Friday, September 27, 2013

Lunch | lunchin' in downtown Seattle

Since I was in Seattle from Wednesday to Thursday, I was able to hop in a couple restaurants for a real weekday lunch (none of that hybrid stuff that happens on the weekends where waits and prices can be unfavorable), including Local 360 and Il Corvo.

After an activity-filled morning at the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden & Glass, and the Olympic Sculpture Park, {1} we stopped into Local 360 for a legit lunch. {4} In fact, Local 360 is a sustainable restaurant and food producer in the heart of downtown, emphasizing local sourcing, as 90% of its raw ingredients come from farms/purveyors/vendors/artisans within a 360-mile radius of Seattle. {2,3,6} The interior of Local 360 has a feel of an old school tavern, comprising of mostly maple-colored woods.

02E - Local 360
{5} Even our soft drinks were locally sourced -- the restaurant's very own soda, Local 360 Low-Cal cola, as well as Rachel's ginger beer (which is handcrafted right here in Seattle at Pike Place Market). The Low-Cal cola was very light (not too much sugar at all, but didn't taste artificial either) while the ginger beer with nice and biting (as it should be) in that refreshing way. {7} We also shared an order of mussels with bay leaf, white wine, and frites, where the mussels were juicy and plump in a lovely wine sauce. {6} As my main course, I tried the oyster po' boy with tarragon remoulade and apple slaw, while {7} my guest had the butcher's grind house burger with lettuce, homemade red pepper relish, aioli, cheese, and bacon. The oysters in the po' boy well-fried and really tender and flavorful. However, I was not a fan of the seasoning -- not sure if it was the tarragon or some other spice, but it was really overpowering, taking away from the overall enjoyment of the dish. I've never had an authentic po' boy from New Orleans, so I can't say what seasonings I should expect on this sandwich, but one thing was for sure -- I just wasn't crazy about this one, which made me really sad because I loved everything else about it. The burger was very redeeming in contrast, as my guest said it was one of the best burgers he's ever had. Cooked to the perfect, juicy temperature with the right consistency of melty cheese and two perfectly seared pieces of bacon on top, the burger had everything you'd look for in the ideal burger. Plus the blend of meat in the patty, light spread of aioli, as well as the tangy relish made it that much better.

{1} The next day, we hopped on over to Il Corvo in Pioneer Square (also near downtown Seattle) after a morning of exploring Pike Place Market. {7} Even getting there relatively early at 11:30 PM (it opens at 11), there was already a line almost at the door! Expect a 15-minute wait at least during peak lunch hours (though, please note that Il Corvo is only open for lunch on weekdays). The space inhabited by Il Corvo is pretty basic -- a bunch of communal tables with {3} a shelf of vintage pasta makers/extruders/etc. and large scale prints featuring pasta along the walls. {5} The menu is pretty bare-bones simple as well -- a selective list of antipasti and a short list of pasta specials, all of which are fresh handmade!

03F - Il Corvo We made sure to order {4} some homemade focaccia as well as the salami misti to nibble on while we waited for our pasta dishes to come out of the kitchen. Really fresh focaccia that was perfect for sweeping up pasta sauce later on. The salami was well-cured and gave a savory start to our lunch. {2} We both had the baked pasta misti with bolognese and béchamel -- essentially a traditional Italian lasagna (as indicated by the inclusion of béchamel) made using three varieties of pasta as the layers (other than lasagna pasta sheets). Quite possibly the best lasagna dish I've ever had because it was the perfect amount of sauce, meat, and creaminess/cheesiness without feeling overwhelmed or overdone, where the pasta wasn't drowning in sauce or cheese. Plus, the fact that all of the pastas were made by hand just made it THAT much more enjoyable. We also had a side of the al infierno sauce just to give it a taste. It had a sweet-and-spicy kick to it and would go great in a fra diavlo pasta dish.

Findings: Seattle definitely has some great lunch spots in its downtown area -- I thoroughly enjoyed the two spots we got to try. Local 360 had really awesome, locally-sourced American comfort food (still wishing for another bite of the butcher's grind house burger!) while Il Corvo has some pretty badass housemade pasta dishes. So if you find yourself in the Seattle area during the week, you'll be sure to find something delicious to satiate your lunchtime hunger at both these spots.

Price point: $10-15 for each sandwich at Local 360, $12 for each large plate, $3-6.75 for each beverage;

--August 22-23, 2013

Local 360
2234 1st Avenue
Seattle, Washington 98121

Il Corvo
217 James Street
Seattle WA, 98104

Monday, September 23, 2013

Feasts & Affairs | Outstanding in the Field NYC, 2013

Last weekend, it was time for our yearly tradition since 2010 -- another farm dinner with Outstanding in the Field (OITF) during one of its NYC stops. It was crazy to think that we (including Linda, John, Jess, and John) bought our tickets back in March (on the first day of Spring!) for this much anticipated dinner in mid-September. This would be my fourth dinner since Linda introduced me to OITF, and I was every bit as pumped as I had been that very first time in 2010. Plus, it was even more special for Jess's John (I will refer to him at JJ from now on :P) as this was his first time at an OITF event!

