Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Melt Cafe

 I am always after a good sandwich (something that I believe is kind of lacking in Seattle) so I decided to try Melt Cafe. It doesn't have a great look from the outside and is honestly a  little run down on the inside too. Parking is on a fairly busy road and the restaurant sits in an industrial part of Magnolia/Interbay. The inside is very low key with linoleum floors and basic tables but everything you need in a sandwich shop. Don't let the outside dissuade you from venturing in, still waters run deep, don't judge a book by its cover and all that, right?

After walking in, I sat my kids down at a table and started to read the board that is above the counter listing the menu. There are a lot of choices including all sorts of sandwiches to suite almost any taste along with soup,  mac'n cheese, salads and some dessert options. They had a fridge with cold drinks available. A lot of the items on the menu and especially on the specials board have a spin or interest that indicate a sandwich lover put the menu together. A roast beef and cheddar dip that they added caramelized onions to. A chicken melt that is done with brie (!), fresh onions and caramelized onions. This place is also unique because they have serious meat sandwiches along with some really good options for vegetarians including a grilled cheese, the mac'n cheese, a mushroom melt and a full blown vegie sandwich that is just as you  would expect it to be with hummus and vegies. In my experience really good sandwich places that focus on meat essentially have no options for vegetarians or one sad, shouldn't even be there option.

The proprietress (I believe) eyed my children and immediately offered to prepare a kids sandwich plate while simultaneously pointing to a container with crayons, coloring books and other paraphernalia to entertain the kidelts. I ordered a chicken club and took her up on the two kids plates. She brought out two lovely little plates with small ham and cheese sandwiches, half of a banana and a chocolate chip cookie to top it off. It was a perfect amount of food for a small human and the cookie and banana were a nice touch. Soon after she dropped off the chicken club. It was piled high with delicious ingredients served on toasted bread with ultra fresh lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, chicken and mayo. The sandwich was moist without a dry bite to be found. The ingredients all went together just as they should. There was a pile of chips served with it and a slightly odd pickle which was a slice of cucumber in a small plastic container soaking in vinegar. It had morphed into a pickle but it was kind of an odd presentation for such a small piece of cucumber. I would like to go back and try almost every other sandwich on the menu. I would recommend you give it a go, especially if you are looking for the elusive sandwich in Seattle.

Melt Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pub Run

I was running on low expectations when we walked into Latona Pub; we had already left two places because they didn't have what we wanted. The first place was Galway Arms, a self-described pub. I think the term dive bar provides a more accurate image. It had a bunch of great reviews on yelp saying it was a great place to drink with decent pub food. We parked right in front and as we headed in the front door a guy smoking a cigarette turned and walked in ahead of us. Once inside it became apparent that he was watching the place. It was totally empty except for him and us. He said the bartender was gone and would be back in 5 minutes. Looking through to the kitchen which looked dark and empty, I asked if they had food. Pointing at a chalk board he said with as much discouragement as he could muster that they had the items on the board which included french fries as one of the "options". It was obvious he wanted us to leave and that there wouldn't be any food or drink forth coming. I hate to be picky but no food and no drink along with the dismal depressing environment doesn't make me want to rush back.

After that we went to Die Bierstube. We go to Freiereband sometimes for their great beer despite their not so good food but hadn't been to this sister restaurant yet. This place had a nice atmosphere and there appeared to be food and drink. We sat down and stared at the menu for a while. Nobody came up to us and after debating the lack of a burger on a menu (sorry but a pub should always have a burger on the menu) we headed for the door. This was made easy because for the 5+ minutes we sat there nobody came to take our order so we didn't feel bad about leaving water glasses on the table since none had been delivered.

Our third try was Latona pub near Greenlake. We walked into a very crowded little space and were seated immediately by a hostess. Imagine that! She delivered menus and my husband ordered me a great creamy stout. After delivering our beer it took them slightly longer than it should have to come get our food orders (we were starving at this point though so that might have been part of the problem). I ordered a chicken quesadilla off the appetizer menu and my husband ordered their burger. The quesadilla was not bad, standard pub food. It was not spectacular but had good chicken, large plump pinto beans in it and was served with salsa and sour cream. My husbands burger was phenomenally delicious, with super high quality beef shining through served on top of a great ciabatta type bun. My only gripe is that pubs should serve fries and that wasn't an option with this burger. It came with a salad of mixed greens with mediocre salad dressing that tasted like not too much thought had gone into it. The atmosphere was lovely with pretty lighting, small tables for two and a couple of booths all of which were full of happy looking people. The bar was fully stocked and they had a great list of beers written on a board. There were TVs playing sports that were present but not overwhelming the place.

Latona Pub on Urbanspoon
Galway Arms Irish Pub & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 8, 2010

Repast




















Repast is a small coffee shop in Mount Baker. I am frequently there eating quiche and drinking tea or coffee. My two year old daughter has consumed many glasses of milk at Repast and swears by the chocolate croissants and blueberry muffins. They serve lunch, pre-made sandwiches (or made to order), made to order salads, quiche and an assortment of pastries along with a variety of juices, coffee and tea. All the pastries are made on site, fresh daily. The tea is Harney & Sons. Your food will be served to you on real dishes and they will bring things to your table after you order at the counter.

