Sunday, December 28, 2008

Just back from a home-cooked Christmas vacation

Had such a wonderful trip to New Mexico, where my sister and her man, Greg, spoiled us with home-cooked meals like the hoecakes, country ham and sauteed apples pictured above.

After a day of skiing at Taos, we visited friends from Memphis who had moved out to this hauntingly beautiful, wide open place, and were treated to Dave's homemade pizza.

Later, we ate tamales Christmas eve and a huge hunka roast beef on Christmas Day, twice-baked potatoes and Caesar salad on the side. I can't remember the last time I went a week without stepping foot in a restaurant, and I was back on the job shortly after the plane touched down in Seattle. 

Wonder if there's anywhere in this fine city I can score some hoecakes and country ham? Nah, didn't think so. There's really no place like home for humble fare like that.

What about you? Did you get enough to eat over the holidays? Starting to think about resolutions to eat less/exercise more come 2009? I was interviewed about dieting a couple of days ago, and said -- tongue planted firmly in cheek -- that I planned to cut back on deep-fried bacon come the first of the year! 

Friday, December 19, 2008

Let it snow: Part II

So, a few inches shuts down the city of Seattle. But a few feet in Spokaloo? No prob for that plucky place. (Official motto: The biggest city between Seattle and Minneapolis. Unofficial motto: At least we're not Tacoma!) That pic was taken Thursday morning in my BFF's front yard.

I remember epic dumps while living in the Inland Empire, where people would cross country ski around town. One winter, we couldn't even see the top of the car because the snow banks were so high. A white Christmas was almost always assured.

It was all those years of dealing with snow that taught me the value of having a well-stocked pantry. I can cook for a week without going to the store. So, what's in your cupboard?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it snow?

It's not the snow, it's the ice!!

No sign of any trucks spreading sand on the slippery streets of Seattle, but I set out on foot and found a bunch of "closed" signs.

Ten Mercer offered a warm welcome, and a fabulous serving of curried mussels. A German riesling and the company of a good friend (did I mention there were presents involved?) and all seemed right in our frosty world.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Looking forward to 2009

Just heard from Trevor Greenwood, formerly with Via Tribunali, who is on a team working to open a new place in Wallingford.

"Cantinetta will be a neighborhood pateria emphasizing Tuscan culinary traditions, authentic hand-made pasta and seasonal ingredients from the state of Washington," he wrote in an e-mail. "Our lead chef is Brian Cartenuto and our sous chef is Morgan Brownlow."

Cantinetta is scheduled to debut Jan. 3 at 3650 Wallingford Ave. N. 

Phone 206-632-1000 for reservations for six or more.

Cannot wait to take my friends Dan and Mary Pat there, as those lovebirds spend at least a month each year in Florence. Ciao baby!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Love those holiday traditions!

Got together with Bridget for our almost annual cookie baking marathon. This time, we did Martha Stewart's gingerbread and Aunt Minnie's sugar cookies. I have no idea who Aunt Minnie is, grabbed it from 

Decorating those sweet things is tons of fun, though I feel humbled in the company of Ms. B and Claire, who give snowmen scaves and packages fluttering ribbons. Gorg! My strategy is to put as many sprinkles on as possible.

Do you have Christmas cookie traditions? I sorely miss swapping cookies in Spokane with MP, Holly and Sandra. Nobody makes date pinwheels like SBB! And Holly is a true cookie artist. I also feel deeply nostalgic thinking back on the many years I went to holiday Mom/Daughter tea parties at Kate's house. That's the trouble with traditions. They leave a big hole when they go away.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Deadliest Catch?

This motley crew of Alaska fishermen includes my nephew -- Brandon's the guy second from the right -- and I'd be lying if I said I didn't fret about his safety when he's out there.

He recently gifted me a big bag of king crab, some of the sweetest I've tried. I sauteed it in shallots and butter and finished with a splash of white wine. 

I recently got an invite to go to a dinner where Captain Sig Hansen was the special guest and it pained me to have to turn it down; I'm a huge fan of the show, for obvious reasons. (Brandon's boat FV Karen Lynn has made only cameo appearances.) But I'm grateful to get a few cool crab inspiration reading over recipes from chef Justin Sledge, who created the dinner at the Salish Lodge and Spa.

Here's the one I'm dying to try: crab and chanterelle chowder. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reflecting on a very good year

Had so many memorable meals in 2008: Still thinking about the mmmm milkshakes at Lunchbox Laboratory. Took my cousins there for a lunch and we agreed that the shakes -- served in beakers -- were the highlight.

More savory rememberances to come. 

Monday, December 8, 2008


I was just looking at the menu of a new sushi place in Ballard, where they have a "homeless roll". That is in some seriously bad taste!!

Christmas cookies

Claire and I went to Kent over the weekend, not to IKEA, but to bake cookies with Aunt Irene. My late mother-in-law's recipe for sugar wafers, nicknamed "Little Bastards" because they're such a pain to make. So delicate, some crumble as they're slid off the baking sheet.

They're so good, those that hang together, a sugary frosting sandwiched in between. 

This is the only time of year I bake cookies, not because I don't love them dearly, but because I don't need them around the house, calling: Eat me!

Any cookie traditions in your home sweet home?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Going to Leavenworth?

