Sometimes, it’s the Simple Things

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 9, 2008 : 11:59 pm

After putting some long hours in at work, I’m am sometimes tired to the point that I don’t even want to drive and grab take out, let alone cook. This often leaves me with an dilemma of epic foodie proportions where I have one of the following choices:

1) Order delivery. In my area, means Papa Johns, Pizza Hut or Garlic Jims. I don’t exactly call myself the healthiest person in the world, but this is often a cry of last resort.

2) Suck it up and get take out. Normally this means whatever teriyaki restaurant is still open, such as Nasai Teriyaki or Yummy’s Teriyaki. Often, it takes me so long to debate that the restaurants are about to close when I finally head out. Thus, this option can lead to yeech – fast food.

3) Go Iron Chef-fu, featuring mysterious ingredients from the cupboard. I almost never have anything in the freezer and rarely have produce or meats just sitting around, which means my ingredients are often limited to herbs, condiments and canned/dry foods. This often leads to some form of crazy ramen fusion that is not for the faint of heart:

– Ramen, tomato paste and onions
– Ramen, smoked salmon, peas, milk, butter
– Ramen, cheese, tuna, seaweed
– Ramen, miso, green onion, sardines

If you think some of these sound bad, then you would be absolutely correct. However, though I may appreciate fine food, I also appreciate not starving even more.

So among my options, which one do I pick the post? Well, let’s say I always have packs of ramen available in the house for food emergencies. I do have to say one of my roommates takes the cake, as he goes for option #4 – cereal for dinner. I’ve ate lots of heinous foodstuffs in my days, but cereal for dinner is something I cannot pull myself to do. Perhaps you even, but not me!

If I can’t bring myself to torture my palate with “mystery ramen” night, then a simple pleasure that I treat myself with is a regular grilled cheese sandwich. No need for a fancy French gruyere, just some good old fashioned Tillamook cheese, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper.

In fact, that’s just what I had tonight, though I still had a bowl of hearty minestrone from an earlier batch. Grilled cheese sandwich in a tomato based soup? Dee-lish!

Grilled cheese sandwich

Grilled cheese sandwich

Redmond Lights Festival, Chain Restaurants and Indians

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ : 8:05 pm

Last night, I headed out to the Redmond lights festival, which is a walk along the Burke Gilman/Sammamish River that ends up at the Redmond Town Center. I’ve been a little leery of RTC lately because of some political issues lately, but they’ve seemed to be getting better according to a popular Redmond blog that I keep up with.

Anyhow, the festival was fun, with the sparkling of blinking red lights that everyone wore, holiday music, and general holiday mood. With the sour economy, it was nice to see everyone just out and having fun. Of course, it helped that there was free food involved, as there were lines 50 people deep for even some simple foods like Panera Bread cookies. Even though the lines were long, we (Steve, my girlfriend and I) had no problem waiting around and enjoying the scene. If we can camp out at Black Friday at 3am, we can wait 10 minutes for free food. :)

Most of the food vendors were those directly in Redmond town center, like Thai Ginger, Mefil (I always wondered if this name was a clever play on “Me Fill”), Ruby’s, that new sandwich/soupy Italian chain that replaced Cosi (THANK YOU), and Todai. Also there was Canyons, Azteca and Qdoba, which are close by.

For various reasons, we don’t review chain restaurants as a rule on Chef Seattle, but it’s events like these that tend to put some things into perspective on the roles of big food chains. What I mean is that when a large business gets involved, they have a marketing budget to sponsor events like the Redmond festival, because marketing and branding is what chain restaurants do best. Small, independently owned restaurants often don’t have the budget, manpower or – and I think this is the primary reason – foresight to sponsor these type of events. I love my small restaurants, but having talked with many chef/owners, I say it with love when I say they know food, but suck at self-promotion.

