Archive for June, 2009
What I Did on my Summer Vacation (Seattle Tourist Tweets)

Yeah, this falls under “unclear on the concept”.

Problem #1: Half my Twitter followers (ascetics / vegetarians / intellectuals), only do it because @Havi put me on a list. And I can guarantee they don’t want their iPhones gummed up with endless tweets of my eating excesses.
Problem #2:
I can’t manage to do a post shorter than a thousand words. As Havi says, “I feel compelled to write 10 pages about everything.”
Problem #3: It takes me ten ridiculous days to write a post.

So instead of a post I saved up unsent tweets. Ha! So there! (But the laugh’s on me because it still took 10 days to get this up. Sigh.)

Space Needle through the eyes of Gehry & Paul Allen.

Space Needle through the eyes of Gehry & Paul Allen

7 Starbucks in 4 block radius and nary a food cart to be found. Not an auspicious start. (the linked pic was snapped 2 days later)

Researching Seattle from the room instead of out exploring. Duh. And on the iPhone to-boot rather than paying $9.95 for access that’s only valid til 3 pm.

5 more Starbucks spotted on the way to a corner grocery.

Bud and peanuts await mah man’s return for swanky cocktails en suite. V nice 10th floor corner room at the Paramount. Recommend, aside from the annoying connectivity (even the iPhone needs continuous log in).

img_0947Finally out in the world! Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie for meh flatbread pizza (good sausage/pepper, bland-ola tomato/basil). This is no Apizza Scholls. Fabulous branding/graphics, convivial, and 3 excellent starters though…

…1) artichokes, proscuitto, baked egg; 2) duck proscuitto, pickled apricot, arugula; 3) baby lettuces, radish, muscatel vinaigrette. I’d recommend for the salads, vibe, pizza as a snack, and e-z proximity to downtown.

Breakfast a bust. Typical in-room coffee (can you say “coffee-mate”? mmm. When I open MY hotel, the honor bar will be stocked with free cream). Llandro “bakery” and cafe across the street has no baked goods to speak of.

Out in the 3-D world. Hooray! Belltown is deserted and more…barren?…than expected. So many “For Lease” signs, ouch.

There’s Lola, Dahlia Lounge, Flying Fish, but I’ve got my eye out for Macrina Bakery recommended by a local friend…voila. Adorable.

img_0953Small cappucci off to a shaky start, though it would be a good tiny latte. Coffees in Seattle? 4. Great coffees? 0.

Semi-related pet peeve: not correlating # of shots with the size of the cup / milk. Especially places that should know better (Pdx Bar-cough-ista).

Hmm, sandwiches were recommended but I’d rather sample more variety. Quiche velvety, liquid-feeling eggs that hold together beautifully. How’d they do that? Piadina (proscuitto & cheese in toasted flatbread) so-so. Indifferent service but nice stop.

Help…too…bright…need shade…forgot my sunglasses. Curse you Seattle and your blue skies. (ed. note: #seattlerainconspiracy)

Walkin’ walkin’ walkin’

My Sculpture Park Tour:

Ellsworth Kelly: “I’m not interested in the texture of a rock, but in its shadow.” Excellent save on explaining that rust stain (been living with a public art conservationist too long). The “stain” is great, actually, and intentional I think…

img_0969Rawhrrr! Calder’s Eagle eats the Space Needle. “Help! We paid $16 to get up here and now I’m being…a-a-aiyee!” Chomp chomp chomp.

img_0970Oldenburg (and Coosje van Bruggen)’s Typewriter Eraser. If you’ve used one of these raise your hand. Time for the nursing home for us. “Racing” down to erase the freeway and cars.

img_0961Love the Sculpture Park, but the red chairs are my favorite thing. What a bumpkin.

Walkin’ walkin’ walkin’

Piers to my right, freeway, parking structures and self-storage to my left cutting off town from the water. Like the Embarcadero pre-quake.

Good God! 20-story cruise ship dwarfs everything in the bay. It’s too easy to heckle the snaking line of cruisers waiting to get back on, so I’ll resist. Mostly. (Honey, pour a gallon of aloe on that expanse of sunburn and maybe spend tomorrow in the casino.)

