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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.