Category Archives: Restaurants

Favorite Places and Spaces: Food & Drink Recap 2010

Recently I’ve been blogging more about my food experiences at home. Finding solace in those moments in the kitchen, discovering new recipes and cooking techniques. Originally when I started Scrumptious Seattle I primarily blogged about restaurants and places to eat. There are so many wonderful spots in Seattle, it’s often hard to to return to the same restaurants because I’m always in pursuit to try the latest and greatest. Here’s some highlights of special spots I’ve enjoyed this past year:

The Walrus and the Carpenter:

Image Courtesy of The Walrus and the Carpenter FB Page

Inspired by CS Lewis’ poem, this charming space oozes whimsy, elegance and light- from the antiqued-gray wood chandelier to the open kitchen featuring the bounty of simple ingredients, you want to belly up to the bar and stay awhile. Or linger over beautiful crafted cocktails in the small outdoor patio. No wonder why it was just named one of the 10 best in the US by GQ Magazine.  Featuring local seafood, mostly Oysters of course and small plates, The Walrus Bar is surely to be a staple in my neighborhood. My favorites include the smoked trout served atop lentils with walnuts, crème fraiche and house pickled red onions and the steak tartare with farm egg yolk and crostini. In the summer I sipped delightful cocktails such as the Elderflower Fizz with Gin, Lillet, St. Germain and soda.  Such few places in Seattle have the genuine warmth and style of The Walrus Bar. I truly enjoyed the new addition to Ballard Ave and look forward to toasting with friends there in the months to come.

Sambar:

Arabesque Cocktail at Sambar

Tucked away from all the hustle and bustle of downtown Ballard, Sambar became a treasured discovery of 2010. Although many other Seattlelites already raved about their stellar cocktails, I had yet to venture into the small yet oh so charming space. Adjacent to Le Gourmand, Sambar is primarily dedicated to the craft of the cocktail. Jay, the master mixologist can create almost any concoction to your liking using a variety of the lesser known liquors and distinct flavor profiles. In June, I went to Sambar with a few of my fellow LUPEC ladies, pictured above the Arabesque cocktail: Anejo Rum, East India Sherry, Seville Orange and Sage. A constantly rotating menu does feature seasonal flavors. Oh and don’t miss their fries with the aioli. Light and crispy with just the right touch of salt, I daresay they place in my top 5 for the city!

Spinasse:

Spinasse is not necessarily the hidden gem or secret of Seattle with all of the recent accolades from the press including Best New Chef and Top Ten Best Places for Pasta from Bon Appetit and Food & Wine.  Oh and some person named David Beckham tried to dine a few months ago sans reservation; he was told he had to wait for a table as they were already full! Regardless, I had yet to venture into my new favorite Italian spot in the city until last month. I’ve already returned.  The rustic food, provides the platform for perhaps unusual flavor combinations that just work. From an unexpectedly perfect “Russian Salad” composed of house-cured tuna maionese, squash and capers to another Insalata with roasted beets & radicchio topped with crushed egg, breadcrumbs and pecorino, a recent dinning companion proclaimed this may be the best dish I’ve eaten this year. And then there’s the Tajarin pasta. The delicate fine hand cut egg pasta studded with either the pork/beef ragu or my favorite, simply prepared with butter and sage. I like to not think about the obviously insane amount of butter used to achieve perfection. The fork tender tangitelle with milk braised pork was also a hit. Sharing is best. And if they have any rendition of the creamy goat cheese mousse, get it, hands down. I look forward to dining behind the lace curtains among the rustic wood tables very soon. Until then, I’ll be dreaming about possibly the best meals of the year at Spinasse. And possibly making Jason Stratton’s Negroni Chicken with Braised Blood Oranges at home.

