Friday, October 31, 2008

Boat Street Cafe, pickle me this...

Restaurant Name: Boat Street Cafe
Location: Seattle, Washington

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If there was ever a place to go in Seattle if you have a hankering for pickled fruits and veggies, Boat Street Café would be it. Even when not specifically interested in pickled fruits or vegetables you won’t be avoiding them. This is a great thing as you get to experience things
you typically won’t anywhere else, pickled fennel anyone? I am not the biggest pickling fan being the supertaster that I am. It adds a bit too much pickling flavor to the ingredient for my tastes, I don’t even like bleu cheeses because the taste is way too overpowering for my palette, but even I could appreciate the new flavors of the pickled veggies.

But pickled fruits and veggies is just the start at Boat Street Café. If you like, nay love, smoky bacon you need to try the bistro salad for your appetizer. Seriously, this bacon was so smoky that even I couldn’t finish all the bacon on the plate, and I love bacon! Continuing the pork theme, the pork belly is wonderfully oozy on the inside with alternating layers of meat and fat, with a superb crispy layer on top lending itself to the wonderful pork belly experience you might be expecting. Although I wasn’t so excited about the potatoes it was paired with. They weren’t bad or anything, they just weren’t anything amazing, unlike my wife’s entrée that night, the wild Alaskan True Cod. I almost wish I had ordered the True Cod, if I didn’t love pork so much. Wow, was that cod dish ever good. To round out the decadent dinner at Boat Street you really do need to treat yourself to the bread pudding for dessert, it’s tremendous.

The atmosphere at Boat Street is very interesting. I’m not sure how the Asian-inspired ceiling hangings blend with the French style bistro décor, but so be it, the food that come out of the kitchen is well worth your time. If you are familiar with another local French bistro Cremant, the décor is similar in many ways. Although Cremant lacks the very chic, window into the kitchen that was in the back at Boat Street.

The wine list is appropriately French as when we were there, they had an entire table in the corner stacked with enough Chateau Neuf de Pape to sink a battleship. I just had a glass of Beujolais to pair with my pork and it was wonderful. It was properly priced for a glass of wine and a nice balanced flavor to it.

I love that many restaurants nowadays are including the sources of their ingredients and Boat Street continues this trend for most of its dishes. If you’re looking for a restaurant with solid French bistro style offerings, you could easily do a lot worse than Boat Street Café.

In the interest of a quick lookup of the quality and value of a restaurant I am introducing the wine scale for my reviews. It’s basically a 5 wine glasses instead of stars review system with 5 wine glasses being perfect. Combining overall value for Boat Street Café I give it overall 4 wine glasses out of 5. Keep in mind, that there will be very few restaurants that get 5 wine glasses from me. After all, what is perfect?

Boat Street Café / Boat Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Something simple this way comes: Boat Street Cafe is wickedly good

Restaurant Name: Boat Street Cafe
Location: Seattle, Washington

We don't get out much, since the baby keeps us pretty busy, so when we do have an adult-only dinner opportunity, our expectations are pretty I'm happy to report that our dinner at Boat Street Cafe in Seattle hit the mark.

Jeff and I have enjoyed lunch at Boat Street several times, and have always been pleased, but last night we had the opportunity to try their dinner service. Wow!
My favorite thing about dinner at Boat Street is how simple and relaxed the atmosphere is. Boat Steet offers simple French food in a French country kitchen atmosphere - white washed walls, lots of candles, old hardwood floors. The clientele is laid back as well. We had a group of older ladies enjoying dinner together on our left and a couple of business people dining on our right. It's not loud, but it's not hushed silence either, and you can easily relax and enjoy yourself without feeling like you have to act or dress a certain way. This leaves lots of opportunities to savor and focus on the food. YUM!

Since we wanted to take full advantage of our dinner away from the baby, we ordered starters....Jeff had the salad with poached egg, very smokey bacon, and large housemade croutons. I enjoyed the half order of the crab cake entree...which was amazing! I want a lot of crab and flavor in my crab cakes and these did not disappoint. The crab cake was served with some lemony greens, a hot pepper sauce (served on the side) and some amazing pickled red peppers and raisins. Eaten all together, this was a perfect balance of flavors.

If I thought my starter was good, my main blew me just might have been the best cod I've ever had. Unbelievably simple preparation of pan frying with salt, pepper, butter, and lemon, the fish was near perfect - and as someone who doesn't usually order fish, this is saying alot. What made this dish so unique was the fact that the other items on the plate were such an amazing compliment to the cod - lemony parsley salad and cold pesto potatoes. Serving something very hot on the same plate with something nice and cold may sound odd, but it was truly inspired in my opinion.

I ate very bite and wished I'd had room for more...of course, we had to leave room for dessert.....simple not miss out on their signature dessert of amaretto bread pudding (served warm) with rum butter cream. I recommend sharing this rich, outstanding dessert, as we did.

Dinner can be had, quite well, for about $50/person, which is well worth the price! If you haven't tried Boat Street, you should rush out tonight!

Boat Street Café / Boat Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I Love Aperitivo

Restaurant Name: Aperitivo
Location: Brooklyn, NY

Aperitivo is one of many Italian restaurants in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Its menu, with one or two exceptions, is nothing out of the ordinary. It is not gourmet. It is not particularly romantic. It is not edgy, or hip.

So why do I love Aperitivo?

It is cozy and it is consistent. It is excellent prices (between $10-12 per entree). It is hot, satisfying pasta on a cold night. Or it is a cold, fizzy drink at an outdoor table in the summer. It is oozy lasagna. It is shrimps nuzzled against creamy, salty white beans. It is creamy goat cheese sauce enrobed gnocchi with arugula. It is the waiters remembering your name. In short, I love Aperitivo because it is the perfect neighborhood restaurant.

And, for nights when its just too cold and you are just too lazy, they deliver.

Try it and see if you love it too.

279 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Aperitivo on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Try This

While many of the dishes I cook at home I end up adapting from recipes or inventing on my own, there are a few staple go-to recipes that I can't live without and wouldn't dream of changing (at least not too much!).

Here is one to try from the great cooking magazine Food & Wine:

Beef Tenderloin Steaks with Celery Root Gratin

I've made this dish a number of times. The steak is delectable (though tenderloin is not the most flavorful cut, it makes up for it in melt-in-your mouth texture, plus, the sauce is plenty tasty). I usually substitute the celery root gratin for a classic potato gratin...but do as you wish. Haricot vert round this out nicely (if you must have a vegetable, that is...).

I like to serve this dish by plating a rectangle of potato gratin in the center of a pasta bowl. Place the steak on top of the gratin and then drizzle the sauce over the steak and around the gratin. If you are including green veggies, they can scatter around the dish (in the case of something like brussel sprouts) or pile to one side (with haricot vert).

Serve with: A Burgundian Pinot Noir or a Cote du Rhone

Bon Appetit!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Salt of the Earth - Cooking Techniques

Perhaps the second most important cooking ingredient after water is salt. To really bring out the flavor in great ingredients you need to use the correct salt at the correct time. In the USA there are basically 3 important types of salt in cooking. First, is Kosher salt. Kosher salt the red box in the picture above is the basic salt used in seasoning before and during cooking. It is inexpensive, comes in a nice large box (which you need!), tastes good, and dissolves easily. The second most important salt is Fleur de Sel. This is a very, very flaky salt that is collected after high tides from seashores - it is the very clean, very white, flaky crystals that form on the top of other salts deposited by retreating tides. It is expensive but is THE BEST "finishing salt" - meaning it is used both for presentation and flavor and is put on dishes after plating. The 3rd important salt are "Sea Salts - Sel De Mer" and they come in many flavors and colors and are basically the "dirty - i.e. contain minerals and other impurities, salt that the Fleur De Sel rests atop. They are also finishing salts and those impurities add flavor (for good or ill - in Hawaiian Black Salt the black comes from tiny ground up lava crystals - not yummy in my opinion. Sel De Mer also comes in a "cleaned", very white, pure form which is just fine. Both Kosher and "clean" Sel De Mer come in "gros" or "fin" meaning small (for cooking) and large (for finishing) crystals. These salts have French names because most of the best ones come from France.

