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