I HEART BACON
Saturday, April 30th, 2005

French Dip Mecca

After the god-awful French dip I had in Newport, I was craving a good one. One with perfectly toasted, lightly buttered, soft bread stuffed with layers of paper-thin, freshly roasted beef, horseradish and a side of salty and robust flavored jus. Is that too much to ask?

I thought I had found the perfect French dip at the Mecca Cafe. Last time I ate there the French dip was perfect. This time… the meat was good, but the bread was plain, stale and un-toasted, and the dip was flavorless.

Anyone know where I can get a reliably good French Dip? Please?

Update: Glenna has kindly sent me the link to the Seattle French Dip thread she started on Chowhound. You can check it out here: http://www.chowhound.com/pacificnw/boards/pacificnw/messages/26240.html

Thanks Glenna!

Friday, April 29th, 2005

Happy Happy Hour

A few friends and I were seeing a late movie at Pacific Place, but wanted a quick drink and snack beforehand. Every time I need to grab food downtown I’m dismayed by the lack of choices—there is an uncanny convergence of bad chain restaurants. After much debate, we finally settled on the Dragonfish Café in the Paramount Hotel. I had been there once before a long, long time ago and it left a bad taste in my mouth, although now I can’t remember why.

We walked in to find the bar area packed, as they were in the midst of their second happy hour (10pm-1am daily). We ordered a round of fruity cocktails and they came to the table in cute bamboo shaped glasses. Everyone took a sip and eyes lit up around the table. Then we all swapped drinks so we could taste everything. I was stunned that Dragonfish served some of the best juice-based cocktails I’ve ever had. And since it was happy hour, they were only $2.95 each. The best drink was the Lemongrass Lime Ricky, which featured lemon grass and lime leaf infused vodka. My other favorite was the Ruby Berry Splash—a spiked raspberry lemonade.

Since the drinks were so stellar, we decided to try out the Happy Hour Menu. We had a four piece Dragon Roll ($1.95) that contained asparagus, shrimp, tuna and avocado. Nothing special, but it wasn’t bad either. Next was the Chinese BBQ Pork ($2.95). Again, not bad, but I should never order BBQ pork outside of Chinatown, because it’s not very exciting when made from bland pork tenderloin. Where’s the crispy fat?! Our last dish was the Caramel Ginger Chicken ($3.95) which was oddly good, although the “caramel” tasted and looked a lot like a honey glaze.

I can’t say I’d go out of my way to eat here, but it will now be my restaurant of choice for happy hour before (or after) a movie, shopping, the theater, or any other reason I may find myself in need of a drink downtown.

Dragonfish Asian Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 29th, 2005

Haggis Hunting

This is too funny not to link to:
http://www.travelerslunchbox.com/journal/2005/4/29/haggis-hunting.html

Thursday, April 28th, 2005

Sausages & Polenta

Today seemed like a good day for sausage. I was also craving polenta and it seems like it may not be polenta weather much longer. I still had a freezer full of goodies from Exotic Meats so I pulled out a package of smoked duck sausage and a package of antelope sausage and invited a few friends over.

I had really high expectations for the duck sausage and was disappointed. It didn’t even taste like duck. Maybe more like an andouille. Plus it had a really thick and tough casing, like a kielbasa. I mean it was good, but not what I was expecting—even though the package was clearly marked “smoked sausage”. I’m going to stick to smoked bacon and eat my sausages unsmoked. The antelope was delicious. Really tender and juicy although it didn’t have as good a flavor as the caribou.

The polenta ended up stealing the show. Zach said he doesn’t even like polenta, as he helped himself to a second scoop. The best thing about this recipe is that it’s easy and produces beautiful, soft polenta with only five minutes of stirring.

Cheesy Soft Polenta (from The Herb Farm Cookbook)

1 tablespoon butter, softened
4.5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup medium ground cornmeal (polenta)
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
2 tablespoons chopped marjoram
3 cups grated gruyere cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a square baking dish with the softened butter.

2. Bring the water and salt to a boil, then slowly whisk in the polenta. Stir for 5 minutes or until it starts to thicken. Add the herbs and 1/2 of the cheese and stir to incorporate. Pour mixture into the buttered dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake in oven for 1 hour, or until cheese is melted and bubbling.

