Saturday, November 24, 2007

Secret is better

Last week we popped our secret diner cherries with our first Gypsy dinner. I'm not including any links because it is supposed to be on the down-low, but honestly it's easy enough to get "in" and you can google it just fine. I was really looking forward to this one, not only because it was our first of what will prove to be many forays into this clandestine culinary community, but also because it was my last chance to eat real food for awhile as I got the second half of my braces on the following morning. I am currently on a semi-solid diet and it is killing me, but I'll try to stay focused on the food.

For dinner we were presented with a tasting menu of 9 courses with paired wines. Naturally who wouldn't be over the moon about this kind of thing? Well as much as we are avid food lovers, we are just as prone to be impressed as we are to criticize. Without referring to the menu, here's what stood out: an oyster starter with grapefruit foam and champagne gelee was absolutely perfect, I could have eaten a bowl of those. Sablefish seared with an asian glaze over a quinoa hotcake had me quivering all over. It was served with braised burdock, a veg I'm never too sure of but was fabulous in this, and an onion currant relish. They paired this with a delicate Pinot Noir I'm sure I can't afford on my own, and it was the perfect fish with red wine combo. Then there was lamb with candied tamarind - this was posed as a secret ingredient and the challenge was out to identify it. Later I slobbered all over the poor chef, desperately trying to say "dragonfruit", but it kept coming out "dragonfish!" She looked at me the way I look at people with babies, as if to say, "would you please mind existing somewhere else thank you??" Well what can I say, by that time I had 4 or 5 1/3 glass servings of wine, and no matter how much you draw that out over time it's still a lot of booze.

We finished with a salad of frisee, quail eggs, and seared matsutakes, a local cheese board and the richest salted truffles I've ever come across. It was, in a word, divine. Dinner lasted over 4 hours, my favorite way to eat. We chatted with our fellow diners, oohed and aahed, gripped each other's knees in excitement, and came down off that rush with full but not stuffed bellies and taste buds that begged for a break. I couldn't bring myself to eat again until late afternoon the next day. I'm not sure how often we'll make the very deep fiscal plunge that is a Gypsy dinner, but it will certainly be worth it every time.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A few of my favorite things

Summer in Seattle is glorious in so many ways, and one of them is the plethora of farmer's markets around town that offer option after option of organic, sustainable produce, bread, cheese and more for so much less than we pay for it at the co-op during the rest of the year. A few weekends ago, with our anniversary meal at Sitka and Spruce still fresh in my head, we both got giddy at the sight of enormous, fresh lobster mushrooms! I was daunted by their price of $12 per lb. but realized quickly that they are light enough that a two-handed fungi was only about $6, what a steal. These babies are just as beautiful to look at as they are tasty to eat.

I sliced up this bad boy with some garlic and sweet Walla Walla onions, sauteed the mix in plenty of butter, added a dash of salt and pepper, tossed with linguine, lots of paremesean and topped with some lemon basil - pure heaven in pasta form.

Later that week I still couldn't shake the urge to try my hands at a version of the scallops and beet dish we had at S&S. This one was so incredibly easy, I should call it "scallops for idiots". I made the trek to Mutual Fish for some gloriously fresh giant sea scallops (also purchased: one perfectly marbled fillet of wild king salmon, some monkfish and a bag of frozen crab that proved a disaster waiting to happen). I boiled a half dozen chioggia beets, then whipped up a zesty relish of fresh tomatillos, jalapeno, yellow pepper, green onion and lime juice. The scallops could have gone on al fresco, but it was an unseasonably cold and gloomy evening so they were seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper, pan-seared in several tablespoons of butter until golden, drizzled with drippings, and they couldn't have been more perfect.

The relish ended up feeling unnecessary, we both scraped ours away but it was delightful on burgers that weekend. All in all, two new fave dishes thanks to our local food availability. I love the pacific northwest!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Inspired and Inspiring

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated our anniversary (10 years if you can believe it) by indulging in dinner at Sitka and Spruce. We've been lunching there quite a bit this spring, as it's the more affordable option and frankly we spend enough on eating out to support a small army, so dinner is a bit of a splurge. I love S&S inside and out, and one of the many things I love about them is the option of a sharing plate versus an entree. When I'm at a really great restaurant I always fall into that conundrum of choice - when there are multiple dishes I know I would love and I want a taste of all of them. The S&S menu gives you the affordable option of tasting 4, 5, or even 6 plates of amazing flavor combinations. There are usually one or two items that are available only as an entree, and they are always worth while.

We dove in to a salad of chioggia beets and scallop ceviche with a mint relish, absolutely divine. We followed that with a heady plate of homemade gnocchi, which turned out to be much more like a fresh, flaky polenta cake, accompanied by fresh seared lobster mushrooms. That one had us both vying for the last bite, and for M's choice of a strong red wine that went perfectly with the meaty, buttery texture and taste of the mushrooms. My tart, white Basque selection kept me going for the next two dishes though; paprika peas with chorizo and white anchovies followed by a salad of heirloom tomatoes, fresh red onion, seared lil' babes (cherry tomatoes) and a whole sardine, pictured below.

