Curious Appetite

home-made

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.

Nettletown

One morning, as I was restlessly slept-in, I was feeling spontaneous and felt compelled to venture out for brunch. I urbanspoon’d “brunch” and found this “Nettletown.” I thought, what a peculiar name. It seems that Nettles have become a culinary trend in the Pacific Northwest, i.e. nettle papparadelle, nettled sausage, nettle gratin. Nettles are medicinal as they are delicious. They are amazing towards combating allergies. And amazing in curing the experimental palate.

I was quite surprised to see this place tucked next to subway in the seemingly convenience strip of Eastlake. I walked in, and was covered by colors, mural-inspired decor, and a counter lined of eccentric sweets. Dark chocolate covered noodle haystacks to mexican chocolate (sliced) coconut bars.  They were delicately arranged and gastronomically full of beauty. And the best part? COST. $1.60 for that chocolatey coconut blissy bar that I enjoyed much with some full-bodied organic coffee that was served in a cute modestly sized Japanese-like styled light blue ceramic mug, and as I waited for my baked truffled sunchoke eggs to arrive.

Menu items seem baked and/or cooked to order (allow 20 minutes for this special): and I was impressed by all of the choices. Simplicity, yet complexity. Traditional, yet experimental. There was something truly special about the vibe inside. It really seemed like a little hole in the wall that no one knew about, and that would only be exposed by Anthony Bourdain. I found that to be completely false once I stumbled upon the latest Eater Heat Map http://m.eater.com/archives/2010/12/29/the-eater-seattle-heat-map-where-to-eat-right-now.php

I feel like homey little hole in the wall joints that you can fill up on precious gourmet comfort meals for less than ten bucks is a rarity in Seattle, unless you hit up the I.D., Beacon Hill, White Center, or maybe Korean joints along HWY 99. Usually, so-called “foodie” and well-ranked venues like Springhill (bless your hearts and please forgive me for the following profiling:)  are in high-profiled spaces with seemingly high-profiled snooty clientele. And that with coffee and tip and maybe a slice of brioche will let you escape for those ten $mackers.

The point IS…these baked eggies were creamy, truffly (of the black variety) and had semi-firm savory sunchokes baked in with a creamy cheese crust. The green spinach salad was a great way to polish off the palate and still leave the truffle lingering and mingling with the olivey vinaigrette.

As I lurked through the website, I discovered the owner’s inspirations come from her Swiss and Chinese roots. TOTALLY made sense, after I was confounded by the melange of modern European Ikea-eske ideas of Elk-Balls and Swiss Knoepfli (swiss spaetzle) yet Asian style-comfort foods like 5-spiced Berkshire pork ribs buried in wild mushroom noodle soup.

I am so bewildered by this place, not only for the way you can get sweet unpretentious treats for under $2, its small yet bursting  selection of brunch items, the fact that its hard to spot along Eastlake ave and sits right next to a franchise that is belittling the gastronomic integrity of America, and the fact that they actually utilize a CSA farm/produce box  scheme to provide its whole food ingredients.

So, my question is, how good is a lemongrass elk meatball?

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.