An Obsession with Fish Tacos

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 3, 2008 : 2:32 am
Some home made fish tacos

Some home made fish tacos

I’ve had an interesting path in life that led to my eventual love affair with fish tacos. It started in the town of Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. Back then, there weren’t a huge amount of Mexican restaurants, short of chains like Azteca, Chevy’s, Mazatlan and the various fast food establishments. When a Taco del Mar opened up around high school, I dropped by and was intrigued by the fish tacos being advertised.

A friend who was with me scoffed (and happened to be part Hispanic), claiming that fish tacos were a Western invention and not “authentic” Mexican food. Of course, I know that’s complete bunk now, but being an impressionable 16 year old at the time, I believed him and opted for a chicken burrito instead. It would be years later on a plane ride to LA, that I had a pleasant conversation with an elderly gentleman on his way to Mexico, who happened to be a historian of sorts. He explained the rich seafood tradition of the country and also that I absolutely had to try some the local seafood should I find myself there – but especially in Ensenada, the home of the fish taco. So, I did.

While stopped in a port city on a cruise, I walked straight past all the drunk college kids at the Hard Rock and went straight into the inner parts of the city with my two years of fragmented high school Spanish and sense of adventure. After a moderate walk, I found what seemed like a restaurant popular with the locals, found the “tacos de pescado” on the menu and have been hooked ever since.

I’ve heard claims from some uppity California folk that Seattle has no good fish tacos. Oh please. I would easily eat at Ooba’s, Cactus or Agua Verde any day, though I might avoid certain others – at least for the fish tacos.

Pico de gallo ingredients - onion, cilantro, tomato

Basic pico de gallo ingredients - onion, cilantro, tomato

It would seem to me that fish tacos depend on three absolute things to work well: the sauce, the pico de gallo and the battered fish. I almost don’t want to include the pico because that is near impossible to mess up, though it has been done before. This really leaves the fish – which is really just a beer battered white fish – and the sauce, where in my opinion, the magic happens.

I wanted to experiment for myself on what exactly goes into the sauce for fish tacos, and found via Google that common ingredients are: sour cream, mayonnaise, yogurt, lime and chipotle. As with all recipes, the formulas vary, but these had the most mention. So, I ran off to the store and grabbed a few ingredients and tried my own concoctions.

Sauce #1: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, organic mayo
This was my baseline sauce. While it wasn’t bad, I felt it was a bit simple in terms of flavor. The problem I found is that the sour cream and mayo make for a chunky sauce, so it took a high ratio of lime juice in order to make it a spoonable sauce rather than globs of stuff. As such, it was pretty heavy on the lime side – which as a lime and citric fruits lover – says a bit. If you use lime in your pico, then this might be just a bit too tart for taste.

Sauce #2: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, lemon-pepper mayo, Rachel’s Kiwi Passion fruit Lime yogurt
I like Rachel’s yogurt, which I saw once at Whole Foods and buy on occasion. My thinking was that it would work great for sauce because the yogurt is naturally a bit more runny than normal. The end result worked well; much more balanced and with less lime use and about equal parts of cream, mayo and yogurt. This is a good mix of tart, sweet and still a smoothness that I think compliments the fish and other ingredients well.

Sauce #3: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, Greek God’s honey yogurt, chipotle peppers
If you haven’t had Greek God’s brand yogurt, here’s a warning: it is rich. If you have any concerns about your health at all, don’t even come near this stuff. If you closed your eyes, you might think you were eating a soft and lighter version of cream cheese. But man is it good! This ended up tasting as a complete contrast to sauce #2, as the flavor was much more in your face, with a distinct, velvety kick that had big American taste all over it. It made me feel like the fish and other ingredients were a delivery vehicle for the sauce.

I liked #2 the best, for an overall package, but Steve was floored by #3, which he thought was easily good enough to serve in a restaurant. So, while sauce is obviously subjective as well, I’m going to keep tinkering around to try and find the “best” fish taco sauce around. If you have any fish taco recipes of your own however, I would loooove to hear them!

(In case anyone wonders: I used pico, green and red cabbage, shredded carrots and Pumpkin spiced beer battered cod as other ingredients. And since you’re going to ask, the Pumpkin spiced beer was not some culinary experiment, but just what happened to be what was left in the ‘fridge.)

