Sitka & Spruce and the new Melrose Market

June 2nd, 2010 by Dawn

Juan de Fuca spot prawns

The shops and restaurants at the new triangular shaped Melrose Market in Capitol Hill have been slowly opening their doors.  It started with two retail neighbors in Ballard opening new locations inside this Melrose Avenue marketplace in the Pike-Pine corridor.  Sonic Boom Records and Velouria clothing boutique (which happens to be one of my favorite clothing stores) both set up shop in December.

Then a flower shop, Marigold & Mint, opened amid the construction at the beginning of April.  And by the end of the same month, two new neighbors appeared: the independent butcher Rain Shadow Meats along with cheesemongress Sheri Lavigne’s new shop Calf & Kid.

Melrose Market

Rain Shadow Meats is owned by Russ Flint, recently sous chef of the Boat Street Cafe.  His counter has already become a popular destination for cooks looking to buy high quality local meats from a small neighborhood butcher.  In addition to cuts of meat, Flint sells cured and other prepared meats.  We picked up some lamb crépinette, bratwurst, and country-style pork terrine on our visit this weekend.  Flint has other products still curing, including pancetta and salami.

Across the way inside is Calf & Kid, where Lavigne is selling artisan cheeses that are near impossible to find elsewhere in Seattle.  Hers is only the second place where I’ve spotted the elusive Kurtwood Farms Dinah, a cheese named after one cow on Vashon Island.  And burrata, a luxuriously creamy mozzarella popular now on restaurant menus, is hard to come by retail.  We were torn between this and burricotta, a similar cheese made with ricotta instead of cream inside.  Fortunately, Lavigne plans to have both available regularly.

Melrose Market

Marigold & Mint adds a spot of color to the construction still going on inside Melrose Market.  Katherine Anderson offers unusual organic flowers and edibles.  She has been selling her flowers wholesale from her Snoqualmie Valley farm for a couple years now, and this is her first retail location.

Local meat, artisan cheese, organic edible plants, music, and clothing – these alone should be enough to entice anyone serious about food and shopping to hightail their way over to Capitol Hill.  But then there are the restaurants, the first of which opened last week.  Matthew Dillon closed his tiny Eastlake strip-mall restaurant, Sitka & Spruce, at the end of last year, and finally reopened it in a stunning new space inside the Melrose Market.

Melrose Market

Huge windows topped by gauzy curtains look onto a quiet (for Capitol Hill) dogwood-flowering street, and flood natural light inside during the evening service.  High stools look out and tables sit behind, but the focus of the restaurant is on the huge communal table in the center of it all.  The table merges seamlessly into the kitchen prep and plating station and ends at a beautiful wood oven, where Matt and his staff are focused on getting plates out, which they did with speed on Saturday.

We were prepared for a leisurely pace more akin to the Eastlake location, but our meal went quickly.  We ordered from the paper menus in front of us – sadly, the handwritten chalkboard menu is gone.  The highlight for us was the beautiful Juan de Fuca spot prawns with couscous, slow cooked greens, and crispy nan e lavash.  Hearth-cooked chicken was an alternate option that we simply wouldn’t have had room for after the other dishes we ordered: potted King salmon, preserved smelt, hand-sliced Serrano with pickled porcini, and garlicky poached chorizo.

Potted Quillayute River King

Although the new location accommodates 15 more than the original 24 seat restaurant, the wait for a table is still long, at least during these initial days.  Fortunately, they now take reservations, something I always lamented wasn’t possible at the previous location.

While the restaurant is only open for dinner at the moment, this will change on June 15, when they switch to a breakfast, lunch, and dinner schedule seven days a week.  Brunch will be offered on weekends, and if it’s anything like The Corson Building’s brunch or the brunch I miss dearly from Eastlake, I suspect I will be driving over to Capitol Hill a little more often on weekend mornings.

Melrose Market

More is planned for the Melrose Market.  Homegrown Sandwiches is opening their second location there this month; the Homegrown sign is already anchored outside.  And rumor has it that the owners of Ballard’s Bastille will eventually open a Mexican restaurant there.

Is Melrose Market our city’s answer to San Francisco’s Ferry Building?  Although the shops are fewer, the merchants here have equal emphasis on quality product at the small scale.  This little corner of Seattle is certain to become a destination for both locals and tourists alike.

Sitka & Spruce
1531 Melrose Avenue E #6, Seattle
(206) 324-0662

Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon

Seattle Beer Week at Delancey

May 28th, 2010 by Dawn

When we made our reservation for Delancey’s first “family dinner” last November, I was bummed that pizza was missing from the menu plan.  I mean, how can you go to a pizza place and not have the pizza?

As it turns out, I didn’t miss it at all.  Don’t get me wrong – I love Delancey’s pizza.  In fact, it’s my favorite in Seattle.  But that dinner was pretty darn amazing.  I don’t know which I liked more: the wood-fired mussels with crusty bread or the braised rabbit.  Mussels aren’t my favorite thing around, but wood-fired mussels from Delancey’s oven are a whole different story.  And that rabbit was the best I’ve ever eaten.  I wasn’t the only person that night who said so.

Chuckanut Brewery dinner at Delancey

So I jumped at the opportunity to attend Delancey’s Seattle Beer Week event last week: a Chuckanut Brewery dinner.  And this time, there was even pizza!  It wasn’t hard to convince our friends Michael and Robin, ardent beer-lovers, to join in, despite their already-full week of planned beer events.  I will admit to being more of a wine than a beer person, so you’re better off jumping over to their recount of the dinner for info on the beers from the evening.

