Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Is it summer yet?

If there's anything I love more than sitting in the pretty dining room or the rockin bar at The Pink Door, it's hangin' on the patio. 

The Door's kicking off its al fresco dining season and celebrates the installation of a slick new awning with a new cocktail, the aptly named "I've Got You Covered." It's a mix of light and dark rums, almond rosewater, fresh lemon juice garnished with brandy-soaked cherries. I'll drink to that!

Some new seasonal items have sprouted on the menu, too, including a lamb shank done osso bucco-style, a beefed-up cheese plate and the ultimate green salad featuring bibb lettuce, fava beans, asparagus, pistachios and tarragon dressing.

Anybody care to join me on the deck? Or name your favorite place to dine outside... 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bacon Salt guys on Oprah

Click here to watch the video from last week. 

And, guess what? They've been swamped with orders. Viewers are going nuts trying to score some Baconnaise, Bacon Salt, Bacon Lip Balm. 

Which begs the (rhetorical) question: Does everything Oprah loves turn to gold?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tune in for Seattle Mariners pre-game show...

... at 10:45 this morning on 710 KIRO-AM to hear producer/engineer/baseball factoid genius (and my Facebook friend) Kevin Cremin dish about some of favorite places to eat in So Cal. 

Whenever the M's are on the road on a Sunday, Kevin does a mouthwatering restaurant show before the game. It's good vicarious fun for the armchair traveler.

Looking forward to hearing his report today on a fancy pants place in Costa Mesa called Mastro's and hearing the rundown on the Crab Cooker in Newport Beach.

We've got a running debate about which city is the center of the BBQ universe. I think y'all probably know where I stand on this issue (in Memphis), but Kevin contends it's Kansas City. I'd bet my husband's autographed George Brett baseball we could settle this if he invited me on his show. Unfortunately, the M's don't play KC on a Sunday this season. But, as they say in sports, there's always next year.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

BBQ Baron in Shoreline

Paul Kirk, the Kansas City BBQ Baron, was in Shoreline today teaching a class in competition cooking. I volunteered to be a judge and was asked by a fellow judge if I wanted to excuse myself after I called into question one of the contestants licking his fingers then going back to cutting his meat. Oh, and there was a guy who had been petting his dog then cutting up his pork entry. 

Can I get an EWWWW?

I am not a germphobe, not by a long stretch, but I think food safety should be covered in any cooking class. Don't you?

Anyhoo, Paul Kirk's new book on the country's best barbecue is out soon, but it has already stirred up controversy for who's in and who's out. I cannot agree with including Leonard's in Memphis, but not Payne's or Cozy Corner or Central or Germantown Commissary. But it's Kirk's book and here's a short video of him talking about it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Starbucks does a lot of things right

I had a bowl of "perfect" oatmeal at S'bux in Freemont yesterday, where the woman working the cash register brightened a gloomy Seattle morning with her bubbly personality. "Are you always this cheerful?" I had to ask. "Oh yeah," said her co-workers.

Later, I went to a Tom Douglas all-staff meeting, where Howard Schultz was the guest speaker. Tom D. has had a relationship with Starbucks since before Schultz arrived. He believes in supporting local businesses, even when that business has taken heat for getting sidetracked from its original coffee-centric mission.

One worthy detour Starbucks has made is the company's long-standing commitment to improving the lives of the people who grow the beans, even beyond "fair trade." A representative from Conservation International was there, too, talking about Starbucks' 11-year partnership with that organization. Along time before green became the new black. I was impressed.

Doesn't a company which makes a significant commitment to helping the planet and its inhabitants deserve our respect and our business?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

James Beard nominees dinner...

Went to a spectacular dinner Monday night at Crush featuring this year's James Beard nominees: Jason Wilson, Ethan Stowell (Union), Maria Hines (Tilth), Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez (Harvest Vine) and Cathy Whims (Nostrana in Portland). 

It would be impossible to pick a favorite from that impressive meal. To watch my very clumsy video of the chefs talking about their dishes, click here

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lessons learned so far

I am completely in awe of the daring feats I've witnessed in the kitchens these past few weeks, the hoisting of molten hot stockpots, wresting of hotel pans, the incessant prepping and cleaning followed by bursts of cooking then more cleaning.

As a diner/critic, I always appreciated the effort that goes into turning raw ingredients into something that takes your breath away. But being part of the process -- a very small, inadequate part -- has only deepened that admiration.

