Supper in Savannah

I fell in love last week. With Savannah.

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Lafayette Square, Savannah

Just the name of Georgia’s oldest city has always conjured up so much mystery and intrigue for me. Is she a girl with golden curls who ran away from home? Or the last place a unicorn was ever seen? Actually, the word savanna refers to a grassy wooded area where the tree canopy doesn’t close out the light – which is most peculiar because my favorite feature of the “southern host city” are the abundant live oak and magnolia trees whose limbs are draped in silvery moss that hang like Christmas tinsel forming an almost endless umbrella along the grid of smart avenues, interrupted by 22 green squares. Some of the locals refer to her affectionately as Slow-vannah on account of the unhurried pace of life which unavoidably permeates the culinary scene as well. Many of the must-try spots like Mrs. Wilkes, Atlantic or Cotton and Rye refuse to offer reservations, and instead feature long lines of hungry (yet patient) diners who don’t seem to mind wasting an hour or more along the leafy sidewalks as they wait and wait and wait. My inner New Yorker (just the one) prefers to rely on a table waiting for me rather than the other way around.

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Elizabeth’s on 37th

One of the stalwart establishments, Elizabeth’s on 37th occupies a magnificently illuminated colonial house built in 1900. This proud recipient of a James Beard Foundation award has been serving low-country classics for 37 years. The dozen menu items range from soup to steak (with nowhere to hide if you happen to be a local shrimp or a half-moon clam).

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Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp, Elizabeth’s on 37th

I got stuck into a Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp with bits of crab, green tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms resting on a puddle of green goddess dressing. Everything was there: sweet, sour, salty, crunchy and sensational.

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Fresh Scallops, Elizabeth’s on 37th

The Fresh Scallops were seared to perfection and then layered over a soft bed of split peas and tart chives with the odd nugget of bacon for a whiff of southern smoke. But the heat from the Spicy Savannah Red Rice sure done popped my hood ‘some.

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Spicy Savannah Red Rice, Elizabeth’s on 37th

This utterly delicious southern-styled paella of Carolina rice, grouper, shrimp, clams, sausage and okra was as fresh and bright as a sweet tomato bisque, before diving into the depths of a dark and dirty gumbo.

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Shrimp and Grits, The Public Kitchen and Bar

I know one shouldn’t compare the two, but Charleston and Savannah are often thought of as sister cities that some say despite their geographic proximity haven’t spoken to one another for years! And so, it’s not surprising to discover that a great many dishes are shared and borrowed across the state line. I know I might have mentioned in a previous blog that Sean Brock’s Shrimp and Grits at Husk had sent me home starry eyed, but that was before I was ruined by Brian Gonet’s version at The Public Kitchen and Bar. (Please indulge me as I borrow a little inspiration from “Gone with the Wind” here), I do declare, that as God is my witness, I shall never order Shrimp and Grits anywhere else again! Chef Gonet spikes his grits with cheddar and bacon and then he sears chorizo sausage to extract all those piquant and peppery flavors before adding tomatoes with local shrimp before finishing everything off with sweet sherry and heavy cream. Suuuhth’n heaven!

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

You’ve probably been wondering why I haven’t mentioned the plethora of pecan-inspired pies, cookies, cheesecakes, bruléés and puddin’s that are as plentiful as horse-drawn carriages. That’s because I was saving room (daily) for a southern mainstay known as Leopold’s Ice-cream, where you’ll find yet another ubiquitous line of congenial Southerners snaking out into the street. My fave’s? Caramel swirl, Tutti Frutti and, of course, Butter Pecan! The 23 flavors were perfected by the original 3 Leopold brothers, and have remained unchanged since 1919.

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

But don’t presume for a slow, southern second that this old city can’t do anything new. The abundance of artisanal bakeries like James Beard nominee Back in the Day or hip trinket-eries that serve coffee, cookies, candles and soap like The Paris Market, Australian salad-aries like Collins Quarter or even a counter-style South African sausage-erie called Zunzi know how to harness flawless quality and authenticity with a unique and distinctive charm.

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The Grey

But the proverbial cake has well and truly been taken by former Prune (NYC) toque Mashama Bailey. At The Grey, a meticulously renovated art deco Greyhound bus terminal from 1934, Bailey will forever be remembered as the chef who vaulted Savannah into a new era of destination dining.

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The Grey

Every inlaid wood and brushed chrome detail, every bronze and white glass lamp sconce, every section of custom curved windows and a religiously seasonal menu that changes daily, makes this the scarcest table in town. Showered with acclaim as Eater’s “Restaurant of the Year”, one of Time Magazine’s “100’s greatest Places” and a James Beard nominee, Bailey and her energetic team work hard to deliver big city dishes that would easily become house favorites – in any big city. The menu is categorized by the location of the ingredients (pantry, water, dirt and pasture) and the constant blur of the gingham-shirted wait staff creates a lively, expeditious and electric atmosphere in direct contrast to Slow-vannah.