Chuckanut Brewery co-owner Mari Kemper (yes, the name behind Thomas Kemper sodas) and brewer Kevin Davey greeted us at the door handing out glasses of Kölsch, which we drank while slurping Kumomotos at the counter.  We sat down to family-style platters of burrata and prosciutto, along with braised fennel paired with a Pilsner, which was the favorite beer of the evening.  An entire platter of burrata?  Really?  It took all my willpower to take only one and pass the platter along.  I absolutely love the stuff.

Chuckanut Brewery Pilsner

A pile of glistening duck fat roasted potatoes arrived next, and I have to say, this was my favorite dish of the night.  And that’s saying something, coming from an avowed potato-phobe like me.  Finished with beer-vinegar, the potatoes were rich and a teeny bit tangy.

Asparagus soup followed.  This dish epitomizes the food served alongside the pizza each day at Delancey.  Local, seasonal, simple, and delicious.

Chuckanut Brewery dinner at Delancey

We had the pleasure of sitting next to Ashley of Not Without Salt and her husband Gabe, along with Allecia and Seth, newly relocated to Seattle from Chicago (with a pause in San Francisco for a year).  Ashley told me what she was planning for her upcoming cooking classes, and left me wondering why I haven’t signed up for one yet.  Soon.

Allecia’s is a blog to watch.  As a former food writer for the Chicago Sun-Times, she already has the pulse on the Seattle food scene.  I’m definitely bookmarking her blog for my next Chicago and San Francisco trips.

Chuckanut Brewery dinner at Delancey

After a long pause, the pizza (yes, pizza!) was up next.  The oven at Delancey can only handle a few pizzas at a time, so they trickle out slowly for dinners like these.  First, the cremini with house-made sausage, then the Brooklyn, a simple yet perfect three-cheese pizza, and finally the Pissaladiere, covered with beer-braised shallots plus salty anchovies and olives.  I devoured every slice and loved the Brooklyn the most.

I haven’t been to Delancey since Brandi Henderson, formerly of Tartine Bakery, started working as Delancey’s pastry chef.  This is regrettable because the chocolate stout cake for dessert this evening was memorable.  A year ago, you would not have found me espousing the merits of chocolate.  I’ve always been a fruit dessert kind of person, always passing over the token chocolate dessert on every menu.  I don’t understand why – after-baby hormones? too many samples of the quality stuff from Chocolopolis? – but something has converted me into a chocolate-lover.  And then there’s the whole thing about salt in desserts.  Lately, I’ve been buying chocolate bars with salt (LOVE the Fran’s Gray Salt Thins) and doubling the salt in my cookie recipes.  So Brandi’s cake, warm and gooey in the center, with a surprise sprinkling of salt hidden inside, all underneath a layer of stout anglaise, was just about perfect paired with a malty Alt beer.

Chuckanut Brewery dinner at Delancey

1415 NW 70th Street, Seattle
(206) 838-1960

Delancey on Urbanspoon

Nettletown opens on Eastlake

March 24th, 2010 by Dawn


One of our favorite Seattle restaurants closed at the end of last year, leaving an open space sandwiched between a Subway shop and a teriyaki place in a strip mall on Eastlake.  Sitka & Spruce will be reopening elsewhere, and its old space has been filled with Nettletown, a restaurant opened this month by Christina Choi and her partner Matt Dillon.

Years ago, Christina co-founded Foraged and Found Edibles, which is a frequent stop of ours at the U-District market for wild mushrooms, miner’s lettuce, nettles, fiddleheads, and especially huckleberries.  She is using these ingredients in her restaurant, making comfort food influenced by our local area and her Chinese and Swiss culinary heritage.  Nettletown is open for lunch and brunch only, although Christina plans to extend service to dinner in the future.

The interior hasn’t changed dramatically, but there have been a few updates.  Sitka’s yellow walls have been painted blue now, with a lovely mural depicting the forest floor, morel mushrooms and all.  And there is now seating at a new low-slung surface added to the formerly standing-room-only counter.

Old habits die hard.  When we walked in, it still had that familiar aura of Sitka & Spruce, so we waited politely to find out where they wanted us to sit, only to be reminded that they offer counter service at the front, and we could sit wherever we like.  I love this kind of casual way of serving “yummy food” (as the sub-title on their web site says).  It makes it feel easy to stop in for a bite.  I only wish service were a little speedier; the food took longer to reach the table than many full-service restaurants, in spite of the place being only half-full.

For weekend brunch, they have a few additional offerings beyond their “always available” menu.  We wanted to try the elk meatballs (also available in a sandwich), so ordered them as an add-on to eggs, potato onion cakes, and miner’s lettuce salad.  The greens were nicely dressed and a good complement to the potato cakes and perfectly poached eggs.  Lemongrass brightened the flavorful meatballs, and it was a generous portion for $4 additional.

Noodles catch my eye on any menu.  The Nettletown noodles looked exactly like the comfort food I was craving.  The egg noodles are served with pork ribs, wild mushrooms, scallions, and a tea egg, and reminded me of my favorite ramen dish at Samurai Noodle, sans broth.  But drawing the parallel led me to disappointment, since the noodles were bland, and the tea egg was nothing like the flavored egg served at Samurai.  Fortunately, the five spice ribs were marbled and delicious.  With a few tweaks, I think this would be an excellent dish.

The huckleberry cardamom bread pudding with yogurt whipped cream was a sweet finale to our brunch.  Warm and full of berries, it was my favorite item.

Nettletown Noodles with pork

Dishes I want to try on my next visit include the Nettletown knoepfli (Swiss egg noodle dumplings), and the fried rice, which is only offered for weekend brunch and changes daily.

We noticed a number of people popping in to pick up take-out orders.  We are certainly going to take advantage of that in future, especially once they’re open for weeknight dinners.

