November is 30 for $30 Month

Categories: restaurants,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 12, 2008 : 2:10 pm
  • Andaluca (Downtown, NW/Mediterranean)
  • Barking Frog (Woodinville next to The Herb Farm, Northwest)
  • Barolo (Downtown, Italian)
  • Bin Vivant (Kirkland, American/Wines)
  • Boka (Downtown, American)
  • Brasa (Belltown, Spanish/American)
  • Cafe Campagne (Pike’s Place, French) Not to be confused with Campagne Restaurant
  • Crush
  • Dahlia Lounge (Downtown, Northwest)
  • Earth and Ocean (Downtown, Northwest)
  • Etta’s (Pike’s Place, Seafood)
  • Eva Restaurant (Green Lake, American)
  • Fish Club (Downtown, Seafood)
  • Hunt Club (Capitol Hill, American)
  • Lola (Downtown, Greek)
  • Nell’s (Greenlake, Northwest)
  • Nishino (Madison, Japanese)
  • Ponti Seafood Grill (Queen Anne, Seafood)
  • Portage (Queen Anne, French/Northwest)
  • Ray’s Boathouse (Ballard, Seafood)
  • Restaurant Zoe (Belltown, Northwest/American)
  • Serafina (Eastlake, Italian)
  • Shuckers (Downtown, Seafood)
  • 6/7 Restaurant (Downtown, American)
  • Steelhead Diner (Pike’s Place, Northwest)
  • Szmania’s (Magnolia, NW/German)
  • The Georgian (Downtown, Northwest)
  • Third Floor Fish Cafe (Kirkland, Seafood)
  • 35th Street Bistro (Fremont, American)
  • Veil (now closed)
  • Yarrow Bay Grill (Kirkland, Seafood)
  • 0/8 Seafood Grill (Bellevue, Seafood/Steak)

Happy eating!

Veil is Closing

Categories: food,restaurants,seattle — Tags: , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ October 31, 2008 : 12:43 pm

Wow. Veil is no more, at least according to this blog post at Eating Seattle, which was posted two weeks ago. It would seem that Veil and owner Shannon Galusha might be one of the first casualties in this slowing economy. From my talks with other restaurants in the area, the downturn has been close to 40% and even up to 70% drop in revenues, in an industry where single digit profit margins are the norm.

To me, Veil was always an enigma of sorts. It was as if an alien spaceship landed in the middle of Safeco field, bringing with it an odd assortment of delightful creatures. Some came to worship, others threw judgement. All had validity. Then like a sparkle of sun on a wet October morning, the aliens just as suddenly vanished — and presumably, went to a place more receptive. Say… lower Manhattan?

That’s really what Veil was; a New York dining experience in upper Seattle. Were we ready? Maybe not. Was it foolhardy? Perhaps. Risky? Yes. Dangerous, even? A resounding salted peanut butter ice cream yes.

Mince words I won’t, when I say that I thought the ambiance was two parts Ikea, one part illicit drugs and a healthy shake of pretense. But I’ll still miss Veil. Not because I frequented the restaurant, but because it was pushing Seattle. Between Veil at $30 per entree and three-course homogenized food slosh for $9.99, I’ll take Veil, thank you very much.

Not everyone agrees, even here at Coffee.net. Steve was thoroughly put off, due to his war-ration sized trout skin. But even Steve showed respect where due, with his food score of 9 – a rarity in Steve’s rating world.

The question now is who’s next on the block? Many new restaurants have opened in the last two years with the boom, so it’s scary to think who might be next.

I’ll leave you with this final picture of Veil, as a toast.

NWSource 30 for 30

Categories: restaurants,seattle — Tags: , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ May 8, 2008 : 10:45 am

Copying the Dine Around Seattle format of 3-course meals for $30, NWSource has launched their own version called “New Urban Eats“. It features many new restaurants that haven’t been associated with Dine Around Seattle before. One of the reasons is that New Urban Eats expands beyond mainly the downtown and Belltown area to includes restaurants in the outer parts of Seattle like Queen Anne, West Seattle and even the Eastside (woot!).

