Monday, November 21, 2011

Fall Food Bargain Madness: My Seattle Restaurant Week & Dine Around Seattle Experiences

First things first, I need to apologize for not blogging for three months! I have been ungodly busy with work and moving (more on that later) and I can't believe that it has been so long. My friend, Erin, facebooked me this morning to say I needed to blog more and I realized that I have a ton of material and it's a slow pre-Thanksgiving week . . . so, why not start again now? Here goes . . .

So, twice a year every year Seattle holds 'Seattle Restaurant Week' (SRW from now on) where over 100 restaurants participate in creating a 3-course prix fixe menu available Sunday-Thursday for $15 lunch portions or $28 dinner portions. Dinner reservations are very hard to come by during this time period, but if you can get in then you will be delighted. Restaurant Week is a great way to try out 'special occasion' type restaurants on the cheap to expand your repertoire and break your rut without threatening your pocketbook for a potentially disappointing meal. This year fall restaurant week was held October 16th to the 27th and I had just enough time to try out two well known Queen Anne establishments before my big move out of the neighborhood on October 25th.

As you may have guess by the photo above the first restaurant that I tried out was Crow (823 5th Avenue N, Seattle 98109 or www.eatatcrow.com). My friend, Alexandra, and I decided to go out to dinner and catch up. She suggested we go to Crow because it was Restaurant Week and she had been there before and the food was amazing. We walked from upper Queen Anne to the restaurant (about a 30 minute walk) to combat the large amount of calories that we would consume at dinner that night and thank God because I definitely indulged!


Fried Green Tomato 'Caprese Salad' with Tomato Jam

For my first course at Crow, I decided to try the fried green tomato 'caprese salad' with tomato jam. I never had any desire to try fried green tomatoes in my life (maybe the movie ruined it for me, I don't know) but since it was Restaurant Week, I thought "what the hell?" Boy am I glad that I branched out because they were delicious. I would absolutely go back to Crow just to eat this appetizer, and that is all I would need to eat because I was full after the first course! The dish was almost like a light, crisp version of chicken parmesan. I need to learn to make this at home. Alex had cauliflower curry soup for her first course, which I tried, and it was quite good as well. It tasted fresh, light and fabulous.

House Lasagne

My second course at Crow was their house lasagne. The lasagne was rich and cheesy and I didn't even come close to finishing my plate. Those of you who know me won't believe that I am saying this, but: it was actually a bit too cheesy for me (gasp!). If they had cut down the ricotta mixture a bit I would have like it much better, but it was still darn good. Alex had some sort of boar pasta (I think) for her second course and she seemed to enjoy it a lot as well.

Mexican Chocolate Mousse Cake

For the dessert course I chose the mexican chocolate mousse cake and (despite the fact that I was stuffed with fried green tomatoes and lasagne) I couldn't help myself and I ate the whole thing. I did share a bite or two with Alex, but this cake was the real deal. Toe curling, I believe is the phrase that I used. Alex ordered a caramel apple dessert that was also quite good and very unique.

Would I go back to Crow? Definitely. Would I spend the money to go back during non-Restaurant Week pricing? Yes. The food was unique and tasty and I felt like I got a complete steal for $28 during Restaurant Week.

How To Cook A Wolf's Dining Room

On to my second, and less successful, SRW experience at How to Cook a Wolf (2208 Queen Anne Ave N, Seattle 98109 or www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com). How to Cook a Wolf is one of four of Ethan Stowell's restaurants in Seattle, which probably puts him second only to Tom Douglas as far as Seattle 'celebrity chefs' go. So, when Matt's birthday came around on the 24th, I was thrilled when he asked me to take him to Wolf for his birthday dinner. Unfortunately, we were unable to get a reservation until 9 pm (even though I made the reservation 3 weeks in advance!) and ended up having to have an evening snack before we even left for the restaurant.

You may notice that I have no pictures of the food at Wolf. This is because I forgot my actual camera with a flash and it was so stinking dark in the dining room that I was unable to get any decent pictures with my iPhone. Anyway, we both opted for cocktails and the SRW menu for our Wolf experience. For our first course Matt ordered chicken liver mousse crostini and I ordered the butternut squash soup. I ordered the squash soup because I had been craving it like crazy since fall hit this year. Unfortunately, the soup was bland and a bit grainy and nothing I would ever order again. I barely finished half the bowl and that was with Matt sampling some of it. Matt ate all of his chicken liver mousse things, but I had one bite and that was enough for me. However, whipped up bird organ is not really my thing on principle . . . it may have been great, but I have a huge mental block about that stuff (bleh).

