Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.
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December 4, 2013 at 10:28 AM
Zagat has ranked its 20 top-rated restaurants across the country, and #1 in the Seattle area is Nishino in Madison Park. It won a rating of 29 (out of 30) for food, 27 for service, and 23 for decor.
Last year, counting only food ratings, Cafe Juanita took the top spot, followed by Paseo, Mashiko, Spinasse and The Herbfarm. Nishino was #9 on that list, scoring 27 for food.
The Zagat-esian writeup puts it this way: “Kyoto-born Nobu alum Tatsu Nishino conceives “delicate, inventive” and altogether “amazing” sushi for deep-pocketed fin fans at his “low-key” Madison Park Japanese; “expert” service and “masterpieces on the walls” by local artist Fay Jones put diners “in a Zen state”, but those who want a truly transporting experience know “it’s all about” the “straight-from-heaven” omakase menu (just be sure to “order a few days ahead”).
December 3, 2013 at 10:22 PM
Long before the era of celebrity chefs and Northwest cuisine and “local-seasonal” cooking, there was Jimella Lucas.
With partner Nanci Sofia Main, Lucas pioneered culinary magic on the Long Beach peninsula, with dishes like fresh-caught salmon sauced with peaches at their peak, or classic oyster stews and chowders cooked with seafood harvested within view of the dining room.
Long before chefs felt a James Beard Award was their profession’s highest honor, Beard himself dined at the restaurant at The Shelburne Inn, which Lucas and Main once ran, and at the Ark restaurant, which they owned for 25 years, bringing national attention to the pair’s cooking and connections to their food. Never in his 80 years of life, Beard wrote in the introduction to the first Ark cookbook, had he seen a restaurant “that glorified the great gifts from the sea, nor the fine vegetables, or the wild mushrooms, or the small fruits or the game” in the way that Lucas and Main did.
Lucas, 69, died of cancer Nov. 30 at her home in Oysterville.
November 29, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Cake Envy in Green Lake is closing its doors. The stylish, white-on-buttercream-white shop will sell its final cupcakes, cakes, and delectable cream puffs on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 (it’s closed Friday, Nov. 29.)
We don’t have any shortage of cupcake shops (or even any shortage of chains of cupcake shops) in Seattle, but I was sad to see this little independent venture go. Owner Helen Noh makes gorgeous special-occasion cakes that taste as good as they look. Her enchanting daily selection of cupcakes includes Cake Envy’s vanilla, with its Italian meringue buttercream, which was named the city’s best vanilla cupcake and best vanilla frosting in a blind taste teste I led last year. Judges appreciated the cupcake’s homemade taste and premium quality ingredients.
Noh told me in an email that she’s closing mainly because of the juggling act that came with the birth of her son this year.
“As a single mom, it’s been hard to keep up with the hours, the stress, and the day to day tasks that were somewhat easier before becoming a parent. For the longest time career was the most important thing in my life and I never thought anything else would come before that but I was wrong,” she said. “Sebastian came to this world and changed my outlook on priorities and life. Having him also changed my ability to think straight, speak clearly, and keep focused all because of the lack of sleep!”
But the secondary reason is worth stopping to consider. Noh, whose resume includes culinary school at the Art Institute of Seattle and research and development at Starbucks, said she also made the decision because of the daily stresses of owning a business — the negativity of online reviews being a big one.
“I opened Cake Envy because I have a passion for cakes and baking and wanted to share that with customers. But there is so much negativity out there with yelp reviews and ratings that it makes me never want to follow my passion ever again. Most of the negativity comes from ignorance. If the person writing a terrible review knew and fully understood what a business owner goes through each day, and what it took to make their dream come true, they wouldn’t utter one word. I would love to have them in my shoes for one day. I guarantee that they would think twice before typing away negative comments.”
Looking at the Yelp page for the business, its 4 out of 5 stars looked pretty positive to me. I would have focused on the many raves instead of the few harshly worded pans. But Noh is far from alone in seeing anonymous online hostility directed her way.
I want people to be honest in their reviews. But it’s possible to be fair and truthful about a bad experience without aiming for snark and cruelty. There are real people — real bakers, real parents, real entrepreneurs — on the other end. Lucky Sebastian will be getting some of the best birthday cakes in the city in coming years, and I hope Noh comes back to a broader audience too.
November 26, 2013 at 3:42 PM
Seattle entrepreneur Dave Meinert named The Five Point Cafe a Google Glass free zone before the devices were even available. But a Glass-wearing customer was asking for an explanation — and, potentially, to have an employee fired — when he was told earlier this week he couldn’t use the wearable computer in one of Meinert’s newer businesses, the 24-hour Lost Lake Cafe and Lounge.