Wednesday, April 27th, 2005

Muscat Love

This drink recipe was originally inspired by the “Sneaky Steve“, but B changed it so much that we decided to rechristen it as “Muscat Love”.

Here’s the recipe courtesy of B “HL”:

Muscat Love
2oz Zubrovka vodka
4oz Prosecco
2oz Reed’s Spiced Apple Brew
1 muscat gummy

Stir together the vodka, prosecco and apple cider. Top with a muscat gummy.

Sunday, April 24th, 2005

IHEARTBACON.COM CafePress Store!

It’s here, the day you’ve all been waiting for. Okay, mostly just the day my friends have been waiting for…

IHEARTBACON.COM CafePress Store!
T-shirts, aprons, mugs, bumper stickers and more!

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

Pot pies at the beach

On our last full day in Newport, the weather had turned cold and stormy. After so much excitement crabbing the previous day, we were more than content to stay indoors and relax. Although, towards the end of the day I convinced K to go with me to the aquarium.

I had read rave reviews about the Oregon Coast Aquarium, so I was really excited to see it. I had even read that it’s one of the best aquariums in the country. If this is true, then we must have some lame aquariums. Or maybe I’m just spoiled by my last visit to the Vancouver Aquarium. The Oregon Coast Aquarium tank displays seemed terribly uninspired and even the informational displays were as bare bones as possible. The two things that I did like were the circular tank of seductively lit jellyfish and the gigantic octopus. The octopus gave us quite a show, coming out from his hiding place to demonstrate wall climbing techniques.

Later that night, we thought about eating at one of the fancier places in Newport—April’s or Saffron Salmon. We stopped by both to check out the menus. They sounded great, but in the end we decided that our room had the best view in town and, on a whim, I had brought up a few frozen pot pies from my freezer.

Let me just say that these are no ordinary pot pies. They are pot pies sent down from the heavens. They are made from scratch with tender, perfectly cooked chicken, fresh vegetables and amazing homemade gravy. And if that isn’t enough, they are topped with a buttery, puff-pastry crust and sprinkled with a touch of paprika. I wish I could say that I had made them, but I actually bought them at A&J Meats on Queen Anne. It had always been my intention to perfect my pot pie recipe, but once I discovered these at A&J’s, I just gave up; it seemed impossible to improve upon them. That is until K mentioned the lobster pot pie recipe in Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I may need to try that one…

Friday, April 22nd, 2005

Crab vs. Mink

On our second day in Newport, we woke up to unexpectedly glorious weather—one of those days where it’s hot out before 9am. I had seen crab rentals in the lobby and decided that today was the day I’d catch my first crab.

I didn’t have the first clue about crabbing. I assumed we’d rent a crab ring in the morning, toss it into the water, go play and check on it the next day. The woman at the rental counter laughed and said if we did that we wouldn’t catch any crabs. I was confused—didn’t the crabs just walk into the trap and not come out? I had heard tales of crustacean cannibalism… maybe the crabs ate each other if they spent too much time in a confined area. Or maybe someone would steal our crabs if we left the ring unattended? We decided to check out the town first and then come back and spend the rest of the day crabbing.

We drove through Newport’s main street; it was touristy, as predicted, but also kind of cute and the perfect place for a family with young kids. We drove a little further and ended up on Historic Nye Beach. It was breathtaking… in more ways than one. The beach was unbelievably beautiful, but it also was unbelievably smelly. There were thousands of tiny, bright purple jellyfish washed up on the beach and rotting in the sun. When a jelly completely dried up it left behind a hard little disk, about the size of a half-dollar, and it looked like a translucent computer chip. I was fascinated with the jellyfish, but they smelled so bad that we had to leave.

On our way back we drove through the town of Nye Beach, which was the exact opposite of Newport’s tourist strip; upscale and understated. It was weird how different each area was, considering they’re less than a mile apart. In Nye Beach we stopped at the cutest little deli (Village Market & Deli) and purchased some delicious provolone and hard salami for lunch.