For our second course I ordered potato gnocchi and Matt ordered the spaghetti. I have to say the spaghetti was quite good: very hearty, rustic and flavorful. I kept stealing more and more of it off Matt's plate (poor guy). My gnocchi were quite good as well, but as with many gnocchi dishes made at the hands of sous chefs they were a bit dense and gummy . . . WAH Wah wah. The gnocchi sauce was amazing and it had a fried duck egg on top that you cut up and let the yolk mix with the sauce. Delightful. Our second course experience at Wolf was definitely the highlight of the evening.

For dessert, we asked the waiter (who was very friendly and nice, but kept forgetting about us) to bring just one selection because we were so stuffed. Sadly, I can't remember what exactly we ordered a panna cotta of some sort . . . but clearly not something that rocked my world.

The wait staff did bring the dessert out with a candle (since I tipped them off about Matt's birthday) and the waiter also gave us one of Matt's cocktails for free since it took over 20 minutes for him to bring it out. So, the service was good in the sense that the wait staff was thoughtful and friendly, but bad in the sense that they were clearly beyond busy and understaffed.

Would I go back to How to Cook a Wolf? Sure, but only for their pasta dishes. Would I go back during non-SRW pricing? Maybe, but just because Wolf's SRW prices aren't really that much lower than their regular prices. Next year I am taking Matt somewhere more tried and true for his birthday dinner though, that much is for sure.


In November Seattle also has a much smaller (30 restaurant) SRW-esque event called Dine Around Seattle (DAS from now on). Basically the same deal as SRW except that it runs the entire month of November Sunday to Thursday and dinner portions are $30, not $28. For our staff 'holiday lunch' at work this year my boss took us all out to Barolo (1940 Westlake Avenue, Seattle 98101 or www.baroloseattle.com) for lunch and Barolo happened to be participating in DAS. I had been to Barolo many times for their amazing happy hour, but never for a meal so I was excited to try it out.

Leek Puree Soup with Black Truffle

For my first course at Barolo I tried the leek puree soup with black truffle. Meh, it was okay. Clearly the 'black truffle' came mostly from an over pour of black truffle oil on the top of the soup. This made the soup much too oily and completely over powered the delicate flavor of the leek in the soup. I did not finish this course and I would not order it again.

Salmon with pomegranate and cucumber salad

Fortunately, Barolo was able to redeem themselves with the second course. The salmon was perfectly cooked, moist and flavorful. The garnish was fresh and had an unexpected pop of sweetness from the pomegranate seeds and a great crunch from the cucumber. The sauce was buttery and savory . . . all in all a tasty, well balanced dish. I could have eaten two of the portions they gave me!

Chocolate Cake

The dessert at Barolo was quite yummy as well, but due to the $15 DAS lunch price the portion was teeny tiny. The whole cake that they gave me was no bigger than a Reese's peanut butter cup and was just about as unique and memorable as one as well. It was good, it was tummy, but it didn't blow my mind.

Would I go back to Barolo? Sure, for Happy Hour which I have loved for the past several years. Would I go back during non-DAS pricing? Probably not, the salmon dish gave me hope but the mediocrity of the soup and the dessert really turned me off. Too bad too because I was really hoping to love this restaurant to pieces.

On to a more personal topic . . . at the end of October I officially moved out of my little 'single lady' apartment in Queen Anne and into a larger condo in Greenwood with Matt. I am really happy with the move so far and extremely happy to be living with/sharing life with Matt. We have been exploring the neighborhood little by little and I am looking forward to giving more restaurant reviews in the Greenwood/Green Lake area. Every Saturday we have walked around Green Lake in the morning and it looks like there are a lot of fantastic little places to try around that area. There is a cupcake shop called Cake Envy that I want to try out next weekend after our walk.

The Blu Water bistro is also right off Green Lake and my friend, Lalaneya, and I went there for dinner two weeks ago when she came to visit me and see the new place. I had a burger and french onion soup (see pic below). The soup was awesome, the burger . . . not so much, but it has been great to start exploring the new neighborhood! I'll try and keep everyone up-to-date much more often now that I am settled in my new home.

Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

French Onion Soup and Burger at the Blu Water Bistro

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wine Tasting at Woodland Park Zoo: Tipsy Animal Watching, No Children Allowed

Rachel, Me and Matt after purchasing our bottle of wine at Woodland Park Zoo
Picnic that I made for us to eat while wine tasting.


Last Thursday, was the Woodland Park Zoo wine tasting/fundraising event and me, Matt and my friend, Rachel, attended. This event intrigued me because I love to try new wines and because of the promise of being able to go to the zoo a.) tipsy and b.) without any children present. The tickets were $23 each (early purchase, at the door was $25) and that bought you entrance to a portion of the zoo and ten wine tasting tickets. They had food available for purchase or plenty of room in the grass around the tasting area to picnic (as we did).

