I HEART BACON
Thursday, March 31st, 2005

FareStart

I had been to FareStart several times a few years ago, but it had kind of fallen off my radar. Then FareStart contacted me about attending a food bloggers dinner where we’d have dinner, learn more about the program and get a tour of the facility. How could I refuse?

The only other food blogger that was able to attend was Hillel of Tasting Menu, so we had a small table. Zach and I arrived a little early and check out the place. It’s definitely not fancy, but it’s also comfortable in its own way. The room was abuzz and PACKED with patrons.

After we were seated, someone came over to our table to give us more information. FareStart is a program that teaches homeless adults and teens job training so that they can enter the foodservice industry. An impressive 80% are employed immediately upon graduation—and most of them stay employed with the same company for at least a year, which is quite good considering there’s so much turnover in the foodservice industry.

What impressed me the most was the organization’s diversity. They offer lunch service, two cafes (one in the Downtown library and one in Rainer Valley), Thursday night guest chef dinners, and catering services. They also provide meals to low income childcare centers, Head Start programs, homeless shelters and senior centers through their Contract Meals program. Whew… that’s a lot!

And they do it all in the smallest of spaces. When they took us on a tour of the facilities, I couldn’t believe they put out over 2,500 meals every day. The catering area was about the size of my hallway. The main kitchen was a large room, but there was barely enough space to fit two people shoulder to shoulder in the narrow walkways between the islands and stoves.

By the time we finished our tour and sat down at our table, our first course had arrived. The guest chef of the night was Heath Swanson of McCormick and Schmick’s Harborside and the set menu was Butter Lettuce Salad with Jicama, Cedar-Plank Salmon with Berry Beurre, Roasted Potatoes, and Asparagus, finishing off with a Berry Shortcake.

So here’s the thing. The food wasn’t incredible, but it was good—and a great price at $19.95 for a three course meal. But it just felt good eating there and it felt like a very worthwhile thing to spend money on. So I’ve already requested my reservations for the upcoming events:

June 2nd: Eric Banh of Monsoon (and Baguette Box, oh how I love thee)

June 16th: Chef Scott Staples of Restaurant Zoë (oh, how I love thee, even more)

Also, Chef Eddie Montoya of Ovio Bistro (5/5/2005) and Philip Mihalski of Nell’s Restaurant (5/12/2005) look great. Actually the whole guest chef line-up looks great. Sign up on the guest chef email list and they’ll even let you know when new chefs are added to the line-up!

Learn more about FareStart
Donate to FareStart
FareStart on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

Bad Day at Work = Happy Hour at Brasa

I’ve been trying to be good lately—save money, eat healthy, work out… but sometimes you have a day that’s so bad you just say screw it. I won’t go into detail because there’s a small chance my co-workers read my blog, but let’s just say work was hell and by the time I left I felt like I’d been run over by a semi-truck.

I called Zach and told him we were going to Brasa for happy hour. Brasa has carved out a special place in my heart—and it’s not even about the food. I love that it’s spacious and never feels crowded. At the same time, I love that it’s dark and warm, so it always feels cozy. I love sitting at the bar and watching the kick-ass, spiky-haired bartender do her thing. I also love that the bar is dark no matter how bright it is outside. I love walking in and being enveloped in the smell of the wood-fired oven. I love that every single time I’ve been to Brasa I’ve had a fantastic time. And last but not least, I love that everything on their bar menu is half price before 7pm.

We each ordered a vesper, which was perfectly made by the aforementioned kick-ass bartender. Usually, I order the steak frites with Cabrales butter (mmm… Cabrales butter) and Zach gets the clams with chorizo. But tonight we were feeling wild, adventurous, and reckless. I had the pork sandwich ($10 full-price / $5 happy hour) and Zach got the lamb burger ($11 full price / $5.50 happy hour).

The pork sandwich was good, but not stellar. The pork was wonderfully flavored, but a little dry. The mound of fries next to the pork sandwich were incredible. Thin, crisp, salty and addictive. Zach’s lamb burger was outstanding. I’m not sure what they put on it besides a whole head of garlic, but it was delicious and juicy.