This is what I love about the place, which I've written about in today's P-I in the Getaways section. Click here for the link.

It's easy to pooh-pooh Washington's om-pah-pah village, but once you get away from the touristy parts of town, the valley is so beautiful.

Naturally, looking at the sausage photo in the story jump-started the rumbling in my empty stomach. Is 9:30 too early for a bratwurst? Nah, especially if you eat breakfast at Sandy's Waffle Haus, where you can order German sausage with your eggs. JA!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Seattle in the NYTimes

There were at least three references to Seattle in today's Dining In/Dining Out section, which focused on cocktails.

The White Russians are coming! Courtesy of Lebowskifests and The Dude, a character based on a real-life slacker who once lived in Seattle. The Dude abides!

Pic of Zigzag's bartender "making magic." Why the heck haven't I been there yet?

Online sticky bits from, another one of those many places I've been meaning to get into. Maybe today, followed by a ZZ cocktail and a round of bowling.

In other exciting NYC news, my nephew Brandon is traveling there tomorrow and staying right around the corner from Momofuku Ssam Bar, which Frank Bruni gave three stars in today's review.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Second Avenue survey

Just walked back to QA from downtown -- in a miserable drizzle -- and couldn't help notice a whole lotta empty seats in some restaurants: Wann, Noodle Ranch, Mamma's, Kushibar were pretty quiet.

It is Tuesday, but still...

Yet, Zoe was hoppin', as was Shiro's, Branzino, Wasabi Bistro, Txori. 

In this miserable economy, is it a matter of survival of the fittest? Everybody should be bringing that A game, and knocking down some prices.

I had a very good meal at Dahlia Lounge: pan-fried trout, five-spice duck, shared a dessert. Two entrees, two glasses of wine, one dessert, couple cups of coffee. Not living it up, but it was still $100.

Where's the best upscale dining value in Seattle these days?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Deep-fried turkey: The Verdict

We did not burn down the house. The deep-fried turkey was a (modest) success, especially in comparison with bird No. 2, slow-roasted in a Weber. Such great flavor. Huge high fives to Adam and Laura for being adventureous cooks!

How was your Turkey Day?

Now, after a quick Black Friday shopping trip -- doing my patriotic duty to pump up the economy -- I'm home sipping eggnog and putting up decorations with Baby Girl. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Deep-fried turkey, part II: Taj Mahal edition

Just got home from an amazing show at Jazz Alley... Taj Mahal. What a great performer! 

And, hey, I got to shake his sweaty hand after the show!! Lucky me.

In between songs, he talked turkey, Thanksgiving style. Got the chef at Jazz Alley to order up a couple of organic birds he's planning on deep-frying. Johnny looked and me and we fist bumped! We deep-frying it up too Taj!

Go see his show at JA, he's playing there through Sunday. Just do not eat there! It's some of the worst food I've had in Seattle. Dessert was OK, but the entrees were a bomb....

Yay Max! Standing ovation!!

Just heard a glowing review about a family friend's off-Broadway performance in What's that Smell. How thrilling!! 

Man, I wanna go to NYC so bad, especially after hearing this report. My nephew Brandon and his girlfriend are making their first trip there next week and I've been filling them in on my favorite places to eat. Please add yours!

Pie high

Via Tribunali is opening soon in Fremont, and in 2009, going to plant its roots at the landmark Crocodile Cafe. Pretty cool.

Wish I was there....

My sister is on her way to celebrate Thanksgiving with family in Austin, Texas, and stopped for lunch at Cooper's in Llano, home of the Big Chop. It's totally wasted on Sissy, who's a vegetarian. Sure looks good, don't it?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cooking lessons from a guy in camo

Doing a deep-fried turkey this year at Adam and Laura's. Been looking around for how-to's and found this one. Click here for some tasty tips on cooking the bird in hot oil.

Please share tails, I mean tales, of deep-fried turkey triumphs and tragedies. Much obliged!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Tasting brats in Leavenworth

Took a little trip to Leavenworth to celebrate my Aunt Eileen's 75th and had a big ol' bratwurst blowout today. Went to a couple of different places and tried a whole bunch of sausage. 

Liked the Best of the Wurst's grilled bockwurst best, made by Bavarian Meats... the sausage stuffers located right here in Seattle. Must have tried a dozen different mustards, too, and several styles of sauerkraut. Now that's some good fun. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Today's Prelude review

I kinda cringed when I read the headline: "Prelude needs to polish its act" because, overall, I liked the place, at McCaw Hall. Don't get me wrong, I'd be up a creek without a dictionary if it weren't for the skills of the super sharp copy desk at the P-I, but I thought that particular headline might have been a bit harsh.

Wanna read the review and offer an opinion? Here's the link. Does the tone of the piece match the headline? 

Let's talk oysters

Did you read my story this week about hunting for oysters near Bellingham? Click here for the link.

In other mouthwatering oyster news, I just got a tip that Ama Ama Oyster Bar and Grill in West Seattle has hired a new chef. Jared Wentworth was previously at Quinn's and before that, worked in Chicago and New York City. 

Some of his new menu items include Dungeness mac-and-cheese, pork belly sliders, Penn Cove mussels in a Tunisian harissa butter, seared scallops and oxtail over gnocchi. Lots of local oysters featured, too.

