Tag Archives: Northwest

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:
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)
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!

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Filed under Bar, Breakfast, Casual, Northwest


Repeatable: See note below. Visits: 4+

Peter Canlis Prawns, from www.canlis.com

Peter Canlis Prawns, from http://www.canlis.com

In Seattle’s closetful of restaurants, Canlis is the Chanel suit: flawlessly finished, tailor-made for special occasions, the epitome of timeless style trumping fleeting fashion.

Which is why I chose to celebrate my 40th birthday there. And why I threw a surprise party for my father up in the loft when he turned 70. And why I happily paid through the nose to buy a seat at Canlis’s 55th birthday celebration in 2005. And why my husband and I, whenever we wanted a special night out, would slip into the bar and eat dinner next to the piano, without a reservation.

I’ve been a regular there for the past 10 years, and the Canlis’s know it.

Which is why I visited the restaurant 4 times in the past two months before writing this. Because I wanted to make damn sure I got it right. And because I wanted to taste everything on the new menu, courtesy of new chef Jason Franey, who took over in December.

And I did taste everything.

Even though I wish ….

The rest of this review will be gone until the end of May. Check back then for the missing half as well as for the reasons why it left in the first (and second) place….

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Filed under Northwest, Seafood, Steak


Repeatable: Yes. Visits: 1

Crush's "Bacon and eggs"

Crush's "Bacon and Eggs"

Crush is probably one of the best restaurants in the Puget Sound. So why can’t I just spit it out and say it? Why do I need to go back to confirm this hunch? Because, to be fair, my first and so far only experience there was a tad handicapped by our foursome’s gluttonous decision to go for the 9-course prix fixe presentation. Also, Jason Wilson wasn’t cooking that night–his chef de cuisine was.

Hard to believe, but decadent multi-course meals can have downsides. When there’s too much of a good thing, dishes that come later in the lineup often fail to match the glory of earlier ones, simply because one is too full to appreciate them. It’s possible, as well, that those later dishes just aren’t as good–but who can judge accurately or fairly when stuffed to the gills?

Take, for example, the first four courses of our evening, which arrived in well-timed precision after we had inhaled our gougeres (tiny airy puffs):

1) A demi-tasse of mushroom-onion broth with Oregon black truffle. Quietly intense and very nice.

2) “Bacon and eggs:” Tiny globules of smoked salmon roe that exploded against the silken sweetness of parsnip flan. Adding visual interest and crunch were tiny crisps of prosciutto bacon. Whimsical and decadent.

3) Seared hamachi. This sliver of fish was perfectly cooked, with a thin ribbon of pink in the center. The rich buttery sauce that accented it was lovely.

4) Lobster claw with gnocchi: Ethereal little dumplings, with barely poached claw meat on top. Technically an impressive dish, but not exactly as loveable as those bacon and eggs.

At this point in the meal, we were all quite impressed, and while we were no longer hungry, there was still plenty of room in the belly. The potential monotony of everyone eating the same dishes was partially alleviated by the female half of the table asking for “lighter” fare. The next two courses diverged–as did the matching flights of wine (and for $70 per flight, they better have).

5) Girl food: Hawaiian mero sea bass. This sauteed fish had a gorgeously crispy exterior; the accompanying hedgehog mushrooms added a lovely musky note.

Guy food: Cuttlefish tagliatelle with a rich creamy scallop sauce. I tasted a forkful of pasta and was struck by how very rich and unctuous it was. I didn’t love it.

6) Girl food: Impossibly soft roasted calamari with rounds of sausage, potato, and onion. The clean smoky and savory flavors of this dish were indeed a heckuva lot lighter than what the guys got.

Guy food: A huge quivering lobe of foie gras with brioche and an intensely jammy sauce of quince whose sweet-tartness made me wince after the subtle flavors of the calamari. The portion size on this serving was so huge, it could have served as an entree.

