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Food Notes

[Photographs by Michael Hansen for The New York Times]

I have several different items to write about and limited time, so I’ll collect them all in one post and write briefly about each.

1. You probably saw the article on the front page of the NYT food section yesterday about the omnipresence of teriyaki restaurants in Seattle, but in case you didn’t, go directly to this link. Have I lived here too long? (This is my 29th year.) It never occurred to me that the ubiquity of cheap, fast-food teriyaki places is anything other than completely normal. Doesn’t everybody have them? Our standard place is Teriyaki Bowl, more commonly called T-Bowl. Not the one pictured in the photo above that I borrowed from the NYT, but one just down the street on Madison, by its intersection with Lake Washington Boulevard at the south end of the Arboretum. My standard order is spicy beef teriyaki with brown rice. The brown rice comes with an upcharge of a dollar. Gail gets the chicken breast teriyaki with brown rice. And we split an order of gyoza, 3 1/2 pieces apiece. We ate at T-Bowl our very first night in this house, sixteen years ago this past November, since we couldn’t do anything in the kitchen yet and it was the closest and fastest restaurant to our house. For years after that we didn’t go back. But it’s a short walk from Joel’s old school and at some point earlier this decade he would go there with his friends, so he got us re-interested in the place. Plus, its phone number is so easy to remember, one of the few I’ve learned in the last decade: 324-3224.

2. My old friend Mike came in from Boston Sunday evening and stayed with us until his overnight flight to New York on Tuesday. His presence became the excuse for three great meals. He was supposed to get in before 3:00 on Sunday afternoon, so the plan was to eat an early dinner at our house before going downtown for the opening session of the meeting he was attending. Snow in Boston delayed his 7 AM flight by 2 hours, leading to a missed connection in Houston and a 2-hour delay getting here. The result was that he went straight to the meeting from the airport, we ate dinner without him, then I picked him up downtown and we watched him eat the leftovers. Gail made a squash soup, pastitsio, and chard. Each was terrific, especially the pastitsio, which Gail hadn’t made before. There was no chard left for Mike, but he had soup and pastitsio. I had some pastitsio too, and more for breakfast on Monday.

Monday, Gail made dinner again, even though she had a meeting that night and wouldn’t get home for dinner until 9:30. After Gail left, I finished the meal preparation. When Mike came back from his meeting downtown, he and Joel and I got to eat another terrific meal: braised short ribs served on polenta, a green salad, and a lemon tart for dessert. Joel did a lovely job plating the meal.

Tuesday we met Mike downtown after his meeting and drove him to Il Terrazzo Carmine for dinner before taking him to the airport. Yet another great meal, at one of our favorite restaurants, where we hadn’t been since my birthday dinner last February. (Something seems to have gone wrong with the photo that should be at the top of it.) It was just the four of us — Mike, Gail, Joel, and me — though this was the first time we got to eat together as a foursome. I had a small portion of the Cannelloni Fiorentina (pasta tubes with veal, ricotta, spinach and salsa rosa) as my appetizer and the Filetto Con Pancetta & Pignoli (beef tenderloin “Angus”, pine nuts, pancetta Barolo wine sauce, served with shoestring potatoes) as my main dish. For dessert, I shared a crème brulée with Joel (who also helped Gail out by sharing cannoli with her). On our way out, I asked Gail my standard question whenever we leave. “Why don’t we come here more often?” We’re always happy, and even though it’s in Pioneer Square, parking is easy. They take over an adjacent, otherwise-empty parking garage after 5:00 each evening, providing free valet parking. You drive in, leave your car with the attendant, walk 35 feet across an alley to the front door, and you’re in.

Without Mike, we returned to real life yesterday, but we still didn’t do too badly on dinner. Joel hadn’t been to Northlake Tavern and Pizza House in many months, and we hadn’t been ourselves in three, so off we went. Of course, it’s not the same without our friend Russ. Northlake is his clubhouse third office. When we go, we usually find him there, working or meeting students or just taking it easy. Well, I suppose he’s never just taking it easy. But he’s on sabbatical this quarter and off to better places. We had to eat without him. Still, it was pretty good.

3. I wonder what #3 was going to be. I’ve completely forgotten. I tell you what. I’ll make a sandwich out of this post, with NYT food articles from yesterday on top and bottom. In addition to the Seattle teriyaki article, I refer you to Sam Sifton’s weekly restaurant review, this one of Casa Lever, on the ground floor of Lever House on Park Avenue. See the slide show too. Below I quote Sifton’s closing paragraphs. They make me eager to eat there. Or to go back to Milan, where we had such a wonderful dinner on Gail’s birthday two months ago.

But ravioli with sausage and burrata, draped in a fennel purée, is wonderful: creamy with a slight bite. There is a fine saffron risotto most notable for the pile of pulled veal that sits atop it, rich and salty, thick with fat. And spaghetti with little Manila clams and fresh tomatoes is a classic of the form.

A sensible person might make a meal out of the above and avoid the high prices of Casa Lever’s meat and fish courses. These are meant to sate those who don’t look at menu prices. But there are splurges worth the price: veal Milanese, for instance, pounded wide and fried with a rare excellence. Also terrific lamb chops with polenta and dark, rustic mushrooms strewn alongside them.

The restaurant’s bone-in New York strip is roughly the size of a hardcover Italian-English dictionary. It’s cooked crusty and rich, as if for an audition at Peter Luger. It’s excellent. So too is the Dover sole, with a Dijon sauce, vacationing from France and perfect alongside a glass of fragrant Ciallabianco, from Ronchi di Cialla in Friuli.

Desserts are worthy of Sant Ambroeus: marvelous sorbetti and towering gianduja of hazelnut and chocolate; truffles of chocolate sorbet, with orange gelée; even just a serving of cut fruit, designed for ladies who continue to lunch.

None of the food at Casa Lever is particularly groundbreaking. It owes little to the recent trend toward Italian cooking of the sort found at Marea or Del Posto, all towering ambition and crazy imagination. That’s all right. People used to say the thing about Italian cuisine was that it is mostly just excellent ingredients served plain on a plate, without much interpretation. Sometimes that’s worth recalling over just such a meal, in a beautiful room.

Categories: Food, Restaurants
  1. russmcduff
    January 8, 2010 at 11:55 PM

    “Clubhouse”? My “third office”…

    • Ron
      January 9, 2010 at 8:29 AM

      My apologies. Correction made.

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