Ama Ama also does brunch, with a bacon-garnished Bloody Mary on offer. (In the "everything's better with bacon" category,  I've also got to give kudos to the mad genius mixologists at Taste, who've come up with a BLT cocktail made with bacon-infused vodka. OINK!)

So, who's up for some oysters?  

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wal-Mart's not so bad?

I might have to re-think my longstanding boycott of Wal-Mart after reading an article in today's NYTimes that the giant is going to donate tons to a huge food bank organization.

I volunteer at the U-District Food Bank and heard some scary numbers at a meeting yesterday. During the month of October, the Food Bank served a record number of folks, more than 4,600. Much of the increase was due to hourly employees having their schedules cut. This is an organization that serves a whole lot of working poor and they do it in a very cool way, so the customers can shop in a set-up like a grocery store. 

What surprised me most after learning more about this food bank, which serves Northeast Seattle, is that cash donations are so helpful. A food drive is great, but $$$ lets the staff buy items at wholesale prices, stuff they really need. Even though my bank account is hardly beefy, I wrote a check for $100. Anybody care to meet or beat that? Big high fives to those who give in anyway they can, because the need has never been greater. You can give online:

I'm always inspired to try and be generous by the memory of my beloved grandparents, working class people who lived through the Depression. Times were often lean, but Nana and Papa always made room at their table for the various friends and relatives who were struggling financially. True role models.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tribute to Dorothy

It was my late mother-in-law's birthday yesterday and I made a dinner in her honor: meatballs in marinara and a chocolate pie, which I nearly ruined, adding cold egg yolks to hot chocolate without first tempering it. 

Really pretty funny that Dorothy's recipe file was stuffed with globally accented dishes, including a chili relleno casserole that's got to have about a million calories a serving. The only sign of her Icelandic roots is a recipe for the beloved Vinetarta, a date cookie that typically made an appearance around Christmas. 

During dinner, we took turns telling stories about Mom, Grandma, Mom-in-law. A tasty tradition, don't you think? The foods I'd like served at my memorial din-din? It'd have to be a catered buffet: Fery's chicken curry, Lindaman's chicken pot pie, the ravioli from Spinasse, wines from Seven Hills, Arbor Crest and Veuve Cliqucout. That's just the first course. I'll have to give it some more thought.   

UPDATE: Got a gentle nudge from a Memphis bud, here's another helping of requests for my tribute meal. BBQ sandwich from Payne's, fried chicken from Alcenia's, lentils and spinach Little Tea Shop style, cornish hens from Cozy Corner, Taylor catfish, veggie plate from Soul Fish. Oh my.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hot Brown?

Heard from somebody searching for a Hot Brown in Seattle. That old-fashioned roast beef sandwich (update: It's turkey, not roast beef, topped with mornay sauce and bacon) is rooted in Louisville, the Brown Hotel specifically. Here's a link to the recipe. (Random aside: I once drank moonshine made by a chef from this fancy hotel while riding on the top of a double decker bus barreling down the road in Oxford, Mississippi. Mmmm-mmm.) 

Haven't seen any Hot Browns around town, I'm afraid. 

Make me think about the regional sandwiches that are rare around here, stuff like muffaletta, lobster rolls, BBQ pork sandwiches topped with slaw. 

A food writer recently stumped me with this query: Is there a signature Seattle sandwich?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Does this look like a TV dinner?

Ah, nope. But that's how this dish is sold on the menu at the new Art restaurant at the Four Seasons. There's such a fine line between clever and pretentious, isn't there?

I don't want to pick nits, but I know TV dinners and ladies and gentlemen, this ain't no Swanson's Hungry Man. I grew up eating on those frozen meals, especially during summer visits to my mother's because she was too busy to cook. 

The main ingredient missing from this too-lovely-to-be-called-a-TV-dinner is, of course, a TV. The main thing to look at in this elegant dining room is the incredible view of Elliott Bay. The setting is quite a contrast to the former Four Seasons locale. Very old-school formal, the last dining room in Seattle to require a jacket. (That rule is long gone these days.)

Anybody else dabbled in Art yet? 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Retro dinner

For obvious reasons, I can't get this song from looping in my euphoric noggan: "Happy Days are Here Again," which might explain why I felt compelled to do a nostalgic Sunday dinner.

It turned out to be a New York Times-centric meal, with my favorite meatloaf recipe from Marian Burros' "Cooking for Comfort" book (so, so many great recipes in there) and the Green Goddess salad recipe, which appeared in yesterday's Sunday mag. Click HERE to check that out. 

Had roasted red, white and blue potatoes, too, from Olsen Farms. Picked those up at Ballard Farmers Market yesterday. 

Poured a 2003 Chateau Ste. Michelle syrah and sat back, waiting for the compliments to flow!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Making Pike Place Market even better

Now that I've got a financial stake in the Pike Place Market -- paying additional taxes after the passing of Proposition 1 toward making improvements at the historic landmark -- here are a few things I'd love to see happen:

Close the street to traffic, except for vendors and limit those hours to the beginning and end of the day. The best days to roam around the Market are when they've got traffic diverted for special events. It makes no sense to have cars crawling down this congested corridor.

Dedicate more space to true farmers. I talked with one grower today who echoed the oft-heard grumbling about produce stands that sell fruits and vegetables you can buy in any supermarket, except at higher prices. It's essential for visitors to understand and maybe then appreciate what's truly local.

