uhockey reviews Seattle 12/27/11-1/3/12 including Pike's Place, Coterie Room, Bar Del Corso, Spinasse, Revel, Herbfarm, Serious Pie/Biscuit, Salumi, Walrus and Carpenter, Spur, and more
First of all, thanks to all the local hounds who helped me out with their excellent reviews and advice - aside from flight delays, I had a stellar visit to Seattle and points North over the New Year holiday.
As is my custom I will provide my thoughts here on Chowhound with links to my blog for the photos. Reviews will be slow in coming due to my work schedule and wordiness but as always I will try to be thorough in order to give quality feedback to the CH community that helps me plan so many of my trips.
Restuarants/Bakeries/Coffee Shops visited during this trip include:
The Coterie Room
Beechers Handmade Cheese
Pike Place Chowder
The Crumpet Shop
Bar Del Corso
The Original Starbucks
Yellow Leaf Cupcake
Walrus and the Carpenter
(and on the northern extension of the trip which will be discussed in a seperate topic on the appropriate boards)
Blenz Coffee Robson Street
Pikes Place Market (Beechers Handmade Cheese, The Original Starbucks, Daily Dozen, Bottega Italiana, Pike Place Chowder, The Confectional, The Crumpet Shop, Piroshky Piroshky)
Full Review in Blog with Pictures, Text as Below.
When my sister nominated Seattle for our (now annual) family holiday trip the first thing to pop into my mind was the Pike Place Market – as a matter of fact, save for the Space Needle, the EMP, and the rain it was the only thing that immediately came to mind when thinking of The Emerald City and as such it shall also be the first place I will revisit after an eight day gastronomic whirlwind tour that took the four of us from SeaTac to Northern Vancouver and many places in between. Touristy to be certain and not so much a mere “market” as it is a section of the town encompassing multiple city blocks from 1st to Western and Pike to Virginia our travels would see us visit Pikes Place thrice during our stay with stops along the way constituting mostly snacks and breakfasts both sweet and savory.
Beginning our exploration of the market in a slight downpour with my aunt still in a walking boot secondary to her slowly healing Achille’s it was rather quickly that we realized there is rarely a time when Pike’s Place is not crowded – particularly just after noon immediately following a major holiday – but braving the crowds our first stop would be to Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, perhaps the most crowded of all the shops save for the Original Starbucks.
Having done my standard (and exhaustive) degree of research before arriving and knowing that we would be sampling the market substantially it would not be long before we entered the queue at Beecher’s and with the wait approximately fifteen minutes we were treated to squeaky cheese curds, house made fennel crackers, and samples of Flagship as we waited. With each sample tasty but weary of stomach capacity at the start of a long day and without any open space to sit on Beecher’s clever milk-jug stools when we finally did arrive at the front of the line we were greeted by a friendly young woman named Sophie who took our order, filled a small cup of macaroni and cheese, and told us it would be approximately ten more minutes before our sandwich would be ready.
With the “world’s best” Mac & Cheese featuring Flagship, Just Jack, Soft Penne, and Spices including pepper and paprika now in hand along with four forks it would not be long before our tasting began and true to the rumors the pasta was delicious – a lovely blend of smooth textures and sharp flavors punctuating each bite and although perhaps not the best Macaroni and Cheese any of us had ever tasted (actually, not even as good as that at The Coterie Room the night prior) a very impressive dish.
Moving next to our sandwich, the signature “Flagship Sandwich” featuring Flagship, Just Jack, Basil, Tomato, and Tangy “Beecher’s Spread” on buttered Panini-pressed bread the sandwich would also prove to be quite delicious with a flavor not unlike a good Margherita pizza but with a bit more crunch – another worthwhile taste of the market, though I will admit my tastes lean more towards cheddar and thicker egg breads when I eat grilled cheese otherwise.
Having already mentioned the original Starbucks located just a few doors down from Beecher’s I’ll simply say that during the first day of our visit the line was greater than fifty persons long and as such we held off visiting for another day – a day when we would again arrive in the rain but also a day when the flagship store of the coffee empire was entirely empty save for five helpful employees who seemed more than surprised to outnumber their customers.
Generally unimpressed by Starbucks, particularly since the introduction of Pike Place Roast and the Via Starbucks system, I have to admit that I found the flagship location far more interesting than the average Starbucks space and with the merchandise and coffee selection quite extensive I opted to purchase half a pound of Ethiopian Harrar ($18) for home and a cup of the “Pike Place Reserve” reportedly only available at Pike Place – a product they ironically only sell by the bag at the store (instead opting to force the same awful Pike Place Roast you can get at any airport on customers here as well) but a product I later ordered by the cup on the observation deck of the Space Needle only to find it slightly less watery and bitter than the “standard” Pike Place Roast. So much for exclusivity, eh?
Moving on with our exploration of Pikes Place we next spent some time watching street performers perform, fish mongers throw fish, and protestors protest (though none of us were entirely sure what they were protesting) before getting into a line twenty deep at Daily Dozen Doughnut Company – the first of three donut stops on the trip and without a doubt the most simplistic of the trio with a conveyor belt style robot plopping out the buttery balls of dough that would be subsequently topped while steaming hot with either cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar or chocolate and sprinkles.
With the line moving quickly and the kiosk cash only it would be a short ten minutes before we found ourselves at the front of the line and opting for a mixed half dozen for a mere $2.69 (cash only) we chatted with the inked, gauged, and pleasant servers while or order was readied before making our way to the standing bar next door where we enjoyed our sweet treats alongside a creepy collection of rubber rats – each two-bite selection still hot and tasty but only the cinnamon sugar choices truly exemplary with a crisp exterior giving way to moist and fluffy interior flecked with buttery yeast notes and plenty of flavor. Sure these aren’t designer donuts, but for what they are they are quite tasty and also quite a deal.
Going next for more savories our path would lead us to Pike Place Chowder, winner of multiple awards for both their New England and Manhattan style soups and with their indoor seating a particularly popular spot on this afternoon due to the steady rain and chilly conditions outdoors. With the space itself inside a larger building and divided from a small pizzeria by an off white wall we entered the queue of ten quickly noting that both the signature bread bowl and the daily “market chowder” were already sold out but desiring neither with hopes of more variety and less capacity we chatted as the line progressed and we made our way to the cashier.
With seven selections still remaining and the option for a pick-4 chowder sampler with a side of sourdough for a mere $10.16 plus tax and tip it was a short debate between the scallop chowder and the smoked salmon bisque before we placed our order and on paying the bill we grabbed a tray, some oyster crackers, and two glasses of water before making our way to the pizza parlor for a seat (apparently allowed, but not without a snarky comment from the parlor’s purveyor about “tourists” and the quality of his pies.)
Beginning first with the signatures Erika started in on the Manhattan while I dug into the New England – a potage so thick you can stand a spoon up in it and even before adding oyster crackers for that extra crunch and salinity I can say without batting an eye that this was indeed the best New England clam chowder I’ve ever tasted, even if it was about as far from New England as I’ve ever consumed chowder. Thick, creamy, full of clams and potatoes with a slightly smoky tinge conferred by bacon – textbook, and especially compared to the Manhattan style which, although good and similarly filled with clams and vegetables, simply wasn’t my style given my preference for cream over tomato bases.
Moving next to the final chowder and one non-chowders I admit I was a bit hesitant about my sister’s choice of Smoked Salmon Chowder as I generally don’t fancy salmon but proving my skepticism unfounded I actually found this to be perhaps the most interesting choice of the quartet with the woodsy notes serving to temper the nicely cooked salmon while hints of capers, onion, and butter also found room on the palate to shine without being overwhelming or overwhelmed, a feature that would be equally well represented in the seafood bisque, a satin smooth puree with briny notes of the sea kissed by both butter and a touch of tomato that rivals some of the best bisque I’ve ever tasted without being too rich or heavy, even when sopped up with the still-warm sourdough.
From savories to sweet and back again the next stop on our walk of the market would be Bottega Italiana for some gelato and unlike the warm environs at Beechers, Daily Dozen, and Pike Place Chowder the frozen treats shop would not only prove to be far less busy but also far less well stocked with only nine of store’s twenty daily small batch concoctions remaining and most of those being your standard run-of-the-mill flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, apple, and lemon.
Standing and debating our options for a few moments as the server offered us samples and suggestions (she liked the chocolate, I personally found it a bit icy though impressively bitter-sweet) my sister and I eventually settled on two “small” cups with two selections in each – for my sister Coconut and Coffee and for myself Burnt Cream Panna cotta and Tiramisu each tasty and sweet but none particularly stunning save for the coconut which had a texture as creamy and smooth as frozen coconut oil but a flavor much closer to the flavor of fresh coconut flesh; a combination that impressed even the non-coconut lovers of the group as the best of the bunch.
With gelato now checked off the list we proceeded to the final stop of our first day in the market, a stop that intrigued me largely because not only had I never tasted a crumpet before but because I’d never even seen one on a menu before – two deficiencies I was rather certain a visit to The Crumpet Shop would solve even before we opened the door and crossed the threshold from the cold and rainy streets to the warm and welcoming interior where we were quickly greeted by two of three young female servers and a plethora of enticing smells.
Having already decided that we would check out no more than two options given the day’s substantial eating plans it was with a great deal of deliberation and consultation with the staff before we made our choices and after watching the medium sized English Muffins emerge from a small storage bin my sister set off to fill her cup of tea while I watched the pastries undergo the careful process of toasting, topping, and finally plating before carrying them to the table and filling my own cup of fair trade coffee – a thick Guatemalan blend with nutty notes and free refills but only sugar and Stevia available for sweetening (thus requiring me to break into my stash of Equal commandeered from Starbucks earlier that day.)
With the coffee and tea now prepared to our liking my first bite of Crumpet would be the menu topping “Maple Butter” option made with a creamy frosting laden with notes of both butter and pure Canadian maple syrup plus a bit of cream and without a doubt I can say that this was a game changer for someone who has never really fancied English Muffins as the crust proved to be thick, crisp, and toothsome while the interior was slightly moist, laden with butter, and pillowy soft providing a great support for both the maple butter on our first choice and the house made Hazelnut Spread and Ricotta on the second, a concoction so rich one bite would have probably been enough but a flavor so delicious that I found myself debating a return visit for breakfast two days later when we found out Café Besalu was closed for their holiday break – a return that would have happened were it not for two other must-visits in the Pike Place area; Piroshky Piroshky and The Confectional.
Beginning first with Piroshky Piroshky, the family owned Russian Bakery currently buried under a veil of construction but open and visible from the always crowded Original Starbucks next door I have to admit that were it not for the glowing reviews this is probably not the sort of place I’d have visited – to say the least this is a case where it is unwise to judge a book by its cover – yet in retrospect it would prove to be one of the best small bites of the trip and a place I would certainly return to on a subsequent trips not only for the unique food, but also the friendly service and bargain prices.
Having already mentioned the construction outside it was again under the clouds and rain that we entered the small shop where we were greeted by a smiling young woman with a heavy accent who asked us if we knew what we wanted and on telling her we would need a few moments to decide she offered us a list of their most popular items – two which we ordered and the rest which we eschewed for two alternative options, all of which were still warm and individually bagged prior to being placed in a larger bag that easily weighed 3lbs while costing just over $16.
Taking our goods elsewhere to eat and beginning first with the savories our first two tastes of Piroshky were the Smoked Mozzarella, Broccoli, and Mushroom Piroshky and the Spinach, Egg, and Cheese Piroshky, each piping hot with the cheese still bubbly inside the buttery leavened bread and both featuring surprisingly well cooked vegetables with plenty of flavor and texture that worked nicely not only in the pastry but on their own; particularly the slightly crisp spinach embedded in the quiche-like egg and cheddar amalgam.
Moving next from savories to sweets our second pair of choices from the Russian bakery were a decidedly safe Apple Cinnamon Roll and an entirely unique Moscow Roll, the first featuring the same buttery pastry as the savories imbued with cinnamon, sugar, and fresh butter-baked apples with the skin intact and the second a sort of croissant like shell harboring a cornbread textured blend of Bavarian Cream and cream of wheat that was quite unlike anything I’d have expected but also quite delicious with a mild sweetness beneath the buttery notes and flecks of streusel atop adding just a touch more sweetness and texture; a dish you simply must experience to appreciate.
Moving on from Piroshky Piroshky for more take-away snacks our final stop at Pike Place would be to The Confectional, a store serving $4.75 individual sized cheesecakes (think cupcake size) made with cage free hen eggs, all natural butter, house sweetened sour-cream and cream cheese, and thick buttery crusts made vanilla Spanish tea biscuits – seemingly a can’t miss recipe for success and all the more so when taking into account the friendly and accommodating servers, yet a store from which I emerged underwhelmed by all but one of our four selections while the rest of my family didn’t even bother to take more than a couple bites.
Starting first with the signature Raspberry White Chocolate and progressing to Caramel, Kahlua White Chocolate, and finally Quadruple Chocolate I will first note that the crust on each was fantastic, particularly the rich chocolate crunch surrounding the Quadruple chocolate and the intensely buttery version melding with the sticky sweet caramel, but moving past the crust and the caramel soaked selection each cake was simply too dry and crumbly with the Kahlua and Raspberry both sour and bland while the Quadruple chocolate was so intense that it was more “fudge” than cheesecake. A cute concept to be sure, but not on par with many other cheesecakes in Seattle (see Bar Del Corso and Spur,) or elsewhere and definitely not worth the calories when you could be eating a piroshky, crumpet, or donut instead.
That's a lot of words for street food.
You've covered your options well - but it is Pike Place Market, never Pikes or Pike's. You can also say "the Market".
Crumpets and english muffins are not interchangeable.
I like Piroshky Piroshky but never feel it is a bargain. I wonder where our perceptions diverge?
As much as you would like to believe that is "The Original Starbucks" - it's marketing (or myth.) But as close as you will get.
Keep going - I'm interested, behind my criticism.
As you'll note in the blog I spelled it right there - not sure how the damned thing autocorrected to "Pike's" here.
I'm aware that a crumpet is not an English Muffin, but it is the best mental reference point I have. Crumpets are delicious - English Muffins not so much.
$4 for a quality pastry filled with good quality eggs, vegetables, and cheese seems a deal compared to $4 for a decent but underwhelming croissant or $3.50 for a donut or cupcake seems like a bargain.
I realize that this is not the original, but as you mention it is as close as you can get, and it sucked slightly less than the average even if they false advertise.
