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.

IMG_7383

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.

IMG_7373

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.

IMG_7385

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.

IMG_7386

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.

IMG_7426

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.

IMG_7427

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.

IMG_7436

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.

IMG_7539

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.

IMG_7527

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.

IMG_7528

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.

IMG_7626

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.

IMG_7613

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.

IMG_7617

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.

IMG_7624

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.

IMG_7577

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.

IMG_7571

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.

IMG_7572

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.

IMG_7576

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?

IMG_7575

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.

IMG_7564

Nue

 

https://www.marmiteseattle.com/

http://www.thelondonplaneseattle.com/

https://www.wazseattle.com/

https://www.kamonegiseattle.com/

http://www.nueseattle.com/

 

Bar Bolonat

Trying to secure a table at one of New York’s “hip/hot/in/now/happening/trendy/it” restaurants once the reviews have been printed, feels like that exercise in futility that leads to insanity – where you perform the same action over and over again expecting a different outcome each time. It doesn’t matter if you call a month in advance, at midnight or noon, using a Scottish accent or pretending to be Steven Spielberg’s assistant. The news is always the same. “We are fully committed,” or “I have nothing between 5:15pm and 10:45pm!” (Did I ask for a blue-plate special or a midnight snack?)

Oddly enough, when all of a sudden the unthinkable happens and you land a prime time four-top on a Saturday night, the only thing larger than your joy is the nagging sensation that the chef must have walked out or the health department found a critter and slapped a big, green “B” on the door – or (more tragically) that everyone has already lost interest in the place and moved on to the next “hip/hot/in/now/happening/trendy/it” spot.    I know. I know. These are real problems.

But this time persistence was on my side and I finally found myself crossing Hudson Street and stepping into Bar Bolonat’s U-shaped dining room with middle-eastern aromas emanating from the kitchen. The décor pulls off a bit of a hodge-podge of every construction medium available, from exposed iron beams and ducting, to wood veneers and bleached face brick, to a row of bay windows to amp up the curb appeal. If Taim and Balaboosta were her warm-up laps, then Bar Bolonat is chef Ainat Admony’s main race. The menu draws from some of her former successes, but judging by the litany of foreign or just plain unpronounceable ingredients, it’s clear that chef Admony has shifted into high gear, and New Yorkers are enthusiastically waving her on to win.

The wine list is approachable and varied with a few organic options as well as a few unfamiliar offerings from the Mediterranean/Middle East – like a Serbian Prokupac, a Moroccan Syrah and a couple of Israeli Cabs and blends.

Jerusalem Bagel - Bar Bolonat

Jerusalem Bagel

The menu grows in plate size, and comes with the caveat (which should become the unofficial anthem for the tri-state area) that “the food is designed to be sharable and arrives when it’s ready”. First out the door is the obligatory Jerusalem Bagel. It’s a longer, flatter, lighter and fluffier version of a sesame bagel. You tear off a chunk, dip it into the fragrantly grassy olive oil bath, towel it off with a dunk into the za’atar (which is Dukkah on steroids with sumac and herbs) and the taste and texture combination is almost biblical.

Balaboosta Fried Olives - Bar Bolonat

Balaboosta Fried Olives

It’s tough to resist the Balaboosta Fried Olives that arrive resting on a puddle of labneh (strained yogurt) and harissa oil. They are encased in the thinnest of velvety crumb crusts which give way to the wonderfully salty, green olives stuffed with cheese.

Hudson Street Kibbeh - Bar Bolonat

Hudson Street Kibbeh

Moving on to some of the medium sized plates, the trio of cone shaped Hudson Street Kibbeh is presented with a pine nut and citrus yogurt dipping sauce. Inside the bulgur wheat crust is a delicious mélange of meat spiced with cloves, cinnamon and all spice, while being sweetened with currants and spiked with pepper. A truly masterful balance of Mediterranean flavors in an auburn teardrop.