Roy’s BBQ:

I have a bit of confession, I could do without the BBQ at Roy’s. The Georgia Gold proclaimed by Sunset to be some of the best in the West isn’t all that grand. But, even before Seattle Magazine let out my little secret, I knew my sandwich of choice at Roy’s. The Oyster Po’Boy. Composed of smoked oysters from Taylor Shellfish topped with slaw & aoili, this po’boy packs just the right amount of punch on a roll from the esteemed Columbia City Bakery down the block. Get it. Even if you aren’t a raw oyster fan, you’ll surprised by the tender and smoky oysters balanced out by the creamy aoili and acidity of the vinegar based slaw. Today, I just read this via Nancy Leson. Roy’s is to close effective Jan 9.  I’ll be certain to savour their great Po’Boy one last time.

Chef Liao:

You know those nights you don’t want to cook, it’s pouring rain and you want to eat your food direct from a square Chinese takeout containers. Well, on one of these very nights, I discovered Chef Liao in Phinney Ridge. What I didn’t know is that they make some of the best pot stickers in the city. Others even local experts agree with me. The thickly wrapped, crispy yet chewy pork filled pockets are perfectly fried, while not having that doughy or slimy consistency you find all too often in Chinese restaurants. They remind me of the potstickers of my youth on the East Coast, served with a ginger-soy dipping sauce.  Other dishes are pretty decent including the Honey-Walnut Prawns. Portions for items such as fried rice and chow main are extremely generous, easily lasting multiple meals. Although I much preferred the BBQ pork fried rice when I reheated it on the stove and added some green onions. Originally the rice lacked the crispness or rather “fried” aspect. Better yet, they deliver to Ballard and always have hot, fresh food pretty quickly for takeout.

Full Pull Wines:

Full Pull isn’t a restaurant nor a bar, but is without a doubt is one of my favorite places in SoDo. Think of it as a boutique wine shop. Sourcing some of the best wines from primarily Washington State, they leverage strong relationships with the winemakers to bring stellar wines to the consumer (me!). Oh and the people behind Full Pull are pretty awesome in their own respect. In just one year, they’ve grown tremendously, getting shoutouts from wine buffs and building a bigger fan base week by week. This warehouse is a mighty dangerous place for me to visit- generally never leaving empty handed. Emily introduced me to one of my newest obsessions, Trust Cellars. Full Pull also has hosted several events including bringing wine-makers such as Rotie Cellars, making traditional Rhone style wines using grapes from Washington State to the New Guard ClamBake dinner this August. We gathered at a communal table, talked, drank wine and cracked crab in the tradition of New England  prepared by one of Seattle’s rising star chefs formerly of Sitka & Spruce/Tako Truk fame and the newly opened Madison Park Conservatory’s, Cormac Mahoney. Perhaps this embodied what summer should encompass. Others agreed. That’s the kind of space Full Pull creates. An intimate spot for people to gather over a shared interest, share knowledge and raise a glass of wine, comparing notes and discussing the merits of the grapes while perhaps meeting new friends and supporting a local business. This is something I support. Join their email list and buy wine. I promise, the selection and value for the quality of product will not disappoint.

The Noble Fir:

Most places seem to forget the golden rule, focus on one thing and do it well. Instead they attempt to offer a plethora of options never striving for excellence in any category. The Noble Fir in downtown Ballard showcases craft beer and cider in a casual setting. With a constantly rotating tap list they offer artisanal ciders and beers sourced primarily throughout the US with a few select drafts & bottles from Europe.  The owners, passionate about exploring wilderness of the Northwest, one a former REI employee created a space to reflect their vision. A large wood encased nook with benches houses maps and other nature travel guides. The Noble Fir is just the place to meet friends for a casual drink or spend a leisurely afternoon planning your next camping trip.

Salumi:

Salumi Backroom Lunch

Salumi, legendary for their cured meats produced by the Batali family attracts epic long lines for their stellar sandwiches. Probably one of the most well-known lunch spots in Seattle for tourists and locals alike, I too often frequent this mecca. This year I was lucky enough to experience the back-room lunch, a multi-course meal for a small party booked many months in advance at the extremely reasonable rate of $40 per person (tax & tip additional).  Plan in advance, the meal is served a leisurely pace, approximately three or so hours plus you are encouraged to bring your own bottles of wine or consume the “house” wine provided at the table. My friend Lisa wrote in length about the family style meal, however I wanted to give note to this experience and highly recommend you make the time to experience the back-room lunch if you live in Seattle or plan to visit in the future.