Some of the restaurants include:
94 Stewart
Coupage
Crush
Moxie
Opal
Portage
Qube
Red Fin
Trellis
Yama

… just to name a few. We’ll be making our way through quite a few of these restaurants, no doubt. Hope to see you guys there! :)

Lunch with MSG150

Categories: food,news,restaurants,seattle — Tags: , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 1, 2008 : 2:53 pm

MSG150

Last week, Steve and I had the great opportunity to have lunch with the fun fellows over at MSG150 – Seattle International District Lunch Food. They’re a team of guerrilla food critics, scoping out and securing reviews in the International District one block at a time. Their goal is to eventually review every (yes, every) restaurant in the ID. Click to read the plan of attack for the International District.

We met with the MSG150 team last Wednesday at Sea Garden Restaurant. There, we met their entire crew: Geary, Adam, Emmett, Dave, Jeff, Erin, Rob, Joey and Doug. With nine full members coming out for a review, it made our normal coffee review team of three look paltry in comparison.

Luckily for us, we had arrived early enough at Sea Garden that the group was able to commandeer two large tables and join them together. Seating for eleven is not always easy. The servers at Sea Garden were quite hospitable to the group however and had two of them working the party for the duration of our lunch. It was a nice change to be treated quite attentively at a Chinese restaurant and Steve gave the service high ratings as a result.

It was interesting watching the MSG150 group at work, with Adam jotting down notes on a pre-made review sheet and writing down the name of dishes, prices, fortunes, table seatings, restaurant occupancy and even having a stopwatch for timing the food prep time. On their website, the team even posts links to the King County health code scores (0 being good, 100 being dangerous for your health) for each restaurant surveyed. They certainly don’t pull the punches, as Chinese restaurants, especially in the ID, are notorious for health code violations.

Going over the menu, the MSG team picked a large sampling of items from the lunch menu. Composed of individuals from a local startup, their goal with the MSG site is both an adventure and as a guide for workers in the area looking for lunch that is both tasty and a good value. Steve and I picked some dinner items, as per the normal Coffee.net style, so there was a good variety of dishes all around.

Over lunch, we bantered back and forth between the MSG guys who were all great hosts and obviously enjoying their food quest. Asking what motivated them to start, Geary simply replied that he thought it would be a cool thing to do and had no problem getting a following of co-workers to participate. When asked what they would do once their agenda was complete, they thought for a second and replied that they’d probably just go Eastward toward the East International District area, with all the Vietnamese shops and restaurants.

With almost 50 reviews on their site of restaurants in the ID, you’ve got to go and check out MSG150 for reviews, pictures and commentaries for lunch in the ID. Also, check out their own review for lunch at Sea Garden!

Thanks Geary, Adam and the rest of the MSG150 crew for inviting us to lunch and we look forward to meeting them again in the future sometime!

Adjusting Review Formats for Coffee.net

Categories: news,restaurants — Tags: , — Posted by: Grant @ March 24, 2008 : 1:03 am

I never started out as a fan of blogs. To this day, I’m still a late adapter to the field. One of the reasons is that I’ve always wondered how many things can happen in one day that deserve blogging. That’s when I came up with the two posts per day rule. The rule is that if you make two blog posts a day, they had better be meaningful. Otherwise, you’re at risk of writing for the sake of your own ego.

This is my second post today, so it hopefully I abide by my own rules.

I had just finished reading an article on how to write well that made me think about the styles we use on Coffee.net. I’m in charge of coding and business, Steve does the graphics and legal paperwork while Bryan (now part-time) is our science and non-profit expert. You’ll notice I fail to mention writing as any of our core skills.

The fact is that chefseattle.com is a lightweight operation and employs no genuine writers. We’ve been winging it so far in the hopes that we don’t completely make fools out of ourselves. We do however have a part time editor, Jule, who is slowly catching up with our existing articles- let alone restaurant reviews. Restaurant reviews are the core of Coffee.net, so it’s important for us to develop a cohesive scheme that is both informative, entertaining and readable. I’m quite frank when I say that we’ve never quite developed a true game plan for the format of the reviews.