By the way if you are ever visiting France and want to bring something home that is a great buy, will make you think of your trip for months to some, and packs easily - they sell BIG bags of Fleur De Sel really cheap in most French grocery stores - It is dirt cheap there and expensive here.

You will notice I have not mentioned the NASTY Iodized "table salt" you probably have and use. THROW IT AWAY!. Table salt is grossly over processed and subjected to many nasty chemicals to get it to pour so nice and fine. The result is that it tastes like nasty chemicals. Take a vitamin or eat seafood if you want iodine but never use table salt again and you and your family will be the better off for it.

You may also have noticed that I said you need the large box Kosher Salt comes in - I use a box about every two weeks! In my water blog I told you the importance of large amounts of very salty water in blanching and brining (both of which you will be doing a lot of if you follow by blog advice on how to raise the level of your everyday cooking. Also, you need to add a LOT of salt before cooking many things (it washes off in lots of techniques - but is essential to the initial "preparation" of other ingredients.

When you salt is ALWAYS BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER cooking!. Before - to draw out moisture, "tenderize", flavor. During, when, the recipe calls for it AND when you are "tasting a cooking item (you must keep tasting EVERYTHING you cook as you go along to see if it tastes "right" or needs adjustment). After cooking, when items are sliced or plated you add (after tasting) finishing salt to taste.

SALT IS A GOOD THING - If you have health issues I feel bad for you - if you don't USE IT. Nothing tastes good with NO salt - including ice cream!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Spring Hill

Restaurant Name: Spring Hill
Location: Seattle

Sometimes it’s hard to find good food. Spring Hill is certainly hard to find, but once you get there, you don’t need to look any further to find the good food. No large signs outside proclaiming great food inside, just an innocuous dining room in West Seattle. The rewards for finding it are tremendous. Inside this cozy den of yumminess you’ll find a terrifically open kitchen to spy on the goings-on and friendly staff there to lead you on your tour of Mark’s cuisine.

When you deal with a restaurant like Spring Hill, you are not dealing with good or bad food. Instead, it’s the difference between good and great food. If you are a clam chowder fan, do yourself a favor and order the clam chowder. The chowder has a very unique presentation for a soup and the flavors are incredible, so much so that one taste of it had one of our party asking for a bowl of her own when she previously had nothing! The other small plates are also divine, you really can’t go wrong with them unless you are squeamish about sweetbreads of course. There are plenty of “normal” things on the menu for a less adventurous eater to choose from, while still allowing the more adventurous diner to have fun with their meal as well.

One area of slight concern with Spring Hill is the wine list seems a bit sparse and a tad pricey. If you are with a group of foodies this isn’t an issue typically as you will order a bottle and be fine. But when ordering by the glass, the evening we went there was one option for Pinot Noir and it was $12. There were plenty of bottles but I find there are many times when I just need a glass and don’t want a whole bottle. I would like to see at least a couple of choices for different varietals here. That said, the wines were solid Northwest picks, and you can’t go wrong with them. I’m also not sure why the bread and butter is charged for, I’m sure Mark has his reasons though. I have not had it, and perhaps it is the best bread and butter in the city. But $3 for bread and butter for some reason just rubbed me wrong.

Overall, we left for just about $50 per person with a small plate, entrée, and various drinks all around. Really this was quite the value for how amazing the food really was. Everything is made in-house at Spring Hill and it shows. Between the amazing and varied seafood, creative presentation and delicious flavors, Spring Hill is an up and comer worth checking out next time you are out.

Chefs Blogs

Spring Hill on Urbanspoon

Lunch at Quinn's Pub - Seattle

Restaurant Name: Quinn's Pub
Location: Seattle

I have been meaning to get to Quinn's for a while as I really love Restaurant Zoe - Scott's Belltown mainstay. I had the opportunity to go for lunch the other day and I can see I should have waited for an evening visit.

I didn't realize that during the day the regular menu isn't available - so most all the yummy things I had been drooling over from reviews were not available. On entering a nearly empty pub around noon the 4 very nice (but as it turned out not very helpful) people behind the bar pointed me to a stack of menu's by the door and told me it was "order at the Bar" service. So, I took a menu and sat to peruse it. It had a hamburger, fish and chips, wild boar sloppy joe's and a few other items. So, as I have been testing burgers around some of the better places in town (Winners are Spring Hill in West Seattle, Dahlia Lounge, or Lamburger at either Cafe Campagne or Matt's In The Market,)I went to the bar and ordered a Smoke Rive Farms Beef burger with fries and a glass of French Rose which was $9. Their wines by the glass are high - lowest being $9 and then upward. Reasonable promptly, one of the bar servers brought me an incredibly stingy pour of wine but no water, silverware ,etc. I then noticed a chalk board that had a few interesting sounding items that I would definitely have ordered if anyone had mentioned to look at or told me about the specials.

So, after a long wait a very uninspired burger with a huge plate of nice, hot fries arrived but still no water, silver or offers of any condiment - I asked if they had aioli for the fries and they allowed as how they could produce some mayo. The Burger was nice looking and high quality but the bun was dry. After asking I got water (no ice in it) and utensils - but with 4 people behind the bar and basically 4 tables with customers seems to me they could have exceeded their authority and provided some personal service. I can see if the place is really jammed why they would have a get your own menu, order and pay at the bar kind of procedure - it is a pub after all - as I said they were all nice but just not helpful.

So, I will try again in the evening - but if you are looking for lunch in Seattle this would not be a place I would recommend. Lunch with tax and tip for 1 was $25 and not worth it.

Quinn's on Urbanspoon

From Miranda's Kitchen: Great Appetizers for a Chilly Fall

Hot & Spicy Artichoke Dip

1 large jar of quality artichoke hearts (about 12 oz)
1 cup of mayo (Hellman's brand, etc.)
1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
1 cup of grated parmesano reggiano cheese (buy the best quality imported cheese you can find.)
1/4 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp finely chopped cilantro
Salt to taste (use kosher salt for best results)

Drain artichoke hearts and dice them. Finely dice jalapeno pepper (seeds included).
Mix together artichoke hearts, mayo, jalapeno, 3/4 cup of the parmesan cheese, the garlic powder and the salt. Stir well to combine and pour into an oven-save dish (this is the same dish you will serve the dip in, so chose one you would like your guests to see).
Cover the top of the dip with the remaining parmesan cheese and sprinkle on the cilantro (to taste).

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook dip until the sides are bubbling and it is hot in the center (this will vary depending on the depth of the dish you have chosen). Approximate cooking time 20-25 minutes.

Serve piping hot with sliced baguette.

Velvety Corn Puree with Cream Fraiche

1 bag of high quality frozen corn
1 small yellow onion
1/4 cup diced carrot (Nantes variety preferred)
Olive oil
1 1/2 cups of whole organic milk
Salt & Sugar to taste
Creme Fraiche
Fresh chives
Sea Salt

Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan. Dice onion and carrots and saute in the oil over medium-high heat until softened.

Meanwhile, fill a large stockpot with water (several quarts). Add about a 1/4 cup of salt and 1/8 cup sugar to the water and bring to a rolling boil. Blanch the corn in batches. Add as little corn in each batch as needed to ensure that the water returns almost immediately to the boil. Once blanched, add the corn to the sauce pan with the onions and carrots. Saute 2 mintues. Add the milk and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and let steep until cooled.

Puree the corn and milk mixture in a blender. Pass the puree through a tamis with a scrapper to remove all impurities and create a silky soup. Warm soup in a clean pot and adjust seasonings, adding more salt and sugar as need. Control for thickness by adding cream if desired.

To serve:
For individual amuse-bouche style servings, place a small amount of soup in won-ton soup spoons. Top with a dollop of creme fraiche, a sprinkling of diced chives, and a few crystals of high quality sea salt.

For appetizers, serve the soup in small shot glasses (or something similar); top with a dollop of creme fraiche, a sprinkling of chives, and a few crystals of high quality sea salt.

Serve with: Both of these appetizers would pair nicely with a dry Reisling

Bon Appetit!

