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Archive for April, 2012

After three-years of talking about it, my wife and I finally took advantage of Seattle Restaurant Week this year. Seeing this as an opportunity to venture out of our comfort zone and try something outside Asian food (Chinese, Filipino, Japanese) … we took a giant leap in a different direction – Vietnamese… baby steps right? Monsoon Seattle is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood right smack in the middle of a residential street. It looks like it was a  garage, once upon a time… well that’s because it was! My initial impression when stepping into the restaurant was, “I like it!” The interior design has a very modern and simplistic feel, evident by the dark monochromatic colors and little to no art/decorations. The table settings consisted of the bare essentials; water glass, cloth napkin and chopsticks – what else does one need?! We were immediately seated and presented our menu. Our server did a great job explaining how the a la carte menu differed from the “Restaurant Week” menu and also shared the nightly dinner special.

The Food:

barbecued carlton farm pork spare ribs with ginger, hoisin and five spice

grilled monterey squid stuffed with duck, basil and jicama

wokked grass fed flat iron steak, fresh ginger, green onions 

crispy organic tofu, lemongrass, sweet onions, roasted shiitake mushrooms

wokked soft noodles, oyster mushrooms, duck egg, green onions

banana cake with savory coconut sauce

chocolate ganache with toasted coconut and a caramel peanut sauce

The Review:

When I bit into the spare rib, I was immediately hit with a flavor explosion! The sweetness of the hoisin and boldness of five spice really hit hard – almost a little too hard for my taste. After the initial flavor blast, I immediately noticed the off-the-bone tenderness of the pork. There was no question that I used hands in devouring these tender ribs, but I could have definitely pulled the meat off the bone with my chopsticks! The pickled jicama and carrots added a nice contrast to the plate – bringing my taste buds down from orbit.

The grilled stuffed squid was the ying to the porks yang. It had a much more subtle flavoring. The squid was grilled nicely with some good char and each bite put me in textural bliss. The crunch of the jicama stood out great against the soft duck and tender squid. The four squid rested atop a bed of shredded lettuce with some sort of rice wine vinaigrette over it all. Everything in this dish came together like Tetris pieces – perfectly.

The steak was perfectly cooked – juicy and tender throughout with good medium rare pink in the middle. Shaved ginger and red onion added a nice kick to each bite as well. If I were to rank the three dishes, this would be #3. Good but not great.

Visually and taste wise, this was my favorite dish. All the ingredients came together and tasted wonderfully! On top of that, it was pleasing to the eye – the reds, greens, browns purples exploding like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Usually when I picture mushrooms, I picture the dry, shriveled and unappealing things you find atop a pizza, but these shiitake mushrooms were the exact opposite. They tasted almost like calamari, very tender robust and even juicy!

The noodles were the least visually appealing of the three, but it had very good flavor. Not as firm as semolina pasta, the soft noodles did a good job absorbing the sauce – which tasted like a sesame paste. The oyster mushrooms and green onions added decent texture and flavor to the plate while the duck egg, visually there, was masked behind the other flavors.

I’ve had banana nut bread before but never banana cake… and after this dessert, I don’t think I can go back! The cake was super moist and soft and the slices of banana baked into the batter was perfect! The coconut sauce added a nice savory balance to the sweetness of the cake. After a few bites, Cherry stated, “This is the best dessert I’ve ever had!”

The chocolate ganache was a much richer and sweeter desert. It tasted almost like a huge Hersey kiss – except this kiss had toasted coconut shavings on top and rested between a peanut caramel sauce! The coconut shavings added good crunch and bite to the dish, almost like the rice bits of a crunch bar. The caramel and peanut sauce cut the richness of the chocolate nicely, by adding a subtle creamy texture and flavor.

My Conclusion:

Monsoon hit it out of the park on all fronts. Every course, from start to finish, was exceptionally prepared and tasted just as great. My wife and I walked out happy and full… and our pockets weren’t burning on the way out either! One dilemma someone might face during Seattle Restaurant Week is deciding on which restaurant(s) to go to. There’s always that voice in the back of my head saying, “I wonder what such and such restaurant would be like…” But by the end of the night, there was no question we made the right choice.

