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Bar Cantinetta

May 4, 2014 Leave a comment

barcantinetta

I completely forgot that I started a post two and a half weeks ago about our dinner at Bar Cantinetta three weeks ago. Let me finish what will be an abbreviated version of the post, since the alternative may be no post at all.

Bar Cantinetta opened last summer, replacing one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, La Cote, the subject of several posts (for instance, this one). It is the younger sibling of Cantinetta, which opened in the Wallingford neighborhood in 2009 to excellent reviews. The Seattle Times called Cantinetta a “powerfully evocative slice of Italy” whose “efforts combine a wonderful balance of flavors with an element of surprise.”

We have yet to eat at Cantinetta, but with Bar Cantinetta so close, we were eager to try it. Here’s its website self-description:

The Madison Valley neighborhood in Seattle is a beautiful setting for friends and family to gather at ease. The warmth of our room inspires celebration and conviviality.

We opened Bar Cantinetta on August 24, 2013. We are a cozy neighborhood pastaria emphasizing Tuscan culinary traditions, authentic hand-made pasta, and seasonal organic ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. To serve you with excellence is the essence at Bar Cantinetta.

Let’s see if by looking at the menu, I’ll remember what we ate.

I must have started with the mixed salad. Gail had the Dungeness crab, Joel the beef tartare. We were all happy. Like Cantinetta, they offer a very limited selection of entrees. There were four pasta choices (the “primi”) and one secondi, which was halibut. We all went with pasta: Joel the tagliolini rosso, romanesco, olivi, ricotta salata; Gail the risotto, charred ramps, house-made fennel sausage; and me the orecchietti, Anderson braised lamb, spring nettles. The one pasta dish we passed up was ricotta spinach gnudi, preserved tomato, guanciale. I didn’t know what gnudi was, but Gail said it is a type of gnocchi and the server confirmed this.

The restaurant was dead empty while we were there, perhaps not surprising given that we arrived just after they opened for the afternoon/evening. The one exception to the emptiness was the arrival of a family about twenty minutes after us: a father, mother, and two daughters. Given that both parents were wearing Mariners hats and shirts, it’s a safe bet they had come straight from the afternoon baseball game, in search of an early dinner. Alas, they couldn’t make heads or tails of the menu items. And once the server helped them make heads and tails, they weren’t all that pleased. Or at least the father wasn’t. I can understand. Risotto and ramps? Orecchietti and nettles? Not everyone’s idea of attractive pasta dishes. (And what are ramps, anyway?) After spirited discussion, they took off, leaving us to ourselves again.

As for us, we were happy. The pasta itself is excellent, as advertised. Nettles? They were interesting.

I’ll confess, I’m probably happier at another neighborhood Italian restaurant, Cafe Parco, which I wrote about three Januarys ago and again last summer. This year we have become monthly regulars. I love their carbonara, which I would happily order every time. I did manage to tear myself away from it once and try the veal scaloppine, a fine alternative.

Cafe Parco is a two-person operation, owner-chef Celinda in the kitchen and the delightful Nic in front. We tell Nic what we want to spend on wine and Celinda chooses it for us. We’ve never been steered wrong. Next Sunday, we’ll celebrate Mother’s Day with their weekend brunch. Can’t wait.

Categories: Restaurants

Seattle Sommeliers

April 27, 2014 Leave a comment

cakebreadred

Who knew? We live in a sommelier hotbed. Lettie Teague’s weekly wine column in yesterday’s WSJ is devoted to Seattle, Land of the Serious Sommeliers. The article is subtitled, “a lovably nerdy mind set has helped the city in the Pacific Northwest become a wine lover’s destination,” and in it I learned that our “knowledge-hungry professionals have put together some of the country’s most inventive restaurant wine lists, and turned Seattle from a casual-dining town into a top destination for oenophiles.”

Perhaps you are familiar with the Court of Master Sommeliers. According to its website,

the Court of Master Sommeliers was established to encourage improved standards of beverage knowledge and service in hotels and restaurants. Education was then, and remains today, the Court’s charter. The first successful Master Sommelier examination was held in the United Kingdom in 1969. By April 1977, the Court of Master Sommeliers was established as the premier international examining body.

It offers four levels of sommelier examination: introductory, certified, advanced, and master.

The Court’s examination director, Shayn Bjornholm, lives in Seattle and was once the wine director at one of Seattle’s finest restaurants, Canlis. In the WSJ article, Bjornholm explains that “sommeliers in Seattle understand that there is no way they can compete with a city like New York in terms of access to great wines, but they can aspire to be Master Sommeliers. … Seattle has become one of the great places to get your Master Sommelier degree because of its altruistic, pay-it-forward mentality. People want to do well, make a name for themselves, but not at the expense of the community.”

