Tilth, Seattle, Washington

March 9th, 2010
(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)
“Kitchen stuffed with cooks.
Making perfect risotto.
And it’s organic.”


best
Organic Fine Dining
· seattle ·
Tilth

best
Risotto
· seattle ·
Tilth


1411 North 45th Street Seattle, WA 98103, (206) 633-0801, website

Hummus Kitchen, New York, New York

February 27th, 2010
“Beautiful floor tiles.
Tart fresh chopped spicy goodness.
It’s the schug that shines.”


best
Schug
· new york city ·
Hummus Kitchen


Hell’s Kitchen, 768 9th Ave., New York, NY, (212) 333-3009
Upper East Side,1613 2nd Ave., New York, NY, (212) 988-0090
website

Hummus Place, New York, New York

February 25th, 2010
Thought they were simple.
Chickpeas can be so complex.
Tastes like Tel Aviv.


best
Hummus
· new york city ·
Hummus Place


109 Saint Mark’s Place, East Village
71 7th Ave. South, West Village
99 Macdougal St., West Village
2608 Broadway, Upper West Side
305 Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side
New York. New York, website

Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto, New York, New York

February 21st, 2010
I need more cured pork.
Smaller plates mean tasting more.
Still need more cured pork.



best
Italian Small Plates
· new york ·
Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto


283 Amsterdam Avenue (near 73rd Street), New York, NY 10023
(212) 877-4800, website

The Night Kitchen, Seattle, Washington

January 7th, 2010

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

I have a friend who feels that restaurants shouldn’t open until all the bugs are worked out. After all, if they’re charging you, they better have their act together. And I understand this perspective. But at the same time, as an ardent fan of restaurants, I also understand some of the reality of how close these business often are to the edge of financial disaster. The margins are very thin, and they need to open as quickly as possible. Given that fact, I try to never review a restaurant that’s just opened as they need some time to hit their stride. And I certainly couldn’t review a restaurant that hadn’t even opened yet.

But I am excited to give you a behind-the-scenes look into a new restaurant that’s just opened up. Most of these photos were taken before opening and hopefully give you a sense of the hustle and bustle of preparing a restaurant for the dining public. I think any new venture is exciting. And seeing all the hard work it took just to get to opening day gives you a sense of just how much effort goes into every single dining establishment in the city. It was nice of the Night Kitchen folks to let us look over their shoulders and get in their way a touch as we photographed some of their pre-opening efforts. A few of the photos were from opening night as well.

The Night Kitchen isn’t just your average restaurant either. Chef Avalon Zanoni, with a pedigree that includes Txori and Brasa is running the kitchen. She’s bringing an incredible attention to detail to the food. The food which is characterized by the Chef as a “Pacific Northwest take on New American Cuisine” included Classic Matzo Ball soup, French Fries with seasonal condiments, Head to Toe Pork Terrine with Tenderloin Inlay, Crispy Side Pork with Den-miso Sauce, and Yaki Onigiri — Griddled Sticky Rice Balls with Soy Sauce and Pickled Matsutake Mushroom. Also, home made Butter Pecan Ice Cream for dessert.

You can order this eclectic set of dishes from 6:00pm – midnight. From 12:30am on the overnight menu kicks in. That’s right. The overnight menu. It includes things like: House Made Pork Rinds, Poutine, Daily Mac and Cheese, and Fried Mt. Townsend Cheese Curds. And if you’re staying up all night, you might as well hang out for breakfast. Yep. Breakfast. Served from 12:30am – 9:00am you can get dishes including: the Daily Carnivore Omelet (there’s a veggie one as well), and not one but two variations on Eggs Benedict. There’s more of course, but you get the idea.

When it comes to food, Seattle is still a town struggling for an identity in my mind. And no disrespect to 13 Coins, but if Seattle wants to have a real set of food options, no matter what the hour, then it needs to support a place like the Night Kitchen. Who else is going to give you fancy potato skins with cheese from the local cheesery (Beecher’s) at 4am? Nobody. Did I mention the free wi-fi and the lounge area with couches, books, and board games? Check it out. I know I will.

The Night Kitchen, 216 Stewart St • Seattle, WA 98101, website. For all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries check out our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.

