Curious Appetite

Month: August 2011

Little Water Cantina (LWC): Trainwreck.

I understand that the 1st few months of a restaurants, or any small business, are crucial for building a trustful customer base and raving publicity. Because in the following months a huge percentage of them (96%) either fail within the 1st year or succeed and maybe 5 years down the road start to churn out a paycheck for themselves (4%). Those first 3 months are essential for staying at the top of the “J” curve. By the time that Little Water Cantina has irritated enough diners, fall/winter will hit and their fancy patio won’t be the consolation prize for all the overpriced tasteless mush, crappy service and arbitrary corporate-like policies which inhibit them from providing common sense customer service.  Unless they have some sort of intervention,  they will more than likely wallow at the bottom of that “J” until they have to close their doors.

Now lets get down to the part where I explain my disdain. It’s Thursday afternoon on one of the 16 days of summer in Seattle. I walk in, I was swept away by the darling decor, the sun beaming in and sparkling over the bar, inviting me, luring me: hey, have a sangria on the patio and breathe in the nice cool air drifting off Lake Union. And I was swooning over the fact that the whole operation was LEED certified (platinum efficient GREEN practices) and that their (promoted) mission was to provide exotic Mexican food, with a Pacific Northwest Twist, sourcing locally & organic when most possible. Nevermind the boxes of Peruvian mangoes sitting in plain view. They really do support local. Pu-lease.

This waft of euphoria lasted for about 3 minutes, when the friend I was meeting at the bar had to close out her tab before being able to sit with us on the patio because of their jackal rules. She was waiting for a party of 5-6 but since they weren’t also present they shuffled her around from private table to bar stool as if she were a game of musical chairs, making her close out at every shuffle. Really? You couldn’t just sit her at the WIDE open table and let her friends trickle in? Or rather, just keep tab on her tab? Get over yourselves.

The 2nd insult was the “happy hour.” 6 dollar “chips” and a tiny ramekin of watery pasty soupy tasteless guacamole (local avocados….?) Where was the peppers? Where was the garlic? the onions? The tomatoes, which ARE local and in season? So sad.

The chips were WONTON strips. I’m sorry, but last time I checked traditional Mexican chips are made out of corn, not flour. And they were super greasy just like fried wontons. C’mon, 6 dollar chips are not happy hour. And to add insult to injury, another friend ordered their Albacore Tuna Ceviche ($15) (which had 3 dinky pieces of fishy albacore) and that came with corn tortilla chips that I attempted to soup up the rest of my guac with, only to find they were stale and chewy. How do you screw up corn chips? Either the oil was too hot when they fried them, they let them sit out (more probable) or they got them in a bag that was left to dry (most probable).

The other “happy hour” item were the empanadas ($8 for 2). I’m sorry, a happy hour menu should cut off at $5-6 ESPECIALLY if its finger/handheld food like a dinky little empanada, which by the way was mushy. Don’t be fooled by appearances, their empanadas were dull and should have been fried and greasy. Inside they had maybe 4 little pieces of dry bland pulled pork “jerky.” and had some watercress (okay…) and a salty overly vinegar hot sauce to try to mask the empanada’s lack of depth.

Lets do a price check: La Isla, has a wicked happy hour and coincidentally has wickedly delicious food. Their comfort crusty buttery possibly lardy sturdy savory marinated pulled pork delicious empanadas run about: $3.99 each. At happy hour, they run: $1.99. Little Water Cantina: get over yourselves! La Isla is also partnered with the Green Scene recycling program! You maybe LEED certified and support local/organics, but you can’t depend on those factors to make that your “shtick.” I understand that your operating and overhead costs must be phenomenal, but having feathers doesn’t make you a chicken. Having well-designed plates, ethical-epicurean recipes, Green practices, homemade hot sauce, doesn’t make you a Pacific Northwest go-to for gourmet Mexican food.

Lets get to dessert: the grand finale. Dessert was on the house. But it came with a condition: to have hot sauced spilled and splattered all over a couple of our friends from the stumbles of our waitress (not her fault, the fault of poorly arranged crammed patio seating). As a courtesy, she offered 2 desserts to the hot sauced casualties. In my opinion, she should have comp’d them. Or at least comp’d a drink. If they couldn’t even get corn chips right, what made her think we wanted their spongy watery chocolate graham cracker Flan Cheesecake (which I didn’t quite understand) or Tres Leches cake (which, I only spotted one milk and that seemed to be condensed milk in a can).

The results of getting hot sauced was that one of my friend’s purse got demolished a bit, the hot sauce got in the crevices of the fine stich-work. Its just a purse and it can get cleaned, but who wants to deal with that? And the damage control didn’t control anything except destroy any remaining approval we had for that place. And here’s the icing on the Tres Leches: when brought our (separate) bills, they decided to stick us with an included gratuity. Really? Since 1st you made someone close out like 3 times so technically they weren’t apart of the billing party, and we had maybe a glass of sangria and an order of chips and 2 appetizers. I get added gratuity, but for a group ordering dinner, not at happy hour. I should be able to decide whether and how I am going to tip. That was wack. The ultimate wackness was that I noticed I was charged $9 for the supposedly $6 happy hour sangria (seriously, 6 bucks for juice, some mango puree at the bottom and wine?)