They usually have two types of quiche. Sometimes it has a custard texture and sometimes the eggs are more prominent. Today I had a tomato and zucchini quiche which had a creamy custard consistency. The crust was flaky, thin and perfect. There are usually several different sandwiches available, ham, dill chicken, turkey and classic plain baguette sandwiches as well.

There is a small bin of toys that there really isn't room for but they have it there anyway which I think is sweet. There are small potted plants in old tea tins on the windowsills. Outdoor seating on the sidewalk in front is available if the weather permits. It is a wonderful place to stop and take a break from whatever it is you need a break from.

Repast on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Feieraband

Feieraband is a German pub in south lake union. They have what they describe as traditional german food and what I described as a nice selection of on tap German beers. There are big wooden tables that you will probably share with other people but they are set up in a way that you can still sit and have your own meal and conversation. It is a loose pub environment with sometimes dismissive, sometimes super friendly wait staff. There are usually only two guys working in the kitchen but the food comes out fast. There are a couple of discreet televisions playing sports on the wall. They serve hard alcohol along with their beer but it is definitely not their specialty. If you look around the room you will see every table covered with ludicrously large glasses of beer. The beer comes in three sizes, .3 L, .5 L and 1 L sizes all served in authentic glassware.

Our first lunch at Feieraband consisted of an attentive waiter, two of the great eighteen on tap german beers, a sub-par beet salad and a sub-par chicken sandwich. Our second lunch was an attentive waiter, three great on tap german beers, some 'so weird they were interesting' deep fried pickles and a sub-par salmon caesar that was a special. Our dinner was a waitress that took our orders but turned away before we finished talking (repeatedly), two great on tap german beers, some great french fries and a pounded pork cutlet sandwich with coleslaw that was odd.

They serve a lot of their dishes with these strongly flavored mustard and ketchup mixes that are sometimes dumped over the food and sometimes not. There might be a method to this but I didn't see it. I saw an order of fries with ketchup spilled haphazardly on top and my order with ketchup on the side, in a  little dish. Their beet salad was just kind of flavorless. It doesn't seem super hard to make a good beet salad but this one managed to be both dry and bland minus the few delicious bites of beets, cheese and nuts (most of it was undressed lettuce leaves). The chicken sandwich was not bad but just extremely plain. The deep fried pickles were breaded and deep fried, served with their ever present mustards. I liked the pickles but I love pickles in general and I also love mustard so I state this with trepidation on the risk that it is taken as a general recommendation.

The food just isn't that good here but I still like this place. I like the beer, the low-key environment. I like the fried pickles because they are weird. They have a good pretzel and great french fries. Go for the beer and eat some food if you need to.

Feierabend on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 1, 2010

Recipe Reviews: boeuf a la nicoise: braised beef stew with red wine, tomato, olives and buttered noodles from Sunday Suppers at Lucques


It was my mother-in-law's birthday so I made boeuf a la nicoise: braised beef stew with red wine, tomato, olives and buttered noodles from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, written by Suzanne Goin. I love this cookbook. It is constructed as complete suppers that will feed six people family style. I have cooked entire suppers from the book as well as individual dishes. The cookbook has some inaccurate and incomplete instructions but the final product (after tussling with the inaccuracies) are phenomenal. The details in the cookbook are also very granular which I realize is in direct contrast with my statement about the inaccuracies but that's the way it is. For example, "add the crushed tomatoes and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly to coat the vegetables." A lot of authors would just say to add the crushed tomatoes and stir for 2 minutes without explaining why. Or they might say add the crushed tomatoes and stir for a few minutes. The cookbook is also broken down into seasonal meals which makes finding fresh ingredients and serving 'seasonally appropriate fare' (who wants beef stew in July?) much easier. I give this recipe two positively beaming thumbs up.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pho Viet Anh

Pho Viet Anh is a small, not quite hole in the wall pho restaurant with ultra-attentive service and a super clean kitchen. They offer a choice of broth and a choice of meat and you can even go vegetarian if you want. They also have other options on the menu like various spring rolls (fresh or fried), fried rice and noodle bowls.

On our first visit I chose a large bowl of pho with spicy broth and meatballs. I love spicy food but this broth was not what I would describe as spicy though it did have more complexity to it than standard pho broth does. If you feel like pho but want a little more flavor and kick to your soup then this might be the fix. For our second visit I had a large bowl of pho with regular broth and brisket. The brisket had some serious grisle to it which is a little awkward to manage in a bowl of soup without a knife and fork. It would be a pretty easy thing to correct by just cleaning up the slices. However, I think this is an American preference to have all reminders that you are eating an animal removed from the meat being consumed. Menudo anyone? The broth is served with lots of herbs and a huge pile of rice noodles in it and the portions are very generous.

I am never very excited about meat that comes to me in pho. When I get excited about meat it is an over-the-top delicious steak or amazing ground meat mixture in a bolognese sauce. Cheapish meat served in asian restaurants has never tantalized me. However my husband, who is what I would describe as a pho ninja, loved this pho and specifically  the meat. He always orders the tai and thought it was better quality than the usual fare.

We also ordered some fried vegie rolls which I loved. They were crispy though not as hot as I would have liked them to be, served with a delicious dipping sauce and super crispy cabbage leaves that looked decorative but actually tasted perfect with the rolls. They had vegies and noodles inside and were golden brown on the outside. They came out immediately which is good and bad. They were obviously pre-prepared instead of being made on the spot which explains why they weren't super hot.

