February 2007 Archives

Indo-Asian-Latin for all?

It's a huge menu, somewhere between "too many notes" and "there's got to be a pony in there somewhere." Chef Bruce Dillon, most recently in Florida, offers an almost overwhelming panoply of Indo-Asian-Latin flavors at the soon-to-open Marazul. Perched atop Whole Foods, adjacent to the Pan Pacific Hotel, the restaurant's 170 indoor seats focus inward on a wood-and-copper décor that suggests palm trees and a whiff of the exotic.

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Chef Dillon, ceviche with plantain, scallops with oxtail sauce

Just how exotic remains to be fine-tuned. Marazul opens Thursday for dinner and next month for breakfast and lunch. Until then, they're doing "mock service," using invited guests as guinea pigs (oops, sorry) for the servers and cooks.

Starters include ceviches, sushi rolls and an all-purpose "tapas" category. The salmon ceviche, nicely textured with salmon roe and hearts-of-palm and served with crisp plantain strips, is cured with tropical yuzu juice. A plate of skewered Thai ginger beef strips is accompanied by a lassi dipping sauce assertive flavored with chilies. A mild Szechuan salad of shredded chicken is enlivened by pepper cress. But what did the three perfectly seared scallops do to deserve their fate? They're sent to the table beside a lump of starch (well, actually, mashed cassava and boniato, a Cuban sweet potato) and a tasty but inappropriate oxtail gravy. Gulp!

And speaking of gulps, good rum isn't all that hard to find in Seattle any more, but Marazul is staking claim to the biggest stash in town, what with 40 varieties. (And, puhleeze, do spell it rhum, as the French do, since they're the ones who developed the Carribean distilleries.) Maruzal also has its own machine to juice sugar cane. This makes for a lot of frou-frou "umbrella" cocktails, sweet rather than distinctive. Why use Mount Gay as the base for something called a Buena Vista cocktail if you're going to muddle it with apricot brandy, guava, pineapple and coconut?

Still and all, Marazul will find a willing audience in Seattle: folks looking for something upscale, unusual, and relatively inexpensive. Two people could easily share two appetizers and two main courses for under $40, assuming you don't succumb to the lure of the sugar-cane juicer. At that price, you can't even walk up and down The Ave for international take-out, let alone valet parking.

Marazul, 2200 Westlake, Seattle - 206-654-8170

Satisfy your inner porcine


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It's now the Year of the Pig, in case you haven't been paying attention. And just in time. Last year was dogs, not particularly tasty. Pigs, on the other hand, are delicious. Ask Fergus Henderson at St. John Restaurant in London, whose Nose to Tail Eating gets nothing but raves on Amazon.com. Ask Armandino Battali at Salumi, right in Seattle, whose cured meats appear on the best tables around the country.

And ask Lisa Nakamura, who moved to Seattle to start up Qube. Through February 25th, she's serving 3- and 5-course "Ode to the Pig" menus (for $45 and $65): char siu, kurobatu tenderloin, wild boar cheek, pork chop ... you get the picture. Doubtful she'll try it next February, it being Year of the Rat.

Qube, 1901 2nd Avenue, Seattle, 206-770-5888

Carpool tunnel syndrome

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Doesn't matter whether you rebuild, retrofit or dig. Doesn't matter if the State Dep't of Transportation pretends they need to maintain The Viaduct's current capacity of 110,000 vehicles a day (even if The Stranger and others make it clear the number is closer to 75,000).

No matter what, there's still the annoying question of what happens to all those northbound cars when they get to the northern end of Alaskan Way. Or to the southbound cars when they get to the southern end of Aurora Avenue.

That would be the Battery Street Tunnel, friends. A classic, 55-year-old, cut-and-cover trap. Two lanes in each direction, no shoulder, for two-thirds of a mile. Cars going 40 or 50 miles an hour for some 3,140 feet, encased in a concrete chute.

The State's cement junkies claim that a four-lane tunnel under Alaskan Way is inadequate for Highway 99's traffic. so what's going to happen once they realize that traffic already feeds into an inadequate and unsafe Battery Street Tunnel? Dig up the tunnel? And will Belltown's condo owners lie down in front of the bulldozers?

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Local hero


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Kevin & Terresa Davis, cheese curds and Asian Pear wine, kasu-marinated cod.

A dedicated catch-and-release fisherman who ties his own flies, Kevin Davis promises you'll never find steelhead on the menu at his terrific new restaurant, Steelhead Diner. You'll find plenty of succulent seafood, though: a transcendant crabcake, a moist and flaky kazusake black cod, spice-rubbed Alaskan king salmon, beer-battered cod & chips, the sorts of dishes you'd expect from a guy who spent the last five years running the kitchen at Oceanaire.

