Category Archives: Vegetarian Friendly

Genki Sushi

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 6+

Genki's conveyor

Genki's conveyor

For some reason, hot weather seems to bring out the sushi fanatics in droves. I’m not one of them, but my husband and kids are, so we found ourselves at Genki Sushi for the umpteenth time this weekend.

Convenience isn’t the only reason we go–Sushiland is right across the street, and I’ve never returned after my initial visit. Genki is actually the best of the kaiten sushi options in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Granted, that’s not exactly high praise, but kaiten, or conveyor-belt, sushi isn’t exactly haute cuisine.

Still, when it’s well done, kaiten sushi is fun fast finger food, and there are lots of interesting combinations at Genki, such as the very Hawaiian Spam musubi roll and the fantastic Ahi Poke roll–which, we learned today, was just taken off the Seattle menu because there’s not enough demand for it here.

This is truly a sad state of affairs, because the poke at Genki–a zesty salad of ahi bits, onions, garlic and soy-sesame dressing–is the best poke we’ve had outside the islands. Not enough demand, the Japanese sushi chef explained. The Genkis in Hawaii and Japan still serve poke–it’s one of the chain’s most popular items. But not in Seattle. Hello?

Aside from the freshness of the fish and great deals ($1 sushi at Happy Hour!), Genki also offers fantastic options for vegetarians and hard-core sushi eaters, which may explain why two-thirds of the customers are visiting Japanese. My hunch is that this place is just a wee bit too authentic for the likes of Seattle. Seriously, folks: Who was going to grab those big hand rolls of natto riding along the belt? (If you’ve never tried these slimy fermented soy beans before, recall what you did with your finger and your nose as a small child…Natto is eerily similar…)

Speaking of kids: Genki is a great place for little ones. First, there’s the instant gratification of the kaiten: My daughter ate eight tobiko rolls that she grabbed off the line with her tiny hands. So what if she went to bed smelling like bait.

Then, there are the a la carte menu items, conveniently served in appetizer portions for bar-style grazing. This means that the order of tempura udon or chicken teriyaki is down-sized to perfect dimensions for little appetites. Considering that these items are all priced well below $5, you’ll be extremely pleased with the final bill.
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Filed under Bar, Japanese, Kid Friendly, Lunch, Vegetarian Friendly

Sutra

Repeatable: Yes for veggies; maybe for omnis. Visits: 1

Sutra's beans, cashew cream, and carrots with fried sage

Sutra's beans, cashew cream, and carrots with fried sage

There are two types of vegetarian restaurants: the ones that lavish their efforts on eaters seriously smitten with vegetables and the ones that want to cater to meat-eaters too. The differences between them aren’t readily apparent unless you’ve been a vegetarian for a significant length of time. As a recidivist vegetarian (these spells can last for years) with many hard-core veggie friends, let me assure you that there are indeed differences. Most of Seattle’s vegetarian restaurants target an omnivorous audience, with menus full of pasta, pizza, bread and various forms of tofu coyly pretending to be meat.

Wallingford’s tiny Sutra, however, doesn’t play that game. No soy-carb fillers distract from the main show here: Vegetables, in all their lively glory, sometimes wild and foraged, always organic and seasonal. Three thoughts kept recurring during dinner as I scraped my plate clean: ” 1) Hallelujah! 2) Finally. 3) Yum.”

There was another thought too: “$33 for a four courses? What a steal!” With ingredients as pristine as the ones offered here, Sutra’s dinner provides amazing value. If I lived within 10 blocks of this place, I’d walk here for dinner every week.

Chef Colin, a whippet-thin man with yogic calmness, introduces the meal, explaining the ingredients and concluding with a brief statement of gratitude and awareness. I thought this prelude was low-key, brief, and appropriate–and quite frankly, I barely noticed that a gong was used, though every other reviewer in town fixated upon it.