Applewood - On the Verge - Brooklyn NY

Restaurant Name: Applewood Restaurant
Location: Brooklyn, New York

On a recent visit to our daughter and son-in-law in Park Slope four members of the Foodie Family blogging here at Between Courses visited the Applewood(see, in particular, The Maharajah, and Miranda's reviews at

Applewood was very busy when we arrived on a Friday evening and that is why I call this review "on the Verge". Clearly, the ingredients, mis-en-place, preparation, plating, attitudes, and general ambiance of this restaurant speaks of EXCELLENCE. Where the situation breaks down a bit is the final preparation of the individual items when the kitchen is slammed. Some items - like the sweetbreads on my excellent veal "stew" were wonderfully prepped and presented by not crispy. Others like the Maharajah awesomely conceived and prepped cannelloni, was not properly heated to proper service temperature. There was a glitch in the kitchen "a misfire" as the server called it after a long delay during which they thoughtfully presented us with a free great little cheese plate. I attribute all of these things purely to the Kitchens not yet fully mature capability to handle the peak of service with the same flawless skill they show in the basic conception and preparation of each dish.

Applewood is a great place to get a nice dinner and I recommend both visiting and watching as they mature.

Applewood on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 25, 2008

From Miranda's Kitchen: Cajun Shrimp Po'boy

Cajun Shrimp Po'boy

serves about 4

approximately 48 medium-sized, shelled, de-veined wild-caught shrimp (you want roughly 12 shrimp per person for 1 serving)
1 cup cornmeal (medium grind)
1 Tbs + 1 tsp onion powder
1 Tbs + 1 tsp garlic powder
3 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
1 cup mayo
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 lemon
2 egg whites
Iceberg lettuce, shredded
Soft long rolls
2-3 cups of canola oil for frying

Rinse shrimp and remove tail shells, drain and pat dry.

In a bowl, mix together cornmeal, half of the onion powder, half of the garlic powder, half of the cayenne, and half of the salt. Set aside.

In another bowl, mix the mayo with the remaining spices, the tomato paste and fresh-squeezed lemon juice (to taste). Adjust the sauce for spiciness, etc. according to taste.

Whisk the egg white in a third bowl and then pour over the shrimp and toss to coat evenly. Do your best to drain excess egg white from the shrimp.

Pour oil into a heavy, high-sided pot. Oil should come about 3 inches up the side. Heat to approximately 350 degrees. Test the hotness of the oil by tossing in a small shred of bread. Oil should bubble up around it immediately.

Toss the cornmeal mixture with the shrimp - coat the shrimp thoroughly.

Add shrimp to the oil in small batches. I have found that a Chinese net scoop works well for frying. It is essential that you not overload the oil with shrimp - you want them to cook very quickly so the shrimp stay fresh and crisp. Fry each batch of shrimp about 1-2 minutes until the cornmeal crust is golden brown. Remove each batch of shrimp from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Meanwhile, toast rolls in the oven.

To serve, pile shrimp into each roll, top with a generous serving of sauce and shredded lettuce.

Serve with: a good beer - either a lager or a Weisse beer would be great.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, October 24, 2008

How to Boil Water - Technique Cooking

Water is one of the key, and most overlooked, ingredients in many recipes and techniques. It forms the backbone of many cooking techniques and must be selected and used properly. Like any ingredient use only the best water that is available and appropriate to the technique at hand. Using nasty tasting, chlorinated water is going to result in poor results and in some techniques (such as yeast based items) disaster. I use non-chlorinated well water that has gone thru a Brita filter - for baking I use distilled water. Never take shortcuts with water -I am serious here - DO NOT use HOT WATER from the tap as a shortcut to getting to boiled water - it tastes NASTY. DO NOT use a small quantity of boiled water where a LARGE POT of boiled water is called for. DO NOT put ingredients in non-boiling water if the technique calls for starting them in actively boiling water (e.g. for most delicate items to be blanched you want them to cook VERY quickly to near the proper point and then shock them in ice water to stop cooking to retain flavor color and vitamins). For the same reason, DO NOT put large quantities of ingredients in boiling water - it drops the temperature too much - cook in small batches shocking as you go along.) DO NOT put ingredients in boiling water if the technique calls or starting the ingredients in cold water and then bringing to a boil (e.g. large pieces of dense vegetables like potato will totally overcook on the outside before the inside gets done if you start them in boiling water). DO NOT use a boiling vessel that is going to adversely effect the flavor or results - I prefer All Clad Stainless or Le Creuset enameled cookware for boiling - some other materials can impart bad flavors or react adversely with acids, etc in boiling water - some do not retain heat when the ingredients to be boiled are added.

Great plain water is fairly tasteless. To allow water to do its job to its maximum potential it needs the addition of other complimentary ingredients. Since my specific topic here is "boiling" water I will focus on the key additives that have the potential to elevate flavor development in the recipe that calls for boiling water. Salt (Lot's of it - think of seawater) and a little sugar, whole peppercorns, bay leaf, and some acid (lemon juice or vinegar) or the additives for "Court Boullion" are wonderful for blanching or poaching - for stocks omit the salt (add it later when ready to use the stock).

As we go along in future posts on techniques that use boling water I will explain the specifics for each use more fully

Technique Cooking - Introduction

This is the first post in a series on what I call "Technique Cooking". I hope some of you will find it helpful and slightly inspiring in improving your own cooking. My objective in cooking ANYTHING is for the diner to say to themselves, after the first few bites, " Ah CONTENTMENT, this is the BEST version of .... I have ever tasted". I am certainly not always successful but that is where I am coming from in my cooking.

I believe the way to achieve the maximum in satisfaction and flavor development is very simple really. Start with awesome ingredients, marry them with harmonious other ingredients, and then use to proper techniques to fully develop the flavors and presentation. In other words - use good ingredients correctly and then avoid ruining them while preparing your meal.

Recipes are nice and helpful, a useful place to start. However any recipe that does not also have some very specific technique directions is almost useless. Be especially wary of recipes that use prepared ingredients i.e."semi-homemade". The flavor comes from the native ingredients well prepared. If you are going to use a specific well tested, highly rated (I use recipe that includes proper technique descriptions (or you know the proper technique) then either FOLLOW IT or know WHY you are changing it. One of the things that drives me crazy is to see reviews of well tested recipes that explain proper technique where the reviewer rates the recipe badly and then explains how they substituted stupid or low quality prepared ingredients or totally botched the technique. Then they say "I'll never use this recipe again". If you don't know proper techniques or what ingredients are UPGRADES to a recipe them PLEASE follow the recipe.

However, by knowing and practicing proper techniques and choosing and combining awesome, harmonious ingredients you can use recipes as a "reference point" to some really great cooking.

The Real Dope on Poppy - Poppy Restaurant - Seattle

Restaurant Name: Poppy
Location: Seattle

I must first confess that I was not a fan of Jerry Traunfeld's HerbFarm. Rated one of the top 10 destination restaurants in the USA I felt it wasn't even close to one of the top 10 in Seattle. It was a Disneyland version of a really good banquet meal, but not, in my opinion, a high end culinary experience.
Cindy and I went to Poppy for dinner last night to see how Jerry Traunfeld's new concept of a tasting menu on one plate would rate. I have to tell you it rated extremely poorly. It was proof positive that "more" can definitely be less.
As states the meal is "A modern Northwest tasting menu served all at once. Jerry Traunfeld's Capitol Hill restaurant brings a new style of dining to the Northwest. While traveling in India, Jerry was inspired by a culinary tradition that involves a "thali," a platter served to each guest holding a variety of small dishes. Poppy's menu borrows the idea of the thali to present Jerry's own style of cooking, highlighting seasonal ingredients, fresh herbs, and spices." Unfortunately this concept does not work.
The restaurant itself is located on a nice corner of Capital Hill, is beautiful, has a great open kitchen, and is staffed by a friendly, well trained staff both in the kitchen and front of house. We were promptly seated, menu explained, ordered a nice glass of wine - good range $7-$12 glass and lots of bottles under $45, and a Gorgonzola/cherry/herbed gougere. The nice generous pour and the appetiser appeared fairly promptly and we ordered the Thali. The Thali, as the picture above fairly accurately depicts, consists of a soup course, a fish course (Black Cod), a Meat course (Berkshire port Short Rib) - or 2 vegetarian "entrees" for the no-meat crowd - 6-7 small vegetable based items and a center bowl of bad sticky rice with a beautiful but not very good nan bread on top - all for $32. Most items, especially the soup, Cod, and Short Rib, were excellent. In fact, if Poppy offered a "3 course" of the soup, Cod, and Short Ribs served CONSECUTIVELY for $32 I would have been blown away and very satisfied.
The problem is with the Thali concept and the foods Poppy is placing on the plate. Our dining experience quickly turned into a Royal Fork type buffet with 9 conflicting items in a mishmash of quick eating to avoid the hot items getting cold and mixing up flavors and textures in a very unhappy way. The Thali works in Indian Cuisine because each item is a compliment of NECESSARY cooling and heating flavored condiments that are intended to go in the mouth with the main dish and/or scooped up with the nan. That is not what's going on here. They can cook well but they totally miss the point of menu and flavor development and harmony. The 30 minute wait , even though it was definitely not busy, between the appetiser and the Thali was also a problem and I suspect is systemic in trying to get 9 items ready simultaneously. It goes back to the HerbFarm "Banquet Concept" .
Jerry Traunfeld is a famous guy - he was in the Kitchen last night by the way - so I am sure he can survive for a while - However I give this concept zero chance of surviving for more than a year. I just cannot imagine way anyone would come back for a second try. It was not a satisfying experience.