2238 Eastlake Ave E, Seattle
(206) 588-3607

Nettletown on Urbanspoon


February 3rd, 2010 by Dawn

Walk through the farmer’s market at this time of year, and you’ll find fewer produce farmers and slimmer pickings.  Don’t get me wrong, we live in a great part of the country for growing food, and in the winter we still have beautiful greens, apples galore, winter squashes, and carrots to brighten up your bag.  But after eating Yet Another Apple, I start to long for summer days with more variety.

So I give props to chefs who are committed to using local foods year round and, in the middle of winter, still come up with diverse, interesting menus – especially a menu like Seth Caswell’s at the newly opened emmer&rye on Queen Anne hill.  During my visit there this past weekend, I was ready to order one of everything.  Lucky for me, the menu is designed so you can choose half or full sizes of nearly every plate (including dessert!), so with several friends, you really could order everything.

Orrechiette Bolognese

It’s a given that you will order the farro fries, which is destined to become the restaurant’s signature dish.  Farro is another name for emmer, and the namesake starter is crisp outside and creamy, cheesy goodness inside.  I’m now inspired to try making the farro fries recipe I came across in the most recent Edible Seattle, to see if I can come close to the same thing at home.

Highlights from the “small dishes” section of the menu were the roasted sunchokes and potatoes with truffle aioli, along with the cauliflower, mushroom, and greens salad.  These dishes were all about the ingredients, cooked simply to emphasize the best flavors of each vegetable.  On the other hand, the sausage on our crostini was dry, and the pork belly, while flavorful, fell a bit flat.  Our former-chef friend at the table commented that the dish needed some acid, and no, he had not read Seattle Magazine’s assessment of the same dish.


Our table’s universal favorite from the “large dishes” section was the orrechiette bolognese, which had the perfect ratio of pasta to flavorful beef sauce.  And every aspect of the goat crepinette dish was outstanding, from the herby goat, to the butternut gratin, to the trumpet mushrooms we were fighting over at the end.  My least favorite dish was the rabbit pappardelle, which just needs a few tweaks to make it great.  In our case, the rabbit was tasty, but the noodles were thick and undercooked, and the dish was swimming in too much liquid.

The best desserts we tried are the only two that aren’t available in a half size. But order both anyway.  The chocolate bourbon bread pudding is dense and perfect.  One person at our table who doesn’t even like bread pudding declared it delicious.  My favorite, though, was Gramma’s cheesecake with huckleberry sauce.  Light and tangy, it was lovely with the huckleberries, and all four spoons at our table made it disappear in a matter of minutes.  If you can only get one dessert, Get. The. Cheesecake.

Gramma's cheesecake with huckleberries

Chef Seth Caswell opened emmer&rye quickly once he secured a lease on the former Julia’s restaurant.  I doubt anyone believed him when he said at the beginning of January that he’d be open by February 1 – you know how those things tend to go.  But he was better than his word, and the place is already packed each evening.  Reservations are recommended.

And it looks like there is more good stuff in store.  The Victorian building housing the restaurant has a lovely patio in front, which promises to be the perfect place for a summer meal on the hill.

And the emmer&rye web site hints at a forthcoming brunch.  I’m excited to see what Caswell has planned for the menu.  Anyone know when brunch service will begin?

1825 Queen Anne Avenue North, Seattle
(206) 282-0680

Emmer&Rye on Urbanspoon

Breakfast for $5? One more week at Toulouse Petit

January 23rd, 2010 by Dawn

As you walk through the glass-paneled wood doors, you pass below an ornate sign resembling the one hung over sister restaurant Peso’s Kitchen & Lounge next door. This sign, however, is laced with the curves of New Orleans style wrought iron, and reads “Toulouse.”

Inspired by the French Quarter, Toulouse Petit opened in lower Queen Anne in November and has been packing in crowds ever since.

Toulouse Petit

On a recent spring-like January morning, sunlight streamed in through the wall of paneled windows, reflecting a warm glow off the mottled walls inside. The mosaic tile floor, blown-glass amber lamps hung from above, and wrought iron fixtures made it seem like we’d just walked into a Bourbon Street bar. Although the upholstered, tall-back chairs and velvet booths were all occupied, the open space on this bright Seattle day made it seem lightly busy and gave it a casual laid-back feel.

Another mom and I were there with babies in tow for Toulouse Petit’s Breakfast Happy Hour. On weekday mornings through the end of January, almost everything on the menu is $5 (with only a couple exceptions, like the Rib Eye Steak and Eggs, which is $10). In February, the price goes up to $6 an item.

They offer an ambitious menu, whether you’re there for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Even the happy hour menu (4:30-6 p.m. and 10 p.m.-1 a.m.) lists dozens of items, many for around $5. The breakfast menu includes beignets, crawfish etouffee with corn grits, red beans and andouille with eggs, bananas foster pancakes, and more than a handful of different eggs benedicts.

Toulouse Petit

Portion sizes are not huge. I was hungry that morning, and with the lure of $5 price tags, I ordered two plates and ate nearly all of both.

Biscuits and spicy Creole sausage gravy came with two eggs any style. Biscuits and gravy is often a heavy, dense dish, but these biscuits were small and the gravy, while tasty, was applied with a light touch. The breakfast potatoes served alongside were crispy and nicely seasoned.

The crème caramel pain perdu is served with pecan butter, maple syrup, and strawberries.  The bread was thick and custardy with a crisp coating, and as insanely sweet as it sounds.

With such extensive offerings, you’d have to live down the block to make any kind of appreciable dent in the menu. But for the happy hour price, breakfast is more than worthwhile, so I expect I’ll be back soon to explore the menu further.

