As is often the case, my birthday week had several parts. First came the party.
We happened to be in Seattle earlier this week for a consultation for my new tattoo (I’m so excited!) so we took ourselves out for a belated anniversary dinner. We had gone out with friends on the actual day, so it was fun to do something just the two of us. We decided to try the chef’s choice tasting menu at Staple & Fancy in Ballard.
Our last dinner at The Walrus and the Carpenter was two months ago, but the delight of it is still fresh. One of the most fun evenings out we’ve ever had in Seattle, in fact. The food was perfect, including the absolute best steak tartare I’ve ever eaten in my life, delicate gnocchi in duck brodo, a salad made of paper-thin ribbons of celeriac in a creamy dressing, and a mug of warm frothy cajeta for dessert, but that was only part of the appeal.
What made it so great was the company. Shortly after we sat down at the bar, the gentleman on Jon’s left congratulated us on getting a seat, and forced us to eat all the salty, crispy fried Brussels sprouts left in his bowl. They were incredible. The two men on my right complimented me on my choice of cocktail (the unfortunately named but delicious Sexy Old-Fashioned, spiked with Allspice Dram), and I helped them argue with the (extremely competent) bartender over what to have to drink with their dessert. The couple who came in after them were bar hopping around Ballard to celebrate a birthday, and after convincing me to eat some of their duck lardo (twist my arm…), ordered a Moscow Mule in a copper mug and we all had to try that. The Seattle Freeze was nowhere to be seen – everyone was pleased to be there, eating wonderful food and drinking fabulous cocktails, and we were all friends who had never met before.
Last weekend involved two different trips down to Seattle to have dinner with friends. I only took a few pictures, but both dinners were notable.
The first night we started out with drinks at Canon (which was inexplicably empty despite the Cinco de Mayo madness going on in every other bar in town). I tried one of the aged cocktails, and was surprised to have it served in its own little flask. I felt rather foolish drinking from a bottle, but it was a great cocktail. Two of our party ordered the “shrouded roulette,” where you request your base spirit and the bartender makes up something for you. I hadn’t realized they wouldn’t tell you what was in it even after you were finished. Sneaky.
After drinks we walked down to Quinn’s for dinner, and the four of us shared a bunch of small plates. I’ve never gotten to try this many things at once at Quinn’s, and as usual it did not disappoint. We started with stewed oxtail with a bone marrow custard and a dish of excellent olives (not pictured), then had a green salad with scallion aioli, pig face nuggets, and a really delicious plate of sockeye salmon lox with steelhead roe and grilled bread. I would have been delighted to have a whole plate of the salmon to myself – the roe in particular was addictively good. The pig face nuggets sounded more exciting than they actually were, but they were unctuously porky and the sauce was delicious.
We had to get the wild boar sloppy joe, which was as wonderful as we remembered, and we also tried the cotechino sausage with cassoulet. It was very good, but maybe better suited for a cooler evening. I took a bite of the grilled fresno chile that came with the sloppy joe and nearly had the top of my head come off.
Some of our party had room for dessert. One of us got butterscotch custard, served in its own tiny jar, another ordered orange cake with Sichuan pepper ice cream, and the third got a chocolate peanut butter torte. I finished my beer and called it good.
The next night we found ourselves at Via Tribunali pizza in Fremont with a large party. I’d never been here before and it was excellent.
The pizza is nicely charred and very, very thin. It comes uncut, so you can make the slices any size or shape you want. I got the salsiccia rapini – tomato sauce, Italian sausage and rapini (broccoli rabe) – one of my favorite Italian flavor combos.
Jon got the Via Tribunali house special, which is sort of an Everything pizza with the edges folded in on itself. Just a hint of smoked cheese gave it a distinctive character.
Great place! We’ll definitely be back to try more pizza, some salads and perhaps some tiramisu. Soon.
We recently stopped by Lola for lunch, on our way to see Pina at the Seattle Cinerama (which was amazing, by the way). We’d been to Lola for breakfast before, plus a late night run for doughnuts and grappa, but never for lunch, and I had to try the lamb burger. Because I always have to try the lamb burger.