Poppy on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spring Hill: A Sure Thing in West Seattle

Restaurant Name: Spring Hill
Location: Seattle, Washington

Last night Jeff and I got another chance to go out to dinner without the baby. Our opportunities to have an adult dinner at a restaurant are rare these days, so we were pretty excited to try Spring Hill, on my dad Steve's recommendation. We were not disappointed. It was, in my opinion, one of the best restaurants in the Seattle area that we have eaten at in awhile. And I would quickly recommend it to anyone.
The atmosphere is great - casually classy and modern without being cold. They have an open kitchen layout, but it's not overly loud, and we found it a good source of conversation with our dinner companions, Eileen and Jason.
Without a doubt, the best feature of this restaurant is their food. Wow. Everything we had was excellent, from the starters, all the way through to dessert. Highlights from the table were the deconstructed clam chowder, which Jason said was the best he'd ever had, and the red wine braised short ribs that I ordered for my main - falling apart tender and refreshingly interesting with a tomato caper lemon relish and fresh cilantro. I've had plenty of short ribs before, but these were hands down the best I'd ever had. The citrus tang in the relish gave this dish a totally new perspective and was an ingenious complement to the meat. I'm not a capers fan, but didn't even notice don't let that deter you.
Nitpicks....they charge $3 for bread with butter - I'm sure it's excellent (didn't try it), but it seems a bit absurd to charge for something like bread at the table. While my starter - roasted beet salad - was quite tasty, I would have preferred it paired with a stronger blue cheese. The one used was a bit too mild to stand up to the beets.
Those issues aside, I would wholeheartedly recommend this restaurant to anyone who appreciates good food. With starters, mains, and dessert, our bill ended up being about $50/person, but only half of us had wine, so adjust accordingly. I for one can't wait to go back and try the other items on the menu. Spring Hill is a sure thing!

Spring Hill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Preservation Kitchen

Restaurant Name: Preservation Kitchen
Location: Seattle

Restaurant Name: Preservation Kitchen
Location: Bothell, Washington

While shopping at our local Yakima Fruit Market one day with Steve, our resident foodie, we ran across chef Ivan. When he told us that he was opening a new restaurant next door at the ex-Villa Cosenza restaurant, the old Kaysner home, I was really excited. He described his style as Midwest country meets northern Italian trattoria. I thought that sounded pretty good, but as they say, the proof is in the proverbial pudding right?

Amy and I finally got a chance to go when her parents said they would babysit for us. Our first outing since the birth of our new baby! I must say it was much appreciated by us to get to go out for the first time in a while, and to a new place like Preservation Kitchen, what a treat!

We were greeted by quite friendly staff and as we were walked to our table I definitely noticed that new restaurant feel. New carpet and a remodeled interior were all evident and pleasantly refined, contributing to the quality feel of the restaurant. However, as we sat down I was assaulted by probably my biggest complaint of the night. From where I was sitting I could constantly see the TV in the bar out of the corner of my eye. It was very distracting and took away from the pleasant atmosphere they worked so hard to create in the dining room. The dining room should be partitioned from the bar area if you are going to have the TV on.

On to the food! I must start by saying the ingredients were all very fresh and tasted great. We started with some shared appetizers, polenta tots and crab stuffed calamari. The polenta tots were excellent when paired with the aioli and the calamari was excellent, I recommend both of these appetizers to anyone. For my salad I chose the semi-traditional caprese. It was plated very creatively; however I prefer my caprese more normal I guess. That is, no onions or crusty bread, but I still give Ivan points for doing something creative with an old standard.

I had a really difficult time choosing my main course. There were just too many good things to choose from on the menu. I really wanted the halibut cheeks as those were highly recommended, but they couldn’t get them at the time for some reason and if it’s not fresh they don’t serve it. So I opted for the seared duck breast. I am glad I did too, what a whimsical dish! Anyone who can take the ingredients and plate them like a smiley-face and still have a quality air about the food gets my vote. The duck was cooked perfectly and the stone fruits paired nicely. This dish was a lot of food; I would only order this if you’re definitely hungry. This paired wonderfully with a Henry Estate Pinot from their sufficient, but not overwhelming northwest wine list.

For dessert I, of course, ordered the chocolate custard cake. It was a good dessert, although I know he can do better. At this point in the meal though, I couldn’t eat another bite, as you can see it was quite a full meal so it didn't bother me too much.

My overall impression of Preservation Kitchen is a very good one. The attentive service, decent atmosphere (turn off the TV!), quality ingredients, and solid preparation make for a great place to eat. I’ll even tell you a secret, the prices are definitely lower than they could be. The level chef Ivan is cooking at, combined with the quality of ingredients he is using could easily demand a higher price. You would be doing yourself a favor to go try preservation kitchen before Chef Ivan figures that out.

Preservation Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 13, 2008

Preserve this

Restaurant Name: Preservation Kitchen
Location: Bothell, Washington

Recently, Jeff and I had some long awaited adult time (away from the new baby) and enjoyed a belated anniversary dinner at Bothell, Washington's newest restaurant, Preservation Kitchen. Overall, I'd have to give our experience 4 out of 5 stars. The highlight was undoubtedly the food - which was fresh and tasty - featuring local, seasonal ingredients. We started with two apps, polenta tots (great, although the dipping sauce was a bit too bitter for my tastes) and crab stuffed calamari (outstanding). My starter was an excellent take on a deconstructed ceasar - a grilled romaine salad with warm anchovy dressing. Yum. Great harmony of flavors and the chef did an impressive job with the grilling - great char flavor, without overdoing it and turning the lettuce into mush - there was still lots of crunch. For my main, I opted for the gnocchi with fresh tomato confit. The chef stopped by to check on us and told me the gnocchi was made fresh daily. I enjoyed the dish - a simple delivery that let the fresh ingredients shine. Dessert was fine, but definitely not the highlight. I don't believe they have a pastry chef, and it's definitely something I hope they consider in the future. Service was good and our waiter was helpful with wine selection. The atmosphere is classy without being pretentious. My biggest coffee came served in what resembled a classic white diner mug (come on guys, could we at least splurge on a cup and saucer), and the flat screen TV in the bar was completely out of character with the restaurant. Why is there a bar there anyhow? I failed to understand this addition. Nitpicks aside, I'd happily return to Preservation Kitchen, particularly since there were so many items on the menu that I wanted to try. The price, given the preparation and quality ingredients, is a great value and I honestly think they could be charging more. Don't miss this place...after all, as a new restaurant, who knows if it will be around for long. And don't forget to make a reservation...all the eastside foodies were gobbling up the tables, eager to try this new gem.

Preservation Kitchen on Urbanspoon

From Miranda's Kitchen: Roast Pork with Puree of Winter Squash and Swiss Chard

Roast Pork with Puree of Winter Squash and Swiss Chard

Serves 3-4 people

1 whole pork shoulder/butt
1 large bunch of fresh sage, chopped
1 bottle of beer (a lager, preferably)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 Tbs dijon or whole grain mustard
2 Tbs honey
Salt & Pepper
2 good-sized delicata squash (butternut would also work well, but only use 1)
4 Tbs butter
4 tsp brown sugar
1 large bunch of chard (Swiss, rainbow, etc.)
Olive oil
1/4 cup veal stock
1/4 cup white wine

Rinse pork and pat dry. Mix 1/3 of the chopped sage (reserve remainder), minced garlic, mustard, honey, and salt and pepper and rub mixture all over the pork. Place the pork in a large dish and pour the beer over it. Roll the pork in the beer and then cover and marinate for at least 3 hours or overnight, turning pork occasionally.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the pork from the marinade and place in a roasting pan with a rack. Roast the pork until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 150 degrees (about 1 hour 30 min, depending on the size of the roast. Note that the pork will continue to cook inside after being removed from the oven. You may wish to take the pork out a few degrees shy of 150).

