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Sorry for how long it’s been since my last post, but nowadays, leisurely meals at a restaurant become a huge production once you add a toddler into the picture. Let’s just say Cherry and I have become meticulously selective of if and when we decide to eat out. Last night happened to be my birthday, so we figured that was a reason as good as any to dine out. We also had fortune of Grandma watching Rylie for the evening! Cherry surprised me with a dinner at a spot I’ve had on my radar for quite some time; Mashiko! Mashiko is a sushi restaurant that practices and focuses on sustainability. Making sure the fish they serve is not only fresh and local, but responsibly caught and not of the massively farmed variety. It is a small restaurant with simple décor that shows the sushi bar in the back along with the daily specials. I will also preface this post by saying that a majority of my experience with sushi/sashimi/nigiri is from AYCE sushi spots in the Seattle area as well as Vancouver BC.

mashiko entrance

entrance off california ave

The Food:

Cherry and I opted for the omakase or “chef’s choice” meal. At Mashiko, they have four different omakase meals. We ordered Nami ($70 for two) , which included an assortment of sashimi, ten pieces of nigiri, one grilled fish, rice and dessert. I could tell Cherry was a little apprehensive, since anything raw beyond ahi (tuna) is outside her comfort zone. But she handled everything like a champ and I’mvery proud of her. Next time I’d like to step it up to their Honkaku meal; which has the disclaimer,“Novices need not apply.”

 

mashiko tako sashimi

first course: tako sashimi over a bead of sunomono

All of the tako I have ever consumed prior to this meal has been chewy and relatively flavorless; however it’s always been one of my favorite foods. However, the tako here threw everything I knew about it out the door. It was outrageously tender and simply delicious. I felt like Neo when he was unhooked from the Matrix and using his eyes for the first time in the real World.

 

mashiko.sashimi

second course: (from top going clockwise) white king salmon, tombo, gulf prawn, red tuna, rainbow trout, saba,(middle) tako (hood) mussel with wasabi mayo

Each piece of sashimi was incredibly fresh and very delicious. I won’t go into detail into each piece of sashimi, but I will highlight a few of my favorites. The gulf prawn had a pleasantly sweet flavor and the saba was very rich and flavorful. The mussel was also extremely fresh and the wasabi mayo added a creamy texture and additional layer of flavor. My absolute favorite piece on this plate was the white king salmon. It had a wonderfully subtle flavor that you find with fresh fish but had the texture like butter! It literally melted in my mouth. Experiencing such a delicate texture flushed all  preconceived notions and past experiences of sashimi down the drain.

 mashiko.nigiri

third course: (clockwise from back left) uni, sanma, iwashi, tombo, coho salmon

Again only highlighting my favorites, which happen to be the entire back row. The sanma, or Pacific saury was local and had a very rich fishy flavor. The iwashi or sardine was also locally caught. Like the sanma, it carried a richer fishy flavor that I thoroughly enjoyed. “Fishy” flavors tend to carry a negative connotation in Western culture, but that isn’t so much the case in Asian culture. There is also a big difference in stinky fish flavor and fresh fish flavor. Both these fish had the latter. The uni was probably my favorite. Behind the gelatinous texture that may hinder people from trying it, it carried such an awesome flavor that I can only describe as, fresh & clean ocean.

 

mashiko.ling cod

fourth course: grilled ling cod with miso sauce on bed of sunomono

This dish was more down Cherry’s alley. Simply and perfectly grilled fish topped with a savory sweet miso sauce and a side of rice. Ling cod is already a light and subtly sweet fish so it doesn’t need much done to it. The miso highlighted the sweetness of the fish while also adding umami to each bite.

 

 mashiko.brownie

fifth course: coconut tempura brownie & green tea ice cream

Our meal concluded with a perfect desert. The brownie, which is from a local bakery, was rich but not overly sweet. The coconut tempura was fried perfectly with the batter providing great crunch and texture. The green tea ice cream was great in adding a contrasting creamy texture and earthy sweetness.

My Conclusion:

Everything about our experience at Mashiko was excellent. Our server was extremely attentive and did a great job explaining what each item within each course was. The food was fantastic; expertly prepared and impeccably fresh. Chef Hajime is definitely master in his craft and his team truly exudes that excellence.