Our dinner last year was supposed to take place at Brooklyn Grange (an acre-sized rooftop farm in Queens we had all been to together two years ago), but due to some bureaucratic hurdles, it was moved to La Plaza Cultural at the last minute (which was also lovely, but in a different way). We were thankful to have another opportunity to enjoy an evening at Brooklyn Grange this time without a hitch -- this year, we were very excited to have Chef Sisha Ortuzar of Riverpark curating our literal farm-to-table dinner. Given how much I had been blown away by the restaurant's NYC Restaurant Week lunch menu (something that is typically watered down and may not properly showcase a restaurant's menu well) last year, so I knew we were really in for a real treat if Chef Ortuzar could really pull out all the stops here.

Upon checking in around 4 PM, Brooklyn Oenology started us out with its 2012 Social Club white wine, a chardonnay-based blend, to be paired with the hors d'oeuvres that had started making its rounds through Brooklyn Grange's grounds. The wine has a "food-friendly acidity, with notes of crisp apple, pear, and a touch of tropical fruit, while finishing with orange blossom and a lingering, palate-cleansing minerality."

One of the first bites we had were the rabbit rillettes with late summer berries and summery savory, which, funny enough, did not taste like rabbit at all! Upon these first bites, none of us had seen the printed menus at our seats so our next best guesses were crab or chicken. Boy, did they have us fooled, especially myself, since I usually do not like the gaminess of rabbit one bit. However, in this case, it was actually quite nice with a little tart from the summer berries and lightly creamy from the rillette base. Something else to note is how well toasted the circular cut-outs of bread were, as each bite had that lovely crunch without getting soggy from the rillette spread on top.

Next up were these flutes of  tomato & corn soup. For someone who doesn't really believe in chilled soups, these sweet shots of fresh summer could surely change a gal's mind. It had this richness to it that was not heavy or creamy in the traditional way a soup is but creamy in a magically fluid way. Little splashes of concentrated oil added some color and flavor to this beautifully emulsified soup, which reminded me of the chilled corn soup with red peppers and shiso I had at Riverpark. Not gonna lie -- I may have had another one of these shortly after I had my first one! :x

Last of the hors d'oeuvres were the ricotta crostini with pole beans, pickled shallots, and shiso. This had a fun interplay of creamy from the fresh ricotta, of bite from the pickled shallots, and of summer from the just-picked pole beans. The fact that the produce used as ingredients in these bites made them that much more appealing -- can't get any more "farm-to-table" than this!

Traditionally, OITF has set the "long table" at farms, at gardens, on mountaintops, in sea caves, on islands, and at ranches -- wherever its tours would take the table. Because of the limiting confines of the farm being on a rooftop, the tradition of OITF's "long table" at its farm dinners had to be slightly adapted by splitting the dining table into two shorter tables to fit comfortable on the grounds while accommodating all guests.

Here's the other table that was already set up at Brooklyn Grange. We decided to sit at the other table as it made for easier conversation because of the shorter table width.

While everyone enjoyed the hors d'oeuvres, host farmers Ben Flanner (above) and Anastasia Plakias gave small group tours of the farm while giving a brief overview of what Brooklyn Grange is all about.

Brooklyn Grange's crops and the view of the city skyline in the backdrop.

More shots of crops and skyline.

And of course, OITF founder Jim Denevan gave opening remarks right before dinner was to start.

Our obligatory group shot!

Another OITF tradition is BYOP, i.e., bring your own plates, so I made sure to bring the lobster plates Marcus bought for me a while back from Anthropologie (a throwback to Friends: Phoebe's philosophy of "lobsters" as soul mates).

Fresh miniature baguettes from a local bakery whose name escapes me now. A fun fact that all of the sit-down serviceware are all pieces from Heath Ceramics, one of the few remaining mid-century American potteries still in existence today, based in Sausalito, California.

All courses that arrive at the dining table are all served family style, to be shared among eight or so guests. We began the sit-down portion of our dinner with Brooklyn Oenology's 2012 Friend riesling, which was on the dryer side and not too sweet. The little bits of residual sugar adds "wonderful richness perfectly balanced by an abundance of apples, Asian pear, white peach, nectarine, jasmine, and a hint of petrol with a crisp, clean finish of citrus, slate, and honey."

As our second course, they served us (fresh) burrata with purple tomatillos, ground cherries, and lemon verbena. The burrata was incredibly fresh, a pretty white blob of creaminess that complemented the tomatillos similarly to a delightful Caprese salad, just with a touch of stone fruit (gotta love cherries!) and herbed with the fragrant lemon verbena. This dish didn't even need dressing -- it remained undressed so that the burrata could soak up the juices of the fruits without any distractions.

Alongside the burrata, we also had a spicy melon salad with chicharrones (i.e., fried pork rinds), Thai basil, and coriander flowers. This salad was very much like a more "ethnic" version of a panzanella salad, where the chicharrones, watermelon, and Thai basil respectively acted like the expected day-old bread, tomatoes, and Italian basil. It was a very interesting twist, as the chicharrones and watermelon were dusted with some medium-hot spices, giving it a little heat and panache to stand out. A really refreshing salad bidding an honorable farewell to the warm days of summer.