We started with the generously sized celery root-roasted beet Napolean, a composed pile of sliced root vegetables given interest and tang by sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, capers, and an amazing wild nettle pesto I wanted to cram into my mouth by the spoonful. Nettles are extremely earthy, like bracken fiddlehead ferns, which taste extremely meaty and earthy, a bit like mushrooms.

The second course was a savory, intense tangle of braised winter greens and fresh watercress with slices of tangelos and crisp Jerusalem artichoke chips, dressed with olive oil and a balsamic reduction. Mmmmm.

The smoked great White Northern beans of the third course had a beautiful musky flavor that was complemented by a silky puddle of Hedgehog mushroom-cashew cream sauce. I loved the crunch of the roasted whole baby carrots and the crisp of the fried sage, too. The arrangement would have been perfect had the beans not been a tad undercooked. Still, I managed to eat most of them–even though I regretted their malodorous reminders several hours later.

Dessert was chewy circle of coconut-date-basil macaroon, topped with a local honey sorbet. I’m pretty sure the macaroon was raw–I don’t mean that it was undercooked, but that it was a purposefully uncooked formed dessert, which are quite popular among raw vegetarians (the various kinds: ovo-lacto (eat milk and egg); vegan (no animal or insect products); raw (no vegetables processed or heated above 116 degrees). Quite frankly, I didn’t care if it was cooked or not–it was delicious. But anyone expecting a traditional tart would have been utterly nonplussed by this chewy brown composition, which more closely resembled a chewy fat cookie.

If you decide to visit Sutra and have never really eaten much vegetarian fare before, please keep in mind that context is important. You wouldn’t judge a sushi restaurant by your understanding of a steakhouse, would you? So a vegetable that would be considered undercooked in a steakhouse is probably supposed to be that way in a place like Sutra (except for beans. Beans, like rice, should NEVER be al dente. We’re talking basic digestion issues here, folks.)

If flavors are too intense or too mild–well, sometimes that’s how ingredients actually taste (think of raw garlic). A great vegetarian chef understands how ingredients relate to each other and composes a dish that achieves a balance between loud and quiet flavors, acid and cream, crunch and goo. Chef Colin is still a young guy. The longer he cooks like this, the better Sutra’s going to get. His food was clean and pure, practically thrumming with positive intent and boundless energy.

So maybe I sound like I’ve drunk some of Sutra’s ginger-lemon Kool-Aid. I did. And I’ll do it again. (BTW, the ginger-lemon tonic is QUITE intense. Add some of the super-filtered house water to tone it down for personal tastes, and you’ll be very happy with it.)

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Vios

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 3+

vios1dahlia2tulio3-0011

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.

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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

Rover’s

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2+

The brilliant pot de creme at Rover's

The brilliant pot de creme at Rover's

Do “normal” people eat at Rover’s? Especially in an economic downturn such as this one? Well, yes and no. If you want to splurge on this perennially lovely place, consider the Friday 3-course lunch, which allows regular budgets to sample the gastronomical pleasures here at a fraction of the cost of dinner. Admittedly the cost is still high: about $140 (incl. tax and tip) for two–but the food will be delicious, the service just so, and the spiritual escape worth absolutely every penny.

The starter, baked butter clam with bacon and harissa consomme, drew raves from my companion. I made a substitution: Rover’s iconic scrambled egg with lime creme frache and sturgeon caviar, which was as delicately delicious as I remembered. Fluffy and quietly intense with flavor, these are the scrambled eggs served in Heaven, for sure.  The roast sturgeon came with tiny cubes of celery root and beets, dressed with a watercolor wash of vermouth sauce. Pale and proper–and a tad dull after a bite of the duck, which was bright and bold with cranberry beans, squash, and oregano demi-glace.

Dessert was simply gorgeous: Two silky pots de creme topped with passionfruit gelee and a quivering dollop of coconut foam. The three little buttery cookies on the side were so good, I ate one and saved two for later. The tropical flavors ended this fine meal on a sunny flourish–and made me certain I needed to return as soon as possible to get the full dinnertime treatment.