When we got back to the hotel, we changed into more appropriate crabbing attire and headed back down to the rental desk. I asked a million questions and finally figured out that the crab ring lies flat on the bottom of the water, so the crabs can walk in. Then when the ring is pulled to the surface, it forms a basket that catches the crabs. A crab ring is rented for a period of 24 hours ($8) and you can crab for as long as you want within that time period. The ring rental came with a large bucket and a green plastic ruler for measuring the crabs. We also had to purchase two crabbing licenses ($6.50 each) and I bought a pair of plastic coated gloves ($3) that I figured would come in handy. Now all we needed was bait. The brochure I picked up said that the bait should be as smelly as possible: our choices were chicken or mink. I assumed the mink would smell more than the chicken (an understatement), so we purchase a frozen mink (sans head, tail or feet) for $2.50. I calculated that we’d need to catch at least three crabs in order to break even since I had seen $9 fresh crabs for sale in town.

We headed out to the hotel’s private dock with our crabbing supplies, a bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and a few Rainers. I still wasn’t exactly sure what we were doing, but there was no one else on the dock to pepper with questions; we had to wing it. The first step was baiting our trap. I unwrapped the mink and was hit with a putrid smell—despite being frozen. Between one frozen mink and thousands of rotting jellyfish, the jellyfish are surprisingly better smelling. I was hoping I could get away with not touching the mink, but I couldn’t grip the string with the gloves. Holding my breath, I tied the mink to the bottom of the trap as quickly as I could. It ended up looking exactly like a giant, trussed pork loin.

We lowered the ring into the water, popped open our beers and discussed strategy. K wouldn’t touch the crabs, so we decided that she would pull up the ring and I would grab the crabs. And safety first; if K got nervous she was to ditch the ring back into the water. K asked what we’d do with the crabs that were under the allowed size of 5.75 inches. I said I’d gently place them in the water and they’d float back down to their home.

We were anxious and didn’t have a watch to tell if the recommended 20 minutes had passed (I’m pretty sure it was only 5), so we decided to pull up the ring and see what we had caught. K cautiously pulled up the net while I took pictures. I was thrilled to see that there were about six crabs in our net! Most of them were under the required size—so small that they could crawl through the net and onto the dock. We didn’t account for this in our strategy, so some excitement ensued. I ended up running around the ring, herding the escaped crabs back into the water while K screamed and pointed when they got loose. Finally we were left with one, giant crab. Just as I was getting ready to put it into our bucket, we remembered that we had to check the sex (you’re only allowed to keep male crabs). I flipped it over and was crushed to find it was a female. Before putting it back in the water, I wanted a picture of me holding my first crab. K was getting the camera when I felt a hard pinch through the gloves. I screamed at the top of my lungs and hurled the crab back into the water, screaming “It BIT me! That f*cker BIT me!” while K laughed. Our first pull was a bust, so we lowered the crab ring back into the water.

Each subsequent pull yielded many more little crabs, but also a few male ones that were large enough to keep. We learned that tossing the ring as far out as we could returned better crabs. I also learned that gently placing the crabs back in the water is neither wise nor practical. I quickly realized how vicious and strong crabs are and I ended up throwing them off the dock as quickly as I could. One crab was holding on so tightly that I couldn’t get him to budge. I was pulling on him as hard as I could while Kelly tried to saw off the piece of mink he was clutching with the ruler (didn’t work).

On the fifth or sixth pull, K pointedly informed me that she couldn’t do this anymore. I was confused since she seemed to be holding up pretty well. Finally she pointed at the mink. Oh. The crabs had gotten to the mink insides. I told her not to look and that I’d take care of it. Ahem. Could I really do this? Our mink meat was about a foot and a half long and at least two feet of intestines were hanging out. All I needed to do was pull the guts out and get rid of them so it didn’t look so gruesome. I pulled. And pulled—all the while screaming at K not to look. She’d die if she saw what I was seeing.

I don’t think degutting an animal can be compared to anything else in life. The best I can say is that it was like pulling a tissue out of a brand-new Kleenex box. I mean, there’s not much resistance, but you do have to tug a little and the sound is not so pretty. I was losing my nerve, but I figured if I didn’t do this, K couldn’t go on—and she was already being an incredible sport considering she’s doesn’t even eat seafood. I kept screaming at K not to look as I yanked and yanked. About five feet of intestines came out and with one last tug, came free. Whew! Then I realized the guts were entwined in the net. “Don’t look!” I screamed. I was slightly hysterical at this point, partly because I was feeling queasy and partly because I thought it was hilarious that we were making such an incredible scene.