Google Glass user Nick Starr wrote on his Facebook page that he had worn the device at the restaurant a number of times and “even had staff ask me about it and to check it out.” This time, though, he said he was asked to put it away or leave.
November 26, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Finally, Dinette will be hitting the big-time — at least in size. Chef-owner Melissa Nyffeler plans to close the restaurant’s doors at 1514 E. Olive Way after dinner service on Dec. 23, and to move the restaurant to a yet-to-be-determined larger space.
Dinette has been loved in its 8 years on Capitol Hill, but always seemed under-appreciated, only rarely getting national attention along the lines of this August article in the Boston Globe. (Looking around for recent Dinette mentions, in fact, the most prominent is on a list of the nation’s most underrated restaurants. Hmmm.) From “toasts” to tagines, salads to snacks, it’s been called “ridiculously charming” but with fully thought-out food, and “comfortably at home between homey and haute.” Nyffeler and her crew accomplished all those things working on nothing but a four-burner electric range and a toaster.
Nyffeler expects to re-open Dinette in 2014, looking for a place with a similar ambience, but more space inside the kitchen and out. She’s looking around Capitol Hill, but open to real estate in other walkable neighborhoods.
There will be three more of Nyffeler’s family-style Sunday suppers at the old address – Dec. 8 (Yucatan), Dec. 15 (Southern French, featuring cassoulet) and Dec. 22 (Spanish tapas.) Those dinners, which were inspired by the ones Nyffeler used to throw in her own apartment, are limited to 36 guests apiece, with reservations required. Cost: $40 per person, not including cocktails, wine, beer or dessert. Also, on the final dinner in the old space Dec. 23, look for Champagne and “toasts of both the wine and bread varieties.” Keep track of them in the interim on their Facebook page over here.
November 21, 2013 at 6:00 AM
So you saw the headlines about a shortage of big Butterball turkeys?
“If you’re planning on serving your family a fresh turkey this Thanksgiving, you may be hard pressed to find one available at your local supermarket,” Fox News warned, among others. The problem: Butterball’s birds didn’t gain as much weight this year as the company had anticipated.
No need to panic, though.
First, the company only cut shipments of birds larger than 16 pounds. Even if you are shopping for one that size, you probably wouldn’t be affected, because only about 20 percent of Thanksgiving turkeys are sold fresh, which is where Butterball had the issue. The majority are previously frozen birds, which aren’t in short supply, says the National Turkey Federation. Beyond that, Butterball produces only about about one-fifth of the country’s Thanksgiving turkeys, and other suppliers haven’t reported any problems, says NBC.
If you do wind up needing more bird than you can find, though, The Kitchn says not to worry. Actually, they say not to bother with 20+ pound turkeys at all. Big turkeys are so problematic to cook evenly, they recommend buying two smaller ones if you’re feeding a crowd, and roasting them side by side in one oven. (Commenters also suggested cooking one small turkey along with an extra bone-in turkey breast.)
My main question is why the Butterball turkeys were so slow to gain weight. Food politics writer Tom Philpott has some interesting thoughts about that.
Whatever you do, if you do have a frozen turkey (and even the “deep chilled” ones I’ve gotten in past years have been effectively frozen,) remember to allow them plenty of time to defrost. Butterball says you should allow at least a day’s thawing time in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds of meat. Small turkey or big, we’re starting to approach those deadlines.
Where are you getting your turkey this year? (Or are you getting a turkey at all? We have as many vegetarian guests as meat-eaters now. Last year we served them pumpkin stuffed with panade.)
November 18, 2013 at 2:37 PM
It’s not a cronut. It’s not a Cronut™. At this point, it’s not even a croughnut.
However, a hybrid croissant-donut is back on the weekend menu at Bar Bar, after a hiatus caused partly by a new pastry chef and partly by a cease-and-desist letter from the New York creators of the original trademarked treat. Now the dessert is known as Double Happiness, “a long-established Chinese notion of doubling joy.”
Ba Bar ran a “Pastry That Must Not Be Named” Facebook contest to rename what was formerly known as its “croughnut,” drawing some 140 entries, including candidates Fauxssant, Croughbar, Pas Nom, and Le Donut, say the Ba Bar folks. (They’re not the only ones who have been instructed to change the name.) You may remember that at Meander’s Kitchen they’re known as Meanderthals, Frost Donuts calls them Froissants, and they’re “Cro-Doughs” at Lost Lake Cafe and The Five Point. The Ba Bar contest winner was supposed to receive 100 pastries, but since the final name came from within the company, 100 were donated to Children’s Hospital instead.