The ultra-attentive service, super clean kitchen and great pho make this one of the best pho restaurants in Seattle. Some pho restaurants have good pho but are lacking in other ways so Pho Viet Anh grabs the spotlight for me because of this winning combination.

Pho Viet Anh on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Emmer and Rye: Take Two

I was at Emmer and Rye again with a party of ten instead of two this time. We were the annoying group who couldn't make up their mind on what to eat or drink. The wait staff was pretty tolerant. They didn't rush us and kept returning to the table to check-in and see if we were ready to actually start spending money. It was loud because there were ten chattering women so the waitress had a little trouble being heard. She made up for this by first speaking to one half of the table and then moving to the other side to repeat what she had just said. With a more commanding voice or presence, she could have made this a one time stop but it was a polite way to deal with her somewhat quiet voice.

My first course consisted of a frisee, artichoke salad with bacon dressing. Bacon and artichokes are a good combination. The salad came together nicely with visible chunks of (non-fatty) bacon on top, crisp frisee that had been torn into bite sized portions and artichoke chunks. The salad was well thought out and nicely presented. It seemed like a brain child. It came with a wedge of super soft cheese that was a good compliment to everything else in the salad. It was one of those dishes that taste best if you take a little bit of each item in the mix and form a manageable bite with it. Those bites were delicious.

My main course was hanger steak with squash, brussels sprouts and cheese. This was a beautifully presented dish. The squash was cut into small flower shaped rounds (the natural shape of the squash). The emptied out center was filled with delicious, crunchy brussels sprouts and cheese. This is my favorite way to eat brussels sprouts when they taste like they have been roasted in the oven, salty and slightly crunchy. These had been cut into small pieces which allowed them to sit in the center of the squash and to maximize the crunchy surface area. The slightly sweet squash, crispy brussels sprouts and cheese made a great combination. The hanger steak was perfectly cooked and soft and tender. Its only downside was that it was cold which I assume was just a kitchen timing issue. With a party of ten, it seems like an easy issue to run into. They served all ten of us at once and it is hard to coordinate that many different dishes to come out at the same time.

Some of my friends complained of small portions, mainly the vegetarian options. They did look a little small and I think in general for vegetarian dishes, there needs to be a little more food.

Our red wine was a Lumus Pinto Noir which I didn't love but that was because it wasn't really the right wine for my meal. The other diners seemed happy with it as we went through two bottles of it and two bottles of white though I didn't imbibe in the white.

The restaurant seemed warmer than the last time I visited. I don't know if that is because I was surrounded by nine other people and was sitting in the center room in the restaurant. It was a Friday night and busy but the service was attentive and prompt and everyone seemed to love their food despite the complaints of size.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

High Tea at the Capital Hotel London

Rick Steves recommends tea at the Capital London. I started perusing the food section of his guidebook before our trip to London and immediately realized his suggestions were worthless. He doesn't really seem to care about food but he liked tea at the Capital which provides a small amount of food for a not so small cost. Since he is pretty much a self-described anti-foodie and categorizes eating in terms of 'an easy way to save money', I was surprised to see this recommendation and curious enough to want to go.

The Capital London is in the Knightsbridge neighborhood near Hyde Park. The front of the hotel has a quiet, very non-flashy exterior. The staff seated us as soon as we entered the hotel and we ordered the Champagne afternoon tea from an ultra-attentive waiter. Service was perfect even though we were late for our reservation which was already toward the end of when they serve tea. The room we sat in was tiny, only six tables but with a window allowing you to take in what little was going on in the the quiet street in front of the hotel. The room felt comforting. The walls are covered with pretty wallpaper, a bookshelf lines one wall, the tablecloths are white and newspapers (and books) available for reading if you feel like it.

The ice cold jacquart champagne was served with two different sandwiches. After that came the three tiers of sweets and scones along with our lemongrass tea. The desserts were beautiful. There were small fruit tarts, tiny little sundae shaped dishes filled with mousse, an apricot preserve cake and delicious scones served with jam and clotted cream. There was also a pound cake (seen on the top of the tray in the picture). I was positive the sweets  wouldn't taste as good as they looked. It didn't seem possible, but they were scrumptious! Each one was delicious, fresh and unique. The tea was also fantastic, aromatic and flavorful. It was enough food to pass for dinner before we headed off to the BBC Proms. If you are wanting a splurge tea experience, I think this is one to try.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rara

After a day at Kew Gardens, my husband and I wandered over to Rara for dinner. I wish this restaurant was in Seattle. Indian and Nepalese restaurants in London seem to be more formal than what I am used to on the west coast of the states. Pretty place settings laid out, the restaurant was small, immaculate and lovely. The restrooms had more than one variety of hand lotions available to use after washing one's hands in their spotless restroom. It is a tiny little place with a  handful of tables meant for 2 or 4 upstairs and more tables down below that could house slightly bigger parties. Downstairs would make me a bit claustrophobic but I could probably suck it up for the food at Rara.

