Category Archives: Casual

Tutta Bella

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 2+

Tutta Bella Pie

Tutta Bella Pie

Seattle is not New York or Chicago, so you can fuhgeddabout all the fine distinctions that make pies worthy of either the Big Apple or the Windy City.

Still, Seattle’s trying. Tutta Bella isn’t exactly news anymore, but it’s representative of the wave of artisanal pizzerias that have recently opened up.

Without naming additional names, let me say that there’s an eerie similarity to these pizzerias, and I’m just holding Tutta Bella up as the most obvious and established offender: paper thin crusts splotched by bubbles of black char.

Burnt dough simply doesn’t taste good–I don’t care how much sauce, cheese, or creative topping is surrounding or covering these ugly boils. And yet for some reason, the local fancy pizzerias insist on offering up these offenders. Why?

Until I actually experience a pizza that is not partially burnt, sooty, or charred, I cannot recommend Tutta Bella without reservations. That simply hasn’t happened yet. At best, I can salvage a piece or two from an entire pie. And then I wonder: Is it really worth the trouble and expense?

That rhetorical question makes me think of the ne plus ultra of American pizzerias, Pizzeria Bianco. Located in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona, Bianco offers up the kind of pizza that I will gladly suffer a trip to the dessert just to eat–pizza that’s worth a great deal of trouble and expense. (And Phoenix is much closer than Chicago and New York!) In April, we ate there twice; I stood in line for an hour both times to hold our places. As we were boarding the flight back to Seattle, my husband and three children walked on carrying their own boxes from Pizzeria Bianco. “Is it really that good?” someone asked. My children nodded solemnly, clutching their boxes for dear life. They’re still talking about the experience wistfully, asking when we’re going back. “Mama, that pizza was the best pizza in the world.” “Not quite,” I say. “There’s a couple places in Italy I gotta show you…”)

South Lake Union
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Columbia City:
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wallingford:
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (Wallingford) on Urbanspoon

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Filed under 15654811, Casual, Italian, Kid Friendly, Lunch, Pizza

Lunchbox Laboratory

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Lunchbox Lab burgers and fixin's

Anyone who likes playing with their food will love Ballard’s Lunchbox Laboratory, where you can tailor a burger’s patty and condiments from the ground up. The menu of options is dizzying. For the patty: beef, “dork” (duck and pork), lamb, churken (chicken and turkey). For the rest of it: condiments from the usual (lettuce, tomato, bacon, onions) to the exotic (truffles, half a dozen cheeses, and doctored ketchups and mustards). There seems to be only one type of bun, a fluffy, glossy brioche-like pillow that happily cushions whatever artery-clogging pile of ingredients is placed upon it. The bun gamely holds together until the first bite, when it collapses and pretty much everything starts dripping out, all gooey and luscious. Yes, the burgers are damn good. They’re also damn greasy. (They’re not cheap, either. A special–burger, fries, drink–will set you back at least $14).

Folks who love this place really love this place–like my husband, who has shortened his life span by a couple years in a two-week span by visiting half a dozen times. Not exactly a compulsive type, I could understand the Lab’s appeal after one visit. The tiny storefront is long on atmosphere: The hand-scrawled chalkboard menu, kitschy lunchbox collection, drinks  in laboratory beakers, and ubiquitous patina of grease all conspire to conjure up a mod American diner. The only things missing are the swiveling stools and Formica countertops–which may happen once Lunchbox relocates, as the chalkboard outside helpfully announces.

The details here are worth calling out: Sweet potato fries and tater tots can be showered with a choice of gourmet salts and seasonings; shakes can be vanilla or “special,” like the Pina Colada, with its snowglobe storm of coconut bits. I love a good shake, which is why I’ll be coming again. As long as I’m in the neighborhood, I may have a burger as well.

Lunchbox Laboratory on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Burgers, Casual, Organic Friendly

Mulleady’s

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 2

Seattle’s a long, long way from Tipperary, but at Mulleady’s, the Emerald Isle feels a wee bit closer.  This neighborhood pub at the foot of Magnolia offers a pleasant shock to the system: Irish pub fare that’s a noticeable notch up from the usual grub.

While the shepherd’s pie (hearty and good) and corned beef (quite nuanced) were fine, the less cliched choices were best. The lamb stew was deeply satisfying, and I loved the Knockers and Colcannan, which made me feel downright nostalgic for the Irish orphan childhood I never had. The sausages were fat and fine, and the colcannan, in this case a combination of kale and mashed potato, was superb.