By this point, I was done for.  If it hadn’t been so cold, I would’ve been wearing my usual eating dress, with its forgiving empire waist. Instead I was wearing a very tight pair of jeans with a belt. Said belt refused to allow any more than a couple bites of the next two courses–a restriction I didn’t exactly lament.

7) Girl food: Slices of duck breast prepared sous vide with savory and chewy grains of farro. I’m not exactly a fan of sous vide poaching and its resulting soft gooey texture of steamed flesh. I also happen to prefer gamey meats cooked through–call me crazy. So I only ate a couple bites of the duck. But the farro–yummy! This chewy wild Italian wheat was delightfully toothsome and beautifully flavored. I had no problem eating all two tablespoons of it.

Guy food: The saddle of lamb with lamb sausage was a great dish. I especially enjoyed biting into the tiny sausage; it snapped with juicy, fatty flavor. A plate of those little sausages and a plate of farro, and I would have been very happy.

8) Girl’s dish: Rabbit terrine wrapped around rabbit loin, prepared sous vide. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a fan of the sous-vide texture. In this case, the terrine was fine, but the loin was alarmingly pink and raw looking. Wrapped in some kind of leafy green (spinach?) and then sliced into rounds, this dish looked exactly like rabbit sushi–if there were such a thing. Did I mention already that I have an odd thing about game being thoroughly cooked through? I nibbled. Enough already.

 Guy food: Painted Hills Farm beef tenderloin with bone marrow sauce, baby carrots, and mashed potato. The beef was tender and juicy and infused with flavors from the wine sauce. Was it amazing? Maybe–I was so drunk on food by this point, I thought it was just OK.

9) Blue cheese, wine poached pear slice, toasted fruit nut bread. Fine. But does a 9-course meal really need a cheese course at this point?

10) Grapefruit and elderberry sorbet with sugary crumbles: The sorbet was too sweet and tangy to work well as a palate cleanser; those sugary crumbles sure were addictive.

I was absolutely sure by this point that we were done–but no, there was another dessert. Some sort of tiny bundt-like cake. I knew I wouldn’t eat more than a spoonful, so I asked the waiter to pack mine while I tasted my husband’s.

Not a bundt but a chocolatey mousse-y thing enrobed in a thin crust of chocolate with a crushed hazelnut layer on the bottom–f*ing gorgeous. I scarfed half of it down and didn’t notice the belt digging into my waist at all. I also ate all my little after-dinner petit fours–two coin-sized cookies, a caramel, and a marshmallow–even though they weren’t nearly as brilliant as that mousse cake.

Before I end this extremely lengthy post, I need to return to my subject and mention a couple more downsides to prix fixe dining. 1) Investment of time: All of this took almost 4 hours. 2) Investment of resources: Dinner was $125/person, with a $70 supplement for the accompanying flight of matched wines.  It was what it was. To put it into context, I’ve paid more and less for food of similar quality.

Next time, I’m heading straight for the bar seats, and I’m ordering a la carte.
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Steelhead Diner

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 1

Red Beans & Rice with Chickn Andouille Gumbo

Red Beans & Rice with Chicken Andouille Gumbo

Most Seattleites eventually make it to the Pike Place Market at some point during the year, usually with kids and visitors in tow. During these rare visits, you don’t want to wait forever for a seat at Matt’s in the Market and you don’t really want to walk in the street dripping take-out down the front of your shirt either.

So you go to Steelhead Diner, a large, well-lit space next to the northern entrance to Pike Alley that’s been open for almost two years. The adorable owners, Kevin and Terresa Davis, have spent considerable amounts of time in the same places I’ve spent considerable amounts of time, so maybe that’s why diving into the deep menu felt like plunging into a pool of nostalgia.

