mondays in the market

•January 31, 2009 • Leave a Comment

for the past year, the wine list at matt’s in the market has been evolving nearly as quickly as the food.  though there remain more than enough affordable options, those that are pricier tend to be more appealing.  isn’t it convenient, then, that half priced bottle of wine night has been installed on mondays?

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though the light from the glowing market sign makes for a beautifully surreal and entirely unique dinner environment, taking color-accurate pictures is nearly impossible.  the sweet potato gnocchi was such a happy orange when it was in front of me that i cringe at the lumps i’m showing you here.

that’s actually a profiterole under that seared foie, and inside it is pistachio espuma.  the effect is both rich in flavor and light on the tongue.  the animal rights activists clearly have not experienced this dish.

it’s surprisingly difficult to find an open restaurant on mondays.  it’s a quiet dining out night, which results in potable incentives, mellow dining rooms, unstressed service, and the ability to walk in reservation free.  as a guest, it’s easy to tell when a restaurant has the time to make things the best they can be.

Matt's in the Market on Urbanspoon

i need my liver, you don’t!

•January 27, 2009 • 1 Comment

for the second friday in a row, northwest animal rights activists spent a couple of cold hours in front of lark, quacking about foie gras.

last week it was a relatively mild, inoffensive protest and the night within the restaurant proceeded as usual.  this week, however, the sign bearers (“how much cruelty can you swallow?”) pressed their bundled up bodies to the large front windows and began chanting, increasing to screams when the door would open.  “we are here to let you know!  foie gras has got to go!”.  not much rhymes with foie gras, so they had to get creative.

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the protesters wielded duck masks and sign, one person donned a full on duck costume, and they were joined by a van with a big screen tv displayed through a rear window.  the van was parked on the street, with the screen facing through larks large front windows, and showed geese, pictures of barbed wire and “keep out” signs posted around hudson valley foie gras property.  well, of course, they didn’t want these nutty duck impersonators to get in.

foie gras sales shot up during the protests, as diners ordered the succulent lobe both in rebellion against their disturbed dinner and, for the uninitiated, because of a piqued curiosity.  both lark’s foie gras terrine, currently with kumquat vanilla bean marmalade, and seared foie gras with carmelized pear are so decadent and glorious they could only have come from happy geese.

just ask anthony bourdain.

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return to spinasse

•January 20, 2009 • 1 Comment

a brand new restaurant is never a final product.  it’s impossible for anyone to predict how things will run until they’re actually running, to predict who the guests will be until they’re actually there, and how the flow of a new space will work when it’s packed with diners, hoping-to-be diners, and staff.

my first visit to spinasse was on their four-day anniversary.  it was one of the few hot days of the summer and the front door had hung open like  a panting mouth, hoping to wrangle in some moving air.  it took just the one meal for me to join the slew of self-appointed critics attempting to use adjectives to describe their adoration.

the temperature was at least 50 degrees colder when i returned last week.  i’d gotten off the bus from downtown prematurely, as a putrid smell had begun emanating from someone near me (i dared not look to see where it was coming from).  spinasse, however, smelled fantastic, was packed, and required us to wait for over an hour (which, at licorous, was extremely enjoyable, particularly with excellent company and foie gras bon bons).

once upon my woven bar stool, it was as though no time had passed at all.  the sparkling villa sparina was still fabulously unique as far as glass-pour bubbly goes, the menu still short and sweet (though the tasting menus have been re-worked, with the dining room given the à la carte option), the wine list no less lovely and only slightly more approachable, and this simply because i’ve been taking intensive wine classes all fall.

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a friend had been in just the week before and reported that she found the ravioli too light and too summery.  these were the qualities i loved about it.  stuffed with sweet and nutty sunchoke purée and clad with little more than butter and sage leaves, the pasta was quite possibly the most delicate complex carbohydrate i’ve consumed.  the portion was also delicate, the price much less so ($22).  however, the sublime flavor and textures are the result of training and time (both costly) and i didn’t feel ripped off in the least.

i was even more thankful for the buoyancy of the pasta with my first chew of goat.  despite the fact that it was rich and tender and came easily off the slender bones, the meat remained extraordinarily dense and filling.  it was as opposite as it could be from the tartar, delicate and tender with a hint of smoke.

dessert options had expanded in my absence.  served unadorned, these pieces of chocolate have nearly no relation to hersheys.  made by claudio corallo on his biodynamic plantation on the small african island of sao tome, the flavor is pure, mild, and not too sweet.  it’s difficult to not be very full at the end of a meal at spinasse, and this is a manageable dessert.  it also happens to make any accompanying grappa a little easier on your soul.

pan africa market

•January 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

i can’t walk by pan africa market without smelling it. an exotic aroma of spices and meat seeps out the perimeters of the door and windows, something that doesn’t often happen on seattle streets. now that the summer tables are no longer on the sidewalk, the restaurant is often quiet, with a couple of staff members lounging at a front table and texting.