Next time, I think I’ll just get a big plate of colcannan and the big pot of sweet pickled vegetables–which are just right for taking the edge off fried fish and chips.  This is where I spent St. Patrick’s Day this year–and most likely where I’ll be next year, too.
Mulleady's Irish Pub and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Casual, Irish, Pub Fare

Tilikum Place Cafe

Repeatable: Yes! Visits: 6

Because I review the lovely Tilikum Place Cafe in this week’s edition of Seattle Weekly (on newstands Wednesday), I won’t repeat myself (it’s a rave review; one of the best eating experiences I’ve had in Seattle in recent memory). Instead, I offer a recipe from the chef, Ba Culbert, whose culinary talent I deeply respect and whose food I adore. If you haven’t discovered this gem of a restaurant yet, go quickly–before the stampede hits. (And, no, this review doesn’t mean that I’m back in full-time action as a professional reviewer; I’m simply covering for Jonathan Kauffman while he’s on vacation.)

For selfish reasons, I’m glad she’s sharing the recipe for her divine baked beans. Here she is in her own words:

“In England, beans on toast are a staple, stop-gap meal.  While it is usually Heinz beans from a can on a slice of toasted white bread, it can still be a very satisfying meal. As my mother is from England, “beans on toast” was a familiar standby (popular on the “make it yourself” dinner nights) in our family–and I mean the ones from a can. Every once in a while, though, my mother would start from scratch and make a big pot of baked beans. I remember the delicious smell wafting through the house and getting excited for dinner. Her beans, as are these, were a bit of hybrid between an English and an American Boston Baked Bean. However, whichever side of the Atlantic you’re on, they ought to be good.”

TPC’s Baked Beans:
Ingredients
4 cups flageolet beans, soaked over night (navy or white beans may also be used)
1 ea carrot
1 rib celery
1 ea onion
sachet 1(black peppercorns, thyme, bay)
water to cook beans
oil for searing pork
2 lbs pork shoulder, cut into three or four large pieces
4 oz slab bacon, cut into 1/2″ dice (sliced bacon is just fine also)
1 ea smoked ham hock (optional)
2 ea onion, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbls tomato paste
2 cups diced tomato (canned)
sachet 2 (allspice, cinnamon stick, fennel seed, thyme, bay leaf, black peppercorns)
molasses
apple cider vinegar
maple syrup (to taste)
2 tbls whole grain mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Cook the soaked beans with the mirepoix and sachet 1 in plenty of water until they are tender.  Remove the mirepoix and reserve the cooking liquid.  This may be done a day or two ahead or the same day.  (If the beans are cooked ahead of time, cool them in the liquid so they remain tender.)
Generously salt and pepper the pork shoulder and brown in a large heavy bottomed pot with a well fitting lid.  Remove when brown and add the diced bacon.  Render out the bacon for five minutes or so, being careful not to burn the bottom of the pan.  Add the diced onion and garlic and cook until translucent.  Add tomato paste and stir for a few minutes to coat bacon, onion and garlic.  Deglaze with a little apple cider vinegar.  Add the beans with their cooking liquid, the diced tomato, sachet 2 and 1/4 cup molasses. Add the browned pork shoulder and the ham hock (if using) to the pot.  It should be quite loose or brothy at this point.  Cover and put in a 250-degree oven for about 4 hours, checking periodically to make sure it does not dry out.  If additional liquid is needed, add water or chicken stock.  When the pork is tender and and the hock falls off the bone, remove from the oven.  Let sit until it is just cool enough to handle.  Remove the ham hock and pull meat from the bones and return to pot.  Using wooden spoons, or whatever you prefer, pull apart the pork into large hunks (this should be very easy).  Remove and discard sachet.  Stir in maple syrup and whole grain mustard, adjusting to taste (you may also want to adjust vinegar and molasses too).  The beans are best if they are allowed to sit for a day to meld flavors together but may be eaten the same day.  I do not usually add salt and pepper until I am reheating the beans for service.  Enjoy!

Tilikum Place Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Bar, Breakfast, Casual, Northwest

Boom Noodle – Bellevue

Boom Noodle: Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Blue C: More times than I care to admit.

Bellevue Mall is large enough to have its own gravitational pull. Which may explain why I found myself adrift there the other day, trying to find the new Boom Noodle/Blue C Sushi outposts. Luckily, these two restaurants are located streetside, with excellent signage that’s visible from 8th. Even better, unlike sister restaurants Blue C Fremont, Blue C U Village, and Boom Noodle Capitol Hill (I haven’t been to Blue C Southcenter), there’s AMPLE free parking in the lot next door. That alone makes driving across the lake for a double-header of sushi and ramen a viable option for even the stubbornest of Seattleites.

