Friday, September 28, 2007

Skillet's got some 'splaining to do!

OK, I wasn't the only food fan declaring their love for Skillet Street Food. This new operation got some warm and fuzzy ink in The Stranger and The Seattle Weekly.

But the more I learn about the violations that temporarily shut them down, the bigger my hunger to know: "What were you thinking guys??"

The red critical violations cited by the health department were:

No hot water available at the hand sink
Burger patties stored over salad
Potentially hazardous food stored at room temperature
Burger patties were above 41F
Working with raw meat without sanitizer set up

There's more on this link.

That's some pretty serious food handling no-no's and these guys should definitely know better. I talked to one of the owners earlier this week and he said addressing these issues were on the front burner.

I hope so. I really don't want Skillet to be just a flash in the pan.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bacon makes everything better

Yesterday was a terrible day! Just awful. The kind of bumps and lumps and deadline drama you want to put behind you as quickly as possible.

So, I went in for a little bacon therapy. Oh, I didn't intend to make a pig of myself, but couldn't help swooning over some swine in an unlikely spot: my Manhattan.

Moxie is doing the New Urban Drinks deal -- two small plates, one drink, $15. Last day to play is Sept. 30, and it's not offered on weekends.

Anyway, the place was slammed with the pre-theater crowd and it was obviously understaffed. It took at least 10 minutes for the bartender to take our order. (Heavy sigh. I'm going to say stay away from this promotion, the restaurants I've been to definitely don't seem committed to it, staffing wise.)

However, I loved the update on this classic cocktail, embellished with a bacon lollipop, thread on a skewer and cooked crisp, the bacon was then laquered in sticky sweetness. I know it sounds kinda ridick, but it was really original.

The small plates were a little lackluster and took forever to get out. If the idea of this promotion is to tempt potential diners to return, you'd think the kitchen would put a little more effort into it. There's still time, though. Is there any New Urban Drink destination that's a must? Maybe Licorous?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Where is everybody?

Walked by Cascadia last night during prime dining hours and the place was dead. Same thing goes for a recent drive-by at Coupage.

On a Saturday night when places around the city are slammed, what does it say about a restaurant that's less than half full? Trouble? Has the heat cooled?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Blackberry update

Jon Rowley showed me an awesome blackberry patch, just east of the Interbay Golf, right on a side street. The bushes were loaded.

Mr. Rowley, the area's most important tastemaker whose Rolodex is stuffed with the names and numbers of the biggest names in the food world -- "Hello, chef Keller. Yes, I've got some Yukon salmon heading your way" -- has fond childhood memories of plucking these sweet/tart berries, which his grandmother would turn into the most magical elixir.

I took my bucket full and made a blackberry crisp. Because, try as I might, I just cannot do pie crust. The crisp turned pretty soupy, though it was still darned tasty. I sought the advice of experts who suggested letting the berries mascerate and drain before cooking them.

I think I'm going to try and get out one more time before the picking season's over.

Speaking of autumn, I've been busy braising and roasting. My Alaska fisherman nephew Brandon and his ship mate Robby requested meatballs when I cooked for them this past week, and I had to make my pal Anne's recipe from memory. Turned out pretty good, though something was missing.

Also made my best buddy Leita's braised rabbit pasta last week, a recipe she picked up while living in Sicily. Everybody's going to ask, so here's the skinny: I got the rabbit at Fero's Meat Market at Pike Place Market. You've got to ask for it. They keep it in the freezer.

What's on your plate during this shoulder season?

Hitting the pavement, in search of Skillet Street Food

UPDATE: After my excellent meal, and this posting, friend Curt sent a link from seattle.metblog that Skillet had been shut down by the health department. Dang it.
It reopened the next day, the day I ate there. I'm still rooting for Skillet's success, but it definitely took the wind out of my full sail.

Drove around Ballard looking for the Air Stream trailer that's home to Skillet Street Food, the Web site said it was located on 56th, but got out and walked up and down the street looking for that address. Nope. Nothing.