After a drink, burger and more than my fair share of fries, I was stuffed. Unfortunately, the gentleman two seats down from us ordered the “Spanish Donuts” and I wasn’t able to run interference in time. Zach saw them and he practically gasped. Seconds later he was asking the waitress for an order of churros.

Waitress: “What are churros?”
Zach: “Uhhh… Spanish Donuts?”
Waitress (skeptically): “Oh…”
Me (in my head): “How can you not freaking know what churros are? Especially when they’re on your menu?”

We forgave her as soon as she brought out our dessert; two pale golden puffs of ridged dough, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. On the side was an espresso cup filled with deep, dark chocolate and whipped cream. The donut was still hot from the oil and fluffy and heavenly. I didn’t like it dipped into the chocolate because the delicate cinnamon flavor was overwhelmed. I decided that churros would be perfect served with cinnamon flavored whipped cream and nothing else.

By the time we left, I was happy and full. My bad day seemed like weeks ago.

Brasa on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 28th, 2005

Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Even though I wasn’t wild about eating guanciale plain, I figured it must have some redeeming qualities as an ingredient. I went searching for a recipe and found that guanciale was put on this earth to be made into Bucatini all’Amatriciana (named after the Italian town of Amatrice).

I was really excited about the recipe because bucatini is one of my all-time favorite pastas. It’s shaped like spaghetti, but thicker and hollow. I love it because it’s chewy and holds sauces really well. I called Zach and told him to pick up a box of bucatini from DeLaurenti and I’d be over after work to cook dinner.

I generally don’t like cooking in other people’s kitchens as I’m particular about equipment. While Zach had all the pots and pans we needed for dinner, I realized what a difference it makes when cooking with tools you love. (I also think that maybe people who claim they don’t like to cook have only cooked with crappy equipment.) I found myself staring wistfully into the utensil drawer. There were many spoons and spatulas available, but not a single one called out to me. They were all too large and made of cheap plastic. When I held the spoon in my hand it seemed off proportion. Tools like these I tend to leave in the pan or too close to the burner in hopes that they’ll burn and need replacement.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for cooking that day, I turned out an incredible bowl of pasta. Although, I have to admit that the guanciale did most of the work. In the pasta dish the guanciale was turned in to something sublime. It was still salty and fatty, but when mixed with the starchy pasta and spicy tomato sauce, it seemed to have found the perfect companions to bring out its true nature. Every time I had a bite that included guanciale I would shout out “YUM!” in disbelief. I was astounded that a hunk of meat could make a simple pasta dish so incredible.

Monday, March 28th, 2005

Easter Brunch

When my Aunt called to tell me about Easter Brunch, I asked what I could bring. She said I was in charge of bacon. I’m now known as the bacon lady to my family.

I really wanted to get some more wild boar bacon, but I just didn’t have the time to drive out to Exotic Meats in Bellevue. Instead, I walked over to Trader Joe’s, praying that they weren’t out of Niman Ranch Applewood Smoked Bacon. Luckily they were fully stocked so I picked up two packages and headed over to my Aunt’s. I also brought along the guanciale I bought at Salumi, thinking I could fry a few slices up for a special treat.

The Niman Ranch bacon was delicious, as usual, but the guanciale was very salty and somewhat fatty. The flavor was great, but bold. I think it’s supposed to be used more like pancetta, where it’s an ingredient in something and not the main show. The brunch was beautiful and delicious:

Eggs benedict with ham
Waffles with strawberries and whipped cream
Fruit platter
Niman Ranch bacon
Salumi guanciale
Asparagus
Hotcross buns

Saturday, March 26th, 2005

The best lunch in Seattle? Salumi!

It’s been way too long since my last visit to Salumi, so I set a date with K to pick me up from work and go for a long lunch. The last time we tried this, Salumi had been closed for vacation. We were so disappointed! But it made this trip even more anticipated…

As we approached Salumi, we saw that not only were they open, but there was a line snaking its way almost out the door. Normally, this would make me impatient, but at Salumi you need at least five minutes to read through the beautiful menu and another five to figure out what you want.

I settled on the porchetta sandwich and K got the lamb prosciutto sandwich. Since my visits seem to be few and far between, I also decided to get some cured meats to take home. I really wanted the Finocchiona salami (it’s addictive—even more so than salami should be), but they were sold out. I got the Mole salami instead. I also wanted some pancetta, but again, sold out. We asked about the Guanciale (gwan-CHA-lee) and when he said it was pork jowl bacon I nearly burst into tears. I purchased a big hunk.