There were 2 enormous tents set up and a little over 20 Washington wineries showcasing their wine for tastings and purchase. The nice thing about buying wine at this event versus a tasting room is that a portion of each bottle purchased goes to support the Zoo. There was a big variety of wine to taste and 85% of it was in the under $20/bottle range. There were tastings that were good (509 cellars has a great syrah and an even better viognier . . . another local winery for me to frequent! Yay!), tastings that were mediocre (most of them) and tastings that were just flat out awful (like the dry riesling I tried that tasted less like sweet grapes and more like garlicky spaghetti-- beyond nasty!).

After we were done with our ten tasting tickets, and were a bit tipsy, we all decided to buy a bottle of the 509 Cellars syrah and share it while walking around and visiting the animals. We saw the penguins, elk, brown bears, and even the nocturnal porcupines and wolves (which are never out during the day time when people usually go to the zoo). However, much to Matt's disappointment, the otters were no where to be found in their little pen . . . I guess they sleep at night like the rest if us.


Overall, wine tasting at Woodland Park was a really fun, summertime event and I will definitely plan on going to one of these events again.


Monday, June 27, 2011

One Weekend, Two Happy Hours & A New Breakfast Place

When I heard that a new restaurant (soft opening was June 13th) had effectively stolen the Zig Zag's now nationally recognized bartender, I knew that I needed to try the place out. When I heard that the name, RN74, stood for the Route National 74 in France that borders the burgundy wine country, I was even more intrigued. So, on Friday, Matt and I went to RN74 (1433 4th Avenue, Seattle 98101 or www.michaelmina.net) for happy hour to see what the place was all about.

Happy hour at RN74 is Monday through Friday from 4 pm to 6 pm. I arrived at 4:10 pm and there were a few seats left around the bar. I secured two chairs and ordered a glass of their happy hour white wine, which was a semi-decent, drinkable chardonnay for $5. Within 20 minutes of me sitting down the place was packed. When Matt arrived he ordered a Village Sazerac ($9- not on happy hour special), which was much sweeter than a traditional, NOLA sazerac. Pretty much all of the specialty cocktails at RN74 have some sort of wine or wine reduction incorporated into the recipe, which is a cool idea in keeping with the theme of the restaurant, but could really throw you for a loop if you didn't examine the cocktail menu carefully. That being said, the bar at RN74 is STOCKED with every single kind of infused simple syrup, bitters, french beer and obscure liquor that you can imagine. I've really never seen anything quite like it . . . the kind of place boozy dreams and blurry memories are made of.

The decor at RN74 is also very stylized. It is designed to look like a french train station, which sort of disappointed me because the idea was too much like the decor/theme at Bastille in Ballard. They have gas lights, stop lights and an old fashioned 'train station' board-- the kind that is all black but has the little, Wheel of Fortune-esque tiles that flip over with different white letters on each side. However, in the restaurant it is a 'last bottle board' where they list bottles that are down to the last one in the restaurant and their prices. They had wine bottles from the 1940s and one particular bottle of wine that listed at $745 for the bottle. Needless to say, the owner of this restaurant may have paid a lot of attention to the cocktail menu, but their wine selection is where they really intend to shine . . . and it will cost you to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

We also ordered some food off the bar menu. I ordered the duck confit aranchini ($10) with bing cherry jus: totally delicious and very hearty. A great way to get a quick duck confit fix with out spending an arm and a leg to enjoy a full meal. We also ordered the pommes frites (see picture below) with a trio of dips: sour apple, cherry ketchup and basil aioli. Fries were well seasoned and decently good (nothing special though) on their own, but the dips made them more fun and interesting. I think our favorite was the cherry ketchup, the basil aioli didn't really taste like basil and the sour apple was okay, but not as good as the other two.



I would love to go to RN74 for an actual dinner at some point, when I have some serious cash to blow, but for now I am happy we tried out happy hour: mostly because the duck confit arancini was THAT good. I will also say that the bar seemed severely understaffed and we were often waiting for service and trying to flag down the staff for a refill, to order food and even for our check: not cool. Maybe the service at the dinner tables is better.

After checking out the new bar in town, we were still hungry and decided to go to an old Seattle staple, Morton's Steakhouse (1511 6th Avenue, Seattle 98101), for what I think are the best sliders in town (see photo below). The sliders are made with high quality beef, the perfect amount of cheese and are only $6 a plate. Sign me up, right? They also have drink specials on martini's . . . vodka, gin, cosmos and a few other standbys are only $7 each. Did I mention that Morton's is a block and a half from my office? If you are having a beef craving, this is the place to go.