But with food that keeps getting better and better, and a game plan that’s brilliant (pack ’em in at lunch, appeal to families as well as the happy hour crowd), Boom and Blue C are well-poised to ride out the depression-in-all-but-name. The shitake soba I enjoyed at lunch was so good, it inspired me to email owner Steve Rosen, to ask if they’ve been improving things at Boom Noodle and how the first two weeks of opening have been…

His funny and frank reply:

“It’s so funny that you had the Shiitake soba yesterday.  That, along with the chilled wasabi soba salad are my current favorites.  We just swapped out our soba noodle to a more expensive hand-made one and I think it has more bite.  Our previous ones were so irritating because they became soggy too fast.
“To answer your question, YES, the two weeks have been exhilarating and full of a lot of nervous energy.  Half of the kitchen equipment went down on our preview night for boom so that was interesting to say the least.
“As far as boom goes the thing we’re most happy about is that people are accepting the overall concept.  When we decided to open over there we had many people tell us they were doubtful about people on the east side taking to our style of communal dining, but so far it has gone over really great from what we can tell.  Along that strip of Bellevue way we are the only non “white table cloth” establishment so it feels as though the urban, casual environment is resonating.
“It has also been interesting to see people embrace us as a “local” restaurant.  Our intention was always to ring a non-national chain over to Bellevue like other Seattle places have done, but we could never be sure if people really cared one way or another.  In the days I’ve spent talking to guests they have been so curious about everything; how we started, where the original location is, where the artwork came from–it’s been really satisfying.
“I will say opening two restaurants within two weeks of each other was just about the craziest thing we’ve ever done.  It’s unbelievable how valuable take-out forks can be until you realize you forgot to order them…  ;)”

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Filed under Casual, Eastside Restaurants, Japanese

Kingfish Cafe

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 1

Gumbo with rice at Kingfish Cafe

Gumbo with rice at Kingfish Cafe

Twelve years ago, I wrote my first review of the Kingfish Cafe, for Seattle Weekly. I raved about the down-home, deep-fried, long-simmered Southern cooking and the gorgeous Coaston sisters who ran this popular new eatery.

Back then, blogs didn’t exist. Newspapers ruled, and reviewers relied on word of mouth to get a feel for the next big story. An amazing new restaurant often spent up to six months waiting to be reviewed; in that time, their customer base grew by word of mouth, and the kitchen got their act together with plenty of trial and error.

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same–and thank god the Kingfish is the same homey, comfortable space I remember, with the same wistfully Southern menu: fried chicken, gumbo, hoppin’ john, okra, collard greens, cornbread, biscuits and gravy, catfish, Red Velvet cake. These classics are as fiesty and finger-lickin’ as ever. And the elegant twins, Leslie and Laura, still greet diners at dinnertime, who flock here to see them as much as to savor the fare. There aren’t many tried-and-true classics like the Kingfish in Seattle, so if you haven’t been in awhile, it might be time to take a stroll down memory lane.
Kingfish Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Casual, Southern

Vios

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 3+

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All roads lead to Vios. Especially if you’re driving a minivan with children in tow. The play area in the back of the restaurant is genius–as inspired as the house tzatziki, which is an infinitely repeatable yogurt dip that transforms a glass of wine, olives, and some bread into a satisfying meal. I dream about the tzatziki here–scooped up with triangles of pita, dipped into with a stick of souvlaki, slathered all over a sandwich, spooned up all by itself…The best setting for this creamy, savory yogurt sauce? The grilled eggplant sandwich, served at lunch.

I’ve eaten at Vios so many times I must confess to personal bias in my assessment: owner Thomas Soukakos definitely knows who I am. Still, that knowledge doesn’t affect the kitchen in any way–the food here is quietly delicious and well prepared no matter when I go. The salads are immaculate, thoughtfully composed and artfully dressed; any dish made with lamb is always amazing. Best of all, the children always eat well when they come here.

Stray off the regular menu into the specials on the chalkboard, and you’ll find some lovely surprises: perhaps some soothing avoglemeno, a lemony chicken soup that’s perfect for wintry weather, or a crunchy slice of baklava dripping with honey.

Vios Cafe & Marketplace on Urbanspoon

Note: Vios at Third Place is now open; the menu is very similar and similarly well-executed. Go for breakfast (french toast!), or meet a friend for drinks in the pub after the kids have gone down.

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Filed under Casual, Greek, Kid Friendly, Vegetarian Friendly