Bauhaus, Bakery Nouveau, Cupcake Royale, Theo Chocolate, Dahlia Bakery, Top Pot, Fonte Coffee, Frost, Yellow Leaf Cupcake, D’Ambrosio Gelato.
Full Review in blog with pictures, text as below:
Like most of my trips the concept of three meals a day is simply too limiting, especially when traveling with a group who is willing to share and thereby allow multiple samples at multiple locations; as such the most recent trip to Seattle and Vancouver would include multiple stops – some for sweets, some for savories, many for caffeine, and everywhere from breakfast to lunch to pre-dinner or a late night snack. Having already discussed the three trips to Pike’s Place, this list shall encompass the sweets and coffees that we experienced in the Seattle area, 10 locations in total ranging from South American Coffee to French Pastries to Italian Gelato to good ol’ American cupcakes and donuts.
Beginning first with the least impressive stop of our entire trip, a late night caffeine run would lead us to the oft raved Bauhaus Coffee and books – a technically correct name, I guess, even if the books are merely there as decoration and the coffee is average at best. To those who’ve never been, what Bauhaus actually represents is a place for hipsters to gather and sip espressos while placing their Mac-Book on a table and their Iphone on a chair of its own while browsing facebook – or, for the truly awesome, to set a book of Proust on the table and proceed to pull out a small canvas and a set of oils to paint while looking forlorn – yes, we did see both of theses. Add in a menu that includes Ding Dongs for $1 and Kool-Aid plus baristas who act as if it is a huge inconvenience to hand you the code for free wireless internet (while also giving you shit for pocketing two extra packets of Splenda even though you are a paying customer…) enough said.
Moving next to a far more pleasurable coffee experience, a stop after the Seattle Museum of Art would lead us to Fonte Coffee where instead of the pretentious and well inked a nice young woman named Ellie would greet us at the counter and not only offer us a list of no less than ten different coffees available in the café or by the pound, but would also offer a great degree of knowledge about the flavor profiles of each leading me to order not only a large cup of Kenya AA Gaturiri, but also a half pound of both it and the El Salvador las Delicias Cup of Excellence to take back to Ohio.
Generally not a fan of acidic coffees Ellie sold me on the Kenya based on its wet processing and stone fruit profile and while I cannot say it was the best coffee I’ve ever tasted, it was perhaps the best African cup I’ve had in a long time with a thick and almost syrupy body from the drip and even better at home from my French Press. Moving next to the El Salvador, this one only tried thus far via French Press (and being savored accordingly) I particularly like this blend due to the body – a nearly satin like smoothness with notes of caramel and vanilla and just a bit of citrus on the finish; overall it was probably the best coffee I had in Seattle (or at least on par with the Stumptown blend made exclusively for the Herbfarm.)
Continuing the coffee theme but adding in some breakfast, our second morning in Seattle would deliver the disappointment of Café Besalu being closed (12/23-1/13) with the next logical step being a drive to what was to be breakfast on our third day, Bakery Nouveau, a spot I’d been looking forward to ever since I read about their Double Baked Almond Croissant.
Located in a rather unassuming part of town and many miles (and bridges) from our hotel in Edmonds our arrival at Bakery Nouveau would be just a couple hours after opening and having ran nearly 10 miles that morning I arrived quite famished even despite the previous day’s eating. With parking quite ample on the streets so early and my aunt’s ability to walk in her boot improving by the day we made our way through the doors of Nouveau and within moments it felt like we were back in Paris – the smell of butter, cinnamon, and coffee about and fresh baked goods emerging from the kitchen as tiny jewelbox pastries lined the shelves.
With the small restaurant crowded but again finding good fortune as a table of four stood up to leave my aunt took a seat while the rest of us waited in line and with the only stipulations being “a croissant and a pain au chocolate” I was left in charge of the order – 7 items in total, 3 coffees, and a glass of milk (which was strangely provided free of charge with a total of $0.00 listed on the bill.) With two servers attending to us, one named Chris preparing the beverages while a lady named Jess gathered and plated each item individually from the case (or in the case of two of the croissants directly from the warm bakers rack) it took approximately 5 minutes for everything to be prepared, paid, and carried to the table before we would begin.
Starting first with a note on the coffee, provided by Lighthouse, I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the cups but again thwarted by the sweetener choices of sugar or Stevia and preparing the cup to the best of my abilities I personally felt that the coffee was a bit watered down and may have benefitted from a different preparation method, though when drank with the pastries it proved adequate enough – particularly with those containing chocolate where the light acid tones were better balanced.
Moving next to the pastries, the majority of our selections from Nouveau would be their oft-raved croissants or other forms of leavened puff pastry including the Pain au Chocolate, Butter Croissant, Double Baked Almond Croissant, Double Baked Chocolate Almond Croissant, and the Pain au Pommes – five of the eleven versions available that morning and each quite impressive, particularly the still-warm Butter Croissant and the Double Baked Almond Croissant I requested direct from the wire rack – the first featuring a crackling shell that offered just enough resistance to the tooth before shattering and giving way to a buttery cavernous interior and the second a dense split-frangipane filled-and baked again masterpiece that rivaled the best in the states and even some of the better ones we had in Paris.
Moving on to the other flaky pastries including the breads of apple and chocolate plus the Double Baked Almond Croissant these selections would again prove to be good, but without being as crisp on the exterior or as wispy on the interior they simply could not stand up to the quality of the first two croissants. Perhaps suffering from a bit too long on the shelf or perhaps simply outshined by their counterparts I will note that the quality of the chocolate was top and not overly sweet while the apples were nicely prepared, intensely buttery, and laden with cinnamon but overall I’d simply suggest sticking with the basics (a safe bet in Paris, as well.)
For our last two bites one would be a personal favorite, the Baba Savarin, and the second the “Pastry of the day” – a modified Linzer cookie described as “Linzer Cookie Brioche.” Starting off with the Baba, a clever presentation with the enriched dough absolutely saturated in simple syrup tinged with rum and skewered with a pipette filled with pure rum for extra kick I would have to rank this amongst the best Baba au Rhum I’ve ever tasted not only for the quality of the boozy and butter pastry, but also for the inclusion of light pastry cream on the interior and a topping of caramel whipped cream that added just a bit of sweet salinity on the finish; a definite must order and better than any I had overseas. Fairing less well, but still interesting the Linzer Cookie Brioche would present a somewhat paradoxical dense yet crumbly cookie stuffed with raspberry jam, loaded with eggy notes and butter, and topped with a cinnamon sugar crumble – a sort of linzer meets donut meets biscuit that definitely needed a bit of coffee (or milk) but tasted quite good overall, even if I would’ve preferred a standard Linzer (or another Double Baked Almond Croissant) instead.
Walking back from Bakery Nouveau and finding Easy Street Records now open for business I obviously had to stop in and knowing my propensity for spending far too much time digging through records and CDs my family decided to see what else was on California Avenue, eventually taking a seat at Cupcake Royale across the street and eventually deciding to grab a few treats for later – namely, cupcakes.
With my browsing eventually done and a copy of St. Vincent’s debut album in hand for a mere $6 I eventually made my way across the street to Cupcake Royale where I found the ladies reading the local paper and where I was greeted by two friendly young bakers who were carefully frosting a large order of cupcakes for a party. Taking a look at the selections in the case and then what my family had ordered while a group of students studied and poked around on their laptops at the tables throughout the small restaurant I have to admit I liked what I saw – a collection of mostly classics but also some unique finds including one that would turn out to be superb.
Beginning first with the classic, our first bite of Cupcake Royale would be the Red Velvet, a moist cake with nice dollop of cream cheese frosting that did well to temper the cocoa notes without overwhelming or being too sweet – a nice start to be sure. Moving next to the Vanilla coconut, this cake would prove to be a bit of a disappointment largely because in my opinion it really did not taste of vanilla at all, but rather just sweet meets coconut and while cake itself was buttery and moist this just felt like something that could have come from Pillsbury.
Moving last to the best of the group (by far,) our last cupcake would be the Salted Caramel, a dense and almost fudge-like cake rich with dark chocolate topped with a whipped caramel frosting dotted with curls of chocolate and crunchy bits of sea salt that provided a sweet meets savory balance that I absolutely loved. Intensely sweet to be sure, particularly after a breakfast at Nouveau this was another one of those treats that would have probably paired much better with coffee and overall it would be the second best cupcake of the trip – behind the Almond Cupcake at Yellow Leaf.
With a day of sight-seeing and savories now behind us and my mother and aunt not coming along to The Herbfarm an early stop at Serious Pizza for happy hour was planned but when we arrived to find a 45 minute wait my sister and I decided to wander the streets and just so happened to walk past Dahlia Bakery, a spot I wasn’t sure we would make it to during our visit but a place whose smell would beckon us in even though the day’s selection had dwindled to just a few options including perhaps the two most well regarded and one that I’d personally targeted based on the recommendation of a friend.
With the servers pleasant but otherwise busy preparing what looked like at least 3 large carry out orders for later that day or the next morning my sister and I weighed our options and after finding out that the coconut pie bites had been made that morning we instead opted for the two fresh items on the wire rack behind the counter – a Chocolate Truffle Cookie and a Chocolate “Fancy” cupcake before heading to the street where we tasted the goods, the first intensely chocolate but shockingly melt-in-your-mouth-light despite the minimal amounts of flour and the second a rich and tasty cocoa cupcake topped with marshmallow textured butter cream fluff that was fine but really not all that memorable (particularly given the $3.40 price tag after tax.)
With dinner at the Herbfarm still fresh in our memories the last day of the first leg of our trip to Seattle and Vancouver would start with coffee and donuts, but certainly not Dunkin or Tim’s – this would be our day to visit Top Pot in order to experience their “hand forged” doughnuts and while I still don’t know precisely what “hand forged” means in regard to a doughnut I do know that for a group of four we did a great job in sampling their wares and that although the space was busy the servers couldn’t have been more helpful and pleasant as they offered suggestions and plated each option individually before putting together our drink orders and even helping us carry everything to the table.
Beginning first with the beverage choices, three of us opted for the Top Pot Diplomat blend – a nutty French Roast that generally would not have been my first choice but when paired with the sweet breakfast pastries proved a perfect balance with nutty undertones and plenty of body to stand up to the pastries. For my aunt, not a coffee fan, she opted for the house made hot chocolate – a milky blend somewhere between a sipping chocolate and standard hot cocoa that certainly did not have the tempering effect that coffee did on the donuts but tasted nice and had a silky mouthfeel just the same.
Moving on to the donuts, all told eight selections were made and dividing each into fourths afforded us each to sample eight flavors for the price and capacity of two whole donuts – by far and away my favorite part of pastry-based breakfasts with a group. Sampling far and wide both in terms of flavor and style based on our own preferences and the suggestions of the staff our choices included a frosted Old Fashioned, Peppermint Chocolate Cake, Blueberry Cinnamon Cake, Apple Fritter, Raspberry Ring, Maple Bar, Chocolate Coconut Boa, and finally a cinnamon laden iced Pershing – each very impressive, especially considering the variations in size, density, and texture with the old fashioned moist and dense on the interior and crunchy on the exterior while the puffy cake donuts were somewhere between Dunkin and Krispy Kreme – light and wispy, but not quite “melt in the mouth.”
Taking into account the prices, certainly not cheap but also not vastly overpriced like New York’s fabled Donut Plant my personal favorites of the set were the airy Maple Bar – intense and vastly more satisfying and sticky sweet than Tim Horton’s classic, the densely apple studded fritter with pockets of spicy cinnamon juxtaposing the sweet buttery apple inside the raised dough, and finally the Blueberry speckled and Cinnamon sugar dusted cake doughnut that my sister almost refused to share as it was delivered still warm. Overall a great collection and although not quite as mesmerizing or ethereal as those at Chicago’s Donut Vault, less expensive and vastly less hassle with a much larger collection and a place to sit down and enjoy.
Having already noted my predilection for sweets another planned stop in our travels was to visit the Theo Chocolate factory for the afternoon tour but unfortunately the combination of spending far too much time at Archie McPhee and the Fremont Troll and an earlier start time during “holiday hours” we arrived twenty minutes too late for the tour and instead had to spend half an hour wandering the store, sampling innumerable free chocolates including a delectable chipotle sipping chocolate, and picking out a few gifts for friends back home including a “beer and chocolate” tasting kit as well as a number of single origin bars.
With helpful servers abound and the samples available without having to ask (in clear plastic containers) I will simply note that all things being equal I probably consumed the equivalent of two 3-oz bars during our visit and was particularly impressed by their section sampling cocoa percentages (anywhere from a 45% milk to a 99% bitter black,) the holiday selections including both dark and milk varieties of peppermint, gingerbread, and others plus their single origin collection including pricier options from the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. With pleasant servers and more to try than most can handle I’d definitely place this on the list of “must visit” stops in Seattle, particularly given their focus on fair trade practices and top notch customer service.
With Lummi Island and then Vancouver in our sites the next stop on our travels would be Mill Creek, Washington – home of Frost Donuts and their frequently rotating menu of “evolved” donuts. With traffic light and the weather for once not raining the drive from downtown Seattle would be a swift one and although a bit off the highway we managed to find Frost with minimal difficulty in the middle of a bustling outdoor mall and making our way in the door were met first with a bit of surprise as a large pile of empty boxes came tumbling over the counter, but then by the smell of fresh pastries and coffee – the best smell I know.
With two groups in front of us and only one cashier working as the other was collecting boxes and then bringing fresh, hot donuts from the kitchen we weighed our options and upon realizing that a half dozen would garner me a free medium Victrola coffee (as well as a discount) we opted for a half dozen that were carefully hand selected by a friendly youngster named Steven who boxed them up, poured the surprisingly smooth cocoa and caramel nuanced coffee, and collected the modest tab of $8.99 before bidding us a thank you and good night and happy New Year.
With plenty of time between our departure from Mill Creek and our dinner on the island our progression through Frost’s treasure box of treats would begin with the classic (and still warm) Raised and Glazed, a light and yeasty donut that ranks along with Donut Vault as the best I’ve ever tasted and a perfect rendition of a “classic” from a place that seems to focus on anything but. Moving next to the more esoteric selections the Butterfinger Blast would both present similarly to the first in that they were both yeasted raised donuts with a light interior and soft buttery notes, but taking a total different direction the toppings in this situation was a dense chocolate and crunchy Butterfinger crumbs – a step up from a simple glaze if you ask me.