Meanwhile, cut the squash into halves (lengthwise) and scoop out the seeds. Divide another 1/3 of the sage among the cavities. Also add 1 Tbs of butter to each cavity and 1 tsp of brown sugar to each cavity. Season with salt and pepper and place in the same oven with the pork on a baking sheet. Cook covered with foil for about 1 hour and then remove foil. Roast another 15 min or so until squash is fork-tender. Remove from the oven and discard the sage leaves. Scoop the squash meat out and place in a food processor. Puree until smooth, season with salt and pepper.

Rip the chard leaves into smaller pieces, rinse and dry. Dice the stems.
Heat olive oil in a saute pan until very hot. Add the remaining 1/3 chopped sage and fry until crisp. Remove from pan and drain on towels. Add the chard and stems to the remaining oil and saute until limp and softened - season with salt and pepper.

Prepare a pan sauce by heating the veal stock and wine to a low boil. Reduce for a few minutes. Whisk in some of the pork fat and pan juices from the roasting pan. Remove from heat and whisk in 2 Tbs of butter.

To serve: after the pork has reached the proper temperature, slice it into thick slices. On each plate, mound the puree and the chard side by side. Place the slices of pork on top and drizzle the pan sauce over the pork and around the vegetables. Sprinkle the fried sage on top.

Serve with: a crispy Sauvingnon Blanc or with a Weisse beer

Bon Appetit!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Applewood Restaurant

Restaurant Name: Applewood
Location: Brooklyn, New York

Applewood Restaurant ( is among Park Slope, Brooklyn's better dinner destinations. It has a quaint, small bistro feel to it (lots of soft yellows and browns) and a menu based around selections that incorporate organic, locally sourced ingredients.

I have eaten at Applewood three times (twice for dinner and once for brunch) and I recommend the place for dinner only (brunch was uninspired). The most recent visit was with three other members of the Foodie Family blogging here at Between Courses (see, in particular, The Maharaja's review).

I began my meal with the Creamy Lobster Broth - a thin, finely strained version of a more traditional bisque. Though the flavors were good (not too fishy and pleasingly sweet), I think this dish would have been better served with a thicker consistency.

My entree was great. It was their daily special, a grass-finished beef cut into square medallions from the strip steak and served atop a puree of winter squash (excellent - creamy and brightly flavored) with a veal glace. Roasted fingerling potatoes rounded things out. The beef was presented medium rare (their take on this is very rare - almost purple in the middle. This is just how I like it, but for those who prefer things less purple and more pink, medium might be the way to go).

Dessert was a take on coffee and donuts that was inventive but not wholly successful. A small mound of mini doughnut holes served with a whiskey ice cream (not strongly flavored enough), a "latte" flan (too much coffee flavor), and steamed milk. While I liked the idea and some of the individual pieces of the dish, overall there was too much going on and none of it was well enough executed.

Despite a few imperfections, Applewood is a great place to get a nice dinner on a special occasion (the bill runs to around $70 per person). Park Slope has few enough great restaurants, so I hope Applewood keeps the quality high and sticks around.

Applewood on Urbanspoon

Chefs Blogs

Applewood and their Excellent Service

Restaurant Name: Applewood
Location: Brooklyn, New York

As a farewell dinner for my in-laws we all went to Applewood in Brooklyn. It's a lovely little restaurant in Park Slope. We've been there a few times now and the food is always good and the service is always excellent. This time was no different, although there was a slight hiccup that the waitstaff recovered from brilliantly.

I ordered the veal canneloni as an appetizer. It came out delayed, so the kitchen sent us a cheese plate to tide us over. I'm not a fussy diner so when these types of delays happen and a restaurant tries to make amends, I immediately forgive and forget. When the canneloni did come out, it was cold. Again, I'm not a real fussy diner so I ate about half of it. It was alright, but would have been better if it was warm. When the waiter cleared the dish he noticed I didn't have all that much. He asked if it was alright, I told him it was a bit cold. They immediately took the dish off my bill. Again, these things happen in busy restaurants. It's a fact of life. All you can judge on, is how they recover, and they did so beautifully.

The goat entree was absolutely delicious. It was easy to tell that the goat was very fresh. It wasn't gamey at all. Applewood's commitment to local, organic food paid off in this entree. It's been a while since I've had goat and it was a pleasant reminder. The almond cake for desert was a pleasant surprise. We'll be going to back to Applewood for many dinners to come.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gramercy Tavern

Restaurant Name: Gramercy Tavern
Location: New York City

Lunch at the Gramercy Tavern (in the dining room, not the tavern) is still a worthwhile experience after all these years.

The menu, at first glance, seemed a little uninspired and I had a difficult time selecting my meal. Fish, chicken - eh. So, imagine my delight as the courses were served. I started with a ceviche ("cooked" with grapefruit) served with coriander. Fresh and quite tasty. It paired surprisingly well with the Nebbiolo rose I chose. My entree was a sturgeon fillet (not at all oily and very fresh) served on a mound of parsnip puree alongside a few roasted fingerling potato pieces (only 2, in all honesty) and topped with the leaves of roasted brussel sprouts - very delicious.

My dessert course was a coconut tapioca with passionfruit sorbet and cilantro syrup (which tasted nothing like cilantro, unfortunately). All in all, a very enjoyable meal. I think, though, that given the cost, I would rather return and take my chances for a table in the tavern. The wood burning oven they were using to cook all the meat for the tavern menu made my mouth water and the bright sun streaming in through the front windows looked more inviting than the somber dining room in back.

Gramercy Tavern on Urbanspoon

From Miranda's Kitchen: Fall at the Farmer's Market

Fall has come to New York and the greenmarkets are brimming with great produce. Here are two recipes to try that showcase the fall harvest.

Delicata Squash with Rainbow Chard

1 delicata squash per person
Five Spice powder
Butter (1 tablespoon per squash)
Brown sugar
1 large head of rainbow chard
Extra virgin olive oil
Dash of Balsamic vinegar
4 strips of bacon (omit for vegetarian option) - cut into 1/4 inch lardons

Cut the delicata squash in half the long way and scoop out the seeds. Sprinkle five spice power and brown sugar (to taste) in the hollowed out portion of the squash. Top with a tablespoon of butter per squash. Put squash in a 350 degree oven on a baking sheet, cover with foil. Cook about 1 hour. Remove foil and cook another 15-20 minutes (squash should be fork-tender).

Meanwhile, wash the chard and rip the leaves into large pieces. Dice up some of the lovely, brightly colored ribs as well.
If using, crisp the bacon lardons in a hot pan. Remove the bacon but leave the grease behind. Add a small amount of olive oil (if omitting the bacon, use 2 tbs of olive oil and begin recipe here). When the oil is hot, add the chard ribs and saute until softened. Add the leaves. Toss the leaves periodically with tongs. Saute until limp. Dash the finished leaves with a bit of balsamic vinegar and finish with salt to taste.

Remove the squash from the oven. Plate the squash (1 per person) and mound the chard in the hollowed-out portion.

Late Harvest Corn and Cherry Tomato Succotash

1 ear of late harvest corn per person
any beautiful small (cherry sized) tomatoes
Red pepper (1 per 4 people)
Olive oil
Red onion
Salt & Pepper

Boil water in a large pot and par-cook the sucked corn (1-2 min max). Remove corn from water and let cool. Slice kernels from corn.
Heat olive oil on high heat in a large saute pan. Add the finely sliced red onion and cook until softened and beginning to brown. Add the finely diced red pepper. Cook until peppers begin to soften. Add the corn. Cook 2 or 3 minutes. Add the butter (about 1 tablespoon per person) and salt & pepper (to taste) and reduce the heat to low. Cook on low another 3 minutes or so. Toss in the cherry tomatoes and cook just to heat them. Remove succotash from heat and serve alongside the squash. Top the succotash with minced cilantro.