Turned out, she mixed up mine with one of the hot sauce casualties and charged her the happy hour price. She did order the drink maybe 5 minutes past 6. So what the waitress did was adjust my bill, which took 15 minutes, and brought the hot sauce casualty a bill for the extra 3 dollars she was undercharged for ordering a Jungle Juice Sangria 5 minutes past 6, and of course another hit of mandatory gratuity. SERIOUSLY? You couldn’t just let it go? Especially after you spilled hot sauce all over her? This is what I meant by ridiculous arbitrary corporate policies.

I am fuming just reliving this whole bit. My advice is that the owners chill out for a bit trying to salvage a profit. Charge reasonably and not try to nickle and dime everyone. And for the love of carne asada, please get another chef in the kitchen. If you go into a small business, you have to factor that you are going to loose some money. And you have to win over your customers in those first visits. The biggest challenge for restaurants in a food-centric city like Seattle, is to secure repeat business. And you guys will only attract a shallow-non food appreciative crowd for a short while until they get distracted by some new hot kid on another waterfront block.

And that’s that. Little Water Cantina. nothing to see here.

In the kitchen: my turn, making dessert.

I started this blog mainly because I have a lot of opinions about eating out. I also enjoy cooking, experimenting and baking. I found that a cooking/baking blog could be a tad time-consuming. But now, I just have to talk a little about my cooking style and share a recipe for something I made.

I usually don’t follow recipes to the grit unless it involves baking. and even then I try to sneak cardamon and extra butter in where I can. I can’t be bothered.  As a result of being so defiant to guideline, I usually have a fair number of uh-ohs and shoulda couldas. And then there are sometimes when recipes are completely wack and I must damage control, as in the case with one of my favorite “cook”-books: The Raw Food Detox Diet by Natalia Rose.

Don’t let the name scare you, raw food is a cuisine. Its one of the few defining food genres unique to American Gastronomy, if there is such a thing. American Gastronomy, and most other western cultures for that matter, have much borrowing going on. No matter how local and seasonal, a sorrel sauce is french and always will be. Raw Food cuisine is unique to all the supplement popping, psuedo-science yoga enthusiasts of the Whole Foods Market demographic in the most yuppy new-agey quarters of America.

The idea behind “raw food” is that we tax our “enzyme factories” eating “dead” (cooked) food, where as if we ate more raw food, the enzymes are kept intact and our bodies don’t have to produce them unnecessarily for digestion and not to mention being able to retain all the phytonutrients that are possibly being depleted by cooking.

I don’t know if I buy all this, but I will say that from time to time, it sure as hell tastes good:

This, my friends, is what I call raw: Chocolate Cardamom Cream Pie in a Cinnamon Pecan “Crust”.

This is 100% raw, vegan, soy and gluten free. even the spices were raw. I crushed the cardamom seeds and pulverized the cinnamon sticks. And you’ll never guess what went in this mock pie.

Give up? Can’t figure out how a pie could have such a creamy filling without tofu or dairy? Cant understand how a crust could be made without graham crackers, butter or flour?

Okay okay, but you’re not going to believe this. 🙂 The cream was made out of avocado, raw cacao powder, raw agave, crushed cardamom and bourbon vanilla. Yes I said avocado. Avocado, if you haven’t noticed, is a great blank canvas. Meaning that on its own it’s pretty useless (unless you add {truffle} salt) but it does hold and bring out whatever flavors are added to it. Try it! The crust was made out of pecans, cold-processed coconut oil, dates, ground almonds, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg. That’s it.

Here’s my “recipe” that should fill a normal sized pie-ware. I suggest making the pie crust 1st.

Pecan-Date Pie Crust

12-18 dates, pitted (depending on the date size)

3/4 – 1 cup of pecans

1/4 cup of almond meal/flour

2 tablespoons of cold-processed extra virgin coconut oil (I like the Artisana brand)

1/4 cup fresh almond milk, or the stuff in the tetrapack if you absolutely must.

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves.

So this recipe was adapted from The Raw Food Detox Diet, but I changed it. The original asked for only 6 dates and 1/2 cup of pecans. That’s impossibly short! There is no way that would have fit into a pie pan! So I added more of those 2 ingredients and then improved a couple other that I believed would help give the impression of a crumbly cookie buttery crust: Almond meal and coconut oil. What you want to do with this is to give a preliminary chop to the dates. Then add all the listed ingredients in a food processor (with the largest blade attachment) and process until you have a crumbly mix. It’s okay to have clumps. The prelim. date dice should help eliminate most of the chunkadge.