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Lanna Thai

Anyone who enjoys big flavors will undoubtedly have Thai food among their favorites. For me, this is definitely the case! My wife and I really enjoy the bold & aromatic flavor profiles that Thai foods bring, but in addition to that, we of course love spice! Lanna Thai is a very nice restaurant located on Evergreen Way, North of the Boeing Freeway in Everett. Located in an almost barren strip mall, its brightly lit sign acts like a lighthouse – directing people to its direction. Upon entering, I immediately noticed the interior design – there is a nice balance of Thai influence with modern décor. It is very obvious to see that time was taken to decorate the restaurant – from the beautiful Thai inspired murals and paintings to the individual leaves that are hung on wires from the ceiling. There are two dining areas (upper and lower) separated by a low standing wall. If you dine in the upper area, you are able to see the entire restaurant floor – the entry way, bar area and open kitchen. The service was very prompt (our glasses were constantly being filled) and our server was very polite. I always enjoy being able to see into a kitchen and on this particular Friday night, there were 5-cooks on the line busily busting out orders.

lighthouse-esque signage

thai inspired mural 

 

The Food:

 fried calamari

chicken phad thai

chili paste fried rice

The Review:

The calamari was prepared perfectly.  Lightly  breaded and pan fried, these bite-sized pieces had a good initial crunch and then almost butter like flavor. The breading melted in my mouth as I bit into the squid. One thing that really stood out was how “light” this dish was. I was able to get all the fried food happiness without the “greasy gut” regrets! The more sweet than tangy dipping sauce was also a good pairing and added great contrast to the dish.

When someone thinks of Thai food in this country, the first thing that usually comes to mind is Phad Thai. So naturally, Cherry uses it as her benchmark – determining whether or not the restaurant we’re eating at is good. One of the biggest components to a good phad thai, in my opinion, is the sauce. The additional ingredients (meat, egg, sprouts, and peanuts) are all toppings on a sundae – insignificant if you have a crappy sundae…and Lanna Thai serves a good sundae! Their sauce is very flavorful and unlike many other phad thai dishes we have  tried that taste like spicy ketchup paste, you can really taste the individual ingredients layered atop each other. The extra ingredients to this dish were definitely the perfect toppings.

Growing up in Chinese household, fried rice, to me, is a very safe and unexciting dish. So unexciting in fact, that my mom rarely cooked it! Fried rice tends to have the negative connotation that it is “left over rice, stir fried with left over veggies/meats” and at my home, that was usually the case. So I had to dig deep, step out of my preconceived notions and try something I wouldn’t normally try. The end result – I was pleased. Thai fried rice is very different than Chinese fried rice. Instead of having a smorgasbord of ingredients, Thai fried rice highlights on just a few; the sauce, the meat and one or two vegetables. Like phad thai, the focal point of this dish was the chili paste sauce. We didn’t get it very spicy, but even at two-stars, each bite had a nice spicy undertone to it. The chili paste sauce added good texture to the rice and was countered well by the fresh taste of the cucumber and subtle sweetness of the quartered tomato slices. Everything came together very well to provide a delicious dish.

 

My conclusion:

To date, my wife and I have been to about 15 Thai Restaurants in the Greater Seattle area and Lanna Thai stands at the top. From the inviting and comforting décor to the well prepared and delicious dishes, Lanna Thai is a place everyone needs to discover for themselves.

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After work, yesterday, Cherry picked me up and we decided to grab a quick bite before my class. As a foodie, driving down Broadway is like, being a kid in a candy store – there is literally something for everyone no matter what kind of food you’re looking for! The Deluxe Bar and Grill  is a nice dive located on Capitol Hill at the north end of Broadway. Offering 19-different brews on tap and a huge list of house infused spirits, libations are in full effect.! Once you enter, eyes will immediately be drawn to the large dark wood bar that acts like the centerpiece. Looking around, the dark wood accents and faux brick flooring add charm and character to the ambience. Natural light shines through the many windows during the day which works great with the casual atmosphere. It was conveniently Happy Hour, so we decided to share a burger and a few appetizers.