By the end we debated the large plate of young pheasant that we saw almost every other table diving into, but decided to save some room for a deep-fried twinkie at the Redwood, which was delicious and I will never eat it again. Weeks after our S&S meal I am still scheming up my own takes on these dishes at home. Right now I am vying for a good shot of the 1/2 pound lobster mushroom gracing our kitchen table. It will probably look better sliced and sauteed in butter and chives...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Heavenly chicken, two ways

I have a very special soft spot in my heart for one-pot meals. Instead of the usual two or three rounds of dishes required to spare the 3 square feet of counter space in our apartment (which is not small, really, we just have a strange kitchen), I can get away with one cutting board, a few knives, several bowls and/or ramekins and my beloved Creuset. One-pots are often heavy in preparation, which is fine by me since I can happily while away a couple of hours chopping, dicing, and slivering, and they tend to cook for the better part of an afternoon. One of my all-time favorites involves one entire day of mincing, dicing and slivering just to marinate chicken overnight, then you do the whole thing all over again to cook it the following day. That one has its merits, and bragging rights, but it's far from a frequent occurrence. For me, a good one-pot has got to be one hell of a dish if you're relying on it to suffice an entire meal. An excellent one-pot is dynamic and layered, exciting surprise from your guests that so many things can happen from ingredients that were all cooked in the same space. These are hard to come by.

During our last year in New York, I worked at the cafe across the street from our apartment, which was usually not very busy and always full of half-mangled copies of the Daily News and the New York Post, quite possibly the two worst newspapers on earth. But since they were there, I read them, and one hot summer day I came upon a recipe for Moroccan chicken. I think this was the 15 minutes that those pots with the funny anteater nose tops were popular, but it looked interesting and involved no more than one pot, so I figured it was worth a try. The first time around, I followed the recipe and it was lovely - rich and savory with a hint of fruit and the zing of red pepper, and the chicken just fell off the bone. I was surprised and elevated, this dish had much more going on than I expected yet remained straightforward and the robust flavors were unmistakable.

Flash forward two years and I come across this recipe that I had completely forgotten all about. It's cold and rainy and supposed to be spring, and I've got a Friday afternoon on my hands, what more could I ask for? This time we were short a few ingredients so I substituted; dried cranberries for dried apricots, allspice and a pinch of caraway for coriander, and I threw in a chopped sweet potato for good measure. This dish has now zoomed right up to my top ten list, it was absolutely freakin' fabulous. The addition of different spices, I suspect the allspice over the caraway, took the dish to a totally different place. Now it was remarkable that for being cooked altogether. The sweet potatoes retained their full flavor and added a nice thick consistency to the broth, and the chicken was rife with flavors reminiscent of my favorite South African hot-pots in Brooklyn. The first night we snarfed it as stew with some buttered sourdough and that was it.

Leftovers and my lower intestines commanded something green, so the rest was served over a warm bed of sauteed green chard with a little rock salt and garlic. Yu-um!

Monday, February 19, 2007

beautiful, globular cheese

It's been far too long and I've got some time to make up for post-wise. This winter M and I discovered the mexican beauty that is El Gallito. This place knows how to serve up mexican food the way I'm used to it, covered in piles of gooey, globular cheese and chile sauce. NYC was always sadly lacking good mexican food like this, instead all you could find was more traditionally coastal dishes heavy on the cilantro and skimpy on the fat. Where I come from, mexican food is a staple, and it's terrible for you, but I grew up on it and I love it nonetheless. El Gallito serves up hearty dishes of cheese-smothered green chile goodness, plain and simple. The chile rellenos were spicy and swimming in cheddar, and the chimichanga comes with your choice of meat and is about the size of your head. I forgot the camera that time, but remembered to snatch a shot before devouring a plateful of chorizo scramble.

The chorizo was a little dry, but full of flavor. Personally I'll be ordering the huevos next time instead of poaching M's, but 3 out of 4 ain't bad at all.

Monday, January 29, 2007

and then there were boobies...

The pacific northwest has a lot to offer, and we're lucky enough to live a completely reasonable distance from two great neighboring cities: Portland and Vancouver. Last weekend we hit P-town for the opening bout of the 2007 roller derby season, and guess what, there was food involved.

Most of it was a complete disappointment, which I accept as one of the risks of eating out a lot, it's not all going to be good. We stayed at the Jupiter Hotel, which is a total ripoff and you should never stay there. It's an old motel dressed up with some pink lights and white platform beds for $100 a night. It does, however, share space with the Doug Fir, a pretty awesome lounge/bar/restaurant. Their breakfast was mixed; the hollandaise sauce on my eggs florentine was abundant but far too citrusy, but the meaty porridge on M's biscuits and gravy was pretty darn good. The Doug Fir shines during happy hour, when you can get any number of things for $2.50 a pop, including the "Fir Burger", hands down one of the better burger experiences I've had. It was big but not too big, perfectly charred but not overdone, and full of oniony goodness. The fries were fresh and crispy, and I saw more than a couple heaping bowls of mashed potatoes finding their way to very cold, hungry patrons. I would have ordered one if we hadn't been so hell bent on hitting more strip clubs before the weekend was over.

