Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Restaurant Zoe Revisited - Seattle

It has been a while since we last visited Restaurant Zoe - but it is still as much fun and as good as ever. Zoe is among only 7 traditional restaurants Zagat's rates 27 or above on food quality in greater Seattle- a very good sign of quality. Zoe has a really great atmosphere, fun but sophisticated. Their drinks menu is very good and somewhat unique to them. When you arrive you get prompt and friendly service and a nice plate of bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

We started off with a shared appetiser, not on the regular menu, of a torchon of fole gras with figs. The torchon is pure, raw foie gras compressed into a roll, seasoned, lightly poached and, in this case, rolled in pistachio nuts and cut into rounds. The figs were lightly poached too. It was beautiful and delicious. The brioche was perfectly toasted. It went beautifully with a rose cremant from Burgundy.

We were then brought "spoons" of candied fennel bulb, onion, and peppers as a complimentary amuse bouche. Again, pretty and tasty.

Our next course was a dungeness crab salad for me and ricotta gnudi for Cindy. Again beautiful and of high quality.

Before our main courses we were given another complimentary course which was a small bowl of gazpacho that was creamy and light. Coincidentally I had just made this last weekend Thomas Keller's Sun gold Tomato Gazpacho from his Ad Hoc At Home cookbook. Zoes version was almost identical with the addition of a hint of melon and some creme fraiche on top. It is very refreshing - made with tomato's, onion, cucumber, and olive oil blended very, very smooth.

So far the meal was impeccable. Our mains we excellent but both suffered a bit from what I consider design flaws in the dish composition and presentation. We were debating between the Whole Hog which is not really described on the menu and the Poached Salmon with corn and Chantalle's. Our friendly waitperson described the Whole Hog accurately and Cindy ordered that. It is basically a shredded pork timbale - yummy parts of the pork braised to perfection, rolled in a breading, and stuffed into a mold. It is then unmolded and deep fried to give a crispy exterior and a shredded pork interior. The mold used was a basic rectangle so the timbale looks like a small brick. It was served on a flat plate atop a very nice complex, saucy endive salad. The design flaw, in my opinion was that there was no sauce on either the interior, or at presentation under the timable so it was a little too dry - though delicious. It's shape was very unfortunate as well and served as a "brick"atop the salad on a flat plate it was really extremely unappealing looking. A concave plate with a pool of sauce on the bottom and a meatball shape or else a rounded mold would have worked from a texture and presentation viewpoint much better. Or using a gelatinized sauce on the interior of the fried timbale would have provided the moist sauce without impacting the delicious and crunchy exterior.

I ordered the Poached Salmon which our server said would be served medium rare which was really not accurate missing the mark in both directions. the Salmon, possibly one of the best tasting and wonderfully textured and sesaoned I have ever had, was poached using a very low heat sous vide method I am almost certain. The result was that the fish was fully cooked through, not rare, and was firm and flakey with a mere touch of the fork. that is as good as it gets for anyone eating a fish. I have had many a rare salmon that had some inedible and tough raw interior parts which is the usual price paid for a perfectly cooked exterior portion. Sous Vide allows the fish to be exactly the same perfect texture all the way from surface to middle. Fortunately her diescription of rare would stop many folks squimish about raw fish from ordering the dish. This is good because using the sous vide method the fillet appears visually to be completely raw - as in totally uncooked. The long low heat ina vacum allows for this. It looked like a big thick piece of lox. Chefs like to provide drama and surprise with a meal but when that plate was put down the surprise was not appetite stimulating. As I said it was fabulous and fully cooked but I could not get Cindy to even take a bite. This dish needs to be described better so people know that are not about to be served raw fish. Or, it could have been lighly sauced to disguise the raw apperance - which would have been the better dish design appraoch in a mainstream restaurant.

We had to run to the theatre so were not able to fit dessert into our time frame.

Hopefully, my "complaints' won't disuade you from visiting Restaurant Zoe - it really is a great evening and a great meal.

Restaurant Zoe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bisato - Seattle Restuarant - WOW!

I have been meaning for literally years to get to Lamperia, and then Bisato, Scott Carsberg's shrines to culinary perfection. I could kick myself! This is perhaps the most perfect cooking I have ever enjoyed - Including Thomas Keller's Per Se!