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Reviews: Authentic vs Opinion

As humans we have opinions, whether we want to admit to them or not, we do. With the growth of the internet, our ability to share our thoughts and critiques is exponential. In the food world, everyone wants to share their opinion, critique or proclaim their knowledge. Sites such as Yelp, Urban Spoon and CitySearch enable us to do so. No background checks or filtering, anyone instantly has access to state their authority on subjects such as the best taco, burger, pizza or pho. Restaurants are scrutinized, sometimes accurately, more often not. Professional restaurant reviewers often spend more time than people realize, researching, writing and tasting on multiple trips to make an accurate assessment of the establishment. Opinions are formed, transcribed and produced to a general audience. Much like in psychology they are held accountable to standards. We may disagree with their assessment, however the process should be respected.

User generated review sites on the other hand operate in a completely different fashion. These sites are mostly driven through advertising with local companies. Yelp for example currently being sued for their business practices; largely considered unethical by some. Companies paying more to be featured, biased reviews and negative reviews shuffled under the table. Full disclosure, I am part of a user-generated review group for CitySearch, I am not paid for my thoughts/opinions, although we are rewarded for actively posting and generating lists/reviews.

I sporadically use Yelp/Urban Spoon for information, ideas and recommendations. I highly suggest a few caveats when using user-generated sites. Most on Yelp self-proclaim themselves to be experts. I will not take advice from someone who names Taco Time as “the real deal” or compares Palace Kitchen to Claim Jumper. The “best” is subjective. What one person considers the best burger, the other may disagree, it’s personal taste. My favorite Seattle burger, Palace Kitchen. Instead tell me/describe what you liked about the pizza, the taco or burger; why was it so “good.” Why is a place so delicious? Favorite dishes? That’s what makes a useful review. Second, keep the review succinct, readers don’t want to know your life story or why you are such an expert on ramen, OK you lived in Japan, doesn’t mean you understand quality food. A powerful review explores the multiple attributes of an establishment.

Personally I know several Yelpers, who are not professional reviewers by trade who write witty reviews in search of quality food. These individuals have discerning palates, refined taste buds and are well-traveled. Unfortunately they seem to be too few and far between, finding quality reviews is cumbersome. Alas, I find myself turning to other sources such as Twitter.

Do businesses deserve to be scrutinized? In my opinion, yes, they do. It’s the nature of the business. With respect of course, candor should be expected. Did we experience poor service on a visit? Were the eggs over-cooked? Food under-salted? If that’s an individual’s experience then it’s likely others shared similar experiences. Do we return to places because they are our friends or the owner is nice, of course, does that mean everything is perfect, no. I work near a well-known bakery in the Seattle area, that I frequent often. On more than one occasion a macaroon was rock hard or a sandwich bland. If that was my experience as a first time patron I may not return. Luckily there are many other items I love about the place, so I return, knowing what to order.

We patronize the places we love for many different reasons. When researching places to eat, I look to multiple sources: professional reviewers for published trade, user-generated review sites, friends and Twitter. I formulate my own opinion based upon the culmination of their experiences and my own. Our world is changing, information is available to us faster and in a multitude of forms. Think before you type, tweet or write. And remember if you don’t want it shared, don’t say it.

Trophy Cupcakes

Trophy Cupcakes

Trophy Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcake

Red Velvet Cupcake

I normally don’t even like cupcakes. They are often characterized as being overly sweet, airy/tasteless and mostly sticky sweet sugar frosting. I’m not impressed by Cupcake Royale, even though they were named best cupcake by Sauveur magazine. CR is good, but nothing exceptional. This weekend I visited Trophy Cupcakes in Wallingford for the second time. A friend who loves cupcakes was visiting so I figured I would take her to the place featured on Martha Stewart. My first time at Trophy I had the hummingbird cupcake: banana pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting and a chocolate cupcake to go with vanilla frosting. Both were excellent; dense, moist, rich full of flavor with decadent frosting.

