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.