Brooklyn Bros. Pizzeria, Everett, Washington

December 8th, 2009
(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

I love that pizza is such an emotional subject. My declaration of Delancey as not only the best pizza in Seattle (and possibly the best pizza west of the Mississippi) as well as my claim that Seattle finally had “real” pizza got lots reaction. I think most of the negative responses were over my casual use of the word “real”. To be fair to those folks, all the pizza in Seattle is indeed real. Unfortunately, almost all of it is real bad. To me, the most beautiful, simple, and core expression of pizza in the world is produced by Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano on Coney Island in New York. I am not making a statement about the history of Pizza, where it originates, or anything that has to do with objective facts. I am stating my opinion that Totonno’s Pizza is the most perfect expression of the pizza ideal in my head that I have ever had in the world (including in Italy) and that to me, all pizza should aspire to be like it. And Delancey, in my opinion, has equaled that pizza.

That said, there are other forms of pizza – and in fact, New York produces another favorite style, the uniform standard NYC pizza, not burnt like Totonno’s, and almost always offered by the slice on almost every street corner. Seattle’s pizza establishments most often try to emulate this offering. And they should as it’s often very good, and certainly recognizable to pizza afficionados. I found myself in Everett recently. And since I don’t go to Everett very often I knew that I better take advantage and head over to Brooklyn Bros. Pizzeria. I was told that it was as authentic as they come around here.

The establishment is adorable, and I’m sure if I was a local I’d be a Silvertips fan as well. But I didn’t come for decor or for minor league hockey (as good as they each may be). I came to eat the fifth food group — pizza. We ordered the Bowery. Pepperoni, sausage, and roasted garlic. Lots of all of it. There are many ingredients in what I call the “unfair advantage” category. Add them to most things, and they get better disproportionately to the ingredient’s importance (or quantity) in the dish. Butter, truffles, bacon, etc. Garlic is definitely one of them, and the brothers Brooklyn weren’t shy with it. There were copious quantities of garlic. Boatloads in fact. And the pizza, well, it rocked. Cheating? Perhaps. Delicious? Definitely.

It was certainly not a Delancey pizza. And that was fine. This is a different animal. This pizza more closely resembles the better of the pies you find all throughout Manhattan. It wasn’t just the heady mix of ever-so-slightly spicy sausage, crisply cooked pepperoni curling above the fray, flavorful sauce, and again… that intense amount of garlic in every bight, but the crust… well it was incredibly buttery. I’m not saying butter was used, but buttery is the only way to describe the crust. It was almost drippingly so, and it served the pizza well.

I felt that the only way to really understand the quality here was to have a slice of cheese pizza in addition to our pie. And unfortunately, this wasn’t quite what we’d hoped. To be fair, it sat out for awhile as slices are supposed to do. But even after reheating in the pizza oven it wasn’t great. Something was off in the ratio between the cheese and the sauce. And the overabundance of cheese felt a bit rubbery as well.

The whole pie we got was so yummy garlicky good, that even if that’s the only pizza they make well I would gladly go back to eat it again and again. And I have a feeling that these Brooklyn siblings (such as they are) are probably good at a bunch of others as well. For now I’m assuming the slices just had an off day, and the fresh pies are all a treat. Here’s to finding out for sure!

Brooklyn Bros. Pizzeria, 1919 Hewitt Ave, Everett, WA 98201 (425) 258-6900, website. For all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries check out our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.

Inn at Langley, Langley, Washington

November 5th, 2009

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

I grew up in New England, Boston specifically. I’ve always had this romantic image of islands and the shore in general. I suppose that’s not super original, but there’s something about the air, the color palette, and even the rainy weather while you’re ensconced safe inside that makes me happy. Moving from that environment, Seattle was always attractive because of the plethora of islands here in Puget Sound. And even though I’ve lived here for almost a decade and a half, I haven’t spent nearly the time I’d like exploring all these spots. One place however that has found me repeatedly visiting is Whidbey Island and the Inn at Langley, specifically. Whether you stay there or not (and staying there for a night is quite lovely), the main attraction for me is the meal. Helmed by Chef Matt Costello, formerly of Dahlia Lounge, the restaurant at The Inn puts on a simple and local dinner. One seating, one fixed menu, all introduced by the Chef speaking at length about his love for the local products and the Whidbey Island agricultural community that produces them. I would never describe a Chef’s job as easy, but it certainly appears that Costello, cooking a fixed menu three nights a week using the local ingredients he loves, definitely has a sweet gig.

Warm bread and butter are always a pleasure. Seriously, it’s hard not to love warm bread. But the oil that came along with the butter was a grapeseed oil produced by Apres Vin made from Cabernet Grapes. Wow. It had this amazing grapey quality and a nuttiness. It was a super pleasant change from the usual olive oil (and I love olive oil).