this was the mid-afternoon scene the weekday afternoon we finally remembered to give the place a shot. spicy cooking perfumed the orange dining room as we chose one of the poorly wiped tables at which to enjoy lunch. pan africa resides on a highly desirable piece of pike place real estate and the true size of the place can only be realized once inside. a wall of windows exposes first avenue, while rear panes peak into an inside hallway of the market.

ethiopia dominates the menu, though items like piri piri and yassa make enough of an appearance to make it a “pan” restaurant. choosing among the curries, tangines and stews, all woven with coconut, saffron and yams, was going to be a challenge – until our server arrived. with him, he brought information of what was not available that afternoon; anything with groundnuts (peanuts, a quarter of the menu), the doro wat, any african beer on the menu (there was enough to get us excited), a number of wines, and more.

we settled on the beef tibs ($12) and a sampler plate (about the same) with the chenin blanc. we were brought a corona, a glass of shiraz and an apology. there was no chenin and these were on the house. ok, i could accept that.

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the two other diners in the restaurant left shortly after we arrived. music would have done wonders to distract from the echoing emptiness, the occasional clang from the kitchen. but when the food arrived, the plates were large enough to conceal the dirty vinyl tablecloth. sure, it appeared instantaneously and couldn’t have been made to order, but what emanated from it was a concentrated version of the aroma that had originally brought us in.

both dishes came on injera, that ethiopian “bread” that looks like a flat sea sponge clinging to the ocean floor. the sourdough flavor somehow works just right with food that is heavily spiced or spicy. green and yellow lentils dotted the sampler plate, one deep and earthy, the other sweet and spicy. a generous portion of sautéed kale lay in the center, musty with a bit of crunch. despite my infrequent contact with these flavors, something about them was comforting and safe.

i’m only able to imagine africa. heat and sand, poverty and serengeti animals come to mind, but the spices that were the driving force behind these dishes made the country seem very real.

yet, much as i tried not to, i couldn’t refrain from looking about from my table and thinking of the small tweaks that could reinvigorate the restaurant, updated menus being first and foremost.  i don’t mind flicking an old piece of onion off the tablecloth if the food is delicious and cheap.  it just doesn’t look like many others feel that way.

Pan Africa Market on Urbanspoon

oddfellows

•December 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

for the many-th time this week, i got called off of work. seattleites don’t go anywhere in the snow, much less out to dinner.

well, a few of them went to just-opened oddfellows, i found, when i stopped there for a mid-way-home hot toddy. the space is airy and open and the gears of the restaurant, from the beer coolers to the stove, are visible. the restaurant personality of each owner (linda derschang and ericka burke) can be seen through out the place, rustic exposed wood blended with bright white window frames and long rows of tables pushed together. there was something inspiring about seeing the two ladies chatting quietly and eyeing the dining room together while i was there.

it took café presse to prove how beautiful an early-to-late, all day food, read your paper and drink coffee or have a martini and chat, kind place is. oddfellows starts at 7 am with oatmeal and ends late with french dip; everything in-between appears to be simple, approachable, and affordable. i managed to restrain myself from ordering one of the fruit loop rice krispie treats, but i’ll be back.

Oddfellows Cafe & Bar on Urbanspoon

juno

•December 20, 2008 • Leave a Comment

it was a cold day off. i wore mittens and tights under jeans.

the juno dining room, however, was warm in both temperature and décor. an unshakable hotel-restaurant feel pervaded (the name-tag pins, the plethora of managers), to be sure, yet the booths were deep, the bar dark, extensive, and inviting, and a fire burned in the rear of the room.

i chose the quiet side of the bar, away from the cocktail hour business men and be-sweatered older women. the bar chairs, woven leather things, were attached to the ground, my legs, stiff with two layers, had trouble fitting under the bar just right.

my bartender was cute but clearly stretched thin, which meant less pestering and suited me just fine. juno’s bar menu is made up of tastes, affordable small plates to keep the martinis from absorbing too quickly. the cocktail list is largely based upon infused vodkas, sweet berry flavors, and bright colors.

my new yorker received a skimming, but for the most part acted as a ruse to conceal my eavesdropping. as i watched, the blazer-ed hostess scanned the seven or eight open table reservations for the night, the late server arrived, and a few forks clattered to the floor in a poor handoff. the soundtrack alternated between appropriate, cozy jazz, and mariah carey-ish lobby music.

