“So?” everyone wants to know. “How is it, now that you’re no longer a restaurant critic? Don’t you miss going out to all those restaurants?” I’ve heard that a lot since I’ve ceded the lead critic’s position to Providence Cicero — whose Best Bites appear in today’s Ticket. My answer to that constant query: “Not on your life!” I’m still getting out to the hot new restaurants, and returning far more frequently to old favorites. As the voice behind All You Can Eat, I’m happy to say I’m no longer tied to a weekly dining-out schedule or a professional fork-lifter’s critical agenda. Instead, I get to share my thoughts on eating, feeding and reading and call it “work.”
It’s a wonderful life, indeed. One that finds me writing monthly roundups — spotlighting everything from great burger joints to old-school Chinese restaurants; talking about food with my pal Dick Stein each week on KPLU; and showing-and-telling you what’s cooking at home after frequent forays to area supermarkets, farmers markets, specialty markets or into my own kitchen garden. I even get to yak about what I’ve eaten when I’m out of town on business or pleasure. Yeah, yeah: not everything I ate was wonderful (remember those spicy “Larvets“?) But much was, including the big, overstuffed banh mi from Yeh Yeh’s, as well as many other gustatory delights, including these:
When spring sprung, I threw on the brakes while driving past Top Banana to buy the season’s first asparagus, blanching the stalks before dressing them with olive oil and lemon zest. Divine. But not quite as eye-closing, angels-singing-impressive as the asparagus puree at Quinn’s Pub — an elegant soup floating a poached egg and crouton-raft. This summer I supped with a group of gal-pals at Sitka & Spruce, where a vibrant plateful of ripe heirloom tomatoes impressed upon us why the simplest foods are so often the best:
Yes, I ate my fill of fabulous oysters at some of the city’s beloved oyster bars. But the best of show were slurped from the half-shell on an icy-cold winter’s night, taken straight from the source at low tide: the oyster beds at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Shelton. (And no, I wasn’t packing heat on the beach, but there was a bonfire and I did pack my oyster knife.)
If there’s a better fish ‘n chips than the slender Idaho trout ‘n chips sampled at the newly expanded Olives, I’ve yet to taste it. And the wok-fried catfish with Thai eggplant at May was as gorgeous as it was good:
I helped devour a whole Vietnamese-style rockfish at Flying Fish, right down to the last crunchy “cheek”-morsel, reminding me why I love to eat fish-on-the-bone — and why I’m still crazy about Flying Fish after all these years. Speaking of eyes and seafood restaurants, readers were green with envy after I told the tale of sharing a whole crab with Chinese black bean sauce at Sea Garden with Thierry Rautureau and New York chef Eric Ripert. But that wasn’t the only killer crab I ate this year. There was also the pair of Dungies bought live at Wong Tung Seafood, and cooked with black bean sauce at home:
But even Nate might agree that “mom’s Asian-style crab — the best in the world” had a competitor in the one he caught off our local fishing pier, which we immediately carted to Taka Sushi and gifted to our friend Taka-san. Who returned the gift by cooking it, cracking it, and serving it gunkan-style as sushi.
Last year might have been the year of the pork-belly, but this year I reveled in pig-parts of prodigious proportion, eating (and singing about) the Mangalitsa at Monsoon. I reveled in the fat surrounding pigs’ kidneys, bought from the farmers who raised those pigs, or rendered at home and baked into flaky-crusted fruit pies and tarts in the comfort of my kitchen:
And then there was that marvelous mess disguised as a Cuban Roast sandwich from Paseo. Whoa. Now tell me: What — what??! — besides my own foolishness, had heretofore kept me from seeking out the cramped steamy quarters known as Samurai Noodle for tonkotsu? The succulent thick-sliced pork! The fresh ramen! Broth so rich from its date with long-simmered pork-bones I can practically eat it with a fork! (And yes, U-District denizens: I, too, am tapping my toes, waiting for Samurai’s long-delayed second coming.)
True enough: if you don’t count the bronzed half of Jidori chicken eaten at Verve, where I sat at the wine bar eating “the Kobe beef of chicken” with a scattering of fingerling potatoes, crisp pancetta and matsutakes. And be still my beating Korean-fried-chicken-loving heart (which is exactly what’s going to happen if I keep frequenting Chicky Pub, tucked inside Lynnwood’s Pal-Do World):
There at Chicky’s adjacent sit-down sister-restaurant, Cho Dang Tofu, they sell the Pub’s “Chicky Basket” alongside a full complement of complimentary Korean side dishes. I’m nuts for that stuff.
Having grown up in Philadelphia where Jewish deli-food was my be-all and end-all, allow me to (finally) conceed: that’s old hunger. These days, I’m far more impressed by the global gift of the many little ethnic delis that thrive throughout Greater Seattle.
This year I made the acquaintance of Lideta in Shoreline, where I purchased just-made Ethiopian injera. And the U-District’s Chili’s Deli & Mart, where they make a memorable South Indian masala dosa. I’ve become a familiar face at Seattle Deli’s second location. There I regularly stock-up on Vietnamese green-papaya salad with slivers of Chinese sausage (among other cheaper-than-cheap eats) and where I never leave without an eggroll from the hot-case, devoured in the car the way other fast-food-lovers might chomp on fries from Mickey D’s:
I was sad to hear that (the recently reviewed) Pacific Market, the Iranian grocery-store and cafe, has closed its doors — as I’ve been shopping there under various ownership for two decades. (But nowhere near as sad as I was to have lost the dear friend and superb cook who taught me everything I know about Persian food.) And I was reminded how much I love the foods of Iran a few weeks back while dining at Poppy. There, Jerry Traunfeld’s wintry thali included a Persian-accented showstopper: a chubby quail laquered with pomegranate molasses and ground walnuts, distinctly reminiscent of the classic khoresht fesenjan.
Sharing my favorite minestrone recipe with my Eaters was great fun for me this year:
Though not nearly as much fun as the give-and-take my “Almost No-knead Bread”-post provoked.
On a sweet note, I recall the simple pleasure of eating a perfectly ripe Galia melon whose perfume captivated me while shopping at Central Market, and the surprise and awe I felt biting into a ripe summer peach sprinkled with vanilla salt (courtesy of Seattle’s newest salt-selling contender, Secret Stash Sea Salts). And for someone who regularly pooh-poohs chocolate, I’m glad to know that chocolatier Autumn Martin plans to sell her incredible little molten-chocolate “hot cakes” at the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market for the foreseeable future.
As for the many food-focused events I attended, both professionally and personally, “Tomato Day 2008,” where I spent a day canning fresh Yakima tomatoes with friends — gets top-billing:
As does the afternoon spent at The Corson Building’s September Harvest Festival where, for only $25, we drank mulled wine and pressed apples for cider:
We also ate house-cured salmon and lentil soup, and — under the tutelage of chefs Matt Dillon and Emily Crawford — learned the basics of canning and preserving, reminding us all how joyful time spent in a well-stocked kitchen can be:
So, tell me: what were your “best bites” this year?