Cindy and I stopped in last night and had an unbelievable food experience at an incredible price. We each ordered 5 courses and then shared bites. The menu price per item was around $11 so for under $60 menu price each we had a 5 course meal that I will not soon forget. The total bill including wine, tax and tip was around $90 each - I have paid 4 to 5 times that for meals that were not as exquisite.

The restaurant/bar is very nice, Scott greeted us when we can in the door and was very present in the kitchen the whole time. Each menu item was both a presentation and flavor masterpiece. Each item was just 6-8 bites - very small but just right to get the maximum enjoyment and still have room to continue moving thru the menu. With 5 courses I left wanting more - which is so much better than leaving feeling ill for the rest of the night. Portion size is perfect.

We started with a glass of a nice prosecco which we enjoyed for the first few courses , then I moved to a barolo. The food courses included stuffed zucchini blossoms, a duck breast paired with a chantrelle mushroom dish, poached duck egg on a crispella, a fig stuffed with foie gras, lamb chops and potato puree, an artichoke heart stuffed with a ribiolina cheese, polenta with a meat ragu, and an amazing fresh truffle pasta. For dessert Cindy had orange confit and a caramel mousse, and I had figs stuff with marscapone. As I said each dish was so beautiful it was hard to ruin it by eating - but tasted so amazing that you literally wanted to order another of each dish.

I will be back soon - I am anxious to get 4 people and go to order literally everything on the menu and have it come in 6 or 7 courses where each person has a unique dish in each course. Cindy and I loved that approach last night and have really enjoyed it in the past at other high end tasting menu restaurants. It is really a great way to have a foodie evening.

Bisato on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Lobster Shop - What a Difference a Decade Makes

Ten years ago The Lobster Shop was our "fancy destination restaurant" on the Tacoma waterfront. It hasn't changed at all in the last decade but we sure have. We received a gift card for the restaurant when we bought a new Pruis this Spring and thought we would use it last night. It was a beautiful evening, the restaurant was crowded, and we got perhaps the best table in the house with its great waterside corner view of the Sound.

The Lobster Shop has three distinct personalities depending on when you eat there. Sunday brunch is iconic, the early bird dinners are a great bargain and both of the above are jammed. We arrived as the early bird crowd was finishing their desserts. This crowd is mostly multi-generational families enjoying a "fancy 3 course dinner" out for less than $20 a head with a specific lower food cost menu offered prior to 6pm. We went to the "expensive" version of the Lobster Shop - around $160 including tax and tip for the 2 of us, including a shared app, mains, shared dessert and a bottle of wine ($21 for a 2007 Novelty Hill Sauvignon Blanc that retails for $14 - their wine markup is 10 years out of date which is great for the consumer - that bottle would be at least $28 and more likely somewhere nearer $42 at most restaurants - unfortunately, I found it totally lacking in varietal flavor - tasted more like a $6 grocery store wine). Their wine menu, as If have indicated is incredibly well priced but also extremely bland in varietals and quality - i.e. White Zinfandel as their entire rose choice.

The ingredient quality and quantity was good but not seasonal (pea pods and asparagus as veg in September). The mashed potato's we just that, so thick and dry you could stand a fork up in them, while the potato croquet Cindy had was watery and terrible. My halibut and Cindy's steak were served "Oscar style" i.e. low quality shreds of crab or lobster with an insipid version of Bearnaise for the steak and Hollandaise for the Halibut. There was apparently no seasoning of any kind used in any of the cooking. It was a large quantity of bland, boring food from another era.

I think The Lobster Shop is just fine for a fancy dinner out at a really nice location for probably a very high percentage of the population who value quantity and don't really care about great food. It's just not our place any more. I realize I sound like a "food snob" (or maybe just a snob depending on the reader) but if you are either a really good cook or have been exposed to really good seafood restaurants you are not going to be impressed. I would only recommend this restaurant for brunch or the early bird for a bring along grandma and the kids "treat" even though the food will not be very good. People, including us really seemed to enjoy themselves as it is a beautiful spot, good ambiance and the food is "safe" and "dependable". If you are going to spend $60 plus per person why would you eat here?

Lobster Shop on Urbanspoon