Eating our way to the University District

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ October 30, 2008 : 5:33 pm
A tasty looking burger from Orange King

A tasty looking burger from Orange King

It’s been pretty slow on the site these days, but we’re still alive and slowly making our rounds in “West” Seattle. And by West, I mean everything not on the Eastside.

There are going to be lots of changes coming to the site real soon. Our focus has been a little scattered, so we’re going to adjust our lens and focus on one thing – Seattle restaurants. We’re going to combine some of our topics together but also bring in more content about what we all love – food!

After lots of internal discussion with ourselves, consultants, restaurant owners and staff – we’ve finally come to a conclusion on how we’re going to do user reviews as well. Yelp and Citysearch already have the mass food review market taken over, so we’re going to have limited user reviews from a select handful of experts. How are we going to pick experts, you ask? Well, we’re in the process of making contacts with well known local foodies and trying to enlist their help for our project. In addition, we’re opening up a forum on the site so that everyone can contribute their thoughts, reviews and opinions as well. From that pool, the passionate and the proficient will be tapped as a guest reviewer.

We apologize for all the delays, but hope you’ll stick with us just a bit longer as the new look and feel all make their way in.

Your fellow foodies,
- Grant and Steve

Seriously, Why Yelp Sucks

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ July 3, 2008 : 1:10 pm

Ok, the title of this blog post is a little misleading because I actually *do* like Yelp (mostly). It’s a cool idea with awesome site design and tools (unlike the unslightly Citysearch), but has some sketchy ability to reign in its own users.

We’ll go straight to Exhibit A. This is from an Elite (cream of the crop) Yelp member from the Seattle area, who has created a list of top restaurants in the Woodinville area (close to our neck of the woods). The top 10 restaurants this person lists are:

1. Denice’s Place
2. Mongolian Grill
3. Garlic Jim’s
4. Samurai Sam’s Teriyaki Grill
5. Ezell’s Famous Chicken
6. McDonald’s
7. Maltby Espresso
8. Subway
9. Theno’s Dairy
10. Crystal Creek Cafe

If you’ve been in Woodinville, you know there’s also Purple Cafe and Wine Bar (our full review is coming in with our next update), yet it’s mysteriously gone from the top 10 list. However, if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you’ll see it listed at #25, one spot below Old Country Buffet and one spot above KFC. That is pure absurdity. Here’s what the review actually said:

“We tried to eat at this cafe and we were told that there was a 45-60 minute wait. So…. if you ever manage to get there when the wait’s not too long, maybe the food will be good.”

The reviewer left a one star (the lowest rating), based solely on the fact they had to wait an hour to find a seat at a fine dining restaurant. This raises the hair on my neck, let alone the manager of the restaurant who is likely fuming at the mouth at the absurdity of this review.

As food critics, we understand quite well that different people have varied taste in foods (apples to oranges, what makes you happy makes you happy, etc). That said, to be a discerning diner of fine gourmet, it’s mind blowing to possibly list McDonald’s as anywhere above Purple (or for that matter, half the list, even though it’s filled with fast food already). Even when comparing similarly styled cuisine, such as McDonalds vs Red Robin, the contest is a scathing no-brainer.

This is the problem with sites like Yelp, because they provide the sandbox for which to play, but they have no way of realistically monitoring the quality of the users. Sure, they can throw out the trouble makers and spammers, but otherwise are handcuffed against taking action against users who obviously have no business reviewing food. Yelp is close to a purist’s democracy of food, which means anybody and everybody can have their time in the sun. To this extent, we have seen a small but vocal contingent of reviewers that use sites like Yelp for their own personal soapbox and often, raging bullhorn. Yelp will tell you that bad apples come with the territory, but tell that to the restaurant owners who get slammed by these self-absorbed crusaders. (In case you are curious, Coffee.net has our own system of checks and balances for these type of things currently in testing.)

Again, this isn’t meant to hark on Yelp (that was a bad pun), but to point that it’s broken in a way that is fixable. Both Yelp and Citysearch fail to understand the foodie by having no way to separate the various restaurant factors like service and food apart. Not all diners believe that eating out is a form of mind and body experience to satiate the soul. In fact, I would say true foodies will gladly make a matyr out of their ego in the quest for good eats. This is why we’ve implemented restaurants ratings based on your priorities: high service and ambiance for a good date; high food and value for down and dirty grubbing. If Yelp used this system, it would break their huge “star” brand, but it would also separate the service nit-picks from the would-be food connoisseurs.