Toulouse Petit
601 Queen Anne Avenue N, Seattle
(206) 432-9069

Toulouse Petit on Urbanspoon

Sweet tamales

January 6th, 2010 by Dawn

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an unstoppable sweet tooth. I never say no to a good dessert. So, a year ago when we held our first tamalada and I consulted my co-worker Janete about what I should make, I was intrigued and excited to hear about dessert tamales. I’ve had plenty of chicken, pork, cheese, and other savory tamales, but sweet tamales were news to me. I adapted a recipe from one I found online, and they ended up being my favorite tamales of the night.

So for our second tamalada last week, I came armed and ready with the ingredients for more sweet tamales. After we finished wrapping the savory tamales for dinner (spicy mushroom, chorizo, Mexican collard greens, duck confit with salsa verde, roasted poblano with queso fresco, and smoky pheasant), we set them to steam and got to work on dessert, with our orange margaritas in hand.

La tamalada

Sweet tamales are made using the same method as savory tamales, by spreading the masa batter across a corn husk or banana leaf, adding the filling, and then closing the husk or leaf and tying it shut. See our post from last year for the savory recipe. The difference is that sweet tamal masa is made without the savory components like chicken stock, and instead, a sweet liquid like juice, or in my case coconut milk, is used to moisten the batter. With some sugar, cinnamon, and butter, you have the perfect vehicle for some rum-soaked raisins in the middle, and a sweet ending to a tamalada.

Sweet Tamales
Makes about 18 tamales

Corn husks
½ cup rum
½ cup dark raisins
½ cup golden raisins
5 ounces shortening
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
1 pound fresh masa
¾ cup coconut milk
½ cup butter, softened

Soak the corn husks in very hot water for a hour or so, until pliable. Drain.

Put the rum and both kinds of raisins into a small saucepan. Heat just until it comes to a boil, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.

With a stand mixer, beat the shortening, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon until light in texture, about one minute. Add the sugar and half the masa, and beat for 3 minutes. Add the last half of the masa, and beat for 3 minutes. Reduce speed, add the coconut milk, and then beat for another 4 minutes. Add the butter, and beat for 4 more minutes.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the masa batter into the center of a corn husk, and spread it with the back of the spoon. Add about a teaspoon of raisins in the middle. Fold in the sides, fold up the bottom of the husk, and tie.

Steam the tamales over simmering water until they are cooked through and easily pull away from the husk when opened, about 1½ hours. Enjoy!

Holiday brunch at home

December 22nd, 2009 by Dawn

It’s the time of year when many of us are hosting out of town visitors and family.  With the holidays, you may be planning a brunch, perhaps for Christmas morning, or maybe for New Year’s Day.  I’m curious: what are your favorite things to make for brunch?

I like to look for make-ahead recipes, so that I don’t have to wake at the crack of dawn, and can relax with my guests over a cup of coffee.  I’m a big fan of these cheese-filled blintzes from Chef Robin Leventhal.  Make them the night before, and all you have to do is fry them up, pop them in the oven, and set the table.

Granola parfait

Or how about a granola parfait?  I’m so addicted to Molly’s homemade granola recipe that it’s an every-morning kind of thing for me to layer granola and yogurt together for breakfast.  But add some layers of fruit and serve in a trifle bowl, and it would make a lovely addition to a brunch buffet.

For something savory, an egg soufflé is a great dish to make the night before.  I’ve enjoyed this Greg Atkinson recipe, published in the Seattle Times a few years ago.  Made like a bread pudding, it was the centerpiece of our Christmas breakfast last year.

Citrus fruits are like jewels on the holiday table.  My favorite make-ahead side dish is a bowl of vanilla citrus fruits.  The fruit infuses overnight with vanilla bean and a touch of honey which mellows the tang, and it is beautiful served in glass goblets or a pretty holiday bowl.

I’m always looking for new brunch ideas.  Feel free to add your suggestions and links to the comments below.

Vanilla Bean Infused Citrus Fruit

Vanilla Bean Infused Citrus Fruit
Serves 8

5 oranges
4 ruby grapefruit
1 vanilla bean

Segment the fruit:  Slice off the top and bottom of the fruit, exposing the flesh inside.  Set the fruit on a cutting board, and slice off the skin and white pith in strips, by following the curve of the fruit with your knife.  When all the skin is gone, hold the fruit in your hand over a bowl and gently slide your knife between the membrane walls to release the segments.

Before discarding, squeeze any remaining juice out of the membrane and into the bowl of fruit.

Cut open a vanilla bean and extract the seeds with a knife.  Stir the seeds into the juice to evenly distribute them.  Place the vanilla pod into the bowl, too.

Stir in a few spoonfuls of honey, to taste.  Refrigerate overnight.  Serve chilled.


December 20th, 2009 by Eric

On these cold winter nights, there’s nothing quite like an after-dinner digestif to warm up with.  My spirit of choice for many years has been armagnac, a brandy from southwest France with complex aromatics and a wide variety of tastes.  Armagnac is France’s oldest brandy, distilled as early as the 14th century, and yet it it remains largely unknown today in the States, with few quality offerings available at restaurants or liquor stores.  Sadly, given the recent trend of many producers replacing their grape vines with more profitable crops, it’s hard to say how long this fine spirit will even be available.  But while it’s here, it’s worth sampling some of the amazing offerings.

Vintage armagnac bottles

I first tried Armagnac fifteen years ago at my friend Keith’s house, who himself had discovered it on a business trip to France years before that.  That first taste was a mixed experience – at 40% alcohol content, it burned my throat and made me cough like a neophyte, but the finish left a subtle mix of sweet and spicy flavors tingling on my tongue.  I was intrigued, and tried some sips on subsequent visits, and slowly I began to see that this spirit that many refer to as “an acquired taste” might indeed be worth the effort.