Friday night was spent downtown drinking, eating and seeing 'Bad Teacher' with Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz. (Just so you know, the movie was decently funny, but definitely a renter and not a see-in-the-theater type of flick). However, Sunday morning was spent lazing around the house and then deciding to find a new brunch place to try out. We had been going to the same two places over and over again for well over a year and we decided it's time to expand the old repertoire. Last weekend we went to Pete's Egg Nest in Greenwoood-- HUGE portions and decent food, barring an unfortunate piece of paper or something we found in Matt's coffee. But this weekend we decided to try out The Dish in Ballard (4358 Leary Way NW, Seattle 98107 or www.thedishseattle.com).

The Dish is next to Anita's Crepes, which I have blogged about before, and The Leary Traveler (where I have spent several boozy nights at the hands of the bartender and my GHHS classmate, Kyle). The Dish is super small and cozy, and has a family picnic kind of vibe to it. When you sit down they bring you your water in brightly colored, tupperware tumbler cups and the sodas come in the can. We were originally going to order breakfast, but the lunch menu looked so good (and I had a ridiculous craving for a BLT) that we ordered lunch food and I am glad that we did. Matt ordered the Jen's sandwich ($9.50), which consists of: spicy chicken, bacon, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, red onion, tomato and ranch dressing on a roll. I tasted his sandwich, and I was jealous. My BLT ($8.95) was pretty delicious, but the Jen's was GOOD. Both sandwiches came with your choice of potato sides, but we ordered Tim's potato chips . . .which, of course, came in the bag. Our total lunch bill at The Dish, including tax and tip, was $30. Not too shabby. I think we'll definitely add this one to our rotation.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Citrus On Lake Union: A Haven for Douche Bags

Entrance of Citrus on Lake Union (1001 Fairview Ave N, Seattle 98109 or citrusseattle.com)
As most of my readers may have noticed, when I try a new restaurant I usually try to highlight the positive aspects of my experience and give a balanced review. However, once in a blue moon I come upon a place that is so utterly distasteful and ungodly awful that I have nothing but venom to spew and my experience on Saturday night at Lake Union's newest "hot spot" (ha!), Citrus, has earned distinct honor of being awarded this special place in my heart and on my blog.

I really don't know what I was expecting from Citrus, but it certainly wasn't the "Calling all Ed Hardy, bedazzled t-shirt wearing, tasteless loser douche bags!" vibe that I got from the moment I walked in the door and was greeted by the air head hostess. As you can tell from the photos above, the decor in Citrus is exactly what the Jersey Shore house in Miami wanted to be . . . all black, horrible neon lights everywhere, rainfall glass panels throughout and tons of TVs (but in no predictable, sports bar-esque arrangement, just lots of improperly placed TVs). The place literally LOOKED like it should reek of hair gel, bronzer, Valtrex and shame. Disgusting.

On to the next thing I hated, the service. I made a reservation over the phone for 6:30 pm and the hostess that I spoke to made it seem like they would be just PACKED for the evening and she was doing me a real favor by 'squeezing' me in. We arrived at the restaurant at 6:35 and the place was virtually empty. I checked in with the hostess and she asked me if I had a reservation.

I looked at her quizzically, looked around the restaurant and said, "Yes, I do, but it doesn't appear that I really need one."

She told me that I definitely did need one because they just had tons, and tons of reservations coming in shortly. Then she proceeds to tell me that she has to check with her manager to find out where exactly to sit us as to not mess up the manager's 'seating chart' (bear in mind that there are literally 35 tables open at this point). So, we wait and wait and wait until the manager comes back from (what I am guessing was) a cigarette break. The hostess asks her where she could possibly seat us (imagine me rolling my eyes) and the manager looks at her weird and says "where ever" . . . we waited 10 minutes for a manager to tell her idiot hostess "where ever". Ugh. I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

At this point, I needed a drink to chill out and promptly ordered what looked like a promising prospect: the lychee fruit martini. When my drink arrived I took one sip and all I could taste was fruity syrup, no alcohol taste what-so-ever. I asked Matt to try it, to see if he could detect anything to indicate that the drink had lost its' virginity, and he couldn't taste any booze either. It was one of the worst drinks I have ever had in my entire life. I would have done better drinking canned pear juice with a splash of vodka. Due to my less than stellar cocktail experience, Matt decides to go with the old standby, bourbon on the rocks. His 'bourbon' came, in a SHOT GLASS which was totally filled with ICE and a splash of booze . . . they charged us $10 for this mess. Where the eff are we? Canada? Oh no, we are in cheap douche bag hell.

On to the food, which after our drinks, I was quite nervous about ordering. So I decided to go with a dish that is virtually impossible to foul up: kobe sliders and fries. My sliders were fine, I ate them all, but I could have walked over to Joey's and ordered sliders that are GREAT for the exact same price. Knowing this, why would I ever come here again?