Then, I drove around on Market and there it was. I'm so glad I found it.

Ordered a pasta loaded with chanterelles, broccoli rabe, green beans, cherry tomatoes in a light parm cream sauce. Usually, I hate it when some menu describes a cream sauce as "light". Come on, it's cream. I love cream, but the best cream is heavy. Maybe it's because it was used lightly, not drowning in the stuff.

Anyway, I loved this dish. I took it down to Golden Gardens and sat in the sunshine and loved every freaking bite. It was perfectly seasoned, not too salty, not too little. And this generous portion with the lovely fall mushrooms was just $8!

Here's a link to this roving restaurant's home page so you can check out when they'll be in your neighborhood:

Never more!

This crow kept me company yesterday during my picnic at Golden Gardens. I told him I didn't think he'd really dig my pasta.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Here's a treat

P-I photographer Mike Urban put together a tasty slideshow to go with this Friday's review of Latona Pub, reinforcing that adage about pictures shouting louder than thousands of words. Or something like that.

I especially love the shot of the sign that says the food's made "with butter and love." Hope the regulars aren't going to be upset when the place gets overrun with newbies.

I did Thai My Way!

Tup Tim Thai is one of the few restaurants I go to when I'm off the clock. The food is pretty good and the welcome is warm. At lunch, it's cheap. It's in my neighborhood.

What consistently cracks me up about the place, though, is the constant loop of Sinatra songs. I've never been in there when I haven't heard "My Way." I'm a huge Frank-o-phile, but that tune is a bit overwrought for a plate of pad Thai. That's what I used to think anyway. Now, it's just become part of the restaurant's quirky charm.

Besides Marjorie, which has the best soundtrack in Seattle, what restaurant plays music that fits well with its culinary mission? Or do you prefer the sounds of silence?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My lunch with Gael Greene

I met the legendary New York food critic for lunch in NYC in May 2006, at Momofuku Noodle Bar. We made the date after I interviewed her for a story in The Commercial Appeal about her book "Insatiable", the first chapter about her close encounter with Elvis. Seems that fling-a-ding-ding help launch her food writing career.

This wasn't just any lunch, either. We were standing on line (to use the New Yorker verbage), and bumped into a few people I knew through the Southern Foodways Alliance and Calvin Trillin rode up on his bike. I flipped! Somebody, please take my pic with Calvin Trillin.

Turns out he was meeting Randy Fertel for lunch, I know Randy through SFA, his late mother launched a little steakhouse chain you might have heard of: Ruth's Chris. Randy is a tireless champion of preserving food stories in his support of an annual documentary made by the Southern Foodways Alliance. (I got to see behind-the-scenes action on the making of "Whole Hog" a couple of years ago, and thrill to see it premiere to a wildly appreciative audience at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley.)

So, long story long, we all sat together along the communal tables at Momofuku and shared nearly everything on the menu. Calvin Trillin gave me a bite of his ssam!! Hot damn! (Shameless fan alert!) Even the camera shy Ms. G agreed to have her pic taken with me. I can't imagine a more memorable meal.

Fast forward to last week when I found Gael Green's new Web site on, and reached out. We chatted over email, and she asked me to submit a recipe. Up it went on one of her daily briefs. So cool this global village. Check out her site:

Here's a tease

.... to Friday's restaurant review. Maybe not the prettiest picture, but this was a spectacular meal, probably because it was such a surprise to find such sophisticated food at a casual neighborhood pub.

That duck confit salad was so delicious. The generous portion of poultry was super rich, succulent and under $12. The outstanding burgundy beef pot pie is based on a Julia Child recipe, the made-from-scratch sauce tasted as complex as the glass of Argentinean malbec I sipped with it.

Yes, that's PBR. Got a problem with that?

So, anybody care to guess where this haute low-brow fare is being served? No? Guess you'll have to pick up a P-I.

Today's dining column suggests a Diner's Bill of Rights. What do you say? When you go to a restaurant what do you expect from the waitstaff?