Moving on to the other selections a trio of cake donuts would follow in the Bourbon Caramel Pecan, Red Velvet, and Cherry Bomb – each delicious with the vanilla cake donut and salty caramel with notes of booze being my favorite of the trio while my aunt raved about the dense cocoa an smooth cream cheese on the red velvet and the others particularly enjoyed the still warm and fresh vanilla cake donut speckled with cherries and cherry glaze before moving on to the last creation, a Banana Cream and Walnut Bismarck absolutely stuffed with thick Bavarian cream and chopped cooked bananas beneath the same dense chocolate as the Butterfinger plus toasted walnuts – yet another donut well worth the drive for those looking for a unique donut and all things being equal a better selection and better bargain than Top Pot.
Moving into the home stretch and the year 2011 now behind us, our return to Seattle would be another food-filled day and with Salumi not offering desserts and snacks/cocktails/dinner at Walrus and the Carpenter and Spur still many hours away we decided to check out the classic duo of cake (or in this case cupcakes) followed by ice cream (or in this case gelato) beginning first with Yellow Leaf Cupcake, a small shop near downtown with a frequently rotating menu of choices and apparently even some national credit secondary to an appearance on The Cooking Channel (a channel not carried by Time Warner Ohio, it seems.)
With the shop located just past the Olympic Sculpture Park and no parking to be found my sister and I took to the task of entering the shop while my mother and aunt circled the block and greeted by a young woman who seemed a bit bored (“it’s been a really slow day!”) we weighed the options before selecting a half dozen cupcakes, each individually packed in a cardboard holder with a hand-written flavor sheet affixed to the interior of the box, and after paying made our way to the street where we progressed to a yarn-bombed park just down the street to enjoy.
Having selected a few standards along with a couple of more interesting specialties to enjoy alongside another cup of Fonte coffee – this time their creamy Panama Callejon Seco – our cupcake tasting began with the standard Red Velvet, to top notch example with an excellent cake to cream cheese frosting ratio that proved to be one of the best I’ve had in a while and then progressed through the intense Boston Cream with plenty of rich pastry cream and a crunchy chocolate top, sweet meets savory Pancakes and Bacon with fresh baked bits of salty pork atop, and then to the rich and jammy PB&J topped with rich peanut butter cream and stuffed with grape jelly before sampling the two very best of the group – a rich and intensely sweet Dulce de Leche that was literally dripping with fresh caramel and the totally unexpected Almond – a dense cupcake with a texture almost like a financier but a flavor like rich frangipane topped with a frosting that tasted nearly identical to a toasted almond; a truly remarkable cupcake that ranks amongst my top 10 ever and when combined with the rest makes Yellow Leaf one of the best cupcakeries I’ve yet to try.
Having already mentioned our gelato run, after a less than stellar experience at Bottega Italiana earlier in our stay we decided to wrap up our tasting of Emerald City sweets with a trip to D’Ambrosio in Ballard not only because it was conveniently located near Walrus and the Carpenter (as well as some great shopping in the form of Monster, Earth Hues, and more) but because I’d heard great things from a pair of trusted palates that this was some of the best gelato out west and despite the gloomy weather there is always time (and room) for ice cream (and gelato.)
Entering the small store to actually find a line of 5 ahead of us I spent a bit of time surveying the options before I made it to the front of the queue and after tasting a few samples including a creamy and crunchy “crunchy biscotti” and an intense pistachio I opted for a medium size cup largely because it afforded my three choices; Salted Caramel, Bewitched Ricotta, and Caramel and Fig that were packed densely into the cup for a bargain $5 before I made my way to the street where I tasted each flavor and enjoyed slowly in the 45 degree light rain.
Beginning first with the Bewitched Ricotta, a heavenly blend that tasted like frozen cream cheese frosting and next tasting each of the caramel options featuring house made organic caramel, on one side flecked with sea salt and on the other bespeckled with sweet organic figs I can only say that alongside Capogiro Philadelphia this is the best textured gelato I’ve ever tasted while the Caramel and Fig is absolutely on my list of the best frozen desserts I’ve ever tasted.
I hear ya about real life getting in the way. :-) I live in the 'burbs of Seattle and don't get out as much as I would like so it is very fun to live vicariously through others' experiences, especially when so detailed and it gives me good info for when I *do* get out. I also have read your other series of reviews with much interest. Thanks for taking the time to document your experiences.
Bar Del Corso, Serious Pie, Serious Biscuits, Salumi, Walrus and the Carpenter:
Full Review in Blog with Pictures. Text as below.
Having visited the market and done a fair bit of exploration of the chocolates, cupcakes, donuts, and coffee in Seattle there is clearly more to life than just sugar and although there were a number of really great full-fledged meals in Seattle there were also early cocktails and snacks (some that would qualify as a meal for others) as well as light lunches in the midst of sight-seeing (or eating baked goods) that could best be described as savory interludes in the day – five spots that didn’t really serve as a complete dining experience but more as an appetizer for things to come and all but one that despite their savory nature would serve up some damned tasty desserts as well.
With our first day maligned by cancellations, flight delays, and the general horrors that are Continental Airlines and IAH our dining itinerary for the (very late) first and entire second day in the Emerald City would require a bit of retooling but always with a contingency plan our early bites before a late reservation would lead us to the relatively new and critically applauded Beacon Hill Pizzeria entitled Bar Del Corso, a spot I’d been told was dishing out perhaps the best pies west of the Mississippi river by a chef in Los Angeles and a place that was high on my must visit list from day one of planning.
Owned and operated by Jerry Corso, a young man whose training began very early and led him to both sides of the Atlantic (and of the United States) to master his craft, plus his wife Bar Del Corso would prove to be an easy find and although a steady downpour plagued our walk from the street parking to the door the space and service could not have been more convivial and warm when we arrived mere moments after they’d unlocked the doors and with a no reservations policy we were quickly led to a sturdy four-top where menus were provided and waters filled before the hostess returned to the stand to greet a steady stream of customers that would see the restaurant filled within the hour.
With the restaurant bustling the next person to greet us after we sat was Lucas, a friendly young waiter who recited the day’s specials prominently listed on a chalkboard, offered us drinks which we declined, and told us to take our time after leaving us with some recommendations. Having already scouted the menu and knowing that this visit was only ‘pre-gaming’ for more Italian later I personally took this time to go check out Jerry’s handmade stone oven where Chef Corso was busy stoking the fire and adding wood yet more than happy to chat – a genuinely nice guy who really seemed to love what he was doing even as the area around the oven was, in my opinion, sweltering.
With Lucas returning and orders placed it would not be long before our first dish would arrive and with water remaining filled by the back servers I knew right away that this “snack” was going to be more of a meal before a meal for myself when I saw the portion size of the Baccalà Mantecato – a dish twice as large as I’d expected and one I knew my fish-phobic family would likely not overindulge on. Served alongside toasty rustic bread fresh from the oven and featuring the lightest flavored salt cod whipped with creamy potato and olive oil that I have ever tasted this small casserole was a perfect starter with a nicely balanced brininess made all the more heavenly by hints of garlic and a bubbly layer of grated parmigiano-reggiano DOP – a flavor still too “fishy” for my mother and aunt, but not really an issue as I was more than happy to overindulge on something so divine.
Moving next to the main event (or so I thought) our selections were a duo of pizzas, the first an upgraded version of Corso’s standard Margherita and the second a slightly more unique but beautiful Ortolana. Beginning first with the crust, as any discussion of pizza should, the pies that were brought to us still bubbling from the over were nearly my ideal for a Neapolitan pie – a crisp crust with a dense crumb and large blistered pockets along the edges complimented with just enough sugar and salt to give it flavor but not so much to overwhelm the toppings; a lovely ring with a wet center but not soupy at all.
Moving next to the toppings and cheese, for the Margherita it was the standard; top notch San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, grassy and smooth olive oil, and for us the $3 upgrade mozzarella di buffula DOP – all textbook, particularly on this crust, and although not the very best Margherita I’ve ever had a strong contender especially given the price of only $15 even after the added cheese. For the Ortolana, this one without a “sauce,” what would arrive was actually quite impressive – an admixture of “Willie’s braising greens,” house cured coppa, smoked mozzarella, and chopped cherry tomatoes plus a dusting of pecorino that all worked beautifully together as the smoky cheese blended seamlessly with the briny pork while the vegetal bitterness of the nicely softened greens was toned down by the acidity of the tomatoes and sharpness of the cheese; a beautiful pie and an absolute must order.
Having already noted our upcoming dinner at Spinasse I’d originally planned to skip dessert at Bar Del Corso but when I saw the words Quince and Polenta next to one another on the menu and heard the description of an “upside-down” Cake I immediately reassessed...besides, dinner was still 2.5 hours away and as luck would have it the item that arrived at our table would turn out to be the best thing I ate in Seattle or Vancouver and amongst the ten best desserts I ate in 2011, a warm disc not much larger than a hockey puck and consisting of no more than toothsome grains, butter, sugar, and fruit rendered into a steaming hot pudding with just a bit of crunch at its base and a touch of cinnamon; a more toothsome sticky pudding if you will and the rare sort of dish where I ate each bite with my eyes closed and a smile on my face.
With some great eating already in our rearview and more to come another between-meal stop would be at Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie Downtown for Happy Hour – a fitting choice not only because the 3:00pm start would allow my sister and I a taste of the highly acclaimed pizza while affording us plenty of time to digest before the night’s dinner at The Herbfarm but also because my mother and aunt could thereby get a good meal at a great price since they’d not be joining us for the night’s extravagance.
Having heard that the space fills up quickly, especially for the discounted drinks and $6 personal pizzas our original goal was to arrive at Serious Pie as the Happy Hour began but unfortunately our amusement with the Fremont Troll and Archie McPhee plus a patch of bad traffic would delay our arrival till nearly 3:45, a time by which the restaurant was already full with a reported 45 minute wait during which my sister and I took a walk only to receive a text 20 minutes later that a communal 8-top was ready and that my mother and aunt were already seated (with particularly notable fantastic customer service assisting my aunt and her damaged Achilles’ tendon through the crowded and tightly packed space.)
Having already noted the bustling nature of Serious Pie it would be mere moments before a young lady named Leyla would greet us and dropping off menus she stated she would “be right back” with water – a process that took perhaps ten minutes as it seemed she was the only server working our half of the room and when she returned we not only received our water but placed our orders as well – three happy hour pizzas, an impressively potent house aged root beer, and a diet coke, all of which would arrive less than fifteen minutes later as the restaurant became louder and even more crowded largely due to a particularly sizeable group near the bar.
With the pizzas arriving hot and bubbling from the large wood-fired oven, an oven that on my observation appeared to be able to turn out at least 6 pizzas at once, we were all quite amused by the small size and oblong shapes of the pies as each one was cut into 6 two-bite pieces with the puffy golden crust making up the better part of one of those bites, especially on the four “corner” pieces. Served on black slates big enough to hold one or two pies it would not take long before we decided to dig in and beginning first with the aforementioned crust I must say it was not precisely what I expected but quite good none the less with a slightly blistered underside giving rise to a dense and bready interior with a touch of sweetness and good chew without being “tough” – a bit like ‘pan’-pizza from a national chain, but ever more pleasant and less dense to be sure.
Moving on to a discussion of the toppings our three pies would include “Buffalo Mozzarella, Tomato Sauce, Fresh Basil,” “Soft egg, House made guanciale, arugula,” and “Yukon gold potato, rosemary, pecorino” – all three featuring top notch ingredients in ample portions with the Margherita tangy and well seasoned, the egg a nice volley of creamy, savory, and bitter, and the potato and rosemary option a personal favorite largely because of the manner in which the lightly boiled potatoes provided just enough resistance to the tooth to be noticeable but otherwise served to lend their characteristic earthy body to the butter, hefty sprinkling of rosemary, and briny cheese.
Moving next to dessert but knowing the night was far from over for two of us we settled on one selection, my choice of the “Chocolate budino, sea salt, biscotti” – a dense chocolate pudding with a texture more smooth than mousse but less dense than panna cotta bespeckled with crunchy rocks of sea salt and a light lacquer of olive oil that added a fruity top note. Allotted only a couple bites each given the four spoons and rather small size I will say the thought crossed my mind to order another but deciding to show just a bit of restraint I instead took to using the warm and crunchy chocolate chip biscotti to wipe the jar clean while looking forward not only to our meal at The Herbfarm later than night but also another visit to a Tom Douglas spot the following day.
With another great day behind us and already checked out of our hotel with plans for Willow’s Inn on Lummi Island that night and a subsequent drive across the border to Vancouver a late lunch on 12/30 would see our second visit to a Tom Douglas spot – this time the downstairs of Serious Pie Westlake in a space formerly known as Dahlia Workshop now reborn as Serious Biscuit. Again with parking easily obtained at a meter and jokes appropriately made about the “serious” nature of Chef Douglas’ work we made our way into Serious Biscuit to find the restaurant largely empty at 2:15pm and upon browsing the overhead menu it took little time for each of us to identify something that sounded delicious, place our order with a rather distracted and unhelpful server named Norah, and find seats beneath the delightful Christmas decorations in front of the floor to ceiling windows.
With the kitchen wide open to see and two large guys working loudly as they mixed batter, scooped the dough onto sheets, and manned the oven another young woman took to the task of preparing our sandwiches – each biscuit warm from the oven, sliced, and topped with fresh ingredients being cooked to order – while Norah first spent time texting on her cell phone and then spent literally ten minutes flirting with her boyfriend in the middle of the restaurant; something I’ve literally never seen before and only ending when a group of four arrived to order some food and then resuming thereafter.
With sandwiches being prepared and the ‘scene’ going on behind us I took the opportunity of a ten minute wait to first browse the wine shop next door and then to check out the dessert menu at the Serious Pie upstairs before asking if it would be possible to order a dessert up there to eat downstairs after our sandwiches – a request that was granted without question and whose delivery would be timed perfectly just after we’d finished our biscuits – 5 in total that would arrive from the kitchen one at a time and each as impressive as the next mostly due to buttermilk biscuits almost too good to be true.
Beginning first with the less interesting options three of the selections would be a plain biscuit with butter and raspberry preserves, a biscuit with bacon, egg, and cheese, and finally a plain biscuit with honey, peanut butter, sliced bananas, and a side of bacon. Beginning first with the biscuits, never before have I tasted a buttermilk biscuit that managed to be both light and dense at the same time, loaded with butter yet just a bit crumbly, and capable of being picked up and eaten like a sandwich without crumbling apart – think everything a McDonalds biscuit is in terms of portability but make it three times as big, three times as delicate, and infinitely more buttery. As to the toppings – eggs fried up right in front of us alongside the bacon, house churned organic peanut butter, local honey, and house made preserves – not much else to be said, all delicious.