Matt was a bit more brave than me and ordered the pork ossabucco. Matt's entree arrived and it looked like a Fred Flinstone, greasy, pterodactyl leg (complete with bone and all) on a plate. Seriously, this would have put the giant diner ribs that knock over the Flinstone's foot-powered car to shame! This may have been the best part of the whole experience because it amused me so much. He barely ate half of the plate and was finished, apparently it did not taste as amusing as it looked.

To top everything off the clientele matched the decor quite well. I had to listen to a leather skinned, fake blond, badly dressed valley girl go on and on and on LOUDLY to a guy (undoubtedly it was their second or third date) about how she came from a place where looks were so important (duh honey! everyone comes from that place . . . it's one of the perils of living in America), but it was okay because she was always SUCH a pretty girl. Yeah, after listening to her shout this at her date for 10 minutes my sliders and syrup drink started to rise in my throat and I knew that we needed to leave immediately.

Long story short, Don't. Go. To. Citrus. Ever. Unless maybe you are 21 years old, have a VERY low alcohol tolerance and are dreaming of meeting your ideal gorilla juicehead . . . in that case, Citrus is the perfect place for you.

Oh, and by the way, when we left an HOUR later the restaurant was still totally empty.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Girls' Weekend Mac & Cheese

So, for quite a while now I have been on a search for a creamy homemade macaroni and cheese recipe. I have made several baked macaroni recipes that were just too dry and didn't give my grown up "I grew up on boxed Kraft mac & cheese" palate the creaminess it was looking to taste.
When I got my Food & Wine magazine this month it had a recipe for "Stovetop Mac & Cheese with Cheese Crisps". This recipe included a substantial amount of mascarpone cheese, so I knew the title wouldn't be deceiving. (Here is the recipe, in case you are curious: www.foodandwine.com/recipes/stovetop-mac-and-cheese-with-cheese-crisps ).

Anyway, I decided the perfect time to try this recipe would be this last weekend when Matt was out of town and Lalaneya and I were having a girls' weekend. I stopped by Whole Foods on my way home from work on Friday and picked up the best quality cheeses I could find. Then I started shredding and working away to have the mac at least partially done when Lalaneya arrived. She arrived about half way through the shred fest and helped me with the rest of the recipe. The whole process took about 45 minutes, which isn't bad at all considering how long other mac and cheese recipes have taken me to prepare in the past.

We finally sat down to enjoy with our glasses of white wine and the mac and cheese was EXTREMELY creamy and very rich, bordering on too heavy. We each ate one medium sized bowl and we were stuffed to capacity. The best part of the recipe is the cheese crisps. They take the place of the traditional bread crumbs, except they are much more flavorful and don't create any unnecessary dryness like bread crumbs do sometimes.

I will definitely make this recipe again, except I think next time I will get more creative with the seasonings than the recipe suggests . . . perhaps adding some garlic and dry white wine to the roux mixture before I turn it into a cheese sauce. I would also probably reduce the amount of mascarpone cheese in the recipe to about 65%, just to eliminate the heaviness. Overall, this is a good recipe and I would suggest it for people who want a gourmet, grown up version of mac and cheese with the creaminess of Kraft but without all the artificial flavors and harmful preservatives.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Late Night Dinner at Toulouse Petit

Me and my hurricane at Toulouse
On Friday night Matt and I had dinner at Toulouse Petit on Queen Anne (601 Queen Anne Avenue N, Seattle 98119 or www.toulousepetit.com). I had been wanting to go to this particular restaurant ever since it opened about a year ago, but it never really worked out until last weekend. Of course, our timing couldn't have been worse since it is currently Mardi Gras and this is a creole/cajun restaurant. So a table was nearly impossible to come by and we had to settle for a 9 pm dinner reservation because that was literally the earliest available table.

When we got to Toulouse at precisely 9 pm on the dot we still had to wait for 10 minutes for our table to be ready, but it gave us a chance to look at all the Mardi Gras fanfare they had on display. The candles that line the walls (which are normally plain white tea lights) were purple, green and gold. There was a giant mask on the wall and all of the servers were wearing masks. There were purple, green and gold beads and balloons everywhere . . . let's just say they were quite festive.

Finally, the hostess told us our table was ready and gave us menus. The menu at Toulouse is overwhelming to say the least! It is 8 pages long and extremely eclectic. It took us about 15 minutes to look over the whole thing and get an idea of what we wanted. I asked the waitress for recommendations as well, but she was useless . . . "Oh, everything is SO good. You'd be happy with anything you order." Hmmm, we're already here, so there is no need for your generic marketing: for the love of GOD just give me a damn recommendation. I absolutely hate servers who are so laissez-faire about their jobs that they can't take a moment to rack their brains and help out a customer. Enough of my rant for now though.