It was disappointing. Not the lamb patty itself, which was cooked just the way I asked, or the bun, which was very nearly perfect, but the adornments, which I feel are the most important thing. They need to be interesting, but also messy and squishable so everything melds together into the sandwich. In this case there was nothing wrong with the lettuce, the grilled onion, the fabulous pickled vegetables, or the “Lola ketchup” which tasted like red pepper puree – but the vegetables were too firm to squish and didn’t fit on the burger, the ketchup was far better used as a dip for the (amazing) polenta fries, and there was no other sauce or cheese whatsoever. This is a pet peeve of mine about burgers in my home town, which never have any sauce on them and need to be ordered with a side of mayo just to get them properly drippy. Burgers should not be easy to eat neatly. I ended up borrowing a spoonful of tzatziki sauce from my husband’s plate of squid kebabs.
I was envious of the squid kebabs. Perfectly cooked, coated with chermoula sauce and accompanied by Greek salad and pita bread, they were some of the best squid I’ve eaten. I know what I’m getting next time we go there.
It’s always nice to find a new place to drink beer. Not that we have any lack of beer up here in Mount Vernon, but when you’re in need of a place to hang out in the Ballard/Greenwood/Fremont area of Seattle it’s handy to find a good casual beer joint. The Dray on 65th Street is that sort of place – lots of regulars, warm wood walls and fixtures, soccer on the TV at all times, a short sandwich menu, and a really fine selection of beers on draft. The first time we stopped in they had Pliny the Elder, a hard-to-find IPA from Russian River that tends to disappear fast wherever it crops up, despite its slightly high price tag. Last time I was there I had a Green Flash Hop Head Red, an extremely excellent beer for those of us with a taste for the bitter. And they also had the Weed IPA, which I haven’t ever seen outside of the Weed Alehouse. The kegs change pretty briskly, from what I’ve seen, so you never know what you might be able to get there.
Also, there’s a squirrel on the wall of the bathroom. You might want to see it first while sober, so it doesn’t take you by surprise later.
On Tuesday of last week, we had driven to Issaquah to pick up my work from an art show and decided to go home by way of Seattle. We ended up in Capitol Hill exactly at 5 o’clock, just in time to get a seat at the bar at Canon, Jamie Boudreau’s new place (which is in the old Licorous location, btw). And if that weren’t cool enough, our bartender turned out to be none other than the legendary Murray Stenson, previously of Zig Zag Cafe. He said he had only worked half a dozen shifts or so at Canon, and he was still feeling his way around the bar, but it was a true pleasure to finally get to watch him at work.
The cocktail menu had some interesting drinks on it, but none of them seemed quite what we wanted. Murray pierced us each with a penetrating stare and asked a few pertinent questions (clear or brown? bitter or sweet?) After a short interrogation, he determined that what I wanted was a drink made with either bourbon or rye, bitter or herbal in tone, but soft and easy. He whisked away and poked around in the shelves, returning shortly with a cocktail. A version of the Currier (this was the only drink name we were able to get out of Murray all night), it had Buffalo Trace bourbon, Rose’s lime juice, fresh lime and kummel, a caraway-scented liqueur. Really interesting, balanced and complex.
Jon’s first drink was a gorgeous concoction of excellent rum and amaro and I forget what else. It was delicious. I have no memory of his second drink, except that I know it had Campari in it. Dang, I knew I should have been taking notes. I do remember that we had a plate of ricotta gnudi with kale and shiitakes that was truly delightful and paired rather well with our first round.
As we sat admiring the liquor collection, my eye was caught by the tequila selection almost immediately over my head. I asked if I could have something with tequila for my second cocktail, and Murray’s eyes lit up. “Oh yeah!” he said, and dashed off. The drink that appeared before me definitely had tequila and green Chartreuse, but I’m not at all sure what else. Some sort of juice, and a bit of lime zest. It paired perfectly with the Barron Point oysters we were eating.
Needless to say, Canon is an amazing bar (dare I say, even on a night when Murray isn’t working). We are SO going back as soon as possible.
Geez. I had meant to run this post off several days ago, but first I got busy and then the phone company helpfully cut off my DSL connection at home. Thank goodness for public wifi…
Anyway. Last week we were in Seattle again and needed an early and not too involved dinner, so we decided to try out Tom Douglas’ new place in South Lake Union (well, one of them), the Brave Horse Tavern. We showed up a bit before six and the place was already packed with people who all seemed to have gotten off of work at the same time; many were still wearing their official lanyards. The music was incredibly loud, the crowd was louder, and a rowdy shuffleboard game was in progress in the corner. Long tables filled most of the space. We pushed and shoved our way into an empty spot with some difficulty and attempted to have a conversation over the uproar.