Our next wine pairing was Brookly Oenology's 2010 chardonnay, which deviates from the typical California chardonnays. Crafted in a Burgundy method, this chardonnay has a palpable "creaminess matched with great acidity and structure, with tastes of baked apple, dried pineapple, quince, coconut with layered vanilla and hints of smoke and honey." Essentially, it was a lot buttery than we may have liked.

For our third course, we shared some grilled prawns with nasturtium. The prawns were sizable and juicy, and the added florals of nasturtium and splash of citrus gave interesting flavor and visual appeal. Grilling the prawns with these herbs and seasonings and serving them cooled down made for a lovely summer-driven dish.

This was probably Marcus and I's most favorite dish of the night -- Sfoglini reginetti with squid ink, clams, calamari, baby octopus, sweet peppers, bronze fennel, and oregano. Reginetti is a ribbon-shaped  (with wavy, ruched edges) pasta commonly served with more delicate sauces. Also served chilled, the reginetti was simply delightful as the light cream sauce which had the most vibrant varieties of seafood and had the lightest kick from the peppers and fennel. The oregano gave a slightly earthy tone to the dish overall to counter the sweetness from the seafood. The inked pasta was a divine al dente, with the sauce swimming in its little crevices. What a well-thought-up course!

Our main course was paired with Brooklyn Oenology's 2008 Motley Cru red blend with "a core of juicy cherry fruit and spice on the palate." Very much like a Rhône-like wine, the wine is "round and soft with great acidity and fine tannins with a medium body and a texture of a robust pinot noir."

The fourth course was a Berkshire pork rack with grilled peaches. Not many things say summertime like grilled peaches do, and that's exactly how I felt here. They had smoky grill marks and ended with a sweet bite (in that limbo between a bruised ripedness and a firm under-ripedness. The cuts from the pork rack had a nice exterior of fat (plus the bone from it being prepared as a rack) that the meat soaked up in flavor and juice. Pork can easily be overcooked into something really unflavorful, tough, and difficult to eat, but this pork rack was so tender, soft, and tasty, especially as pork is always well-complemented with stone fruit.

The side dish for the pork rack was corn with purslane, chanterelles, and sun gold tomatoes. It was a little reprise of the corn soup we had as an hors d'oeuvre (sweet and chilling), but with a teaser of fall in the mix as chanterelles are in their prime in the coming season. Great accompaniment to the pork rack.

Approaching dusk at Brooklyn Grange.

Dinner by candlelight à la mason jar, as OITF tradition dictates! :P

We were given a tub of brown butter-sage ice cream to be served alongside our last course (dessert).

Dessert consisted of an olive oil cake with roasted figs, meant to be served with the brown butter sage ice cream. The cake had a favorable denseness to it -- quite moist while being able to soak up the creaminess of the savory ice cream without losing the great consistency of the cake. While the brown butter, sage, and olive oil flavors turned this into a much more savory dessert, only to be brought back slightly to the sweeter side with the roasted figs, which just had the right amount of sweet.

Jim Denevan, Leah Scafe (director of OITF), Chef Ortuzar, and his team from Riverpark greeting guests that night at the end of our farm dinner.

Findings: I probably say this every time I leave a farm dinner with Outstanding in the Field, but I think this year was by far my most favorite dinner -- if only because I thought Chef Sisha Ortuzar made the most dynamic and flavorful use of hyper-locally sourced produce and ingredients. This may come as unfair as Chef Ortuzar does this same exercise at Riverpark as the restaurant sources most of its menu from the eponymous urban farm located right next door on the same campus so the challenge may not be as prominent as it would be for other chefs whose sourcing radius is a little broader. The real challenge for Chef Ortuzar may have remain in the sheer number of guests for which he had to cook up this extraordinary dinner. It didn't seem to faze him or his team as the dinner went quite smoothly without a hitch -- even as the sit-down courses were all served family style, everything was beautifully presented and tasted just as gorgeous as it had appeared on the plate. And as lovely as the food was, the service team was delightful and pleasant during the course of our dinner, making everything that much more seamless and enjoyable.

And as I appreciate with all OITF dinners, I loved how we can get together as a group every year over this fabulous meal, meet other food enthusiasts who appreciate this kind of thing, and hear personal stories from farmers/purveyors/artisans about the very ingredients that were prepared before us. It is truly an unparalleled experience -- traditions are close to the heart for this very reason, and I am thankful I get to spend it with these fantastic friends of mine each year.

Thank you to the team behind Outstanding in the Field for organizing yet another unforgettable dinner here in New York City! Already looking forward to the next year's farm dinner (and maybe even one at Secret Sea Cove over in California if Marcus and I are fast enough to nab a couple seats!).

Price point: $230 for a 100% locally supplied 5-course dinner with wine pairing by local winery.