Shrimp in Yemenite Curry - Bar Bolonat

Shrimp in Yemenite Curry

Not having ever heard of a Yemenite Curry before, I braced my lips and palate for hell-fire and brimstone, and was rather surprised by its coconut milk modesty given how extroverted its brothers and sisters had been up till now – but we tore through the Wild Mushroom Pasta like soldiers home from the war. Large, floppy ribbons – almost the size of lasagna sheets – snaked around the most delectably umami fricassee of mushrooms, colored and flavored by Persian garlic, charred onions, nigella (onion seed) and a refreshing dollop of labneh here and there.

Wild Mushroom Pasta - Bar Bolonat

Wild Mushroom Pasta

It might have been my intention to try each of the dessert options on subsequent visits, but once the Fried Baclava Ice Cream swooped in, and I cracked through the crispy envelope of filo pastry allowing the soft ice cream to ooze out and mix with the syrup and nuts on the plate, I realized that for the next 10 years, I’m never going to order anything else.

http://www.barbolonatnyc.com

Saxon + Parole review

Saxon + ParoleSaxon and Parole were two racehorses in the 1800’s, and they happen to be the inspiration behind the crop-and-bridle décor at Executive chef Brad Farmerie’s über-popular NoHo bistro. Horses are neither welcome here, nor are they mentioned on the menu in any way, but instead, the generous bar (serving ready-mixed, pre-chilled, ice-free Manhattans on-tap) leads to a couple of wood-framed dining areas teeming with dressage tchotchkes, amongst a spirited stable of regular diners.

 

Manhattans on-tap - Saxon + Parole

Manhattans on-tap

Chef Farmerie keeps the kitchen gimmickry to a minimum. His prowess is more evident in his confident broad-strokes menu featuring abundant favorites done impressively well, with a few whiplashing surprises mixed in. The raw bar items share space with a Razor Clam Egg-Salad or a Sea Urchin Muffin with bacon bits. See what I mean?

Brussels Sprouts with Poached Egg - Saxon + Parole

Brussels Sprouts with Poached Egg

The “First course” section offers a familiar variety of soup-salad-crudo options, with an obvious commitment to fresh, sustainable and fashionably de rigueur loco-moco-yoko ingredients like watercress and radishes, but the steamed Brussels Sprout Leaf Salad encircling a perfectly runny poached egg, covering smoky lardons with a zesty, salty and heavenly yuzu lemon hollandaise dressing combines everything I love about late autumn.

Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop - Saxon + Parole

Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop

Land and sea options are very well represented in the “Second course,” with some standouts including a simply seasoned, yet handsomely fileted Hangar Steak, revealing a dark-pink, marbled and juicy interior – in the shade of a marrow bone brimming with velvety Béarnaise sauce.

Farmerie’s perfectly measured use of Harissa provides just sufficient horsepower to spruce up the Crispy Roast Chicken (on a saddle of barley and faro wheat) giving it a marvelously Moroccan bite.

It’s hardly surprising that the supple, crisp and amazingly moist Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop has become one of the most loyally requested dishes. While it shares the plate with an all-too-safe glazed apple, the limelight is snatched by that creamy and pungent goat-cheese laden polenta.

The only under-whelmer of the evening was the offensively sweet, chili-caramel roasted Brussels Sprouts, which were soon forgotten by the arrival of desserts. As popular as they may be, the Warm Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts with a trio of dipping sauces were left at the starting line by one of the most original S’Mores presentations in history.

Infusing the S'Mores with barrel smoke - Saxon + Parole

Infusing the S’Mores with barrel smoke

We insisted on a table-side demonstration as a ball-jarful of chocolate pudding, graham crackers and marshmallows were forced to inhale a few puffs of barrel smoke before the lid was tightly sealed, trapping an authentic bonfire flavor into the dessert, instantly rewinding me back to my pre-teen summer camp nights.

And so while some from the chewing police may have hemmed and hawed that Saxon + Parole hasn’t altered the culinary horizon enough, I would argue that Farmerie has carved himself an uncontested niche as New York’s torchbearer for reliable, enjoyable and above all impressive comfort cuisine – and let’s not forget those Manhattans on-tap!

http://saxonandparole.com/

Saxon + Parole