This restaurant is divine and the food is extraordinary. We seriously considered making the trip back out from where were staying near Paddington in central London so we could try other things on the menu. We ordered chicken shashlik, chicken korma (too much chicken, I'm not sure what we were thinking), garlic naan and rice. Before we ordered they dropped off a beautiful fresh plate of crunchy carrots and cucumber. The food showed up quickly and we dived in. The chicken shashlik was chicken that had been marinated in herbs and spices and then grilled with tomatoes, onions and capsicum. It was full of flavor and a beautiful color that came from all the spices that were used in making the dish. The vegetables included in the dish were just as flavorful as the meat having fully absorbed the flavors of the dish. They were in no way secondary to the meat which sometimes seems to happen with these sort of dishes. The chicken korma was smooth, light and too mild for us. This isn't because the dish was ill-prepared, it was perfectly prepared and just as the menu described. The sauce seemed kind of ethereal, so soft in color, flavor and texture that it was slightly unreal. I think ordering just this dish by itself with some rice might make for a nice eating experience if you were in the mood. However, standing next to the chicken shashlik, it got lost in the background. We still managed to finish the plate though. The naan was perfect garlic naan and the rice that soft fluffy basmati rice that you could eat plain. If it was a train ride away instead of a 9 hour flight we would be at this restaurant until we had worked our way through their entire menu.

Rara on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Smith

Smith is a regular haunt for my husband and I, we've been there more times than I can remember. It seems to be the place we end up when one or both of us has had a hard day. It is a pub, so the food is casual but the service, drinks and food are all routinely great. We have never had a bad experience at Smiths.

You seat yourself and find the menus on the table. The waiter shows up to ask you for drinks and is back to ask you about food when they return with your drinks. This happens quickly. The waiters don't write anything down but they have never gotten our order wrong. They pay attention and ask you questions if they need to, to make sure you get your food the way you like it.

They have a drink specials board above the end of the bar. And it is a real bar, with real bartenders who know what they are doing. The food choices are varied with a lot of light, fresh options along with heavy sandwiches and usually two or three specials. There are usually three or four different salads available, including one on the specials board. The salads are always fantastic. The lettuce is always perfect, super crisp, ultra-fresh with a tangy vinaigrette applied. The quality of lettuce that a restaurant serves seems like a really good starting point for determining the quality of the kitchen overall. When a salad comes out with lettuce that even hints at having some brown or wilted leaves it indicates a failure somewhere down the line. Did the chef not notice? Is their storage faulty? Is it just old? Are they not buying what is in season? So the super fresh lettuce that always dances out of the kitchen at Smith makes me happy.

But...the specials are kind of hit or miss. They are never terrible but we have had a few that we thought were so phenomenal that they should be added to their regular menu and a few others that didn't hit the mark. They appear to be based on what is in season, what is in the kitchen and what is at the chefs whim. And they seem to try stuff out with their specials. Last time we visited we had a non-traditional 'Bruschetta' involving brisket and cornichons. It really didn't work. It was an interesting idea but I'm not sure why it wasn't identified as a fail in the kitchen. We had another non-traditional Bruschetta there that was fantastic. On our last visit, disappointingly, there were no drinks on the specials board. It is the first time I have ever seen that and I hope it doesn't happen again.

For their regular items, the cheeseburger is amazing. They serve it on a big ciabatta bun and cook it to your specification. The french fries served with it are thin, salty and delicious. Their mac and cheese has a seasonal flair to it, currently using mild chilies that make it creamy and tangy and with just the right amount of bite. Their house salad is amazing with a really sharp vinaigrette that works well with the butter lettuce. They serve a crab salad which is light but flavorful. They serve a ham and gruyere grilled sandwich that my husband loves. We haven't had anything on their regular menu that we didn't love.

The decorations in Smith are not your typical Seattle decor. There are animal heads on the wall and weird pictures of people. But after you've been their twice you will stop noticing it and just be absorbed into the comfortable feel of the wood and the delicious taste of the food and drink.

Smith on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Rise of the Standing Mixer

I am a nouveau baker. I cooked savories for years and finally got the baking itch much to my husbands delight. But for some reason, I frequently find myself baking in places other than my home. At home I have a standing mixer, a hand mixer, a blender, a food processor and almost every baking dish known to baking kind. I love kitchen stuff so I ask for it for presents and purchase a lot of it myself. But I have baked in a Paris apartment when we were there on holiday one Christmas. I have baked in various friends houses when we were traveling. I have baked in vacation houses "on the lake". I have baked in Florida visiting my brother.

Some of these places don't have standing mixers. They don't have sifters. They are missing pie pans. I sit and stare at the recipes for a while trying to decide how to overcome whatever obstacle I have been given. Then I always reach the conclusion that baking has been around a lot longer than standing mixers so why do I need one? It saves the wrist a little bit but outside of that I should be able to work around this issue. There are a lot of subtleties in baking. Some things need to be well mixed and some need to be "only stirred until mixed" or "only stirred until the dough holds together". Warning often decorate the instructions, "do not over-mix or the crust will be tough". You really don't see a lot of warnings in savory recipes.  I love and hate these details but I am always curious if the hand mixer or standing mixer actually does a better job than the me mixer? Do these things make it easier to cook, make it more convenient or do they actually make it better? I am of the opinion that they just make it easier. I have embraced my standing mixer and my food processor but sometimes I don't use them just to have the full baking experience sans electric noise.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Nona Rosa's

If I had an Italian grandmother who liked to stuff me full of comfort food, I imagine it would be a close approximation of what is served at Nona Rosa's. Nona Rosa's is listed under the fine dining section on urbanspoon. The restaurant website describes their restaurant as a delicatessen-inspired Sicilian restaurant. The website description is more accurate. It is a casual restaurant with fair prices and great food. They strive to make many of the items that they serve in house, including the pasta, sauces and even some of the cheese.