--September 14, 2013

Outstanding in the Field
P.O. Box 2413
Santa Cruz, CA 95063

Brooklyn Grange*
37-18 Northern Blvd
Queens, NY 11101

450 East 29th Street
New York, NY 10016

Brooklyn Oenology Winery*
209 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211

Sfoglini Pasta Shop*
630 Flushing Avenue, 8th Floor
Brooklyn, NY 11206

Bodhitree Farm
2116 Jacksonville Road
Jobstown, NJ 08022

Paffenroth Gardens
95 Little York Road
Warwick, NY 10990‎

Locust Grove Fruit Farm
154 North Road
Milton, NY 12547

Migliorelli Farm
46 Freeborn Lane
Tivoli, NY 12583

John Fazio Farms
497 Freetown Highway
Modena, NY 12548

Prospect Hill Orchards
73 Clark's Lane
Milton, NY 12547

S. & S. O. Farms
234 Mount Eve Road
Goshen, NY 10924

Heritage Pork International
206 First Street
Seargent Bluff, IA, 51054-0668

Friday, September 20, 2013

Lunch | Rosemary's Enoteca & Trattoria

(Don't worry -- I'll be resuming my Seattle posts soon!)

This past Wednesday, Jess and I decided to play hooky for the day as we had tickets to go a taping of the food talk show, The Chew, that morning with Lisa and Tiffany. After we got to see an amazing episode dedicated to the glorious cheeseburger, Tiff went back to work, and Jess and I began our festivities for the day with a little shopping followed by lunch at Rosemary's Enoteca & Trattoria, where enoteca is Italian for "wine bar" and trattoria is an Italian restaurant that serves simple food (essentially less formal than a ristorante but more formal than an osteria).

Jess had come for a late dinner earlier this summer, and I remember saying to her that we needed to come back here together as I'd never been but heard great things. What I also didn't know about Rosemary's is that it not only is an Italian restaurant but it is one with a rooftop farm and created by owner Carlos Suarez (of Bobo fame). The restaurant's name is named after his mother, as it is "inspired by both her home in Lucca, Tuscany as well as the rich heritage of the restaurant's Greenwich Village corner." Chef Wade Moises overseas the kitchen, "serving seasonal Italian dishes that highlight the herbs and produce from the rooftop farm, as well as housemade pastas and a selection of focacce, as an homage to the location's predecessor, Sutter's Bakery."

Rosemary's has a beautifully understated dining room, which opens up to the long bar in the rear of the restaurant. It is simultaneously airy, breezy, gently energetic, and unpretentious. Tables are spread out at a comfortable distance while still remaining cozy.

That extra touch of exposed brick adds character from the restaurant's home of the Greenwich Village, underscoring the urban-rustic ambiance of its interiors.

View from our table.

Jess mentioned how even more gorgeous Rosemary's is during the evening hours, especially with the spaced out rows of industrially bulbed twinkle lights. The windows open like doors in the spring/summer, too!

I first heard about Rosemary's thanks to a review by New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells I read last summer. I was turned off by the prospect of the crazy wait times, so I left the restaurant on the back burner until NY Times contributor Jeff Gordinier wrote another piece about Rosemary's, specifically about one of its original and noteworthy dishes and how Chef Moises spent a decade "tinkering" with it (please read it -- it's one of the most interesting articles I read last year). The dish? The octopus salame on the fruitti di mare section of the menu. Besides the obvious part of it being an octopus dish (I almost always order it if I see it on the menu :P), the photograph of the dish alone got me totally intrigued -- Mr. Gordinier's description of it appearing "like a trompe-l’oeil depiction of some ancient myth involving a sea monster" was simply spot-on. And it was exactly what I had imagined it would be and more:

The octopus salame is garnished with "some olive oil, a few shreds of basil, and miniature clusters of pickled vegetables" (which the menu describes as "Siclian gardiniere" including cauliflower and peppers). The first step in making this mysterious octopus salame is braising fresh octopus for two or three hours with oranges, white wine, olive oil, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Next, Chef Moises and his team "pack the octopus into a mold with a binder made of gelatin, red wine vinegar liquid from the braising and some of that aranciata rossa fizz." As mentioned in the article, Chef Moises has a "crucial secret" about the dish -- the snappy, inexplicably refreshing aspect of the dish comes from Italian soda sold by San Pellegrino (specfically, the aranciata rossa -- blood orange -- flavor). He says the Italian soda "adds a hint of sweetness, fruitiness, and effervescence to help balance the intense flavor of the octopus cooking liquor." After all this is done, the octopus is chilled, hardening in the mold so that it becomes a terrine. The end result are these two charcuterie-like slices of octopus salame laid out perfectly on a wooden board, going down in history as one of the best octopus dishes I've ever had, mainly because it tastes not only so different than any other preparation (the closest would be the slow-poached octopus from 15 East), but so perfect and sublime in execution and taste. Just the right amount of olive oil, pucker from the pickled veggies, snap from the Italian soda, light tartness from the citrus, a touch of herbiness from the basil, and a chilly tenderness from the octopus itself. The awesome factor from this dish is just further testament to the persistence and patience Chef Moises had with an idea turned dream -- one certainly for the books!

Among the many things that are made in house includes the focaccia di Recco -- warm focaccia bread filled with stracchino cheese (a cow's milk cheese) and topped with a sprinkling of Maldon sea salt and infused with a generous amount of rosemary. Definitely needs to be ordered for the table to share (...or not, hahaha) as the bread is unbelievably warm and soft, with the stracchino oozing with a subtle creaminess. If you're not feeling in the cheesy bread mood, there's always the good ol' plain focaccia to tie you over, so don't you fret! :P

Instead of ordering a contorni as a side dish to be shared, Jess and I got an order of roasted Brussels sprouts in balsamic with mustard seeds. The balsamic was a nice glaze over the leafy sprouts, which packed in some great flavor. Quite delicious, especially when in season -- made for a great "salad" dish to start for us.