Cheap wine!

The venerable Eric Asimov serves up some fine selections of inexpensive wine in today's New York Times.

Love it.

It's a no-brainer to pick up a bottle of great $50, but it takes a true sleuth to come up with a cart full of affordable options. Cheers to Mr. A and his tasting crew.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Big Whine: The cranky wine guy at DeLaurenti

I was wandering the wine department at my favorite deli in Seattle, and while getting my purchases rung up. I asked Mr. Wine Guy what was his favorite Washington red under $20.

I'm sure I can't say. There are 400 wineries in the state now, it would be impossible to pick just one, he said curtly.

He could have said: Well, what do you like, a merlot? A cab? Something from Walla Walla? He blew the chance to engage a curious customer. Totally shut down the conversation. Freaking snob. That's exactly what I cannot stand about the elitist wine set. (To be fair, the much younger guy who I talked with earlier was very friendly and helpful. I don't understand what you're doing in retail if you're not about doing some selling.)

Oh, and by the way, Mr. Wine Guy, there are now 500 wineries in Washington state. And my favorite red under $20 is the Chinook cab franc.

Ooh, la la: brunch at Cafe Presse

Met some friends at this south Capitol Hill spot, just ahead of the rush hour. Very happy with the croque Madame, the classic ham and cheese sandwich all bubbling hot and a fried egg on top.

Our table shared an order of excellent pomme frites and pain au chocolat. Everything was great, except -- and this is a big except -- they kept running out of coffee. Even the server acknowledged: "We're having a bit of a coffee crisis." Hmmm. No coffee on a Sunday morning. Major bummer.

If only Stumptown Roasters were open next door, like they said they would be, last Monday. Those Portland, Ore., bean counters should be perking right along soon. I'm still shopping around for my favorite baristas in town. Any hot spots I absolutely shouldn't miss?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hey Adam, have I got an apple for you!

It's been ages since I got excited about an apple. I've given into temptation, seduced by the way a Fuji or a Braeburn or, yes, even a Red Delicious looks and then, yuck, it's all soft and mushy. Or, worse, it tastes like cardboard.

But a friend tipped me off about his infatuation with the Honey Crisp. Oh, Honey, where have you been all my life?

I snagged a bag of these grown-in-the-Okanogan beauties last night and could hardly believe it when I took my first bite. Snap! It was everything I hoped for and more.

Of course, the prices are kind of ridick... like $5 at pound at Whole Food, or $3 at Met Market. Maybe I need to make a hunter/gatherer trip to the East side of the state and stock up on some at the source.

Now, if I could only find some peaches that weren't rock hard.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Oh waiter, there's a fly in my cocktail

Went to Qube last night for the "New Urban Drinks" (one cocktail, two small plates, $15) and the service was horrendous. I was willing to cut the busy bartender some slack, this was obviously a management decision not to properly staff. Our table had to constantly flag the guy down. Can we please order? Somebody didn't get their second plate. And then...
When I pointed out the dead fly, the bartender made a face like: Ewwww!
But he did nothing about it. He didn't come back and whisk it away with a bleach-y rag. Nor send anyone on bug patrol. HELL-OOOOOO! This is a classy place, right? What in the heck is going on?
I've had some shaky service in Seattle, but this is a new low. Send me your service horror stories. I'm working on a possible story. I'm also up for the other side of the story. I know it's a very difficult job and I tip generously when I find the (rare?) good server.

Go to By's

Maybe I was just starving, but I thought the burgers and fries at this old school spot south of Starbucks headquarters on Fourth were awfully darn good.

I wrote about old-fashioned drive-ins in today's food section of the Seattle P-I, on the heels of news that a beloved institution -- Daly's -- is being forced out of its space by developers.

These deeply nostalgic spots cue some selective memories, like when you try going back, it's never the same. The place I so fondly remember was a quirky spot in Bellevue's Lake Hills shopping center called Speed's. Don't know why it was called that because they made a point of telling customers it was going to take at least 10 minutes to make their sandwich.

