Category Archives: Restaurant reviews

What I ate this weekend

I swear, every time I visit Seattle, I love it more and more.

And this time was no exception.

It goes without saying that I ate copious amounts of chocolate this weekend. No, make that obscene amounts of chocolate. Chocolate bars, cocoa nibs, truffles, single-origin products, blended products, chocolates I loved, and chocolates I…didn’t.

But this post is not about chocolate. Forgive me. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the deliciousness that I ate this weekend.

I went for dinner at Steelhead Diner, which is a gem of a place in Pike Place Market. Platters of oysters on the half-shell, flash-fried geoduck, little battered smelt with hot mustard, mussels with chorizo, crab cakes with crazy giant pieces of whole crab leg…oh, I’m just getting started.

One standout was the caviar pie, a delicious slice of four colours of caviar on creamy mousse (creme fraiche? cream cheese?) on a bed of finely chopped red onions, hard-boiled eggs and capers.

The other one was the house cured beef bresaola, all smoky and rich, served with the season’s first Rainier cherries, goat’s cheese, tangy olive oil, and twisty-turny bread sticks.

As if that wasn’t enough, dessert was – quite literally – the world’s best pie, from the expert herself. I mean, I pride myself on my pie. I’ve been working on the crust recipe for years. But hey, I know when I’ve been beat. Crumbly, sweet, and infinitely delicious, this was The World’s Best Pie.

I also had breakfast at Tilikum Place Cafe. (Hrm, website maybe be broken? It’s not working for me.) Lovely pastries. Beautiful blueberry muffins, still-warm raspberry cake that was positively juicy, all of it washed down with a pot of insanely robust coffee. Whether you pick the house-made sausage, delectable baked beans, creamy baked eggs or the insanely cute Dutch baby, I think you’ll be happy and full.

Both meals were marked by great food, and more importantly, great company. As in, great company. You know who you are – thanks for the good times.

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

Tilikum Place Cafe
407 Cedar Street
Seattle, WA 98121
206-282-4830
Tilikum Place Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Let’s talk about layers

Let’s take a quick break from chocolate to talk about layers. More about texture than taste, layers make things delicious.

For instance, Chinese green onion pancakes: this simple mixture of rice flour, water, salt and green onions is wholly unremarkable on its own. But consider that a great green onion pancake is characterized by a thin, crisp crust and lots of beautiful, flaky layers inside.

I think the ultimate example is baklava. Think about it: layers and layers of filo, each separated by a thin coat of butter, the entire mass drizzled with honey and topped with nuts? And then baked until it rises into a pile of flaky, buttery pastry? Sure, it’s messy to eat, but there’s something about the insane flakiness, tempered with sticky honey, that makes baklava one of the most delightful things on earth.

And for you Vancouverites, a variation on a theme: the pistachio baklava at Mediterranean Specialty Foods is amazing. Imagine a few sheets of filo, each one brushed with butter before the next one goes on. In your mind, take this multi-sheet thing of filo and roll it into a very tight cylinder. Cut the cylinder into small sections, and bring the ends together to make a donut out of the filo. Finally, imagine filling the inside of the donut with honey and toasted pistachios, and baking this creature until it’s golden-brown, crisp, and delicious.

The resulting pastry is so insanely flaky and fragrant that it’s almost heartbreaking. The effect of rolling, rather than stacking, the filo creates the sensation of tens of thousands of layers in your mouth, each one exploding with each bite.

At just over a dollar per piece (I think it’s $1.25 each), it’s an amazingly cheap way to get an epicurian high. And if you’re craving savoury, the spanakopita is the best in the city.

Mediterranean Specialty Foods
1824 Commercial Drive
Vancouver, BC
604-438-4033

Daddy Bruce’s Bar-B-Que

While in Boulder, Colorado, I had an inexplicable craving for barbecue. I think it was the universe trying to tell me something, because a few days later, I found myself sitting in a parking lot, eating the best barbecue I’ve ever had.

Daddy Bruce’s Bar-B-Que is an unassuming building on a corner lot. It’s the kind of place that you know must be good, because there’s no other way it would be in business. Although, I suppose if you were going for an ambiance of barbecue-scented sauna, you’d find it here.

A “triple meat” cost $16 and featured barbecued ribs, brisket and chicken, along with baked beans and coleslaw. And five slices of white bread that I ended up tossing frisbee-style off my friend’s balcony. The “triple meat” ended up being more than enough for four meals.

The barbecue sauce is exquisite. It’s on the tangier side of sweet, but it’s also rich and meaty. The ribs were beefy and delicious (if a little tough at the edges), the chicken smoky and moist, and the brisket tender and flavourful.