Jess and I each tried the fresh homemade cavatelli with braised beef flat iron and an heirloom tomato sauce. HOLY MOLY, this pasta blew us away. The pasta was so fresh while holding the heirloom tomato sauce and braised beef really nicely. Plus, the tomato sauce had a fresh garden sweetness to it -- there were some yellow tomatillos mixed in playfully and gave little explosions of heirloom juice -- with a savoriness as a direct result of the braising of the beef. This portion was very fitting for lunch, leaving me wanting just a few more bites, but realizing we'd better not.

Findings: I absolutely loved everything about Rosemary's Enoteca & Trattoria. I don't care about whatever idea of false hype keeps coming to the surface from naysayers -- this spot is not only beautiful but has some pretty solid Italian trattoria fare. We had nothing but delicious celebrations with each of our lunch courses -- first with the painterly octopus salame that was simply out of this world; second with the warm, gooey focaccia di Recco; and lastly with the sweet yet savory cavatelli that remains hauntingly satisfying in my mind.Though I didn't drink any wine on this visit, the selection of wines by the glass and by the bottle are pretty affordable ($10 by the glass, $40 by the bottle), so dining here with a group could be quite fun! Anyways, I am looking forward to my next visit to Rosemary's (already planning two meals here as I write this -- one as a GNO and one as a birthday lunch for Marcus!) -- can't wait to eat through the rest of the menu and start tackling the wine list! :)

Price point: $8 for each focacce, $10 for each frutti di mare, $13 for each pasta, $6 for each contorni.

--September 18, 2013

Rosemary's Enoteca & Trattoria
18 Greenwich Avenue
New York, NY 10011

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dinner | dinners & drinks in Ballard

My first day in Seattle involved exploring Ballard (thanks again to Linda for the enthusiastic recommendation!), where I was very much looking forward to a casual evening of small bites, delightful drinks, and plenty of oysters at The Walrus and the Carpenter (The W&C), but even getting there before 5:30 on a Wednesday night, I was met with a two-hour waiting list. Determined to dine at The W&C, I put my name on the list and gave the hostess my phone number so she could call me when my table was ready.

On my walk to The W&C, {1} I passed by this nifty restaurant/bar called Percy's & Co. so I decided to pop in there for a cocktail and a tiny bite while I passed the time for a table at The W&C. Located in the former home of the Old Town Alehouse, Percy's promises all of the charm the over-115-year-old historic building has maintained throughout the years. Originally built in 1898, the corner location "played host to liquor purveyors for much of its time -- even during Prohibition, the dry goods store that occupied the front of the building opened its backdoor as a speakeasy." The bar program is manned by cousins and best friends, Kyle Taylor and Joe Peterson, both who were born and raised in the Pacific Northwest as well as honed their skills at Apotheke in NYC. Along with Percy's other owners Jeff Ofelt and Wade Weigel, the duo has spent over six months restoring the space, including a back patio, the original fixtures, and a revamped kitchen. The kitchen is run by Chef Dave Lamping which will put forth "made-from-scratch" plates focused on the seasons and locality of Ballard.

01D - Percy's
{5,6,7Percy's is inspired by the old school apothecary, both in its décor and drink offerings. {2} Also, how can anyone resist exposed brick walls as part of your dining experience?! I know I can't! :P The bonus was also that Percy's had only officially opened on Monday (with a soft opening the weekend before), so I got to really see this new up and coming joint before it becomes seasoned with regulars and press. My guest and I got really chummy with our bartender, JB, who made our experience very welcoming and that much more enjoyable with his natural congeniality.

It was still happy hour when I arrived, so I got a small plate of beet-cured gravlax crostini with herbs and pickled onions for $4 (normally $7) which was quite phenomenal -- the smoked salmon cured in beets tasted so different from all of the varieties of gravlax I've had before. It had a nice earthiness to it that was simultaneously refreshing. I also had a chance to enjoy two different cocktails:

  • {4} Wild Ones with basil-infused tequila, orange liqueur, strawberry purée, and an incredible housemade sour mix: Hands down one of the best cocktails I had while I was out visiting the Pacific Northwest. The strawberry purée gave the drink a little extra fruity, viscosity, while the housemade sour mix added a whole other dimension to the drink -- a dimension that could never be accomplished with any of that pre-made crap found at the grocery store. The cocktail captured the summer's bounty as well as a bit of its heat in color and with tequila.
  • {7} Cilantro G&T with cilantro-infused gin, tonic, fresh cucumber, and a cilantro garnish: Essentially an herbaceous gin and tonic with a vegetal yet sweet twist of cucumber.

Nearing the two hour mark, {1} I was heading back to The W&C in hopes that our table would be ready when I received a phone call from the hostess, notifying me that my table for two was ready. They're pretty good with their wait time estimates! {3} The restaurant's moniker is eponymous to the famous Lewis Carroll poem that was part of the Alice stories (namely, Through the Looking-Glass) that narrates a story about a Walrus, a Carpenter, and a bed of oysters. The sign outside the restaurant pays a cheeky homage to one of the lines of third stanza: You could not see a cloud, because / No cloud was in the sky.

