Curious Appetite

Happy Hour

Golden Beetle: Maria Hine's tipsy spinoff

You know that feeling when you and millions of other people discover a movie so good it becomes a cult classic? It’s so good that you almost want a sequel so the genius of the 1st one just keeps entertaining you? Without further adieu, that much anticipated sequel arrives…

Golden Beetle is Maria Hines’ newest venture following Tilth, a local, organic comfort food institution. Lady Hines even competed on Iron Chef and sliced everyone away.  You do not wanna mess with these skills. Tilth is unlike any other New American restaurant in town. So what do you do when you are so well received; not only by your eaters and Iron Chef judges, but by The James Beard Foundation, The NY Times AND Food & Wine Magazine? Naturally, you come up with a sequel.

Tilth seems to always be bustling and humming, making it hard to reserve a seat less than a week in advance. Golden Beetle has been open for about a year and I am not convinced of its soul quite yet. I see tables filled but it still seems a little sterile. The food is good, but I think it’s a little too forced. By the way, “good” is probably one of the most frustrating descriptions you can give for “food.” What is good, exactly?

For happy hour, they have some reasonable small plates all under $5. I really can’t ask for a better value from such the highly revered chef. The good stuff to order is the Lamb Chickpea Stew. Its small but packs a filling punch with chickpeas bathing in Moroccan spices and little studs of lamb popping out behind preserved lemon notes.  Another good item to order if you would like to be confused would be the Skagit River Ranch Sliders with tomato sauce and pickled cucumber. I’m a tad befuddled, how is a mini-burger (aka a pretentious “deconstruction” of a White Castle burghetto) Mediterranean? In Golden Beetle’s case, its cramming the patty with a confusing mix of Greek-Turkish-Italian spices and herbs then getting roasted pepper tomato soup poured on top of this constructed “slider.” I mean, at the end it was good. But not very impressive.

Another baffle was the service. Also ordered was a Hummus and Pita small plate ($4). This came with a generous ramiken-sized serving of decently garlicked chickpea mash, but it came with 6 tiny squares of fresh pita. Obviously, there was more dip than bread could handle. When asked to bring extra bread, considering the obvious underestimation of bread:dip ration, this came with an additional $3 cost. So the happy hour item turned out to be $7 and when I looked at the normal menu, the same hummus plate is priced at $3. Hmmmmm.

I was a little frustrated by the haphazard over-spicing and a little put off by the pretentious gloat of all the “handmade” goods like sumac bitters and harissa sauce. Ever been to Mediterranean Mix in Pioneer SQ? Well, it’s a little hole-in-the-wall that serves up steaming fresh gyros just glazing with homemade from scratch hummus, marinated juicy lamb, raw grassy gyro-friendly herbs and cradled by a pillowy soft slightly spotty charred pita. For probably $6 bucks. And made by the Mediterranean-sourced owner themselves who isn’t afraid to look you in the eye, say hello and ask how many brothers and sisters you have. I feel like no matter how much one travels to these parts of the world, doing culinary research, and trying to merge the local ideologies they hold back home, you just can’t imitate Mediterranean culture, food is culture. I don’t care if its local and organic, the fact is you are trying to stick it to me for 6 cubes of bread. And you’re missing the warm personable spirit of the Romance cultures you are trying to impart into your sequel. And that just won’t fly with me, lady. No matter how fancy your bitters are.

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.

Emmer and Rye.

Emmer and Rye, ahhhh. A few weeks back I was refused a dining experience due to lack of reservation. I did succeed in getting a table, and miraculously I lived through the icy spine splitting awkwardness of our waitress to tell about it.

Emmer and Eye is a seasonal celebration of the local goodness artful chefs and the Pacific Northwest have to offer, perched on the top of Queen Anne in a cozy 100yr old Victorian home.

Emmer is basically the ancient wheat grain. Like Farro. Which is Spelt. But grown in Washington. Rye is Rye.  Recipes change according to Season. We are now in Spring. So we ordered a bunny. Ill get to that in a sec.

Starters:

These “Farro Fries” basically looked like fish sticks but were made with a farro batter and lightly fried. A tad crunchy on the outside like a crisp fry but saltily buttered texture inside with beads of farro grain to give you some chewage. Then this yogurt sauce that came on top was slightly minty and garlicky. Not too garlicky. I really resent that adj. “garlicky”. But it kinda was.