The article features four sommeliers. The last one to be quoted—and to have his photo displayed—is our favorite local sommelier, the Georgian Room‘s Joseph Linder. That he is our favorite isn’t saying much, since he’s the only sommelier we presume to have any sort of connection to. We were married in the Olympic Hotel. The Georgian Room is their restaurant, and the one at which we celebrate our anniversary more years than not. When we do, we enjoy chatting with Joseph, who has appeared in past posts. Thus it was a special pleasure to come upon his face while reading the article. Here’s the relevant passage:

Despite the culture of education and accomplishment that thrives in Seattle, Mr. Tanghe [sommelier at Aragona] insisted that it was the city’s good quality of life that did the best job of facilitating residents’ commitment to learning about wine. “A balanced life is a priority,” he said.

This was likely the only time that I’ve ever heard a sommelier use the word “balance” to describe his life, and not a wine. It was also a refrain I heard several times during my visit. For Joseph Linder, a Master Sommelier and wine director at Seattle’s Fairmont Olympic Hotel, a balanced life was “critical.”

Mr. Linder, 54, said he has experienced an unbalanced life working in places like Paris, London and New York. When he was a captain at Le Bernardin in New York, he worked from nine in the morning until midnight. Life isn’t like that in Seattle. “You have more time to be part of the community—and to study, of course,” he said.

Our dinnertime approaches. Time for me to play resident sommelier and select tonight’s wine.

I’m choosing the Cakebread Cellars 2005 Dancing Bear Red that we’ve had in the cellar for a few years. It’s a cab-cab blend, 94% cab sauvignon and 6% cab franc. Here’s the winemaker tasting note:

Reflecting its mountain terroir, our 2005 Dancing Bear Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon displays fresh, high-toned floral aromas mingled with ripe, spicy, brambleberry fruit tones and earthy/truffle-y scents. (Julianne compares the aroma to walking through a forest after a warm summer rain). In the mouth, the wine is intense and concentrated, with a core of beautifully pure wild cherry fruit, yet its texture is supple and elegant. Beautifully structured and amazingly focused, it culminates in a long, savory finish full of rich dark chocolate and mineral tones. While Dancing Bear Ranch is tantalizingly delicious now, it will evolve beautifully in bottle over the next 8-10 years.

Postscript: We’ve had dinner. The wine was excellent.

Categories: Restaurants, Wine

La Grenouille, 3

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

lagrenouille

A year ago almost to the day I wrote about our celebration of my mother’s 93rd birthday at New York’s great French restaurant La Grenouille. (A little over four years ago, I wrote about La Grenouille on the overlapping occasions of my parents’ celebrating their 68th anniversary there and the NYT offering a new review of it.)

Well, we ate there again, last weekend, on the occasion of my mother’s 94th birthday. Another wonderful meal.

The restaurant website appears to be in a state of transition. It’s not working now, or I’d link to the menu. Gail and I both started with Le Potage Saint Germain, or split green pea soup, which was sublime. The waiter brought croutons to dish into it. Maybe the best croutons I ever had. Joel had salmon tartare. For our main course, Gail and I both chose the onglet, or hanger steak, which was served with a light, pureed, mashed potato. Joel had calf’s liver. I was tempted to have the grilled Dover sole with mustard sauce, for which they are famous, but had it last year and decided to do something different. (Oh, I see now that last year I had the split pea soup. I had forgotten. But it’s so good. I’m glad I had it again.)

Shortly after ordering, before any food came, the waiter returned to ask if we wished to have any hot desserts: soufflés or apple tart. The soufflé choices were Grand Marnier, chocolate, and something else. Well, looking at last year’s post, I see that I wrote, “According to the menu, there are three options: Grand Marnier, Chocolat ou Citron ‘Meyer’. Other options offered were an apple tart and a tarte tatin.” I suppose the options last week were the same. Gail chose a chocolate soufflé, Joel the Grand Marnier, me the apple tart.

It doesn’t seem that I have much to add to what I wrote a year ago, when I concluded that “the meal was delicious, the service both warm and unobtrusive.” One difference: I wrote then that “I’ll be happy not to wait another 35 years before returning.” Happy indeed, after waiting just one year. And boy what good bread they have!

Categories: Family, Restaurants

Local 360: Feeling Old

March 23, 2014 Leave a comment

local360

The northeast Seattle neighborhood where we once lived is home to the Wedgwood Broiler, a modest steakhouse that I still love to return to, if for no other reason than that there’s still a good chance, even twenty years after we moved away, that we’ll be the youngest people in the dining room. Indeed, we were there for dinner just a month ago and I didn’t notice anyone younger.*

Now we know where to go when we want the opposite experience. Our friends Tom and Carol are in from Edinburgh as houseguests, and two nights ago they were discussing with Gail and Joel (I was out) where we might go for dinner last night. Joel suggested Local 360, which despite taking over the old Flying Fish location in Belltown a few years ago, just a few blocks south of Jessica’s condo, was news to Gail and me. After reading up on the place and studying the menu, we decided to reserve.