01E - WC 1
Chef Renee Erickson opened The Walrus and the Carpenter with partners Jeremy Price and Chad Dale, the long-time vision she has always had for an oyster bar. {2,4,7} The W&C "blends the elegance of France with the casual comfort of a local fishing pub -- a space that is stripped of pretense and feels like home whilst serving  the highest quality food and drink." The restaurant sits in the newly restored Kolstrand building on the south end of Ballard Avenue with a heated outdoor space.

{4} We started the evening with a Moscow Mule with vodka, ginger beer, lime, fresh ginger {6} along with a side of bread and Vicky's butter. And I couldn't survive the evening without sampling four of the oysters the restaurant had on ice that day, which mind you, were some of the best oysters I've ever had:

  • Eld Inlet (Eld Inlet, WA):
  • Treasure Cove (Case Inlet, WA):
  • Amai (Discovery Bay, WA):
  • Glacier Point (Kachemak Bay, AK):

01E - WC 2

zucchini salad with cherry tomatoes, pine nuts, Jersey ricotta, and basil vinaigrette (10)
smoked trout with lentils, walnut, onion, creme fraiche (12)
manila clams with chickpeas, chorizo, peppers
house-smoked fish

My last night in Seattle ended as it began, here in Ballard, {1,5,7,10} where I started with drinks and small bites at Essex, a craft cocktail bar started by the folks of Delancey (incidentally right next door, sharing a kitchen), where I dined at later that evening. Just like there's a wait at The W&C, there is also a bit of a wait at Delancey, which is why grabbing a drink at Essex during your wait for dinner is key and quite necessary.

Our first round of drinks at Essex were both sparkling cocktails that they had on tap (how cool is that?!). Essentially, the bartenders make the drinks in large batches ahead of time and run them on tap later. {6} I had the Elderflower Spritz (the dandelion-colored drink with the twirly lemon rind) with gin, elderflower liqueur, citrus, and sparkling Grüner, which was absolutely delicious -- fizzy, tart, lightly floral, and refreshing. My guest had the Paloma Herrera (also sparkling on tap) with tequila, grapefruit, lime, and housemade Campari -- which had the rounded punch of a tequila cocktail with a bubbly finish. We shared {3beer-boiled pretzels with housemade mustard and {9roasted cauliflower toasts with harissa aioli and pine nuts. The pretzels were quite good with a little twist of childhood nostalgia coming through. The roasted cauliflower toasts were very smoky (mostly attributable it to the harissa) with the fantastic touch from the burnt bits of bread and browned crowns of cauliflower. The pine nuts were an excellent addition, as it really came together. However, I probably should've specified that I wanted the smaller portion size (at $4 compared to the full portioned $7).

03J - Essex
After this, we headed back to Delancey, where I had no idea that there'd be a crazy wait, mainly because when we arrived at Essex, it was pretty quiet on the Delancey side. Man, I really should've asked because they would've probably been able to seat us after our first round of drinks at Essex. Who knew there was already a waiting list going at that time?! Anyhow, we put our names down for a 45 minute wait, making our way back to our table at Essex for a second round of drinks (d'oh!).

{7} This time, I had the remaining cocktail available on tap that we hadn't tried -- Pink Drink with Lillet, Cocchi rosso, Dolin blanc, spiced brine, and sparkling Grüner. When I had asked about what the "spiced brine" was, our server told me that it was going to sound wacky, but that it in fact made the cocktail that much more dynamic and punchy. It was pickled shallot juice. Yes I agree that it sounds pretty unappetizing when you put it that way, but she was right in saying that it adds a really interesting dimension of flavor and texture to the drink, in the same way that olive juice makes a dirty martini. It's biting and refreshing all at once, while having that puckery vinegariness to it. It's unlike any cocktail I've ever had, so it's something you must try if you happen to see it on the menu at Essex. {4} My guest had something a little more tame -- the Little Rascal with Espolón blanco, Burg's extra-special orange, Campari, Avery white rascal, and lemon.

About 35 minutes passed, and {1} we checked in with the hostess to see about a table at Delancey. We were seated shortly after, ready for the made-to-order pizzas firing up in the kitchen. {2-3,7} The interiors are minimal but warm -- can't go wrong with white walls and wooden tables/fixtures! Delancey, along with Essex, was opened by famed food blogger Molly Wizenberg of Orangette and her husband Brandon Pettit. Delancey is "focused on Brooklyn-style wood-fired pizza" as Mr. Pettit is originally from New Jersey and has been "obsessed with pizza since he was a kid." In fact, Mr. Pettit makes every single pizza served here, for which he uses a two-day fermentation process for the pizza dough (it has "an intense, slightly sourdough-like flavor") as well as basic topping combinations that "use the freshest seasonal ingredients available." Additionally, I love the subtle hat-tip to New York City in the restaurants' names, as they're both streets in the Lower East Side neighborhood.

