line is so damn long… it’s worth the wait. I’d also like to think their penchant for alliteration as something to do with it as they call themselves “The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium”. Foie Gras and Sauternes duck sausage? Brown Ale and Chipotle Buffalo Sausage? Unlike many snazzy hot dog joints that just slather different crap on one or two commercial hot dogs (potato chips? peanut butter?), the folks at Hot Doug’s focus on the meat first and then complement it with appropriate (and delicious) condiments and add-ons. Not convinced? Three words: Duck. Fat. Fries. What are you waiting for? (Apologies for the iPhone photography.)