Moving on to the more interesting options, my sister went with the Crispy Hamhock, Collards, Smoked Onions only because I ordered first and selected “The Zach” – a dense biscuit topped with Fried-as-you-wait Chicken, Tabasco Black Pepper Gravy, a Fried Egg, and Bacon and having already mentioned the quality of the biscuits there was simply no eating either of these without the use of a knife and fork as both were smothered with their respective toppings, larger portions of protein, and a flavor profile running the gamut from savory to smoky crisp vegetable notes on the Hamhock sandwich and from creamy to crunchy to hot, smoky, and savory on The Zach; a truly remarkable sandwich and among the top 10 things I ate on the trip even if there was really not much “northwest” about it.
Having already mentioned dessert it would be just as we finished up The Zach (a team effort with everyone quite impressed) that Chris would descend the stairs with the “Warm Rice Pudding with Caramel, Vanilla Oat Crisp, and Golden Raisins” and as a big fan of rice pudding (and lucky enough to have had quite a few this year) it would prove to be another great dish; every bit as good as the budino the night before and perhaps even better with the rice textural but not tough and “stick a spoon up in it” thick but not gummy or heavy at all. With the rice pudding itself good, the presentation would also prove to be excellent as the kitchen opted to fill the bottom of the glass jar with molten salty caramel and top the dish with the vanilla toasted oats and raisins, a method that allowed everything to remain separated and at their appropriate temperatures until mixing effectively created a warm, sweet, and textural masterpiece that could have stood up to some of the better examples in Paris – a great dessert on a trip full of great desserts and a particularly noteworthy end to a surprisingly memorable lunch.
Having now spent a good four days in Richmond, Vancouver, and North Vancouver our return to Seattle on 1/3/2012 would finally find one of the city’s most highly regarded spots open for lunch – a place nationally known not only because the son’s owner has created an empire of restaurants stretching from the Empire State to the Golden State but also because they apparently put out a damned fine line of cured meats, sandwiches, and pastas in their own right – Salumi.
With the restaurant just returning from a holiday break that had lasted just under two weeks and having heard rumors of hour plus lines even during the workweek to get a sandwich our arrival at Salumi would be just twenty minutes after they opened the doors and much to both ours and the workers’ surprise we were actually only the second group of the day – a situation they admitted was “very peculiar” as there is generally a full house from 11:00 to close but an advantageous situation to us as we had time to not only browse the menu but also to taste some samples before placing our order for two sandwiches and two of the daily specials from the kitchen, all of which were prepared swiftly by the pleasant team and delivered to our table directly next to the kitchen.
Beginning first with the daily pasta, unfortunately not the gnocchi I’d hoped for, Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce with Sliced Bread would prove to be an admirable second choice with the house made dried noodles cooked to a springy al dente texture and topped with a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, heavy cream, butter, and garlic – a hearty rustic dish that fit the scene nicely and albeit not “haute” cuisine in any way, a lot of flavor for a mere $8 with a sauce that saw me sopping up every drop with the warm crusty bread served at its side.
For our second daily special my mother was keen to try the Baked Acorn Squash with Dittalini and Cotechino, a surprisingly inspired choice with the sweet meat of the squash removed after cooking and mixed with what appeared to be miniature penne noodles and fatty sausage plus a hefty dusting of pecorino cheese. Small but flavorful and an intense balance of sweet, savory, and spicy with a lot of texture this was another rustic dish that went quickly and a veritable steal at $6.
Moving now to the main events and with each sandwich cut into four by the lovely servers at the counter my first bites of Armandino’s famous house salumi had admittedly already occurred when we were offered samples while waiting in line but now pairing the fennel speckled and intensely savory pork with Roasted Onions, House made mozzarella, and a light olive oil dressing on ciabbata we all truly got to experience the quality of the signature sandwich. Generally not a fan of salami on its own I have to say that all things being equal this was actually a very good quality product, particularly when balanced against the creamy mozzarella, but what really stole the show for me was the onions – nearly translucent despite being lightly charred and as sweet as candy without overwhelming the rest of the sandwich.
Moving on to the more interesting (at least to me) of the two sandwiches, the slow roasted Porchetta with fennel, carrots, celery, and roasted onions on rustic Italian would prove to be the best bite of the afternoon with the savory pork not only piping hot but intensely juicy and soaking into the hefty bun more and more with each bite. Subtly spiced and light on the salt I really appreciated how Salumi allowed the pork to on its own while the vegetables laid a background of both bitter and sweet plus a crunchy texture to each bite. While I cannot say I loved this sandwich as much as the skin and salt speckled version at Roli Roti down in San Francisco it is a hard call to make given the differences in presenting the same cut of meat and I think both deserve their space on the “must eat sandwich” list for those visiting just as Salumi absolutely deserves its critical acclaim, long lines, and the attention of anyone serious about food who is visiting Seattle.
Moving on to the last of our mini-meals, this one actually only four hours after Salumi and four hours before Spur, our last day in Seattle would lead us to The Walrus and the Carpenter, a place considered by many to not only be one of the best new bars in America, but also one of the best oyster bars in America – two things that don’t necessarily sell me on a space, but a restaurant featuring both a cocktail and small plates list that looked fantastic and a setting that looked straight out of Paris by way of Seattle.
Having spent most of the afternoon wandering Ballard after lunch and having picked up some unique gifts in the artsy neighborhood in the process our arrival to The Walrus and the Carpenter would be just as they opened the doors at 4:00pm and with the restaurant still empty we were given our choice of seats and greeted pleasantly by literally everyone in the space – from the hostess to our server to the bartender, cooks, and even the guy with awesome beard who spent the evening shucking oysters in a nearly zen-like trance. With smiling faces all around and a soundtrack harkening the 40s and 50s we opted to take a seat in the back corner largely to afford us a view of the room but also because we anticipated the place to get loud – something that happened shortly thereafter as the restaurant filled to capacity within twenty minutes.
Greeted now at the table by Kat, menus were presented with cocktails, wine, beer, and liquor on the back and food on the front while in addition to the menu we were explained a number of daily specials, one of which would prove a must order even though I went into the restaurant hoping to show some restraint. With waters filled and cocktails ordered we spent a few moments deliberating and when Kat returned we were ready to order – a duo of bar bites, a duo of savories, a bit of cheese, and a couple of sweets, all of which would arrive with excellent pacing over the course of just under an hour and fifteen minutes.
Beginning first with our cocktails, four were ordered and it did not take any of us long to figure out why the bar gets such rave reviews – for $9 each these were some damned heavy pours with a lot of top quality booze from the friendly and knowledgeable bartender. Beginning first with a few of the weaker selections entitled The Moscow Mule with Vodka, Ginger Beer, Lime, and Sliced Ginger and the Porch Swing with Gin, Lemon Juice, Pimm’s, and Apple bitters I really liked the balance of each as the heavy use of citrus helped to meld the bitter notes of the alcohol but moving on to the heavier selections – my sister’s Mustache Ride with Bourbon, Cynar, Allspice, Maple, Lemon and my Norwegian Wood with Aquavit, Applejack, Sweet Vermouth, and Yellow Chartreuse all I could do was let the ice melt and sip them slowly – very slowly – but then again, I am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol and the flavors were admittedly quite nice.
Moving right along to the snacks and cheese which we munched on as we waited, under normal circumstances the charge of $3 for Bread and Butter and $4 for a bowl of Roasted Almonds, Espelette, and Sea Salt would have seemed strange to me, but under these circumstances I will forgive largely because of the portions and the quality – literally a cup of almonds full of flavor and crunch while the bread was crusty, warm, and paired with locally churned butter and olive oil. All things being equal, I’m actually sort of glad they charged for the bread because if they had not I’d have invariably overindulged.
Moving on to the cheese, the third of the first round to arrive, Kurtwood Farms Dinah’s Cheese would prove to be a cheese I’d never heard of but on first taste I realized it was one that should definitely be more common. Described by our sever as the only cheese offered by Kurtwood Farms and one of the chef’s favorites I personally loved the softness of the smooth cow’s cheese while a slightly bloomy rind and nutty notes proved a competent pairing for locally sourced Ballard bee Honey and a few more slices of a different room temperature crusty white bread with melted butter.
Arriving next as single dishes each separated by approximately ten minutes the following three courses would prove very impressive for “bar food” and beginning with the most simple of the group we were treated to “Roasted Medjool Dates, Olive Oil, Sea Salt” a dish of eight of these lovely fruits roasted to tenderness, shaken with large crystals of salt, and drizzled with olive oil. Pricey to be sure at $1 per date but a well picked selection with each the size of a medium egg there was nothing fancy about this dish aside from perhaps the plating, but at the same time none of that really mattered – it was delicious.
Moving next to more composed dishes, the nightly special that sounded so irresistible arrived next featuring Salt Cod Brandade with toasted garlic bread and fennel salad with capers. Knowing my fascination with brandade and overall distaste for capers I first opted to taste the salad and as expected found it far too pungent and although tender just too briny to be enjoyed. Glad to have established that and setting it aside in favor of the blistering hot ramekin I next dug into the cheese, potato, and cod amalgam with a fork before placing it on the bread – a lovely texture, light on the salt, and plenty of cod flavor but not quite as delicate and refined as that at Bar Del Corso it would prove to be a competent take on the Baccala, but overall the least inspiring dish of the night.
Saving the best (or perhaps just the largest and most labor intensive for the kitchen) for last, our final savory of the evening at The Walrus would be a dish titled “Duck Confit, Leek, White Bean, Bread Crumbs” – a dish that would prove to be much more than the sum of its parts and perhaps the best duck confit I’ve ever tasted. Beginning first with the duck leg and thigh – crispy crunchy skin and supple flesh beneath a thin ribbon of fat – it was perfect, but what really put this dish over the top was in fact that accoutrements, a large porcelain bowl filled with white beans in a leek puree imbued with aged cheese and topped with breadcrumbs…a veritable macaroni and cheese without the cheese and a spot-on-flawless balance to the crispy protein.
Still swooning from the confit the capper to our pre-meal meal would be another of my favorite foods and another stunning dessert from the fine folks of Seattle; Maple Bread Pudding, Espresso Butter Sauce, Whipped Cream. Arriving as a hot “slice” of rich egg bread soaked with maple syrup and resting in a buttery pool of coffee and rum enriched gravy with a ball of ice-cream thick whipped cream atop this is the sort of dish where a picture tells a thousand words – thick, rich, and although small for four persons more than enough for one given its heft.
With the bill paid and a generous tip left for the pleasant service we made our way from The Walrus and the Carpenter more than impressed by the space, the staff, and the food – definitely a special spot considering they essentially bill themselves as just an oyster and cocktail bar and despite the fact that the cocktails were almost too potent for me and we avoided the oysters I can definitely say that not only would I go back, but I have every intention of trying to make that bean, leek, and cheese admixture at home sometime soon.
"Neapolitan pie – a crisp crust with a dense crumb and large blistered pockets along the edges complimented with just enough sugar and salt"
Sugar in Neapolitan pizza dough? Heresy! And I expect better from Jerry. Did it actually taste sweet, or are you employing poetic license? I've been excited to try Bar del Corso, but not if their pizza is sweet. Do explain.
re: babette feasts
It is not "sweet" like candy and I have no idea what his dough recipe consists of, but there is definitely a bit of "sweetness" to it - like the "sweetness" of a really good butter croissant, I guess you could say. It is really good and could even be the type of wood he is burning or the type of flour he is using (a blend, if I had to guess.)
Having been to a number of the most "well regarded" pizza spots in the US (Lucali - NY, Great Lake - Chicago, Osteria and Tacconelli's - Philadelphia, Bianco - Phoenix, Delfina and Una - SF, etc) I can say that Del Corso ranks in my top 10 - and that I can taste a bit of sweetness in the crust of all of the above except for Una and Tacconelli's.
It is apparently a life skill. I was never aware that it was "abnormal" until rather recently. My guess is that it has a lot to do with consuming 6 meals a day during "normal" life (not vacation) and 90% of the bulk of those meals being high fiber/high satiety vegetables. I also run approximately 10 miles daily, which no doubt helps.
I don't know - I'm just going to consider it a blessing until my genese catch up to me. :-)
The Coterie Room:
Full review in blog with pictures in context, text as below:
I can’t deal with flying if I don’t go to the gym beforehand – it is just the way I am, I simply function better after lifting or running whether it be at home or on the road. With that noted and a 6:00am flight from Columbus en route to Seattle my wakeup call was around 3:00am and after a good seven miles on the treadmill I showered, gathered the family and my bags, and like clockwork we were in the air due to arrive in the Emerald City at 3:00pm with reservations at Canlis that evening at 8:00pm. With homemade trail mix and vegetables packed for the flight all was well until we made it to Houston, the worst airport I’ve ever been to and the site of a two-day layover for my sister in the past, where I would spend the next 630 minutes of my life because our plane sprung a leak and there were simply no open seats on any other airline. My reward for this inconvenience? A $10 “lunch voucher” in an airport wing that contained nothing but fast food and more trail mix plus a missed reservation at Canlis during a week when their seasonal closure would leave us no other opportunity to visit.
Noting already that I was sleep deprived, hungry, and in a rather foul mood with both IAH and Continental Airlines it was with some frustration that I called Canlis to cancel and then used my phone to assess the options open later than 10:00pm – a limited selection to be sure, but one that led me to The Coterie Room, a spot I’d originally considered for a lunch during our visit until I realized that the menu differed substantially from that at dinner but an option that now seemed almost serendipitously ideal and an opportunity I grasped with a simple click on Opentable – a table for four, 10:00pm – and in the end with all things being equal it is impossible for me to be objective about The Coterie Room not only because of these circumstances, but also because after the worst day of travel that I can ever remember they treated my mother, aunt, sister, and I like we were old friends coming over for dinner.
With the weather rainy, the hour late, and each of us more than a little fatigued our arrival to the Coterie Room would be just after 9:45 and dropping my family off at the door I found parking on an admittedly creepy street with a number of vagrants who all oddly seemed to assume I had a cigarette for them. Making my way to the restaurant I was admittedly surprised when I entered the door to find it not only a bit quiet but quite literally empty save for a table near the living wall where my family sat and a couple at the bar. Greeted at the door by the man who would end up also being our server, Philip T, I was led to our table and with chair pulled out and water already filled was handed a menu.