Take a cue from some of the neighborhood farmers markets and have a few vendors selling food on the street. For instance, during oyster season, how about letting somebody set up a grill near the place where they throw fish. There's a cool setup like that near the ferry landing on Friday Harbor. It would be great to be able to buy barbecued oysters on the spot. 

Tell tourists to buy something or get out! This ain't no museum people. These are hard-working folks trying to make a living while you take a pretty picture and block the paying customers. OK, that's a little harsh. But for this visitor attraction to work, you've got to show some love. Or plastic.

And for locals who shun the place because it's a tourist attraction: Get over yourselves! Despite the minor shortcomings, this is the most wonderfully funky place to shop and eat and hang out in the city. If you can't find it there, it's not worth having.

Today, I came home with Creole mustard, remoulade, the fixings for meatloaf from Don & Joe's Butchers, organic tomatoes and potatoes and shallots and tomatillos, a poblano pepper, garlic, smoked sea salt, anchovies and medium brown eggs from the most awesome little shop, Pike Place Creamery. Today, they had a bunch of fall leaves on the ground, and they let me slide when I was short 15 cents. Thanks guys!

Care to share your suggestions on making this great market even better?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I just got off the phone with Brandon Gillespie, owner of Beato, who was sorry to report he's going to have to pull the plug on his West Seattle restaurant.

"It's just too much of an uphill battle with the economy," said Gillespie, who knows a thing or two about the markets since he's a trader. 

In just the past four weeks, he has seen business drop by 65 percent. Shoot!

"When things get bad, fine dining is the first to go and the last to come back," he said.

Beato's last supper will be served Nov. 14. The restaurant's offering deals on wine and featuring an updated menu. I'm going to make it a point of getting in there to pay my respects. You?

Tom Douglas in his cups

OK, cupping to come up with a special Starbucks Thanksgiving blend. Check out this You Tube video by clicking HERE.

Now, this is the kind of promotion I'm pumped to see the coffee pioneer doing. Though I can't really picture drinking coffee with my bird, but maybe the following day with my hot turkey sandwich leftovers.

Monday, November 3, 2008

An offer I couldn't refuse

Well... more like a request I couldn't refuse because it was asked so sweetly. Baby Girl wanted to watch "The Godfather" with her father for the umpteenth time, but this go-round, while eating Italian.

I couldn't really duplicate the ragu Clemenza makes in one of the movie's more satisfying scenes... where he mericilessly teases his future boss, showing him how to cook.

But I pulled together a decent impromtu dinner: bucatini with marinara topped with Trader Joe's eggplant parmesan, and some fresh oysters on the side, grilled on the stovetop in their shells until they start to sputer and sizzle. Then, I pryed them open and finished them in garlic butter, spiked with white wine and Worchestshire. Even Baby Girl liked 'em that way. 

Anyway, dinner and a movie was a huge hit. Might even make it a regular thing. Maybe break out the wok and cue up "Eat Drink Man Woman" or do a Scandanavian spread for "Babette's Feast".

What's your favorite movie where food plays a part?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Field trip: Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive

This was the view from my table at lunch at The Oyster Bar on Chucknut Drive near Bellingham, the top two pics are of oysters eaten during this Sunday drive. Today, I ate oysters raw at the water's edge, baked and fried. Pretty sweet!

I hadn't been to the Oyster Bar in years, but it hasn't changed much. It's still one of the best destination dining spots in the Northwest. Only a little more than an hour from Seattle. Go!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Clean plate club: Poppy

Johnny loved his thali at Poppy, Jerry Traunfeld's new restaurant, which I reviewed in today's P-I. Read it by clicking HERE

One little bit of trivia that didn't make it into the review: the wooden clothes pins used to hold the menu on its wooden stand are from the same company that makes clothes pins that go on the bills at The French Laundry. Poppy delivers its check in a plastic thingie that looks like a pocket protector. Lots of fun details to notice at this new venue. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election Day countdown!

Smokin' Pete's BBQ in Ballard isn't waiting for a new president to slash taxes.

On Nov. 4, the restaurant won't add tax to its tabs. I'm going to vote with my fork and get in there to take advantage of this great deal. Thanks Pete!

Check out the menu by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Man, I love a layer cake

Sure, I would never turn down a piece of pie or a creme brulee made by my friend Holly, but I my heart belongs to the layer cake. This one was from Nielsen's, a bakery that reminds me of my great grandmother Signe, smelling of sugar, butter and flour perfuming the room.

I miss the caramel layer cakes of the South, and have never perfected the German chocolate that my sister loves for her birthday. I do make a pretty good pineapple upside down cake, though.

What's your favorite cake?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Communal tables: Love 'em or hate 'em?

This week's column asks that question... check it out, click HERE.

Gotta love these Freedom Fries!

Baby Girl just told me Blue Moon is giving out free French fries next Tuesday to everyone who shows proof they've voted. Let freedom ring!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday in West Seattle

What a beautiful afternoon to go to the farmers market. If only all fall could be this perfect, it might make the long winter a little easier to swallow. (She typed while basking in the glow of her full-spectrum light.)