Walkin’ walkin’ walkin’.

img_0975Finally, a free bus the last 6 blocks to Pioneer Square. Blessed shade. Bricks, ivy, trees, this is how I pictured Belltown for some reason. More “For Lease” signs but a great stop for a cool beverage. #Sanbitters.

img_0972A crochet lesson. “Hey, I’ve never done this before!” as I’m busted taking his pic. I’m not here to judge you, sir.

I resist going into Grand Central Bakery, despite the inviting ivy-covered walls. img_0971

International District looks bleak. Too tired to see if I’m missing some magical street so it’s Uwajimaya and out. Even I can’t muster up the appetite for kalua pork at Aloha Plates or noodles at Samurai. What good is an enormous belly if it can’t rise to the occasion?!

Four hours to get here, three minutes to free-bus it home through the tunnel. Sweet.

Poor monorail, so worn and dated. Seattle Center public spaces not bad on a warm evening. I wander as K and the convention ‘swells’ swill drinks at a $50 gala.

Conference tidbit: In what area of life besides green awareness would “sustainable” be an acceptable goal? “How’s your marriage?” “It’s sustainable.” “Excellent.”

img_0984Chef Ken-san Yamamoto, marry me? Geoduck & shitakes in butter…[insert Homer’s drooling sound] Tempura shrimp heads! Toro! Sake! Hamachi! Amaebi! Ikura…and another Hamachi for dessert.

Shiki
4 W Roy
Queen Anne

Thank you Yelp. I take back all the bad things I was saying about you.

We should have bbq pork bao for breakfast every day. Is there something about the water in Portland that renders them impossible to make? Even this day-old guy is spectacularly yummy. Like a donut…with meat.

With two special exhibition galleries closed for changeover, the SAM seems like the perfect size for 3 hours. Intriguing contemporary, quality “old stuff” without the filler (IMO) of PAM.

dogtagsArtist Do-Ho Suh’s “military dogtag” robe spectacular. I love this whole contemporary section.

Titus Kaphar exhibit an oversized gem of wit and tragedy.

Why an atheist is so drawn to the religious paintings of the Renaissance is a conundrum worthy of some prayerful meditation.

Wall-filling South African video “Shadow Procession” riveting. “Things that seem whimsical, incidental, inauthentic may be trusted to provide entry into the heart of one’s material.” William Kentridge, artist.

From the visually stimulating SAM to Cafe Campagne’s palate stimulating oeufs en meurette. Sublime poached eggs on brioche, a-swim in a sauce of pearl onions, pancetta, wine and emulsed foie gras.

The less said about the sad croque monsieur, the better. Fortunately the eggs and accompanying pommes frîtes to swab up the sticky, rich leavings are (rich) enough for two. #didImentionit’srich?

img_1005 Fortified, we enjoy the new downtown library. Agreed: the atrium is spectacular & the womb-like meeting room floor interesting. K admires the moxy, I worry about how this slanty / slopey / tilty building will wear.

I seem to have shaken off my identification as a San Franciscan. Comparing Seattle more often to Pdx, and home is coming off very favorably. That’s a nice realization.

If a martini says, no returns on the menu, how stupid does one have to be to order it?

About to embark on a $3.50 (non-happy-hour) martini. Hold me, I’m scared… [real tweet]

“The Dan” is on the sound-system, penants on the ceiling, the hair is big, and the world’s cheapest martini ain’t bad. 3 big olives, too. [real tweet]

Kaya Korean: A tragedy in 2 acts. The Hero? Spectacular meat at good prices. The downfall? Hubris (appalling service leads to missing panchun & lack of flavor.) The victims? 4 of us who drove to fumbuck Aurora on a rainy night. SO sorry, J&J!

(Ed Note: Frustrations just taken out in a Yelp review; must save others from a similar fate. Will probably get hate mail. I should write a letter to the Seattle Weekly, too…their rave is what steered us wrong.)