Serve with: a Sauvingnon Blanc or a dry Reisling

Bon Appetit!

Gramercy Tavern - Always a Winner

Restaurant Name: Gramercy Tavern
Location: New York City

The Foodie Family had another great meal at the Gramercy Tavern this week. This restaurant is a perennial winner, in 2008 number 2, on the Zagat list of Most Popular Restaurant in NYC for good reason. The consistent excellence of the food and service coupled with the relative value for the money are a sure bet. I have visited the restaurant many times over the years both in the front Tavern Room and in the Dining Room. Each has a separate menu, ambiance, primary cooking staff and reservation policy with the former being more casual and affordable and the latter superior in the complexity and sophistication of the food. At Dinner the dining Room is prix fixe but at Lunch the option of a wide variety of menu options are available. I fully recommend either room and have never had any complaints about anything. This resturant is as close as you can get at a guaranteed flawless dining experience in an elegant, but casual environment.

The Foodie Family each enjoyed 3 courses. For starters - Cindy enjoyed an excellent bowl of Heirloom Tomato's in a tomato water vinegar dressing. I really enjoyed a Lemon Risotto with Fennel and Clams - it was beautifully presented in a bowl edged with a Celery Root Puree. Sid and Miranda each had a Kampache with grapefruit and coriander. Second course for both Sid and Cindy was a perfectly prepared Guinea Hen with a braised hindquarter and a roasted breast. Miranda had Sturgen and I enjoyed a plate of roasted Sirloin served with Sirloin filled Ravioli. Deserts were spectacular and unusual. Miranda had a complex dessert tapioca, a cookie, coconut and passion fruit sorbets. Cindy had an amazing warm Chocolate Bread Pudding. Sid had a white and dark Chocolate Mousse. A had a Concord Grape Clafutti which was awesome and unusual. The plating of each of the desserts raised the bar of expectations and enjoyment.

A 2 hour fantastic luch for 4 with wine by the glass, lunch and dessert was a very reasonable $300.

Gramercy Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 10, 2008

Guinea Hen at Gramercy Tavern

Restaurant: Gramercy Tavern
Location: New York City

Yesterday the in-laws and I had lunch at Gramercy Tavern. As an entree I had the Guinea Hen which was available off the tasting menu as a regular entree. There was a breast as well as a leg/thigh served over corn. As a lover of all dark meat, I naturally enjoyed the leg. The big surprise, came in the breast. The outer skin as crispy and a bit carmelized. The flesh was tender and melted in your mouth. I usually don't go for white meat. It often turns out bland and tasteless. The texture and juiciness of this piece made this dish very enjoyable. I strongly recommend this entree.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Night with TK

Restaurant Name: Per Se
Location: New York City

It is a once in a lifetime experience to dine at Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant in New York City.

First of all, eating here is about more than just the food (though the food is truly spectacular). Every aspect of the experience is special and perfectly executed with what seems an effortless graciousness – the setting, the service, and the tone of the place are all spot-on.

Weirdly, the restaurant is located in what is essentially a high-end mall (the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle). Yet, Per Se also offers homage to Keller’s west coast French Laundry with an almost countryside feel to it. So, that strikes me as an extremely difficult balance to achieve – a super-fancy, high-end place that still manages to exude warmth and a sense of welcome that would seem more characteristic of a tiny, county inn or bistro. I am not a famous person, nor am I particularly glamorous, but I was made to feel like a treasured guest while at Per Se, which is exactly what you want anywhere, but especially somewhere that charges $275 a person for dinner. And, of course, it all too often seems that the more you pay for a dinner, the snootier and less welcoming the restaurant tends to be. Per Se is not snooty, not at all. For me, this was perhaps the biggest and most welcome surprise of the evening.

I should say that I’m a huge Thomas Keller fan. I think his approach to cooking is brilliant – the application of precise, albeit time-consuming, processes of food preparation result in impeccable results (ultra-refined sauces, intensely flavored garnishes, ridiculously tender meat, and gorgeous, artistic presentations). So, naturally, I expected the food to be among the best I have tasted. And it was very, very good. Steve has written extensively in his post on this blog about each course, so I will just mention a few favorites here (photos included above):

The herb roasted filet of sablefish was probably the most flavorful fish presentation I have ever tasted. The sablefish melted on your tongue and tasted addictively of browned butter. It was simply accompanied by a slice of Benton’s smokehouse bacon that was perfectly crisped on the outside yet was so tender you could cut it with the side of your fork. A tiny heart of romaine and minced pickled shallots rounded out the dish, along with a horseradish infused crème fraiche. Awesome.

I also loved the Liberty Farm’s Pekin duck breast. It was rolled and wrapped with beautiful rainbow chard so that it looked like a sushi roll. It was nestled in a cloudy mound of perfectly prepared and flavored polenta and garnished with the bright, crunchy, beautiful ribs from the chard. The duck was so tender and paired with the polenta so well. It was great.

The final dish I want to mention was the one I was expecting to like the least – the salad of heirloom radishes. This was basically a tasting of different radishes, some pickled and some raw. The radishes were interspersed with compressed Asian pears (a great sweet-ish counterpoint) and flavored strongly (but not overwhelmingly) with fresh ginger. It was incredibly refreshing.

Not every single dish was perfect. The lobster, in particular, was a little bit disappointing (the sauce slightly too sweet, the tail meat slightly overcooked). In all honestly, I think I’ve probably had the occasional dish or two elsewhere (here I’m thinking of Vetri in Philadelphia, Crush in Seattle, or Jerome’s in the south of France) that transcended some of those at Per Se individually in terms of flavor combinations or originality, but never have I experienced such precision and refinement throughout – such minute attention to every detail of the food and how that food was presented, displayed, and consumed. And this was true of every course we were served and of every other aspect of the restaurant too (all the way from the fold of the napkins on the table to the genuine pleasure the servers took in presenting and describing our food and answering our questions). It was truly impeccable.

The highlight of the evening turned out not to be just the amazing meal (perfectly paced, perfectly portioned), but the fact that Thomas Keller himself was present in the kitchen and that, after dinner, we were taken on a tour of the kitchen, and that he stopped what he was doing to chat with us for a moment and pose for a photo or two. He was gracious (I’ll admit, I was surprised), perhaps recognizing real people who genuinely loved his food and appreciated his contribution American cuisine. It elevated the evening beyond our expectations (which were pretty high) and provided the perfect example of how welcomed we were made to feel throughout the entire night.

Save your pennies in a jar – and when you’ve filled 50 or so jars, go to Per Se. You won’t be sorry.

Per Se on Urbanspoon

Per Se - New York - "THE MEAL"

Restaurant Name: Per Se
Location: New York City

Wine 1: A Sancerre Pinot Noir Rose that perfectly complemented the amuses and first four courses.
Wine 2: a Vacqueyras Rhone red that went wonderfully with the remaining courses.

1. Tiny “Gougeres” -Filled with a warm liquid Corbier cheese – A single bite of deliciousness.
2. “Cornets” – A tuile cone of Salmon Tartare with Sweet Red Onion Crème Fraice. The signature Amuse of Per Se and French Laundry.

Course 1 – “Oysters and Pearls” A Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca, Crème Fraice, heavy cream, oyster juice with Island Creek Oysters toped with a large spoonful of Sterling White Sturgeon Caviar. This is another signature dish and simply wonderful.

Course 2
Option 1: “Salad of Heirloom Radishes” - A beautiful and delicious composed salad of “compressed” Asian pears, pickled heirloom radishes, pea tendrils, in a ginger “Aigre-Doux” dressing.
Option 2: “Gateau of Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras” – A Foie Gras mousse terrine topped with a Blis Maple gelee served with Oregon Huckleberries, celery branch, and warm toasted Brioche. A beautiful, buttery terrine and they even quickly changed out the Warm Brioche after a few moments so that we would have warm toast throughout the course.

Rolls with Artisanal Butters - The butters were a sweet cream from a small artisanal farm in California and a sea-salted butter from St. Clair Farm in Vermont served with a selection of small rolls, baguettes, breads, all complex, excellent, and described in detail by the attentive server staff.