We started by ordering hurricanes, which I had the week before when we came here for drinks. The hurricanes at Toulouse are a boutique version of the New Orleans, Pat O'Brien's original. The original hurricane is essentially fruit punch kool-aid and a TON of rum, and is quite tasty. Toulouse's version is a mixture of real fruit juices and rum, is also quite delicious, and won't turn your tongue an unnatural shade of ruby red (which, for me, is a plus).
Hurricanes!
Next, after much debate between the two of us we ordered appetizers. We ordered the sinister shrimp and the steak tartare (see photos below). My favorite of the two was the sinister shrimp. They were very spicy as the name would suggest, but they came with this wonderful, smokey, creamy, chipotle sauce that was so good I almost wanted to lick it off the plate. Since licking the plate is frowned upon in polite company I restrained myself, but wow was it yummy! The steak tartare was good, but it's not really my thing. Matt loves it so he really wanted to order it. He really loved it and ate most of it. I thought it was fun that they left the over easy yolk in the shell and presented it to us. My favorite part of this dish was the gravy-like sauce on the side. It was really spectacular, and went very well with the steak.

I will say that the actual steak was a bit grey in color, which suggests to me that it wasn't freshly cut and had been sitting a bit too long. The tartare tasted fine, but the discoloration left me a bit afraid that we might get sick later . . . we were both totally fine, but one shouldn't have to worry about this sort of thing at an upscale restaurant.
Sinister Shrimp
Steak Tartare
Now came the very daunting task of choosing our entrees. I chose the butternut squash and white truffle risotto, which Matt picked out of the whole menu as what I would order before I even told him. He is getting good at predicting my menu choices; maybe I am getting a bit too predictable. He ordered the cajun meatloaf, which I actually considered ordering myself, but it seemed like a bit too much protein for me at that time of the evening (see photos of entrees below). I really liked my risotto, but I have to say that I didn't really get any butternut squash flavor out of it, which was a bit strange for me. It was creamy and decadent and definitely truffled, but no butternut squash. The mushrooms in it were divine and added a great flavor. I would definitely order this dish again. Matt's meatloaf was amazing. It was spicy and flavorful and the potatoes that came with were creamy and delicious. Next time we go to Toulouse (which will hopefully be MUCH earlier in the evening) I am ordering the meatloaf!
Cajun Meatloaf

Butternut Squash & White Truffle Risotto

Overall Toulouse Petit was fun and had great food. However, if I could make one change it would be that they edit their menu down a bit: take 15 things you do GREAT and throw out the rest. The prices at Toulouse weren't too steep either. Our bill came to just under $100 (without tip) and we got a LOT of food and a great night on the town for that price, which, in Seattle is a steal.

We'll go back to Toulouse for sure, but the next time will be for brunch (which I hear is fabulous). I checked out the menu and they have a bananas foster french toast, which looks heavenly . . . I'll find out and report back!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Celebrating My 29th Birthday at La Rustica

Last Saturday was my birthday, the last birthday in my 20s and the first of what will inevitably be a looooong series of 29th birthdays for me (until my crow's feet start to give me away). I asked Matt to take me to La Rustica in West Seattle for my birthday dinner (4100 Beach Drive SW, Seattle 98116 or http://www.larusticarestaurant.com/). I had been there four or five years ago to celebrate a friend's birthday and the food was fabulous. Honestly, I have been wanting to go back ever since, but the restaurant is teeny weeny (like 10 tables), doesn't take reservations for parties under 6 people and is always, always packed. Needless to say, my infamous impatience doesn't do well with 2 and a half hour wait times for a table, so it took me this long to return.

La Rustica opens for seating at 5 pm on Saturday. So, Matt and I left my apartment in Queen Anne at 4:45 in order to try and beat the majority of the diners and get a table without a ridiculous wait. It was raining cats and dogs when we left and it took us about 20 minutes to arrive in West Seattle. With the drive, finding the ever elusive street parking and walking in the rain to the restaurant we arrived at 5:20. When we arrived the VERY Italian host informed us that the restaurant was full and we would have a half hour wait, which was totally fine, and way better than I expected.

He directed us to an itsy-bitsy "bar" area . . . by this I mean an 8 foot by 8 foot room directly behind the kitchen with ONE bench, a couple folding chairs, a TV loudly displaying the Italian version of some American Idol-esque game show, and NO bartender. If I didn't know that the food was SO amazing there is no way in hell that I would ordinarily put up with this shit, but good things are worth waiting for . . . and so we did. We were the first couple in the "bar" and two other couples joined us about 10 minutes later. The host eventually came back to the bar area and took our wine orders. So I sipped on a pinot noir and Matt had a chianti while we waited and watched the bar completely fill up way past capacity with people hoping for a table. I couldn't help but smile because I knew that we were first on the list. Exactly half an hour after we were sent to the bar the host came back and told us our table was ready.