The Food:

spicy chicken club 

chicken quesadillas, fried mac & cheese, loaded tots

The Review:

 The Spicy Chicken Club featured; grilled chicken breast, pepper bacon, avocado and chipotle mayo on a toasted corn bun. Instead of the hand-cut fries, we chose a side of Chicken Tortilla soup. Portion sizes are extremely generous at Deluxe. Instead of just diving in and getting an initial bite of just the chicken breast and bacon protruding from out the bun, some finagling was required – enter “hand smash.” Immediately you’re hit with big flavors and textures; the firm yet soft corn bun, juicy chicken breast, spicy crunch of the bacon, creamy avocado, crisp green leaf and cool tomato all meshed together with the creamy and spicy chipotle mayo. Everything came together perfectly and each ingredient complimented the other very well! The Chicken Tortilla soup had rich bold flavors that really stood out. It also had tasty shreds of chicken breast that went well with the tomatoes and onions in the soup.

The Chicken Quesadillas had a nice golden brown color on the outside and a generous filling of adobo chicken, cheese and tomato inside. These were nice and cheesy, served with sides of salsa and chipotle ranch. I preferred the chipotle ranch over the salsa, which was vanilla to me– plain and ordinary.

The Fried Mac & Cheese has a nice crust all around from the flash fried panko crumbs and carried a cheesy flavor throughout. Personally, I love mac & cheese, especially if there is sharp flavorful cheese. These, however fell a little flat for me – it lacked “pop.” I think  a pepper jack would have provided the missing link. Thankfully, the chipotle ranch gave it a nice lift.

The Loaded Tater Tots were possibly the best appetizer of the three. Covered in melted cheddar cheese, ground beef, tomatoes and green onions with a wallop of sour cream. Think of a plate of nachos with tots instead of chips. The dish may have been put in the oven a little too long due to the cheese being over cooked, but the dish as whole was still a success. What would have been the icing on the cake is if they added some sliced jalapeños on top!

My conclusion:

Deluxe sits in a  diverse area with many different types of restaurants and cafés, however it stands alone when it comes to, home favorite comfort foods Whether you’re looking for a good burger, good brew, strong cocktails or just a good time, Deluxe has something for you!

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Grazie Ristorante

When I think of Italian restaurants in Washington, I picture; upscale spots  featuring prestigious chefs in metropolitan areas. However, tucked away in the corner of a strip mall near Westfield Mall, (20-minutes south of Seattle) is the hidden treat that is, Grazie Ristorante. My wife and I came here on a Friday evening and were immediately seated. It is a nice sized restaurant that seats around 40, with an open floor plan allowing patrons to see into the kitchen. Listening around to conversation, it was quite evident that there were more regulars than first timers. That evening, there were only two cooks – one cooking and one preparing. It was quite impressive considering it was dinner service on a Friday night.

 

The Food:

crispy garlic shrimp

piatti

 seafood grill

 

The Review:

My wife and I shared the crispy garlic shrimp for the appetizers and then both ordered from the daily specials menu. My wife ordered the Piatti which included sautéed chicken breast, spicy Italian andouille sausage, and penne pasta tossed in a ricotta & pomodoro sauce. I ordered the Seafood Grill consisting of grilled halibut, prawns and calamari on a bed of spinach, sautéed in garlic, butter, and lemon sauce with house pasta.

The shrimp was great. The appetizer came with six huge butterflied shrimp that were flash fried, sautéed with garlic then served with a side of chive aioli and some fried lemon slices. I normally do not opt for shrimp, because I have the notion that shrimp is tiny bite sized little pieces of food, and I prefer to eat something more substantial. However, these shrimp were considerably robust! I can usually eat a cocktail shrimp in one bite, easy… but these all took at least 2-bites! The chive aioli tasted great and helped add a subtle creaminess to the dominance of the shrimp and garlic. I’ve never had fried lemon slices but I decided to try one and they were surprisingly very tasty. I mean, anything deep fried is pretty much a winner in my book! The initial taste of “fried” batter was immediately met and overtaken by the sweet and tart flavor of the lemon itself. Think of it as biting into one of those “Gusher” fruit snacks – with a lemon filling.