Over the next few years, armagnac fell off my radar while I moved cross-country and worked long hours during the heady dot-com days of the late ‘90s.  Then in the early part of this decade, a coworker and I were talking about some of the digestifs he had been collecting – cognac, calvados, armagnac – and suddenly I recalled my lost interest.  After trying a not-so-good bottle from the Washington state liquor store, I decided to do a little more digging online to see what my options were.  This led me to Charles Neal’s book on armagnac.  His book, appropriately subtitled “The Definitive Guide to France’s Premier Brandy,” clued me in to its history, and provided a wealth of detailed tasting notes for over 700 armagnacs.  Armed with my armagnac bible, I searched for a suitably interesting vintage for my next purchase, and read this tasting note:

Fruit on the nose nearly soars from the glass; honey, coffee, white chocolate, apricot, ginger.  Vanilla, coffee, prune, cinnamon, and a hint of smoke in the mouth.  A seamless texture and also very long.  Nearly perfect armagnac.

The bottle?  It was a 1973 from Domaine de St. Aubin, distributed by Francis Darroze, aged 24 years in oak before being bottled.  I managed to find a bottle for sale, and the first whiff alone was a revelation: this is what it’s all about.  I understood why someone would even want to aspire towards being an armagnac connoisseur.  I was hooked.

Glass of armagnac

At this point, you might be wondering, “What exactly is armagnac?”  Charles Neal has lots of detail on his website, covering grapes, soil, distillation, aging, blending, labels, vintages, and even how to drink it.  The short version is this: if you grow one or more of four particular wine grapes in a small region of southwest France, distill it, age it in oak, and let it evaporate and reduce a bit along the way, you might find yourself with a barrel of armagnac.  So how is it different than cognac?  Cognac is double distilled, and almost always blended with cognacs from multiple years to smooth out inconsistencies and achieve the same taste.  Armagnac is commonly offered as a single vintage, though you can find blended armagnacs for sale.

I found myself fortunate enough to chat with Charles Neal here in Seattle in early October at a wine dinner at Licorous.  I must admit that I am quite envious of his lifestyle, traveling France for several months every year, meeting with wine, calvados, and armagnac producers to sample their products and import them into the States.  In fact, he’s currently working on a 500-page book on calvados, due to be released in late 2010, which I look forward to already.  I may find myself with another habit then!  But I digress.  I mentioned to him that the best Armagnac I’ve ever tried was a 1973 Domaine Boingnères, and was pleasantly surprised to hear Charles agree that Domaine Boingnères is one of the top producers.  He explained the sad reality that the current owner, Martine Laffite, will be retiring in a few years and has no one to pass the 200-year-old family business on to, and it’s unclear as to what will happen to her armagnac.  My outlandish daydream: uproot the family, move to Gascony, somehow convince Ms. Laffite to teach me the old family secrets, and carry on the banner of this preeminent chateau.  Who’s with me?

The wall of armagnacs at Les Caves Augé  in Paris
A glimpse of the wall of vintage armagnacs at Les Caves Augé, Paris.  This store is an excellent source, with bottles dating as far back as the 1940s.

But while I’m still in Seattle, finding good Armagnac in the state’s liquor stores is a challenge.  They typically only carry three or four ho-hum blends (XO or VSOP), and possibly a single vintage bottle at one or two stores in the entire state.  One option is a road trip to a good store in Portland.  But my favorite mail order source is D&M Wines and Liquors in San Francisco.  They typically have 70+ armagnacs in stock, with most of them being very high-quality vintage bottles.  Not surprising, since Charles Neal used to work for them and helps source their bottles.  These bottles aren’t cheap, but I can tell you that the good ones are worth it.  The spirit doesn’t age once it goes into bottle, so I’ve gotten my money’s worth by having little sips here and there, allowing me to keep bottles open for years.  Drop me a line if you’re interested in trying a glass!

Wild Beast

November 30th, 2009 by Dawn

I told myself I’d write about our evening at Lark’s Wild Beast dinner before November was over. I think I’ve gotten it in just under the wire. Ok, maybe not for those of you on the other coast. Somehow time seems to have taken on a whole new quality now with baby, and I have no idea where November even went. Is Christmas really just around the corner?

Trotter fritters with truffle salt
Trotter fritters with truffle salt

Anyway, yes, we managed to go out for our first long multi-course dinner with Ian earlier this month. We’ve found it helps to go out with baby-loving friends who are more than happy to hold him while we eat. Portable babies are a good thing. It also helps that Kelly, Michelle, Johnathan, and everyone else at Lark are more than understanding of having kids around. In fact, John’s young son Owen provided comic relief during John’s introduction of the meal, reminding his dad in a loud entire-restaurant-audible whisper of everything John forgot to mention to the dining crowd. So if you ever thought that Lark is not a kid-friendly place, consider again, any of you folks out there with babes in arms or youngsters who are willing to sit through a meal.

Lark has been hosting their Whole Beast dinner for four years now, and it has become an annual tradition that we look forward to ever since we attended their second dinner. Each year, they have a number of whole animals that they cook in as many different ways as they can, using all the different parts of the animals. The meal is composed of “waves” of courses served family style, with about four dishes in each of the four waves.

Boudin noir with barley and fried eggs
Boudin noir with barley and fried eggs

This year, they had a new twist on the event and decided to go with a “wild beast” theme. We loved this new take on the meal, where they served pheasant, squab, elk, bison, wild boar, venison, and more. The pheasant was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Before the meal started, John walked around to the tables, showing off the beautiful pheasant pie with bacon and foie gras. Served with cranberries, it was a great start to the meal.

Glazed duck feet with dried scallops, ginger and scallion
Glazed duck feet with dried scallops, ginger and scallion

I loved the pork snout Milanese, a throwback to the first Whole Beast dinner we attended, where Morgan Brownlow contributed a similar recipe. Other highlights included wild boar prepared Polish-style with cabbage, tender charred bison heart with salsa verde, and boudin noir made with barley. Glazed duck feet were fun to eat (John encouraged everyone to eat as much as they dared, but particularly the webbing) and served with in-house dried scallops.