Their Caesar salad was served on a small salad plate completely engulfed by an enormous mound of super crisp romaine lettuce cut into perfect one by two inch pieces. I stared at those lettuce leaves for a while trying to decide if it bothered me that they had been prepared so mechanically. Where is the love? The salad was lightly coated with a classic Caesar dressing and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and slightly disappointing croutons. The dressing was fairly mild for Caesar, there was no strong taste of anchovies or garlic but it was still lightly flavorful. They served it with a big juicy wedge of lemon that squeezed all over the salad managed to fix the mild dressing. The cheese on the salad was delicious while the croutons looked and kind of tasted like they had been purchased at a grocery store. They were small and hard and relatively flavorless. Despite the failed croutons, the salad still came together nicely.

For our mains we ordered their Carbonara and a nightly special ravioli dish. The portions are very, very generous at Nona Rosa's. Just like what I would expect if I was visiting my pretend grandmother. Even with the substantial appetite that my husband and I have, we could not finish either dish. The carbonara was a beautiful looking dish loaded with bright green peas and light pink pancetta. The spaghetti was perfectly cooked and after mixing it up to evenly distribute the sauce that had sank to the bottom of the dish, I dove in. The dish was pretty fantastic. I am no Carbonara expert but the sauce was rich without being heavy. The pancetta added just the right punch and the peas balanced it. The ravioli dish that my husband ordered was divine. It was a special unfortunately, so it is not available every night. The waitress said they always tell people it is not available all the time because people come back in asking why it isn't available and then get annoyed. The raviolis were stuffed with hamburger and spices. They were delicious and the pasta that encased them was on the thicker side and perfectly cooked. The raviolis were served drenched in a thick dark red tomato sauce which was the most amazing tomato sauce I have ever eaten. It was sweet and spicy at the same time. It tasted like it had a bunch of secret ingredients lurking in it but I could have eaten a bowl of it with nothing else, using a spoon. The carafe of house white wine (Stella, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo) that we ordered was exactly as it had been described, crisp and refreshing.

The service at Nona Rosa's was slightly irregular. We sat down and were treated to a great description of the specials and explanation of the menu. Then the waitress disappeared for kind of a while. A little too long, where you start to fidget and wonder if they forgot you were there. After she showed back up and took our order, the food came out at just the right pace. First the wine, then the salad (almost immediately after the wine was dropped off), followed by our main courses. Then the waitress came over and asked if we were done. We said we were so she took our plates (expected) and brought us our check (unexpected). I was surprised she didn't ask if we wanted dessert. I think she thought we were too full, which might have been right but when we decided to just pay the check and leave one of the other patrons walked up to us and told us we should stay longer, drink more wine and have dessert. If only our waitress had agreed.

This is really an excellent restaurant overall and one where I will ignore bad service in order to obtain the most excellent food. If it was in my immediate vicinity, they would come to know our family because we would frequent it. I also love it because it is family owned, supporting local farmers and it just has a nice feel to it. It's kid friendly (crayons on the table) but still somehow appropriate for an adult's only meal if that's what your doing.

Nona Rosa's Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Airport Diner


The Airport Diner is between Belfair and Bremerton on the Kitsap Peninsula right off of Highway 3. The Diner is in the airport but is accessible to the general public. You can sit and eat, looking out at small airplanes taking off and landing. A good handful of them fly in just to eat. Then they fly away. The first time I ate at the diner was four years ago. When my mom and step-dad suggested it to my husband and I, we were skeptical. Why would you drive somewhere to eat at a place that had the word 'airport' and 'diner' in the title? It brings to mind those wonderful unidentifiable plates of food they used to serve on flights.

We were back over on the Peninsula to stay for a week on a lake, spending time in the canoe and staring at the trees. Twice during that week we trekked over to the Airport Diner. For our first visit I ordered a shrimp salad. I felt like that was pretty risky but the lettuce was crisp and fresh (and it wasn't iceberg though I like iceberg!). It was a great salad, not fancy but straightforward and fresh. My mom ordered fish tacos which were served on three corn tortillas with salsa fresca and french fries. The tacos were flavorful with a small spicy bite to them. The salsa was fresh and tasty. My husband, son and step-dad chose an order of halibut fish and chips to share. They were served with a generous pile of french fries and an order of coleslaw. The coleslaw showed up with  thinly sliced crunchy cabbage and small slivers of bright orange carrots mixed in. The dressing was tangy and sweet and did not overwhelm the slaw. The fish was flaky and moist surrounded by flavorful golden batter. The french fries were thick but not soggy. They were crisp and golden, which for large cut fries is difficult.

For our second visit the boys stuck with the fish and chips and it seemed consistent with the first batch. My mom ordered the gumbo and I picked a chicken avocado bacon sandwich. The gumbo was served in an odd way on a big open low bowl (almost a plate). Being a stew like substance this wasn't the best presentation. It was a sea of dull red. If they'd thrown it in a deeper bowl with a few sprigs of something fresh on top it would have made a world of difference (only in terms of presentation).  The gumbo was spicy and loaded with seafood served on top of a bed of rice. My mom seemed pretty happy with it. My chicken sandwich was okay. The chicken breast was grilled but still moist. It was served with fresh avocado on a classic sesame bun and it did the trick.