 

 

 

 

 

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Originally opening in 2008 as Spring Hill Restaurant, founders, Marjorie Chang Fuller and Mark Fuller quickly gained both local and national recognition in the foodie industry, which also include  three consecutive James Beard nominations for, Best Chef: PNW. Circa 2012, they decided to change course to what is now known as, Ma’Ono Fried Chicken and Whisky.  Sitting California Ave SW in West Seattle, Ma’ono is an unassuming restaurant that revels in simplicity.  The interior has a nice combination of Zen garden meets modern Chic. Upon entering, we were greeting and seated (reservations suggested.) We had the fortune to be seated directly next to the open kitchen – which in my opinion is always the best seat. Nothing compares to being able to watch the organized chaos that is, the back of the house. One thing I noticed in particular that was equally pleasing was the level of cleanliness in the kitchen. The counters were pristine, our glasses and water carafe were spotless and the flatware and tableware were all meticulously placed in perfect organized stacks. Cherry even observed a worker drying off individual spoons and closely examining each one before stacking. If a restaurant puts that much focus and detail on the things that happen “in the back”, chances are high that the product they serve will be that much better.

manon.entrance

entrance off california ave sw

maono.kitchen

courtside kitchen

maono.tablesetting

tabletop essentials

 The Food:

maono.friedchicken

fried chicken $39

maono.fixins

standard fixins’

A full order yields a whole bird – 10-pieces served in a large tray and a side of rice and kimhi and dipping saucesI specifically went against the grain and chose the notoriously dry and often last-picked, breast.  I figure, if the breast was well cooked, it would be a positive sign for the rest of the batch. Positive signs were exactly what I experienced!  After getting through the awesome crunch of the breading, the breast is exactly how all breasts need to be – moist and tender! I actually caught myself doing a double-take, to make sure it was a breast. Each and every piece thereafter was perfectly golden brown and maintained a great crunch from top to bottom – none of that soggy skin that you get at other places. The breading had rich and savory flavors that I enjoyed. At this point, everything else that came after (thigh, leg and wing) was a bonus. Each piece was equally delicious, crunchy and flavorful. Oh yeah, the sauces they serve on the side were a spicy Korean sauce, and a Chinese hot mustard sauce, neither of which were very spicy. I preferred the Chinese mustard which tasted more of a combination of honey mustard and Chinese hot mustard. It carried a nice subtle “heat” that the Chinese mustard is known for (the same kind of heat you get from horseradish), and a nice sweet honey mustard flavor. I actually have a small cup of the stuff in my fridge I took home with my left overs!

maono.manapua

manapua $8

The manapua was delicious. They’re steamed bbq pork buns similar to what you can find in a Chinese bakery. The bun was silky soft and the filling was rich and full of umami. Definitely one of the better bbq buns I’ve had. It’s served with a shoyu-harissa sauce, which I believe is their take on a spicy soy sauce. I tasted a little bit of it and didn’t taste very much heat, but the manapua was perfect without any sauce.

maono.macsalad

macaroni salad $6

A Hawaiian meal isn’t a true Hawaiian meal without the mac salad! There are many variations to Hawaiian-style mac salad, but the one here includes; potatoes, egg, and carrots.  I’ve had plenty of mac salad in my time, and confidently say, Ma’Ono’s is the best I’ve had. It had great texture from the potatoes and carrots and perfect flavoring. Like bacon, if you add egg to anything, you’ve just elevated whatever you’re eating to the next level. The same goes here.

 maono.warmtowel

warm towel wipe down, please!

My Conclusion:

I know you what your first thought is (it was mine as well) – $40 for some fried chicken!? What are you smokin?!  After the initial sting of disbelief passed, I started to look into why on earth anyone would fathom charging such an expensive price on such a common dish. According to their website, all of their chicken is raised locally and naturally in Mt Vernon, Wa (60 miles north of Seattle). In addition, they also implement a lengthy preparation process for each bird and they use high quality ingredients. Of course, everything you read must be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, I’ll try my best to answer some questions you may have.

• Is it the best fried chicken I’ve had?

I’d say, yes. I’ve had plenty of really good fried chicken, but in my opinion, Ma’Ono is the king of the mountain..

• Do I feel the chicken is worth $40 dollars?

