Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Voyager Bien: Missing Seattle

Yeah, it's been two months since my trip to Seattle for the International Food Blogger Conference , but that salty sea town to the North left such a lovely indelible taste in my mouth that I already miss it.
Of course great visits begin with great hosts, and Nicole and Jon were just that. From the fresh flowers on the nightstand and appropos reading material to the effortless food-centric guided derives around their city, every aspect was optimal and thoughtful. Here are some addenda highlights from my stay.
One of the singlemost impressive stops was easily Uwajimaya Grocery and Gift Market, a monolithic Asian Costco, complete with tasting booths sampling Pocky and sweetened drinking vinegar. Frozen bao, mochi, fresh sushi-grade fish, a bustling food quart, household goods shop and book store under one very high roof established very real envy in me.
I had never heard of Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood, and it may now be my favorite in the city. Fostered in the shadow of the Old Rainier Brewery Georgetown is a historic red brick assemblage of dive bars, junk shops, and coffee houses, tempered with a hip record store, comic shop and food truck corral. My kind of place.  
One of the neighborhood's most fitting and treasured tenants is Full Throttle Bottles, a super-stocked library of brew from near and far, chilled and ready to be carried out to even the most discerning gatherings.
The award for my aesthetic doppelganger goes to the artfully cluttered Ground Control coffee & tea shop, an irreverent little corner stop with a "be right back, around the corner" sign dangling in the window.
The antique shops really ran the gamut, from pleasantly shabby (24 Karat Vintage Interiors, Fruit Cocktail Collectibles) to high end curated (Great Stuff, Susan Wheeler Home). There were treasures in every one, I pined for my car to tote some goods back, but alas settled for a pair of salt & pepper shaker California oranges.
The best junk shop however was in the Fremont neighborhood, just around the corner from the Theo Chocolate factory, an obscured gem called Deluxe Junk. Drawers of vintage novelties, dusty board games, 1962 Seattle World's Fair souvenirs, plastic couch pillows and fifties Better Homes and Gardens mags proved that my eyes are bigger than my pocketbook - and my luggage. On the flip side, the finely curated imported housewares at Bitters Co. up the street made the hoarder in me shrink in embarrassment, a spare brick room with fine Mexican glass, Asian pottery, and hand-forged scissors made me long for a simpler life.
Back in Capitol Hill, I felt the long-awaited ease from a fix at Portland-born Stumptown Coffee on 12th Avenue next to Cafe Presse. If you've never heard of Stumptown, you've probably also never heard of good coffee (burn!), this is truly as good as it gets.
On my last morning in town, Nicole and I took a stroll downtown, dropping into Sweet Iron Waffles for a quick, cheap and delicious breakfast!
Nicole enjoyed her fluffy crispy Liège waffle with blueberries, fresh lemon whipped cream, and candied lemon rind.
Mine came topped with fresh Washington nectarines in basil/ginger syrup with whipped mascarpone cheese. So good!
After breakfast we wandered downhill to the infamous Pike Place Market, a place unfairly categorized in my memory as a tourist trap, but with new eyes a rather lovely smorgasbord of fresh donuts, Japanese hot dogs, and local gourmet sundries. I went nuts at Market Spice, hoarding affordable house-bottled extracts, dried lavender, and an incredibly potent apple wood-smoked salt (my kitchen smelled of a delicious camp fire for weeks).
After a visit to the original Sur La Table on Pike Place, I couldn't recall how I knew the neighboring Piroshky Piroshky so well, never having been there (later recalling Bourdain's visit on the Seattle episode of No Reservations).
Down the block we ducked into Bavarian Meats, which transported me back to my teenage trip to Austria and Germany. Fresh sauerkraut and sausages share this quaint festive shop with imported condiments and lots of chocolate.
On the topic of chocolate, next Nicole lead me up the hill to the Chocolate Box, a true fiend's lair, where Theo shares the shelves with other local makers, Nashville's hand crafted Olive & Sinclair, and assorted international goods (a high end Mexican cacao heaven).
My heaviest cargo was picked up at Seattle's legendary independent bookstore The Elliott Bay Book Company. What killed me here was the hidden cookbook clearance section tucked in the shadowy depths of the lofted second floor... A clearance section the size of some book stores much less cookbook sections, at bargain basement prices. I could hardly carry my stack of books. How would I decide? Susan Spicer or Tom Douglas? Gourmet gold.
Before heading off to the airport, Nicole and I made a stop in Capitol Hill so I could say goodbye to Jon, not only a great host but a killer in the kitchen at hotspot Oddfellows Cafe. A peek inside made me wish I was staying for a bite. 
Thanks for the memories, and the full belly. Until next time, fair Emerald City...
Me and Bacon outside Archie McPhee

Friday, October 22, 2010

Carnish Culture: It's a.. Cake!