We ate at the picnic tables outside the shop, with stacks of maple wood (for the wood-fired grill) behind us. We watched as a steady stream of people went in and out of the shop with take out, and chatted with the other barbecue lovers at the tables: two BMX bikers, two engineers, and a man in a suit.

Food this beautiful always has a story behind it, and this was no exception. When I spoke to him after the meal, he mentioned that someone had made a documentary about him. Well, it turns out the Daddy Bruce is the subject of not one, but two documentaries, as well as countless print articles. The documentaries are both great pieces, suffused with the love and spirit that Daddy Bruce inspires in people.

Daddy Bruce’s Bar-B-Que
2000 Arapahoe Ave
Boulder, CO
(303) 449-8890
Daddy Bruce's Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Czehoski: creme brulee that doesn’t suck

While I was in Toronto a few weeks ago, I met up with some friends from grad school. One lives in Montreal, the other in London (Ontario, that is). And all the stars aligned and our paths crossed in the T-dot. How about that.

We met at Czehoski, a place too hip for its own good. Having said that, I love it just a little bit. The food is great, the wine list thoughtful, and the space cozy. The service is a little more…relaxed than I would like, but no matter. It just means that you can linger as long as you like – which we did. We lingered for six hours, gossiping and re-living our glory days. You know, the days when I wasn’t pining for my bed at 11pm.

Their composed salad changes daily, and that day it was arugula with quail’s eggs, parmesan and pancetta. The pancetta was so crispy it nearly disintegrated into a powder of salty pork goodness on my tongue. If that’s not enough, the Czehoski burger is insanely good. The patty is juicy and beefy, and quite possibly laced with crack.

For dessert, I was skeptical of the so-called “chocolate ganache” until it came to the table. It is exactly that: discs of chocolate ganache, served with bits of seafoam and crushed pistachios. It’s not exactly conventional, but it really was delicious. The tarte tatin was a little bit disappointing. The apples were cooked but not caramelized, and the pastry was a bit soggy.

Now, generally speaking, I’ve got a beef with restaurant creme brulee. There are so many things to get right. I’m looking for a perfectly smooth, perfectly cooked, unctuous custard, served cold. On top, there should be the thinnest possible layer of caramelized (not burnt) sugar that shatters when you take a spoon to it.

Most places don’t get all those things right, probably because most places don’t have a dedicated pastry chef. Most restaurants make the garde manger do double duty: after the salads and cold appetizers go out, then it’s time for the desserts. Really, do you think it takes the same kind of mindset to make a salad (as beautiful as some salads are) as it does to make and present a beautiful dessert?

That’s another post in itself.

Anyway, this creme brulee was beautiful. It was immaculate. It was perfect. In fact, it was so perfect that I got over my pastry snobdom, had a spoonful, and swooned. And then ignored the fact that the restaurant charged $6 for it when I know full well I can make it at home for a fraction of the cost.

But hey, I’ll pick my battles.

Czehoski
678 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON
(416) 366-6787
Czehoski on Urbanspoon

Frasca’s chocolate tasting plate

As I mentioned yesterday, I ate at Frasca when I was in Boulder. It wasn’t enough that I had lobster, beef shoulder and bombolini – I also had to try the house chocolates.

The plate came with coconut, almond praline, passionfruit caramel, 72% dark chocolate, and espresso chocolates. They were all well done, but the highlights were the passionfruit caramel and the 72% dark chocolate.

Aside from combining two of my favourite flavours, the passionfruit caramel was a great combination of tart, sweet and rich flavours. All gooey, sticky and creamy, it was delicious. The 72% dark chocolate truffle was lovely and bittersweet, with an amazing airy texture.

Nom.

Frasca Food & Wine
1738 Pearl St
Boulder, CO
303-442-6966

Frasca: food, wine, and chocolate

“I always pick the second least expensive wine on the menu.”

I went with my friend Mark to Frasca, and he picked the bottle of wine. As you can see, Mark is a very discerning wine drinker. Lest you he’s a total plebe, he picked a lovely Cotes du Rhone that tasted like blackberries, smoke and spice. Nom.

Frasca’s beautiful. Once you get past the slightly confusing black curtain in the entrance, you find yourself in a wood-panelled room full of beautiful people and delirious smells. Aside from that, you might want to eat there because of the restaurant’s, for lack of a better word, pedigree. Among other accolades, co-owner Chef Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson won the 2008 James Beard award for best chef in the southwestern US. Co-owner and wine director Bobby Stuckey is a Master Sommelier. Oh, and they met while working at The French Laundry. Huh.