When you walk in the restaurant you are told to find a seat. They show up with laminated menus and if the food takes a little longer (i.e. more than 10 minutes) and you have kids, the waitress shows up with crayons and paper to color on. We ordered ice tea with lemon in it (they ask you if you want lemon) which was served in these giant plastic glasses. It was fresh and tasty and they ask you if you want a refill when your glass is 2/3rds empty. They also stop by to ask you if you are happy with your food after dropping it off. The service was pretty good both times we were there and the food wavered between good and pretty good, especially for a greasy spoon type restaurant.  The ambiance is diner ambiance, nothing fancy at all.

But did I mention you get to watch airplanes and helicopters take off and land while you eat? Not your typical restaurant view. If you are out in that area I would recommend you stop by.


Airport Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 21, 2010

Oddfellows Cafe & Bar


We stopped in for dinner at Oddfellows on a Sunday evening around six. We were seated immediately, handed our menus and asked if we knew what we wanted to drink before I had opened the menu. It didn't feel like she was rushing us. It was the inquiry that waiters will make on the off chance that you are already set on a glass of red wine or a screwdriver and you want it right away. Need another minute? Absolutely no problem and the waitress disappears only to reappear at exactly the right moment when she could tell we had reached a decision.

Oddfellows has a  big dining room with wood everywhere, friendly looking descriptions of the espresso menu on the walls, bottles lining shelves, glassware stacked high, wait staff roaming between the tables. The tables are wood, the chairs are metal and there are communal tables as well as small tables for 2 (or 4). They use paper napkins but replace your flatware for new courses. The tables are snug and the people next you will discreetly (or not) peer at your food when it is set down. We peered at theirs too and seeing their food made me want to return for a second meal. It is not a place for a private conversation but it is still romantic in a casual way. When we got home later that evening we asked "the wonderful woman we trust with our children when we are away" if she'd been there and she said she had. She described it as hit or miss. I sensed annoyance from her and am guessing she has had more than one not so good experience there. We had a hit but I know how restaurants can be hit or miss. Are you there on a busy night? Are you there for lunch or dinner? Did you get a good waitress/waiter? Did you get a cranky chef? Are the other diners being too demanding?

I ordered a glass of Bordeaux and my husband ordered a screwdriver. His screwdriver tasted like it was made with fresh orange juice and with just the right amount of vodka. I ate the orange slice they left on top of his glass and it was sweet and juicy. The glass of wine I had was disappointing but it was the only truly disappointing thing about the meal. I'm not sure if it was just my preference because my husband liked the wine but it didn't do anything for me. It seemed a little flat and there wasn't a lot of aroma when I stuck my nose in the glass. My next glass was better after I asked for a recommendation from our waitress though it wasn't phenomenal either.

We started our meal by sharing the baby green salad with spring onions. The dressing tasted like it had been made with Dijon, red wine vinegar, olive oil, with the spring onions mixed in early so they would pickle a little bit. It was also sprinkled with diced green onions and it was perfectly dressed, the baby lettuce leaves were coated with dressing without being drenched. On the side they served a toasted baguette slice slathered with fresh ricotta with a mild lemon flavor. The ricotta was light and airy. By itself or with a more mellow salad dressing it might have been perfect but I think it was a little dull next to the strong salad dressing. Overall this was a good dish, beautifully presented and very tasty.

The free range roasted chicken that my husband ordered came with a side of peas and pancetta. The peas were big and bright green and they looked (and tasted) like they had just been shucked. The pancetta was thick like bacon with quite a bit of fat still attached. I liked the side but if you don't like too much fat attached to your meat it might turn you off (my husband wasn't too keen on it). The chicken had been roasted to perfection with super crispy light skin and super moist meat. He sliced in and we could tell it was perfectly cooked just by appearance.

My main was polenta and meatballs made with currants and pine nuts. I don't think this dish is for everyone but I loved it. It was served in a low flat bowl that had been filled with polenta. Three meatballs were placed in the center of the bowl along with some flavorful tomato sauce. The polenta was creamy while still holding some texture. It was sweet but not overly so and it went perfectly with the meatballs. The meatballs were soft and moist  and the tomato sauce added just the right amount of acidity to balance the dish.

For dessert we had a tart made with a mixture of blueberries and raspberries along with a slice of  chocolate cake. The desserts were good but not as good as the rest of the meal. The fruit in the tart was just sweet enough and the flaky crust was well made. The chocolate cake was moist and my husband loved the frosting but the cake itself lacked character. I guess I think chocolate cake should make some sort of statement (strong chocolate, espresso hints, mellow and sweet) but this one didn't.