By the time we got our sandwiches and paid, a few seats at the communal table in the back had opened up. We sat down and ogled our sandwiches. Actually the whole table ogled them and asked us what we had ordered. I got out my camera and the couple across the table asked if we were tourists. I sheepishly shook my head and tried to explain about my obsession with food and my blog, but most people don’t get it.

As I took my first bite of the porchetta sandwich, I felt a rivulet of juice run down my cheek. I looked at the plate and realized that my sandwich was soaking in a puddle of pork grease. Gross you say? But this was the best pork grease I’ve ever tasted! The hunks of pork were tender and flavored with garlic and onions. The vinegary, stewed peppers were a perfect counterpoint to the richness of the pork. The normally hard sandwich roll was soft and heavy with pork juices. The sandwich was messy and falling apart as I ate it, but I was in heaven. If I could purr, that’s what I would be doing.

Halfway through K and I switched sandwiches so I got to try the Lamb Prosciutto. I was expecting something mild and delicate like regular prosciutto, but this was quite the opposite. It was bursting with lamb flavor, almost like it was lamb concentrate. It came on a giant roll—so giant that I had to take the top off and eat it like an open faced sandwich. It was robust and chewy. The rich lamb flavors meeting the tang of provolone. Delicious.

I may need to find a new job. One that’s closer to Salumi. So that I can go there everyday for lunch.



Salumi on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 25th, 2005

Ezell’s Fried Chicken

When I’m craving fried chicken, I head down to Ezell’s Famous Chicken. A few of my friends were also craving fried chicken, so we decided to make an outing of it. While waiting for my friends to show up, I ran into my neighbor, M. M said she had just been to Ezell’s and will never go back. That was pretty shocking, so I asked her why but it had more to do with an inability to stop eating the chicken than the chicken being unpalatable.

M and I caught up for a while and she showed me her recently published article in Alaska Magazine. It was a hilarious and true story about a live salmon falling from the sky (an eagle had dropped it), retrieving it (still alive, despite the fall) and then rushing home to grill it up. I wish I had stories like that.

While Ezell’s Fried Chicken doesn’t fall from the sky (damn!), I am glad it’s only a three minute drive from my house. Ezell’s on 23rd only does take out, which makes me feel sorry for people that live far away. Driving home, we had to put the chicken in the trunk so that we wouldn’t leave grease stains on the upholstery. But when we got home, we pretty much tore into it.

We had the spicy chicken, which I prefer to the plain chicken. It has this incredible, thick, crunchy crust that’s very assertive and doesn’t let you forget it. I would be happy to just eat the crust, but thankfully the meat part is good too. Moist, salty and juicy—although a few of the breast pieces were a touch dry. Actually they weren’t really dry as much as the dark meat was just incredibly succulent by comparison.

We also had sides of biscuits, coleslaw and beans. I normally like vinegar-based coleslaw, but Ezell’s mayonnaise-y one was perfect with the chicken and I liked that it was still nicely crisp despite the mayo bath. And the beans. I love their beans; really sweet and ketchup-y. Perfect for dipping your chicken into.

I tried to put truffle salt on my chicken, because I now try to put truffle salt on everything I eat, but I have to say that the chicken was so good and perfectly spiced that it didn’t really benefit from the added truffle flavor. Although I bet it would be perfect on Ezell’s plain fried chicken.


Ezell's Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

Baguette Box

Zach and I met at the Baguette Box for a delicious lunch. I had the Salumi salami sandwich, with Mole salami, a rich balsamic vinaigrette and sweet pickled daikon radish, which gave the sandwich great flavor and crunch. Zach had the tuna salad sandwich, which was light, fresh and healthy-tasting. We also had to get the truffle fries, because they are SO good.

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2005

The Hostess Project #1: Roast Lamb Dinner Party

A few weeks ago I read an article about pyramid scheme dinner parties and decided that I was going to try hosting one dinner every month. So when Jessa contacted me about writing a dinner party column for Saucy Magazine, I thought "How perfect!" and immediately signed on. Now that the initial excitement has worn off, I realize just how much work this is going to be.