Browsing the inside of The Coterie Room in comparison to the street I’d just wandered was a stark contrast. Hard woods and plaster with crown molding, an open kitchen with gleaming stainless steel, a well endowed bar, candles, and the previously mentioned living wall of herbs and gently dripping water dominated the space making it feel warm and inviting despite the lack of patrons and with my appetite well past hunger at this point the menu too felt inviting and familiar with not only upscale American classics but also touches of both southern and northern fare in portions from small bites to family sized platters that led to each of us contemplating multiple options before finally ordering.
Sold out of their oft raved foie gras terrine (a minor disappointment all things considering) but with a menu full of great choices the first thing to arrive at our table following a short wait would be a warm house made baguette with butter topped in crisp sea salt. Four slices, each with a dense golden crust and warm fluffy interior I’m normally not all that sold on baguette as table bread but taking into consideration the freshness, flavor, and fact that I’d only eaten celery and trail mix for twelve hours I ate more than my fair share and then requested some more to which Philip gladly obliged us.
Moving on to appetizers, our selections would arrive as a trio with each featuring an updated take on a comfort food classic and a shockingly impressive update at that. Beginning first with perhaps the restaurants most applauded item, “Ham Cracklins served warm with black truffle fondue” would arrive in a large bowl and with each crispy haute-porkrind as delicate as a shrimp chip but as flavorful as a slice of bacon I immediately knew that these would go fast even with the less adventurous eaters at the table. Good on their own yet vastly improved by the ‘fondue,’ a light concoction clearly made with butter, truffle oil, and heavy cream plus a sharp aged cheese my only complaint is that there wasn’t quite enough of the fondue to go around…at least not when you put a heaping tablespoon on each crackling because it is so damned decadent and delicious.
Moving next to “Our Version of Poutine” the team at The Coterie Room opted to update the gravy with braised pork shoulder, use local Beecher’s cheese curds that were first battered and friend, and then add a multitude of fresh herbs including rosemary, sage, and chives to produce something quite different from the down and dirty Montreal classic. With the fries thick cut, skin on, crisp on the exterior and delicate on the inside this was another dish that went quickly – particularly the bites with the squeaky cheese and although I would have personally liked to have seen more gravy atop the crisp spuds as opposed to at the base of the plate one benefit of this presentation was that the fries remained crisp from start to finish as opposed to getting soggy and weighted down like other less refined versions.
For our last appetizer, Sweet Onion Mac n’ Cheese baked in a cast iron pot with crispy shallots would prove to be the least interesting of the three yet even despite ordering it without the “duck ham” at the request of my mother and aunt I found the flavors to be quite rich and well balanced with the macaroni all nicely cooked and loaded with bubbling cheese imbued with a savory onion finish. Caramelized atop and crowned with crispy shallots and chopped green onions a small portion of the dish certainly went a long way but all things being equal I’d absolutely order it again – this time with the duck.
Having contemplated a number of main courses – from pork to pasta to scallops – our final decision was a bit of a rarity for us in that we all ordered the same thing not simply because it seemed to fit the traditional flavor of the menu but also because it was 11:15pm and family style Buttermilk fried chicken served with potato and bacon hash, chicken gravy, and frisee salad sounded just like the perfect thing…and for the most part it was. Beginning first with the chicken, a whole bird minus the wings that we watched the team remove from a buttermilk bath, bread, and fry before a quick finish in the oven the flavor was exquisitely juicy and intensely crisp with the buttermilk notes nicely balanced on the palate by herbs and pepper – the best fried bird I’ve had since Michel Richard Central without a doubt. Not to be outdone, however, what really put this plate on the next level was the aromatic gravy and the “hash” – essentially butter whipped skin on potatoes dotted with lardons, chives, and what I believe was a touch of sour cream; absolutely decadent and a trip favorite for my sister.
With the hour now reaching for midnight and a strange scene being raised up front as a local homeless person had apparently stiffed the restaurant with a bad credit card Philip returned to offer us the dessert menu and with three desserts plus two nightly ice cream selections available we opted for one of each of the three desserts and declining coffee Philip asked us inquisitively whether we always dined out late or if we were ‘celebrating something’ since we’d made the reservation only earlier that day – a question that led to our story of hours in Houston’s airport and a story likewise from him about a time he once got trapped in the wretched place as well.
With the vagrant now returning to the street and yelling at the restaurant window for some time before moving along our desserts would arrive in short order and although not “upscale American” like the savories each would prove impressive beginning first with “Almond Financiers with almond Custard and Quince Confiture” – a stack of Madeline textured cookies filled with creamy custard in the style of a Twinkie and paired with Quince jam; a bit sweet, a bit savory, warm and delicious.
Moving next to the “Apple Galette warm spiced apples in flaky crust with vanilla ice cream and caramel” this dish would prove to be nearly as American as apple pie with the free form galette sitting in a pool of salty caramel and topped with an airy light quenelle of vanilla ice cream. Sweet and buttery with hints of salt underlying the potency of the vanilla and cinnamon this was a serviceable dessert even if it was somewhat “Standard” and the crackling pastry shell was divine.
Moving to what we thought was the last dessert, “Chocolate Caramel Tort covered in orange ganache and candied orange” the final service of the trio would be by far the most intense with a light caramel mousse sandwiched between layers of chocolate cake dipped in a crackling dark chocolate shell and topped with a touch of orange. Not a fan of citrus and chocolate my sister refrained from this dessert, but all things being equal I was alright with that as the delicate orange melded well with the sweet caramel while the chocolate’s natural bittersweet essence brought the flavors all together. As an additional bonus, a few spoons of crumbled corn nuts and corn nuts in crystallized sugar dotted the plate adding a nice textural component.
With desserts enjoyed and requesting the tab Phillip would return to our table not only with the bill but with one final dessert “since the rest of the hospitality world has been shitting on you today we might as well end it with something sweet – Vanilla Ice Cream with Butter Crumble, Caramel, Dehydrated dulce de leche, pound cake – complements of the kitchen” – the dessert we’d omitted thinking it was simply ice cream yet the dessert we would all enjoy the most with the same creamy vanilla ice cream as the galette this time paired with dense pound cake topped with what tasted like soft shortbread cookies, caramel, and a bit of ‘mg’ trickery in the form of dulce de leche powder that gave the whole dish a potent buttery top note on the palate.
Sticking around and chatting with the staff for a little while as we finished dessert and paid the bill my family waited while I went to get the car and upon exiting Philip wished us all a good stay in Seattle before locking the door for the night –yet another nice gesture in a series of many considering that were it not for us the Coterie Room would have probably closed an hour earlier…and were it not for the Coterie Room 12/27/11 would have been a really crappy day instead of one that started off a really really great trip full of really great food.
Both they and Spur (the first and last meals of our trip, respectively) were shockingly empty during our visits. Admittedly the hour was late and the day was a Tuesday each time, but all things being equal if these places were in New York or Chicago I've no doubt that given the bar scene, quality of food, and relatively good prices they'd all be filled till close.
Definitely a go if you like the whole idea of updated comfort food. I wish we'd have had a chance to try Quinns to compare.
Full review in blog with pictures in context, text as below:
“Toulouse Petit sounds like a French Restaurant – like something out of Louisiana” said my mother.
“Yeah, I think it sort of is” said I.
“Why are we going to a Creole place when we’re about as far away from New Orleans as you can get?”
“I don’t know – they have a half-off breakfast happy hour and I hear it is really good” said I.
…and they did…and it was.
Beginning our first ‘real’ day in Seattle I fought of the cobwebs from the long day before and while the others slept I made my way to the hotel gym for a long run – one that was precisely what the doctor ordered and much to my surprise by the time I returned to the hotel room my mother, aunt, and sister were showered and ready to go – a first in my travel experiences but a welcomed sight that led to a quick shower before jumping in the car and turning the GPS south – our destination spurring the conversation above largely because I’d been talking about how much I was looking forward to croissants from Nouveau and Besalu the day before but a destination that I decided on because after a day like the one before it I simply needed something more substantial than pastries; besides, we still had a whole trip ahead of us.
With the streets largely empty as we had clearly slept through rush hour our navigation would lead us largely without stop to the doors of Toulouse Petit where even though it was Wednesday we found ourselves greeted by a full house just after nine. Greeted by a petite blonde (there is definitely a ‘theme’ in regard to the female servers at Toulouse Petit that I certainly did not object to) and told that it would be perhaps fifteen minutes before a table was ready we stood back and waited for only five before our name was called and we were led through the bustling and heavy wooded space to a four-top juxtaposing the well stocked bar.
Seated and comfortable with menus in hand from the hostess we would spend the next five minutes browsing over the immense menu before another young lady in a t-shirt and well fitted jeans would greet us to ask if we would like coffee or a drink from the bar and with three of us opting for coffee – a fantastic nutty roast from Fonte served via French Press that would get me quite excited for the coffee of Seattle – plus one tall orange juice we were left again with our decisions…a particularly laborious choice as no less than fifteen selections on the $8 morning happy hour sounded “can’t miss” to myself, but a choice made a bit easier when I was informed that their oft raved Pork Cheek Hash was sold out and with orders placed we sat discussing the days plans as we sipped our coffee (or in my case drank it quite fast only to realize refills were not a part of the deal.)
With the kitchen large, spotless, and surprisingly tranquil given the rapidity of service it would be only ten minutes after ordering that small plates would be passed out and our appetizer would arrive – a classic I couldn’t possibly leave without ordering in the form of Beignets with powdered sugar and chicory anglaise. Served as a quintet and immediately claiming the extra for myself these two-bite fried pieces of dough would prove to be an admirable take on the Café du Monde classic and though not as light as the beignets down south certainly not “dense” or “oily” either. Good on their own but with a sidecar of nutty yet slightly bitter sauce at the side the beignets were definitely a nice start but in the end they would also prove the least impressive item of the morning.
Moving on to our main courses, delivered as a quartet and filling the table to capacity, each selection would arrive piping hot and elegantly presented and with three savories and a sweet plus one additional side I knew right away there would be plenty of plate passing and sharing to be done. Beginning first with the savories, my mother’s selection would be the most “standard” of the quartet, a dish from the Toulouse Benedict section of the menu featuring Snake River Farms Kurubota Ham and house made lemon hollandaise over a pair of poached eggs, toasted English muffins, and a side of breakfast potatoes. First noting that this was a large plate of food for a mere $8 what really impressed me was not so much the portion but the quality – the ham supple, tender, and not watery in the least while the yard eggs were creamy, and the potatoes and muffins were crisp on the exterior and tender within while the light citrus of the creamy hollandaise took center stage without overwhelming at all. A great Benedict by any definition, but nowhere near as impressive as that ordered by my sister.
For Erika, the Toulouse Benedict with Rustic Duck and Pistachio Terrine would arrive quite similar to the plate my mother selected but taking out the tasty yet expected ham and replacing it with a pan seared slice of meaty duck terrine imbued with foie gras and thick chunks of pistachio both on the interior and acting as a crust I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this would prove to be one of the very best breakfast savories I have ever tasted. Served atop the same English Muffins as the other Benedict yet with the Hollandaise even more subdued by the gaminess of the terrine I’ll note that for someone who rarely has plate envy this was a case where although my dish was good, this one was stellar.
With aunt going the sweet route the final savory of the morning would be my dish, another duck preparation but this time lacking the sauce and instead pairing Duck Confit Hash with potatoes, parsnips, turnips, thyme, and two poached eggs. Beginning first with the hash itself, the compilation of crispy root vegetables was beautifully prepared and mixed with greens and a light vinaigrette plus spices the flavors were fresh, mild, and crisp providing a nice backdrop to the crackling skin and tender flesh of the savory duck. Moving on to the eggs I will note that although tasty they were slightly overcooked, particularly when compared to those on the Benedicts and although a small quibble it was certainly noteworthy considering how well the others had turned out.
With my plate smaller than the others by some degree it turned out somewhat fortuitous that my carbohydrate loving side had additionally opted for a $3 side dish of Creole Buttermilk Biscuits with butter and strawberry jam to go along with my hash and although not the standard large fluffy biscuits one would expect in Southern cooking, I actually found these more dense and buttery versions to be quite tasty, particularly with the thick jam and when used to sop up the yolk and vinaigrette left on my plate after finishing the hash.
Moving on to the “dessert” portion of breakfast, my aunt’s choice of Bananas Foster Pancakes with candied pecans and pecan butter plus a $2 side of vanilla ice cream would take me right back to my visit to NOLA in more ways than one as the fluffy pancakes were absolutely soaked in boozy rich caramelized syrup while the candied pecans and rich pecan butter added a nice smoky note to the presentation plus a bit of crunch. Served almost too hot to eat (yet unfortunately not on fire like true Bananas Foster) it was at my bidding that she added the ice cream – a rich vanilla bean that harkened back to my visit to Camellia Grill when I devoured a Pecan Waffle plus a slice of fried pecan pie topped with ice cream only hours before flying home.
Described loquaciously as being built “around notions larger and more expansive than any particular theme or region: unique and lusty cuisine that requires discipline and skill to prepare; texturally rich and intricate décor that can only have been designed and created by individuals who approach their craft with focus and commitment; and the general desire to deliver the various possibilities of dining, drinking and adult escapism to others in a way that is positive safe, friendly, values-driven… and which leaves everyone better off for having had the experience” all I will say is that no matter what theme or region they claim to be targeting (or not targeting as it were,) Toulouse Petite does a pretty excellent job of replicating many of the flavors I experienced in New Orleans even if it is 2,600 miles away and all at a price that really cannot be beat for the setting and the quality.
601 Queen Anne Ave N, Seattle, WA 98119
Full review with photos in blog, text as below.
Leaving our pre-dinner pizza at Bar Del Corso on our second night in Seattle my dining companions, without a doubt the people who know be the best on this whole planet, questioned whether I really wanted to go for a larger dinner a mere two hours later…obviously a rhetorical question indicating that they were already getting full while I had not even hit full stride. Explaining to them that yes indeed I did want to experience the well regarded classical Piedmontese cooking of Jason Stratton during our visit and that given the holiday hours this would be our only chance the only response I received was a somewhat exasperated sigh – a sigh that would be repeated only four hours later in an entirely different context; one of total contentment.
Opened in 2008 and receiving praise not only from local gourmands and critics but from those on the east coast as well I had actually originally heard of Cascina Spinasse during a meal in Philadelphia 17 months beforehand when a server at Vetri told me that although she loved Marc’s filled pastas the best fresh pasta she had ever encountered was at a spot in Seattle – a house made pasta with simple butter and sage I would later discover to be Stratton’s critically acclaimed Tajarin. With no real plans to visit Seattle in the near future at that point I simply added a note to my ever-growing list and moved along with my life and travels yet literally the moment my sister suggested Seattle as a place for our winter vacation the first thing to pop into my mind (okay, after the rain and the Space Needle) was the Tajarin and within days a reservation was made.
