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.