And that brings me to my second favorite meal in Portland. It was at Mary's, and it was by far the best damn bag of Orville's Butter microwave popcorn I've ever had. I really embrace my inner voyeur, and Portland is a great place to do it. Let's face it, a lot of strip clubs can ruin the experience just by being so seedy and uncomfortable. In Portland you get couples, groups of friends, and single men and women, and it's a much more hang-out-and-drink-your-beer-with-some-tits kind of vibe. I loved it. Mary's was my favorite, fairly small and intimate and the strippers are super friendly. They do serve real food besides popcorn - our cohorts reported that the nachos and burritos were very tasty and super cheap ($3 or so). Although we made it back to Mary's twice, we never managed to get back there hungry. Ah, something to aim for next time!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

We ate our table scraps

Tonight we finally made it over to Sitka and Spruce. It's a little difficult for me to begin on this one, especially without flailing into a lot of gutteral noises and pantomimes that don't translate well into blogging. For starters, I can say that without a doubt this is my favorite restaurant in Seattle. I've been reading a lot about this place over the past six months or so. I'm not sure if it's intentional, but I have a bad habit of laxidasically avoiding new, highly-regarded things of all kinds. It could be a remenant of NYC life, where popular almost always means some version of hell to me. But I digress. Sitka and Spruce is all about dishes of necessity. Every creation is literally catered according to the locally grown, often organic, ingredients that are available that day. I've heard that they have yet to reproduce a single dish. I'm not sure I believe it, but I wouldn't be too surprised considering the bountiful, obviously well-used shelf of cookbooks visible in the spacious kitchen.

I should preface this entry with two things: one is that I am an enormous fan of food that is as complex as it is refined. I love it when a single dish, often of limited ingredients, dances several sensations across the palate. I enjoy nothing more than discovering different details with every bite. Secondly, eating these kinds of meals makes me realize how limited my vocabulary is when I attempt to impart my experience to others, so please just use your imagination as much as possible, I may be just a little out of my league here as far as words go.

We started off standing at the bar with a couple glasses of red and a plate of braised black kale. Kale is one of those things that I love to eat in a restaurant, but just can't get the hang of at home, so I'm easily impressed by it as a general rule. This kale, however, was like none I've ever had; it was springy and crunchy, full of buttery, garlicy flavor but without a touch of the bitterness I normally associate with it. It was served with 6 plump, fresh green olives that tasted like salty hearts of artichokes. I traded my last olive for M's last forkful of kale, it was just that amazing. We followed this with a small plate of tuna carpaccio with satsumas, sorrel and celery. Normally I'm the big raw fish fan, but I practically had to fight M for the last morsels of this delicate mixture. The tuna was excellent, high quality and just the right temperature (very important to the asethetics of eating raw seafood in my opinion). The olive oil gave it a generally smooth sensation, and the combination of the grassy sorrel and salty capers made for a delightful mouthful. I easily could have eaten a bowl full of each appetizer, but there was so much to come...

The menu of a dozen or so delectable sounding items was a bit daunting, so we delved right into two heady dishes: breast of guinea fowl with acomo pepe confit and a blood orange vinagrette, and organic tri-tips with yellowfoot shanterelles. The guinea fowl was succulent, charred just slightly on the outside with indescribably moist and tender meat within. The confit was reminiscent of the perfect thanksgiving bite - savory with a hint of citrus-berry flavor. The meat quite literally fell off the bone, I don't know how the hell they cooked it so perfectly without doing it to order. The tri-tips were M's favorite, and also a little mind-shattering. The meat had a rich, buttery flavor that complemented the shantarelles nicely though I thought the mushrooms' flavor could have come through a little more strongly. The shining star of this dish was a bittersweet parmesean whose name I cannot remember. There were small shavings of the stuff scattered over the teeny filets, and a bite of steak with one of those babies made my toes and fingers curl silmultaneously.

We both have a tendency to get a little physical when we eat amazing food, in the sense that we appreciate each bite with our entire bodies. I alternated between stretching back in ecstasy and then hunkering quietly over my dish the way I've seen my mother in law do when she's got a plate of something incredible. We probably looked like we were graduating from a novice mime course, but I don't care, and I cannot for the life of me understand how so many other people can sit down to a meal such as ours and not physically express the joy of eating wonderful food in this way. Anyway, I don't use the term loosely, but dinner at S&S was transcendant. While we refrained from licking our plates, we both surreptitiously pinched the abandoned morsels off the table once they were cleared. To boot, our waiter was jovial and informed without being annoying, and he gave us tastes of every wine we wanted to try before we committed to a whole glassful. Now how cool is that? We are seriously considering spending our impending 10 year anniversary at Sitka and Spruce, where we will order one of everything on the menu, and tell them to bring it all out as they would have it.