The only independent food vendor passing out free food here was Mefil, while every other one was a chain of some kind – though Thai Ginger and Canyons are both Seattle-based chains. I’m going to single out Mefil for a second, because as an Indian restaurant, I have to say that of all the various ethnic restaurants owners, Indians are the best pound-for-pound marketers. There’s often a good reason for that though, which is that many Indian restaurant and business owners are often highly educated individuals, with MBAs or other post-college education.

When I was volunteering at a food bank warehouse a few years ago, I had an eye-opening discussion with an Indian fellow – Gugan, I think his name was – who was working off 20 hours of community service. He told me he sold liquor to a minor, as it was Superbowl weekend and his store was packed with people out the door.

Explaining, he told me he owned seven convenience stores and managed all of them by himself, employing friends and family. Apparently, he had an MBA and wanted to start an integrated chip design outsourcing business when he came to America, but found he could do quite fine selling drinks and snacks to the masses. When I asked him about restaurants, he was pretty adamant that it was the same for that niche as well, with many well qualified owners doing it because they money made it worth it.

After he left for the day, he offered me free Slurpees anytime at his stores, though I never quite took him up on that offer. :)

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.)

Pad Thai with Prawns – in Pictures

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 26, 2008 : 4:46 pm
Traditional pad thai with spring rolls

Traditional pad thai with spring rolls

I know, it’s close to Thanksgiving and I’m somehow putting up pictures of pad thai that I made last week of all things. Truth is, I have never actually cooked an entire turkey, partly due to the fact that I’ve never had the need to: it’s always been cooked by someone else at whatever party or event I’ve gone to. The major reason though, is that turkey is huge and I tend to pick and fork my way through rationed amounts of food – which is why I know pad thai and not giant birds. :)

So, here’s pictures and my pseudo ingredients for pad thai. While I’ve been making pad thai for quite some time, I’m constantly adjusting the recipe and have drawn much inspiration was drawn from various websites, especially Chez Pim. Ironically, I have two Thai cookbooks that have pad thai recipies, but both raised my eyebrows for a lack of tamarind (I call it the Thai secret spice) and a complete lack of proper stir fry instructions.

Not everyone is a big fan of fried tofu, but I (supposedly) hear it’s commonly used by the street vendors in Thailand. You can get the tofu at any Asian grocer, like Uwajimaya or even some places like Central Market. Whole Foods and PCC have tofu, but not the light and fried kind. Note: In my experience, tofu goes bad very fast (even with my Sub Zero), so plan on using it soon afterward.

Rice sticks soaking in water

Rice sticks soaking in water

First, soak thai noodles / rick sticks in water for about 45min or until limp but not soft. This alone might be one of the most important aspects of pad thai, as taking out the rice sticks too early leaves you with cardboard like noodles, while soaking too long makes for an incredibly difficult stir fry that clumps together like play dough. I use about a quarter of a packet, which serves 2 and is just the right amount for a wok to handle. If you are cooking for more, soak half the packet.

In the picture, I have the “pink” packet as I like to say, because the common distributor around Seattle seems to come in pink or blue. Blue is the slightly wider rice stick and pink is the smaller one. I normally use the “blue” noodles, but it’s more of a preference than anything. You can also buy the shopper friendly “Pad Thai Noodles” package that they sell at all the major grocers. It just costs about double what you would pay otherwise for the convenience.

Pad thai ingredients

Pad thai ingredients

Next are the ingredients, which include: fried tofu, green onions, sliced white onions, thai chilies, lime wedges, freshly shredded carrot, mined/diced garlic and bean sprouts (not pictured). I don’t measure ingredients, but I can say that about 1/3 cup of each is what you’re aiming for, short of the chilies, garlic and limes.