From the homepage, one learns that they

believe in real food, grown and harvested by the good folks in our community who take care of their land for future generations. We believe in whole, natural flavors. We believe in sustainability, not as an abstract concept, but as a conscious daily choice. We believe in hands; the hands of our local farmers, products made by hand, and the goodwill fostered by such hand-in-hand relationships.

As for “360”, which makes me think of angle measure, not distance, it turns out to be the radius of the circle from which they aim to source their food.

From arugula to zucchini, our goal is to source everything we use from within a 360 mile radius of Seattle. At times, this will not be possible — in spite of its popularity, coffee still does not grow in the great Pacific Northwest, and we have yet to find a sugarcane field in our neck of the woods.

We had a surprisingly arduous journey downtown, and parking in Belltown is never straightforward, all of which served to remind me why we rarely go down there to eat. But we made it just five minutes late, and squeezed into the entry area, which was filled with people hoping to get tables despite no reservations. Two parties were told the wait was well over an hour, they left, we checked in, and were led to a booth near the back. There’s an open kitchen straight back, and a stairway near our table that leads to a balcony with more seating. It’s an efficient layout, with a string of booths tucked in under the balcony.

You can see the menu here. We shared some starters and small plates: the Grand Central baguette with whipped butter and sea salt (one has to order this if one wants bread), the deviled eggs, and the “Tender greens, farmer’s veggies, green goddess.” For entrees, Gail and Tom both chose the Chef’s Cut of the Night, which was fresh halibut with a salsa verde. Carol went for the Butcher’s grind house burger, with the “add cheese & bacon” option, and I chose steak frites with red wine butter sauce and aioli.

I couldn’t have been happier. The steak was better quality than I expected (at the given price) and the fries were excellent. Tom enjoyed his fish, but Gail thought hers a bit dry, and Carol found the burger overwhelming. A little too much to manage, with a bun that got soggy.

As I was finishing my steak, I realized that everyone I had seen—customers, cooks, and servers alike—seemed to be less than half my age. The people crowding the entry area at the beginning were more like a third my age. I could see two adults who might have been forty. Everyone else was under thirty. Tom pointed out that there was a bald guy at the bar, but when I took a closer look on our departure, I thought the baldness might have been a style choice, not an age indicator.

Go figure. Nothing about the menu or the restaurant philosophy suggests that it caters to a younger crowd. Time of day? Day of the week? I don’t know. It’s enough to send me back to Wedgwood, where the parking is easier and the staff has been there for decades.

But on to dessert. I chose the intriguing PB&J Bon Bons, Milk Shooter. It turned out to be three peanut butter balls breaded and heated, then placed on top of little jam circles. Bite into each ball and hot liquidy peanut butter pours out. Getting the jam to stick to the ball rather than the plate was a little tricky. I had to scoop it up with my spoon and try to get it all to mix in my mouth. Gail had the apple fritters with vanilla ice cream and bacon brittle. I took a small bite of a fritter, thought it good, but Gail didn’t seem so happy. Carol ordered a scoop of Olympic Mountain blueberry ice cream, served with two small snicker doodles. She pointed out to our server that the cookies were burnt on the bottom, to which the server responded by apologizing and, a few minutes later, bringing out two unburnt ones. I’ve never seen burning as an impediment to cookie eating, so I swooped in and ate the originals.

That was that. Age issues aside, I quite liked my meal. Gail, less so.

*The wedgwoodbroiler.com link that google directs me to doesn’t work at the moment, so either the site is temporarily down or gone altogether. Hence, I can’t direct you there for background reading. You might look here, where Mike Seely describes the Broiler as “the quintessential suburban American restaurant of the 1970s. Only it’s located within Seattle’s city limits, and it’s not the ’70s anymore.

Categories: Life, Restaurants

Szmania’s

October 27, 2013 Leave a comment

szmanias

This post is two weeks overdue. I’ll be brief, the details having faded, but I did want to mention our dinner two weeks ago at Szmania’s.

Szmania’s has been a fixture in the Seattle neighborhood of Magnolia for over two decades and is one of the best German restaurants in the city. (There aren’t many.) Magnolia is sufficiently far away that we don’t tend to drive there just to eat. And when we do find ourselves there, we head to El Ranchon, the Mexican restaurant where Gail dined on a weekly basis when she worked in Magnolia years ago. We drive down the main street, park, I stare longingly at Szmania’s, and off we go to El Ranchon.

That changed three Thanksgiving weekends ago, though not by choice. It was Thanksgiving Friday, we weren’t far, so Gail suggested we swing by El Ranchon, which we did. Only thing is, they were closed for the weekend for a kitchen renovation. We had no choice but to go elsewhere. Szmania’s at last. Joel was with us and we had an excellent meal. Almost three years later—two weeks ago—we ate at Szmania’s again, this time with Tricia, Dwight, and their daughters plus Laura and Bill to celebrate the life of Tricia’s late mother.