This was my first "Saucy" dinner party and I was nervous. I wanted a simple menu so that I wouldn’t be too exhausted or busy to enjoy the party, but I also wanted it to be fancy enough to be worthy of The First Dinner Party title. I was craving lamb and decided on a roast, since it would be easy to make and wouldn’t require much attention during the party. I searched around and found a recipe for lamb shoulder stuffed with cognac prunes. I really love the sweetness of dried fruit with roasted meats, so this was definitely a recipe I wanted to try. For a side, I figured that a white bean dish would be a good and traditional accompaniment for the lamb. I found a simple and flavorful sounding recipe in The Herb Farm Cookbook for slowly cooked white beans mixed with an onion and garlic marmalade and lots of fresh savory and rosemary. For greens I wanted something easy and pretty, so I choose asparagus. When I was a kid, my mom would put a dollop of mayonnaise on my asparagus so that I would eat them; it was so good. I wanted a more elegant variation of this, so I decided to serve the asparagus with an herbed mayonnaise.

With the main meal set, I turned to appetizer planning. I really love appetizers and would make a meal of them if they weren’t so time consuming to make and assemble. Since the meal was somewhat heavy with the beans and lamb, I wanted something much lighter for an appetizer. A while back I had made these wonderful wild rice cakes topped with crème fraîche and caviar. I didn’t want to splurge on caviar, but I thought that lox would be a delicious substitute. As a second appetizer I chose a simple smoked trout & arugula recipe that is quick to assemble and tasty.

Now for dessert. I wanted something chocolate and fell back on my standard individual molten chocolate cakes, because they can be made ahead and it only takes 15 minutes to bake them. Plus there’s something luxurious about eating a dessert that’s still warm from the oven and I figured this would be a good way to end the evening.

I’m not a wine connoisseur and neither are my friends, but luckily there are enough wine stores in Seattle that make good recommendations. So I sent the menu to all my guests with instructions to find a good red that goes with lamb. My boyfriend, Zach, wanted to get a nice port to go with our chocolate dessert, so I told him about Pete’s—a tiny little mom and pop store that devotes more that 50% of their shelf space to wines. You can go there and pick up Cheez Whiz, cat litter and a $350 bottle of champagne. Odd, but that’s what I like about it.

A few days before the party we went to Pete’s and I was happy to see that Joel was working. Joel has, without exception, given me wonderful and perfect wine pairings throughout the years. I just tell him what I’m serving and my price range and he races off through the skinny aisles looking for the perfect bottle. On this visit, the store was unusually busy and Joel was in high demand. After about 15 minutes Joel was finally free and I sidled up next to him, "What do you suggest to serve with chocolate cake?" Joel took off so fast that at first I thought he went to help someone else. He came back with bottle in hand and a grin on his face, "This is what you want." It was $27 bottle of 2003 Domaine de la Rectorie Banyuls "Cuvee Leon Parce". It was a little more expensive than I was expecting, but Zach said he had to get it after such an absolute recommendation; Joel didn’t even offer a fallback suggestion like he normally does.

I was trying to be conservative on the money end of things, so I got most of the basics at the local store, but I wanted high-quality lamb. When I want the best quality meat that I can find in Seattle, I go to A&J Meats and Seafood. I pre-ordered the lamb a few days before the party, requesting a three-pound, butterflied lamb shoulder roast. When I went to pick it up I was a little worried because it didn’t seem like a lot of meat, but I figured with everything else, I could get away with it. (I have this hang up, which I inherited from my family, that the biggest failure a hostess can suffer is not having enough food for her guests.) The woman helping me commented that lamb shoulder was a slightly unusual request. I said that it seemed like it would be a more flavorful cut than the leg and she wholeheartedly agreed, so we were both left a little baffled as to why the shoulder cut isn’t more popular.

The night before the party I was madly cleaning—deciding that my apartment not only needed vacuuming and dusting but a thorough spring-cleaning in order to be Saucy-ready. I had planned to make most of the meal the night before, but after all the cleaning I was exhausted and had managed to only make the bean dish. It seemed reasonable to think I could easily finish the rest of the meal the next day, but from past experiences, I’ve learned not to trust that false sense of security, because it’s always down to the wire. I printed out all my recipes for the dinner and then collapsed into bed.