The pastries are normally $3.50 apiece when they’re offered on Saturdays and Sundays, but they’ll be free, while supplies last (one per customer) to anyone who comes by (550 12th Ave.) between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23 and mentions the Facebook contest. By any name, that sounds good.
November 14, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Glori Spriggs of Nevada took home $1 million earlier this week when her ‘Loaded Potato Pinwheels’ won the grand prize in the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off. Her victory came partly thanks to Seattle-area resident Alice Currah, one of this year’s contest judges and author of Savory Sweet Life, as well as a columnist for PBS Parents. When I am looking for a recipe that’s both appetizing and realistic, something a working parent can feel good about making and the whole family can enjoy, sometimes I just search the Internet for the ingredients I have on hand along with Alice’s name. I’m not surprised Pillsbury wanted her creative and can-do perspective. I talked with Alice by phone on her way back from the airport after the 3-day Vegas gala, where the judge’s decisions were announced by Padma Lakshmi. Here’s an edited, condensed version of our conversation — and some hints for home cooks dreaming of winning Bake-Off #47.
Q: What made you say yes to judging the contest?
A: “I’ve always had a super, big fascination with this particular contest, since I was little. It’s been around for 60 years! I always thought ‘it would be so amazing to win that.’ But the one year I decided I wanted to enter, it was after I started blogging. Food professionals are not eligible. I was so sad — that was a bucket list item for me. I feel like it’s gone full circle.”
Q: Did you get to taste the recipes over the contest’s 3 days, or was it all at once? How did you taste 100 recipes without hating food halfway through?
A: “They set up 100 ovens (at the same time), and if you look on Instagram under the hashtag #bakeoff you’ll see what the floor looked like! They had, I think, 3 hours to try their recipe. It was a new oven to (contestants,) so they had to get used to that. Pillsbury provides enough ingredients to make it three times. Some of the recipes came in very quickly, some came in towards the end… My personal concern was, can I give as much diligence to the last bite as I did to the first? I would say that surprisingly, I was consistent all the way through, and I think most people were.
“I think cream rises to the top. We all knew that right from the get-go, when anything really stood out. At the same time, there were some I really loved that didn’t make it past the first rounds. Everyone had their favorites that for whatever reason got eliminated. There was a lot of discussion, and… at the end it was unanimous.”
Q: How can people improve their chances of winning?
November 10, 2013 at 6:00 AM
Sriracha? Vegetables? Even easier recipes? Those are three of the trends in the million-dollar 2013 Pillsbury Bake-Off contest, taking place in Las Vegas Nov. 10-12.
Five Washington cooks were among the 100 finalists. This year, in a move to further simplify the recipes, entries could contain no more than 7 ingredients (except for salt, pepper and water) and had to take 30 minutes or less to prepare, not counting baking or cooling times. Two of the seven ingredients also had to be from a pre-determined list including Pillsbury and other name-brand products. There were three categories: “Amazing Doable Dinners,” “Simple Sweets and Starters,” and “Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts.”
Washington resident Ellie Mathews won the life-changing competition for her Salsa Couscous Chicken in 1998, a recipe that wouldn’t have made this year’s cut — it had 10 ingredients, plus water.
Contest producers said this year’s entries specialized in lots of Sriracha, a.k.a. “the latest, hottest ingredient,” along with other scorchers like chili oil, chili paste and chipotle. Also mirroring national trends, they saw vegetables taking a more central role in dishes (though Green Giant is a sponsor, and its vegetables are one option on the must-use ingredients list.) Hybrid recipes (think Cronut-type creations) also won big, as did unexpected flavor combinations.
November 7, 2013 at 10:12 AM
They’re always contenders for the best chef, the best service, the best atmosphere… so sure, why not the best bathroom? Canlis has topped The Daily Meal’s list of the best restaurant bathrooms in the U.S. The “Zen-themed, spa-like” women’s bathroom took first place in a group judged on “overall design, the “coolness” factor, uniqueness, the use of funky gizmos and gadgets (you’ll see), and ease of use.”
Ned Ludd in Portland ranked #9 for a bathroom where, if you removed the sink and toilet, “you might as well be in a well-curated art gallery.” That is a big if.
In a Canlis vs. Canon showdown when Eater ran a similar contest a few years back (yes, there’s been more than one of these lists — even more than two), owners of both finalists agreed that the loser would clean the winner’s bathroom. Here are the results of that one.
As for Canlis, we had a lot of kind words for the place in Providence Cicero’s 3.5-star review last month, but we used our space talking about things like the canapés and like servers who “appear to communicate with each other telepathically.” Here’s that piece. And remember, if the prices are too dear, you get to use the bathroom and eat “relative bargains” if you stop by the bar, which also does pretty well in the design department.
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