Well that depends on how you look at it. The same reason why a bottle of Dom.Romane Coni 1997 costs over $1500 compared to a bottle of $10 red wine you get at your local grocery store? They’re both made from grapes aren’t they? It’s not like the DRC has a secret vineyard where unicorns stomp barrels of enchanted grapes while wearing silk covered booties followed by a lengthy aging process where each barrel is guarded by mystical fairies and gnomes.  I guess it comes down to how much you are willing to pay for a product. You can pay bottom dollar on a fast-food joint where everything comes frozen and prepared by local high school students … or not.

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On any given day, if you asked Cherry or I what we were in the mood for, nine times out of ten we would respond with, “Pho!” If you’re reading this and asking yourself, “What is pho?” … well that wouldn’t be possible, because there’s no way you have access to a computer from the rock you’re living under! Over the years, Cherry and I have had Pho in countless spots – literally from Bellingham down to Federal Way, but only one business stands out and far ahead of the pack, Than Bros. There are 14 different locations in Western Washington and having been to seven of them, I am confident in saying, they are each equally delicious. You won’t find fancy decorations or even a big menu here – they only serve two things; pho and cream puffs, both of which according to their website, are secret family recipes.

The Food:

complimentary cream puffs

Each patron receives a complimentary cream puff which are always made fresh and very delicious. The pastry portion always has a nice balance of firm outside and marshmallow-like softness in the middle. As soon as you bite in, you’re hit with the creamy and custard-like  sweet filing. These cream puffs are great in that they’re not too sweet – just enough to leave you craving for more. If one isn’t enough, you can buy them: 3 for $1.50

 

all the necessities: bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, basil, lime slice

 

medium number 8 chin sach: brisket & tripe $6.25

 

my pyramid  of beansprouts

I always order the number 8 which includes brisket and tripe. I love their brisket, which in my opinion, is more tender and carries a little more flavor than the cuts served. For those texturally courageous enough to try it, tripe is delicious.  It has a chewy texture and carries a very subtle salty beef flavor that works great with the rest of the ingredients. Now to the main focus of any pho restaurant (also my judging criteria), the quality and flavor of their beef broth. Compared to the other spots we’ve tried, Than Bros, hands down, always has the most flavorful and savory broth. It is full of rich beef flavor from the beef bones and other seasonings that go into it. The rest of the ingredients (onions, basil, green onions, bean sprouts & lime slice) all combine to provide happiness in a bowl! Crunch from the bean sprouts, bright and sharp flavors from the basil and onions and a contering tartness from the lime juice… I’m craving a bowl as I read/write this! A subtle but important thing worth noting is the temperature at which they serve their pho. You may be wondering, “…temperature?!” Indeed! Nothing is a bigger let down than a bowl of pho that is barely lukewarm when you’re only 1/3 of the way through. The perfect bowl of pho is hot enough to not only cook the rare meat that is an common choice, but to maintain it’s temperature even to the last drop. Needless to say, Than Bros doesn’t disappoint here either.

my usual sauce spicy/sweet combination: sriracha & hoisen

 

you know it’s good when…

My Conclusion:

Depending on which location you choose, it may look clean and new or like a a rundown hole-in-the-wall, but who goes into a pho restaurant for the décor anyway!? Whether you’re battling the sniffles or craving something hot, flavorful and fulfilling, the pho served at Than Bros will do the trick. Their service is fast – wait times for your food to be served is less than five minutes, and the food is fulfilling. On average, Than Bros is also cheaper than the other pho spots we’ve been too. And lastly, for those with dietary restrictions, they also serve chicken pho and vegetable pho so no on leaves unhappy.

 

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With signs above of past businesses and tucked between a woman’s strengthening gym and a spa, one could easily and tragically miss a window sign reading, Meander’s Kitchen. Seating roughly 20-25, Meanders Kitchen’s looks like a typical hole-in-the-wall diner, however the food they serve is anything but. Cherry and I came on a Saturday afternoon and immediately saw a packed house with already two parties waiting ahead and two more parties arriving after us – further confirming we made the right choice. After about a 30-minute wait, we were seated at the best spot in the house – the counter. When we were done giving our order, we were able to watch the woman behind the grill do her thing. I was able to deduce that this woman’s name is Miranda and I’m assuming she is also the owner. Watching this half-woman, half-machine work was like poetry in motion. I have never worked in a kitchen, but that’s not to say I don’t know how busy, stressful and hectic it can get. The pace, efficiency and grace at which she maintained was something to be admired. I jokingly asked, “When do you come up for air?!” She laughed and said, “Every couple of hours… but there’s a lot of teamwork behind the scenes that make this possible.” Nevertheless, I have a new profound respect and appreciation for those working in the kitchen.