The next morning I woke up early and started cooking. My first task was to make the stuffing because I knew it needed to cool to room temperature before going into the lamb. Normally, smelling alcohol first thing in the morning makes me nauseous, but the smell of prunes simmering in cognac was fantastic and I was getting excited about the lamb. After finishing the stuffing, I tasted it. It was so good. It buoyed my confidence that this was going to be a great dinner party.

I then decided to blanch the asparagus and make the accompanying mayonnaise. Only fat asparagus were available, which I prefer, but I like to peel the stems to make the stalks tender. I have a trick of using brown sugar and lots of salt in the water when boiling green vegetables. I’ve never heard people mention this before, so I don’t know if it’s common knowledge, but it should be. The brown sugar makes greens shockingly green. I had to smile when I plunged the cooked asparagus into ice water to stop them from cooking and to set the color. The tips were a deep, beautiful green that gradually turned into a brilliant chartreuse at the stalk—the colors of a perfectly ripe avocado.

I hit my first snag while making the dessert; the chocolate in my cupboard had gone gray. I know that it’s okay to still use it in this condition, but when I couldn’t remember when I purchased it, I decided I’d be better off with fresh chocolate. Plus I wanted dessert to be exceptional to go with the wine Zach bought. So off I went to the store to get more chocolate. When I got back it was almost 5pm and guests were due at 7pm, so I was starting to feel rushed. I quickly made the chocolate cakes, but made sure to whip the eggs and sugar extra long so that the cakes would be fluffy.

Then I stuffed the lamb so I could get it into the oven by 6pm. It was at this point that I realized why most people purchase leg of lamb. The shoulder cut was very uneven and had holes in some places. I was too hurried to care, so I just stuffed it with as much filling as I could and rolled it up. (I ended up making almost double the stuffing recipe because it was so good, so I really packed a lot in.) The roast suddenly tripled in size and I was no longer worried about having enough food. Now I have seen many PBS cooking shows about how to tie a roast and have studied the Cooks Illustrated diagrams, but I think tying a roast is something of an art. I managed to tie it, but I was struggling with the roast the whole time, wishing I had a second pair of hands. In my defense, I think it was extra difficult because there were so many holes in the meat that stuffing was tumbling out of them. By the time I had it all tied up I had lost half the stuffing, so I pushed it back into the crevices and plugged up the large holes with prunes. I was very proud when I finished. It almost looked like the picture.

At this point I would like to discuss the importance of oven thermometers. It’s just a basic fact that oven temps vary widely—and usually the older the stove, the more off it is. I rent and therefore have an oven that’s probably older than I am. It’s also about half the size of a normal oven, so most of my roasting pans won’t even fit into it. After many burnt dishes, I finally got an over thermometer and discovered something interesting. My oven is off by about 50 degrees up until about 375 degrees. Once you turn the dial to anything higher than that, the oven goes berserk and doesn’t stop increasing in temperature. Luckily, this evening I had my wits about me and realized 30 minutes into cooking that something was burning. I looked into the oven, and sure enough the temperature was over 550 degrees. Needless to say, the outside of the roast was done. I covered it with foil and then lowered the temp to about 325 degrees to finish cooking.

Then I started assembling the smoked trout and arugula toasts. Part of the reason why this appetizer is so good is because of the peppery arugula. Unfortunately, Washington-grown arugula is in a sad state this year. I had been to several stores before I even found arugula and when I did it was wilted and old looking, but I snapped it up anyway. So even though I started with a giant bundle of arugula, I was barely able to pull off enough good leaves for 20 toasts. The first guest arrived just as I finished assembling the toasts and I popped a bottle of much needed prosecco and finally started relaxing. By the time the last guest arrived, I had finished assembling the rice cakes and was in the living room enjoying the party.

The smoked trout and arugula toasts were my favorite of the two appetizers. The toast was cut thin so it was crisp, and then slathered with butter which melted into the trout and the arugula added a hint of spice. The rice cakes with lox were also good, but I found them a bit bland. I think I pre-cooked the rice a bit too long because they weren’t as crunchy as last time. Also, I impatiently put the crème fraîche on some of the rice cakes while still warm and the heat melted the crème into a soggy puddle. The lox was great and the chive garnish was pretty, but it was missing bite. Next time I think I’ll add a sprinkle of chopped red onion.