Steak, pork belly, and a few kalbi. How could something so right turn out to be so wrong?

Steak, pork belly, and a few kalbi. How could something so right turn out to be so wrong?


We try to salvage the night with much-vaunted donuts at Dahlia Lounge. Coconut pie more successful. Comfy space to relive the evening’s indignities.

013 Brunch at Tilth nearly washes away the bad taste of last night. Charming, light yet flavor-packed, first good coffee I’ve had in Seattle. Very good, and they left the pot. The kitchen was backed up and we didn’t even care.

010Sous vide eggs on a crab benny…scrumptious. French toast more like mini squares of unctious bread pudding…perfect to share. Even the oatmeal was delicious. Oatmeal, for crying out loud.

This is where J wanted to eat last night. Guilt over Kaya settles even deeper.

Pike’s too crammed; should have come at 7 am. I recall my 16-year-old self’s visit here in minute detail. If only I’d known what to do with the bolt of energy that hit me as I wandered the food-laden halls lo those many years ago.

Delighted to see friends on Bainbridge Is. I feel like I’m in a Crate & Barrel photo shoot: beautiful people, charming children, glorious old farmhouse dusted lightly with impeccable taste. Even the neighborhood dogs gather here to play.

Dinner at Quinns, brother (literally) to Restaurant Zoe. Nice gastro-pubby (loud) space, the beer list and our waiter’s vast knowledge of said list truly impressive. Not a wrong note on the menu, but execution….

Good/competent. Ribs tasty but overcooked, mussels fine, boar sausage bizarrely dense, cobb with creamy egg and pork belly great. (I’ve had more eggs this trip…all delicious. Could it be the barometric pressure? Seattle sous vide au natural…)

If there’s a next time we’ll try the steak tartare and sloppy joe. Worth another trip for that and beer. Appreciate our thin, healthy local friends’ ordering compromises; left to our own devices we’d be dead under the table.

Saw my first twirling pasties at the Pink Door! And at my advanced age…sad really. Drinks pretty awful. Oops, another ferry to Bainbridge missed.

Heading home. The seats are hard but the view lovely from the top deck of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. [real tweet]

Damn you bus #70 and your screwed up schedule! It’s too hot to be dragging a suitcase a mile down SE 17th.

img_1061PigCat Pale (deLIcious!), home-made challa, & a happy dog, all thanks to @ezra_brooks, @richardMiller & @Havi. #BestHomecomingEver [real tweet]

I’m giving Seattle a B / B-. I give MY visit to Seattle a B/B-. There are treasures a-plenty to be savored, I’m sure. Will try again (and next time I won’t fight restaurant recs just because they sound too predictable).

A Tale of Two Visits: 24 Years, 4 Tacos and a Burrito

img_0873The real reason for the drive to San Francisco was to visit a dear friend of…ack…24 years…in the hospital. So my days were spent at surreal Laguna Honda, a sprawling long-term care hospital, hospice and rehab center for the uninsured on the western slopes of Twin Peaks. It’s the oldest nursing home in the state, pre 1906 earthquake, and it looks it. Most of the complex is condemned (which doesn’t stop it from being fully inhabited): peeling paint, gorgeous old tilework, stairways to nowhere, WWII missiles (5’ tall steel oxygen tanks on refrigerator-bearing dollies) lining the halls and wheelchair-bound, panhandling patients assembled along the walkway to the parking lot. It’s Terry Gilliam’s Brazil meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

img_0854But the therapy-giving, shit-swabbing caregivers have hearts of gold and probably work for lower wages than a Nordstrom perfume sprayer (without the clothing discount), and where would the indigent and uninsured go otherwise? I’m glad they’re there for you Yona, and I hope you get the hell out of dodge soon.

Every day as I stopped by Tower Burger for Yona’s daily milkshake (Mitchell’s ice cream, but only chocolate, vanilla and strawberry, no avocado, tamarind or purple yam here) I resisted the lure of the organic Niman Ranch burgers that Yelpers seem to love. After all, I had to save my appetites for burrito testing. It’s been many years since I’ve known the best haunts for Mission carne asada and carnitas, and after six years in Portland it seemed high time to reacquaint with my addiction.