I think this was my favorite beast dinner yet. It was well paced (unlike previous years where diners were groaning for mercy about halfway through the meal, with waves of food still coming), and the wild game was something that I hope they continue doing in future years. Sign up for Lark’s newsletter if you’d like to get updates about next year’s dinner.

Venison civet with glazed baby vegetables
Venison civet with glazed baby vegetables

Matsutake season at the newly reopened Shun

November 5th, 2009 by Dawn

Hm, has it really been three months since we’ve done anything with this blog? We have a small excuse (and he’s really small).  If you read our trip journal in our last posting, you may have noticed that we were expecting our first child.  He arrived a month early, and we’ve been busy getting into the swing of our new life with baby in tow.

We’ve started dining out easy by venturing to restaurants in our neighborhood for quick meals.  Fortunately, one of our favorite neighborhood places, Shun, just reopened last Thursday after a summer hiatus, so that’s where we headed last night.  During their closure, they were busy moving the whole restaurant across the street, to one of the newly built mixed-use buildings.

Matsutake tempura

We missed Shun because they serve the best Japanese food in our neighborhood.  Their sushi is decent, although not the primary reason we go there (Kisaku has better sushi and is only slightly further from our house).  What they excel at is the hot dishes.  The menu is the same as their old location, so we can still order our familiar favorites.

Their tempura undo noodle soup hits the spot on a blustery fall evening like tonight.  The broth has a slight sweetness, and with the optional red pepper mixed in, it’s perfectly balanced against the heat.  We also enjoy the black cod kasuzuke, a slightly caramelized fish prepared in a sake marinade.

One of my favorite sakes to order at Shun is the unfiltered Momokawa Pearl.  Poured to overflowing in a masu, a lacquered box, it has a creamy body and sweet flavor.

Last night’s specials menu listed two matsutake dishes, and we ordered both.  If you’re not familiar with this pine-scented mushroom, now is the season to try it, and Shun has some simple preparations that really bring out the flavor of this wild-foraged mushroom.  One dish featured the matsutake simply tempuraed.  Piping hot, they were delicious dipped in the traditional tempura sauce.  Our favorite preparation, however, was the scented Matsutake Dobinmushi.  After pouring the soup from a small teapot, we inhaled the scent of the forest from our tiny soup cups.  Inside the teapot were slices of the mushroom which we picked out with chopsticks, savoring the pine flavor.

We were surprised to see that Shun was already busy, with nearly every table full.  Word has apparently gotten out about the reopening, and it’s clear that we’re not the only ones who missed them!

5101 25th Ave NE, #11, Seattle
(206) 522-2200

Shun Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Brittany, Normandy, and Paris

August 9th, 2009 by Dawn

Ok, so it’s been three months since we promised you this blog entry. We’ve been busy enjoying one of the sunniest summers we’ve seen in Seattle in a long time, and somehow time has slipped away faster than we expected.  But we’ve finally got all of the photos from our trip to France together with the travelogue of our adventures.

Salted butter caramel macarons and orbs of English Gray tea at Le Bistrol.
Salted butter caramel macarons and orbs of Early Grey tea at Le Bistrol, Paris.

Click here to read it all.  Food highlights include:

Comments aren’t yet enabled on the photo and travelogue section of our web site, so if you have feedback about anything, drop us a note below.  Enjoy!

The Portland food rampage

July 20th, 2009 by Dawn

Six of us met up in Portland for three days this past weekend for the sole purpose of eating our way around the city.  Our friends Kye and Eric initially proposed the idea so that we could all try their favorite Portland restaurant, Tanuki, and we were immediately on board along with friends Michael and Robin.  All six of us like to fully research our food stops before we travel, so soon we collectively had a list that would take us at least two weeks to tackle.  We somehow managed to whittle it down to these:

Making vacuum pot coffee at Barista; macaroni and cheese at Laurelhurst Market; drinks at Beaker & Flask.
Making vacuum pot coffee at Barista; macaroni and cheese at Laurelhurst Market; drinks at Beaker & Flask.

Laurelhurst Market – This is a new restaurant and butcher shop owned by the same folks as Simpatica Dining Hall, where we had an awesome brunch a few years back.  We checked into the hotel and headed straight here for dinner.  Some of the highlights were the pork chop sandwich with tomato sauce and arugula, the cod fritters, their super-tasty fries with herbs and the perfect amount of salt (though not crispy enough), and sweetbreads with gnocchi.  We heard the boudin blanc sandwiches were great, but the menu changes weekly and these were weeks-gone by our visit.  But you can buy the boudin blanc and other amazing-looking charcuterie from their cold case in the front of the store. Laurelhurst Market on Urbanspoon

Beaker & Flask – We stopped at this month-old bar for cocktails after dinner.  They offer a tasty-sounding dinner and happy hour menu, but we were pretty stuffed already from dinner and so we stuck with drinks.  The vibe here is great, while we found the cocktails hit and miss.  Eric liked his Philo Bione, while the Coltrane! Coltrane! Coltrane! was too medicinal for everyone’s taste. Beaker and Flask on Urbanspoon

Barista – First stop on Friday morning was this vacuum pot coffee brewer in the Pearl District.  Not only is the brewing fun to watch as the heat pushes the water into the upper vessel, but the bitterness of the coffee is completely removed, making it smooth to drink.  Even one of the non-coffee drinkers in our group was impressed with the coffee and loved how smooth it was. Barista on Urbanspoon

Broder – For a taste of Sweden in Portland, we headed to Broder to try their aebleskiver pancakes and Swedish meatballs.  The aebleskiver are round eggy pancakes served with lemon curd (my favorite), lingonberry jam, and maple syrup.  The meatballs come in a lovely sherry cream sauce. Broder on Urbanspoon

Slathering lemon curd on aebleskiver at Broder Cafe; Nong, of Nong's Khao Man Gai street food cart; sour cherry tartlette with vanilla bean whipped cream and aged balsamic caramel at Beast.
Slathering lemon curd on aebleskiver at Broder Cafe; Nong, of Nong’s Khao Man Gai street food cart; sour cherry tartlette with vanilla bean whipped cream and aged balsamic caramel at Beast.