Then again, Davis also spent two years behind the stove at Sazerac and five years before that as executive chef at Arnaud's in Nawlins, so he's into things like a complex gumbo, juicy po'-boy sandwiches (he calls his a "Rich Boy"), meltingly tender short ribs, pecan pie. In fact, less than half the menu is seafood, lest he compete with his former employer.

So far, so good. Quite a few chefs with impressive resumés out there. But here's the surprise: along the way, perhaps streamside in the Cascades, Kevin Davis must have been touched by whatever great spirit brings karma to the dinner table.

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Shopping for produce at Frank's, Frank's Vegetarian Meatloaf.

With quiet conviction, he has put together a menu that is, above all, local. (It does help that the Diner's pantry is the Pike Place Market; it's in the spot abandoned almost two years ago by Vivanda.) Flash-fried cheese curds from Beecher's, down on the corner. Sausage from Uli across the way, and Armandino, in Pioneer Square. "Frank's Veggie Meatloaf" named for Pike Place produce vendor Frank Genzale. Theo chocolate, Olsen Farms potatoes, Full Circle Farm lettuce.

And it goes on: bread from Jürgen Bettag's underappreciated Golden Crown Bakery in Everett. (Jürgen recently bought out La Panzanella; just wait till he gets his act together!) Soft drinks from Seattle's ultra-sophisticated Dry Soda. A wine list composed entirely of 60-some Washington and Oregon wines, selected by an impossibly young Aaron Angelo, who avoids easy choices, opting for adventurous bottles like Windfall Asian Pear, a bright, citrusy accompaniment to seafood.

Brief aside: Windfall, founded by a former biotech ceo, donates its profits to the San Juan Community Home Trust. And Davis, having already launched one non-profit, Sea Into the Future, is now helping to underwrite a steelhead restoration initiative managed by Long Live The Kings.

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Gumbo; crab cake before cooking; served with Louis sauce

Working alongside Davis as the restaurant's GM, his wife, Terresa, an Australian from Adelaide who starts law school later this year. (Steelhead's poutine--the only one west of Quebec, I'll venture--is based on her childhood snack of "chips & gravy.") And backing him up in the kitchen is Seattle's best young sous-chef, Mary Lokar, a culinary Wunderkind in her own right.

Davis himself is not a fussy innovator. "There's a reason for culinary classics, dishes that stand the test of time," he says. "When it's done right, a crabcake can be as good as anything you'll ever eat. There's an emotional response."

From the kitchen, he has a clear view of the Olympics, but he watches the front door and virtually every one of the restaurant's 95 seats. If you snag one of the seats at the counter, it's like going to a sushi bar. (Davis says Shiro Kashiba told him the most important part of being a sushi chef wasn't slicing fish but knowing how to interact with guests.) My sense is that Davis could be Seattle's next celebrity chef, with a TV show and everything. In the future, maybe. For now, he says, "I just want to be cooking in my kitchen."

Except on Mondays. Mondays he goes fishing.

Steelhead Diner, 95 Pine, Seattle. 206-625-0129 Steelhead Diner on Urbanspoon

Pigs Gone Wild!

Eric Banh sure loves a party, so when he opened a second outpost, in Fremont, of his wildly popular Baguette Box, what a celebration! The traditional Vietnamese roasted piggie had a great time as well, getting hacked into a million pieces, stuffed into slices of French bread.

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Now, those cheap Vietnamese sandwiches called Banh Mi are just a step up from ramen noodles as a slacker staple. But the fare at the original Baguette Box, on Capitol Hill, is legendary: iconic fries, late-night orgies of finger-licking pleasure.

Whose bread, you ask? It's Le Panier in the Market. Not my fave; personally don't find their baguettes sufficiently crunchy or all that tasty. But the bread in Banh's sandwiches is structural, not stand-alone, and it's the relative softness and blandness of the bread that lets those fillings shine, be they chickie, fishy, moo-cow, meatball or even piggy.

Baguette Box, 626 N. 34th, Seattle, 206-632-1511 Baguette Box on Urbanspoon

C'est la vie


The oldest person in modern history with an authenticated birth certificate was a Frenchwoman, Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122. French women outlive all but the Japanese, especially those from the southern part of the country. The pleasant region around Cahors seems particularly conducive to long life; residents there live five years longer than Merkin wimmin.