I know I'm mostly in the way. That it's a pain to have someone so green in the mix. Still, I try to make up for my inadequacies by being willing to do anything, trying to jump in and be helpful when I can.

Here's the Top 5 things I've learned so far:

The best way to dice an onion/shallot.

The importance of having a sharp knife (see above) and bringing those knives to work.

How to use a fork to quickly strip cilantro/parsley leaves from stems.

The finer points of kitchen talk: Comin' through hot/sharp! Behind you. Family meal's up! (Do not be shy because when it's gone, it's gone.)

To overcome my fear of flour, thanks to the nurturing and crazy talented bread department.

There's so much more, but that's a start. Would it be too dramatic to say my brief stint in the kitchen has forever changed me? Well, it has. I hope for the better. In a perfect world, every restaurant critic should spend some time on the other side. Or should they?

Friday, April 17, 2009

My new shoes!!

I don't know if I've ever been quite so excited about a new pair of shoes, my comfy Euro-clogs ordered out of Shoes for Crews.

There were so many great suggestions that followed my first "Critic to Cook" entry on Serious Eats. Seems I really struck a nerve. But the long list of footwear was on the spendy side and I'm broke. So, I compromised and purchased the generic brand for $50-ish. It's still exhausting to stand for extended periods, but my feet only start aching toward the end of my shift.

Last night, a server gave me a super cool tip. When she first started, she would come home and grab a couple cans of beer from the fridge. Not to drink, but to roll around on her growling dawgs. When she told that story to a friend, the buddy said: "I'm never gonna drink beer at your house again." I dunno. Sounds like a brilliant way to cross purpose to me. You? 

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Don't you just LOVE bread?

As a critic, I always admired the bread. Never munched on it absent-mindedly while waiting for the main course. 

Even before seeing all the effort that goes into making the beautiful loaves for Tom Douglas restaurants and the Dahlia Bakery (that's Molly McCarter pictured at the retail store), I knew there was something special about the intensely flavorful, crusty-chewy, but tender-on-the-inside bread baked daily in the small in-house bakery.

I'm not saying this because I'm trying to butter up the boss, but I think that bread is the best in Seattle. And Seattle's got a lot of damn fine bread bakeries. (Also a huge fan of Macrina, Columbia City, La Panzanella. Who I am forgetting?)

My latest post on Serious Eats offers the skinny on my too-short stint in the flour-y world. And, click here, for a rundown on the various varieties sold at Dahlia Bakery. (Which also sells the amazing pastries baked in-house.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

BBQ brisket bombs

UPDATE: Most Q-lovers prefer sauce on the side, according my recent poll, with drizzled on top coming in as a close second. Greg wrote to note that chopped brisket sandwiches are mixed with sauce, sliced sandwiches come with sauce on the side. Guess the message is that it's good to have options.
I had some great expectations for the slow-smoked Hill Country sandwich currently featured on the 5-Spot's "Keep Austin Weird" menu. 

It was cooked in a smoker, so the server assured me. It came on Texas toast, slaw on the side. (Cilantro haters would not dig this cabbage salad, just fyi.) The sauce was made with Dr. Pepper.

But, alas -- this the menu did not say -- it was served sloppy Joe-style, drowning in the sticky sweet sauce. I couldn't even taste the meat, which was sliced deli thin and was fatty. When I asked the server if there was an option to get the sauce on the side, he said he didn't know, but that, as far as he was concerned, the more sauce, the better.

No! No!! And No!!!

True barbecue is about the meat, sauce is secondary. Am I right? 

I asked my bro-in-law, who grew up in Austin to 'splain it to me, he the merry maker of migas and hoe cakes and the best damn enchiladas I ever put in my mouth. But he has been too busy hanging out with super modelquins (he's art-directing those commercials). Instead, I went searching for the pics he and my Sissy sent last fall while eating around the Hill Country, and, sure enough, there's no sauce near the nice slice of brisket at the world-famous Mueller's. That's the meaty photo, by the way. The line at Cooper's is pictured on top.

How do you like to roll when it comes to Q? Sauce on the meat or on the side? Take the poll please and I'll share the results in the near future.

Friday, April 10, 2009

My flat-out favorite place to eat in Seattle

People always ask me "what's your favorite restaurant in Seattle?" That's such a hard question to answer. There are so many incredible options, it's like asking a mother of a big brood to pick which kid she loves the most.