After a brief struggle, I got the intestines unwound from the net and tossed them into the water. “I got it! I got it! Oh, NOOOOO! Wait… don’t look… uh… we have a problem…” I’m practically doubled over with laughter at this point. “F*ck! The guts FLOAT… don’t look!” I was trying to figure out how to make the intestines sink when an entire flock of seagulls swooped down on me. I hit the deck and covered my head for protection. I was combination screaming, crying and laughing “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” while two gulls grabbed the entrails on each side and I watched a horrifying and much less romantic version of the lady and the tramp spaghetti scene. I almost lost my lunch, but at least the entrails were finally gone.

We stayed out for almost three hours and caught six crabs total; three Dungeness and three Red Rock. The Red Rock crabs were a beautiful dark reddish color with bright purple highlights on their claws. The Dungeness just looked yummy. We fired up the crab pots located on the upper deck and relaxed in the sun with another well-deserved beer. Once our crabs were cooked and bright red, I covered them with ice and brought them back to our room. I shelled for about three hours that night and ended up with about 2 cups of crab meat. I melted a 1/4 stick of butter and dug in. It was the sweetest crab I’ve ever eaten.

When I got home and figured out what a mink was, I was horrified. They are ridiculously cute. When I found out they purr when they’re happy, I felt as if I’d just used a cat as bait. Will this be the simultaneous beginning and end of my crabbing days?

Thursday, April 21st, 2005

Newport beach, here we come…

My friend K is visiting from NY for two weeks and we thought it would be great to get away for a few days. My dad happens to have a timeshare condo in Newport, so we planned a trip down to the Oregon coast. Newport boasts a wax museum and a “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”, so I was a little worried that it was going to be a tacky tourist town and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The first thing I didn’t expect was how long the drive would be. For some reason I had it my head that it was just past Portland, but it took more than five hours to get there (and we didn’t leave until noon because we were up till three in the morning the night before playing mah jong). The second thing I didn’t expect was how gorgeous it would be. When we arrived it was overcast and even still, the view of Yaquina Bay was unbelievable—sparkling clear water, working docks, boat marinas and a gorgeous bridge. Newport mainly consists of commercial fisherman and tourists, but our condo was at the far end of the main strip, so it was peaceful and pleasant.

Once we checked in, we wandered through our enormous accommodations. We were spoiled with two bedrooms—one in an upstairs loft complete with a spiral staircase, a fully outfitted kitchen, a dining area, a really comfortable living room, a fireplace, two bathrooms with two Jacuzzis and two large private decks, both with unobstructed 180 degree views of the bay. We were in heaven and couldn’t believe our good luck. After we called my dad to thank him profusely, we uncorked a bottle of wine, sat out on the deck (despite the chilly weather) and soaked in the view.

Even though it was only 6pm, I was hungry, so we decided to hit happy hour in the hotel restaurant ($3.50 French dips!). The restaurant had a lovely view of the marina, but was unfortunately also decorated like a marina: captains wheels, buoys, brass lanterns and the whole bit. And it being Early Bird time, the blue-haired were out in force. I looked around and giggled—at least it really felt like I wasn’t in Seattle anymore.

I ordered what quite possibly was the worst French dip I’ve ever eaten—and I’m pretty lenient when it comes to French dips. The bread was all wrong (rock-hard sourdough), the meat tasted sickly and the au jus was simply water tinted brown. The fries were pale and anemic and barely worth eating. K didn’t fare much better with her Caesar salad that was drowning in bottled dressing. But I was happy our meals were only $3.50 each, as the regular entrees were approaching the $30 range! I was also grateful that our condo had a kitchen. After dinner we went back to the room and spent more time on the deck, watching the lighthouse lights blink off and on, then fell asleep early from all that fresh air.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Dad!

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

Vacation!

Dick’s cheeseburgers and a late night mah jong game—a perfect way to start my vacation! I’m off to the Oregon coast…

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

The Hostess Project #2: Pizza Party

I may have overcommitted myself. I’m trying to make up for it by combining as many events and obligations as possible. I asked Zach if he’d mind having his birthday double as The Hostess Project monthly dinner party article. I’m lucky he’s such a good sport.