Things started off with an amuse bouche. I’m generally a fan of stuffing things into other things — and foie gras into a fig is no exception. The 12 year old balsamic drizzled on top didn’t hurt. I’m not a huge fig fan, but these felt crisp, slightly tart, and lovely homes for the creamy duck liver mousseline occupying a rectangular space in their centers.

Soup was next, a celery root puree which was subtle but perhaps a touch underseasoned poured on top of porcini mushroom panna cotta and carrot greens. I was surprised to find the tiny carrot greens as the saviors of the dish. The soup and panna cotta were but creamy foundations for the carrot greens which despite their small size packed a ton of bright fresh almost salty flavor. It was hard but I think I made sure there were at least a few molecules of carrot green in every spoonful I ate.

The highlight of the meal was the Roasted Black Cod with Artichoke and Brown Butter. It’s true that I find it difficult to resist much that’s basted in brown butter. But this piece of fish was cooked perfectly. In general, a small piece of white fish, with only the simplest adornment is a dish I’ve found only in French restaurants… in Seattle, the now closed Mistral was among the better places to get something like this. Outside of Seattle I’ve had this dish, often with John Dory as the fish, at places like Gordon Ramsay in London. And Costello’s Black Cod was competitive with the best I’ve had. Moist, gently flavorful, flaked apart in perfect bite size chunks — truly a pleasure to eat.

It’s almost a shame the meal didn’t end there. Next was the Clove Dusted Duck Breast with Yam Jus and Chanterelles. And while I love Chanterelles, the duck was dry. It just wasn’t enjoyable. Usually duck has so much fat that it’s very difficult to serve it dry. I’m sure it was just an off night, but a bummer nonetheless.

A deconstructed Waldorf Salad (love that cheese) and a Simple and Rustic Pavlova with Marinated Tropical Fruits made up the bulk of dessert. But the little orange creme filled milk chocolates that Costello lovingly introduced to us were the highlights of the meal wind-down. Smooth, creamy, with a sweet thick orange filling. Perfect end note. It was clear that the chef was proud of these, and it showed in their craftsmanship.

It’s impossible not to enjoy the whole atmosphere at the Inn at Langley, especially if you’re staying at The Inn and not just eating there. But ultimately, it would be difficult to really walk away happy if the food did not live up to the cozy yet refined island aesthetic. And I’m pleased to say, I always walk away thinking about when I’ll be returning to the Inn at Langley for more.

Inn at Langley, 400 1st Street, Langley, WA 98260 (360) 221-3033, website. For all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries check out our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.

Le Gourmand, Seattle, Washington

October 21st, 2009

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

I’m not a fan of the term “fine dining” as it connotes some sort of snooty experience in my mind, and after all, any food that’s great seems quite “fine” to me. But I do appreciate refined cooking, high quality ingredients, and multiple courses of food where every detail has been pored over carefully and lovingly. And if the words “fine dining” are the only way to let you know what I’m talking about, then so be it.

Seattle doesn’t exactly have a vast collection of high end restaurants that deliver a really special experience. There are a handful that are trying and only a couple that succeed. While I enjoy living here, there’s no arguing with the fact that when it comes to quantity of quality, Seattle simply can’t compare to the major food hubs of the planet — New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, etc. (Yes this is unsurprising given Seattle’s population and age relative to those other cities, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love a better selection here.) But that shouldn’t stop us from finding things that scratch that refined itch. Enter Le Gourmand.

French in its foundation, Le Gourmand’s main appeal, is surprisingly its almost rustic flavors in refined packages. The delicate flavors that you’d expect in fine dining aren’t exactly what you find here. That’s not to say the flavors aren’t present, or aren’t good. They exist, and are enjoyable. There just isn’t always the delicateness about them that you’d find in other higher end restaurants cooking French food. The blunt quality of the flavors is surprising but enjoyable nonetheless. It is what it is. Enjoy it or don’t. I generally have, and still do.

Bread arrived. It was chewy, but not warm. (Is it wrong that I want to live in a world where all bread is served warm?) I desperately tried not to eat all the bread as I wanted to save room for the food. I lost most of this battle. A token crust remained mocking me, sitting there saying “Are you serious? Do you think that leaving a few molecules of bread on the plate is a demonstration of your willpower and discipline?” I’m often mocked by food. Luckily, it wasn’t too long until the Heirloom Tomato Soup arrived. For my taste, it was underseasoned. We helped it along a bit with some of the salt on the table and things felt better. One saving aspect of the soup was the crisp freshness of the flavor that came through nicely. But otherwise the soup was a bit flat. Following the soup was Local Crayfish and Dungeness Crab Timbale with Champagne Sauce and Chanterelles. Local shellfish with chanterelles — sounded great to me. Again though, it was not thrilling. Not particularly flavorful. Just kind of lying on the plate. The components wondering what they were doing there like a fix-up date gone bad each person wondering what their friend was thinking setting them up with this other person. It wasn’t a bad dish, it just wasn’t at all integrated. And the flavors weren’t particularly interesting or memorable.