On another visit we had lunch and ordered an egg salad sandwich (a special), a cheese plate (shown above) and a bowl of chicken coconut soup (a daily soup). The service was the same as our previous visit, friendly and prompt. At lunch you order at the counter and while the line was long, it went quickly but not so quickly as to give anyone poor service. The food was delivered promptly. The beautiful cheese plate had great cheese, delicious honey drenched pistachios and some apricots and cherries. The chicken coconut soup was tasty but could have used a little more 'meat' to it as it was mostly broth. The egg salad sandwich was served with a small mixed greens salad but was inedible as a sandwich because of the way it was constructed (not because of the way it tasted). It was more of a scoop (or three) of egg salad on top of some bread that you would eat with a fork. Despite the small complaints it was another lovely meal at Oddfellows.

Go! Eat! Enjoy!

Oddfellows Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tacos Gringos and My Pipe Dream

We were in Santa Cruz, California this last weekend and we ate a lot of Mexican food. Our favorite place is this tiny hole in the wall called Tacos Morenos. At lunch there is a line out the door every day they are open which is all year except for the month of December. The tables are filled and emptied out as people order their food, consume it in record speed and free up a table for the next customer. Every time we eat there we are amazed at how fantastic the food is. They make the tortillas from scratch and they are flaky, soft and delicious. The pinto beans are soft and full of flavor, not just cooked through. It would be easy to eat a bowl of them, all by themselves and be completely satisfied. I am just as happy with a bean and cheese burrito as I am with their carne asada or al pastor. The chips are made on site, along with the salsa and are crispy, warm and delicious. When enough time has gone by where my husband and I haven't visited California, we usually start to convince ourselves that there is pretty good Mexican food available in Seattle. Then we go to Berkeley (his hometown) or Santa Cruz and remember what it can really taste like. The salsa at these taquerias is fantastic while still being unique. It isn't bottled, they are charring tomatillos and adding fresh cilantro and onions. We drove from Tacos Morenos to my dad's house which is near University of California at Santa Cruz (less than 5 miles) and passed 4 other  excellent taqueria's.

Whenever we bring this topic up to our friends in Seattle, we inevitably get the reply, "but you haven't tried this one place". I fell for that about 4 times. I will still go and try whatever restaurant is being touted because I am desperate but I am no longer optimistic. There is food that tastes good that is made in restaurants that define themselves as "Mexican" but it is not the California Mexican that my husband and I grew up on. I know that California Mexican is a modification of true Mexican food but irregardless, it is much better than any Mexican food I have ever eaten in Seattle. Plus it is just good food. I get kind of tired of the old argument that in Mexico burritos are just made with beans, rice and meat, as if that means liking the California style of Mexican is somehow sacrilegious.

Santa Cruz is surrounded by agriculture and there is a large Hispanic community. The taquerias are run by Mexican families not by two annoying white guys who think they are absolving themselves of their sins by identifying themselves as gringos. So after the 4th time of trying a sub-par Mexican restaurant we went to Taco Gringos. The tacos were pretty good but of course it can't just be a good taqueria, not with a name like Tacos Gringos. It doesn't open until 8, they have different options every night so you can't fall in love with something and go back to get it because it probably won't be on the menu. They don't even have any stools or a standing counter (which there is room for). Every time I leave that restaurant (if it can be called that) I hear someone say "those f***g taco guys". I am serious, I have heard someone mutter that every time I have gone to that restaurant. I have used that expression myself. One night I went there and they were offering rhubarb and tongue tacos as the two options of the night. I rolled my eyes and we left. Fine. Offer one option that strays from the norm but both? It would be like a pub removing their french fries from the menu (or their beer for that matter) and replacing them with Taro Fries (or sake). But the tacos are good. They are a close approximation to what could be one of those fantastic taquerias that I dream of. I can tell when I eat the tacos from Tacos Gringos that those guys have it in them to be the taqueria that I wish existed in Seattle. If they, perhaps, held normally business hours, expanded their menu a little bit and kept some norms on the menu.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pallino Pastaria

Walk in the door and you will inevitably see a line in front of a really long counter that runs almost the entire length of the restaurant. They are making salads behind the counter and there is a big open cooler with drinks sitting on ice. It almost looks like you might be able to sit down and a waiter would show up at your table with menus but the line tells you otherwise so you fall in it. Above the  counter is a menu with soups, salads, pasta and pizza options. Like any restaurant where you order first and then find a table, you will look around to see if there is a table available. There are a lot of tables still open and there are usually different kinds of tables to choose from. You can grab a booth (large or small) or a traditional square table. There is a section on the side with even more room that is usually quieter and less populated than the main part of the restaurant. The line will go quickly and you barely have time to finish deciding what to get before you are up. You order and pay for your food. The person taking your order smiles at you and is friendly. They hand you your drinks and silverware on a cafeteria style tray along with a number so the waiter can deliver the rest of your food when it is ready.

If you have small kids you grab one of the 12 high chairs sitting by the door, an etch-a-sketch, a video game, crayons and paper. That is, unless all the games have all been claimed in which case you promise to find one sitting abandoned on a table, which sometimes you can't. When you sit down it feels like a real restaurant. It is not fancy but it doesn't feel like a fast food joint. Your kids will be loud but nobody will notice except the people who don't have kids who thought this place was a romantic Italian place where they should take their date. Try Cafe Lago. You start thinking about trucking the kids to the bathroom to wash their hands when you notice a small sink with soap and a step stool in the restaurant where they can wash their hands. It is amazing. It is true. It is convenient.  As soon as you get back to your table the food shows up. Except the waitress drops your pizza face down on the floor. She doesn't look embarrassed but apologizes profusely and promises to rush a replacement out.