Is there a burger joint that still works that magic? In Seattle or beyond? Why can't there be more places that try and do it like In-n-Out? What's your typical order when you indulge?

Where'd I go for my birthday dinner?

Stayed at home. Johnny cooked a lovely dinner, an Americanized French recipe of chicken braised in red wine vinegar. There was a whole head of garlic in it. And it called for a bouquet garni, which completely stumped him.

Look it up in the index, I advised. Nope. So, turned to Julia Child's "Mastering" where she helped make sense of wrapping thyme, parsley and bay leaves in cheesecloth. Later, he confessed that he had just used thyme because he couldn't find the bay leaves and he didn't think parsley tasted like anything. No big deal, it tasted great.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Hey Bub, you stink

Just had a very nice meal at a restaurant I'm reviewing, except some schlub is puffing away on a stogie. Yes, we're outside. But I believe the law is that you can't smoke within like 20 feet of the restaurant.

But there's the guy stinking up the place.

I usually hold my tongue. And my nose. Especially when I'm on the job. But I couldn't help myself. Cue hubby rolling his eyes and going: Uh-oh.

The server told the smoker to put it out, and the owner came over to our table to apologize. And give me a $20 gift certificate to come back another time. Now, that's the right way to handle a stinky situation.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Eat your heart out!

This was my view at lunch today. Pretty sweet, yes? Every nice day in Seattle is like a gift. Yesterday, it poured all morning and then got muggy.

Anyway, packed a chicken salad sandwich, which I goosed up with this awesome miso/red pepper mayo from Trader Joe's.

Which reminds me, the TJ's on Capitol Hill kicks ass on the Queen Anne store. It's much bigger, wider aisles, nicer clerks. The guy who rang me up was telling me about how he had moved his couch and vacumned behind it and found cat toys and wouldn't the world be a better place if... Yup, I kinda tuned out after that.

Anyway, I love/love/love the sculpture park. It's in my 'hood, and I'm thrilled everytime I walk through. Even better when I've got lunch. Where's your favorite picnic spot?

What neighborhood has the sweetest berry patch?

My fingers are stained, my arms scratched. But I don't give a fig. I'm on the hunt for blackberries, and they're every-freaking-where around here.

I've picked them at Seward Park, near the foot ferry dock in West Seattle, on Magnolia, near my father-in-law's place in Shoreline. Most of them go straight into my mouth, and I've been meaning to come back with a bucket, but haven't. Until today.

Talked Baby Girl into helping me out, but she lost interest after her Chuck Taylors got muddied. Hey, kid. This is a messy enterprise, but if you want a piece of the pie I'm going to (attempt) making. Well. Then.

All the best, biggest berries were just out of reach down the road to the secret beach in Magnolia this afternoon, and the puny ones I picked were none too sweet. Where should I go for a big blackberry score. Tell me true and I promise to get you a piece of that pie.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Qube chef calls it quits

Lisa Nakamura has left the downtown Asian fusion restaurant, sous chef Joseph Conrad has stepped into the lead role in the kitchen. The restaurant is no longer open for lunch.

It's certainly just a coincidence, but it seems strange that two fusion restaurants that debuted with high profile women chefs -- Coupage being the other -- have already lost those key players. Yes, it's a high turnover business, but doesn't it make you wonder: What the heck is going on behind the scenes?

I do not hate dogs!

After a recent column about dining with dogs, people got pretty riled up. Hey, they let dogs in restaurants in Europe, why not here? some wondered.

Why do we have these silly "laws" anyway? wrote a woman whose email handle included yoga, which certainly didn't jibe with the hostile tone in her missive.

Just wanted to say, again, for the record: I'm not a hater! In fact, I recently hosted my brother Chris and his adorable doggie, Charley. She loves to go everywhere, just not to restaurants, the Mariners game or Bumpershoot.

I bet somebody would make a killing if they figured out a way around that health code, and opened a true dog-friendly Euro-cafe.