Before leaving my office that afternoon to get Gail at home and drive over, I learned from Rose that Szmania’s was no longer a German restaurant. It had become a steakhouse. That was disappointing. And also, as it turns out, not quite true, at least not during October. All month long, they have a special Oktoberfest menu. From the website:

OKTOBERFEST SZMANIA-STYLE 2013

Celebration of all things Germany!

It’s Chef Ludger’s favorite time of year to prepare all his favorite dishes from his homeland– Sauerbraten, Schnitzel, Schweinshaxe, Sauerkraut, Suppe, Salat and Wursts galore. Two liter bottles of Altenmünster Festbier are available–perfect to split with Ludger’s Haus Platte dinners. Half liters of Radeburger on tap along with many Bavarian beers are in stock to raise the German spirit!

BIERFEST DINNERS
Friday, Oct. 11th & 25th
Two special three-course Bierfest Dinners are scheduled with traditional Bavarian delights including Dortmunder Beet Salat, Münchener Gulash, Wiener Schnitzel, Rinderrouladen, and Black Forest Cake—optional wine or beer pairings.
Make your reservations early!
Fun guaranteed… lederhosen welcome.

Embrace your inner German.

And we were there on the 11th, so we had not just the full Oktoberfest menu from which to choose but also the three-course dinner with beer pairing. I should have ordered it. I was scared off by the appetizer choice, two soups that I didn’t think I would want, even though I did want the offered Wiener Schnitzel and Black Forest Cake. Big mistake on my part, especially as I got to watch Laura—sitting immediately to my left—enjoying her Bierfest dinner.

But before we got to that, the table shared two appetizers: the Westfalischer Schinken (westphalian prosciutto, soft pretzel, gruyère fondue, house–pickled vegetables) and the Reibekuchen mit frischem Apfelmus (traditional potato pancakes, fresh apple sauce). Boy were they good. That’s as fine a soft pretzel as I ever ate. As for the potato pancakes, well, I’ll never eat any that compare to those my father used to make, but for restaurant pancakes, these were among the best.

When I decided not to go with the three-course dinner, I was choosing the Autumn Field Greens (roasted pear, caramelized walnuts, goat cheese and merlot vinaigrette) over the sauerkraut soup, in the belief that I’m not a sauerkraut fan. Maybe not, but Laura’s soup looked far more interesting than my salad. Then came the Wiener Schnitzel (pasture–raised veal cutlet with fresh lemon and capers, sautéed potatoes and fall vegetables), which was everything I hoped for.

Dessert was another mistake. I had assumed that the black forest cake on the Bierfest menu was also on the regular menu. It isn’t. Instead, there’s Black Forest Trifle (Chocolate Mousse with Kirsch-macerated Cherries, Chocolate Cake & Chantilly Cream). Pretty darn good, maybe even better than the black forest cake, but I really wanted the cake.

What did Gail have? Let’s see. She had a salad too. It must have been the Ruby Beet Salad (marinated with sweet onions, served on field greens with feta cheese), though I don’t remember any feta. And then the Schweinshaxe (braised pork shank in red wine, roasted root vegetables and fingerling potatoes). She was happy.

All in all, a fine meal, with great company. I hope we don’t have to wait years to go again.

Oh, I forgot one thing. The spätzle. No way I’m going to a German restaurant and not eating spätzle. My dish came with potatoes. Superb potatoes as it turned out. But not spätzle. I ordered a side dish for us to share. It seems I did most of the sharing.

Categories: Restaurants

Roche Harbor 2: McMillin’s

August 31, 2013 Leave a comment

mcmillins

A week ago at this very moment we were just arriving home from our overnight trip to Roche Harbor, the first part of which I wrote about here. Now we’re in New York, on day two of our next trip. If I don’t say more about Roche Harbor soon, I’ll never get back to it. Here, then, a short follow-up post.

I left off as were were about to enter McMillin’s, Roche Harbor’s principal restaurant, for dinner with Russ and Tobae on Friday night, a week ago last night. A new menu was debuting that very night. Having not seen any previous menu, we weren’t well positioned to recognize what was new about it. The most significant feature was the plethora of small plate dishes. One heading explained that even the entree type dishes were served small, so that one could try several or a group could share several, though it further noted that those desiring more traditional sizes could request them. Thus, instead of a tiny halibut helping, one could have a standard halibut entree.

On the back page, though, was an alternative: McMillin’s classic 45-day aged prime rib. This was offered in three sizes, small, standard, and large. Gail, who rarely passes up a good prime rib, instead chose small halibut. The rest of us ordered prime rib. It was excellent. I ordered a salad with truffle oil dressing and the truffle oil was just too much for me. It overpowered any other flavor, except some fantastic tomatoes. Gail had a crab bisque, which I traded her for.

Our table was at a window, with a view out over the harbor. A seal showed up at one point. Later we had perfect seats for the over-the-top flag lowering ceremony. First the Canadian flag came down while the Canadian national anthem, then the Union Jack and God Save the Queen, then the US flag and taps, all this blasted over a sound system that ended any dinner conversations.