The Making of a lifesize Baby Cake for sculpted cake competition, Cake 2006 at NEC Birmingham, UK by Michelle Wibowo. Michelle Sugar Art

Buvare: Bar Keeper Gets Serious

After seventeen months of bureaucratic poppycock, THE high brow bar accoutrement shoppe to end all high brow bar accoutrement shoppes Bar Keeper finally got its wish - to sell the rare small batch high brow booze that was always meant to fill its pristine glassware collection.
Still being un-boxed and shelved on the library wall, hard to find Rye whiskeys rub elbows with hipster gin, top shelf vermouth, Del Maguey single-village mezcals, a fetishist's line of absinthe, exotics like Batavia Arrack, and enough amari to fuel a downtown speakeasy. Weak at the knees, I limited myself to two bottles of essential Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry (dry and rouge; $14) and pinched myself to put back the Rothman Crème de Violette, Bols Genever, and Old Overholt Rye.
And as if Bar Keeper didn't already carry the most devastatingly advanced selection of aromatic bitters, Joe Keeper's added to his arsenal some kingpin selections from Bar Code and Miracle Mile Bitters Co. (killer spicy gingerbread bitters!). Curious? All bitters are available to sample in the store.
And just in time for the holidays, starting November the store will be selling holiday gift boxes complete with recipes, necessary liquors, bitters, tools and glassware needed to make a given drink. Give an absinthe starter kit, Perfect Manhattan set, or The Varnish in a box to that special someone this year.

3910 W. Sunset Blvd. Silver Lake 90029; 323.669.1675

Croquer: Sitka & Spruce

The sun had come out, but the cool Northwest breeze charged up the streets of Capitol Hill, nipping us in the shady stretches. One last meal in the city, and I'm so glad Nicole decided to take me to the very special Sitka & Spruce, nestled into the corner of an airy Seattle warehouse marketplace. Like the hearth of a cozy European home, one could easily mistake the hazy sunbeams to be filtering in off the Mediterranean.
I've seen open kitchens before, but this is serious. We were seated at the chef's table... and I mean AT the work table (see those white chairs below), a foot or two away a few aproned cooks tenderly arranged plates of sliced tomatoes, fruit, cheese, and olives from a mélange of clay and china bowls covering the work space. 
S & S's lunch offerings are "cold", meaning that the prevailing brick wood oven is not utilized. Save for a fry pan or two on the stove to warm certain dishes, the menu is made up of fresh cold dishes such as rye berry salad, burrata, and tuna mousse.
Nicole and I decided it was the perfect hour for bubbly, so started with a glass of sparkling Grüner Veltliner and the Columbia City bread and soft butter. Paying for a bread plate might seem ridiculous, but I won't lie, the fresh chewy slices and airy salt-sprinkled butter were worth every cent.
Our first dish was a Yakima chickpea puree with carrot salad and harissa. Again, hummus you may think, hmm how pedestrian. No, in fact this was my favorite dish of the lot. Perfect texture, moderate harissa fire, and succulent blanched carrots far surpassed any expectations.
The La Quercia ham with sheepsmilk feta & watermelon was late summer on a plate. Farm fresh yellow melon and smooth salty cheese melt in the mouth between layers of thin-cut ham, dynamic flavors fused by fruity olive oil and red pepper flakes. Sublime simplicity at its best.
We finished with the lamb kofte, fresh flageolet, & a fried egg. Though flavorful and hearty, it was hard to beat the previous two dishes. But we still enjoyed it to the last bite!
The cheese, berries and honey an arm's reach away looked so so delicious, but we regretfully declined a dessert course and instead perused the small mercantile on the way back outside into the distinctly Seattle sunshine.

1531 Melrose Ave. Seattle, WA 98122; 206.324.0662
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