The favorite prosecco of the night was a $9 bottle I happened to pick up when I went to get chocolate. It was a Rive Della Chiesa Prosecco Brut, which was really light and dry. By the time we opened the second bottle, a few of us were a little tipsy and were calling it the J-Lo prosecco, but it was actually a Jeio Bisol Prosecco Brut. It was sweeter than the Rive Della Chiesa, but still very good.

When dinner was ready, I had Zach gather everyone into my tiny kitchen nook at my overly large kitchen table. We squeezed in and had to pull the table partially into the kitchen in order to fit everyone around. This ended up trapping me in the kitchen area, but that worked out perfectly for serving. After carving the roast I was ready to plate, but had forgotten to warm the dishes. Thanks to a handy tip from my mom, I put them all in the microwave and they were hot in about two minutes. Everyone was served and eager to eat, but they patiently waited while I took pictures of everything.

The lamb was perfect. It was perfectly cooked inside, perfectly browned on the outside and each slice had a nice ratio of meat to stuffing. The stuffing was even more delicious when mixed with the lamb juices and I will definitely be adding this dish to my recipe file. The beans complemented the lamb nicely and were a bit plain, but I was hoping for that, since I really wanted the lamb to steal the show. What I didn’t expect was that the asparagus would steal the show. I mean, it’s asparagus. Actually the asparagus wasn’t the best thing on the plate (the lamb was), but I think the guests were so shocked that the asparagus was good that they couldn’t help but say something. My guess is that it was the mayonnaise. While herb mayonnaise is a grown up version of a dollop of mayo, it still resulted in the same child-like response: Asparagus is good with mayo!

For an accompanying wine, I opened the bottle that G & T brought: a Christian Moueix 2001 Merlot and a Zardetto Prosecco. It’s good, not very expensive and you can find it almost anywhere. I serve it at almost every party I throw. I made G read the back of the bottle. Then I told the story I always tell, that no one believes: One time I had a bottle of Zardetto and was reading the back label. Instead of the normal story about the history of Prosecco, there was a story about a gnome; A gnome who went into the woods and found a pot of bubbly brew. The gnome fell into the pot and then there was some sort of moral to the story. It’s a bit hazy because I was drinking at the time. I know that J read the story too, but she swears up and down that she doesn’t remember, but I think she had more to drink than I did that night.

When we were ready for dessert, I put the cakes in the oven and in about 15 minutes we moved back into the kitchen for our last course. I think the cakes were a little too molten (i.e. not quite done), but I was hesitant to stick them back in the oven because the cakes aren’t good when they’re overcooked. I topped each cake with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream and served them. There were groans all the way around the table, "This is too much", "This dessert is huge", "I’m too full", but the groans quickly turned ecstatic.

We served the wine that Joel recommended with the cakes. It was amazing. Like port but not as sweet and cloying. It was uncanny how well it went with the chocolate. Everyone agreed that it was the best wine pairing of the night (and they were all pretty fantastic). The cake was definitely the hit of the night and I noted that everyone practically licked their plates clean. Half the guests sheepishly requested more. I had made a double batch of cakes and there were several extras in the fridge so, ever the perfect hostess, I tossed the rest of the cakes into the oven with a smile.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

The Hostess Project #1: Roast Lamb Dinner Party

As promised, I’m letting everyone know that my Roast Lamb Dinner Party article is now up on Saucy. The lamb was amazing and would make a perfect Easter roast—the recipe is linked from the article.

http://saucymag.com/archives/2005/03/roast_lamb_dinn.php

Monday, March 21st, 2005

Dried-Cooked Chicken

I was too tired to cook today, so I called up Zach to see if he wanted to go to Sichuanese Cuisine. Once we got there, we debated ordering the hot-pot, but in the end ordered Dried-Cooked Chicken and Chinese Stir-Fried Greens, which we had the last time we were here. The chicken, as usual, was so good it made me want to cry. Crisp, yet tender and wonderfully flavored with fermented black beans. The greens were also delicious—buttery and garlicky, ladled with a rich broth.