But the evening highlight came later. We parted with Russ and Tobae around 9:45 and went up to our room, which looks down on the restaurant from across the path. At 10:00 sharp, the cover band started up. It was playing by the bar outdoors, which meant everyone got to listen. Forget sleep. They stopped a little before midnight. I had forgotten the email sent to us in early July with the good news that there would be live music at the bar every Friday and Saturday night from 10 to midnight. I hadn’t quite understood that this was to be understood as a warning.

We did eventually go to sleep. We awoke Saturday ready for the primary purpose of the outing: our boat ride in search of whales and our feast across the harbor on Pearl Island at the home of our hosts. More on that in Roche Harbor post #3. As a preview, below is a photo I took during our boat ride of English Camp, part of San Juan Island National Historical Park.

englishcamp

As partial explanation, from the park website:

When Great Britain and the United States in 1859 agreed to a joint occupation of San Juan Island until the water boundary between the two nations could be settled, it was decided that camps would be located on opposite ends of the island.

Shortly after the British and American governments affirmed Lieutenant General Winfield Scott’s proposal to jointly occupy San Juan Island, the Royal Navy started looking for a home for its British Royal Marine Light Infantry contingent.

Capt. James Prevost, commander of H.M.S. Satellite, selected the site on Garrison Bay — 15 miles northwest of American Camp — from among seven finalists. He’d remembered the bay shore from explorations two years earlier as a part of the water boundary commission survey of the island. At that time, one of his officers, Lieutenant Richard Roche, had commented on seeing abandoned Indian plank houses nestled among a vast shell midden.

Roche described the ground as “well-sheltered, has a good supply of water and grass, and is capable of affording maneuvering ground for any number of men that are likely to be required in that locality…” He added that a trail, 11 miles long, led from this area to the Hudson’s Bay farm at Bellevue.

[snip]

The marines departed in November 1872, following the final boundary decision of Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany. They left behind a facility so solidly built that the Crook family (who purchased the site from the U.S. government) occupied several of the structures for more than 30 years.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

Cafe Parco

August 25, 2013 Leave a comment

cafeparco

I wrote about Cafe Parco two Januaries ago, opening with

Gail and I had dinner last night at the newest restaurant in the neighborhood, Cafe Parco. It was our first visit, and we anticipate returning often.

and closing with

It’s a beautiful restaurant … . We will return soon.

Well, that didn’t happen. It took over nineteen months. We made it back last Tuesday, joined by my college classmate Larry and his wife Sharon.

I never actually knew Larry in college. I thank classmate Marion for meeting him. I didn’t know Marion either, not until after our twenty-fifth reunion. The reunion led to the establishment of a class list serve. Soon after, with Marion due to come to Seattle for the first of two summers singing in Seattle Opera‘s production of Wagner’s Ring, she took to the list serve to ask locals about activities for her two children. I responded with advice, leading her to get in touch on arriving. Later that summer she hosted a get-together of classmates, including fellow classmate and Ring performer Peter, in town from New York, and all the locals she could round up.

One such was Larry. I discovered that he lived in the eastern suburb of Issaquah with dancer wife Sharon, practiced medicine, and more: he had published mysteries and was an expert on dancers’ medical issues with a book on the subject.

While in Cambridge to attend our thirtieth reunion, Gail and I ran into Larry in the bookstore. He wasn’t in town for the reunion itself. Rather, he was on leave from his practice on a road trip, which coincidentally brought him to Cambridge to visit his daughter just in time for the reunion. We talked some more and learned that he was open to new career options.

Some time later, I learned that Larry had moved to Boston to practice medicine again and teach at Harvard Medical School. He began work on a short history that would be honored with a listing as one of the must-read non-fiction books of 2012 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Just last month, his latest novel appeared. [I have now bought the e-version.] When his older daughter got married, moved to Melbourne, Australia, and had two children, he began spending time there. Oh, and he and Sharon still have a place in Seattle’s eastern suburbs, which means Larry moves around a lot.

motif#1

Last weekend, Larry got in touch to say they were in town, which I already knew from following all his comings and goings on Facebook. We agreed to get together. I suggested they come to the house and we’d find a place to eat in the neighborhood. So it was that we went to Cafe Parco.

We had a splendid evening. The weather was beautiful, so we sat in the courtyard outside. Gail and I had never talked with Sharon before. We got to learn all about how she left Portland, Oregon, decades ago for New York with the plan to dance with the Martha Graham Dance Company and proceeded to do just that. Larry was taking a year off between internship and residency at the time to do the research for his dancers book, which is how they met.

Between stories, we ate. To start, we shared three appetizers.