La Rustica offers the traditional Italian 3 course type menu: anti pasti, secondi (pasta) and meat courses. I knew that the portions at this restaurant were quite generous and there was absolutely no way that we needed to indulge in a traditional 3 course meal. So while we snacked on the delicious table bread and continued with our wine we decided to order pasta dishes. I decided on the Gnocchi con Salsiccia and Matt ordered the Cannelloni. The pasta is served with a house salad first. The house salad is traditional Italian and quite good: red onions, olives, chickpeas and vinaigrette dressing. Then our pasta came . . . wow. My gnocchi were perfect: no gumminess, not too dense, perfect pillows of potato goodness. AND the waitress grated as much fresh asiago over the top that I wanted. I was super impressed with my dish until I tasted Matt's cannelloni. Wow. Amazing. Next time I go to La Rustica I will be ordering that dish. Perfect ratio of cheese to meat to sauce and great herb flavor. Turns out, I was right, and we were stuffed after the pasta course and no meat course was necessary.

However, since it was my birthday, we had to order dessert. I picked chocolate mousse cake from the dessert options and the waitress brought it out with a birthday candle in it for me (see photo above). The cake was just as yummy as the pasta and we finished it off no problem! A sweet ending to a slightly bitter birthday for me. Almost sweet enough for me to forget that I am almost 30 . . . almost.

The next day Matt and I drove down to my parents house in Tacoma and were joined by my brother, Lalaneya and Beth and her boyfriend for a homemade lasagna lunch. My mom also made my traditional chocolate cherry birthday cake . . . she made that cake for me every year my entire childhood and it is still as delicious as ever. Yay! Although she put 29 candles on the cake, which nearly covered the whole cake and almost set off the smoke alarms when I blew them out . . . way to make me feel old, Mom.

It is so nice to have my parents back in Washington and to be able to have a 'traditional' birthday party with my family and my dearest friends all in the same room. I never realized how wonderful and precious gatherings like this are until my parents moved away for 6 years and I didn't have them around anymore. Needless to say, the whole birthday weekend made me realize how blessed, loved and lucky I am to have such wonderful people in my life. I have a feeling that, despite my resistance to it, 29 is going to be a pretty good year.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Kingfish Cafe: A Taste of New Orleans in Seattle

On Friday night Matt suggested that we go to the Kingfish Cafe (602 19th Avenue E, Seattle 98112 or www.thekingfishcafe.com) to try and re-live a bit of our New Orleans experience. He had eaten there a couple years ago for his sister's birthday and said that the food was amazing. I happily agreed and we headed up to Capitol Hill around 7 pm. The Kingfish doesn't take reservations so I was a little nervous that we wouldn't be able to get in without a long wait. As it turns out, we got there just in time and grabbed the last available table before the dinner rush. There was a line of people and 20 minute wait times to be seated when we left around 8:30.

When I first walked into the Kingfish it really reminded me of New Orleans: rot-iron in the windows, wood floors, minimalistic wood bar stocked with tons of liquor, white table clothed tables accompanied by slightly beat up chairs and extremely smashed together and crowded (in a wonderful way-- a way that let's you know that the food is really that good). We ordered drinks to start. Matt ordered a Sazerac and I ordered a Kingfish Jazz cocktail which is sort of like a New Orleans inspired version of a French martini: vodka, lime juice float, some other citrusy juice and champagne to top it off. We also ordered the Percy's Plate for Sharin', which is a trio of dips, for an appetizer (see photo below).

Percy's Plate for Sharin'
The dips came with three bread and cracker options as well, my favorite was the olive oil brushed toast. The dips included a garlic artichoke dip (our favorite), a roasted pepper and smoked crawfish dip and a black bean hummus dip. They were all so good, and the portions were so huge, that we had to stop ourselves half way through to save room for our entrees.

For entrees Matt ordered the 'Jazz it Slow Gumbo' with cornbread and I ordered the 'My Way or the Highway Buttermilk Fried Chicken' with mashed potatoes and collard greens (see photos below). My fried chicken was delicious, perfect spicy seasoning with meat that just melted in my mouth and there were three pieces of it. Three pieces! Let's just say that I definitely was not able to clean my plate. The mashed potatoes were quite good as well, but the gravy was spicy and amazing. The collard greens . . . not so much, but I just don't care for collard greens; they remind me of some awful childhood food experience and I just can't eat them. However, Matt was more than happy to eat them off my plate for me, so they must have good as collard greens go. Matt was able to finish all of his gumbo, but not before I snuck a few bites. The gumbo was very good and spicy, but I thought the gumbo that we had in New Orleans was a little better . . . but I am pretty sure that it's as close to the Big Easy as I am going to get on the West Coast.

The service at the Kingfish was southern hospitality at its finest. Our hostess and server were both very nice, helpful and smiling the entire time (even though they were extremely busy).