This time I tried the lemon, which is actually one of the best ways to judge the quality of a dessert. The exact ratio of lemon to sweetness is hard to master, some places overly compensate the tartness of the lemon with too much sugar and a lemon dessert that is too tart falls more in the savory category. Trophy has mastered the art of a lemon buttercake with lemon cream frosting. Hints of lemon in the buttercake, most likely from a bit of the zest, yet the lemon was evident in the frosting, rich, tart and sweet.

Rows of Lemon Cupcakes

Rows of Lemon Cupcakes

I still have yet to try the famous S’More cupcake and Red Velvet, which I hear from various sources is fantastic. One source did a taste test of Royale vs, Trophy, she said Trophy was the obvious winner. Trophy, you won me over to the dark side of the cupcake, I am certain to return to try more of your delicious creations.

Skillet Street Food

Skillet Airstream Trailor

Skillet Airstream Trailer

Curry Cured Duck Confit

Curry Cured Duck Confit

Every Tuesday my dull Sodo neighborhood is transformed, we are lucky enough to be a stop for Skillet Street Food.  Skillet, defined by their website as a “mobile joint,” otherwise known in the food community as  the traveling airstream trailer has received accolades locally and nationally. I personally have been lunching at the trailer for about 6 months now, sometimes on a weekly basis. Every Sunday I wait in anticipation for my menu to be e-mailed to me. Their mission, to bring “gourmet” food to the street, without the white table clothes and overhead of a restaurant. The Burger, their most notable item with ingenious bacon jam, a standard for most, is the only regular menu item apart from Poutine. All other items are reflective of what’s in season using mostly local ingredients. Last week they rocked my world with curry duck confit, moist flavorful with a delicious coconut curry rice salad topped with cilantro and peanuts. I’ve actually never had duck confit, however I decided to go for it upon recommendation from one of the owners who happened to be taking orders (who btw wins total props for remembering my name!). Along with some rich chocolate pudding topped with fresh blackberries and shortbread crumbles, my lunch was complete. For less than $15, I had a meal that would of easily cost me about $30 at a place like Palace Kitchen, generous sized portions but most of all their food is packed with flavor, each ingredient stands out with brilliant execution. However, this week I have to say I was not as impressed with the nachos. Granted the flavor of the homemade salsa & trailer-made chips were good, lots of beans and pulled pork, they were mushed and soupy. Plus the paper liner at the bottom didn’t really help with the overall mess. The special cheese sauce was almost non-existent, I couldn’t taste it, again became part of the soup. Props to them for using a variety of beans- black, pinto and kidney. Grilled onions on top were a nice touch. However I think nachos are better served hot on a plate. I wasn’t sure about them when I ordered them, but decided to give them a chance. Next week I’ll try whatever concoction or creation they come up with, I’m sure it will be delicious. This is not my last shout out to Skillet, they will for sure make a regular appearance on my food blog, but because I heart them so much and have been meaning to make my official launch they have the honor of being my first entry.

Start Of Something New

Here, I begin, my official food blog. I’m still playing with the format and design. Trying to make a montage for my front image. I’ve been talking about this for months, part of me still doesn’t know where to start. I have high expectations for this blog- something people will want to read. My culinary adventures range from my weekly Tuesday Trailer date with Skillet to finer dining experiences at Crush and Matts in the Market. Both represent one thing- good food. Food that melts in your mouth, toe curling and most of all brings us together with the fruits of the earth- a religious experience. For me, there are two parts to a culinary experience, the merits of the food- were the scallops cream on the inside with a crisp crust and the dining experience including the company, presentation and the dining space. All of these encompass your food experience. Sometimes good, sometimes lacking the necessary essentials.  Over the past few months, I’ve collected an assortment of dining adventures- I hope to write about those and current ones. Feedback is always welcome as this is something I wish to really develop, turn into something.