I'm making dinner from all the goodies I got: halibut, chanterelles, beets, okra, potatoes. After loading up, went to Constellation Park and snacked on Honeycrisp apples and cheese. What's on your plate for Sunday supper? 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

So hot for Poppy's cocktails

I am so impressed with the mad skills of Poppy's bartenders. They've mixed me up the best bourbon sour I've ever tasted, complete with raw egg whites, which adds a frothy creaminess. 

The drink pictured above is a six twenty-two, named for the restaurant's address on Broadway Avenue East on beautiful Capitol Hill. It's built on a truly old-fashioned foundation, rye whiskey. Old Overholt Rye Whiskey, amero nonino, rhubarb and Angostura bitters, shaken, not stirred. When I asked the server to describe the drink, whether it was dry or sweet, he bumbled: "It's like a dirty martini." No sir. It's more like a beautifully balanced Manhattan, sweet, but not sticky.

I also loved Papi Delicious and can't wait to try the rum curry. Three cheers to the fab bevs at Poppy!

P.S./stuff that didn't make the review

I'm reviewing JUNO this week in the Seattle P-I, but couldn't find room to mention at least one thing that was super annoying:

On a slow evening, the dining room was obviously overstaffed, a couple servers and the "captain" paced back and forth in order to look busy. It was so distracting. 

It's got to stink to be in this position, just a few tables, bored, trying to keep up the appearance of working. But, maybe there's some napkins in the back that could be folded, or some glasses that could use a little polish. 

In the meantime, our server -- Gary -- was an absolute pro, who offered insider dish, good recommendations and took care of a problem with the wine exactly the way it should be handled. Well done. Maybe Gary's available to do some training of less seasoned members of the staff.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Curtain's coming down on Veil

Just got news that Veil is closing this week, coinciding with its third anniversary. 

I recently interviewed chef/owner Shannon Galusha and he was upbeat about the future, saying he had just hired a new GM. What a difference a couple of weeks make, huh?

Veil will also serve brunch Saturday and Sunday (that's the crab and goat cheese omelet pictured, which I thoroughly enjoyed last January), and have a closing bash from 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Nov. 1. 

Restaurants open and close constantly, but somehow this feels different. Like the right ingredients for success were there, so why did it go down? We'll probably never know why some places can't keep the doors open and restaurants that appear to have a whole lot less going for them remain open.

Any thoughts?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Breaking news: Ethan Stowell does it again

Uber-chef Ethan Stowell is opening his fourth venue, an Italian seafood restaurant on Capitol Hill. Anchovies and Olives will debut in late December or early January at 15th and Pine, one of the anchor tenants in a new apartment building. 

Charles Walpole, formerly at Mistral, will be in the kitchen of the 40-seat, 1,500-square-foot eatery. The menu will include appetizers, pasta dishes, meat and fish and all items will be $18 or less. 

With all the suck-y economic news of late, here's something worth celebrating.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

If you were stranded on a desert island...

Got a travel story in the P-I about my recent trip to Maui. (Here's a link to that piece.) The overnighter into Haleakala was one of the coolest things ever, especially the dinner I cooked in the cabin. I planned the meal and prepped everything in advance. Then, my S.O. schlepped it in. 

Seared ahi, stir-fried veggies, soba noodles with black bean sauce, ma-po tofu. It was so good, even better because it came at the end of a great hike into a wonderful place. I wouldn't do anything differently.

What would you bring to a remote destination?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

What's better: Creme caramel or creme brulee?

Had a terrific creme caramel at Olivar, the Spanish-French with a bit of Italian restaurant I'm reviewing this week. It's not as egg-y as a creme brulee, which I also love. It seems creamier, and I'm a sucker for caramel. (The madeleine was also filled with caramel!)

Heck, panna cotta and flan are faves, too. I'm not sure I've ever had a pudding I didn't like.

Still, the creamy, dreamy stuff comes in second to cake, my top sweet treat.

Let's take a pudding poll: Which do you prefer? Creme brulee? Flan? Creme caramel? Or a good, old-fashioned tapioca?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where in the world is Matt Janke?

Since leaving his namesake restaurant, the affable chef has been working around town, but will soon keep regular hours at Cremant.


Because he really likes this place:

"The people are great, the food is wonderful (the fries are easily the best in town). I had an absolute blast cooking there last year during the remodel," Janke wrote in an email.

He'll be working the front of the house most Tuesdays, and wrote to tout the restaurants' new brunch, which begins Oct. 11. There are also some new menu items, new wines and a new bar format being developed.

For most of us, Cremant is out of the way, in the lovely Madrona neighborhood. I'll make a point of getting in there soon. How about you?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman: Gone, but never forgotten

Has there ever been such a delicious movie star? Even in his later years, Paul Newman star power burned brightly. And, his real legacy can be found on grocery store shelves everywhere, the salad dressing and sauce and organic popcorn that helped bring comfort and joy to kids with cancer, at the camps he helped launch.

Man, the icon could sure play a heel. Brick, Hud, the dad in Empire Falls. The movie I am yearning to watch again is "Once a Great Notion." The scene in which Paul Newman's character's brother dies still haunts me. 

What's your favorite Paul Newman movie?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wish I was in Oxford...

Tonight's presidential debate has stirred some yearning for the wonderful college town, Oxford, Miss., the home of University of Mississippi. (And the Southern Foodways Alliance.)