Course 3 – “Herb Roasted Fillet of Sablefish” - Served with artisanal Benton’s Smokehouse Bacon over sautéed Romaine Lettuce, pickled shallots with a fabulous Crème Fraice Horseradish Cream. Perhaps, and surprisingly, the best course of the dinner.

Course 4 – “Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster Tail” - with Caramelized Cipollini Onion. This was the one course that wasn’t completely perfect as the baby lobster tail meat was very slightly chewy – as is very easy to happen with Lobster. It was great - just not perfect. I guess that is a statement on the overall quality of the meal that we would all notice any imperfections.

Course 5 - “Liberty Farms Pekin Duck Breast” – A round, pink piece wrapped in Swiss Chard leaves on a great polenta cream. This was a perfect taste and presentation of Duck Breast.

Course 6 – “Elysian Fields Farms Carre D’Agneau Roti Entier” - Served with a small “salad” of artichoke heart, fennel root batons, marinated Bluefoot Mushrooms with a lamb sauce. A garnish of “Lamb Bacon” was presented which was in house made by carefully frenching the lamb chop of the meat and fat into a slice of “bacon” that was smoked and cured into pieces of bacon. WOW!

Course 7 – “Cobb Hills Farm Ascutney Mountain” - A cheese course with a sunchoke relish, candied pine nuts, and cilantro shoots.

Course 8 – “Red Verjus Sorbet” - With a Grape Tuile and Sicilian Pistachios

Course “Dessert” – 3 different choices by the Foodie Family
1. “Peanut Butter and Milk” a layered gateau of salted peanut cream, chocolate ganache, served with a reduction of milk ice cream.
2. “Pomme-Berre Noisette” a Confiture of Granny Smith Apple, Financier, and Tahitian Vanilla Bavarois with a brown butter ice cream.
3. “Black Currant Cobbler” with an artisanal Buttermilk Sorbet.

“Mignardises” – Essentially 3 more courses of desserts with coffee.
1. Choice of Cream Brule or a fabulous “plain’ Yogurt Panna Cotta over a Huckleberry layer.
2. A large bowl for the table of cocoa/chocolate covered hazelnuts, butterscotch candies, hard candies, nougats, and an assortment of truffles coconut, caramel, and dark chocolate.
3. A tasting of your choices from an assortment of in-house made chocolates with fillings like, thyme, caramel, ginger, white chocolate covered cherry, Raspberry ….

As my other team members have told you in detail every aspect of the 4 hour experience was perfectly executed. The ambiance, service, attitude, food, and wine all meshed to insure that each of us was supremely happy. We were served by no fewer than 10 different people – each proud of whatever they were doing and describing. We also got a detailed Kitchen tour after the meal – for a 17 table restaurant there were no fewer than 20 intensely focused chefs in the kitchen. Finally we got to meet and talk to an extremely gracious Thomas Keller who was in the kitchen the entire evening – This is a celebrity CHEF and my personal cooking Yoda of many years. It doesn’t get any better than this. See my other upcoming Blog on “Thomas and Me” to understand where I am coming from. $1500 for 4 people and well worth it.

Per Se on Urbanspoon

Thomas Keller is a genius.

Restaurant Name: Per Se
Location: New York City

Some chefs cook, others produce edible art. TK does the latter.

But that's the end, let me start at the beginning. My wife has been cooking out of the Bouchon and French Laundry cookbooks for years. Her copy of these cookbooks are stained and battered through repeated use in the kitchen. You can tell our favorite recipes because the books automatically fall open to them. We talk about his work and his techniques so much, in our house we don't call him Thomas Keller. We call him TK.

So, when we had reservations at TK's Per Se my expectations were sky high. The experience went way past the clouds and landed somewhere near Mars. The art (food) was phenomenal. The service was exemplary. The experience was unforgettable. I'll leave it to my co-bloggers to give you the play by play of each course. I'll only add that the oysters & pearls, and sable fish with bacon were utterly inspired. Instead, I'll focus on the execution.

It is clear that every flavor in every dish has a distinct purpose. They meld and dance in your mouth like you're eating a poem. Each bite reveals something new as if you're staring at a classic painting that constantly has more to offer the longer you look. At several points in the meal I tuned out of the conversation because the food was so complex and interesting it demanded my full attention. TK is talking to me with what he's done on this plate. It's all I can do just to sit there and enjoy the conversation.

Some chefs cook, others produce edible art. TK does the latter.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Along For the Ride

Restaurant Name: Per Se
Location: New York City

Being part of a 'foodie family' is an interesting experience. My heart does not beat fast and my palms don't get sweaty with the idea of going to a potentially new, exciting restaurant. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate good food, especially well prepared, well presented fresh, and tasty food. I know what I like and don't like. But I must admit, sometimes a good meatloaf just hits the spot!
That said, it is time to consider and make comment on a recent trip to Thomas Keller's NY restaurant, Per Se. The food to be expected was amazing, very amazing, but to be honest it is difficult to justify the large price tag that goes with this amazing meal.
There were many courses, each presented the opportunity to dissect and discuss all the nuances of flavor pairings, presentation etc, etc. It made for great dinner conversation. Let's face it, that was part of the experience. In this case Thomas Keller didn't disappoint! But since this was such an over the top expensive meal and the expectations are so high, it is time to do a little nit- picking. .. just a little.
The dining area was a bit too chilly, bring a wrap if you don't want goose bumps. The chocolates served as the final course the 'Mignardises' require a bit of nit-picking also. When I'm served chocolates, I expect 'chocolate ' to be the dominant flavor, it should caresses your mouth and slide easily down your tongue. Nowadays, and Per Se is no exception, chocolatiers feel the need to try all kinds of combinations with chocolates; tarragon, mint tea, lavender,, what a shame.

Some are good, most are really bad, especially if the first explosion in your mouth is not chocolate, but pepper, or ginger or honey tyme. These combinations are interesting and ok, IF they are just a whisper on the palate. I want chocolate or carmel to stand in front, not behind.
So much for complaining about little things. When presented with a wonderful evening, almost perfect in every way it is hard to complain too much. The gracious, attentive wait staff went out of their way to make sure you felt comfortable, and that goes a long way towards making any meal seem extra special. So with that said, I salute Per Se and certainly Thomas Keller on a memorable evening.

Are You A Foodie? Spring Hill Restaurant - West Seattle

Restaurant Name: Spring Hill
Location: Seattle, Washington

In my view what makes someone a foodie is not just the love of food, but rather someone who is not afraid to be challenged by new food experiences – whether in ingredients, techniques, preparation, or presentation. If you are a foodie you will love Spring Hill Restaurant.

My wife, Cindy and I (2 of the dedicated team at have made 2 visits to Spring Hill in the last few weeks. I have also reviewed many personal and professional reviews and blogs, and it clear it just keeps getting better.

I am a skilled and ambitious home chef, so my reasons for enjoying a foodie restaurant experience besides the obvious are that:
1. It gives me a chance to see and sample new techniques, preparations, and ingredient combinations that I can use to build on my own arsenal for future entertaining.
2. I can enjoy tried and true things that my lovely wife does not enjoy so I don’t usually cook at home even when entertaining- these include yummy things like very rare (see “almost raw”) meat, seafood, and egg preparations and ingredients like sweetbreads.
Spring Hill excels in both of these areas!

Mark Fuller (former head chef and Tom Douglas’s Dahlia Lounge) and his wife Marjorie have recently opened a foodie heaven in West Seattle. Virtually everything from pasta, freshly hand ground beef, catsup, bacon, etc is made in house by a very talented staff. The seafood is exquisitely fresh and premium and the emphasis in every part of the menu is on fresh, local Northwest artisanal products.

While I am sure they will overcook things for you if you insist – the real experience and taste treat here is runny egg yokes, very, very rare, or raw meat and seafood. Order anything that says it has an egg in it, bacon on it, or mentions seafood.

The famous ½ lb “baseball shaped” burger may be the best I have ever had and the basic reason why is that ordered “pink all the way through” it was an amazing caramelized exterior (on a very hot, open, apple wood fired Aztec Grill) and essentially a tartar of freshly in-house ground Strawberry Mt. Or. natural, sustainably raised beef chuck on the inside. With the teleme, white cheese, sauce, in-house made bacon on a perfect bun, every bite was exquisite. The accompanying fries were also a revelation. They were larger rectangles of slightly al dente potato (not necessarily my favorite way to do frites) with a preparation addition that I will forever add to my homemade frites (which are amazing good) to take them to the “next level”. That is, tossing the fries at plating in fresh herbs along with a nice large drizzle of garlic oil.