I asked him what his favorite food was, fully expecting to hear "sushi" and already planning a Japanese / sushi rolling party in my head. When he said "cheese" I was thrown off guard. Cheese? Whose favorite food is simply "cheese"? I quickly regrouped and started planning a meal where every course included cheese. Maybe cheese flans from The French Laundry Cookbook for an appetizer, Fontina ravioli with porcini sauce for a first course, steaks with Cabrales butter for the main course and a mascarpone cheesecake for dessert. At some point I realized that I was planning this party for myself. I asked Zach what he wanted and it was quite the opposite—something casual, fun and for a large group of people. I nixed the menu and rethought the party.

Zach and I had recently made mozzarella, which seemed like the perfect party activity. I thought about what I could make with mozzarella and then it hit me: pizza! It would be easy, fun AND take care of those pesky vegetarians. The best part was that I could make almost everything ahead of time.

Gathering the list of pizza toppings was easy: sautéed shrimp, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, roasted garlic, oven roasted tomatoes (the best thing you could ever hope to do with anemic, store-bought tomatoes), Italian sausage, chorizo, pancetta, prosciutto, pepperoni, olives, artichoke hearts, capers, pineapple slices, gorgonzola, goat cheese, parmesan, red onions, basil, arugula, chili pepper flakes, anchovies and sweet fried peppers.

I made a double batch of my favorite pizza sauce recipe two weeks before the party and tossed it in the freezer. Then I started on crust research. It seemed that most recipes were fairly similar: flour, yeast, honey, and water, with just slight differences in measurements and technique. When I need a tried-and-true recipe and don’t have time to experiment on my own I always turn to Cook’s Illustrated. I buy online access to their recipe database and at $24.95 per year it has more than paid for itself in usefulness. Cook’s Illustrated had three pages of pizza dough recipes, but I was instantly drawn to the “Crisp Thin-Crust” recipe. It is made entirely in the food processor and then goes into the fridge to rise overnight.

My next step was obtaining a pizza stone as they are key to getting a crisp crust. The more I read about pizza stones, the more I realized that some are better than others (who knew?). Reviewers were raving about the Pampered Chef baking stones, but it looked like they were only sold through a "Kitchen Consultant," which to me sounded like "Amway"… I went to eBay instead and got a Pampered Chef 13" round for $15. When it arrived it turned out to be brand new!

I decided to elaborate on the kid’s party theme and make a piñata and a fancy cake. I briefly thought about constructing an elaborate octopus cake (Zach loves octopi), but quickly came to my senses. I’m a horrible baker and have no patience when it comes to cakes. I needed something that was simple yet clever. Zach loves doing the crossword every Sunday, so I decided to make him a crossword cake. And by "make" I mean ask J to bake and frost one of her amazing carrot cakes and then I’d decorate it.

For the piñata I went all out and made an octopus, since balloons can be found in roughly octopus-part-like shapes. It was fun sitting at my kitchen table getting all gooey and wet with flour and water paste. I didn’t start early enough on the piñata, so the night before the party I was trying to attach all the still wet parts with masking tape. Not an easy task. It crumpled in on itself, but once I covered it with purple tissue paper it still kind of looked like an octopus.

The day of the party, all that was left to do was cook the toppings and decorate the cake. I put off decorating the cake until last because I had no idea how I was going to do it. I knew I was going to make the puzzle lines with chocolate, but I have a hard time drawing a straight line on paper, let alone on a cake. J suggested we press the line pattern into the frosting with long, straight skewers, which worked great. I melted the chocolate and put it into a pastry bag fitted with a fine tip. I think this might have worked out had the chocolate not been old and slightly grainy; the tip kept getting plugged and every inch I’d have to stop and poke a toothpick inside to free it up. I gave up after the first line and just used a Ziploc with the corner snipped off. This worked much better but produced thicker lines.