Some of our reviews are in the first person while others are in the third person. Some are summaries while others are detailed experiences. Some are humorous while others are just the facts. Having read more about internet habits, it’s apparent that readers prefer skimming short snippets as opposed to reading long-winded articles. In addition, readers want to be entertained, rather than buried under facts. The claim of short attention span on the internet holds true, for better or for worse.

I also realize that we were trying to go about things the wrong way. We are simply outclassed if we attempt to mimic the format of traditional print, with stylish stories from Providence Cicero of the PI or Frank Bruni of the New York Time. At the same time, we’re not fans of the bite sized reviews that leave so much to be desired. This leaves a format somewhere in the middle, that delivers selectable and digestible bits of information. Finding the right balance of how to deliver that information however, is the million dollar question.

There will certainly be another Coffee.net brainstorming session on how to format our reviews (again). Hopefully we will figure out something that everyone likes. In the meantime, we appreciate your patience and apologize while we try to bring cohesion to our dinner plates.

The Battle of the Bulge: Eating for a Living

Categories: food,news,restaurants — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ March 23, 2008 : 10:09 pm

The New York Post posted an article today on what it means to be part of the Fat Pack. If you’re thinking that this is another common newsbite on the life of unhealthy, over-weight Americans who love McDonalds, you would be quite mistaken. At least about the McDonalds part.

The Fat Pack is actually a reference to the army of taste testing gluttons making up the food writing, culinary and review industry. It’s an exclusive club of sorts that meets at fine dining establishments, espouses secretive French lingo and gushes over the wonderful qualities of… fat.


The journalists, bloggers, chefs and others who make up the Fat Pack combine an epicure’s appreciation for skillful cooking with a glutton’s bottomless-pit approach. Cramming more than three meals into a day, once the last resort of a food critic on deadline, has become a way of life. If the meals center on meat, so much the better.

Even to those who have been in the game long enough to have seen more than a few cycles of food and diet fads, the Fat Pack culture is a shock.

“Most of us who are in this profession are here as an excuse to eat,? said Mimi Sheraton, the food writer and former New York Times restaurant critic who has chronicled her own battle with weight loss. Still, she said, “I’ve never seen such an outward, in-your-face celebration of eating fat.?

Research has shown that Americans generally take a dim view on their obese counterparts. The overweight are paid less, make negative first impressions and denied more services when compared to their thinner counterparts. Yet in the food industry, being fat is almost looked on as proof of one’s passion of eating. Portly bellies proudly attest to years in the gladiatorial arena of silver forks and spoons. Looking in the mirror each morning, I can attest to the fact that my own body is slowly working it’s way toward the uniquely dubious honor. Ironically, I mention this all the while chewing away at a coconut pastry passed my way (bit firm, too much coconut flakes on the outside, not enough taste infused into the actual bread).

I’ve said it multiple times and I’ll say it again: it’s actually not that fun eating for a living. Don’t get me wrong, I love food. This job would be a living hell if I didn’t like food. Not to mention, I wouldn’t ever hear the end of it from the throngs of would-be critics. After all, who wouldn’t be jealous at a life of gluttony when compared to a life of bland prix fixe: the hour commute appetizer, eight to five entree and casual Friday desert. Like any fantasy however, the illusion disappears when the wizard yanks away the curtain.

For a food critic, the magical revelations come in the form of jeans that no longer fit, uncomfortably tight shirts, a rise in cholesterol and increases in blood pressure. Then there’s the sudden aversion to any restaurant we have already sampled (it’s our version of repeating work). However, the true icing on the cake rears it’s mouthful of glory when we’re in our prime environment- a new, virgin restaurant. Prior to peeking at the menu, comes the fore knowledge that no less than three plates are sure to grace the table for consumption. Damn if those overstuffed, caloric soaked stomachs plead to the contrary. Just like you wouldn’t miss out on pizza in Chicago, we’re not about to pass up the tour du jour of antipasto, primi, secondi and dolce.