Next, we moved straight on to lunch, a tour around Portland’s street carts.  Seattle has been all abuzz with the new street carts opening recently in our fair city, but we’ve got nothing on Portland.  Really, I had no idea there could be such a variety of carts scattered all over a single city.  On their own, or more commonly, in clusters together taking up an entire parking lot (Skillet is working on starting Seattle’s first such street food market later this year), there is every possible variety of food to be found on the streets of Portland.  There are so many carts that there’s an entire site devoted to reviewing them:  Food Carts Portland.  Get yourself down to Portland.  Now.  There is nothing to match the experience of a sunny summer day sitting on a curb eating street cart food.

Koi Fusion – Only a few months old, this is Portland’s Korean taco truck.  Kogi is the famous Korean taco truck in L.A., and Seattle has our own Hawaiian-Korean truck, Marination Mobile.  At Koi, Eric and I tried a kimchee quesadilla and beef bulgogi taco.  The kimchee here definitely beats Marination’s.  Bo is the owner and face of the truck, while his mom is the cook behind the cart, making the marinated meat, kimchee, and tortillas by hand.  Many of the carts in Portland have fixed locations, but Koi is a cart on the move.  You can keep up with their location by following them on twitter @koifusionpdx.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai – Following suit with the style of the traditional street carts in Thailand, this cart only offers one dish, unlike most of the other Portland carts.  At first, the steamed chicken (gai) and rice (khao) dish looks simple and perhaps bland, but the secret to its addictive goodness is in Nong’s garlicky sauce, with flavors of ginger, chili, and galangal in perfect balance.  Served with a clear broth to slurp between bites, you have yourself some seriously good Thai street food.  You can add an option of chicken liver, but she ran out by the time we got here at 1:30.  In fact, as soon as we placed our order, a sign went up telling people they were completely out of food for the day. Nong's Khao Man Gai on Urbanspoon

Spella Caffe – On our walk to our next stop, we grabbed chai teas from the Spella Caffe cart at SW 9th and Alder.  Normally served hot, we got ours over ice, since there’s no other way to drink it with the 90 degree heat.  Milky with a nice blend of spices, this was a good thirst-quencher. Spella Caffe on Urbanspoon

BrunchBox Food Cart – Our street food guide joining us for lunch today, Patrick Coleman (writer for the Portland Mercury), steered us to BrunchBox to satisfy our grilled cheese sandwich burger cravings.  Initially, we were planning to head to The Grilled Cheese Grill to try this monstrosity of a burger, but he said the version at BrunchBox was less greasy, plus it was a convenient short walk away from Nong’s.  The Youcanhascheeseburger! is a burger served between two Texas-toast grilled cheese sandwich buns.  The burger was initially a joke written on the menu, but it has become a regular menu item since people actually ordered it!  The latest joke at BrunchBox is the Redonkadonk: a burger with egg, ham, spam, bacon, and American cheese between two Texas-toast grilled cheese sandwich buns for $9.  People are ordering that, too, so they’re now offering a double Redonkadonk. BrunchBox Food Cart on Urbanspoon

Discussing the merits of the Pine State Biscuit breakfast plates; talking with Bo at Koi Fusion PDX; soppressata pizza at Ken's Artisan Pizza.
Discussing the merits of the Pine State Biscuit breakfast plates; talking with Bo at Koi Fusion PDX; soppressata pizza at Ken’s Artisan Pizza.

Rogue Distillery – The heat was getting to us by this point, so we looked for a place to hang out indoors and rest our feet.  Rogue was a great place to try a sampling of beers, along with the Rogue root beer.  As we were sitting there, we saw a stout ice cream float delivered to the neighboring table – that would’ve been ideal for a day like this! Rogue Ales Public House on Urbanspoon

Beast – Dinner this evening was six courses at Beast with wine pairings.  We’d all tried Beast for brunch previously, but this was our first dinner there.  The chilled cauliflower velouté was a tasty start to the meal.  The was followed by a charcuterie plate, where the highlight was the foie gras bon-bon: a melt-in-your-mouth dome of foie on a tiny shortbread cookie, and topped with Sauternes geleé.  The duck leg for the main course was very nicely balanced with a green tomato confiture, and this was followed by a lovely shaved fennel salad with Parmesan crisps, then a cheese plate, and a tiny cherry tartlette. Beast on Urbanspoon

Ken’s Artisan Pizza – We were stuffed after Beast, but with so little time in Portland, we couldn’t pause on food.  Several of us have previously been to Apizza Scholls and consider it the best pizza Portland has to offer.  But none of us had been to Ken’s, another highly acclaimed Portland pizza.  The two aren’t exactly comparable apples for apples – Apizza is aiming more for NY-style, while Ken’s is inspired by Italy.  We ordered one Margherita pizza for the six of us, figuring we’d each get a taste.  The waitress gave us a funny look and started to tell us that one pizza may not be enough, until we explained how this was dessert after our six-course meal, and we had to try it before we went back to Seattle.  After realizing we were serious, she steered us toward the soppressata instead, since we were only going to have one.  This was a great recommendation: crunchy around the edges of the thin-sliced soppresata, and the right ratio of toppings.  However, everyone agreed the crust at Apizza is better.  The best part was when the waitress comped our meal after we provided her a list of our favorite restaurants in Seattle for her upcoming trip north. Ken's Artisan Pizza on Urbanspoon