The trinity of thai sauces: fish oil, tamarind paste and sugar

The trinity of thai sauces: fish oil, tamarind paste and sugar

I call this the holy trinity of pad thai, as these are the most important elements of pad thai! You’ll often see substitutions, like white rice vinegar instead of tamarind or peanut oil instead of fish oil, but you’ll never quite accomplish true thai flavor if you go that route. Even worse, some recipies like Chez Pim points out, call for ketchup or as I’ve seen, peanut butter. Never, ever, do that! I admit in my earlier cooking years to trying one such heinous recipe when I was ravenously hungry, but quickly ruined any appetite after a taste of bastardized thai. Don’t even get that quick and easy “Pad Thai Mix” that rests in a nice little squeeze bottle container; it will just never compare.

The sauce is simply half cup each of cane sugar, fish oil and tamarind paste. If you use white, refined sugar, take it down to about 1/4 cup. Having experimented with the sugar amount, you can increase the ratio of sugar, which is what many Thai restaurants in Seattle do, but I think it makes pad thai far too sweet. That’s one reason why I use cane sugar instead.

You can find both fish oil and tamarind at Uwajimaya (I swear they are not an advertiser for us). The tamarind is often not labeled in English, so ask your friendly clerk if you can’t find it. Be sure to get the paste and not the root for purposes of this dish.

Mix well, then heat in small sauce pan on low heat. Keep it ready, because you’ll be using it soon.

Tofu and onion stir fry

Tofu and onion stir fry

I start with a few tablespoons of sesame or peanut oil on a high heat wok. I’ve done olive oil before, but you need to keep the wok on med-high so you don’t burn the oil, though that depends on your burner and what type of olive oil you’re using.

Tofu tends to take awhile to warm up, so I like to toss that in first along with the onions. As with any stir fry, work the wok fast so the food doesn’t stick and burn. If you have chicken, you can toss that in after about a minute or so after the tofu. I used prawns, which are far more heat sensitive, so I added that farther into the dish after the tofu and onions were cooked. With such a hot wok, I don’t like to add garlic at first because it quickly caramelizes and turns into bits of burnt coal if you’re not furiously stir frying. Right before adding the noodles is often when I add garlic, as that’s when I also turn down the heat to med or med-high.

Adding sesame oil to shrimp and rick sticks

Adding sesame oil to shrimp and rick sticks

After about 2-3 minutes, I add my prawns, garlic and a bit more oil if necessary. Splash a few spoonfuls of sauce onto the mix and stir fry until shrimp is almost (but not quite) pink. At that point, turn down heat and add rice sticks.

Adding rice sticks and green onions

Adding rice sticks and green onions

When adding the rick sticks, I turn down the heat a little because I have an enormous problem with my noodles sticking together at highest heat on my burner. You may or may not encounter this problem, but if you find that you do, try turning down your heat. You can also add more oil or a splash of water to help aid things along as well.

At this time, I also add the green onion and about half the sauce and stir pretty vigorously, getting it mixed in. The trick of the game is that the longer the noodles stay in, the softer and mushier they get, so you want them in and out fairly fast while getting them cooked. Keep the heat high as possible and stir for about two minutes, then add the rest of the sauce.

Adding egg to wok

Adding egg to wok

This part is optional, but you can lift the noodles and crack an egg to one side of the wok and let the egg cook. When it’s fairly opaque, you can put the noodles back over it and then gently stir it around at first, then faster when the egg is cooked through.

Plated pad thai dish

Plated pad thai dish

Plate and garnish with shredded carrots, bean sprouts, red cabbage (not pictured), lime and if you really want to be authentic, a banana. I added some lumpia rolls that I um, er, undercooked, which I found out a few hours later (oops), but otherwise, a successfully made pad thai dish! :)

Oh yeah, since I won’t be posting tomorrow, Happy Turkey Day!

Coffee.net is now Chef Seattle!

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 24, 2008 : 4:50 am

If you’re a fan/follower of Coffee.net, you’ll obviously noticed that we have now switched over to Chef Seattle! It has been a project we’ve been working on quite hard over the last month, but we’re finally ready to unveil the new look and feel today.