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Filed under French, Vegetarian Friendly

Tulio

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 2

Tulio's legendary sweet potato gnocchi

Tulio's legendary sweet potato gnocchi

If you are yearning to escape the world, but only have an afternoon to spare, then take yourself to Tulio, settle into a banquette, and eat. As you ease into the charm of this most authentic Old World setting, with its dark wood furniture, leaded glass doors, and mahogany bar, you’ll find yourself amazed to be still in Seattle.

Long a fixture in the city’s fine dining scene, Tulio is easy to overlook. But don’t make the mistake of underestimating this classy standard: Nowhere in town will you find gnocchi as brilliant as Tulio’s, made with sweet potato, flash-fried to a golden sweetness, and finished with a savory touch of sage.  It’s also one of the best appetizer bargains in town at $9. The salmon ravioli ($17) also deserves its iconic status: whole bits of salmon are carefully enrobed in pasta and finished with a rich, lemony Hollandaise. Perfection.

As superb as the gnocchi and ravioli are, my vote belongs to the baccala appetizer ($9) as the one dish that must never, ever leave the menu. This creamy paste of cod is served with whisper-thin crackles of crostini. Rich and soul-satsifying, and one of the most authentically Old World treatments of this versatile dried fish in town–I enthusiastically recommend it. The orecchiette ($15) is a wonderful presentation of tiny ear-shaped pasta, made savory with sausage, rapini, and a light splash of tomato sauce. The roast chicken $19) here easily equals Le Pichet’s as some of the most hauntingly savory and tender in town; this version comes with a touch of caramelized garlic and a side of creamy risotto. Can’t decide on the many tempting options? Most of the pastas come in half-size portions–just ask your server.

Lunch is perhaps the most crowded time to sample the pleasures of Tulio, as the downtown power suits dine here en masse. But arrive at 1pm, and you’ll get a seat with no problem, and maybe even a glimpse of the chef, Walter Pisano, who named this lovely restaurant after his father. Breakfast is also another tempting option to consider. The rustic grilled bread ($13.95) with poached egg, mushroom tomato ragu, and basil Hollandaise is quite simply one of the most delicious spins on eggs Benedict you’ll find–and a rare vegetarian version.

Tulio is located on the ground floor of the Hotel Vintage Park, which is why it serves three meals a day. Take advantage of these generous hours to while away a full day here. The prices are quite low for food of this caliber, and you might even feel like you’re on vacation far, far away–if only for a few precious hours.
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Filed under Breakfast, Italian, Vegetarian Friendly

Poppy (update 1/9)

Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 3
Seattle's best dessert deal is Poppy's dessert thali

A recession-proof dessert deal: Poppy's dessert thali

Whatever your opinion of the thali platter, there’s no denying that the dessert thali at Poppy is one sweet deal. For $14 you get a choice of main dessert, ice cream, and sweet extras. An extra dollar will allow you two desserts. Pictured above is a thali with two desserts. Starting at noon and moving clockwise, is the aptly named Hot Date Cake with Banana Ice Cream–luscious enough to turn you on to the sexy combo of dates and bananas and possibly even your date, too, especially if he has a banana in his pocket; chocolate caramel truffle slices; Crackerjack (far, far better than the boxed kind); Nutter Butter squares (far, far better than the candy bar); chocolate chip cookies (save these for the next day, when you’ll appreciate them more); chocolate terrine (deep dark chocolate abyss, for die-hards only)…Between these desserts and the fabulously creative cocktail lineup, Poppy seems to be getting better and better…

Poppy, 12/6/08 update: The more you eat at Poppy, the more you gotta admire Jerry Traunfeld’s genius in the kitchen. And, yes, he really is a brilliant cook. So much so that his ambitious failures are usually far more interesting (and edible) than other chef’s plebeian successes.