We tried two new things as well, the Eggplant with Pork and Ants on a Tree. The eggplant was a shockingly gorgeous, shimmering purple. It wasn’t quite what we were expecting (the “pork” in this dish was microscopic), but the eggplant was great—cooked until it had a creamy consistency, with a prominent eggplant flavor laced with a slightly spicy chili sauce.

The ants on a tree, on the other hand, tasted like… uh, nothing. It looked like it would be good, with a bright red chili sauce soaking into the translucent glass noodles. The “ant” portion of this dish was supposed to be pork, but we couldn’t see any. I thought maybe they hid it somewhere under the noodles, so I lifted them up, but found nothing. We won’t be ordering this dish again, but we’ll be back as often as possible for the Dried-Cooked Chicken and the Chinese Stir-Fried Greens.

Sunday, March 20th, 2005

The Morning After

For the people who spent the night after Zach’s birthday party, I cooked up the rest of the Grateful Palate bacon for a breakfast taste test. The general consensus was that the Meacham Old Fashioned Maple Cured Bacon was our favorite because of the nice maple sweetness and crispy crunch. A few people really liked the strong flavor of the Gatton Farms “Dan Phillips Secret Special Cure”, but we all agreed that it was too salty to eat more than one or two slices at a time.

We also set up a make your own omelette station with all the leftover pizza toppings (there were a LOT). I’ve been watching a ton of Alton Brown’s Good Eats and just saw the episode on omelettes, so I decided to show everyone what I learned. Either I’m a bad study or he gave some bad advice; the first omelette I tried to make was awful—over-done and stuck to the pan. My mom took over, using butter AND olive oil (Alton says to only use butter) to grease the pan and the rest of the omelettes turned out great.

I made one with chorizo, pancetta, ranchero cheese, cilantro and mushrooms. It was delicious.

Saturday, March 19th, 2005

Wild Boar Bacon Breakfast

You kind of have to expect that you’re going to have a fantastic day when you start it of with a breakfast this good:

Fluffy, scrambled eggs with Casina Rossa Truffle Salt
Challah bread with apricot preserves
Thick, beautiful slices of wild boar bacon


Friday, March 18th, 2005

Home Cooking

This was the big weekend of Zach’s Birthday Pizza Party so Zach and I headed up Whidbey Island the night before to prepare. Mom had a dinner of dilled carrots, pan-fried steaks and fried potatoes waiting for us. Lately I’ve either been cooking huge, fancy event meals or been so exhausted that I just make myself a sandwich, so having my Mom’s home cooking was such a treat. The dinner was delicious, but I especially loved the hand-cut wedge fries that were soft and fluffy on the inside and crisp and golden on the outside.

As we were eating the last of the fries, I suddenly remembered that I had brought along my Casina Rossa Truffle & Salt (from La Buona Tavola, Truffle Cafe). We sprinkled it on our remaining fries and there were moans all around the table. It was so good. My mom actually got mad at me for not bringing it out earlier. Then she suggested we make truffle salt omelettes for breakfast the next morning. I think Zach called her a genius.

We spent the rest of the night making pizza dough and watching Word Wars, which was fantastic. It was not only the best documentary I’ve ever seen, but also one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. It was funny and engrossing and it made me realize that I’m not neurotic or obsessive in the least bit.

Wednesday, March 16th, 2005

Restaurant Zoe

For Zach’s birthday, I took him to Restaurant Zoe for the 25 for $25 deal. As I’ve said before, this rarely turns out to be that good of a deal because inevitably you order drinks and other things off the menu. But tonight, we were in the mood to splurge.

We started out with two fantastic drinks, the Private Danska for me and the Amalfi for Zach. As I’m writing this (two weeks later), I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what was in them. I think mine was made with Grapefruit Danska Vodka and Zach’s was made with Brandy? Maybe. Anyway, they were both really good.

We were torn about ordering off the regular menu because everything sounded delicious. As a compromise we chose from the 25 for $25 menu, but also ordered the Foie Gras ($15) with two glasses of Sauternes ($9 each) off the main menu.