Having spent some time walking the streets and browsing local shops and coffee stores as the rain had settled while we dined at Del Corso our arrival at Cascina Spinasse would be just moments prior to our 8:30pm reservation and greeted by a young woman at the podium or reservation was confirmed and led through the busy bar area past the wide open kitchen where Chef Stratton and team could visibly be seen cooking – and more impressively laying out and cutting the pasta – we soon found ourselves at a cozy four-top in the entirely full room. Seated for mere moments and taking in the surroundings – mostly woods, off white plaster walls, candles, and subtle art we were soon met by our server, a middle aged gentleman named King who presented our menus, the wine list, water, and a memorized list of specials before leaving us to our decisions. Rustic and cozy and just a bit loud secondary to the counter seating and the bar the overall decor of Spinasse reminded me a lot of the previously mentioned Vetri while the noise and energy was more akin to another Philadelphia restaurant, the more casual (but entirely excellent) Modo Mio.
Debating our choices as so many looked good but with my mother and aunt still feigning full from the days eating prior King would return after approximately ten minutes and with wine declined we proceeded to order two courses each; some menu staples and others daily specials but all receiving the approval of our server who claimed “nothing on the menu is less than great” before offering up a few of his personal favorites. Again with water filled and a house made juice poured for my aunt King would at this point disappear for mere seconds only to return with the nightly amuse bouche – four fresh Anchovies on Crostata with butter and black pepper – a well balanced and briny bite that none of the others were interested in thus leaving me with the woeful task of enjoying all four.
With the amuses finished we sat and talked for a while discussing the interesting dynamics of the restaurant – some people ordering full tastings while others opted for only appetizers and wine – before King would return with our first course and a loaf of crunchy warm house-made semolina bread that (despite their not being hungry) we all ate so much of that it necessitated refills.
Beginning first with a pair of salads, one for my sister and the other for my mother, “Insalata di cicoria di campo” and “Insalata di barbabietole” both seemed strange choices for people claiming to be full but in the end both ended up very pleased with their respective choices. With greens crisp and slightly bitter the local chicory salad with marinated rabbit, parmigiano-reggiano, balsamico would start things off showing a nice hand with balanced bitter, salty, and sweet while the rabbit’s mild nuttiness and incredibly lean came through with aplomb. Moving next to the beet salad with meyer lemon ricotta, pickled shallots, and parsley I was particularly fond of just how earthy these particular beets were but more so with the decision to marry them with two discrepant forms of sour. An ample portion to be certain and all tamed by the creamy ricotta there was more than enough to go around.
Moving next to my aunt’s appetizer – a half portion of the original reason for our visit – the Hand cut Tajarin with butter and sage would prove to be every bit worth the substantial hype, no small feat for something as simple as butter, noodles, salt, and a few leaves of crispy sage. Impossibly light, literally melting in the mouth particularly when saturated in so much butter, and just a touch of seasoning – it reminded me all at once of my childhood love of simple butter and noodles and some of the best angel-hair pasta dishes I have ever had. While I was glad my aunt ordered it so I could try other things there was also a part of me that wanted to steal the plate – yes, steal buttered noodles – or at least order a serving of my own.
Targeting a pasta as my main course and unable to decide between one of the menu favorites and one of the nightly specials I eschewed the idea of a whole pasta and instead opted for a half order so that I could try two appetizers; the first a dish called “Uovo con fonduta al tartufo nero” that paired three things I love into a single warm jar; a poached egg, black truffles, and creamy fontina cheese. Again seemingly focused on simplicity and purity of flavors this dish would prove to be another great success even before I took a bite as a simple flip of the latch permeated the air with the smell of butter and truffles and once this effect was fully appreciated I moved on to taking a bite, the buttery “fonduta” melding seamlessly with the creamy egg while the truffle notes filled the palate. A lovely dish and for all intents and purposes a texture somewhere between a soup and a spread my only regret was that it arrived with another hot item because otherwise I’d have savored it with about a half of a loaf of bread.
With the egg sealed to hold in some heat while I tasted the next dish, Pig Trotters with tangerine, lentils, stewed winter greens, and foie gras butter would prove to be a tasty and well composed dish nearly opposite the egg in every conceivable way. Beginning first with the feet – two were served in total and each was hemisected, breaded, fried, and intensely porky and succulent with notes of sage and rosemary detectable in the light coating. Moving next to the accoutrements, the lentils were presented as a toothsome admixture that although slightly undercooked for my taste proved to be a nutty foil to the pork while the light gravy of melted foie gras presented the liver’s trademark sapor while two sections of citrus and a twist of their juice helped to offset an otherwise hearty winter plate a few degrees towards the warmer seasons.
With the appetizers all hitting their mark and our selections of second courses largely from the primi section of the menu the trend would continue as King had collected our plates only to return ten minutes later with four more plates and another loaf of bread. Beginning first with the only secondi of the evening, a dish selected by my sister, Polpetti di coniglio was a dish I could have predicted her to guess on any menu in the world and although the pickled horseradish atop was deemed a miss by everyone at the table the three rabbit meatballs wrapped in caul fat with caramelized turnip puree would prove to be exemplary. Beginning first with the puree – apparently made first by cooking down the locally grown turnips with olive oil and a touch of sugar, then running them through a food processor and finally a sieve the flavor and texture was simply remarkable; sweet, earthy, and smooth as butter. Moving next to the “bunny balls” as my sister affectionately termed them – three large, well seasoned, and intensely juicy rounds of lean protein browned to perfection as a result to being protected by the ‘shell’ of now-crispy fat – in a word they were perfect, a word I don’t generally reserve for rabbit as I generally find it too dry.
Content to remain with pastas my aunt’s second selection would mirror her first in the form of that same delicate Hand cut Tajarin this time paired with a slightly tomato tinged meat ragu loaded with notes of basil, rosemary, and what I distinctly tasted as nutmeg but my aunt felt was more cumin. Another tasty take on the Tajarin and served in an even larger portion despite both being ordered as halves it was good – but all things being equal we’d have all sooner selected another portion of the butter and sage instead.
Moving next to another of the daily specials, ever reminiscent of the Pumpkin Lune at Babbo my mother selected the a half portion of the Butternut squash ravioli with amaretti crumble and butter – a dead ringer for the Batali classic that aside from the classy tableside finish was every bit as tasty and memorable with the translucent pasta yielding its creamy filling and marrying beautifully with the buttery crumbs and a touch of cheese. Admittedly pricey at $4 per ravioli I must say I personally would have been disappointed by such a skimpy portion but per my mother “it was worth it.”
For the final savory of the evening and my own personal main course, a half order of the winter menu item entitled “Potbelly Ravioli stuffed with winter greens, seasoned walnuts, butter” would be my choice and featuring yet another nearly translucent pasta this time nearly bursting with shredded kale and garden greens I must say that the concept of a bitter vegetal pasta would have never occurred to me yet in this context – particularly when paired with the semi-sweet toasted walnuts and a touch of butter plus thin slices of hard parmesan cheese – it worked quite nicely. Tender and ample in portion as it arrived as a quintet to trump my mother’s duo for only a dollar more I additionally found the price per bite ratio for this plate to be quite appealing even if the overall “wow” factor was not quite as high as that of the dainty pockets of squash.
Having learned long ago that “full” never means forgoing dessert in my family, especially after a meal as good as the one we’d just had, the obvious answer when King stopped by to offer us dessert was “absolutely” and although the restaurant jilted me by only offering espresso “as it is served in Italy” and no coffee they more than made up for it with the night’s five desserts – four of which would make it to our table beginning with the house specialty “Terrina di torrone,” a creamy almond gelato studded with candied almonds, resting in a stripe of honey caramel, and topped with a honey tuille. Like a chilled version of the classic Italian candy and intensely sweet yet light on the stomach this would prove to be a perfect dessert after such a long day of eating, but all told it certainly wasn’t my favorite of the quartet.
Moving next to the dessert that originally intrigued me the least of those on the menu, Erika’s “Mousse di formaggio di capra” would actually turn out to be quite stunning in both its flavor and rustic nature. Beginning at its base with a dollop of sweet goat cheese mousse and drizzles of huckleberry preserves and then layered alternatingly with puff pastry, a larger dollop of mousse, and again more pastry it was something akin to a haphazard mille-feuille and while perhaps not as beautiful every bit as light and tasty.
Again focusing on rustic presentations and unique flavors my aunt’s dessert selection would once again be apples – in this case the “Crespelle di mele” with six warm and fluffy crespelles stacked in a pyramid and loaded with cooked apples atop a bed of muscovado cream and candied almond crumble. Expecting something more akin to a puff pastry I actually found this to be the weakest of the desserts and although good I think a sweeter apple may have helped – either that or some ice cream.
Moving finally to the dish I’d have selected for myself had my mother not ordered first the “Baba di meyer limoncello” would prove every bit as lovely as I’d hoped and next to Del Corso’s Quince and Polenta cake (enjoyed only earlier that night) it would prove to be the second best dessert of the trip. Beginning first with the baba, in this case a steamed cake with a lot of density but large open pockets not unlike a popover, the limoncello soaked pastry was exemplary in texture while the booze was admirably balanced by the smooth citrus sweet meyer lemon cream. Already impressive but not yet ready for prime as it were, a final addition to this plate was made tableside as a drizzle of warm cardamom flower honey was added providing not only a mild fructose sweetness but also a lovely floral note that lingered on the finish.
With the restaurant (and particularly the bar) still bustling and myself finally beginning to get full as my dining companions were admittedly well past King would return to the table to collect our dessert plates before inquiring if we would like anything else and on declining we were presented the bill – a very modest tab given the quality of the food, service, and room especially when compared to similar restaurants in New York and Philadelphia. With the bill paid and a generous tip for the service we managed to squeeze through the small dining room and past the bar where we were bid farewell by not only King, but also the dining room manager who asked us where we were from, how we’d heard of them, and “wanted to wish us a wonderful evening and a happy New Year” – a nice touch only improved upon by spending the next five minutes standing near in the entryway watching the team continue to hand cut that wonderful Tajarin.
1531 14th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122
Full review with pictures in the blog, text as below:
With plans to visit Vancouver and Richmond in the following days and a notable agenda focusing on their oft celebrated dim sum, izakaya, and noodles scene I knew that the less adventurous half of my family would need some acclimation to less familiar foods, a charge that Seattle did not seem likely to accomplish in regard to Chinese or Japanese cuisine, but a task that seemed well entrusted to the hands of the classically trained husband/wife combination of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi; owners of the heavily praised Korean/French fusion restaurant Joule and its newer more casual sibling named Revel – a perfect fit given our limited nights in town and less structured afternoons/lunches.
Having already noted the expected hesitancy, particularly of my aunt, regarding “Korean food” and without reservations available our arrival at Revel would be just after noon on December the 29th and having heard the space often fills to capacity I was not surprised when we walked up to the door to find a small line. Greeted by the hostess and told that it would be approximately twenty minutes of a table or that we could be seated immediately at the bar I gladly took the latter option not only because of our dinner plans at The Herbfarm in less than seven hours but because unlike a traditional “bar” this widely set wooden counter ran the length of the restaurant like an enormous table with a full view of the rapidly moving yet surprisingly quiet and cool kitchen.
Led to our seats by the hostess and shortly thereafter greeted by our server, Antoinette, menus were handed to us and the “tapas” format explained – even if none of it really was tapas at all, but rather plates large enough to be shared but also appropriate for one. With the selections divided up into salads, pancakes, noodles, etc we spent a bit of time deciding what sounded best (more or less everything to me, less to the others) and once choices were made six plates were settled on and our orders placed, water was filled, and we were left to watch the kitchen and browse the highly industrial but surprisingly warm and pleasant space.
With the chefs surprisingly chatty and approachable, showing off some of the ingredients and techniques while telling us what various dishes from the kitchen entailed I was admittedly impressed by the level of detail and care given to each dish – for a “casual” place serving rather rustic rice bowls, dumplings, and pancakes each dish went through prep stations where meticulous attention was paid to everything from the ingredients (lots of salad ends thrown away and fish cut delicately to remove skin and sinew) to the preparation to the plating – even to the point where a prematurely ruptured egg yolk led to a whole dish being remade from scratch.
With Antoinette checking in on us frequently and keeping waters filled while also passing out a tray of unique condiments ranging from sweet to salty to intensely spicy our first dishes would arrive approximately fifteen minutes after our orders were placed beginning with a plate entitled “Shrimp, Bulgur, Kale, Dukkah, Raisin Vinaigrette Salad” – a plate that we actually ordered only after we saw it coming across the counter en route for another table, but a plate that for myself would be one of the best of the afternoon. Beginning first with the kale – some crispy and some raw but both an excellent foil to the tender snappy shrimp I was first surprised by the bitterness of this dish, but moving forward I found its balance in the toothsome bulgur heavily scented with nuts, sesame, cumin, paprika, and pepper. A nicely balanced medley on its own, the final addition of a nearly plum-wine flavored dressing added just the right touch of sweetness and a touch helping to smooth out the rough spots in a manner that had everyone at the table interested in what would be next.
With cooked dishes comprising the rest of our lunch, “Albacore tuna, King Oyster mushroom, Escarole Rice with Egg Yolk” would follow next and though I generally would have opted for one of the other rice bowls this actually turned out to be another resounding success even with the less adventurous at the table as the pearly white rice gracefully topped with seared and blackened tuna, pan tossed softened escarole mixed with woodsy mushrooms, and a serving of house made Kimchi plus a single egg yolk that had been resting in a container of soy. Clearly unable to “separate” the flavors in such a bowl and instead opting to mix before serving I actually loved the way in which the flavors served to compliment and soften one another – particularly how the kimchi and mushroom/escarole combination worked to be neither too acidic nor too vegetal – while the egg yolk helped to make up for a bit of overcooking on the part of the tuna.
Our third dish would be the only lackluster option of the afternoon, a plate of “Pork belly, Kimchi, Bean Sprout pancake” that although savory and spicy enough really did not do much for me in part due to the chewy texture of the pork and in part due to the grease factor that although expected proved overwhelming to the subtleties of the sprouts and swine leaving only the vinegar tones of the kimchi in a nearly deep-fried lingering note. Overall a definite miss for my tastes although admittedly a fun item to test out the four sauces…the hottest of which required just about 8oz of water and a few bites of leftover white rice to quell.