  • Crespelle with Summer Mushroom Ragu: Italian crepes filled with lemon braised mushrooms and radicchio scented with coriander. Drizzled with balsamic and lemon chutney.
  • Bruschetta with Fire Roasted Tomato: Crusty thick slices of bread toasted with Italian cheeses and are topped with pesto drizzled Fire Roasted Tomato.
  • House Salad: Chopped romaine, radicchio & tomato bacon crumbles and bacon vinaigrette.

The crepes were the big winner, and I hadn’t even plan to eat them. I just wanted the salad, which was excellent as well.

I’m always such a sucker for Carbonara. Once I saw it on the menu, I knew I couldn’t resist, even though the other pasta was tempting as well. Gail went with that other pasta. “Italian Sausage and Meat Sauce: Enjoy the bold flavors of Italian sausage with Chef Celinda’s traditional Ragu alla Bolognese, a slow simmered sauce of tomato, Painted Hills natural beef, oregano and Sangiovese.” The Carbonara is described as “Fresh Angel hair pasta tossed with Italian bacon, fresh shaved Parmigiano and a hens egg for an elegant, yet simple dish.” I’m forgetting what Larry and Sharon ordered. One had fish. I had eyes only for my Carbonara, which was even better than anticipated.

We shared a bottle of Chianti with it, selected by the chef after we proposed a general type and a price range. The meal was sufficiently filling that we passed up dessert. Almost three hours after we arrived, it was time to go, with a full moon rising over the buildings of Madison Park.

Cafe Parco does takeout. It’s bad enough we don’t eat there regularly, but why not at least take out? We’ll change that. And, as I said the last time I wrote about Cafe Parco, we will return soon.

This time I mean it.

Categories: Restaurants

The Villages, Here We Come

August 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Odds are, we’ll be staying in Seattle when retirement comes. And if we don’t, Gail’s preference will be to head straight to Nantucket. After last night’s dinner at neighborhood favorite Cactus, though, I suggested we should consider The Villages. You know, that Florida retirement community with all the advertisements on TV? (And if you don’t know, watch the video above.)

Why not? Restaurants. Nightly entertainment. Activities galore. No need to drive anywhere, except in golf carts. Plus, no kids! I mean, I love kids and all. Really, I do. But last night we were the only people at Cactus without children under the age of 3. Well, it was early, but still.

I always think of Cactus as a young adult hangout. The big bar. The noise. The excitement. That’s the usual reason I drag my feet when Gail suggests we go there. The place is packed nightly, and everyone seems to be having way too much fun.

Evidently, those young adults got a little older and decided to have children, all of whom showed up yesterday.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But we clearly didn’t fit in (as I first realized when our overwhelmingly friendly waitress greeted us by asking if this was our first time in. It was all I could do to keep from saying we’ve been eating there since before she was born. Which might be true, by the way.) The kids hanging over our booth, babies bawling, parents standing over other people’s tables with children in their arms were too distracting.

As we walked out, I suggested to Gail that we rethink our retirement and take a closer look at The Villages. When we got home, I did so.

There’s a video about their newest restaurant, City Fire American Oven & Bar, that gives me confidence we won’t be missing much.

It looks good, doesn’t it? I suppose kids are allowed in restaurants when they’re visiting with their parents, but all in all I picture life as quiet and idyllic. Lord knows, it’s cheaper than Nantucket. And we could build our dream home there.

What’s that? The Villages is owned by Gary Morse, major Romney supporter last year? Fox broadcasts from there frequently? Glenn Beck held a massive rally there in 2009? Oh, and this story from last November might give us pause. Here’s one paragraph:

If Villages transplants aren’t already disposed to conservative values, they’ll get a good dose of them through the Morse family’s small media empire. Fox News Radio is pumped daily out of speakers in town squares by the community radio station, WVLG-AM 640, making for an odd blend of sunny Villages-themed dispatches and distinctly right-leaning political news reports. A driver listening to Villages radio can step out of his car in one of the town squares and hear the same broadcast without missing a beat. In talking to HuffPost, several liberal residents likened the public speakers to Orwellian propaganda.

Darn.

Gail, what are we to do? But watch the video below. Aren’t they having fun?

Categories: Life, Restaurants

Anniversary Dinner, 2

June 23, 2013 Leave a comment

georgianview

We were married 28 years ago today at the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle. As I wrote last year, “we therefore make it a habit to return to the Olympic for our anniversary dinner. Not every year, but many, including this one. We eat in their Georgian Room, one of the most beautiful dining spaces in the city, and with excellent food too.” The Georgian Room is closed on Sundays and Mondays. That’s the main reason that we sometimes celebrate elsewhere. This year, we decided instead to stick with the Georgian Room but eat a day early, i.e., last night.

In reviewing last year’s post on our anniversary dinner, I see that this year wasn’t much different. Nearly the same menu; nearly the same choices. I’ll write about the meal anyway.

