Curious Appetite

Seafood

How to shop for good fish

Do you know how to pick out fish from the market? Do you even buy fish?

I was recently sitting around the dinner table with friends and we were discussing fish and how asian cultures fight over who gets to eat the fish eyes and camp out at their local fish monger to get 1st dibs on the fish heads.  And we also discussed about how ones Sicilian grandma used to know a good fish by how its liver felt or how its eyes were glazed.  And how now his mom (his grandmothers daughter) can just barely pick out the freshest whole fish, having lost that knowledge from her mother on how to judge a fish by its gallbladder.

Being American, I was fascinated by this discussion. Most of us go to the shop to buy filets. Or frozen breaded packaged stuff. If we even eat the stuff at all. As much as I love food and want to deepen my relationship with it by gardening and cooking from scratch, fish intimidates me. As I suspect for most people. The only fish I know how to prepare well is salmon, and that’s because it is from my culture being from the Pacific Northwest where salmon defines our culinary identity.

My mom taught me how to buy salmon whole. How to cook it, skin it and de-bone it. This is a small beginning to American gastronomic heritage. This is what I fear we are loosing, all over the world. Gastronomic heritage.

I don’t know how to shop for good fish, and there should not be a manual. This post is not a series of top ten tips or even the 7 things you must know about fresh fish. What I think people need to do is to talk to people. Talk to your grandma or grandpa. Meet your fish monger. Find the nearest fishing terminal/port. Get to know your favorite restaurant staff. Hell, even talk to the barman at your local fisherman’s pub. These things in gastronomic heritage are things we must pass down by story telling. We must pass down through our relationships, not with some sterile blog who the author behind it you will never meet. Make a fish bake date with your grandparents or someone elses. Even if you don’t like fish, it’s probably a good idea to hang out for dinner with your Nan.

Also, I think it is important to understand how much fish are at risk. Fish are at pathetic populations, swimming in polluted seas.  You must also understand how farmed fish is not the answer, at least industrial chemically farmed fish. I sometimes can’t believe how people put things in their mouths without understanding the whole story behind it, or at least part of it.

These are a few great resources about fish and fishermen.

L’assassinio del mare by Michele Santoro (For those who speak Italian)

Seafood Watch 

Slow Fish

Whatever you do, just at least to try to have a 15 minute conversation about your family gastronomic heritage. Just 15 minutes.

With all of my best,

Curious Appetite

Dine Around Seattle: Ray’s Boathouse

March is an annoying month in Seattle. You think you’ve braved the bulk of winter but really it’s only just begun. February teases you with May weather, then March slaps you around with icy winds and grey. Coincidentally March is Washington Wine Month AND Dine Around Seattle Month. So I guess I will pass the time with wine (for March’s sake) and fancy 3 course meals for $30 at shmancy restaurants, like Ray’s Boathouse.

This massive hunk of love was a Tiramisu’ cheesecake. And it was one of the generous desserts apart of the 3 course $30 dine around deal.

I have heard lovely things about Ray’s Boathouse and have been trying to get in there for sometime. They are best known for, you guessed it, Pacific Northwest Inspired Seafood-centric cuisine. But if you look at the menu’ for Dine Around, it was strangely meat heavy. There was a seared tuna starter, which was delicately seared and extremely fresh and carefully paired with flavors of coconut, cilantro and ginger. There was also the saffron mussel bisque w/ pork belly but the pork was definitely the centerpiece to the cream saffron broth. On the mains list there was a Seafood Risotto but I couldn’t bring myself to trust a risotto in most restaurants, especially one that doesn’t even have a claim to Italian fame. Risotto tends to dry out almost immediately and its one of those dishes that takes a lot of attention and needs to be demolished immediately once ready. It can get gummy or mushy if it isn’t served within 15 minutes. So the one seafood main was the one I refused to try. So instead the Muscovy Duck Leg Confit and the Braised Lamb shank was on the to do list. Along with a bottle of a Salice Salentino Negroamaro (black bitter) which is a bold deep red from the Puglia region of Italy. Not too bold in tannin but structured enough to buddy up with duck and lamb.

And my my, these were not sad portions. I wish my camera hadn’t been misbehaving so I could show you their glory. These meats were cooked to perfection, layered a top vegetables like seasonal beets, arugula and swiss chard with grace. Brushed with thoughtful notes like honey lavender demi-glace (for the lamb) and roasted chanterelle jus (for the duck confit) that invoked a sense of true craftmanship.