Oysters. Think lemon spritz mini explosion washed down with a touch of olive oil.

Chunked slices of Pork belly over heirloom beans and Chicory Greens.  The Pork belly looked like slices of pure fat but had a surprisingly meaty punch. The fat was so sweet mesquity that I could swear these pigs grazed on hazelnuts. The texture almost reminded me of Bulgogi beef rib meat, you know the real fatty meaty ribs that melt in your mouth that makes you growl in guilt the morning after for eating 12 of them. The beans? Well we tried to figure out what put the “heirloom” in these beans because they just looked like a mix of pinto and black beans. They probably were but had a better fiber mouth feel. Anything with bacon is a winner. 5 bucks for this locally sourced seasonal happy plate. When i told my So. California based sister about this dish she questioned its seasonality for Fall.  Yep, thats the PNW for you, basically always Fall year round. But if bacon is a Fall food, i’m glad to be in the PNW.

We also got a cheese plate. a Black truffle brie like creme soft gooey cheese. A sharp cabot cheddar from Vermont. Which obviously was not local, and consequently my least favorite cheese, not sharp and a little too hard.  Then a semi hard scotch washed rind white almost cheddar cheese. Smelled like feet, tasted like scotchy nutty cheddery crumbly hard cheese. Yummmm. Then a baby boy blue cheese. Super almost really creamy yet firm, with just a streak of blue (hence the baby) which gave the surrounding a more fresh cream compliment to the aspiring gorgonzola. This plate came centered with an apple cherry conserve and house baked apricot studded whole grain bread. 8 dollars. Take that wolf cooker, Stowell!

These were just apps.

The 1st main: Half Chicken with morel cream, wilted greens and orzette potatoes. They were the happy chickens. They had to be, the skin was so oily and tender yet crispy and the meat moist and beaming with juicy happy flavors. The Morels were perfect, perfect touch of cream, perfect cookature, perfect foraged mushroom earth to compliment the greens and buttery golden tater slice.  I never thought of morels to be so yummy and meaty-like.

Then we ordered the bunny. Actually we ordered the braised rabbit over fresh nettle in-house made pappardelle pasta with carrots and thyme but when the waitress came out she said “here’s your bunny!” Talk about mortified! She said thats what they call it in the kitchen, and apparently thats what they called it on the bill.  It was my 1st time ever eating rabbit and I wasn’t grossed out, it was a very interesting reminder of game and chicken. Shredded and slightly smidgenly juicy. The pasta was interesting, never thought of eating nettle pasta but it tasted like a very grained herbaceous yet almost basilic pasta. Al dente.

DESSERTS! So our waitress was really akward, she maybe warmed up to us after 3 hours, meaning she smiled. is a smirk a smile? She had a real hard time looking at us and i’m pretty sure she cast a spell on us and our bunny. It wasn’t that she gave bad service, I don’t think she was even capable of utilizing any personality except awkward and plain-face stare at a wall while you order.  It was quite the hurdle to get our hands on the dessert menu as a result, but when we did, we let our taste buds play with salted caramel rocky road toasted marshmallow brownie and a mini apple galette with a golf ball of browned butter gelato. I wasn’t a huge fan of the apple tart thing, the crust was good and dense with butter, but the apples were kinda bland. But the brown butter gelato was some story. Flecks of vanilla bean and good burnt butter flavor. Full bodied for just butter and vanilla gelato. But the brownie!!! The caramel was so rich and salty (good) and sweet but tart and dark and of course tasted of butter! Ahhhman it was good! I licked the plate basically! And the hazelnuts were toasted and still super fresh and complemented the fudgey chocolate brownie. The toasted marshmallow was adorable. I spooned it with the brownie caramel and hazelnuts for the best explosion of sweet sour bitter and butter I can put in my memory. Yummy  sticky vanilla chewy goodness. Ahhhh.

So the verdict, with all that food (plus a leek nettle-mint hazelnut soup I left out) plus crisp white wine and a rye manhattan, our bill had us each pay out less than 25bucks. We did make happy hour, but still that was totally worth it and way better than How to Cook a Wolf. The atmosphere was less snooty, more homey, and despite our (new) awkward waitress, the people were pretty nice and unpretentious. I highly recommend this joint. Its some of the best food i’ve had in Seattle yet.

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