Moving next to a pair of dumplings, clearly a “sharing” sort of dish with five nicely wrapped pockets each our selections would include “Shrimp and bacon, pickled ginger, cilantro” and “Cauliflower ricotta, black sesame truffle, pickled leek” – both exemplary, packed by hand as we watched, and with a light sear on the exterior giving way to a delicate interior with great texture and balanced flavor, particularly in the case of the cauliflower ricotta – a creamy yet mildly vegetal concoction with savory undertones and the heady aromatics of black truffle coming through on the finish.
Moving to our final plate, the best of the afternoon, “Dungeness crab, Seaweed noodle, spicy red curry, crème fraiche” would prove to be a dynamic flavor profile with sweet and tangy in a delicate balance while the heat of the red curry was only faintly detectable on the tip of the tongue. Surprisingly selected by my mother who doesn’t fancy curry in general it was Antoinette’s suggestion that this was a “mild” heat and her advice was thankfully well received. A large portion and plenty filling in addition to the rice, bulgur, and sprouts this dish went a long way with everyone having plenty and although the crab was largely gone by the bottom of the bowl I particularly loved the last few bites where the house made pasta with just a bit of texture and brine from the seaweed was absolutely swimming in the tangy crème fraiche and sweet juice from the crustacean.
With six shared savories surprisingly filling largely in part to the hefty amounts of carbohydrates and with more substantial dining plans as yet to come (The Herbfarm with an impromptu stop at Serious Pie) Antoinette stopped by and complimented our clean plates as only some of white rice from the bowl remained and inquiring if we would like to try desserts – stressing that they are *small but delicious* - we gave in to the suggestion opting to order two, a pair of Mint snowballs and a pair of Chestnut kumquat crescents, each plate $4 and both familiar…shockingly quite like the traditional Christmas cookie recipes handed down by my grandmother for Russian Tea Balls (in this case with added mint) and Hungarian Apricot cookies with the kumquat nearly indistinguishable from apricot in the golden buttery pastry.
Asking if there was anything else we would like before departing we declined and with the modest check paid we thanked both Antoinette and the young male chef with whom we’d chatted throughout the course of the afternoon. While certainly not “authentic” or “down n’ dirty” like many prefer their ethnic cuisines I can say without a doubt that Revel is a spot worth visiting in Seattle both for the quality of the food and the quality of the service – factors that “foodies,” gourmands, and even the most finicky eaters can appreciate.
Full Review as below, pictures in the blog.
As our trip to the Pacific Northwest was a celebration of many things including my sister’s upcoming completion of her Masters of Fine Arts I wanted to do something special to celebrate – a situation perfect for a “destination meal” and given the subject matter of her thesis (knowyourmeat.wordpress.com) a task well suited for a restaurant priding itself on local sourcing, ethical practices, and sustainability. While many contenders were considered given the vast bounty of produce, farming, and seafood as well as the number of artisan producers and skilled chefs in the area one name invariably stood out above the rest – The Herbfarm, a restaurant that many seemed to consider expensive, preachy, and even “dinner theater” but a restaurant that everyone seemed to agree produced some amazing food.
Having done my research to learn a bit of history about the restaurant and subsequently requesting a reservation for the last of their yearly menus, one titled “The Moon and the Stars,” my first interaction with the staff would be via e-mail and then phone – a dialogue discussing special occasions, allergies or intolerances, private tables versus communal seating, an explanation that wine or house pressed juices were included in the price, and finally an invitation to arrive early for a tour – all flanked by noting on their website, promotional mailings, and even their answering machine that they are “the only AAA 5-Diamond restaurant west of Chicago and north of San Francisco, rated #1 in the Pacific Northwest for both food and service by the Zagat Guide.”
Flash forward nearly two months to the day from the time that I made reservations and all I can say is that despite a couple of great days of eating and more to come I was very excited for dinner. Sure The Herbfarm is not shy about touting their accolades – as a matter of fact I really cannot think of any restaurant that seems MORE proud of what they are doing than Carrie Van Dyck and Ron Zimmerman’s Woodinville establishment – but with a map in hand, e-mail updates about the meal, and even suggestions for hotels and cab/limo services in the area I had to admit they were putting on quite the show of hospitality even before we pulled into the drive and were greeted like old friends by the valet before being led into the cozy parlor where reservations were confirmed, coats collected, and each of us were handed a glass of Hot Cider with Lemon Thyme before being invited to mingle with the other guests and browse the (enormous and impressive) wine cellar until the festivities began.
Sipping our tea and mentioning for the first of many times how the whole event reminded us more of a formal dinner party than a restaurant it would not be long before a young woman came and gathered us all into the foyer where we were greeted by Carrie Van Dyck, standing on the stairs and telling us the story of the previous restaurant, the fire, and the subsequent build out of the current location. Clearly proud of what she and Ron have accomplished the discussion next led into a description of the farm, their links with local farmers, and the importance of sustainability followed by a “tasting” and “smelling” of various herbs that would be incorporated into our meal, an aromatic introduction that seamlessly led into our final formal welcome and the doors being opened to the festively decorated dining room.
Having opted for the communal table instead of a small two top our the hostess led us to the seats closest to the kitchen and with a great view both of the kitchen and the room I took a minute taking it all in – the high rafters, the gleaming stainless steel of the kitchen, the hard woods and Christmas Trees – a truly beautiful scene. Turning my attention next to the table I was again pleased – a cute ornament with our last name at my space and a pewter frame congratulating my sister on her MFA in her seat – both these things along with hand crafted plates, pewter chalices, and a variety of wine glasses plus the night’s secret menu tucked into our napkins…again, pure class with just a touch of whimsy.
Met next by the house sommelier just as we were getting situated our next welcome would be the bubbly sort, specifically Oregon Brut with a half ounce of Western Juniper Elixer added to produce an aromatic sparkling composition familiar and dry but entirely unique. Having heard that the pours at The Herbfarm could be quite heavy I worried about my relatively low tolerance (and more about the already inebriated couple across from us) and sipped slowly but all things being equal this meal would end up being the most I’ve ever drank in one night, though thankfully spread across nearly five hours and plenty of food.
With Carrie next stopping by to explain the “rules” of the common table in terms of conversation starters, free flowing wine service, and encouragement to go meet the house recycling crew (a pair of pigs named Basil and Borage) at any time it would not be long before the meal would commence and with the house musician softly playing guitar at the back of the room the night started with a trio of amuses described both in print and in presentation as “In Neptune’s Dreams – Poached Scallop with Yellowstone Paddlefish Caviar, Dill, Scallop Crema / Chilled Poached Shigoku Oyster on Parsley Root Panna Cotta, Pickled Wild Chicken of the Woods Mushroom, and Melted Leek / Spot Prawn in a Nage of Jerusalem Artichokes and Olympic Peninsula Saffron.” Clearly priding themselves on each ingredient and the sourcing of much of their protein and produce these three selections would comprise one to two bites each and with the first two showing a delicate hand in balancing sweetness and brine with herbal essences throughout the best of the group for myself was the prawn – a snappy specimen that bathed daintily in the sunchoke puree with lofty top notes of saffron perfuming the finish.
With the amuses all nicely prepared the bread girl, a well traveled young lady with a great smile and bountiful basket would arrive for the first of many times presenting us all with House churned Holstein Cow butter and warm butter rolls plus a seeded Rye loaf – each tasty but the butter rolls vastly more so and myself as well as the gentleman across me consuming at least half a dozen each. With the bread in place and more bubbly poured it was at this point that we would return to the theater of the evening as the curtains were drawn and Mr. Zimmerman and Chef Weber (the youngest chef overseeing a 5-Diamond restaurant anywhere in North America) introduced us to the menu, the concept, the wines, and everyone in the front and back of the house before re-opening the curtains, taking a bow, and promising us a stellar evening.
With the kitchen now in full gear, conversation flowing between folks from England, Washington, California, and Ohio, and more wine poured – this time a smooth 2008 Efeste Sauvignon Blanc with “Feral” Wild Yeast from Evergreen Vineyard that would prove quite suitable for my palate – the next course would arrive entitled “Hey Jude – Confit of St. Jude Fishing Vessel Washington Coast Albacore Tuna, Tuna Tartar with Celery Root, Fresh Radish, Fennel Bulb, Klipsun Vineyard Verjus Vinaigrette” and reportedly drawing all of its ingredients from within 50 miles of the restaurant this organically plated course would prove to be both light and memorable largely due to the interplay of the two distinctly different fish preparations – one nearly “sweet” and melting in the mouth with the other focusing more on the natural brine and texture of the fish – with the bitters of the celery root and the mandolined radishes.
With two delicate courses to start the menu would soon take a turn to the decadence promised on the menu’s description with the first of three ample savories entitled “O Fine Swine – Our Gloucestershire Old Spot Shoulder Schnitzel and It’s Hazelnut-smoked Loin with Mustard Braised Turnips, Lemon Thyme Spaetzle, Vinegar-Red Cabbage Puree, and Live Mustard Greens.” A shockingly sizable portion given the fact that we were only 1/3 into the menu and paired with my favorite wine of the evening by far, a sweet and dry 2010 Dowsett Gerurztraminer from Celilo Vineyard, I think just about everyone at the table looked wide-eyed at this entrée sized portion of pig when it arrived yet when it was all said and done there wasn’t a speck left on anyone’s plate. Again opting to present the protein in two forms, the first a breaded sausage with great crunch and creamy center while the second tasted like a briny ham with a smoky finish, what really brought this dish out for me was the cabbage puree – a flavor as bold as the color and a perfect vegetal balance to the pork particularly when taken with the lightly added mustard flavors.
At this point nearly two hours into the meal with wine still flowing freely as others emptied their glasses the fourth course of the night would invariably be my favorite not only because it contained my favorite protein, but because it did so with finesse. Titled “Just Ducky – Rotisserie Muscovy Duck Breast with Pumpkin-Farro Risotto, Seared Duck Leg Confit with Caramelized Onion and Lavender-Quince Jam, Oregon Winter Black Truffled Duck Jus” I fully enjoyed watching this preparation from my privileged vantage point as the 20 or so ducks were taken off the large rotisserie, broken down, and plated by one half of the kitchen while the other half worked under the watchful eye of Chef Weber preparing the rest of the dish. Beginning first with the protein, again in two forms, the breast itself was lacquered a fruity sucrose with a nice ribbon of fat and rosy pink flesh while the confit was supple and rich with crunchy bits mixed in – a textbook example of each and a large portion to boot. Moving next to the accoutrements – for someone who loves pumpkin, quince, and truffles all I can say is that if I wanted to nit-pick the risotto could have been a bit more toothsome, but since I’ll choose not to do so this was probably one of the ten best duck dishes I have ever had and the 2008 Westrey Pinot Noir fromOracle Vineyard did a lovely job of accentuating both the sweet and the savory notes – particularly in bringing out the lavender atop the confit/jam section of the plate.
Having just consumed what constitutes two entrée sized portions at a typical fine dining restaurant and still with the “main course” to come we decided as a group at this time to take a breather, grab our coats, and go visit Basil and Borage. Trudging across the parking lot, food buckets (and for some of us wine glasses as well) in hand, it would be only a matter of moments before we stood in front of the pen and within seconds we were greeted by the pair – one a bully, the other much more docile, and both cute as can be snorting, oinking, and squealing with delight as they ate and allowed themselves to be pet.
With our brief interlude allowing food to settle as the kitchen continued to work a quick hand-wash preceded our return to the dining room and upon seating we were all welcomed back by the sommelier who presented us with a hefty pour of 2005 Andrew Will Champoux Vineyard Meritage Red – a robust and earthy red a bit too strong for my palate but a winner amongst the rest of the table and the favorite of most with at least half of them refilling their glasses before our last dish even arrived…a main dish that would prove every bit as robust as the wine and a portion that even I looked at as over the top. Served to our table by the kitchen staff including Chef Weber himself, “Black Wagyu’s Prime – Whole Roasted Prime Rib of Wagyu Beef, Confit of Bintje Potatoes, Jumble of Wild Winter Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts in Horseradish Cream, Woodoven-Roasted Carrots, Roasted Garlic, and Bone Marrow Sauce Bordelaise” would essentially quadruple my beef intake for the year 2011 and although generally not one to order beef I have to admit it was really quite impressive as the medium rare flesh literally melted in the mouth due to the high fat content while the multiple locally grown vegetables in various textures and flavors kept the rustic presentation fresh and interesting. By far and away the largest portion I have ever seen on a tasting menu I joked with Chef Weber at the end o the night that this dish truly did define the decadence they noted on the menu to which he laughed “yeah, I think we may have overdone it - only about three people in the dining room finished it…but everyone seemed to like it so at least we didn’t under-do it.”
With most members of the table now well sated and some also soused the next course would thankfully be a small bite of cheese entitled “Cheese to Nuts – Larkhaven Rosa Rugosa Cheese, Roasted Chestnuts, Feuille de Brik, Goat Cheese Dust, BC Maple Syrup, Shungiku” and with the base cheese earthy and crumbly I was particularly impressed by the use of the tangy goat cheese and sweet syrup to lend both smoothness and a wider flavor profile while the chestnuts characteristic flavor provided a smoky undertone. Generally not a fan of composed cheese courses this was one of the better ones and all the more impressive for using only locally sourced ingredients.
With the sommelier again circling as we all cleansed our hands with a warm lemonbalm scented towel it was at this point in the evening where one could truly rack up a stately bill as the restaurant offered a variety of bonus wine flights and dessert half bottles a la carte and with half of our table opting for a flight of ice wines the rest of us refrained sufficing for our seventh course, a light and fragrant palate cleanser entitled “Bow and Berry – Douglas Fir and Szechuan Peppercorn Sorbet with Cranberry Espuma” that although admittedly daring worked out quite well with the tartness of the froth acting to tame the intense ice cream. For certain not a hit with everyone at the table (I heard the words Pine-Sol and Air Freshener) I personally found this to be a nice refresher very much fitting the night’s theme although a little definitely went a long way.
With the night slowly winding down but the music still playing, conversation bolstered by the wine, and the team as pleasant and professional as ever our final wine would arrive first as a small pour and then as a larger refill in the form of 2007 Abacela Port from Estate Vineyard and admitting my substantial sweet tooth I not only loved the wine, but I found the dish that accompanied it to be absolutely divine. Titled “Sugar Plum Eggnog – Terrine of Chocolate, Marbled Chocolate-Brioche Bread Pudding, Sugar Plum Jam, Parsnip Ice Cream, Salted Chocolate Tuille, Bay Leaf-Eggnog Sauce” and featuring my favorite style of dessert hidden beneath a dense 62% chocolate terrine and a smear of jam plus the sweet-meets-savory ice cream and sauce I could only close my eyes and smile. Salty and sweet, crunchy and creamy, chocolate and vanilla, a bit of fruity sucrose, and just a touch of the unexpected – while a part of me was quite full another part of me only wished it would have been as big as the Wagyu.