At my second visit, I was no longer a thali newbie, but my husband was. This meant that while he was distracted by the novelty of little dishes presented on a circular tray, I wasn’t.  I also knew, based on my previous experience, that the regular thali would be far too much food for me, so I ordered the “smali” pictured above. My vegetarian smali had fewer little dishes than Mike’s full-size thali, which looked like this:Full-size thali at Poppy

Here’s how the dishes tasted, clockwise from noon: Chestnut soup with cardamom, vanilla and bay (yummy); BC scallop with savoy cabbage, cumin and apple (OK; scallop was a tad too chewy); five-seed kale (good); mushroom marjoram bread pudding (good, but some folks would call it stuffing); quail from the tandoor with pomegranate walnut sauce (beautifully cooked and flavored quail; sauce just OK); persimmon, chervil, and fennel salad (lovely, vibrant, original); shaved cauliflower with Buddha hand (good); satsuma mustard pickle (weirdly compelling and possibly addictive); rosemary-ginger yam with spiced coconut (OK);  coriander potato roll (a classic mixed marriage of Chinese eggroll wrapper with potato knish-like filling).

The reason I like the thali is also the same reason I don’t like the thali: All that variety of flavors and textures, on a single platter for $32, is an amazing bargain. Getting everything at once, however, forces you to eat quickly, or take small bites in quick succession. With so much to choose from, this means that some dishes won’t be eaten at their optimum temperature, especially if you eat slowly. The overall effect of this presentation made me feel like a giant at a buffet table set by Lilliputians.

In the case of this particular thali–cheekily titled “a thali for waxing gibbous”–I felt like a giant at a Lilliputian Thanksgiving. All the classic dishes were there, with a twist: stuffing (bread pudding); mashed yams; winter greens; weird but addictive sweet-sour condiment (satsuma pickle in place of cranberries); cauliflower; and even a tiny bird, roasted in its entirety.

But did it all work? Not really. But everything was interesting, fascinating, creative, original. Really, the main problem is the presentation: Forcing all those different dishes onto one platter, served at once, distracts from the distinctiveness of each component. Quite frankly, there are very few restaurants who could serve their entire prix fixe menu in this fashion and have it work. That Poppy fares as well as it does is a testimony to Traunfeld’s impressive culinary skills.

Which reminds me: We started out the evening rather traditionally, with an appetizer portion of the absolutely brilliant salt cod fritters. These emerged from the kitchen piping hot and perfect. And because it was the only thing on the table, we lavished our full attention, savoring each bite slowly. That kind of pace just isn’t possible with the thali.

I’m sure the thali concept is a difficult one to pull off on a daily basis, especially with the hordes of people who are still flocking to Poppy. (Kudos to the restaurant staff for warming up its attitude amidst the constant slam!) My hope is that when all the furor calms down, the thali idea can be tweaked to allow for more a la carte options and more breathing space between each tastes. The food here is too good to be its own distraction.

One last thing: Please, please, please Mr. Traunfeld! Ditch the chopsticks!

(previous writeup)
Jerry Traunfeld’s groovy new Poppy on Capitol Hill does a vaguely Indian riff on the mini-plates phenomenon, providing 8 little courses all on one large round platter (known as a “thali”). Technically the food was well-made and delicious (October 2008 visit), but I didn’t understand why everything had to be together on that cumbersome thali. Why couldn’t I just order what I wanted? And why were there chopsticks? And why naan, rice, AND potatoes? Good enough to merit another visit–though I’m not sure when I want to brave the novelty-crazed crowds again. Have heard from several sources that service is rather frosty. Ours was definitely on the chilly side too…

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Filed under Indian, Northwest, Vegetarian Friendly

Art of the Table

Repeatable: Yes! Visits:1

Every now and then comes a man who turns the status quo on its ear by promising change and delivering a difference, a man who inspires hope in humanity–and in the state of our collective tastebuds.  Last Thursday night, that man was Dustin Ronspies, chef-owner of Wallingford’s Art of the Table.

OK, so he’s not the second coming or even Obama, but he’s a much-needed breath of fresh air in the Seattle dining scene.