However, there is usually a however with me, there was no soul. The ambiance seemed a little stiff and I felt as if I was sitting in a Denny’s booth albeit with a cute view of the bay. The chef’s at Ray’s have technique down pat. But there is too much a corporate feel and a lack of character to this restaurant that I feel less inclined to return. The decor was kind of like the kind I’d find at a rental cabin owned by a retired couple in Michigan. But perhaps this is the establishment that it would like to be. The kind that people in preppy suits come to dine and woo their in-town guests or for upscale family reunions. I’ve also heard the cafe’ area is a lot more relaxed and cozy. And for the summertime, which lasts about 6 weeks for us Seattlelittes, it would be a stellar place to enjoy some fresh salmon, a strawberry shortcake and a mint mojito.

If you are looking for true technique, proper portions and a place to bring someone on a suit and tie kind of occasion, Ray’s Boathouse is a win. Also a choice place for Dine Around Seattle Month, for sure.

Hunger in Fremont- something left to be desired.

Hunger, yes this is a name of a Seattle restaurant, a somewhat conceited restaurant. The name on its own makes you go “what’s it called?”  Look up the definition for” hunger” and it will list it as “a strong need or craving for something.” Well, these guys have the name right because I was definitely still plagued by craving after dining here on a cold, winter evening in Seattle.

To sum up my major observations: too delicate of portions, inappropriate utensils, misplaced spice, I would go as far as saying a side too large of grease and too expensive.

Due kudos? Our server! The service was amazing and our server was chipper, warm, polite, prompt and entertaining albeit the weekend night blitz.

Exhibit A: Bacon Wrapped Dates  w/ chorizo, smoked paprika oil and a spoonful of Valdeon Ice cream. $12

I fully admit that the texture of this photo makes it a bit hard to tell that these dates were barely wrapped and coddled by bacon. I kept asking myself where’s the BACON? Not to mention these were TINY. Traditionally, bacon wrapped dates are stuffed with manchego and wrapped in BACON. Whats with the frilly ice cream and paprika oil? Just stick to tried-and-true! What makes someone think they can out-do manchego and BACON? Also, there should have been spoons for this plate! How can anyone scoop up melty ice cream and glazey stuff with a FORK? Hello!

Exhibit B: Bison Tagine w/ root veggies, grapefruit (I think…) saffron, toasted almond, currant couscous and some sort of yogurt sauce.

This was actually the most decent dish of them all. The bison was very tender and chunky, the couscous perfectly fluffed, nice accents with the almond and yogurt sauce and peppery arugula. However, I can’t say that I could sense the saffron. I know its expensive, but a little goes a looooong way. I know saffron, and I didn’t see her here. It was a bit greasy and I was surprised by the 2 bits of random grapefruit slice. But all in all, it was tasty. I’m not sure worth $16 tasty.

The other dishes not pictured were Clams w/ Chorizo and Crispy Pork Belly. The Clams were waaaaaay too piquant and it was such a shame because the clams were cooked perfectly. The broth was quite nice as well. It is a slippery slope combining clams with spice, in my humble opinion. Especially if you are going to pair it with something as bold as Chorizo, that is in my opinion a stand-alone. It goes best with a blank palate food like eggs, avocado, beans, etc. Clams are subtly delectable and I for one enjoy to taste the mar. I can understand a need for adding sausage for texture, but choose one wisely. And the crispy pork belly was blah blah blah. The cider braised cabbage et al accoutrements seemed more like the centerpiece. I didn’t find the belly to be thick, meaty or smokey enough.

Exhibit C was dessert: A Cheesecake with a smoked pepper and cacao crust and a caramelized banana jam.

Again, I must tisk-tisk the pastry chef for the overuse of spice here. With smoked black pepper in the crust, I was not convinced that this was dessert and could hardly be able to describe the cheesecake filling. The fire extinguisher on this slice was the banana jam. But I still felt like this was a poor combination. And at $9, I found it was arrogantly underwhelming despite the blaze of smoked pepper overpowering my delicate palate. A suggestion would be that if one would like to play with spice in sweets, perhaps master a chili chocolate glaze and stick to a traditional cookie crust. Maybe even include some almond marzipan to keep it interesting. But I have to wonder what lent this cake its inspiration.

What was left to be desired was a more honest sized prices, a better use of spice combining and a more aggressive approach towards inviting bacon and pork belly onto the plate. I went home and wished I had instead enjoyed my skirt steak ginger lemongrass mushroom ramen leftovers. I think this place has potential, luckily this is not a huge “oh my gosh its soooo good” Seattle restaurant. It is a new place so you never know what may transpire. But I wonder how many people, with a discerning palate, will likewise leave in a state of desire.

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!

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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