Of course, it’s in our own interest as a competitor to Yelp, to see them go burning down in flames, but we’re not like that and know it’s not going to happen. Competition makes products better and as long as Yelp is around, we’ll have motivation to improve Coffee.net for all our wonderful Seattlelites.

Hoopless in Seattle

Categories: seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: steveg @ : 12:15 pm

It’s D-Day plus one. The city of Seattle settled their lawsuit with the Sonics ownership group only a few minutes from Judge Pechman’s decision on the case.

Right now, Clay Bennett is probably singing the lyrics to a famous John Denver song. “All my bags are packed. I’m ready to go.? Bennett stated in his press conference that the relocation will commence immediately with the Sonics players being the first to move to OK City. In the most appropriate fashion, thunder and lightning dominate the sky as if God himself is not pleased by the outcome of the Sonics leaving the city.

Mayor Nickels, Nick Licatta, and Frank Chopp are also singing, but it’s the lyrics to another song. “MONEY! MONEY! MONEY! MON-NEH!,? as the city got $45 million out of the deal with Bennett’s group. Another $30 million is expected to be received in 2013, if the state legislature approves $75 million in funding by next year and the city fails to bring in another team.

After hearing about this, I’ve only got one thing to say.

You have got to be f***ing kidding me.

During the opening statement of the city’s Paul Lawrence stated that the value of the Sonics in Seattle could not be quantified, there’s no price tag you could put on it.

Not according to Mayor Nickels. $45 million sounded pretty good to him. Now the city walks back with its tail between its legs and its wallet jammed packed with money.

In a press conference at 5pm yesterday, Mayor Nickels stated that he is confident that this is the best opportunity for keeping the NBA is Seattle. That’s just doesn’t make sense at all to me. To keep the NBA in Seattle, we have to let it leave. Now I know of that elegant old statement “If you truly love something, let it go, if it comes back it’s yours,? but that just doesn’t apply in this case. Don’t believe me, just give Kansas City a call. It’s been a long time since the Kings packed up their bags and headed up to Sac-town and they still don’t have an NBA team. New Orleans just recently got a team after the Jazz left in 1979. 1979!!

Only way a team is going to get here is if a team goes up for sale or the league creates another expansion team. Stern has already been stated on the record as saying that “the league is not looking towards expanding domestically.? So essentially, we need to have the blind faith of someone like Kevin Costner in the Field of Dreams. “Build it and they will come.? That’s a lot of good faith for the tax payers, the politicians, and the fans. And as we’ve seen recently in the NBA, the word “good faith? does not go a long way around these parts or Oklahoma City.

The NBA and David Stern as a commissioner is a pathetic joke as well. Several months ago they said that a renovated arena could not work as a viable venue for an NBA franchise. No less than 5 minutes after the settlement is reached, the plans are perfectly fine for an NBA team. It just shows you that the league and commissioner don’t really care about the fans, the history and the emotional attachment. 41 years ago, a burgeoning basketball league asked the city to make an emotional investment. We did. Now that same league is abandoning us making our investment amount to nothing but pain and anguish.

The whole situation reminds me of a sunflower plant that was given to an acquaintance of my by his ex-girlfriend. After a long period of neglect, it turned extremely brown and just died. He tried to revive it, putting it out on the deck and watering it, but we all knew it was already too late. Much like the Sonics situation, the people who could have done the most to save the team, stepped in way too late to keep the team here. All of this could have been prevented if people like Howard Schultz, Governor Gregoire, and Mayor Nickels, had a little bit more patience and the vision to see what would happen. Now all the politicians are on the hot seat, especially Gregoire who’s up for re-election. With such a close win in her last campaign, there’s enough Sonics’ fans to make her chances doubtful. Awake a sleeping giant and it will crush you.

The only bright spot in this so-called victory for the city. (In my opinion, it’s more like a Pyrrhic victory) The city gets to retain all the memorabilia, name, records, and trophies from the Supersonics. Of course, OK City will have duplicates made that will be hanging in the Ford Center. Bennett referred to them as “assets we want to have.? And therein lies the problem, he’s a businessman who never cared one bit about the fans up here. He talks of a poisoned well, but he’s the person who tainted it in the first place.