Having been promised a nine-course meal I have to admit that under most circumstances I’d have found including the canapés, amuse, and mignardises (perhaps even the sorbet) in the nine courses a tad unacceptable but given the size of the protein courses served at The Herbfarm and the copious included pours of wine I was actually a bit relieved when I realized the final course of our evening was titled “Coffees, Teas, Native Brews, Sweets” and with at least nine different teas and four coffees offered with unlimited selections and refills my sister selected for two teas while I indulged in two full French presses – the first Stumptown’s complex and nutty Herbfarm Rich Dinner Blend and the second Fonte’s Indonesia Sumatra with a thick body and smooth caramel notes above a figgy sweet base.
Moving on the the mignardises, “Singing the Choir” would arrive featuring Penoche Brown Sugar Fudge, Currant White Chocolate, Sugarbeet Cake Made with ‘our beets,’ Holmquist DuChilly Hazelnut Brittle, and squares of to dark chocolate cranberry bark to take home – each tasty and well executed, particularly the nutty and dense beet cake and the buttery hazelnut brittle speckled with sea salt which the quartet and the end of the table requested more of even though they had failed to finish the beef or their dessert.
With the hour now approaching 11:00pm and the music dwindling while spirits and conversation remained jovial Carrie and Chef Weber began to circle the room eliciting feedback and thanking guests for “sharing the evening with us” before another set of servers stopped by with checks for those who’d not opted to pay in advance. Invited to stay as long as we liked and opting to finish my second press of coffee we continued to chat with the folks at our table about other fine dining experiences both local and far with each of us coming to a similar conclusion; that although we had all been to more prestigious restaurants and we had all eaten better meals for a lower price it was hard to recall any meal or dinner party with strangers being so well orchestrated, so delicious, and so much fun.
14590 NE 145th St, Woodinville, WA 98072
My goodness that sounds like more food than I eat in a week! Although admittedly not as much as I would drink on an average morning (ha! kidding).
Thanks for your detailed review. I've always heard about the "production" of the Herb Farm not entirely knowing what it meant, and your description of everything makes the food sound so good! I'm also in awe of your stomach capacity (half dozen rolls and all that!?!) but I see you've already addressed that upthread :)
Ahhh, I have been patiently waiting for this review. I have never been to the Herbfarm and have heard much about it, pro and con. Thank you for such a detailed review (your pics are great as well). It sounds like a wonderful experience.
I would also like to hear about the "rules" of communal table conversation. :-)
Not counting the price of the Ferry, Willow's is 1/2 the price of Herbfarm but at Herbfarm the wine is included.
To say which is better is difficult because they are starkly different. Herbfarm is a fine dining experience like Providence, Cyrus, Jean Georges, etc. I liked it better than The Restaurant at Meadowood or The Inn At Little Washington.
Willow's is like another place and quite like anything else in America. I've not been to noma and to be entirely honest the "New Nordic" movement is not really my thing so I'm not in a hurry to go, but there is no doubt that what Wetzel et al are doing is special in a real sense of the word.
Thanks for the reviews. Wow, you ate a lot! Still, talk about maximizing your food experience! You hit several of my favorite spots. The bartender in your pics of Walrus and the Carpenter is Anna Wallace. She is great.
It's a real shame that Besalu was closed during your visit. It seems rare for visitors to try both Besalu and Bakery Nouveau in a trip (or if they do it seems they rarely post about it). Bakery Nouveau is very impressive and of course William Leaman won the 2005 Coupe du Monde de la Bolangerie as part of the Seattle Bread Baker's Guild team. However James Miller's croissant making skill is unparalleled in my experience. I have yet to find a croissant that is better and I have tried a fair bit to find one. I have lived in Ballard for 10 of the last 11 years and in that time I would say I have probably eaten at Besalu 600 times. Anyway, Besalu is a traditional mom/pop operation with James and his wife or another assistant baking small batches all day directly behind the counter. They work hard, particularly around Christmas time as they do a lot of special orders, full sized tarts etc. so they take off twice a year -- during the holiday season and during the summer, or maybe just before the summer. They also close for the weekend around a number of the major holidays throughout the year. They don't use Twitter or Facebook that I can see and their website is basically just a single page with basic contact information. It is always best to call when in doubt.
Full review with pictures in blog. Text as below.
In a trip that began with a fortuitous encounter with The Coterie Room it only seemed appropriate to finish with Spur Gastropub, the Belltown flagship of Brian McCracken and Dana Tough. Praised by many and panned by few for their forays into modernist cuisine or “mg” I have to admit that going into the meal I was a bit skeptical about how my family would react to the food but at the same time having spent the previous three and a half days in Vancouver and returning early to Seattle that day for lunch at Salumi and bites at The Walrus and the Carpenter no one was overly hungry…and besides, all things being equal after our first experience with the duo in charge made me assume that at the very least the service and experience would be memorable.
With our reservation originally slated for 8:45pm but running well ahead of schedule with a very early flight the next morning we arrived at Spur just before 8:00 and after a bit of hunting for parking made our way into the heavily wooded space approximately ten minutes later to find it surprisingly empty – only two other tables filled as 3 Amigos projected on the wall opposite the large windows looking to the street. Greeted by the hostess who would also turn out to be our server (the only one working that evening it appeared) out reservation was confirmed and after declining a dark table near the window we were seated at a four-top big enough for six along the wall adjacent the bar. With the menu presented as an a la carte or prix-fixe style tasting we were left to decide as unmemorable music played softly overhead making my mother wonder aloud why they would show a dialogue based comedy without sound.
Clearly leaning towards the hipster sector of Seattle with a lot of ‘hot’ ingredients, gussied up cocktails, and a plethoric beer list our server would return with water approximately five minutes after we were seated and after confirming that not everyone needed to order the tasting we were ready to go – myself opting for the 5-course and each of the ladies selecting a single course plus dessert. Having noted already that our server was the only one working aside from the kitchen staff and the bartenders (who had no patrons and as such helped her to serve) I will say that compared to the Coterie Room service here was decidedly brisk and dishes were presented with rather poor pronunciation, but nothing out of the ordinary for a gastropub…just not the sort of place where you get that warm, professional, and welcoming feeling either.
With my mother opting for one of the house made sodas while the rest of us opted for water the first items to arrive at the table would be a $6 miniature loaf of piping hot fresh baked brioche so buttery that it neither came with any nor required any and my amuse for the tasting menu, a spherification titled “Smoked Apricot, Pickled Grape, Almond” that tasted surprisingly un-sweet considering the ingredients but was tasty none the less with a crisp vegetal tone behind aromatic notes permeating the sinuses.
Chatting about the trip, hopes for a timely flight (for once,) and all other things as we waited the first course of the night would be presented only to myself and my mother – for her a crisp and pleasant salad of Baby Lettuces with Avocado, Orange, Almond, and Shiso Vinaigrette that balanced sweet and vegetal with a deft hand as the crunchy almonds and creamy avocado lent their respective textures – and for myself a “Foie Gras Torchon with toasted bread” that looked nothing like Foie Gras at all. Described at length as mi cuit and liquid nitrogen frozen inside a green apple shell with Granny Smith, Rose gelee, and Pumpernickel dust I will start out by saying that overall this was one of the most attractive uses of molecular technique that I’ve seen outside of Alinea and follow that up by saying it did not just look good – it also tasted phenomenal as the creamy liver blended nicely with the fructose notes of the shell while the accoutrements lent spicy notes, textural variations, and a particularly pleasant floral note tucked just beneath the foie’s characteristic sapor. Small but intense I certainly could have eaten more but in reality my only quibble was the bread as it was so much better on the buttery brioche.
For the second course of my tasting, again served separately from the other plates, “Alaskan Spot Prawns with celery root flan, ginko nuts, Spot Prawn foam, Spot Prawn coral and brown butter” would arrive as the least modernist course of the tasting but at the same time a dazzling one none the less. Featuring two immense prawns – amongst the largest I’ve been served – each fresh crustacean was snappy and sweet overlying the vegetal flan, crunchy nuts, and a bit of greenery for added texture. Tasty and enhanced by the lightly saline foam the dish was additionally bolstered by a light dusting of prawn eggs and crispy ‘shrimp chips’ made of the same while the added brown butter seemed ever so slightly unnecessary as the prawns themselves had clearly been sautéed already.
For the third course of my tasting the rest of the group would also receive their main courses and I was pleased to realize that the “tasting” portions were no smaller than the regular plates thus signifying the tasting a tremendous bargain for those who have the appetite. As a follow-up to my prawns, “Veal Sweetbreads, Butternut Squash” would arrive with a unique bit of modernist trickery as a seemingly solid ball housed in a little nest slowly began to melt giving way to a sort of frothy gravy that soon covered the plate but once you got past the visual fun the combination of small but crispy veal sweetbreads, butternut squash puree and sous-vide butternut squash, and cider poached Granny Smith apples with sautéed greens was mostly an average dish with the offal itself cut almost too small to provide much flavor on its own instead relying on the sweetness of the squash and apples juxtaposed against the savory gravy to create a sort of stew-like flavor that could have been accomplished with a whole lot less work and manipulation otherwise.
For my mother’s main course she selected something I’d not expected – perhaps in retaliation for subjecting her to so much Asian ethnic eating in Vancouver or perhaps because the server sold it as “amazing” – the Grass Fed Beef Burger cooked Medium well with Red Onion Jam, Cheddar, Thyme, and Salty Fries. As I don’t enjoy burgers I did not taste it but I have to say the thyme tinted fries were exemplary with a nice crispy outside and nearly pommes puree interior. With regard to the burger, everyone else enjoyed it and considering the cost of gourmet burgers these days at restaurants it was a veritable deal given the size.
For my aunt’s dinner selection she chose a dish I’d have certainly had on my tasting if she had not and while my foie gras may have been good, “Smoked Parmesan Gnocchi with Caramelized Parsnip Puree, Brussels Leaves, Crispy Parmesan, and Smoked Almond” would prove to be my second favorite savory of the night. Featuring piped gnocchis seemingly made only of cheese and just a touch of flour as a base these little pastas were shockingly light and literally melted in the mouth leaving behind a creamy trail of woodsy flavor. Adding texture and more intrigue, the use of curly of parmesan cheese that had been texture modified, tender individual leaves of Brussels sprouts cooked in butter, and sweet yet earthy dollops of parsnip puree provided an all around flavor that was at once familiar but entirely distinctive and one of the best gnocchi dishes I’ve had in a very long time.
For my sister’s main course, stating she was in the mood for something light, she selected the Albacore Tuna sous-vided and served alongside carrot and coriander puree, parsley pudding, olive, and heirloom carrot. Generally not one to gush about tuna or fishes prepared sous vide that are not served with crispy skin or scales I will note that overall this was actually a very good piece of fish with a sashimi-like taste and texture that melded nicely with the various vegetables and spices, all of which had pronounced flavor and unique texture to help balance the large portion of tuna.
For my final savory, the best of the evening in my opinion, “Duck Pastrami, King Oyster Mushrooms” would be presented as my family continued to work on their main courses. Described as being house smoked with rosemary and sage and plated with Belgian endive, sous vide quince, and creamy chestnut pudding the four slices of rosy red margaret were perfectly prepared with a thin layer of fat beneath crispy skin and great flavor while the accoutrements all added something to the mix – the vegetal crunch of the endive, the intense sweetness of the quince, but most of all the smooth smoky notes of the pudding that if served in larger amount might have overwhelmed but plated in small dollops was superb.
Having seen some of the edible works of art emerge from the pastry kitchen to the table at our right dessert was an obvious choice and with four selections plus a trio of ice creams available we ended up settling on three choices total. Beginning first with perhaps the most attractive of the trio but overall the least successful in execution “Almond Crème Brulee with Pear Meringue and Rose Snow” would arrive as a long cylinder with a crunchy shell overlying a custard interior of great flavor but moving past the brulee itself the plate was marred by the addition of both the rose snow and rose ice cream, a pairing that simply made the dish cloying despite otherwise pleasant flavors from the pear meringue and gelato as well as the butter crumble.
Moving next to another savory tinged sweet, “Spruce Scented Goat Cheese Cake with Spruce Soda Foam,” honestly did not sound nearly as good as it looked or tasted. With ingredients heavily manipulated and texture altered but largely focused around a lovely shortbread base beneath tangy cheesecake with mere hints of pine this dish succeeded where the crème brulee failed mainly by balancing out the herbal essences with a number of flavors and textures including sous vide pumpkin and cranberries, maple syrup, and pumpkin cranberry gel. At times sour, at times sweet, but at all times creamy and smooth this was cheesecake that strayed from convention but never lost sight of its roots.
For the final dessert of the evening, the consensus favorite of the table, “Chocolate Cake” would be presented as a tall tempered dark chocolate cylinder filled with a complex parfait of buttermilk soil, chocolate pudding, almond meringue, buttermilk spongecake, and beet mousse topped with an impressively earthy beet sorbet with just a touch of sweetness. Bold, aromatic, complex, and most of all flavorful this was precisely the sort of dessert I expected when we walked into Spur and although I’ve seen the whole chocolate shell gimmick done before I’ve honestly never seen it work quite so well in dividing out the flavors while still adding something to the mix outside of the visual; If it is on the menu I would say that this is the one absolute “must” order at Spur.
With another table now full but the restaurant otherwise cleared out and 3-Amigos restarted on the wall our server stopped by to ask if we’d like coffee or anything else and on deferring we were presented with the check – a rather good deal given the quality and portions of the food, particularly with regard to my tasting. While certainly not the best food or service on a trip that included some very fine dining and perhaps not even as impressive “overall” as McCracken and Tough’s Coterie Room I will say that I was glad to have visited Spur and I hope that the fact that we found both restaurants to be empty during our visits was merely a coincidence because whether it be something as traditional as fried chicken or as fancy as the Foie apple these fellows can certainly turn out some top notch cuisine.
113 Blanchard Street, Seattle, WA 98121
Thanks for the in-depth on Spur; now I know I really DO want to eat there. The tasting does indeed seem like a great value after checking out the on-line menu and prices... seems like you get well over $100 value for $75, and from the sounds of the empty dining room, those guys need the business.
Not because they are not fabulous cooks and a resto team, but it is sad to hear of them planning, prepping, and cooking their hearts out to an empty house:(!