In front of you (possibly minus the pizza) is placed a Caesar salad with or without chicken ($3.95 small, $5.95 large), penne with Anna's Sauce with or without meatballs, sausage, chicken, shrimp or salmon ($8.95 + $3 for a meat), a Margherita pizza ($5.99 small, $11.95 large) and a bambini cheese pizza that comes with a fruit skewer ($4.95). The Caesar salad is just another Caesar salad. It is not horrible but it really isn't anything to get excited about.  The dressing sits in the background, the lettuce is kind of, sort of fresh, the croutons are crunchy and there is a skinny long log of bread sitting on the salad. This bread shows up everywhere, on every dish except the pizza and gelato. It isn't good enough to be that prominent but it is another thing you can hand your kid that they can gnaw on. There is butter but they don't bring it to your table for some unknown reason. It sits up on the counter near where you ordered (but not close enough to notice) in a little bowl. The Anna's Sauce pasta is neutral. Your child will eat it as the flavor isn't super strong and it is functional. Since we aren't camping, it would be nice if the food was more than functional but that is about where it is. This dish has a tomato a based sauce with cream which just covers the noodles so if you are big on sauce you might be disappointed. If you are in the light sauce camp then you might be happier but either way you won't be ecstatic. The meatballs are soft (white bread mixed in?) and mild. The pizza is thin but not crisp. When you pick up a slice it hangs limp. The food looks better than it tastes which is kind of the general theme of the restaurant. Everything looks good but you feel like you are watching one reality while living a different one.

But while this food isn't anything to write home about but you are at the mall, your kids are happy and you almost feel like you are in a real restaurant. It is more than enough food for four people and the drinks are smartly served in cups with lids and straws. After dinner you get gelato and everyone leaves happy.
Pallino Pastaria (University Village) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The happy cook at Emmer & Rye

My husband and I had dinner at Emmer & Rye for date night. I took the bus downtown, walked to south lake union to meet him  and then we took a bus up to Queen Anne. We try to bus it on date nights and living in Capitol Hill makes it pretty easy.

The restaurant is in an old house and I felt like I should have loved it but I didn't. It works but it isn't anything special anymore. There are lots of restaurants that inhabit old houses in Seattle. We had a reservation and were seated immediately. Nobody asked us how we were or smiled and it felt very "Seattle".

We shared one appetizer, one small plate and two entrees. For our appetizer we had the Farro Fries. This sounds like a good idea but it wasn't. There were 5 of them and we ate three. They weren't horrible but they didn't really have much taste to them. They were soft and kind of chunky on the inside (think thick fries) and fried golden on the outside. I liked the texture (inside and out) but I am trying to make it a point not to eat fried foods unless they are totally worth the calories. These weren't worth it. When we didn't finish them the waitress asked us if we wanted them boxed up in this way that indicated that we would be insulting an artist if we didn't. We were both silent for a minute and then agreed that it was a great idea to box them up.

Our small plate was the grilled sausage, rapini, crostini with salsa verde. The sausage was delicious, the bread perfectly toasted and fresh. The rapini. Well, it was kind of hard to chew. I'm not sure why it was there except for adding some color. We both gave this a thumbs up.

For our first main course we had a salmon special that was served with fiddlehead ferns and morels. When the plate was set down I thought it looked kind of sad. Army colors with the skin side up on the salmon (brown), cooked fiddlehead ferns (darkish green) and morels (more brown). The salmon was perfectly cooked and super fresh but uninspiring. The fiddlehead ferns were flat out boring and a bit too salty. The obsession with fiddle head ferns at Seattle restaurants that serve seasonal, locally inspired food is getting kind of old. I am fine with fiddlehead ferns but they should taste good. Sometimes I feel like restaurants feel like just putting something like fiddlehead ferns on the menu is itself enough. We did our job! We delivered something unique that you don't cook at home that is local and seasonal. I have eaten fiddlehead ferns that were delicious but these weren't them.

Our second main course was grass fed beef bolognese, red wine sausage and orrechiette. This was hands down the best thing on the table (until it tied with dessert). It was delicious, the pasta was perfectly cooked, the meat sauce was super flavorful and the meat reminded you why grass fed is just better. There was also a touch of spiciness in the sauce that added that special something that gave it a perfect balance of flavor, texture and zing. It came in a big friendly generous bowl. I could have eaten the whole thing myself but not because it was a small portion, just because it was culinary genius.

For dessert we had cheesecake with huckleberry sauce. It was the best cheesecake ever. It was the perfect texture, the crust was crunchy and sweet without being too sweet. It came as a round instead of a slice which made it interesting and beautifully presented with the colorful huckleberry sauce in a circle surrounding the cheesecake.

So the cook would bring our food out and he looked really happy and excited to have us try it. I liked that part. I think with that sort of attention and interest the kitchen could consistently turn out dishes like the bolognese and cheesecake. The rest of the staff just seemed kind of mechanical. They would set out drinks down while looking at another table (away from ours) and move on before they made sure that they had delivered something the diner actually wanted. Our glasses were always full, we never had to wait too long for anything but I felt a little like I was overstaying my welcome in a house that I was a guest at. As for the Farro Fries,  she never brought the box out and we weren't going to remind her.

 Emmer & Rye on Urbanspoon