As has become my custom, I had called Topper’s, the excellent florist that resides in the basement level of the hotel, ahead of time to arrange for flowers to be delivered to our table. I had also called the restaurant to request one of the two-tops spread throughout the room that has a banquette on one side for side-by-side seating (and no chairs on the other side). I particularly like the table by the rear window toward the right that affords a view into the entire room, and I successfully explained to the host which table I meant. When we arrived last night, all was in place. We were led to the desired table, and a floral arrangement of modest size—so as not to overwhelm the space—was there.

We had decided before arriving that we would follow last year’s plan and start with glasses of Prosecco, to be followed later by a half-bottle of red. As we studied the menus, we ordered the Prosecco from our waiter. We’re especially fond of the Georgian Room’s long-time sommelier, an Austrian gentleman named Joseph, and were pleased that he came by to pour the Prosecco. This offered us the first of what would be many occasions to chat with him. (You can learn more about him here and click on the embedded links that take you to youtube videos featuring him.) His own anniversary is near ours, a fact we keep re-learning each year. He has two older stepsons and two teenage sons.

The menu presented us with some familiar choices. For instance, which salad to start with? The Young Spinach Salad with truffled quail egg, bacon lardons, and white balsamic, or the Olympic Caesar Salad with aged pecorino and toasted crouton? I asked the waiter’s advice and he said he loves both, but maybe I’d enjoy the Caesar more with the Prosecco. That decided it.

Looking back now at my post a year ago, I see that I went then with the spinach salad. And I see that Gail repeated last year’s order, described on the menu as Dungeness Crab Bisque, Tarragon Infused Mini Crab Cakes. The bowl comes with two stacked crab cakes and, above them, two pieces of crab meat, over which the soup is poured. The Caesar has a long, thin-sliced piece of pecorino, above which is an equally long lettuce wedge, with dressing and some shaved cheese pieces on top. And to the side is a long, thin, crisp “crouton”. No, it must have been served on top of the rest. I simply removed it first thing. Great presentation.

I enjoyed the salad. The dressing was applied lightly. Perhaps a little too light for me to appreciate how well it matched the Prosecco. And Gail enjoyed the soup.

On the entree choice, this is what I wrote last year:

For our main dishes, I was leaning toward the rack of lamb, but when Gail ordered it, I went for the T-bone steak. Hers was listed on the menu with four accompaniments. Each was prepared in a block about one-and-a-half inch square and maybe three-fourths of an inch high, the four squares laid out in the center of the plate to form a three-inch square with the lamb on top. It looked beautiful. One of the squares was a mashed pea concoction with tomato jam on top. I ate some of it at the end. It was sublime. Another was spinach, another lamb shank, and I don’t remember the fourth. Gail chose well.

This year was a near repeat. Perhaps I should have read last year’s post before we went. Once again, I was tempted by the lamb, totally forgetting last year’s experience, and once again, when Gail told me she planned to order it, I decided I would have steak instead. Here’s the menu description of the lamb: Roasted Rack of Lamb, Herbs of the Garden Crust, Quadrant of Flavors & Textures: Crushed Peas, Braised Shank, Spinach Gratin, Crispy Prosciutto-Whipped Potato. Once it came to the table, I knew I really wanted those peas. Oh well.

Last year’s T-bone came with three sauces—béarnaise, peppercorn, cabernet jus—each in its own small square plate. This year’s menu has in its place a Black Pepper-Crusted Bone-In Ribeye Steak, Bacon Whipped Potato, Roasted Bone Marrow, Truffle White Asparagus. The steak comes in a large metal plate with handles on left and right, as if straight from the oven, with asparagus below. Also on the plate is the potato, in a miniature metal pot about two inches in diameter, and the bone marrow, in a deep cup. I’ll confess that I didn’t eat much of the bone marrow. Everything else was superb.

Oh, the wine. Well, when you go with a half-bottle of red, your choices are constrained, and there’s not a lot of advice for Joseph to offer. In recent visits, we’ve chosen the Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Vieux Télégraphe. Not a novel choice, but we love it, so much so that we have several bottles in the basement waiting for suitable occasions. Also available was the Pirouette from Long Shadows, a Walla Walla winery whose wines we have been trying in recent months. The (sold out) current release is a 2009, a classic Bordeaux blend: 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Merlot, 13% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec. We had never tried a Pirouette of any vintage, but do have a bottle of the 2009 downstairs, also awaiting a suitable meal. On the menu was a 2007. We conferred with Joseph, who agreed that it would be a good option, so we chose it. And we weren’t disappointed, though Gail did admit at the end of the meal that she might have preferred the Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Pirouette

As with the rest of the meal, dessert presented another opportunity to do what we always do, which in this case means ordering the soufflés. (Can you blame us?) There is always a fixed option on the menu, black and white chocolate, and a nightly special, which last night was white chocolate and strawberry. Gail chose the classic black and white; I went with the special. And they were perfect. I couldn’t have been happier, except that mine didn’t look as cool as Gail’s, with its split down the middle into black and white halves.