03K - Delancey
{4} Marcus had the pepperoni with fresh and aged mozzarella, Grana, and Zoe's pepperoni, sans tomato sauce, while {5} I had the bacon and onion with tomato sauce, fresh and aged mozzarella, Zoe's bacon, and thinly sliced onions. Mr. Pettit does a phenomenal job bringing the Brooklyn-style of wood-fire pizza to the other coast here in the Pacific Northwest. I'm not particularly snobby about pizza or anything, but I don't usually go seeking pizza outside the Tri-State area (that is, when I'm traveling out of town). But when Linda raved about this spot, I knew it must have something special, and now I know it truly does! The pizza dough/crust is the perfectly calibrated thinness yet can hold the entirety of sauce, toppings, etc. without becoming a sorry slice of soggy, yet is loose and crusty when you bite into it.You can also tell that the ingredients were really fresh and well-curated. Plus, the blend of fresh and aged mozzarella adds that something extra that makes these personal pies stand out.

{6} I totally fell in love with dessert that was created by the restaurant's executive pastry chef Brandi Henderson -- nectarines and honey with Bill's nectarines, honey mousse made using Ballard Bee Co.'s honey, and bourbon caramel. Holy moly, I loved it so much, in fact, that I made sure to order some honey from Ballard Bee Co. so I can enjoy its sweet, nectary goodness back home. I might even dare say that if I were ever to pick my last dessert on earth, this would be it. Pair the ripest slices of nectarines with some beautiful honey and the smoothest mousse, and you will be dancing on cloud nine. So heed this warning seriously -- save room for dessert, no exceptions!

Findings: Ballard was easily my favorite neighborhood that we visited on this Seattle excursion, thanks to Linda's stellar recommendations! The atmosphere is relaxed and casual without an ounce of pretension -- your truest self is invited and welcome. For each of these four places, the quality of the ingredients and the execution in these kitchens and bars left a meaningful impression on me. I had some of the best oysters I've ever had at The Walrus and the Carpenter, some of the most unique cocktails I've ever had the pleasure of sipping (e.g., sparkling cocktails on tap and one with housemade sour mix) at Essex and Percy's & Co.; one of the best made pizzas (that dough!) at Delancey as well as the best simply prepared dessert (OMG that nectarines and honey dish!) over which I continue to salivate. Ballard has some wonderful restaurants and bars popping up, and these four certainly highlight that captivating charm that makes you want to return on your next visit. Ballard has a special place in my heart, and I'll always think fondly of our time here -- and hope to return soon!

Price point: $7-10 for each cocktail at Percy's & Co., $4 for each happy hour small plate; $2-3.50 for each oyster at The Walrus and the Carpenter, $10 for each cocktail, $10-12 for each plate, $4 for each side; $10 for each cocktail at Essex, $6-7 for each bread; $14 for each pizza at Delancey, $8 for each dessert.

--August 21 & 23, 2013

Percy's & Co.
5233 Ballard Avenue Northwest
Seattle, WA 98107

The Walrus and the Carpenter
4743 Ballard Avenue Northwest
Seattle, WA 98107

1421 Northwest 70th Street
Seattle, WA 98117

1415 Northwest 70th Street
Seattle, WA 98117

Monday, September 16, 2013

Chef's Tasting | Sushi Dojo

{1} On Friday, Lisa and I made reservations at the sushi counter at Sushi Dojo (honestly, the only place where you should be sitting whilst dining here, in my humble opinion), a little sushi joint in the East Village that's been getting lots of raving reviews and press as of late. And you know us, we're always ready to get down and dirty when it comes to sushi with absolutely no sugar coating -- just telling it like it is. When I called to make the reservation earlier this week, he told me that the restaurant was pretty wide open for counter seating as Friday was Yom Kippur. We got really lucky with our last minute reservations, for sure!

{2Sushi Dojo has an intimate, 14-seat counter as well as a number of tables in its surrounding dining area. Dojo is Japanese for "a place to study and train" and Sushi Dojo takes on this "philosophy to educate its clientele about Japanese cuisine and culture." With a decade of experience in training with top sushi masters both in the U.S. and Japan, Chef David Bouhadana is the mastermind behind Sushi Dojo. He spent three years living in the Kansai region of Japan, where he learned "the pure art of what making sushi is all about" as well as "the Japanese culture of hard work and discipline."

Sushi Dojo
{5} Sitting at the counter at Sushi Dojo was tranquil and captivating, as we watched the sushi chefs slice, plate, and serve some wondrous dishes like {3} this interesting display of mackerel and {4} freshly grate wasabi root.

Seeing that they had some oyster dishes on the menu, we were sure to dive right into trying them.

The first oyster dish had raw oysters from Stellar Bay, Canada -- each with a Japanese style garnish of chives, turnip, and soy sauce. Really delicious for East Coast oysters -- lightly sweet with an underlying brine.

The other oyster dish had sautéed jumbo oyster from Washington state. It was sautéed with a light battering of salt and pepper and a bit of a savory sauce. Given that it was a "jumbo" oyster, we were able to enjoy it in smaller quantities without being overwhelmed by its sheer size. Very well done!

For our main course, Lisa and I thought it'd be best to test out the $45-priced 10-piece chef's choice of sushi (i.e., the most talked about item on Sushi Dojo's menu) to see if it really has that bang that everyone says it is. Each piece, as with all traditional sushi counters, was served over an oblong mound of carefully cooked sushi rice (swept with a wee bit of wasabi) then finished with a delicate brushing of soy sauce.