Next I needed something to fill in the blank squares. I was reaching for the red sugar sprinkles when J spotted black poppy-seeds in the back of the drawer. Perfect! After a debate on how to get the poppy seeds into the squares, I picked up a small funnel, touched it to the cake and filled it with a small amount of seeds. I held my breath and lifted. The seeds spilled out and magically filled the square, perfectly. I like to indulge in moments like this, when a sense of utter competency overcomes me. I awoke from my reverie to J screaming for me to stop because I was filling in the wrong square, but it turned out she was just looking at the pattern upside-down. Whew. A quick and heart-stopping snap back to reality.

After the cake was done, I had a drink and started mingling with the guests. K and B brought the drinks. I’m not sure what they’re even called, but K first had them in Venice and has been serving them ever since she got back. It’s a combination of Prosecco, club soda and Aperol (a bitter, sweet orange aperitif) garnished with a green olive. K brought three bottles of Prosecco, but the drink was so popular that all three were gone in the first half hour. Luckily, J likes Prosecco as much as I do and had stocked an extra case.

Once all the guests arrived we started making the mozzarella. Zach measured out all the enzymes that came in my Leeners mozzarella cheese kit. We processed a gallon of milk at a time, adding the enzymes and watching the milk curdle and separate from the pale green whey.

There’s something strangely fascinating and beautiful about the process. After twenty minutes, the cheese was ready for stretching and I had two (eager) volunteers don yellow plastic dishwashing gloves. The cheese needs to be ridiculously hot to stretch properly and the gloves help out with the heat a bit. It’s really odd and wonderful to see full-grown adults playing like kids and there’s something about cheese-pulling that promotes this.

When the first batch of mozzarella was formed I sliced it into thick slabs and served it with olive oil, Casina Rossa truffle salt, roasted tomatoes, basil, and paper-thin slices of prosciutto. The cheese was amazing—smooth and dense but not rubbery. It tasted like the freshest of milk. I loved eating the cheese while still hot, with steam rising off its surface. I found it to be perfect with just a touch of olive oil and a sprinkle of the truffle salt.

As the day went on and more balls of mozzarella were turned out, we fine-tuned our technique and learned a few things:

  • A stainless steel pot gives the cheese a better consistency than an enamel coated iron one.
  • The regular, cheap whole milk that comes in the plastic gallon jugs made better tasting cheese than the fancy, expensive, organic milk.
  • The first heating of the cheese is essential and needs to be really hot; this gave the cheese a better mouth feel and aided in the stretching.

When people were ready for dinner, I had L & B roll the refrigerated pizza dough onto sheets of parchment paper, per the instructions in the crust recipe. The parchment paper was a lifesaver and made working with the dough a breeze. We slid the parchment-bottomed dough rounds onto plates which guests could then take to the topping table. Once each pizza was topped it was slid, parchment and all, directly onto the hot pizza stone. The pizzas took twelve minutes to bake and then they slid out of the oven and onto wire racks to crisp and cool. I was stunned by how beautiful they all were, like edible works of art.

The pizzas tasted even better than they looked. The crust was perfect and shatteringly crisp. It was so good that you actually wanted to eat the crust, as opposed to hiding it under your napkin and sneaking it into the trash. The parchment paper eliminated the need for flour or cornmeal, so the crusts didn’t get gritty or dusty tasting which is something I normally hate about homemade pizza crusts. The sauce was a perfect and light base which showcased the toppings—especially the fresh mozzarella. It was great having so many different kinds of toppings, as each pizza turned out unique. My favorite was the prosciutto, Gorgonzola and arugula combination that Zach made. Every pizza that had pancetta on it was a close second.

After dinner, I brought in the cake. I handed Zach a tube of red cake decorating gel and the clue sheet. The clues all pertained to him so he had the puzzle finished in about five minutes, so we didn’t have to wait too long to eat the cake. It was incredibly moist and delicious. I loved the crunch of the almonds in the cake and the sweet, luscious cream cheese frosting.

Once the cake was served, the pressure was off and there was nothing left for me to do but entertain. And entertain I did. I caught up with the other guests in the drink department (easy to do because the drinks were so good). To carry on with the kid’s party theme, we played "Who Am I" and I instigated a dancing-for-clues rule. Yes, I ended up break-dancing in the middle of my mom’s living room floor with a scrap of paper reading "Julia Child" taped to my forehead.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2005

The Hostess Project #2: Pizza Party

My second Hostess Project article is now up at Saucy!