We can get another team, but it’s never going to be the same. You can shatter a glass bottle, try to glue the pieces together, but it’ll never be the same bottle. The mayor talks of keeping hope alive for another NBA team, but in reality it’s really hopeless, or how the PI eloquently dubbed it “Hoopless.?

Suburban Rear Liftgate Won’t Unlock – How To Fix

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ June 13, 2008 : 5:45 pm

Update: This post is incredibly popular and has over 240 comments from various owners all with the same issue. Most of the issues seem to be caused by a faulty actuator (link to supplier at bottom of post), but please go through the comments and see what everyone has done to fix their rear liftgate. Thanks to everyone that has contributed!

I apologize that car repairs for a Chevy Suburban are totally off-topic for the Chef Seattle blog, but I ran across this issue the day before going kayaking and saw that it’s apparently a major issue with Chevrolet owners (Tahoe, Yukon, etc) with no documented fixes. In fact, I’m pretty sure this needs to be a recall issue (are you listening GM?). But, I believe that I found a fix for my particular problem, so hopefully this can help any other Suburban owners out there who are / have experienced the same problems with their liftgates / rear doors not unlocking.

Replaced lift gate handle the culprit?

My Suburban was working just fine up until about 3 weeks ago when I noticed that my lift gate handle had broken. One of the hinge pins had snapped (cheap plastic does that) so I had to find a whole replacement handle on eBay for $70 (dealer wanted a ridiculous $150). It didn’t help that some dealers called it a rear door handle, trunk handle or lift gate handle depending on the model year.

After I got the part, installation was easy enough: pop the panel, unbolt existing handle, pry off and install new handle, reattach handle wire and that was it.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward six hours later. I’m now at REI in downtown Seattle, where I’ve just purchased a brand spanking new 12′ kayak. The store has closed and I’m now in the garage, walking up to the ‘burb, kayak in tow, when I point my key FOB at the car as I usually do and hit unlock. Lights flash, I hear the usual “thump” sound, yank the handle and nearly fall over on my ass. I try again and realize with dread that my lift gate is stuck. Down but not defeated, I try the button to open the rear window. No luck.

I spend the next 10 minutes alternating between randomly hitting the FOB’s lock and unlock buttons, until I give up in a garage-filling string of expletives as I realize my kayak and I are SOL. Luckily, I did have a friend and an incredibly helpful REI employee there, whom all pitched in and managed to jam the kayak into the Suburban through the side door. I love my Suburban for reasons like this, though I’m slowly starting to hate GMC. More on this to come.

Chevy Suburban 2005

Here’s the Suburban with kayak inside and the lift gate panel on the floor. If you have a Suburban / Tahoe / Yukon in the same situation where your lift gate won’t open, the only way to get it open is to pry the lift gate panel just enough to access the locking mechanism. Take a long flat head screwdriver, slip it into the top section of the panel and start pulling away. The panel is made of a flexible plastic that will bend a fair amount, so don’t be afraid to put a bit of elbow into it. Seriously, I thought I was going to break my panel, but it just flexed back fine.

Once you see the locking mechanism, you’ll want to grip the back side that moves and twist counter-clockwise until the door pops open. Once you’ve done this, call GM customer service and tell them that their engineers should be fired for not having a manual release. If there is an accident, wouldn’t you like it if you or the kids could escape out the back? Yeah, me too.

Tailgate panel for Suburban

If you’re lucky enough that you can open your door (or maybe it doesn’t lock to begin with), then it’s a little easier to pull off the panel. First, take a socket wrench (9mm, I think) and remove the bolt under the leather handle on the inside of the door (the one you pull down on when your lift gate is up). After that, insert a flat head into the space between the panel and the door and pry open. There will be around 4 or 5 contact points to disconnect.

Removing the tailgate panel

The two last things that stand in your way are plastic hinges that hold the panel to the door frame. With the lift gate open, push the panel toward the car, then spin it an entire half-circle around the hinge in the picture. After that, the panel should pull right out. Now the locking mechanism should be nicely exposed.

Unlocking the tailgate

Here we see the lift gate handle at the bottom, which is connected by a tension wire to the locking mechanism. Pulling on the handle causes the wire at the top to retract toward the right, turning the locking mechanism counter-clockwise.