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Steak Tartare, The Grey

The earth-shatteringly wonderful Steak Tartare is butchered from an entire hind quarter, aged for about a month before being chopped and dressed with lemon, a spectacular home-made Worcestershire sauce and pickled quail egg. The house-made buttery Buccatini with Clams was inspired in its simplicity, as was the addition of salty Halumi cheese into an amazingly caramelized tumble of roasted delicate Squash and Spring onions.

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Chicken Country Captain, The Grey

And the only menu item that will hopefully remain a fixture into the next decade is the triumphant Chicken Country Captain, drenched in a sublime and memory-making curry sauce with slivers of crunchy almonds and pocks of sweet currants. I must have blacked out, as I don’t remember lifting the plate to my lips and licking it clean.

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The Diner at The Grey

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that within the next five to seven years Savannah will compete handsomely in the nation’s food scene, luring the next generation of celebra-chefs to crack open a brand-new cuisine called sophista-soul. But before anyone gets too far down the line, no more walk-in’s without reservations y’all!

http://mrswilkes.com/

https://atlanticsavannah.com/

http://www.cottonandrye.com/#intro

http://www.elizabethon37th.net/

http://www.thepublickitchen.com/

https://backinthedaybakery.com/index.html

https://theparismarket.com/

https://www.zunzis.com/

http://thegreyrestaurant.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating my way through Seattle

The interesting thing about food in Seattle is that a random amble through the historic Pike Street public market might give you the impression that you can eat just about anything in Seattle so long as it’s salmon, whereas the “emerald city” is actually delightfully diverse and remarkably authentic. Other than the bewildering abundance of coffee bars – each promising a unique blend, a deep roast and a meticulously slow brew, there really isn’t a dish that is typically Seattlish at all. Instead, the rain-soaked metropolis on Puget Sound seems to evoke originality and individuality from chefs who might never risk as much in a more competitive market. Laotian, Vietnamese, East African, Malaysian, Bhutanese, Italian, French and schools of sushi bars make it tough to pigeonhole the local cuisine.

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Grilled House-smoked trout, Marmite

 

Chef Bruce Naftaly opened the Franco-Mediterranean inspired Marmite (pronounced Mar-meet) after 27 years of slinging pots and pans with his wife Sara at the beloved Le Gourmond. Set inside an old auto chop-shop, the rugged red brick-walled room with 30-foot ceilings and the oddly ornate Spirit within the Bottle bar at the edge of a cluster of wooden 4-tops, the space feels more like an invitation into the Naftaly home, rather than their business. Customers are treated like guests, and the experience is immensely personal. Everything is made from scratch, right in front of you. No shortcuts. No smoke. No mirrors. No fussy plating. No mysterious hail-Mary’s brought in from some “other” kitchen.

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Dungeness Crab Cocktail, Marmite

The small to large, 15-dish menu includes an astoundingly zingy Dungeness Crab Cocktail over a face-cream-smooth avocado mousse spiked with horseradish and the cheddar-iest bread stick ever. It was a tough choice between the sumptuous Shiitake mushrooms stuffed with braised tongue and bacon crumbs over a water cress salad, or the clams and nori stuffed Squash Blossom tempura – both smothered in melted cheese.

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Beouf Paupiette, Marmite

I almost bit off one of my fingers that got in the way of the wondrously flavor-forward Boeuf Paupiette – a super-tender butterflied filet stuffed with briny olives, fresh herbs and roasted garlic, seared for a minute and then finished in the oven, before being set against a tangle of sautéed zucchini ribbons.

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Rice-pudding Beignets, Marmite

Despite repeated protests, arms were finally twisted to sample a bowlful of the yummiest, crunchiest, steaming-hot Rice-pudding beignets with home-made preserves.

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The London Plane has to be one of Seattle’s coolest brunch spots. Overlooking the historic Pioneer Square with its ivy-covered brick and stone walls, Matt Dillon has hopped onto the eat-drink-read-browse-shop train. For some chefs, the battle with this concept is how to prevent the trinkets, flowers and books from overshadowing the main event, but Dillon manages this masterfully with shelves of bespoke groceries, a stellar patisserie with breads, nut meringues, cookies and the flakiest Cultured Butter Croissant in the country.

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The London Plane

The spectacularly diverse sit-down menu features eggs, crepes and sandwiches laced with harrissa, labneh, za’atar and other middle-eastern flavors.

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Baked Eggs, London Plane

There are many rules about what constitutes a real Japanese Kaiseki dinner. It’s an elegant but rather rigorous structure that starts with absolute punctuality, as the meal cannot begin until the entire “sitting” is sitting! The 7 or 8 (or sometimes more) courses are presented without substitution or preference. There is usually a starter, an appetizer, a soup and a sushi followed by braised, grilled and rice dishes and then ultimately a dessert.