Taste of New Orleans: Chef Kevin survived his start in the kitchens of the legendary Arnaud’s, one of the Crescent City’s most storied restaurants (he would fall back on that experience when he opened Sazerac in Seattle). Thankfully, none of Arnaud’s high-falutin’ Creole cooking is found here–just the down-home easy-going goodness of Cajun classics like chicken gumbo ($6.95, real and real good), rice and beans ($4.95, oh, my! properly cooked beans! without cumin! heaven!), and “dressed” po-boy styled sandwiches (means with all the fixin’s, like shredded lettuce, ketchup, mayo, etc.). There’s even junk food, a la “poutine,” french fries with gravy and cheese curds ($7.95). All this stuff really, really made me miss N’awlins.

Fish with Flair: The kitchen’s deft hand with seafood is most likely the result of the chef’s 5-year stint at the helm of Oceanaire, one of Seattle’s most reliable seafood restaurants, despite  (or maybe because of) the fact that it’s  part of a boutique chain. The jumbo lump Dungeness crab cake ($14.95) was a lightly formed patty of crab meat, with a piquant bit of sauce Louis (another Nawlins import; think mayo kicked up a notch). Delicious.  The Totten Inlet mussels in Purgatory ($12.95) were definitely hellish–with salt. The spices and flavors of chorizo, garlic, serrano, basil, and orange zest were tantalizingly promising–but someone had clearly made a mistake and dumped an extra teaspoon of salt into the batch and almost ruined it. I say almost because I still finished it, even though I needed to suck down most of my beer doing so.

California Dreamin’: The couple’s time in Napa–he in the fabulous kitchen of Tra Vigne–is evident in dishes like the crispy pork shank carnitas ($9.95), two tender legs served with a plate of corn tortillas. I think I would have enjoyed this dish a lot more if I hadn’t gorged on rice and beans and gumbo first. In an attempt to inject lightness into the meal, I got a plate of organic lettuce slalad with Chukar cherries, goat cheese, spiced walnuts, and white balsamic vinaigrette ($7.95).  Alas, it was overly dressed, so I didn’t get any respite from all the bold flavors at the table. The plate of pan-roasted brussel sprouts, however, were superb ($7.95).

One of the kids at our table got the so-ubiquitous-it-might-as-well-be-diner-fare kasu black cod ($19.95 for a half-portion), which was flaky, moist, well-flavored, and perfect. The real kid’s meals were impressive: a hand-shaped hamburger on french roll and grilled cheese on thick slices of herbed bread. Beecher’s mac ‘n’ cheese was also an option for the wee ones, but I know from experience that my kids won’t touch it–it’s “too cheesy” for their tastes.

So would I repeat the experience? I think so. I’ve barely skimmed the menu, and I haven’t tried any of the po-boys yet. Be forewarned that despite the moniker, this high-end grub ain’t exactly diner fare. And like all restaurants in the Market, prices here aren’t exactly a bargain. On the other hand, the place is open 11am-10pm ALL DAY every day, in true diner fashion. I just love knowing I can pop in and get a bowl of gumbo at 2pm  if I want to.
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Filed under Casual, Kid Friendly, Northwest

Spring Hill

Repeatable: Maybe. Visits: 1

Ovaltine, Cinnamon Toast, Salty Popcorn Ice Cream with Chocolate Cake

Ovaltine, Cinnamon Toast, Salty Popcorn Ice Cream with Chocolate Cake

I used to live in West Seattle, so believe me when I say the place has changed a lot in 10 years. The Junction in particular has really spiffed up, sparkling with shiny new boutiques  selling chic designer clothing and high-end bric-a-brac.

The gastronomical version of this uptown-girl shift was the opening of Spring Hill earlier this year (2008).  Strategically located in the heart of this gentrified corridor, Spring Hill is a major new restaurant for West Seattle. I’d probably take the geographical qualifier out and say that Spring Hill is a major restaurant by the rest of Seattle’s standards as well. (Some folks might consider that damning with faint praise.)

By virtue of decor alone, Spring Hill is a major restaurant. The space, all sleek blonde wood and smooth shiny surfaces, is a long rectangle divided into an open kitchen/bar on the right and dining area on the left. Sounds sterile, but all this sleekness is actually comfy and inviting too. So much so that the space begs to be jammed with bodies–and it was.