At this point in the meal, I was nervous. I’d talked up Le Gourmand as a wonderful restaurant with simple French dishes prepared in an unassuming but flavorful way. Luckily, my favorite dish (and a signature dish of the restaurant) — Blintzes filled with Sally Jackson’s Sheep Milk Cheese with Chive Butter Sauce arrived to save the day. There are very few things on which you could put chive butter sauce or fill with sheep milk cheese and not have me eat them and proclaim them delicious. The blintzes were no exception. Things were looking up.

The mains arrived. First was Sage-wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Crabapple Sauce and House-made Pickled Crabapples. Delicate this dish was not. The pork was literally swimming in an ocean of sour red apple sauce. And yet, the pork was cooked to perfection. Savory, juicy, warm. Covered in a light blanket of the apple sauce, the chunks of pork tasted fantastic. There was nothing subtle about the apple sauce or the pickled crabapples. Even though the pork was gentle in its approach, the apple sauce almost made you feel like you were eating at a BBQ with its “down home” simplicity. The Grilled Tournedos of Beef with Chive and Potato Pancake and Sauce of Blueberries, Huckleberries, and Lemon Thyme also did not disappoint. Much like the pork, the sauce on the beef — this time comprised of berries — was super present. And again, when combined in moderate amounts with a slice of the well cooked meat, the dish just worked. This time more sour, and deep, than the apple sauce. It approached almost a juicy tart wine-like flavor.

In a funny way, the most delicate thing that arrived was the side of vegetables that came with our entrees. Little red potatoes, cabbage, and kale. Cooked just enough. And with a perfect amount of melted butter glistening across the surface of the veggies. Simple, clean, understated, and cooked perfectly. Yummy.

For dessert we had the Creme Brulee a l’Ancienne — Old Fashioned Burnt Cream with raspberries preserved in house-made Ratafia. It was uneventful. But the Raspberry Sorbet (phallic presentation aside) was incredibly sour and fresh tasting. A little shock to the system, cleaning out any traces of the previous dishes from your palate and letting you finish the meal on a with a spring in your step instead of feeling all weighed down.

Even though we were nervous at first, the combination of the blintzes and the entrees really did remind me of everything I liked about Le Gourmand. While not every item we tried found it’s mark, there were more than enough that delighted us through a combination of simple, clean, and mouthwatering flavors. It’s not the super-refined delicate flavors you’d find at some of the higher end French restaurants, and it’s not cheap, but the simple combinations of ingredients and direct and unassuming flavors are more often than not tasty and special in their own way.

Le Gourmand, 425 NW Market Street, Seattle, WA 98107, (206) 784-3463, website. For all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries check out our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.

Habesha, Seattle, Washington

October 8th, 2009

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

I have never claimed to be a food expert or authority. I write about restaurants because I love them. I love the food made by my favorite establishments, and I love the institution itself. And despite my lack of credentials, experience, and all around knowledge, I’ll admit to trying to bring some discipline and focus to my writing about food and the people that make it for me. One (of many) embarrassing gaps in my resume as a food blogger is Ethiopian food.

Up until recently I tried it exactly once. In Washington, DC. I hated it. I’ve lived in Seattle for around twelve years and until recently had never partaken of the local Ethiopian fare. For someone who claims to be into food, and especially into ethnic food, this is clearly a crime of non-trivial proportions. So feel free to criticize. I’d like to blame it on the horrible food I had at that Ethiopian restaurant in Washington, DC. Or perhaps it was my lack of food perspective at the time. But in all honesty, given the plethora of Ethiopian establishments that I could walk to from my house, there’s simply no excuse.

I decided that there was no reason not to start my reintroduction to Ethiopian food at the Seattle Ethiopian restaurant with one of the best reputations — Habesha. Unlike the bulk of its brethren, Habesha doesn’t have that ethnic hole-in-the-wall feel. Quite to the contrary, it’s a very stylish establishment situated in the edge of Belltown. Habesha is clearly trying to be (what they call in the media world) a cross-over hit. Whether they’ve gotten there or not, I don’t know. And since we’ve already established that I have no real experience eating Ethiopian food (even in its Seattle incarnation) I’m not in a position to judge whether the proprietors of Habesha have moved their food closer to what they think the non-Ethiopian population of Seattle might enjoy. (Picture an Ethiopian version of P.F. Chang’s if you will.) The only thing I can tell you is whether I enjoyed the food at Habesha, and whether I want to go back. I can say definitively that the answer is yes, and yes.

