Curious Appetite


Canon Seattle – not just a whiskey and bitters emporium

Canon is a little cocktail bar in Capitol Hill next to Lark and across from Cafe Presse on 12th. It has wide blinds in the window and its bar-tops are rumored to be stained with bitters. On one of my runs as a wine rep, I came across this little hidden whiskey house and was intrigued from the get-go. You see, I love whiskey and bitters. If I can’t get my hands on the fancy S***, my cheap well-drink of choice is Whiskey & Ginger (real ginger-ale, bar “ginger-ale” should be barred) with artisan bitters and a slice of lime. For a crafted cocktail, I love anything with whiskey and vermouth like a Manhattan. The bitter the better. I like old man drinks and Canon is where you can get one. No sweetheart, you won’t find some cheesy over-sugared “cosmo” on the menu here.

Seattle is really exploding with the whole speak-easy, prohibition style old-fashioned cocktail bars with bartenders in cute little vests to match. I read up on Canon and realized my intrigue was onto something as Jamie Boudreau, the mastermind running the canon, had been praised as the next best bartender/mixologist in America. But I was intrigued not just by his thoughtful inventions like the Vermouth experiment (a tiny 3 mini Manhattans with each a unique Vermouth including Punt e Mes) but I was curious about his food. After all, the cocktail is intended as either an appetite stimulant or an after-dinner digestive “remedy”. Bitters stimulate our digestive juices, they really do taste like medicine for a reason! If you have a good tummy warming cocktail, you should have some noshes to accompany them. Indeed, Canon is the best kept foodie secret. Pictured above was a Cassoulet, which is a type of is a rich, slow-cooked casserole originating in the south of France, containing meat (in this case, sausage)  and white haricot beans with a roasted chicken leg. It was truly flavorful, considerate and complex in textures. I like that there was this creamy rich sauce and then perfectly cooked buttery beans, herbaceous sausage rich in sage (I heart sage), and this crispy skinned chicken whose meat was super moist and creamy. And it was good enough for 2 and a steal at 20. We also had some other small plates like Ricotta Gnudi (a type of ricotta dumplings) and seared salmon with black truffle and leeks. These were simple, tasty and downright wonderful. Because food’s friend is wine (cocktails are food’s rebound), I found myself enjoying some unique and obscure French red wines. I highly recommend Canon- but make a night of it. Start off with some caramel popcorn, order a couple small plates and enjoy a glass or two of  a unique wine and finish with nice digestif cocktail like the Vermouth experiment. Cheers!

The Capital Grille: Seattle

Everyone says “save dessert for last” but in some cultures, dessert is actually eaten 1st in order to properly digest a meal. I.e. sugars digest fast and protein, fiber, fat and complex carbs burn slow. Better to eat from simple burning to slow in order to prevent stomach upset. Whatever, in that case I’ll just eat my cake before and after my meal. How about that, nutrition.

I’ve lived in Seattle for several years now and I have always noticed the Capital Grille but never would have given it a thought until I attended a Foodportunity Seattle Food Blogger’s happy hour. It seemed way too fancy, you know what I mean by that. The kind of fancy that I thought only invited the symphony go-ers, the steakhouse ballers and the diamond girls. With valet men outside the door, how could you blame me in my funky boots and nose ring sporting 20something self? I mean, I’m not frumpy I just never felt that was my scene. Luckily, I did go out of pure chance back in August and I was quite impressed with the whole experience. They sampled us their entire happy hour which included marinated skewered meats, lobster sliders, parm-truffle frites, calamari, mini-caprese sandwiches and desserts. And best of all they were serving adorable cocktails  in mini martini glasses and such. And to my surprise, valet was complimentary for evening diners. The staff were extremely cordial, warm and surprisingly involved in the local food scene. Make no mistake, The Capital Grille is definitely under a massive corporate umbrella of chain restaurants and they are in the same brand family as Red Lobster and The Olive Garden. However, the Capital Grille, at least in Seattle, is seemingly committed to seasonality, green-practices such as low-energy lighting, progressive recycling programs and food donation programs that work with local non-profits such as Food Lifeline.  It just goes to show, never judge a book by its corporate cover. I am realizing, and appreciating, the corporate entities that are beginning to adopt responsible behaviors.

Anyway, aside from all thaaaaaaat…lets get down to the pudding:)

I returned for lunch this week and was thoroughly content that I did. Walk in the rotating door and you are greeted most courteously by the host staff as they seat you and LAY your napkin on your LAP. Not to mention they have coat check! I must say, the menu’ was pretty diverse and interesting showcasing creative salads and appetizers like hot pepper calamari and wagyu beef carpaccio as well as enticing sandwiches and entrees which are also very steak and seafood centric yet with a seasonal twist. However, if it is your 1st time, I would suggest the “Plates” menu’ for lunch. Which is a choice of soup or salad, sandwich and a vegetable side. Sounds boring, right? Does porcini bisque, clam chowder or lobster bisque sound boring? What about Tenderloin Sliders, Lobster Roll or a Fork and Knife BLT? Truffle pomme frites, Green Beans with Heirloom Tomatoes and Leeks sound blah too? NOT.

(I regrettably left home w/o my camera, please bear with me and my Droid shots:)

Lobster Roll w/ Truffle Parmesean Frittes

Perfectly tender melt in your mouth, savory umami stricken mini tenderloin sliders, order them medium.

This 3 course Lunch is quite the steal at $15. We were in a good mood so we also decided to treat ourselves to a bottle of bubbly Marques de la Tour Brut, which was a steal and a half. A perfect lunch bubbly that was light, crisp and low enough in alcohol that we could justify enjoying hooch at noon. But, I think anytime is wine time, just think of the Greek and Romans winos back over 3000 years ago in the Bacchanalia Era…do you think they cared what time it was?

I think this place is great for a downtown lunch trek, a perfect place to bring your boss to, to host work parties and happy hours for sure. If you are looking to experience dining in the heart of downtown with a wicked extensive wine list, I dare you to check out The Capital Grille. Its not “sceney’ or “trendy” which at times can be more pretentiously grating than seemingly upscale fine dining. They seem to have a consistent focus on what should be important in a dining experience. That is: fine service, pro-chef crafted food in a top location. Go see a show at Benaroya or The Triple Door and stop by here for Happy Hour, pre-show drinks or Dinner, the valet is complimentary so might as well save the stress of parking and treat yourself!  Also, I think this is also the spot for surf and turf on a fancy occasion splurge…or even a classy datey dinner or post-date dessert. Check out the opening photo of Creme Brulee-inspired Ricotta & Vanilla Wafer crust cheesecake….oh man good thing there were leftovers, I was quite thankful the day after:)

I hope you go and eat here at least once! It made our day:) Happy New Year!

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.

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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