Whiffies Fried Pie Cart – We had one last stop to make before heading to bed.  Opened two months ago, Whiffies’ street cart specialty is fried pies.  I had trouble picturing what a fried pie would be like until they described it to us as shaped like an empanada.  It’s really a gourmet version of the Hostess fruit pies from your childhood.  We hear the savory pies are great, such as the BBQ brisket, but just thinking about one of those or a Beans & Franks fried pie after our food rampage made us all groan in pain.  Instead we split two sweet pies among the six of us: a guava and a strawberry pie.  Everyone besides me preferred the guava, but I loved the strawberry.  The pies have a super-flaky crust that I could tell would be perfect with a savory flavor.  On the corner of SE 12th and Hawthorne, the cart is open evenings until 3am.  The lot draws a crowd of people until the wee hours of the night. Whiffies Fried Pie Cart on Urbanspoon

Radishes at Portland Farmers Market; a fried Whiffie pie; eating a Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwich.
Radishes at Portland Farmers Market; a fried Whiffie pie; eating a Ruby Jewel ice cream sandwich.

Portland Farmer’s Market – The next morning, we took the street car down to the Saturday market.  First stop was waiting in the long line for Pine State Biscuits.  We tried the Reggie deluxe (fried chicken, bacon, cheese, and a fried egg topped with sausage or mushroom gravy – we ordered two to taste both gravies), the McIsley (fried chicken with pickles, mustard, and honey), and a biscuit with Marionberry jam.  All were great.  Many were fans of the McIsley, while I preferred the Reggie with sausage gravy.  Then we wandered around the stalls, purchasing Marionberries to eat out of (purple) hand, pimientos de padrón which we broiled with oil and salt Sunday night, and fresh squeezed mint lemonade.  We also split a baker’s dozen of Two Tarts’ tiny little bakery treats. Pine State Biscuits on Urbanspoon Two Tarts Bakery on Urbanspoon

Navarre – This was our stop for lunch, a small restaurant serving food inspired by Spain, France, and Italy.  You order by filling out a sheet with your choices of small or large items from the ever-changing menu.  Our favorites here were the boudin blanc, the kohl rabi with sheep’s cheese and blueberries, and the pile of artisan bread, toasted and served with fresh butter and cherry preserves. Navarre on Urbanspoon

Portland International Beerfest – After a stop at Powell’s, the guys walked over to the Beerfest, where they tried a number of draft and bottled beers of all styles.  Eric enjoyed the wheat beers he sampled but was disappointed that the cask-aged beers he was looking forward to were already gone.

Our lunch order at Navarre; upside-down peach cake at Navarre; a couple enjoying dinner at Tanuki.
Our lunch order at Navarre; upside-down peach cake at Navarre; a couple enjoying dinner at Tanuki.

Tanuki – Finally, the meal that we had planned the entire trip around: an omakase dinner at Eric and Kye’s favorite place, Tanuki.  The two of them travel down to Portland about once a month for Chef Janis’ izakaya food, and have been spreading the word ever since their first visit at the New Year.  Matthew Amster-Burton tried it on their recommendation and was impressed enough to do a write-up for Gourmet.  He made a special trip down to Portland to meet us for the dinner, since Janis promised to source some special items not offered on the menu.  Janis kept the food coming for hours, and even after we were stuffed enough to roll home, we wanted to keep tasting all of the amazing plates she set before us: 20 courses in all!  Her food is very traditional in the flavors of Japan and Korea, and her repertoire is vast.  Highlights included oysters with kimchee granita, albacore hand rolls assembled by us at the table, skate in cinnamon-tea sauce, and spicy tantan udon.  We couldn’t believe that she only charged us $50 a person, including all the incredible sakes!  This hole-in-the-wall is a must for your next visit to Portland.  But get there this summer, because Janis is planning some changes very soon. Tanuki on Urbanspoon

Dishes at Tanuki: oysters with shaved kimchi; albacore tuna, cucumber, and nori; cabbage and vegetables with wasabi.
Dishes at Tanuki: oysters with shaved kimchi granita; albacore tuna, cucumber, and nori; cabbage and vegetables with wasabi.

Clyde Common – Since it was only a couple blocks from our hotel, we stopped off here on the way back.  Everyone enjoyed their cocktails, and felt that the drinks here are well-balanced, making this one of the top places in the city for cocktails. Clyde Common on Urbanspoon

Bakery Bar – Matthew persuaded us to meet here in the morning, to try Bakery Bar’s house-made English muffin breakfast sandwiches.  We wanted to see how they compared to Dahlia Bakery’s egg sandwiches.  They definitely have some creative flavors here – I enjoyed my fried egg sandwich with cheddar and bacon-apple-caramelized onion jam, although I think Dahlia still has the edge on the muffins.  Our group was pretty divided on this, though.  The scones were the perfect combination of crusty edges and fluffy insides, and I gobbled up mine made with blue cheese, caramelized onions, and apples.  We all split a banana chocolate mousse cake to take home.  The cakes are beautifully decorated, reasonably priced, and tasty, too. Bakery Bar NE on Urbanspoon

Kenny & Zuke’s SandwichWorks – Last stop before hitting the road was to the new branch of Kenny & Zuke’s, SandwichWorks.  We grabbed sandwiches to-go and said our good-byes before heading back to Seattle. Kenny and Zuke's SandwichWorks on Urbanspoon

For more photos from our Portland trip, check out our flickr stream.  And here are some of our other Portland recommendations from last year.