It was Fresh Hop week at the Brave Horse, and I ordered a Killer Green Fresh Hop Ale from Double Mountain. It was extraordinary – somewhat high in alcohol, although not as ferocious as some, but with a huge depth of flavor and a serious hop hit. Jon settled for his favorite Total Domination from Ninkasi. We really wanted to try some of the pub snacks (they have fried cheese curds, people!) but didn’t have time, so I settled for a basic pub burger and fries, and Jon got a steak salad.
I was impressed. The burger was very different from the Palace Kitchen version. It channelled a summer grill party, with iceberg lettuce, plenty of mayo and a barbecue-like sauce, and a soft and sweet bun that never quite disintegrated but got very close. I chose cheddar and grilled onions as my toppings, which were excellent with the sauce. Next time I might go for avocado. Or maybe the fried egg.
Then there were the fries, which were, let’s face it, perfect. Steaming hot, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and heavily studded with salt. I hate fries that aren’t salty enough – these were incredible.
The steak salad was a success, too – a large piece of perfectly cooked steak, very tender, with a pile of mixed greens, stinky blue cheese, really ripe tomatoes, paper-thin radish slices, a chunk of grilled bread, and a dressing made with A-1 sauce. Brilliant.
We are totally coming back here. I need to try those fried cheese curds. And another burger.
When you’ve just spent a substantial amount of time quietly freaking out about something, getting unexpected good news may well send you straight to the nearest bar to try to process the emotional reversal. Last week, after spending the afternoon at Virginia Mason Hospital and being reassured by a reliable source that my husband would most likely NOT need a horrible sounding medical procedure, we headed right for Barrio and began consuming celebratory cocktails, including one made of extremely ferocious ghost-chile-infused tequila. Plus a lot of their most excellent guacamole.
Then we went to Volunteer Park and sat together, enjoying the view.
A friend and I were in Seattle for a lecture last week and wanted something interesting and affordable to eat ahead of time, so I did a little research and came up with a newish place called Satay in Wallingford. I adore Malaysian food, and have had very little of it since Mandalay Cafe unfortunately closed and was replaced by Tilth, just down the block on 45th. Satay isn’t nearly as fancy as Mandalay, but I appreciate that they’re keeping it simple: a few kinds of satay, two noodle dishes, curry, roti, and curry puffs. I’ve been twice so far, and I’ve already tried over half of the menu.
On my first visit, my friend and I split an order of the chicken satay and a bowl of laksa, plus one roti with curry sauce. The chicken was fantastic, with great grill taste and plenty of lemongrass. The accompanying slaw was flavored with herbs and coconut, and there was a large pile of rice to help sop up any leftovers. Despite all that, the real star was the roasted peanut sauce, which was the best and most interesting peanut sauce I have ever eaten in my life. I wanted to spoon it on everything.
The laksa was very good as well: a deep bowl of egg noodles in rich broth, it was nicely decorated with fried tofu (a favorite of mine) and large prawns, with some bean sprouts and cilantro for garnish. I would have liked more vegetables, but the flavors were excellent. The roti was like a flat croissant, dripping with fat and incredibly flaky – I loved it but I’m going to make sure I’m good and starving before I order another one. The dipping sauce it came with was, oddly, a ladleful of vegetable curry, complete with potato chunks. Strange but tasty.
Yesterday my husband and I went again, as we wanted a quick lunch before a medical appointment, and we tried both the beef and tofu satays, plus a curry puff, all of which lived up to my hype from the first visit. The beef was flavorful with tamarind, but sadly did not come with peanut sauce. Fortunately the tofu did. I thought the tofu was really interesting, it was deeply marinated with hard-to-identify seasonings and was nicely crispy around the edges. The curry puff was good, too – basically a deep-fried samosa stuffed with vegetable curry, dangerously thermal.
The place is run by extremely nice young men, and the general ambience is comfortable and casual. It’s quick and cheap, and they have Tiger Beer in the fridge, for which I have a strange fondness. I look forward to trying the rest of the menu very soon.