Anyway, back to food. The market salad was clean and bright, with nice acidity. Garnished with two kinds of cheese and beauitfully salty salami, it was a great start to the meal. I’ll admit, though, that Mark’s braised lamb dish was exceptional.

Mark’s next course was a duck thigh ravioli, which was as delicious as it sounds. I had a lobster pasta alla guitara, thin noodles (think angel hair pasta, but with a fancier name) tossed with lobster and lemon. Rich, redolent and succulent, this dish could have been the end of the night and I would have gone home happy.

Of course, I kept going. We both got the Colorado beef shoulder, which was so. freaking. good. Enrobed in a salty, sweet, rich and acidic jus, the beef was cooked to exactly medium, all seared and crusty on the outside. Served on a ricotta cream with meaty mushrooms that soaked up all the jus, it was tasty. And then some.

For dessert, I had the house special bombolini, otherwise known as warm, deep-friend pillows of delicious. With a passionfruit centre in the middle and dusted with icing sugar, the bombolini looked a bit like doughy eggs. Served with homemade vanilla ice cream, the hot-cold combination was beautiful. Mark’s chocolate peanut butter torta was a peanut butter mousse on luscious chocolate cake, with banana ice cream.

And because that wasn’t enough, I insisted on getting a plate of house chocolates. More on those tomorrow.

Frasca Food & Wine
1738 Pearl St
Boulder, CO
303-442-6966
Frasca Food & Wine on Urbanspoon

The Kitchen Cafe doesn’t disappoint

Before the name Chef Hugh Matheson mean anything to me (he won the 2009 IACP award for community service), I met several people who spoke reverently and enthusiastically about The Kitchen Cafe in Boulder. Well before it was trendy to do so, The Kitchen Cafe supported local farmers and producers, serving organic and seasonal food wherever possible.

There’s a proper restaurant downstairs, and a more casual, loungey atmosphere at The Kitchen [Upstairs]. Well, I headed [Upstairs] in search of tasty food and the promise of happy hour. From 5:30-6:30 pm each day, they feature a three-course prix fixe for $26 ($34 with wine pairings). Now, that’s not a cheap dinner, but it’s incredible value for amazing food and wine in a beautiful room.

First course was a rustic bruschetta with basil pesto (thick, rich and unctuous), mozzarella (clean, fresh and delicate), red onion (sweated and sweet), and radishes (crisp, without their customary bite) on top of toasty bread. Garnished with olive oil and parsley, this appetizer was really well-composed. All the flavours worked well together, and – more importantly – complemented each other. This was paired with a 2007 Ochoa Viura-Chardonnay from Spain (nice and light, with notes of roasted pineapple and mango).

Next up was a dish of seared scallops, sauteed romaine, roasted potatoes, and anchovy dressing. The dressing was to die for: rich, creamy and salty. The scallops were sweet and seared, the romaine kept its texture and sweetness, and the potatoes were perfectly cooked. It was an exercise in the perfect bite: the acidity and tartness of the dressing, met by the sweetness and crunch of romaine, mellowing to the sweetness and texture of the scallop, all on top of a solid foundation of potato that actually tasted like potato. It was paired with a 2001 Tempranillo from Ramirez de la Piscina that was a bit too tannic on its own, but mellowed out nicely with the food.

Dessert was a Knickerbocker Glory, which was so insanely delicious but simple. In fact, I’m going to steal it and say I invented it. You can too: here’s how. Start with a large, bulbous glass – a Chimay glass, if you want to be exact about things. Put in a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, creamy and fragrant with real vanilla. Top it with softly whipped chantilly cream and crumbled meringue bits. Add a few sliced strawberries, some berry syrup, and a drizzle of Chambord. Serve with a spoon and watch people swoon with delight as they eat a very grown-up ice cream sundae.

Even better, serve it with R&R Naughty Sticky dessert wine, all coy with its honey and toasted almond flavours. Naughty and sticky, indeed.

And because no meal is complete without chocolate, Rick the bartender let me try a homemade chocolate bar: 72% dark chocolate with walnuts and sea salt. This was not a demure salted chocolate. The salt was front and centre. But then it stepped aside to let the walnuts – all nutty, tender and crumbly – shine. And then the 72% dark chocolate brought its bittersweetness to the table.

I have my doubts as to whether Rick really wanted my “professional opinion,” because he knew that it was delicious. But hey, I’m happy to oblige.

The Kitchen Cafe and The Kitchen [Upstairs]
1039 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO
303-544-5973
The Kitchen on Urbanspoon