While living in Memphis, I often drove 90 minutes down south just to eat dinner and wander the square, the movie-set-like setting where William Faulkner used to hang out. One of my favorite places to visit was Taylor Grocery, a legendary catfish palace just outside town. 

Man, I've had some great fish there, some incredible hush puppies, snuck in my cocktails in a "go" cup, as is the custom. 

So, I went and got some catfish tonight, to fry up while I watched the debate. It turned out pretty good, thanks to the Zatairans fish fry mix. Love that stuff!

If I wasn't at home watching this with my kid, I might have headed over to Neumo's, where they were watching the candidates clash. Then, I would definitely try some Pike Street Fish Fry.

Did you watch? Did it give you heartburn?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The search for food that comforts

My darling daughter has pneumonia. Who knows how she got it? She's a healthy kid, rarely been on antibiotics. Bounces right back from the occasional cold. But not this time. She's damn sick.

Naturally, I have been trying to make her feel better with food. What are you craving? I ask. Nothing, she doesn't have an appetite. 

I've also been researching online which foods are most vitamin-rich to help prop up her battered immune system. I am woefully lacking in my knowledge of what's got what in it, beyond the typical Vitamin-C stuff. And I've never been a pill popper, preferring to get my nutrients from food rather than supplements. So, this unfortunate turn of events has opened my eyes to the power of what we eat. 

The fridge is now bursting with fresh fruits and veggies, which seems like a no-brainer, but it's easy to get in a salad/banana-buying rut at the supermarket. I've been exploring all sorts of citrus, getting in on the last of the season's peaches, paying a ridiculous amount of cash for organically grown raspberries. I'm going to cook up a mess of greens. Do you know there's a rainbow of vitamins in a pot of collards? We are gonna kick this pneumonia's ass!

Please feel free to share any home remedies/feel good suggestions. If you don't want to post, you can send directly to me at Leslie dot Dines at gmail dot com.  

UPDATE: The patient is feeling better, requesting mac-and-cheese. Is it just my imagination, or is the sick season starting earlier every year? 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Grinding, Island-style

Back on da mainland, but still dreaming about some of the amazing meals I had during my week on Maui. 

That pic on top was snapped in the Haleakala National Park, at a cabin where we camped Sunday night. A surreal experience for sure. That antipasti plate included a selection of Salumi Salami -- mmmmm! -- and while we were snackin on it a couple of kids from Seattle walked by. What are the odds? Of course, we shared! 

For that epic meal, I cooked seared ahi, stir-fried veggies over soba noodles with black bean sauce and maipo tofu. Crazy good!

The shot in the middle was the post-hike meal at Da Kitchen, the biggest plate of katsu chicken I've ever seen. Great mac salad, too.

Finally, there's the Kona-coffee-crusted lamb chops I had for my b-day dinner at Lahaina Grill. Maybe, probably, no, almost certainly the best lamb ever, soooo tender and flavorful. Trimmed up perfectly, so no bitefuls of fat. 

There were more highlights: watching my nephew Brandon try ahi poke for the first time, getting totally pampered at Spago -- where my niece Nicha's hubby Sean is a chef -- and kickin' it at my brother's place, grilling steak and watching the sun sink over Lanai. A very fun/filling trip! 

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Best birthday ever... in Maui!

Started my big day with macadamia nut pancake and coconut syrup -- a side of Portugese sausage -- at the Pioneer Inn in Lahaina. 

Had some great grinds on the beach at lunch: Korean BBQ we bought at local-kine deli in Wailuku, mac salad, grilled pineapple, Longboard Lager.

After a bottle of champagne on my bro's lanai, watching the sun sink over the island of Lanai, we went to Lahaina Grill and had a spectacular din-din: a trio of lobster, crab, shrimp cakes called "The Cake Walk" (pictured above left) followed by Kona-crusted lamb chops and local asparagus. Insane! 

What an epic day. Gonna be hard to top this, but I'm working on my menu for an overnight hike into the Haleakala Crater. Any thoughts for gourmet trail grub?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Thinking of New Orleans

This is the late Austin Leslie, frying up his famous chicken at a Southern Foodways Alliance symposium a few years ago. Man, that was some glorious bird, which the New Orleans icon served with pickles.

I've been thinking about my friends in NOLA all weekend. Heard from one family who didn't evacuate, which is now looking like a gamble that's going to pay off.

Haven't heard mention that the storm disrupted Decadence Weekend, which is traditionally held over Labor Day. Our family unsuspectingly booked a trip to New Orleans one year during the clothing-optional (almost, not quite) festivities and my kid got quite an education. Yes, dear, that man is dressed as Napolean wearing a mini skirt. 

She also got served. Wine, that is. The laws are very Euro in this country's most exotic city. If you're with grown-ups, servers will pour kids a glass of wine. Isn't that civilized? Or, maybe further proof that, as some people say, New Orleans is the devil's playground. 

Yeah, you right.

I've been longing to get back down that way, to eat at my favorite places: John Besh's August, Willie Mae's, Central Grocery, the market in the Quarter that boils up a mean mess of crawfish. I'm going to book that ticket, too. Just as soon as hurricane season is over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Who's cooking at 35th Street Bistro?

Just got a news release saying chef Tom Black is now at Culinary Communion, doing cooking classes. This is just months after he joined the kitchen crew at the Fremont restaurant, which seems to have a revolving door when it comes to chefs.