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Medieval Pont Valenté in Cahors; barrel cellar at Château de Mercuès

Regular readers may think we're just being chauvinistic, but no! All this and more in an article in this morning's Washington Post. Blame the usual environmental factors: regular doses of hearty red wine and unctuous foie gras. In France, gals can expect to live to 95, guys to 91. À votre santé!

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Super Belle

Da fleet-footed Bear runs opening kickoff back for a TD, so, having seen the most exciting play of Da Game, we head toward the Market, where Pink Door owner Jackie Di Roberto is offering an afternoon called Superbelle Sunday. Scrabble sets, tarot reader, manicurist, waiters and bus boys in low-cut t-shirts. In the bar, chick flicks flicker.

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CBS has Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy; Pink Door has the campy French classic 8 Femmes with Catherine Deneuve wrestling Fanny Ardant sans chest protectors. Oblique angle from barstool; we find out later it's actually a musical. Neither Bud nor Miller in evidence; house wine is poured from recycled Pilsner Urquell bottles. Now, that's a good call.

Motion to table


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There's no sign outside, no street number, just a Vespa on the sidewalk below a fluttering Italian flag. Welcome to Tavolata, the long-awaited Belltown outpost of Union's Ethan Stowell and business partner Patric Gabre-Kidan. Neither has clogs-at-the-forno experience in Italy, but that didn't stop them from creating an upscale, "modern Italian" restaurant in Belltown.

Now, before you start reading accolades from folks who can't get a seat at 8 o'clock, consider this: at midnight, bracketed by the brightly lit kitchen (open till 1 AM) and the dimly lit bar, Tavolata's dark and dismal dining room is a galaxy of gloom; it feels like an opera set without the scenery. The stark, empty room must have the worst accoustics in Seattle, rendering conversation impossible when the joint is full, swamping conversation with ill-chosen music in the wee, small hours. Sound pulsates off the exposed concrete walls and polished wood floors; the tables wobble and the uncomfortable wooden benches vibrate.

In fact, Tavolata gets its name for a massive table (with seating for 24 to 32) running down the center of its shoebox space. Mini booths run along the south wall (perfect for feeding one's date), but what morsels to pass across the table? Surely not the bitter clams, or the minestrone filled with severly undercooked beans. Veal carpaccio, perhaps? Excellent meat it is, transluscent but tasteless, drawing its flavor from white anchovy strips and Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings. A bit of grilled octopus, then, with a tangy dressing. Chew well.

Consensus favors brains over brawn, veal brains to be exact; they stuff the delicate agnolotti, swimming in sage and brown-butter. Rigatoni are underdone, though, with sausage too spicy for the fresh tomato sauce. A whole branzino (European sea bass) gives up only a fraction of its moist and tender flesh. Why? Apparently, somebody in the kitchen scraped off the scales before putting the fish on the grill, so most of the flesh sticks to the skin. The double pork chop is perfectly done but its bed of cheese-flvored polenta tastes like it came out of a Cream of Wheat box--surprising since chef de cuisine Randy Whiteford even grinds his own wheat for the house-made pasta.

The wine list is solidly Italian, with a particularly lovely bottle from the south coast of Sicily, Cerasuolo di Vittoria based on frappato and nerello grapes. It's always a good sign when restaurants expand beyond "safe" varieties like sangiovese and merlot.

Best for last, at last: the zeppole, tiny, lemon-flavored donut holes. That's one of the signature desserts at Dahlia Lounge, where Patric used to be the pastry chef. We gobble them down, and allow the red glow from the gritty but authentic Rendezvous across Second Avenue to guide us back out to the Belltown sidewalk like an honest beacon. That Italian flag? Nah, not really.

Tavolata, 2323 2nd Ave. Seattle, 206-838-8008
Tavolata on Urbanspoon

Snack Hole


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The Slog has its panties in a bunch over latest McDonald's menu item. Cornichon goes ho-hum, having read about the development earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal. The campaign promotes a "new" Snack Wrap that essentially recycles the breaded chicken used in Mickey D's Chicken Select strips, tops it with shredded lettuce and cheese, adds a few squirts of ranch sauce and wraps it in a flour tortilla for a buck twenty-nine. Count on Slog, though, to see the billboard as a huge penis.

What would Slog say to this upcoming story in Consumer Reports about McDonald's coffee, we wonder? Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Burger King all come in for drubbing; compared with "decent" brew at McDonald's. Gulp.

Stuff we didn't know about Seattle

Kinda like going to Nawlins and finding out that there really is a Streetcar Named Desire: a street, in West Seattle, called City View, all of two blocks long. And what a view!

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2007 is the previous archive.

March 2007 is the next archive.

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