Having been to way too many overly hyped new restaurants this year, I was cautiously optimistic about AOTT. The reason for my optimism: Ronspies didn’t emerge from the incestuous, inbred pool of Seattle’s mostly mediocre restaurant kitchens, but, according to the Seattle Times, cooked on yachts and in the private kitchens of the ultra-wealthy all over the world. The man has experience cooking according to international standards–not local ones–a big plus for the four of us that night, who had eaten our way around the globe several times. (If you really want to learn what good is, you have to cut your teeth in New York, Tokyo, and Paris. After that, San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney, and London. Owning a yacht and megabucks doesn’t hurt, but doesn’t ensure good taste.)

Also on the plus side: Ronspies obviously isn’t plugged into the local PR machinery that whips local foodies into a rabid lather weeks before the paint even dries on a new restaurant. Instead, he opened AOTT as a catering joint a year and a half ago. Restaurant service started as a way of drawing in potential new catering clients. Suddenly, he had a full-fledged supper-club styled restaurant on his hands: One seating, by reservation only, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Four courses for about $55, paired with a flight of wines for an additional $35. A STEAL compared to what else is out there in similar recently opened, communal dining supper clubs (like Corson Building, where the food alone starts at $80.)

As I was saying, the four of us are not an easy bunch to please; we’ve been disappointed more often than not when dining out at the latest greatest in the local Seattle scene.

We were all very, very happy at Art of the Table. Here’s why:

Amuse bouche: Slices of chiogga beets with a whipped cheese in between, slice of orange on top.Beets, cheese poofs, frisee, orange sliceDelicious.

First course: Squash soup (made fantastic with hidden chicken stock and foie gras) with a scrumptious mound of chopped apple, pecan, leeks, and terrine with ancho chili cream (AMAZING)

Squash soupSecond Course: Kale, pancetta & Parmesan souffle with arugula salad. Ronspies, an utterly adorable man with no pretense and an obvious love of fresh ingredients, admitted these were the first unmolded souffles he had ever made. His candor is a refreshing as his honest food.Souffle

Palate Cleanser: Spaghetti squash sorbet with cinnamon. Unlikely ingredients, beautifully creamy result that tasted teasingly like persimmon and lychee. Quietly brilliant.

Third Course: Pan-seared black cod with fricassee of Autumn vegetables. Perfectly cooked fish. My friend Megumi, who hails from Tokyo and knows her fish, ate every scrap of this dish. The hash of veggies was wonderful: three different mushrooms, some root veggies, all beautifully cubed and cooked to perfect doneness. Alas, the picture got muddled, so I can’t share it.

Fourth Course: Port-poached pear with a sneezy-delicious Vietnamese cinnamon (my least favorite part, as the pears were too hard), chocolate ganache crepes (yum), and pistachio ice cream (to die for).

Ronspies is so modest that he doesn’t trumpet what many other restaurateurs scream out: He sources all his food from farmer’s markets; he cooks mostly organic; he maintains his own charcuterie (his own pancetta was in the souffle); he makes his own ice cream and sorbet. He even serves and washes his own dishes.

Much to my delight, AOTT has a long list of craft beers; I got a light Pilsener from Germany (Pilseners are the Champagnes of the beer world) that hit the spot nicely. (Can someone please do beer/food pairings and offer flights of beers with each course?).

That’s about it–for now. I’ll be returning to AOTT soon and will update this post with more details and more info about my new favorite chef in Seattle.

NB: Forgot to mention the other day that Ronspies comes out before each course to describe its ingredients. He taps a little gong beforehand. Megumi tittered with delight each time he did it; other folks might find the gong annoying. I am TERRIBLE at sitting through long, multi-course meals with descriptions–last summer, I bolted from a dinner at the Inn at Langley just before dessert, much to my husband’s embarrassment. However, Ronspies makes the whole experience feel authentic and necessary–not forced. The gong isn’t a shtick so much as a useful, low-key way of getting everyone’s attention quickly.
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Filed under Northwest, Organic Friendly, Vegetarian Friendly