Once you have a mix, press into the pie pan (preferably one of those glass types). Now this is going to get sticky, but just have fun. Pretend like you’re playing with play-dough again but this time you will smell cinnamony sweet and not play-doughy 🙂 Once you have pressed the pie crust into the pan, set it in the freezer to harden while you make the pie filling. But only let it sit in the freezer for as long as it takes to make the filling.

Chocolate Avocado Filling (this can be eaten as a pudding too!)

6 Avocados (small)

1/3 cup of Agave (I ended up added closer to 1/2 cup because I have a wicked sweet tooth, so sweeten to your liking)

6-8 tablespoons of cacao powder, depending if you are going for a “milk” or “dark” chocolate feel.

6 pods (shelled) of cardamom, crushed in a mortar and pestle.

A dash of cinnamon

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor or hand mixer until smooth, lookout for unblended avocado chunks. They are sneaky. Again, I improved this recipe. The one in the rawbook said to use only 1/2 of an avocado, 6 dates and 2 tablespoons of cacao. To make 2 cups?? Impossible! And! who wants chunks of dates in a cream pie filling?! So I added more avocado, cacao, slipped in agave and cardamom. Best decision to go against the recipe grain.

Now that you have the chocolate “pudding”/pie filling, take out the pie crust from the freezer and pour it on in there! Use a spoon to smooth out the wrinkles and decorate with sliced strawberries, edible flowers or whatever tickles your fancy!

Take lots of pictures before you dive into this because it will get a little disheveled. Enjoy!

My birthday dinner: Anchovies and Olives. Oh, the irony!

Now, you aren’t going to believe this. But I actually chose to eat at an Ethan Stowell restaurant for my birthday dinner, you know, by the Italian-inspired chef I have ranted about for the last year.

I was hopeful, I was curious, I was willing to set aside our differences and sweep it all under the rug. The menu’ looked interesting, with words like $1 happy hour penn cove oysters, apple rhubarb geoduck crudo and marinated radicchio sultana basil smoked mussel salad, how could you blame me?

Lets get started. The “power hour” penn cove oysters were slimy and bleachy tasting. Don’t be fooled by looks. They were more slimy than they were firm. They were more astringent than bright & briney. And they finished more citrus-like than cucumbersome.

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Oysterfest 2011 in Samish, WA

Lately, I have been epicuriously dining at potlucks, backyards, farmsteads and as of most recent: at the seashore. Sometimes, the best food is that consumed in and by good company. I was lucky enough to be invited to Oysterfest 2011  in Samish, WA . And may I say, it was quite an exhibit of the Pacific Northwest BOUNTY! Not only with seafood, but also the yummy delicious sides just about everyone brought! Oysterfest was nestled this year in Samish, WA at the Acme Seafood Company along a beautiful strip of beach and mountains in view paired perfectly with breezy Bluegrass by the Shed Boys. As if donating extra joy to our lives wasn’t reason enough, the event was intended to raise money for TeenFeed, a Seattle-Based non-profit that provides resources, outreach and rehabilitation to teens living on the streets. Talk about win-win, the day came dressed with a sweet dose of SUN. The irony of it all, is that we missed the boat on the oysters, but believe me, I didn’t even notice until I put the subject line in for this post.

I can’t imagine how I got so lucky, but we were surrounded by bottomless fresh perfectly cooked crab with TEQUILA BUTTER for dipping, Mediterranean Chorizo style Mussels, CLAM FRITTERS with a buttermilky batter (paired with a divine tartar sauce), and creative potluck sides like Harissa style garlicky Carrot Salad, a creamy yet kicky Potato Salad, Fresh shucked corn and tomato salad topped with perfectly ripe avocado, several quinoa salad variations, Tuscan Panzanella  salad (a delicious olive oiled bread, tomato and fresh mozzarella salad), and a killer dessert of Blueberry Batter Cake. O.M.GOOD!  Enjoy the slideshow of the shots I managed to pull myself away from my fork and crabby fingers from to take!

This was the mouthwatering mussels and clams cooked in a Mediterranean spicy full bodied chunky tomato sauce, please mind the glaring sun:)

cracking away to fresh caught tequila butter dipped crab

my plate stock piled with amazing sides, such as this sweet citusy corn salad with fresh avocado, cilantro and tomato

The nutty smooth olive oil silkened Panzanella salad

CLAM FRITTERS in the frydaddy making!

these little clam hush puppies lasted for about 3 minutes out of the fryer and popped happily into a few lucky bellies

and how did I forget to mention the king SALMON!! This was the ultimate CANDY of the sea! So sweet, tangy, moist, peppery, melty, not to mention fresh! Please, try not to drool!

#pureheaven

Last but not least, the Blueberry Batter cake. No need to describe this buttery cakey blueberry mound of goodness!

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