restaurant front

 miranda: owner, cyborg

menu and mason jars

 

The Food:

 

kimber’s corned beef hash $10.75

new york style corned beef, onion & potato hash, two eggs any style, biscuit & sausage gravy (because arteries are for sissies)

Plentifully added and sautéed with the hashbrowns, the corned beef brought a rich and savory flavor that shined brightly, but was balanced enough to not overpower the rest of the plate. They used a special seasoning here for the hasbrowns, and if my taste buds serve me right, it is a mix of salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and cumin. Needless to say, the hashbrowns are definitely bringing some big flavors. I ordered my eggs over easy, but you can order any style. They were cooked well and biscuit was generously sized but served at room temperature – I would have liked to have had it warmed. I always love making my own “breakfast sandwich” and scooped some corned beef hash, and eggs between my sliced biscuit – heavenly!

the full monte $10.25

triple decker ham, turkey, swiss & cheddar sandwich dunked in bourbon vanilla French toast batter & grilled, marionberry jam & hashbrowns

Cherry always enjoys a well made sandwich, but she stepped outside her box in ordering a sandwich dipped in French toast batter and grilled. This creation is another marrying of sweet and savory flavors, which really work! You can really taste the vanilla in the batter and there is a nice subtle undertone of the bourbon as well. The swiss and cheddar cheese were perfectly melted between layers of meat and thick cut bread. The hashbrowns are seasoned and cooked with the same special seasoning I listed earlier and really add good depth to the dish. Meander’s Kitchen definitely has a creatively successful creation in this.

waffle menu

 

My Conclusion

I really enjoy the ability to watch your food being prepared, it really adds a genuine dining experience. Furthermore, watching teamwork and camaraderie in Meander’s Kitchen, is also truly wonderful. It doesn’t hurt that all the staff are equally spunky and rad! The only unfortunate part of my meal was becoming too stuffed to try their belgian style waffles! Their waffle menu alone is a testament of what unique creations you can find here! Two things to note, that the food does take a little while to get served – mainly because there in only one cook putting the plates out (while the team helps put the finishing touches on each plate and re-supplies the ingredients.) Credit and debit cards are also not accepted, so bring cash. While finishing up my meal and, I had an epiphany… I need to create a new category for my Toppings, best breakfast spots!  I am officially placing Meander’s Kitchen as my #2 Top Spot for Breakfasts and deservingly so! The portions are huge and the oil is in abundance, so if reading this blog is making you crave some greasy but delicious breakfast foods, then come through and dig in!

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Located at the end of Alki Avenue SW, Pegaus Pizza was the next target on my pizza hit list. It’s a good sized restaurant with a great view of the Puget Sound. Cherry and I were greeted as we entered and seated inside, on the lower level of three. There are also several tables outside on their partitioned patio allowing customers to enjoy the cool breeze and fresh ocean air.

 

The Food:

cheese bread & marinara

When it comes to the spectrum of culinary techniques and skills, cheese bread is probably at the bottom of the scale next to cereal. However, the cheese bread at Pegasus was very good. Nothing fancy, just a halved slice of french bread with a generous portion of mozzarella on top. The one thing that stood out was the layer of cheese on top. I’ve had cheese bread at other establishments and it is usually served with a super thin layer of cheese – not here though. There’s no skimping of cheese at Pegasus! The marinara had a good balance of flavors and carried a sweet aftertaste. If I could describe in one word, it would be, winning.