As if motivations for over-eating aren’t around each corner, there’s a never ending list of restaurant recommendations. We certainly appreciate suggestions, though it has become an impossibly long list. Imagine yourself a cook walking through Costco, only to have every customer shove a cart full of food for you to prepare. That’s about the gist of our interactions. The definition of awkward occurs when we do take someone up on a recommendation, only to find that the food is quite awful to our palettes. As politically correct as I can spin the tale of different tastes for different people, I’m still don’t find myself above lying to avoid a few embarrassing situations.

Yes, I know, I’m bad. But please, don’t stop sending recommendations. I swear, I totally love those sweet and sour pork globs at the karaoke bar down the street. Honest :)

The Guide on how (not) to Call Restaurants

Categories: restaurants,seattle — Tags: , — Posted by: Grant @ March 15, 2008 : 3:32 pm

English high school teachers always love to explain the difference between an assumption and a deduction. Let us clarify with a some examples:

Our assumption is that restaurants hate being called about sales.

This deduction is based on the amount of times we’ve been yelled at or hung up on.

The ironic part however, is that we’ve never once made a ‘sales’ call to any restaurant. Being the restaurant guide that we are, it’s important for us to have accurate data on each restaurant. We simply assume that restaurants would be happy to share their information with us. It’s beneficial to them and we wouldn’t dream of charging for publicly available information. Things aren’t so easy, however.

“Hello, my name is Grant and I work with chefseattle.com, a restaurant review and listing website. I was wondering if I could take a minute of your time to ask you or your manager some questions about your restaurant?”

This type of approach will guarantee one of the below:

  • “We’re not interested.”
  • “You’re part of what?”
  • “Call back later.” (when the restaurant is closed)
  • “You’ll have to talk with my manager.”
  • “Sorry we don’t have time.”
  • Hang up.

Ouch. This initial approach apparently seemed to generate feelings of hostility. This led us to believe that restaurants are often the target of solicitors, telemarketers or other unsavory characters trying to sell a product or service. If this was the case, we had to brush up that business and social IQ and try again.

“Hello, my name is Grant and I work with a restaurant listing service. I’d like to ask you a few questions about your restaurant that will only take a minute of your time?”

The changes? We dropped the part about identifying ourselves, as the identify of the organization calling seemed to have negative effect unless we were associated with a known brand like the Yellow Pages. In addition, we took out any mention of a review site, as that seemed to make people uneasy hearing the word. Last but not least, we took out mention of the word ‘manager’. That word alone seemed to immediately cause the person answering the phone to attempt to escalate the call or assume we were in sales.

The results:

  • “Call back later.”
  • “What kind of questions are you going to ask?”
  • “Which service are you with?”
  • “Uh, sure…”

Reactions are obviously far better than before, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Hesitation and uncertainty were some issues, as we could see that they were wondering about our motivations. It’s akin to a stranger on the street who says, “Can I ask you a question?” You’re thinking he might be asking for directions, so you don’t want to be rude, but he might also be asking if you believe in aliens. Time to refine and try again.

“Hi, my name is Grant and I’m gathering information on restaurants in the area. Can you start by telling me what hours are you open?”

In this even shorter version, we don’t even mention that we’re part of a restaurant listing service anymore. This seemed to be a hang-up for many restaurants in talking to us. Next, instead of passing the conversation with an open ended question that forces a decision, we instead pass a common, closed-ended question. This would lead to an easy segway into other questions, once we have initiated a conversation.

The results were beautiful. Restaurants answered without fail and we were able to hit them up with all our relevant questions after that short and simple opening. Only after our questions are answered do we get the questions of who we are or how we’re going to use the information.

We’re sure that any telemarketing specialist had a good laugh at our initial approach and can even improve our current method, but we’re pretty satisfied as-is. In the end, it was a neat experiment of sorts in the power of words.

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