Anybody got the inside skinny on this development?

This totally bites!

This was my last real meal before having dental surgery last week. Poor, poor pitiful me!
Before going under the knife, or hammer and chisel or whatever nasty tools they used, I made myself a big bowl of comfort food in the form of carbonara. The swine-tastic bacon from Wooly Pigs gave it some extra sizzle, and I threw some fresh figs on the side for a sweet note to balance all the creamy saltiness. Mmmmm!
Since then, it's been soft foods for me. Which completely sucks. I love the crunch! Still, I'm trying to explore the wonderful world of polenta and mashed potatoes and even managed to make tortilla chips do-able by folding them into scrambled eggs with roasted anaheim chilis and calling it migas. 
Where's the best restaurant to wrap my mouth around something soft?

Monday, August 18, 2008

I've been Two-Buck Chucked!

At a recent family reunion, brother Mike challenged me to a blind tasting. He bet I couldn't pick out the Charles Shaw (aka $2 or $3 or $4 Chuck) in the bunch. The set-up was ultra-casual, wine poured into plastic cups, after much wine had already been consumed. (I plead palate fatigue!)

I'm not exactly making excuses, just saying I should have gone with my gut instinct. Sniffed them all first and Chas was putting out some strong fumes, but I was pulled off track by another cheapie from Trader Joe's, an Italian that was mighty grape-y, too.

So, yes, I was showed up. Are you happy little bro? Yes, I learned my lesson: Do not make bets after imbibbing. Guess that wouldn't apply in Vegas, would it? 

Thanks brother!

My Maui-bronzed bro Chris was in town last week and took me out, even picked up the tab. Feeding the beast of a weekly review schedule, it's so rare that I am out for a meal just for fun, and it reminded me how much I love it when someone else is treating. (Hint, hint.)

We had drinks and apps at Betty, then dinner at Crow. He was blown away by how cheap everything was, especially the fine food at Tamarind Tree. (Though, ever the critic, I've got to say it's time for that restaurant to replace its tattered menus!)

In just a few weeks, I'll return the favor when I visit him in Hawaii. Spending my birthday on the beach this year! Anyone have island-style dining recommendations? Mahalo for sharing! 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Please don't kill yourself Bethany Jean

I'm a big fan of sassy Stranger Bethany Jean Clement, who recently wrote about the hunt for high-end cheap eats, mentioning a story I wrote in July, saying if she had to follow my suggestions, she'd rather stay home and kill herself.  Hmmm. Just a teensy bit dramatic, doncha think?

Anyhoo, BJC writes about the incredible $50 deal at Corson Building, Matt Dillion's new place in Georgetown. It's offered occasionally on Sundays. It's not as much food as the regular sit-downs, but you won't go away hungry, she promised.


That's not what I've heard. And I'm talking about the regular deal, not the leaner Sunday dinner. Am going to sneak in there soon. Have you been yet? What's the buzz? Tell me what's happening!  

And in what alternative universe is $50 considered "cheap", especially when you add tax, tip, a glass of wine, make that two or three glasses of wine. OK, that "cheap" dinner is now $100.

Happy Birthday to my favorite spy! Julia Child

August 15 is the French Chef's birthday, and news just broke that she was part of the OSS during WWII. Oh, how I wish she could have included those stories in some of her books.

Have you read "My Life in France" yet? It's so darned entertaining. I actually listened to the book on CD during a road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains a couple of years ago. The whole family got a big charge out of Julia discovering her calling and her endearingly goofy phrases.

I got to meet this legendary cooking icon and she was so warm, so engaging. She had the gift of natural curiousity and conversation. Maybe that's why she was chosen to be a spy!

Friday, August 8, 2008

So good!

I four-starred Cafe Juanita in today's Seattle P-I, a rating I have only given, maybe three times in the 15 years I've been reviewing restaurants.

The three meals I had there were not utterly flawless -- one pasta preparation went overboard on the basil -- but the place really nailed the whole experience. 

I'd love to hear from you: What's the four-star restaurant in your universe? Is it flying under the radar? Has it been reviewed?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tasty memory

Was just going through, trying to organize my photos (yeah, right!) and found this one from last spring: a morel mushroom-stuffed pastry at Art of the Table. No skimping on the morels, that was such a wonderful dinner.

Been meaning to try and go back there, but too busy eating for upcoming reviews. I might make an exception for next week's Julia Child Birthday dinner. Send a note to chef Dustin at to sign up for the restaurant's newsletter.

Huevos with an East Indian twist

Loved my breakfast at Old Wives' Tale, a cafe in Portland. The dal subbing for the usual refrieds was the biggest difference in the variation of the classic breakfast fave. And the pineapple chutney on the side.

I also had a pretty great din din at a Nouveau Southern-style place called Screen Door. And, reconfirmed my devotion to Kenny & Zuke's pastrami, munching on a righteous Reuben for lunch. 

During this quick trip, barely had a chance to put a dent in my wish list of places to go dine and drink. Really wanted to get into the Teardrop Lounge, but not enough hours in the day! 

What are some of your favorite Portland eateries? Is Portland becoming the new Seattle?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Dining doggie style

The very day I read in the New York Times that restaurants in China have been encouraged to drop dog from its menus while the Olympics are going on, I stumbled onto news that Barking Frog is offering a special three-course dinner for your special four-legged friend tonight.