Why tailgate won't unlock

However, pulling the handle does nothing when the mechanism is in the locked position, because it doesn’t engage the other tension wire / tailgate release – it just simply moves by itself. When the mechanism is unlocked, pulling on the handle will engage the release mechanism and pop open the door… when the locking mechanism is working, that is.

Properly engaged door lock

Here is a properly unlocked door: notice that the black plastic piece (on top of the copper) is slid all the way to the right. You can see that if you rotate the lower copper piece, that it will force the black plastic piece to turn, thus engaging the door release.

Tailgate won't unlock

Here is why your Suburban tailgate won’t unlock. I’ve just pressed the unlock button on my key FOB and you can see that the black plastic piece has NOT slid over to the right. This means that the door is still LOCKED as far as the mechanism is concerned. No amount of yanking on the handle will open the lift gate at this point.

Stuck locking mechanism

Zooming in for a close-up, you can really see where the problem is. Gear heads will realize this is a major problem for all sorts of reasons. First, if your door lock actuator is banging against this metal part every time you unlock your door, it will wear out the part extremely fast and you’ve got yourself a busted door. Second, even if you replace your actuator, you’ll just bust it again if it keeps ramming this part. Most importantly, the question is how this is happening to begin with? My Suburban was working fine until I put in a factory replacement handle.

My opinion is that the factory GM replacement was defective and not built to spec, because the tensioner was now pulling a few millimeters more than it should have, which resulted in my lift gate not closing or unlocking. While millimeters might not mean anything to GM, it means a whole lot of difference to the Joe Schmoe who wants to have a car that works. It may also be due to a small and very important spring that resets the lock back into place.

Door lock actuator replacement

I’ve read a whole ton of reports about Suburban lift gates, along with Tahoes, Yukons and other GM cars failing and drivers stuck with unlockable doors. I believe this type of careless “few millimeters off isn’t important” BS is likely to blame. That’s why some people may have locks that work only half the time, or some work after their actuators are replaced, but fail soon afterward. My two-cent opinion – back to fixing cars.

Relieve handle tension on lock

So what we need to do, is make some space for that locking (technically, “unlock”) mechanism to engage fully. On my Suburban, this meant giving the metal tensioner just a little more slack – 2mm would be all I need.

Removing handle wire

First, I pushed the handle wire mechanism over to the right and then pulled out the metal ball and wire. After that, I pinched the blue wire cap and pushed it out of the metal holder.

Unlocked tailgate

You can now see that there is a lot of visible space between the locking mechanism and the metal. Pressing lock and unlock on my key FOB easily moved the unit back and forth successfully, so I knew it wasn’t a problem with the actuator. Now comes the disclaimer part.

Bending the wire holder

DISCLAIMER: Attempt this section at your own risk, you are responsible for your own actions!!! Not seeing a lot of options, I decided I would take a somewhat drastic approach and bend the wire holder closer to the locking mechanism with a pair of pliers. I only needed about 2mm, so I felt this was acceptable without busting the car too much. Needless to say, this is not a graceful fix nor one I really wanted to do, but there appeared to be little other options other than cutting your own tensioner line (adjusting the line would be the most logical method, but I pinching and pulling got me no results) or finding some concrete way of bracing the line closer to the locking mechanism. If you come up with an elegant solution, please let me know.

Fixed tailgate lock

Phew, finally – the fixed tailgate lock! You can see there is just enough room for the mechanism to engage and that the handle tension wire is snugly seated into its new home. I tested the lock about 100 times to be sure that everything was working as it should and I advise you do the same once you get to this point.

Now, simply put the panel back on the same way you took it off (don’t forget to screw the bolt back into the handle) and you’re done. Have a beer and go pat yourself on the back.

If this blog post has helped at all, I’d appreciate if you left a comment to share you experiences so others in the same situation can hear what you did. Thanks.

Note: Over 80% of the commenters have reported the fault with their actuator. If you go to the GM parts department, they can be ordered for $350 (plus $150 labor to install). However, this seller on eBay is currently providing replacement actuators for around $70-$80 plus shipping. They’ve sold many actuators to people that came across this post, so if you tell them you saw them on Chef Seattle, they’ll throw in a discount. Good luck with your fixes!

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