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i eventually got my tastes, three small plates carried by two large gentlemen. lamb carpaccio ($6) was delicate and thinly sliced, generously drizzled with olive oil. roasted olives sat on top like barnacles. all quite successful except for ten or so olives that were saturated with a liquid-smoke flavor that engulfed any subtlety from the lamb or olive oil. risotto croquettes ($5) were inoffensive balls of creamy fried rice. the violet red onion jam beneath them, however, was so sweet i had to hurry to rescue my croquettes from absorbing any of it.

a beef and lamb slider ($3) was straightforward and well-cooked. the addition of beef tempered the lamb and an aioli and piquillo pepper gave it some character.

dinner hour approached and the tuesday night crowd arrived. a perky man-waiter took an order behind me, noted desired wellness on steaks, extolled the virtues of grey goose. the hostess ran for the phone, i didn’t see the bartender for twenty minutes and didn’t mind. i don’t know whether he could sense that i wanted a quiet, leisurely snack or was just busy – it didn’t matter (though, try as i might, i couldn’t help but notice how many waiters ignored my dirty plates while he rushed around). i spun gently on my stool and held my breath as i sucked down the last dregs of liquid gourd.

desserts came in dessert form as well, but i couldn’t bring myself to face the black pepper cheesecake or avocado white chocolate mousse.

i’m not sure why the bartender left my drink off the check – i didn’t even get a chance to charm him or drop that i worked in a restaurant. it was probably just that he’d tried the seasonal cocktail himself.

Juno on Urbanspoon

barrio

•December 13, 2008 • 1 Comment

it’s too early to write a review about barrio.  so i’ll simply share my impressions of a meal on its one-week anniversary, keeping in mind that it represents only one moment in the restaurant’s life (like any review, really) and knowing that i’ll go back.  

with the inspection you give the room upon arrival, you might guess that this is a project by the owners of purple café (it is), but the similarities don’t beat you over the head. the room is lofty, expansive, sleek, and shadowy.  two hundred candles (busser-lit each night) create a flickering wall in the middle of the room and soften the black paint that surrounds. like at purple, the bar is the focal point and sitting there, in the eye of the vastness, makes you feel more grounded.  

perhaps because of the height of the ceilings and the distance between walls, the food is surprisingly petite and down-to-earth.  no region of mexican cuisine is off limits when it comes to the menu, but barrio’s northwest location is also taken into consideration (reference wild salmon ceviche).  

start with chips and salsa – you’ll want the salsa to accompany everything that follows. our selections – grape tomato, ancho chili, and tomatillo – were distinctly different and charming in their own ways (fresh tomato, deep smoke, roasted vegetal, but none were spicy.  

a dish of salt and pile of lime wedges came early in the meal and was especially appreciated with the guacamole ($7).  the avocados were ripe and just mashed but void of the salt and citrus that would enhance their best features.  

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sikil pak, an ancient mayan dish made of puréed, toasted pumpkin seeds ($6) is nutty and a bit perplexing, texturally similar to almond butter and quite satisfying on a tortilla chip.  

ceviches and crudos garner an entire section of menu and picking out just one is a pain. we ultimately settled for the ahi tuna crudo ($12), nearly naked atop just ripe avocados, save for a touch of orange and tamarind.  fish and avocado shared a texture – slippery, but with substance – neatly offset by a few sesame seeds. 

hearts of romaine salad ($9) was simple and balanced and inhaled by our table without comment.  tart orange segments, toasted hazelnuts, and translucent shavings of queso añejo complimented the watery romaine like tiffany solitaires above a little black dress.

the tamale ($8), pre-removed from its plantain leaves, was lusciously moist, just a touch sweet.  the schmear of dark chipotle salsa was just the right earthy and animally compliment to the duck confit filling.  had i been served this tamale at la carta de oaxaca, it would have fit right in.  

there are tacos. your server is not kidding if she tells you they’re not especially sharable – they’re three bites, filled with golden raisins, bbq prawns, house-made chorizo, toasted sesame seeds, or flank steak (not necessarily all at once).  the tiny tortillas are delicate and fresh, full of all the characteristics that make “house-made” a desirable quality.  my companions raved about their (different) tacos, but i wasn’t left with a distinct impression after i swallowed my spice rubbed, grilled albacore and cabbage ($5).   it was the guacamole effect again, and a kick – acid, heat, salt, heavier citrus vinaigrette – was needed somewhere in equation.

i admit, i didn’t glance at the wine list, as the cocktails diverted my attention. naturally, there’s a tequila and rum focus (piña coladas, caipirinhas) woven with classics like a corpse reviver #2 and moscow mule.  needless to say, however, the margarita seemed the most appropriate choice.  its barrio twist was the triple sec stand in, damiana orange liqueur.  made on the baja peninsula from the damiana shrub, it gives the drink not only citrus, but intriguing floral and herbal notes.  

the churros were sublime, the dulce de leche crème brûlée decadent and well-crafted. i ate the salty pepita brittle off the chocolate mole cake and we left the rest of it in order to focus on the churros and crème brûlée.  

a happy moment – the bill for four of us, including well over ten dishes and nine margaritas was a tad under $200.  

we crossed the street to la spiga for a nightcap.  after absorbing some good natured ribbing from owner and schmoozer pietro, “you ate there and not here?”, i asked him what he thought about the competition he could see out his window.  he shrugged and said, “we’ve been going there after work.”

Barrio Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 
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