As I awaited my first burrito on a warm, slightly foggy Thursday afternoon, I did the math on the big burrito test and realized it wasn’t going to add up. There was no way to cover enough ground detouring through the Mission from the East Bay (homebase) to Twin Peaks (hospital) three days in a row. Especially at odd hours: a super burrito, even shared, takes some serious appetite. Even the rip-off $8.50 burrito at Pancho Villa, which was shockingly slender…no bigger round than my wrist…was too big to eat alone if I was going to taste anything else in the name of scientific research.

With JP’s help, we split two tacos and the burrito, and readjusted the test. Though the Mission burrito is still my great love, with limited opportunity to taste, we’d have to make tacos the testing ground. Price aside (double the price of memory, though I admit I’ve officially become my mother, who refuses to pay more than $24.99 for a double motel room because “that’s how much they’re supposed to be”) Pancho Villa still got our disgusted thumbs’ down. The carne asada wasn’t bad, with a bit of smoky char and lots of salt, but the al pastor was mortifying: bits of dry pork overly spiced with cumin and chile powder to make up for the total lack of fire-kissed flavor. The saving grace was the salsa bar, even salsa fresca, which is portioned out like gold in Portland but is self-serve at every self-respecting taqueria in SF.
mission-sanjose3

For my second opportunity I picked two of the most highly rated Yelp spots, which were also conveniently located across the street from one another. Taqueria San Jose (2830 Mission, see photo left) had the requisite, abundant, serve yourself salsa bar and excellent $2.45 tacos. Foregoing another al pastor tragedy (“Duh” Rule: no rotisserie, no al pastor) we stuck to one asada and one carnitas. The beef was probably slightly better at PV but the carnitas here were delicious (chewy, crispy, moist) and the tacos overall superior. Across the street at La Taqueria the $3.50 tacos were somewhat less traditional. (Overly) large and stuffed, the carnitas had a very pure, clean pork flavor, but without the crispy edges of San Jose. No salsa bar and lackluster salsa threw my vote across the street, though JP gave it the slight edge. We both agreed that a trip back for the insanely large, golden-bubbly-crisped quesadilla was the way to go.

Overall, I was glad not to have been leading a group of out-of-towners for “awesome” Mission food. And it was a good exercise to readjust my yardstick. Though I’ve never been proud of being a snob about PDX Mexican (and Chinese) food, it had never occured to me it was misplaced snobbishness.

So did I come home disappointed and unsated? Or did I perhaps have an ace in the hole? Was there some secret spot, some unexpected venue, that had kept my illusions of The Perfect Burrito alive all these years?

Call out the trumpets. Cue the fanfare. Saddle up the white horse…

Marin delivered where the Mission failed.

san-francisco-2009-029Um, excuse me, what did you say? Marin County? Home of hot tubbing yogi-wannabes, mountain-biking cell phone talkers, and formerly liberal multi-millionaire lawyers?

The very one. Nestled under the 101 freeway in San Rafael shines a burrito beacon in the form of Taqueria San Jose (no relation, I don’t think, to the Mission’s San Jose). $5.50 brought forth the burrito of my dreams. The size of a small child, with a thin layer of cheese fused to the steamed tortilla, carnitas simultaneously crisp, clean, flavorful and porky, perfect proportions (aka not too much) pintos and rice, and fresh lettuce, salsa fresca, guac and sour cream oozing forth. Two meals, easy, one if you’re making up for some indignity suffered in your youth. Though carnitas was the clear winner, the carne asada was deemed worthy of a gold star as well. The salsa bar, though fewer choices than the other SJ, had the two I crave, fresca and tomatillo, and the chips were warm and fresh.

Ahhh. Finally. Sweet release, though not in the “Mission-ary” position I’d expected. Yona was on the mend, and though my assumptions had been rocked a little bit, I could now face the 11-hour drive home with a smile on my face and a half a burrito belted into the passenger seat.

