Curious Appetite

Seattle

Reflections of America- Eating through the West Coast

In June of 2012, I moved to Florence. In the last days of November 2013, I made a trip back to my motherland. If I can call America that. I went because it was time to take a break. And also to perform a wedding. Yes, I am a certified wedding officiant. If you are coming to Italy looking for an American wedding officiant- you can count on me. Yes yes, I am a woman of many trades: travel, food, wine, cooking and yes- officiating marriages.

This wedding was in Hawaii. The weather was a dream. The wedding went off with a bang and a bit of whiskey.

My 1st week in America involved lots of fish, raw fish, mango, avocados the size of melons, papaya, poke salads (my favorite) and street tacos. During my stay in the paradise of Kauai, I attended a coffee tour, a rum tasting tour and many days at the beach attempting to body board, sipping mai tais and pina coladas in between. I almost want to move back to Seattle just so that I can have easy access to Hawaii. America did a good job securing that state as one of ours. As beautiful and unique as it was, I couldn’t help thinking how much it resembled L’Isola d’Elba off the Tuscan coast. So Italian expats or Italophiles (or just plain ol’ Italians), if you’d like to experience Hawaii but can’t make the trek- go to Elba! Continue Reading

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!

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 Book Larder: A literary oasis for "foodies"}

Have you ever been at a massive bookstore and shot straight to the food section, wishing it were bigger and included musings from your local writers? Have you ever dreamed of a bookstore, whose collection was focused on all things food, had a large inviting kitchen for food demos and cooking classes, made fresh-baked cookies waiting just for you on snow days, hosted book signings with the author who might even create one of their recipes on site in said-kitchen?  Well, if you haven’t heard of the Book Larder, you may want to reconsider your ignorance.

This Larder sits next to Dot’s Deli, which is also a new Fremont gem serving up sandys, in-house charcuterie, steak tartare and pates. The Book Larder is in quite the perfect location within this little wedge of foodie haven. Across the street is Caffe’ Vita, Via Tribunali Pizzeria, a few beats past there is Pecado Bueno (home of the $3 margarita) and Uneeda Burger. I love this little nook of Fremont. With the Fremont Abby also within couple steps to furnish your art and culture appetite, you really don’t need to bother tumbling down the hill to the main strip. All this area would need is a grocery store….oh wait, there IS.

Anywho, one of the snow laden days that Seattle shutdown, I received a FB update from the Larder offering up hot cookies and tea for any who dared to make the trek. Oh, you bet I did.

And bet your pants that I went sledding later on for, you know, “exercise”.  These gems were warm gooey buttery crunchy around the edges dark chocolate hazelnut cookies. And it came from a British baking book. Of course it did. Those Brits know a couple things (emphasis on “couple” ;), and those are jacket potatoes and cookies. Our American oatmeal raisin (I’m sorry but raisin in cookies are just gross) and even some versions of the chocolate chip are pathetic in comparison. Americans rarely invite the hazelnut, sorry I mean filberts, to the baking goodies party. Peanuts, maybe. And the Brits also are not afraid of…BUTTER.

During this peruse, I discovered rad rare finds like The Anthropologist’s Cookbook (which you bet it included beetle stews). They have every reference book you can think of, as long as you’re interested say in making your own sausages, DIY butchering and pickling, WINE guides, and even books on IRAQI cuisine! So far, my picks have been Plate to Pixel (a great read and how-to for snapping Food Porn) and The Wine Lover’s Companion (a wicked useful handy dictionary for all A to Z wine talk!).

Here’s a link to their calendar

http://www.booklarder.com/events/2012/01

I hope you get a chance to pop in! But only after you enjoy a treat from Dot’s Deli. I’ve heard their Ruben is to cry for. 🙂

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