My memory of Ethiopian food was hazy. It was a long time ago and not positive. I remember a big stewed gloopy mess. Everything was gray. Things tasted gray. At Habesha, the various items that dotted our Injera (the big spongy bread serving as plate and spoon) had indeed been cooked thoroughly but their flavors were bright and deep. Spicy. Tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices integrated to give everything warm tone. But the sharpness shone through to punctuate each bite. The lentils resembled the best refried beans. A warm mash with delicious savory tones. Warm and soft in your mouth. Soothing next to the sparks of some of the spicier items. Kei Wot — beef cooked in their spicy red sauce, and Doro Tibs — cubed chicken breast in seasoned olive oil, onion and garlic garnished with tomatoes, awaze, and jalapeno were the stars of the affair, with the Misser Wot lentils stewed in onions and olive oil followed closely behind.

And underneath these mounds of food was this enormous pancake of spongy sour goodness. The bread soaked up the flavors from above but didn’t turn into a soggy mess. Like a thick pancake with a spongy texture and a sourdough base the bread accented all the flavors from the food above. Wrapped them in a soft container and the acidity gave balance to the spicy and smooth flavors above.

And while I have no idea how Habesha stacks up against the myriad other Ethiopian restaurants that dot the Seattle landscape, I do know that I’d like to go back. Now the only challenge will be to try a bunch of others before I go back to Habesha. It’s a hardship, but it’s my cross to bear.

Habesha, 1809 Minor Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101-1490, (206) 624-0801, website. For all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries check out our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.

Chiang’s Gourmet, Seattle, Washington

October 1st, 2009

(This post is being simulcast on the Seattle PI and Tastingmenu. I encourage readers of each to check out the other. End of announcement.)

I haven’t exactly been shy about the fact that despite a prime location near the Pacific ocean, Seattle remains without world class Chinese food, unlike Vancouver and San Francisco to the north and south respectively. That said, at least when it comes to Szechuan food, we do have some solid spots. World class? No. Very good? Yes. If you don’t feel like heading all the way to wastelands of the eastside for Szechuan Chef, you can head north to Chiang’s Gourmet. Chiang’s has all the charms you would expect from an establishment that occupies a former A&W restaurant. But if you’re going to Chinese food for the decor, then maybe you’re already happy with the Chinese food Seattle has to offer. (That said… the red and black leather banquettes are iconic at least.)

Standouts at this particular meal include the hot and sour soup which had a really clean flavor. The vinegar was present but not overpowering. Sometimes balance is difficult in hot and sour soup. Kung Pao chicken was beautiful to behold. So many Chinese restaurants oversauce their dishes. Here the sauce is thick and almost gritty in a good way. It sticks to the meat and vegetables like the food will stick to your ribs. Tender juicy chicken chunks coated in spice and just the right amount of oil will make you very happy. The Dry Sauteed String Beans feel the most authentic to me (based on my limited understanding of what Szechuan authenticity is like). This signature coating of enormous quantities of minced sauteed garlic. At first you think there was a spill in the kitchen. But then you know that this is serious business. Garlic is competing with the string beans for the role of main ingredient. It’s not a fair fight.

And finally… potstickers.

Why this deceptively simple concoction of steamed and then pan-fried dough wrapped around a little ball of ground pork should hold such a grip on my imagination, I don’t honestly know. Should I be ashamed of being so in love with a cliche of Americanized Chinese food? There are a few foods that show up in almost every culture. Dough wrapped around meat is one of those cornerstones of almost every cuisine. And while ravioli, kreplach, mandu, gyoza, and pelmeni are good, it’s the potsticker (or the Chinese Ravioli as I called it growing up — apparently according to wikipedia this is a strictly Boston phenomenon) — that outstrips them all. The potstickers at Chiang’s Gourmet are able representatives of their species with slightly thicker definitely not greasy shells, and flavorful fillings. I happily ate every last one.

Those red and black leather banquettes may be from a bygone age of restauranting [sic], but I’d happily settle into one of them, surrounded by the bustling and crowded (in a good way) family-run/family-attended environment of Chiang’s Gourmet any time.

Chiang’s Gourmet, 7845 Lake City Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115, (206) 527-8888, website. For all our Seattle writeups and photo galleries check out our Seattle restaurant guide on Tastingmenu.