It’s a pizza party with homemade mozzarella:
http://saucymag.com/archives/2005/04/pizza_party.php

Thursday, April 14th, 2005

Date Night #6: Sambar and Elemental

After reading Nancy Leson’s review of elemental@GASWORKS, I decided it would make a perfect Date Night restaurant. It sounded tricky to get a table, so I told Zach I’d pick him up right after work and we’d head over early to make cocktail hour and wait for a table. We got there at 5:30pm, but all of the 6 tables were already taken. The woman chef looked up as we walked in and gruffly told us that they were full until 9:30pm. I asked if we could put our name on a list or if we should just come back. She said “No” and then returned to cooking. I looked at Zach wondering why on earth this place got such favorable reviews. The man at the counter quickly explained that “No” meant they didn’t have a waiting list, but “Yes” we should come back. We left upset and hungry.

Once we were in the car, we debated whether or not to come back later for dinner. My vote was no, because I tend to hold a grudge when someone is that rude—especially in the restaurant business. But Zach tends to be more rational and convinced me we should still give it a try. We headed to Sambar for a cocktail and to kill some time.

Sambar always has unusual and fantastic seasonal drinks, so I was excited to try something new. I ordered a mango batida ($9), which was packed with sweet mango flavor—although it was a little hard to suck through the straw. Zach had a tamarind daiquiri ($9), which was tart, tangy and refreshing. It was made with dark rum, tamarind puree, brown sugar, ancho chili and Grand Marnier.

We also ordered a Croque Monsieur ($5) and the Navarin Printanier special ($14.50) because we knew we wouldn’t last until 9pm without a snack. The Croque Monsieur was the perfect example of what a ham and cheese sandwich should be. It was buttery and crisp, but not greasy, with just a thin slice of ham and the perfect amount of gooey, melted cheese. The Navarin Printanier (spring lamb stew) was divine—a rich and silky stew with hunks of tender, tender lamb and spring vegetables. It came in the cutest little cast iron pot, but it only held about a half cup of stew. It was really expensive considering the portion size, but also so amazing and worth it. This is kind of the theme at Sambar. Everything is delicious and of excellent quality but it’s also very pricey, so after our cocktail and snack we decided to head somewhere less expensive for a second cocktail.

We ended up at Jitterbug in Wallingford, where they serve my favorite cocktail: The Pomegranate Splash. It’s made from pomegranate molasses, Ketel One, lemon juice (from 1/2 a lemon) and a splash of simple syrup, then served in a martini glass rimmed with sumac sugar. It’s tart and sweet and delicious. We hung around as long as we could, but by 8pm we were really hungry and decided to head back to elemental.

When we arrived I think the owners were both shocked to see that we came back. There were two seats open in the “lounge” area where we sat and had yet another cocktail while waiting for a table. We asked the owner/bartender/waiter to surprise us with drinks because we were in the mood for something unusual. Zach ended up with a Becherovka and tonic, which was bitter but delicious. It had a strong smell of cinnamon, which I loved. I had a “Jersey Lily“ which was made with Chartreuse, bitters and brandy. It was good, but I have yet to develop a true love for brandy.

A few minutes after we received our drinks we were seated at a table and looking over the menu. You can order from a selection of plates ranging in price from $5 to $16 or for $35 you can order three plates from three different price ranges. Some of the menu titles were a bit cryptic, but we didn’t ask for details because we wanted the surprise.

Our first course was the lamb tongue and salmon mousse. The salmon mousse was light and airy with a great salmon flavor and served with perfectly toasted crostini. I really enjoyed the mousse, but Zach found it to be somewhat tame. The lamb tongue was eyes-rolling-back-into-the-head amazing. It was braised in Madeira and red wine for about 45 minutes until it was tender and succulent. It was served with pistachios and a hunk of buttery brioche.

The second course was a crab cake and mussels with chorizo and pepper. The mussels were plump and sweet with a deliciously hot broth (“pepper” turned out to be jalapeño). I was disappointed in the chorizo because it was more like plain sausage and was lacking the taste and dark red color that comes from ample paprika. The crab “cake” turned out to be a wedge of crab cornbread and it was good. It was slightly sweet and flavored with bits of crab. It was served with a creamy and rich avocado cream that was a perfect match.