Click here to read the menu, provided by Three Dogs Bakery.

Raise your paw if you think dogs belong in restaurants. (This issue prompted a huge cat fight when I brought it up last summer, but it seems to be gaining momentum, so I thought I'd open that can of worms again. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The best burger in Seattle? Heck yeah!

If there's a better $17 burger in Seattle, I want to taste it!

This jaw-testing beauty is one of the dishes I liked a whole lot at Spring Hill, the West Seattle venue I'm reviewing this week in the Seattle P-I

The fries really blew me away. First, I'm a huge fan of the crinkle cut. I think the ridges make for a crispier fried tater. Spring Hill makes its own ketchup, too.

Let's take a vote: Shoestrings? Crinkle cuts? Steak fries? What's your fave?

Carpaccio in Seattle?

A reader wonders where to find this beefy treat... I just saw Alton Brown prepare it on his great "Good Eats" last night.

While working in Memphis, I got to meet Alton, who is just as bubbly in person, though the goofy/genius routine was toned way down.

Speaking of TV chefs, I just heard Hells Kitchen is going to be cancelled. Say it ain't @$##$-ing so!! 

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tribute to mayo!

Found some old photos, which made me deeply nostalgic! This was taken at the Calvary Waffle Shop, a wonderous place that only exists during Lent at the Calvary Baptist Church in Memphis. You didn't have to go to the noon preaching to enjoy the lunch, which included made-from-scratch mayo. 

John T. Edge wrote about this delicious tradition in the revised edition of "Southern Belly."

I've never successfully made my own mayo, but have learned to embellish the store-bought stuff pretty well. Last night, made a true remoulade to spoon on top of fresh Dungeness crab some friends caught in the San Juans. It was so sweet, so fresh.

In my extended family tree, there was one branch firmly planted in the Miracle Whip camp. I still love my cousins, but YUCK! 

So, where do you stand? Mayo? Miracle Whip?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

DIY fish fillet tips

Just love Rebekah Denn's tutorial piece on the tricky business of filleting your own fish. Chef Eric Donnelly makes it look so easy in this video. Maybe if I had his knife, or had tackled the thousands of fish he's skillfully sliced... 

This weekend, I made a whole salmon for a family dinner and took the easy way out, buying two pieces, tucking fennel and leeks between the two and cooking them on a plank for nearly two hours (at 275 degrees). When it was time to serve, I saw the fish was still a shade undercooked, so I popped it under the broiler. Not perfect, but it tasted great.

What's your favorite way to cook salmon?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Little slice of heaven

Was supposed to meet up with a friend at Suncadia last weekend, but I messed up the dates. So, had a little dose of alone time, and truly relished the peace and quiet at this planned community resort 80 miles east of Seattle.
The best part was getting in on the opening of the new luxe spa, including a "vinotherapy" massage (chardonnay-scented oil applied by Jess, a true healer!) and a Caviar, Champagne and Truffles facial. Yum. After, they bring you a glass of stellar Chinook chard and some bon bons. Ain't life sweet?
I was impressed by the meal I had at the new Portals restaurant, especially the lemon ricotta ravioli. The whole place pays tribute to its mining past, which I thought was very cool.
Anybody been lately? This summer, the chef is doing demos featuring local farmers on Saturdays. Might be worth a road trip.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Say you want a Revolution?

What better way to celebrate the peasants storming the Bastille than sitting down to an expensive meal?

Let them eat cake indeed!

Don't you think it's just a little hinky that Americans turn July 14 into an excuse to indulge? I guess it's no worse than the crass commercialism of Christmas.

Speaking of the winter holiday of giving, I'm organizing a Christmas in July food drive at the Seattle P-I with the help of Rebekah Denn. I've started volunteering at the U-District Food Bank, and, not surprisingly, the need has never been greater.

So... instead of going out and blowing big bucks on a meal, I'm going to eat at home and take the money I've saved and make a donation. Vive la Revolution!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Herbfarm review

My review of The Herbfarm ran in today's Seattle P-I, a piece I spent days agonizing about. Not to mention the roughly 15 hours of dine time during three nine-course meals.

It's no picnic to criticize a beloved icon, but it's my responsibility to report honestly about my experience. And in a pretty limited space, considering all the food I tried. I didn't even get to go into the quirks of the place, the incessant merchandising and self-promotion, the arrogance of calling Foraged and Found's Jeremy Faber the house forager (when he supplies to restaurants throughout the region) and the curious absence of the guitarist for a long stretch at the beginning of one dinner service.

Then, there was the utter lack of personal connection. Though I went to dinner three times in three months, there was never a glimmer of recognition for a returning guest. Not a critic, because I make reservations under another name, but just a "welcome back", "nice to see you again." Time and again, when I saw guests try to interact with the owner, they were given a smart-aleck response -- Carrie Van Dyck asked if I was mad at her when I furrowed my brow as she set a plate in front of me... say what!!?? -- or virtually ignored. A woman who was celebrating her anniversary lavished compliments and all she got in return from Ron Zimmerman was a strained smile. 

I was -- I still am -- prepared for an avalanche of blow back on this controversial review. But so far, I've only heard agreement. Anyone care to share their Herbfarm experience?