Cindy – who doesn’t like runny eggs or anything too rare, ordered the rib eye steak medium rare thought her steak was fabulous but too rare. I had a few bites and thought it was perfect. While watching it’s preparation I also got another great flavor building tip as I observed Mark Fuller squeeze a large, fresh lemon over the steak as it seared on the apple wood grill. It added that flavor freshness that was perfect. I’ll add that to my grilling arsenal as well.

In our two visits we have also tried several small plates, the salmon pate, the sweetbreads, seafood plates, the duck, and the tagliatelle, and watched many more prepared and plated. Basically you cannot go wrong if you are adventurous or if you see ingredients you know you like. They know what they are doing. BE ADVENTUROUS!

There are a few two-tops that have an outstanding view of the goings on in the open kitchen and the pass – so one can really learn and enjoy a lot by watching closely what’s going on.

The menu make either a traditional coursing or small shared plates approach work well However, I would really recommend the latter as the menu is loaded with attractively priced sharable small plates of appetizers, raw seafood, cheeses in the $6-14 range that you feel bad about ordering the main courses (which are great) instead of trying 3-4 of the smaller items. The wines are almost all Northwest small makers and are in the $10-12 a glass range by the glass. Or most recent visit included a glass of wine, a small plate each, the steak, the burger, a scoop of ice cream each (the caramel, sea salt was fabulous and will be on my home menu soon) and was $120 including tax and 20% tip. You need to plan $40 plus per person “out the door” to really appreciate what’s going on here. Its well worth the price based on the quality and cost of ingredients as well as the cooking talent you are dealing with.

Spring Hill on Urbanspoon

Jason Wilson Rocks

Restaurant Name: Crush Restaurant & Crush Private Dining
Location: Seattle, Washington

I could go on and on here, waxing eloquent about the truly great food at Jason Wilson's Crush restaurant in Seattle. Indeed, every time I have eaten there, I have found myself ensconced in a mini food-Valhalla, treated to course after course of the precision execution of Wilson's elevated and inventive dishes. Here is a link to the menu: for those who don't believe me. Get thee to Crush right away!

But, that is not what I intend to blog about on this, my inaugural entry. What I want to comment on today is not Crush restaurant, but Wilson's private dining enterprise. You see, Jason Wilson catered my wedding...and aside from the choice of groom, I can't say I made a better wedding-related decision. The picture above is of one of the many beautiful, freshly prepared, utterly mouth-watering dishes Jason and his incredibly professional and friendly team served at my June 2008 wedding on Vashon Island.

Jason does not do many weddings each year, but if you can convince him to cook at yours, what will you get? Well, you will get a chef who wants to work with you to create an inventive, northwest-ingredient-based menu that your guests are not likely to find at any other wedding they have ever attended. You will get a chef who shows up himself to personally prepare the food and oversee everything, making sure that nothing gets through the pass that would not make the cut at his own restaurant. In fact, halfway through dinner service at my wedding, we blew the power. The music went down, the tent lighting went down....and the space in which the food preparation was being done went down. It was a beautiful sunny day and everyone was having fun, so the music and lights didn't really register with anyone. But what about the food? Well, I still don't know how they did it, but every single person was served a piping hot, beautiful, glistening, delicious dinner. So, in addition to a great chef who personally cares that your special event is really special, you get a miracle-worker.

Here is a link to Crush private dining:

Bon Appetit!

Crush on Urbanspoon

Searching for France in Brooklyn

Restaurant Name: Le Petit Marche
Location: Brooklyn, New York

When my husband and I first moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn, I was delighted to learn that not one, but three, French bistros were located within walking distance from our apartment. I should state at the outset, of course, that I am of the opinion that the French have created among the finest and most delectable cuisines in the world and that their cultural love of all things culinary [most lately finding expression in their effort to have their national cuisine enshrined as a UNESCO cultural treasure - see] is well founded. So, naturally, I wasted no time in seeking the delights of France's bistro cuisine in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

Alas, the first contender, Moutarde, was a disappointment - a Disneyland version of a venerable cultural institution, in all ways. I sadly moved on down the street to A.O.C. Bistro. I ate there on a beautiful late summer evening and I was dining alone. I propped myself up at an outdoor table and perused the menu with interest. I was hungry, I was ready....and A.O.C. Bistro's interpretation of great French food made me look with some longing back up the block at Moutarde. The roasted chicken was dry (even the leg! The leg), the frites were pedestrian, the service was snobbish. I have been to many French bistros and in Paris and despite what everyone says, snobbishness is not a sign of authenticity. Ugh. Feeling wary now, very wary, I ventured to the final nearby contender: Belleville Bistro. And it was an improvement (how not to be?). The steak frites was very juicy and flavorful, dripping with maitre'de hotel butter and lounging in the shadow of a huge pile of very passable frites. But nothing was really special. Had I not experienced the lows of Moutarde and A.O.C. Bistro, I may not have found Belleville such a relief.

All hope, it seemed, was lost. But then I read about a relative newcomer in Brooklyn Heights, just a short hop away on the subway. Le Petit Marche. I rolled the name around on my tongue. It sounded promising. Too promising. I was afraid to hope, but I could not resist the siren's call. I gathered a group of friends and I went and at last found what I sought. Le Petit Marche is the real deal: a charming restaurant in the tradition of an authentic French bistro but with a flair for tiny, surprising touches that elevate the food and inspire the palate.

The restaurant itself is all classic banquettes, tables perched precariously close to one another, tin ceiling, and dim lighting. The interior was warm and inviting and the service was attentive but not fawning. All promising. But the food is the thing.

We began by sharing two appetizers: a goat cheese brulee with roasted beets and blueberries ($10) and beer braised mussels ($8). Both were outstanding but had little else in common. The mussels were rich, buttery, hearty (the beer an excellent replacement for more traditional white wine), shockingly fresh, festooned with herbs and utterly irresistible (this from someone with a life-long ambivalence for mussels). They came with thick, charred slices of French bread that were perfect for sopping up the leftover broth (saving us the ignominy of picking up the bowl and drinking directly from it). The goat cheese brulee, on the other hand, was refined, composed, and seductively sweet. A pile of glistening red beets made the centerpiece and was framed on three sides with rounds of fresh cheve that had been caramelized on one side. The entire dish was delicately flavored with a blueberry sauce and drizzled with mint oil. Both appetizers went perfectly with the Provencal Rose we ordered ($21).

Then came the main event. Between us we tried three entrées: the Grilled New Zealand Baby Lamb Chops ($26), the Cracked Black Pepper Parpardelle ($21) with Braised Rabbit, and the Slow Braised Short Ribs ($24). The lamb was the standout dish of the night. The chops were prepared traditionally enough (4 chops, frenched, glistening medium rare) but were served with an unusual accompaniment - a jalapeno cream sauce. It was exquisite with the lamb and a wonderful, unexpected riff on a very classic dish. The potato gratin that oozed appealingly next to the meat had, somewhere in its creamy depths, a hint of cilantro. Oh, bliss. The short ribs were tender and rich (perhaps a touch too fatty) but were served with an outstanding side of sweet potatoes redolent of the freshest, most piquant ginger. The braised rabbit was probably the most disappointing, being not especially tender and perhaps slightly overly sweet, but otherwise lovely with its hints of clove and cinnamon.

We had perhaps the highest expectations for the final course, but they were not only met, they were exceeded. A pear frangipane tart was awesomely flaky, almond-y and dripping with pistachio ice cream, a champagne sabayon pooled fluffily over fresh berries, and a trio of the most shockingly intense, not-overly sweet sorbets rounded things out (raspberry, passion fruit, and chocolate).

After munching down the last of the complimentary chocolate peanut brittle that came with the check, we waddled out into the night. Our wallet was a total of $220 lighter (for 4 people) but our hearts were lighter still. France in Brooklyn, I have found you.

Check out Le Petit Marche for yourselves, you won't be disappointed!

Le Petit Marché on Urbanspoon