Our last course was meatloaf and pig in blankets (guess which one I ordered). The “meatloaf” was made from veal and foie gras. As you can probably assume, it was the best meatloaf that either of us have ever eaten. Or even dreamed about. It had a wonderful, soft texture and was so decadent. My dish paled in comparison, but was still tasty. It was moist, pulled pork tucked into tender crepes and served with a bright red ancho cherry sauce that was slightly sweet and slightly hot.

When we left, it was really, really late and we were stuffed to the point of being uncomfortable, but we were glad we had come back. Or we were just really drunk. I’m not sure which.


Elemental
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Sambar
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Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

I Heart Salumi

I may have an addiction to the Porchetta sandwich at Salumi. I dream about it all the time and crave it at odd moments throughout the day. I had to have another one, so Zach and I ran down to Salumi for lunch.

My porchetta sandwich wasn’t quite as juicy as the last time, but it was still incredible. This time it came with a slice of wonderful, aged provolone. Zach ordered the special, which was a fennel sausage sandwich. It had great fennel flavor and was incredibly tender. It almost had a taste and consistency like foie gras. I also had to get a half pound of the Finocchiona salami to go. It has a light fennel flavor and is embedded with black peppercorns. Very good, but also really hot when you bite into a whole peppercorn.

We sat in the back and heard a buzz that Giada De Laurentiis of Food TV’s Everyday Italian was in the restaurant—on a tour of the facilities. When she came back from the tour, every guy at the table had whiplash from trying to look at her. She is absolutely gorgeous. She also seemed incredibly friendly and had the largest smile I’ve ever seen.

Although this was my first celebrity sighting at Salumi, they are apparently fairly common; the very next day I read about Viv’s sighting of Ruth Reichl AND Ethan Stowell.

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Tuesday, April 12th, 2005

Sushi Kyo

Zach and I finally decided it was high time we saw Sideways. It was playing at The Big Picture, so we wanted to grab some food in Belltown before the movie. For the first time in about two years, I have been craving sushi. I think I just burnt out on it, but now I want to eat it everyday. I looked on Sushi Finder and found out about Sushi Kyo. It had some mixed reviews, but it was close to the theater and trying a new restaurant sounded fun.

Despite the bad ambience ratings, Sushi Kyo was actually pretty cute. Very mellow with a somewhat nondescript decor, but comfortable. And empty. When we got there at 7pm we were the only people in the restaurant. We started with the agedashi tofu and I’ve never seen it so beautifully presented. The sauce was great, but the breading on the tofu was a little strange. Kind of gluey and viscose, but not unpleasantly so.

We then kind of went nuts on the sushi and ended up with a giant platter:

  • Maguro – The tuna tasted slightly fishy to me and the texture was a little dense, but Zach thought it was fantastic.
  • Smoked salmon – Pale, beautiful pink and packed with salmon flavor. Really great.
  • Inari – I haven’t tried a lot of this, so I can’t compare it to anything, but it was sweet, sticky and good.
  • Crab – This was so good that both Zach and I did the food dance in our chairs.
  • Amaebi with roe – I’ve always had the regular, cooked Ebi and after trying Amaebi I was left wondering why I wasted my time with the cooked stuff. The shrimp were sweet and succulent. I loved the extra crunch that the roe provided.
  • Saba with shiso – I’m not a saba or shiso lover, so I let Zach have both of these. He thought they were incredible.
  • Salmon skin roll – Fishy in a good way. The rolls had a great crunch from the bit of carrot that was in the roll.
  • Unagi – Broiled eel is always a favorite of mine and this one was great. The only bad thing was that I had saved it for last and it was cold by the time I ate it. Next time we’re getting two orders—one to start off the meal and one to end it.

Overall, Zach and I were blown away by the quality of the fish. I thought it was a little pricey (almost $80 with tip… but I guess we did end up getting two bottles of good sake…), but Zach felt it was worth every penny. He said it was some of the best sushi he’s eaten in Seattle. We’ll definitely be back soon—they have lots of interesting rolls that I would like to try.

Oh, and the movie was… ah… well acted? I found it to be incredibly depressing.


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