First up on the chef's choice of sushi was the madai (Japanese red snapper) which was decent, though on the blander side. It seemed more like a good piece of fish to get our toes wet for the remaining flight of fish remaining.

Next, we had Alaskan king salmon, where this cut of fish could surely stand by itself without rice, any soy sauce or wasabi -- in its purest form. It was this sensation I can only use Cantonese to describe -- guum, which essentially comes closest to meaning gold, savory, and rich.

The third was shimaaji (striped jack), which had a smooth, milky taste to it, and shockingly enough, Lisa even said tasted better than the Alaskan king salmon (her favorite variety of sushi, besides uni, of course). Loved this one!

This one was the aji (horse mackerel). The aji was quite intense and fishy, as expected with most mackerels, but for me, it was fishy in a way that was different than usual. It was good, but I wasn't a complete fan. Lisa, on the other hand, actually liked it, which was strange because she usually stays away from mackerels. Either way, the cut of aji was super fresh and well-garnished.

Then we had the kanpachi (amberjack) -- a beautiful slice of fish that was a little peppery with a touch of citrus. Really enjoyed this one!

Of course, an omakase flight wouldn't be complete without some chu-toro (medium fatty tuna). A deliciously melty piece of fish -- just as it should be.

The chu-toro was of course followed by o-toro (fatty tuna), which was nice, but not as savory and meaty as the chu-toro surprisingly enough. Really good quality tuna in both cases!

Nearing the end of the chef's choice of sushi we were served iwashi (spotted sardine), which had the most beautiful iridescent skin (look at those spots!). It had that fascinating oiliness that you'd typically see in mackerel with a certain je ne sais quoi that you'd only bear witness to upon tasting it. Good stuff!

The penultimate piece of sushi was uni (sea urchin roe), one of our favorite must-eats when we're dining at a sushi counter, from Santa Barbara. The creamy golden hue of the uni proved as a testament to how incredibly good it melted onto our palates. It was a beautiful piece of sea urchin roe, both inside and out -- buttery and creamy with the sweetest finishing brine. Definitely one of the best quality ones I've had here in New York City.

Our last piece was the anago (sea eel), the only "cooked" piece within our 10-piece omakase. Completely boneless, it had a gorgeous flakiness to it, without being overcooked. Plus, there was only a touch of kabayaki sauce and nothing else, proving that the preparation alone could stand without any help from the glaze of sauce. A great piece to punctuate the flight of 10 pieces.

Our palates were still inkling for some more morsels of something raw, so we did three more rounds each.

Sushi Dojo 2

First Round
{1} Lisa had to get a taste of the other uni on the menu that was from Hokkaido, Japan. The Hokkaido uni had a little more of a muted marigold hue to it, and although it was less plump, it was a lot more savory and guum than the usual Santa Barbara ones we see more available here in the U.S. {2} I had to check out the mirugrai (live giant clam), which had a sharp, snappy yet firm bite to it and not at all chewy like ones I have had before. So, so good!

Second Round
{1} Because of how much Lisa raved aboout the Hokkaido uni, I made sure I could try some myself, too! While I had that, {3} Lisa saw one of the sushi chefs preparing something for another table, so her curiosity got her to ask her what it was. It turns out it was shiraebi (Japanese white baby shrimp), and the chef told us that it was one of the items not even on the menu that evening. You know what that meant -- had to try it! Unfortunately, Lisa's deadpan reaction upon tasting it was, "I don't get it..." so that was that.

Last Round
Lisa's last bite was one last taste of the California uni (which I am sure was an outstanding encore!), while {4} mine was hotate (scallop) which had just a smidgen of minced shiso leaf and a wee bit of lemon zest. What a delectable piece of bivalve to end this perfect progression of nigiri-sushi.

And last but not least, Lisa and I got our fix of green tea ice cream. Pretty good!

Findings: Our dinner at Sushi Dojo proved to live up to all of the recent hype, and was lighter on the wallet than other sushi counters in its caliber. The 10-piece chef's choice of sushi had really lovely progression, beginning with lighter cuts to heavier/more savory cuts, gradually moving from raw to lightly cooked. In addition to its spot-on progression, the selected cuts by the sushi chefs are of high quality and is a pretty thorough showcase of many varieties of sushi families -- maguro (tuna), shiromi (white fish), aji/achi (yellowtail), hikarimono (silver fish), sake/masu (salmon/trout), kai (shellfish/roe), etc. -- in a mere ten pieces. The sushi chefs are quite friendly, especially if you show enthusiasm in the experience, the preparation, and the fish, so as with most (read: all) sushi restaurants, seats at the counter at Sushi Dojo are key. If you're jonesing for some sushi without breaking the bank too much, reservations at Sushi Dojo will get your fix.

Price point: $45 per person for a 10-piece sushi omakase (chef's choice), $6-8 per additional piece of sushi, market price* for each oyster dish, $4 for each ice cream plate.

* Please note that our bill came out to be around $82 per person before tax and gratuity.

--September 13, 2013

Sushi Dojo
110 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10009


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