We paid, had a farewell conversation with Joseph, asked our waiter for the box our flowers came in, had him pour some water out of the vase, carried the box and vase out, then had yet another conversation with Joseph, just outside the Georgian Room entry at the top of the lobby.

But wait. The amuse-bouche. I forgot about that. Back when Joseph was pouring our Prosecco, the amuse-bouche arrived. A custardy concoction with a poached cherry on top, served on a spoon as a single bite. My custard stuck to the spoon, so I didn’t quite get it all out as intended. Maybe it had sat too long.

No matter. It was a beautiful evening. Food, presentation, wine, service, flowers, setting, and most of all, Gail. Happy Anniversary.

Categories: Family, Restaurants

Madison Valley Trio

May 12, 2013 Leave a comment

harvestvine

I mentioned in my last post that I haven’t been writing much lately, in part, because of house guests. But we sure had lots of good dinners, home and away. It was great to have Carol in the kitchen, both as Gail’s sous-chef and, one night, the chef herself (producing a superb salmon dinner). Among the meals out, I’ll mention three that were all within a block of each other in the Madison Valley neighborhood, just over a mile from here.

It’s a continuing wonder to me that Madison Valley has so many good restaurants. When I moved to Seattle a few decades ago, the Madison Valley commercial strip along Madison Street was non-existent. There was the New York Deli. And nothing else. Not just no other restaurants. No commercial establishments at all. The deli was an island. I’d drive home from the university through the Arboretum, making a left on Madison to go down to the lake and Madison Park, with Madison Valley immediately to the right. Another half mile up the road on the right were some stores, but I’d never head that way.

And now Madison Valley may have a more interesting collection of restaurants than Madison Park, among which are the three where we ate with Carol (and, in the first case, Tom).

luc

1. Luc. I’ve written about Luc before. It’s the more casual French restaurant that Thierry Rautureau opened a few years ago to complement Rover’s, his high-end restaurant about which I’ve also written many times. We will miss Rover’s. Thierry is closing it soon. But Luc will continue, and perhaps we’ll get there more often. We ate there on Mother’s Day two years ago, but made it back only once since then, until going two weeks ago with Tom and Carol, Jessica and Joel.

We shared a basket of soufflé potato crisps to start, along with harissa aioli as a dip. Then I had the salad Lyonnaise: frisée, mustard, poached egg, lardon, and red wine vinaigrette. My main dish was the trout amandine with potato. There was a trout special that several of the others had. And I had to watch Carol, sitting across from me, eat their amazing sausage dish: house made lamb sausage, roasted root vegetables, and spring salad. That sausage is really good. I had forgotten just how good, but Carol was kind enough to let me try it.

I passed on dessert, but did try a bit of Gail’s madeleines. Oh, and a taste of Carol’s ice cream. We need to eat there more often. One thing, though. The back seating area, by a small seating counter that overlooks the kitchen, is really loud, as I learned three Januarys ago when I ate a sort of business dinner there. It’s hard to hear one’s table mates. We need to make sure we get seating in front.

cotecreperie

2. La Côte Café. I’ve written about this also many times. I don’t have much to add. Ever since they stopped being a pure crêperie, dropping a lot of dinner crêpes from the menu and adding a variety of alternative French and Italian entrées, I pretty much always order the same thing: the côte salad with butter lettuce, shaved fennel, apple, and vinaigrette; the fettucini carbonara with slab bacon, parmesan, and cream (and a raw egg, not listed); and from their list of dessert crêpes, the Belle-Hélène, withpear, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce. This time I mixed it up, going for the Martiniquaise crêpe for dessert—banana and chocolate sauce. And, of course, a glass of cider from Brittany—I never remember which—that I keep trying to convince myself I enjoy, though it tastes something like burnt rubber.

3. The Harvest Vine. How could we never eat here before? We went a few days ago, our last meal out with Carol. I always thought it was just a wine bar. We’d drive by and people would be squeezed into the small space at the far end of the Madison Valley commercial strip, seeming to fall out of the open windows. What I didn’t know is that there’s restaurant seating below and a Basque menu. Carol knew her way around the menu, having spent plenty of time in Spain with Tom, so she could advise us, as the waiter was more than eager to do.

We shared all our dishes, as is the custom, starting with Tabla Ibérica, a selection of dry-cured meats from the pata negra pig. There were four meats, all fantastic, each thin sliced. We had Gazpacho and the Tortilla Española—a warm potato onion omelette with alioli. And Calçots—grilled Catalan green onions with almond romesco. The Cordero en Torrefacto, or grilled lamb in torrefacto with sautéed artichoke and some other stuff. And Venado, or grilled venison with oyster mushroom-leek ragout.

Hmm. I may have forgotten a dish. If so, perhaps Gail or Carol can comment. For dessert, I had the coconut flan (perfect), Gail the olive oil wine cake with roasted muscat grapes and whipped cream, Carol the rice pudding.

Three wonderful meals. Thank you, Carol and Tom.

Categories: Restaurants