The reason for changing the name and domain over was due to a variety of reasons. The primary reason however, was that too many people were confused by our domain, Coffee.net, while our focus was on restaurant reviews. Many of the people we talked to in person thought we sold coffee or were in the coffee business.

So, we decided to fix the issue and do away with the whole “Coffee Cabal” thing, along with Coffee.net and are now simply Chef Seattle. We hope you enjoy the new site and apologize for any loose ends we miss here and there. There’s a bit of tweaking that is going on still and you’ll see some various design changes over the coming weeks. If you encounter any broken links or pages, we would be very grateful if you posted a comment or sent an email.

In the meantime, the direction of the site is going to be entirely focused on restaurants and food now. We plan on doing video interviews with local chefs, farmers, and just about anything related to food. The review pages are going to be revamped to be more efficient and look better. User reviews, a sore must-do in our sides, will be up in about 3-4 weeks. We know that’s been promised forever, but this is the real deal now. In the meantime, we do have a forum up that we encourage you to join! There will be prizes, coupons, gift certificates that we’ll be giving out through there as part of fun community events and competitions.

-Grant and Steve

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!

Real Wasabi Paste – Not Horseradish and Green Food Coloring

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 7, 2008 : 7:30 pm

Following up on our recent sushi article, here’s a picture of some real wasabi paste, rather than the green dyed horseradish stuff that you get in sushi restaurants. These wasabi tubes were purchased from Pacific Farms, a company based in Florence Oregon that until recently, grew their own wasabi. The website is somewhat vague about where their obtain their wasabi now, but they were one of the few (if only) commercial growers of wasabi in the US.

From the picture, you can see the texture is more chunky with fibrous root material. The green is more of a pastel shade and less tennis ball green that you get in restaurants. The taste is immediately discernible, as there is a subtle, yet sweet flavor. The “kick’ that wasabi is known for is more powerful as well, though in a dull and prolonged manner versus the sharp, eye-watering kick of horse radish.

In reality though, real wasabi paste is more of a novelty if you aren’t making your own sushi, as you’ll be hard pressed to take your own tube of wasabi into a sushi restaurant without looking quite odd. In addition, real wasabi only keeps fresh for so long before spoiling, so you either need to use it quite quickly in the refrigerator or keep it in the freezer for storage.

Nonetheless, it was a fun lesson in learning what real wasabi tastes like. You might be able to get real wasabi in high end restaurants outside of Seattle, but we don’t know any Seattle restaurants that actually offer this, due to the price and extremely low demand.

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.

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

How Not To Spend Friday

Categories: charity,news — Tags: , , , — Posted by: Grant @ September 5, 2008 : 10:17 am

Steve and I are off to get our King County Food Handler’s Permit today in order to do serve up a surprise coffee taste testing at tomorrow’s Harvest Fair being put on by Seattle Tilth. It’s running 10am to 5pm and located at Meridian Park, behind the Good Shepherd Center (4649 Sunnyside Ave N) in Wallingford.

In the meantime, I’ve been calling restaurants non-stop to try and build a flyer of restaurants that support organic, locally grown, sustainable and/or seasonal produce/proteins. I have to say once more that calling restaurants is not fun. Anything other than the words, “I’d like to make a reservation…” will immediately cause the wagons to circle about 50% of the time and shut you out. The other 30% of the time I am getting through, I get to play phone tag or leave voice mails.

The one interesting thing I have learned however, is that the head/Executive Chefs apparently do take near complete control of sourcing, as I am almost always told to talk to the chef to get my questions on sourcing answered. Not having worked in an actual restaurant, it’s nice to know that the chef does get the biggest say on what they get to use. That said, I have been mainly calling contemporary style restaurants thus far, given that the chances of Red Robin using organic lettuce or your local teriyaki joint using free range chicken is slim to none.

Anyhow, enough of a break. Back to work, work, work.

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