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Wa’z

In Seattle’s Belltown, Wa’z chef Hiro Tawara and his conscientious crew of 3 perform double-duty not just as fastidious toques, but also as entertainers. Imagine having 9 pairs of eyes glaring at your every stir, shake, swish, splash, ting, tang, tong and sprinkle? I could never work under those conditions, but this trio delivered persnickety perfection in magnificent dish after magnificent dish, where a bowl would be rotated just a couple of degrees before being presented – just so that the most agreeable part of the floral decoration would be encountered first.

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King Crab and Chrysanthemum Leaf Salad, Wa’z

Some of the standout dishes included the Bay scallop Tempura which literally burst open upon contact to release a marvelous ocean spray; a couple of heavenly slithers of A5 (the highest grade) Wagyu Miyahaki beef sushi blow-torched and soaked in ponzu sauce with garlic chips that literally melted away; a robust and creamy Grilled Black Cod with butter-sauteed mushrooms, mirin wine and geoduck, and an astoundingly refreshing Pear Mousse with buckwheat tea ice-cream and fresh grapes and figs.

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Hassun: Assorted Appetizers, Wa’z

After repeated bowing and smiling, all 9 diners left the very sleek, feng-shui-appropriate and rather colorless room, but then without realizing we could still see them from the street, the crew threw off their aprons and high-fived one another in relief and celebration in an unusual glimmer of human imperfection in an otherwise perfect world.

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Just across the water in Fremont, chef Mutsuko Soma is churning out the freshest Soba noodles at Kamonegi. So fresh in fact, that I had to stop myself from reaching out and grabbing a few strands as they were rolled, shaped and cut individually from a big ball of buckwheat dough.

But first we did some damage to the outrageously magnificent tempura. Light, crispy, delicate and without a trace of oil. The diagonally sliced Japanese eggplants with mushrooms and shredded purple radish bathed in the most slurpily salty and wonderful dashi broth.

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Eggplant Tempura, Kamonegi

We also sampled the sublime Shrimp and the salty ocean explosion from the Uni Shiso Bomb – which is a single tempura leaf topped with a few coils of raw sea urchin.

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Impossible tan tan, Kamonegi

Soba dishes can be enjoyed cold with a dipping sauce (seiro), or in a hot broth (nanbun). We opted for the hot version of their signature Kamonegi with duck breast, duck meatballs and leaks, and the Impossible tan tan as a cold salad with sesame, chili oil and crushed peanuts. Both unspeakably wonderful.

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Tempura Oreo’s, Kamonegi

And just to prove that tempura makes the world a better place, in a rare nod to his new American roots, chef Soma throws a couple of Oreo cookies into the batter for dessert.

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Unlearn everything you ever knew about restaurants and chefs before you head into Nue – a little wooden box crammed with communal tables and quirky roadside bric-a-brac on Capital Hill. Chris Cvetkovich, the founder/restaurateur found his way into the food business as a 3D animator who travelled the globe, and then decided to open a bistro that recreated the best street food he ate along the way. And I’m so glad he did.

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Pineapple Cornbread, Nue

The gob-smackingly delicious menu spans the planet from the familiar to the peculiar to the outright bizarre. Things start off simply enough with a slice of south-sea-island-inspired Pineapple Cornbread, topped with a heavenly dome of toasted coconut that spills all over your lap as you wolf it down like cake. The Syrian Kale & Carrot Salad has a tangy citrus pomegranate dressing with bits of dates for sweetness, fetta for saltiness and toasted almonds for crunch.

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South African Bunny Chow, Nue

Being from South Africa, I had to order a plate of the nostalgically authentic and utterly amazing Bunny Chow, (which like several other South African dishes like Monkey-gland steak, has zero connection to the animal implied in the name) with a chicken curry masala poured inside a quarter-loaf of Pullman bread.

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Chendu Spicy Jumbo Chicken Wings, Nue

The vertical stack of dry Chengdu Spicy Jumbo Chicken Wings wasn’t nearly as blistering as I’d expected. With the fish sauce, lime, chili, basil and mint flavoring, these tasted much more Thai than Szechuan, but who the heck cares when they’re that moreish?

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Balinese Barbecued Spare Ribs, Nue

And finally, the delectable flavor of the Balinese Barbecued Spare Ribs is like a song I just cannot get out of my head. Marinated in an Indonesian mix of garlic, lemongrass and chilies, this rack of phenominal fall-of-the-bone smoked pork is cooked sous-vide and then lathered and slathered in a yummy Kecap Manis glaze while grilling. (If you’re wondering what classified as “bizarre”, we took a rain check on the Pigtails, Water Beetles and Fertilized Duck Eggs.)

So, while some people might be sleepless in Seattle – they definitely won’t be hungry.

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Nue

 

https://www.marmiteseattle.com/

http://www.thelondonplaneseattle.com/

https://www.wazseattle.com/

https://www.kamonegiseattle.com/

http://www.nueseattle.com/