The foie gras was meltingly tender and came with a sweet and tart caramelized mango sauce—kind of like a mango marmalade. It was incredibly delicious, especially with the Sauternes, but I thought it was served a little cold and wished it had come to the table piping hot.

Our first course choices were the Salad of Young Mixed Greens and the Pork Confit with Black Lentil Salad. The mixed green salad was nicely dressed, but it couldn’t compare to the pork confit. There were only a few small chunks of the flavorful confit in the pork dish, but the lentils were delicious. I always have lentils when I’m at Restaurant Zoe because they know how to prepare them right; tender, with just a hint of crunch and deeply flavored by their cooking liquid.

Zach’s main course was the Pan Roasted Pork Tenderloin. It was perfectly cooked, but mild tasting when eaten alone. It came with a great with garnish of sweet currants and salty olives. Our only issue with Zach’s dish was that you had to work to get a perfect bite—a bite with just the right ratio of pork, sauce, currants and olives.

My main course was the Roasted Young Chicken. Sounds boring, right? It came with two perfectly cooked pieces of chicken stacked on top of each other, one white meat and one dark. The chicken was extremely juicy on the inside and crisp, crisp, crisp on the outside. It was great alone, but heavenly when paired with the amazing sauce (probably a veal reduction) and creamy, truffled potatoes.

I was positively stuffed after our entrees, but we still had dessert coming. Zach had the Pot de Chocolate, which we enjoyed but I can’t remember what it tasted like now. I had the Molten Cake, which was delicious and similar to the one I make.

As an extra birthday present I spared Zach the obnoxious flash and waiting-to-take-the-perfect-picture-while-your-food-gets-cold, but everything was beautifully presented. Dinner came to $100 with tip, which was considerably more than the $50 we were intending to spend, but for the quality and enjoyment of the meal we thought it was still a great deal.

Restaurant Zoe on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 14th, 2005

Maekawa Bar

A while back, I read Jon’s review of the Renkon Butter at Maekawa and it has stuck with me. So when Cindy from Food Migration said she’d be in town and wanted to meet, I suggested we try Maekawa Bar.

The restaurant is on the second floor of a very unassuming building. It was much smaller than I expected, but it wasn’t too crowded so we got a table right away. There were four of us and we all took turns ordering, but mostly followed the suggestions laid out by Jon. This is what we ate:

Takoyaki (octopus donuts) – This is one of Zach’s favorite things, but I find that they never taste fully cooked and have a wet batter texture that I dislike.

Renkon Butter (lotus root with butter and bonito) – This was my favorite dish, but mostly because it tasted like fried butter. The texture was odd and spongy, but I didn’t mind it.

Chinese Fried Chicken – This was bad. There was hardly any flavor and the chicken was so dried out that it was like chicken jerky.

Eel Tempura – I liked this dish when I ate it, but the more I think about it the more I think that the eel would have been better without the tempura. It masked the flavor too much.

Butasyabu (shabu shabu pork) – This seemed boring. Just thin slices of cooked pork that you dipped into a sauce. I could be jaded though… I wanted it to taste like hot-pot.

Greens wrapped in beef – I don’t know what these were called on the menu, but it doesn’t much matter because I won’t be ordering them again. They were okay, but again, way too chewy.

Chicken Croquette – We ordered this on the recommendation of the waitress because she didn’t think we had enough food for four people (we did). It was good, but too rich. It was a deep-fried egg about the size of my fist that was STUFFED with oozing, garlic cheese sauce.

Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the food—especially when the bill came to almost $70 with tip (and sake). But it may have been an off night in the kitchen. Or I could have built it up in my head too much. Either way, I still had a great time and was happy to have met Cindy. She’s an absolute riot. Somehow we got on the topics of eggs and I was telling her that both Zach and I recently discovered that we have a similar egg phobia; I’ve always been freaked out that one day I’ll crack open an egg and there will be a little dead chicken inside. So every time I’m cracking an eggshell and it meets a little resistance, I get squeamish.

Cindy gleefully added fuel to our phobias by telling us about Balut. I won’t go into detail here, but you can learn about Balut here:
http://www.asiacuisine.com.sg/Nacws/1998/9/314/

If you’re REALLY brave, here’s a close-up. Enjoy!




Maekawa Bar on Urbanspoon