 

house (tom’s) special: mushrooms, green peppers, onions, olives, feta & mozzarella cheese, fresh garlic, diced tomatoes, spinach, sunflower seeds and topped with shredded pepperoni

When this pizza came out, it looked delicious – a plethora of toppings that could have all came from grandma’s garden! All the toppings looked fresh and my mouth immediately began watering upon sight. The pie was fairly thick – biting into it really took me through the different layers of ingredients. One thing that I really enjoyed was the home made crust. It carried a nice crunch and did a really good job acting as a foundation for everything to rest on. Generally, the more the merrier is a popular slogan, but in this case, I think all the toppings took away from the pizza.  Don’t get me wrong, all the vegetables were tasty on their own, but when piled atop the pizza sauce and cheese, the result was a mushy texture that wasn’t very appealing. The shredded pepperoni did add a savory twist and subtle crunch that countered the other ingredients quite well. Despite having an army of ingredients, I felt that the diced tomatoes masked all the other flavors that tried to shine. I personally don’t like tomatoes on a pizza because the juices from them tend to spill over everything, leaving a soppy slice. My suggestion would be to get rid of the tomatoes all together.

My Conclusion:

Coming into this meal, I had big expectations to be blown away by the pizza at Pegasus. Although I was far from being blown away, I was hardly disappointed. I will definitely come back soon and try a less ambitious pizza before making my final judgement. If there were a reality show, I would say, “Pegasus Pizza, you are still in the running to make it into my Top 5 Pizza Joints category of my Toppings.”

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Pizza is definitely one of my favorite foods in the entire World, so what better way to express my love for pizza than a Seattle Pizza Tour!? This past weekend (as part of our Anniversary weekend), Cherry  planned out a 2-day pizza tour. Sampling several pizza joints that Urban Spoons lists as, Top Pizza Places in Seattle!   were were on mission!

Ready… Set…GOOO!!!

1.) Talarico’s

entrance from the outside

large bar

pepperoni

drunken sicilian; cascioppo brothers italian sausage, beer braised onions, green peppers, provolone cheese, mozzarella and marinara

Our first stop was Talarico’s in West Seattle. When it comes to pizza, there’s no mistaking what you’re getting at here – East coast style pizza. They are especially known for their ginormous, made to order slices that measure 14” in length!! Needless to say, each slice is the equivalent to two or maybe even three slices at any other place. The restaurant’s interior has a very “east coast” feel with dark wood throughout the entire restaurant and several booths that I could picture an Italian mobster sitting in. There is also a very large bar that’s centralized in the restaurant allowing easy access from anywhere. The Pepperoni was tasty with a generous helping of pepperoni. But like most pepperoni pizza, it was very greasy! The Drunken Sicilian had a good amount of sausage with sliced provolone on top. The beer braised onions added a nice caramelized sweetness to the savory sausage and sharp green bell peppers. I would have liked to see the onions more evenly spread atop the slice, instead they were just all clumped in the middle. The crust on both pizzas was very good – having a nice combination of crunch on the underside and soft interior on the end crust. The menu also offers a large variety of pastas, but their selling point is definitely the pizza!

2.) Veraci’s

mushroom pizza

Our second stop was more of an unexpected one. We decided to go to the Fremont Sunday Market and upon meandering through, we were pleasantly surprised to see a Veraci’s stand serving  up some fresh pizza. They had a portable wood fire oven and offered three choices: pepperoni, cheese and mushroom. I chose the mushroom and it was quite tasty. One of my favorite things about wood-fire pizza is the crust and the pizza here definitely had a great crust with good char and crunch.

3.) Hot Mama’s Pizza

inside view

sausage

tomatoe, mushroom, basil & garlic

hawaiian & pesto

By this time we were already full from a day’s worth of pizza, but we still have hard work to do! Hot Mama’s Pizza is ranked in the top 10, so sacrifices had to be made in order to taste their offerings! Located in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, Hot Mama is your quintessential, “hole in wall.” There’s nothing fancy here, and  from my initial first glance, their cleanliness is suspect too! Nevertheless, we had to try their pizza. There’s about 4-pizzas at any given time to choose from and also a hidden area behind the register. Cherry went with a slice of sausage and also hawaiian, I went with the tomato, basil, mushroom and garlic pizza and a slice of pesto. Everything about each pizza worked well. The tomato sauce they use isn’t overpowering and has a pleasant hint of sweetness to compliment all the savory toppings. The Pesto had a nice rich flavor and also pieces of feta sprinkled on top that added a nice contrast my bite. Overall, Hot Mama’s does pizza well and would definitely say it was one of the top places I’ve tried so far!

… the tour continues…

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