Long story short: if you like southern food the Kingfish Cafe is an absolute must visit. We will definitely go back sooner than later. I wonder if they have some kind of Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday party next month . . . wouldn't that be fun? Bourbon Street in Seattle!


My Way or the Highway Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Jazz It Slow Gumbo

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcoming 2011 In Vancouver, B.C.

Me at Brix with my Pinot Gris

Matt and I decided to head up to Vancouver, B.C. to celebrate the new year this year. I had never really been to Canada before and so it was a fun little adventure for us. We stayed at the Georgian Court Hotel in downtown Vancouver, which was really quite nice and right in the heart of the action. We shopped on Robson Street, drove around Stanley Park and explored the Gastown bars at night (even though it was freezing!). We had also done a little bit of research on dining options and made a reservation at Brix Restaurant and Wine Bar (1138 Homer Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 2X6 or www.brixvancouver.com).

The on-line menu seemed pretty promising: it had some fancier, french dishes for me and had a steak option for Matt. Not to mention that it also did not have one of those stupid prix fixe 'limited' menus that most of the nicer restaurants in town seemed to offer on New Year's Eve. We like to have options. Anyway, we showed up at the restaurant and we were shown right to our table, but that is where the prompt service ended. I don't know if it is an American thing to have quick service, because Canada and everywhere else I have visited seem to be lost on the concept . . . whatever.

When the waiter finally did arrive with our appetizer, it was quite good. We ordered gnocchi in a white wine cream sauce with sablefish and green peas. The sauce was heavenly, but the gnocchi? Meh. It is nearly impossible to find perfect gnocchi and this was no exception. The gnocchi were a bit too dense and their texture bordered on gummy. However, the sauce and the sablefish absolutely saved the dish and there was none left when our entrees came to the table.

For entrees Matt ordered the beef tenderloin with roasted potatoes and asparagus and I ordered the duck confit with mascarpone risotto and peas and carrots (see photos below). Both of our entrees were out of this world. My duck had perfect crispy skin and the meat was tender and falling off the bone. The risotto was rich and flavorful, but completely filling. I couldn't finish it all, but Matt was happy to help me out with that! I tried a bit of his entree and it was very good, but nothing could distract me from my duck confit . . . .seriously. So. Incredibly. Delicious.

Beef tenderloin with asparagus, bearnaise sauce and roasted potatoes.

Duck Leg Confit with mascarpone risotto and peas and carrots.


Pot du Creme au Chocolat with Brandied Cherries and Cinnamon Whipped Cream
We decided that we had to try dessert (even though we were stuffed) because the food had been so amazing the desserts had to be great too. I am very happy that we decided to go for the extra calories because this dessert was great. The brandied cherries and the cinnamon in the whip cream made a great combination with the rich, creamy, and perfectly smooth chocolate. We didn't completely finish all of the dessert because we were bursting with food, but we came close . . . I was actually a little afraid that my party top for the bars wasn't going to fit (it did though, barely).

Overall a great dining experience and I would highly recommend that people give Brix a try. Well worth the money and the drive.

We rang in the new year at a weird little bar in Gastown. Gastown is actually named after someone named 'Gassy Jack' and there is a statue in his honor in the neighborhood. Matt and I couldn't help but speculate if it releases some kind of fart-like gas at given intervals. We saw the statue and saw no such emissions, but with a name like Gassy Jack what are people supposed to think?

The next morning we were driving around the city and through Stanley Park (which is gorgeous btw) and then drove to the water front and decided to get out of the car and look for a place to have brunch. We accidentally stumbled upon the Raincity Grill (1193 Denman Street, Vancouver, B.C. or www.raincitygrill.com), which I have actually read about in food magazines and blogs to great reviews (and TONS of awards posted on its walls including an award from Wine Spectator magazine). Needless to say, this is where we decided to have brunch. We got the last available non-reservation table and ordered food. I ordered the brioche french toast with berry compote and chantilly and Matt ordered the English Breakfast (eggs, bacon, potatoes). Oh.My.God was that french toast good! The bread was fluffy and the outside was crispy and flavorful and they put just enough compote and chantilly on the plate. So good. Matt liked his breakfast too, I tried one of the potatoes and it was seasoned wonderfully and tasty. I couldn't finish my french toast and Matt ate the last piece for me. I think he liked my breakfast more than he liked his! Anyway it was a wonderful brunch that we serendipitously stumbled upon while wandering aimlessly.

Our Vancouver trip was definitely a success food wise . . . I think I may have gained 5 lbs while we were there. I just couldn't help myself. We want to go back up there this summer to eat more great food, of course, but to also enjoy the outdoors of the beautiful city a bit more. It was just WAY too cold to get out and explore as much as we would have liked. Maybe we'll find more great places to eat when we go back.

Hope everyone had a fantastic New Year's Eve and ate as much as I did!