In Which I Fail to be Brief: Jade Tea House Review

Since it’s obvious a “real” post didn’t write itself last week…and neither is it going to get written this week…over the next few days I’ll try to do quick hits of some recent eating out. No stories, no sarcasm, no sudden epiphanies, just food (with maybe a little melodrama sprinkled on the side…I’m condiment queen after all…).

Jade Teahouse & Patisserie
Let me just start by saying I was biased against Jade. Yes, the tastebuddedly talented BB of Eat. Think. Drink. anointed it with his stamp of approval. Yes, I’ve traveled the length and breadth of PDX looking for a decent banh mi. Yes, I’d even resorted to making my own. Yes, Jade is conveniently located just blocks from home. (Perhaps that’s the best reason of all not to want to like it…imagine having great banh mi so close by? Lovostatin take me away!)

So why black marks against it even before stepping foot across its threshold? First of all, it’s far too pretty to make a decent banh mi. I’m used to walking past the jewelry counter and sitting on the stoop on Mott Street for my favorite banh mi (in New York). And cutesy shop-laden 13th Avenue is no grimy SE 82nd, where I expect to have to venture in Pdx. But the real reason for my distrust? Twice they’d denied me. No one likes rejection, and you know that old “hell hath no fury” thing. On my first attempt, excited as a schoolgirl on a first date, despite the wide-open doors and sandwich board outside announcing its open status they brusquely sent me away saying the hours didn’t apply and they were closing. I felt betrayed. And hungry. Hyperbole aside, something about that really pissed me off.

To add fuel to the fire, the next time we thought to go….yep….closed again. This time it was a legit closing at least, Sunday after 5 p.m. We probably arrived at 5:05 and though I resisted a Dustin Hoffman / Graduate pounding on the window scene, I did leave greasy nose-prints all over their clean glass door.

san-francisco-2009-002But I’m northern Italian, not Sicilian, and eventually we forgive. Especially if there’s the potential for good food involved. So I made a lunch date with the erudite Ezra, baking adventurist and ponderer of life’s mysteries. Weekday? Check. Acceptable lunchtime window? Absolutely. National holiday? Not a US one at least. Ez is a vegetarian so there was no sharing, but based on my bbq pork sandwich, I’m officially a fan. Damn them and their cute little mother / daughter routine.

Having only had the sandwich and a sesame ball, perhaps from here on out Wednesdays should be designated “eat your way through Jade’s menu” day.

It’s not a textbook banh mi. The pork isn’t deeply marinated and then fried, but the classic red-on-the-outside, greyish-on-the-inside Chinese variety. The divine baguette is closer to a real baguette, chewy and narrow rather than airy and crackly. (And better for it, if you ask me.) The vegetables are in large chunks rather than finely julienned (my only real criticism, making it cumbersome to eat and necessary to deconstruct to get veggie and pork in every bite). Perhaps I prefer a bit more cilantro, and I wonder if they have jalapenos upon request? But oh the flavors! Succulent, salty, garlicky, sweet, crunchy, oozing just a bit of garlic mayo to play off the sweet daikon / cuke / carrot marinade…this is $7 well worth spending. (And for me to pay $7 for what’s typically $3.50? Huge.) Never again will I have to drive across town and tempt a stomach ache from Best Baguette (though if I find myself hungry out on 82nd and Powell, I can’t swear I won’t relapse with a $3 sandwich).

It’s going to be hard to branch out to taste the other offerings, so dates willing to share should call, text, or tweet. Truffle fries at a teahouse? I haven’t had a good truffle fry since 1999…. @rockinroxys?

Jade Teahouse & Patisserie
7912 S.E. 13th Avenue
Closed Monday

Ezra's veggie rice noodles, which he pronounced very good. My head was so deeply buried in my sandwich that I forgot to ask for a taste.

Bad iPhone photo of Ezra's veggie rice noodles, which he pronounced very good. My head was so deeply buried in pork that I forgot to ask for a taste.


Damn, I failed again. Blathered on instead of just pronouncing the food good and moving on. Ah well. Coming soon…or someday…a tale of 1400 miles and four tacos.