My Seafood Grill was very delicious. The halibut was grilled perfectly – it had a nice char on the outside and a very soft and tender meat on the inside. The two large prawns were seasoned and grilled very well – not overcooked and complimented nicely with the garlic butter sauce. One thing I greatly enjoy is calamari; however this calamari steak is the only of the dish that fell flat for me. There wasn’t much seasoning and tasted like plain calamari – slightly chewy with a mild hint of saltiness. I had to rely on the sauce to add some pizzazz. The halibut, prawns and calamari all rested atop a generous bed of spinach and house pasta. I wasn’t blown away by the either the pasta or spinach; both items were cooked well but were more of an “accent” to the main attractions. As a whole, the dish was held together by he garlic, butter and lemon sauce – adding a rich and creamy texture to each item on the plate..

Overall, my wife’s Piatti fell flat. Carrying a nice spiciness that stood out against the average sauce, the sausage may have been the only highlight of the dish. Normally dry, the chicken breast did bring a nice juiciness to the dish. The pomodoro & ricotta sauce tasted mediocre – nothing popped.

 

My Conclusion:

As cliché as it sounds, Grazie is definitely a diamond in the rough. My Seafood Grill plate alone was enough to make me want to come back and try other things from their menu. However, the way the Piatti fell flat, I’d heave caution to pasta connoisseurs.

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Upcoming April Events

Here are some upcoming April events in the Seattle area definitely worth checking out!

• April 8th-19th (excluding Fri, Sat& Sun): Seattle Restaurant Week

• April 26th: Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez guest chef at Olivar

• April 29-30: NW Foodservice Show

• April 30: Irbille Edibiles Pop Up

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You wouldn’t normally find me out at the bar scene during the work week, but last night my wife and I joined a friend of hers at the J&M Café to watch some of her friends jam out on stage. J&M is one of, if not the oldest bars in Seattle– established in 1889! It is a pretty good sized dive with a large wooden bar at the front of the house which runs parallel with the open kitchen. Looking around, you’ll definitely get a rich sense of history – the wooden floors, beams and accents really give the feeling of an old western saloon!

The Food: 

j&m spicy burger 

The Review: 

My wife and I shared the J&M Spicy Burger which included spicy coppa, roasted jalapeños, pepper jack cheese and sriracha mayonnaise with a side of fries. When the burger came out, it was much bigger than I expected. It was at least a 1/3 lb. patty with the standard trimmings (tomato, lettuce, red onion and dill pickles) in addition to the special ingredients, all jammed between a brioche bun. She literally had to press the whole thing down so she could sink a bite into it. The steak knife stabbed down the middle helped facilitate this process and was handy in cutting the burger in half for sharing. Biting into the burger was like an explosion of flavors! The spicy kick of the jalapeños and sriracha mayo were nicely accompanied by the cool and crisp texture of the lettuce with a mild sour kick of the pickles. The pepper jack was also melted perfectly atop it all to help blend the flavors together. The fries were almost like shoe-string fries and were well seasoned with a nice crisp.

 By the time we finished the burger and had a few drinks, it was happy hour! HH at the J&M is daily from 2pm-6pm and 10pm-close, and everything on the HH menu is $0.99!! We had the chorizo quesadilla and loaded potato skins. These dollar items were all bite-sized and the portions are essentially single serving. The chorizo in the quesadilla had a nice smokey & spicy combination of flavors and was served with a side of pico de gallo. The potato skins were each covered with cheese, bacon, green onions and served with a side of spicy ranch. The HH items were good, but the burger alone warrants future visits to sample the rest of their menu!