As a drinking hole, Spring Hill provides the perfect ambience. The bar and drink menu are creative and fancy enough to attract well-heeled bar-hoppers. The dinner menu, too, favors noshing over serious dining. The appetizers are generous enough–and rich enough–to sate most average appetites. It took forever to dig through my huge bowl of clams and pork belly ($12)(tsk, a dead crustacean hadn’t been picked out). Despite all the chunks of this and squirts of that and general paprika-redness of the sauce, the primary flavor was that of salt–not in a bad way, just surprising given how complicated the dish looked.

Shrimp with grits ($14) came atop a soft poached egg; the slightly undercooked shrimp reinforced the dish’s soft, quivering textures. The grits were more cream sauce than grits–or maybe that was the shrimp gravy and I didn’t get any grits? Confusing. The duck egg raviolo ($9) was all runny yolk and unctuous richness. These two dishes would have been perfect for someone with bad teeth.

As one of the servers cleared our plates, she asked if we were done or if we were having entrees as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than half their customers stop short at the apps. They’d be well-advised to.

Mike’s braised short ribs with dumplings ($26) were fine, if uninspiring; the brussel sprout leaves were absolutely delicious–brightened in a perfect way by Italian parsley. My tagliatelle ($20) with mushroom, chard, and slices of undercooked Delicata squash would have been much better if the squash had been less crunchy. The dish was snowed under by a mound of Parmesan–intended to  boost its flavor, I think. A bit disappointing, but not too bad.

Dessert was ordered out of a sense of duty. I’m glad we did. The trio of ice cream–cinnamon toast, Ovaltine, and salty popcorn–was the highlight of the meal. The salty popcorn tasted just like kettle corn and reminded me very pleasantly of the corn ice cream in Southern Mexico. The only unnerving detail was that one of the flavors seemed to have grease, which congealed onto my spoon in an annoying fashion.

Will I brave the bridge and go back to Spring Hill for another try? Maybe not. But if I happen to be in West Seattle shopping at one of those little boutiques, I know where I’m going to get my dinner.
Spring Hill on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Northwest, Seafood


Repeatable: No! Visits: 1

I dragged my husband to Quinn’s for lunch yesterday–the New York Times had just mentioned it, so I was curious. (The NYT is usually wrong about Seattle restaurants, by the way, so reader beware!) He didn’t want to go because he had “the worst meal of his life” there with some friends three weeks ago. (They had ordered everything on the menu; it was all “gross.” I quote: “Sausage that tasted like a stick of salt. Pate that tasted like cat food. Please, I’m trying to forget the experience.”)

He very reluctantly agreed to have lunch, reasoning that it would be a different cook. He dropped his fork. “Oh no, it’s the same person!”

My jaw dropped at how disgusting the food was. The bread salad ($8) tasted like it had been dressed with fryer oil, and an unmistakable whiff of creosote emanated from it. The croutons were soggy–and not with dressing. The pathetic and barely prepped hunks of iceberg lettuce were piled high on the plate, with a lone olive half and a tomato chunk that was far from ripe. Ugh. After three bites–enough to confirm the rancid fat flavor–I, too, dropped my fork.

As for the “grilled ham and Gruyere sandwich” ($8)–my 6 year old could have done better. It looked like it had been slapped together by a giant and a pygmy trying to meet in the middle; the two pieces of bread were off by half their width. Globs of mayo dripped from the edges. Fries were somehow overcooked AND limp and greasy at the same time.

I usually eat everything. I’m the type of person who eats airplane food happily. But this swill? Unbelievable. The whole experience was so repellent I was fascinated by it, kind of like needing to stare at a gruesome accident scene. I can’t wait to go back again–when restaurants are this bad, they make for great entertainment–but my husband absolutely refuses. Hands down the worst meal I’ve tried to eat this year.

Quinn's on Urbanspoon


Filed under Casual, Northwest, Pub Fare

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