But after another wonderful lunch at Salumi, I've just got to go on record: There's just no place I'd rather eat. Even when there's a monster line out the door, which there always is, rain or shine.

I got there shortly after 11 today, thinking I might miss the rush. No such luck. But standing in the drizzle, I visited with some folks who were visiting from Chicago. They asked me if it was worth waiting for. Oh yeah.

My crush on Salumi blossomed into true love last summer when Gina Batali and her crew created a Grand Salami for Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus. The winning lineup of sandwiches that day was something I'll never forget. It was so obvious they had been made with love, my favorite secret ingredient. On the table, there was a bowl of braised oxtail over polenta. I could not stop eating that wildly flavorful dish. 

The oxtail was a featured special this week. I had to get in there and see if it was as good as I remembered. It was ladled over bread today, and the board warned it was messy. Best eaten there. When I started eating it with a knife and fork, Gina suggested I pick it up. Mmmm. Yes, that was best. The sturdy bread remarkably kept the oxtail contained. Nothing ran down my wrist. Beautiful!

Is this addictive oxtail No. 1 on my greatest hits list? Too soon to say. I'm going to have to work my way through the rest of the menu to say for sure. What about you? What do you order at Salumi?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Taste Washington notes

The last time I went to Taste Washington -- six years ago -- there were just 200 or so wineries in the state. Now, there are 600.

Some things never change, though. The mobs swarming around the hottest producers, who run out early, great food, amazing people watching. I know I should try new vintners, but it's so hard not to return to my favorites. Just checking to make sure they're still spot on. 

That would be a big oh hell yeah for Woodward Canyon, DeLille, Pepper Bridge, Chinook, Andrew Will, Betz Family, aMaurice, Buty and Spring Hill. Also really liked Barrister's Sauv Blanc and Cote Bonneville's DuBral Vineyard.  

The highlight of this year's event was the spotlight on growers, who were pouring wines made from grapes they had produced. I spoke with Dick Bouschey last week about all the changes he has seen since he first planted in the lower Yakima Valley in 1980. How about everything?

He sells to more than 25 winemakers, most very involved in the vineyards. A whole lot of new varietals have gone in over the past few years. Bouschey has added white Rhone grapes including Picpoul and Grenache blanc. Can't wait to see where those go.

On the food front, I was loving the roast suckling pig from Dahlia Lounge, the sliders from Crush and ate a bunch of oysters from Elliott's. Was very impressed tasting through the lineup of Claudio Corallo chocolates. There's a fascinating story behind those exquisite, estate-grown chocolates.

Beyond the food and wine, there was a whole lot going on: cooking demos, Riedel stemware showcase, raffles and Stumptown coffee and a jazz combo. An epic event to be sure. I just wish they could come up with a better way to get people in the door more efficiently, so when the crowd rushes in, it doesn't feel like such a frenzy. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

John and Mario Batali

There's something strange and wonderful going on in my home. As I've entered the professional kitchen -- trying to determine whether I've got the skills to be a cook while working in the Tom Douglas restaurant world -- my husband has become the family chef.

John worked at the P-I, a page designer who started out many years ago as a reporter and has worked nearly every post in between, winning some huge awards along the way and now finds himself pretty much unemployable. What to do? Grad school? Ski bum? Foreign service? The latter was suggested by our sister-in-law, who lives in Cambodia. She wanted John to come apply to the American Embassy. Like this week. Too bad we just sent in our passports for renewal.

In the meantime, John's been spending some quality time with Mario B, reading one of his cookbooks, the one with the "easy" recipes, quoting passages and making some incredible meals. The proscuitto-wrapped chicken was my favorite so far. 

It's so obvious, but I've got to say it: These efforts are some of the greatest gifts I've ever received from my husband of umpteen years. He's way out of his comfort zone in the kitchen, well except for breakfast. But after one of my three stepmothers made breakfast for dinner way too many times -- she spent the grocery money on macrame supplies -- I refuse to eat eggs in the evening.

So, especially after standing for eight hours, these meals give me so much pleasure because I can tell they were prepared with love. I know that sounds super corny, but it's true. Just like the pot roast at Little Tea Shop, the barbecue at Cozy Corner and the braised oxtail at Salumi, which is going to be on the menu this week. I'm so going to get me some of that very special occasional special.

Did I mention my feet are killing me? I've been soliciting comfy shoe suggestions, so help me put my best foot forward.