Now, the best part of the evening was the live music! Last night featured, “The Cory Wilds Band.” They are a 3-piece band specializing in rock/jazz/blues with a modern twist. They jammed for a good while and then introduced some guest guitarists. The first guest was a young boy (maybe 15-years old) named Tobey. He definitely held his own up there jamming with the band and even had a few moments where he was able to shine – playing some great guitar solos! The crowd was definitely pumped up – cheering and applauding his performance. The second guest was Ian Crawford, former lead guitarist of, “The Cab” and currently touring with “Panic! at the Disco.” Prior to last night, I did not know of Ian Crawford, but I was familiar with, Panic! It was pretty awesome to see a musician of his caliber, live and jamming with the band! They played a bunch of covers, my favorite of which was Santana’s Black Magic Woman! After they were done, they opened up the stage for other acts/bands to sign up and jam! These next two bands were great – performing cover songs and keeping the energy level high.

 tobey jammin’ on stage

ian crawford doin his thing

My Conclusion:

The J&M is located in the heart of Pioneer Square and is fittingly rich with history, character and diversity! I am definitely glad I found this place and only wish it would have been sooner!

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My wife and I were driving through Greenwood Sunday afternoon looking for a place to get a meal. We decided to try something new and chose The Olive and Grape. When I think of olives and grapes, the Mediterranean comes to mind and upon entering, this spot definitely fit the bill.  We came in from the back entrance, were greeted and asked to sit anywhere we liked. Our server immediately offered coffee, Turkish tea or water  and handed us our menus. It is a quaint little restaurant that looked like it could seat about 30-35 patrons. White paint with blue trimmed walls and hand painted olive trees really add to the Greek/Mediterranean theme. There’s a good sized counter that could be used as a bar, but instead, displays several different varieties of olive oil and wine. It is adjacent to the open kitchen where you can watch the cooks prepare the orders. Looking through the menu took a little longer than usual because most all the dishes, being Turkish and Greek, were foreign to me. I had to read the descriptions and ingredients to see what each dish was.

entry way from greenwood ave.

popular pairings list behind counter/bar

 

The Food:

spinach & feta gozleme with side of tzatziki 

nonna’s spaghetti polpettini 

baklava

 

The Review:

I looked for something that was both new and somewhat familiar. I chose the Golzeme – which is described as a “Turkish quesadilla.” The only filling they had that day was spinach and feta. It was so-so. The “hand rolled” pastry looked and tasted just like naan bread with a barely there filling of spinach and feta. Imagine a single slice of deli meat, and you’ve just pictured how much filling was in this gozleme! The filling was so minuscule that I could barely taste the feta, which is a strong flavor cheese! The tzatziki added a nice cool and mildy sour compliment to the dish and might have been the best part of the meal. The menu also stated it would come with a side of sambal, a spicy chili, which would have been nice, had  I received it. I chose garlic fries as my side item, which was also, just ok. Feta and parsley were sprinkled atop the fries which also had a side of tzatziki. There was no taste of garlic at all – disppointed!

My wife had Nonna’s Spaghetti Polpettini. It came in a small bowl with 6 meatballs atop a bed of pasta with zuchini shavings, fresh basil and grated parmigiano. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the tomato-mascarpone sauce had the makings to be a very good sauce. The initial taste of the sauce was very good especially with the zuchini shavings, but then it was overshadowed by the saltiness. The meatballs also had a lot of potential. The initial bite was bursting with flavors of herbs and spices, but again, it was overshadowed by a salty aftertaste. Think of a tequila shot: the kick from licking the salt, a quick burn from the tequila and then the sour-cooling relief of the lemon…but in reverse.

To end the meal, we both shared an order of baklava – another highlight. The filo dough was nice and flaky and went well with the rich syrup and nuts. It was served with a halved strawberry which when eaten together, was really delicious! The clean and cool texture of the strawberry really helped cut the richness of the syrup.

 

My Conclusion:

The Olive and Grape has potential to be something really good. I’m not sure if it was my personal taste, but the entrées we shared were both too salty for my liking. Maybe we came in on an “off” day for the cooks, but this place definitely has promise. The Olive and Grape is also particpating in the upcoming Seattle Restaurant Week , should anyone want to sample a larger portion of the menu. By the time we left, the restaurant was nearly at capacity, which tells me there’s something good at The Olive and Grape… I just didn’t find it.

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