We don’t get a chance yet to eat at Emmer & Rye, the eagerly awaited new restaurant from Seth Caswell, but here’s a little appetizer: Caswell just started up a Tuesday night dinner series at Art of the Table, where he’ll be serving five-course dinners with pairings of wine or beer. (Cost: $65 for food, $25 more for alcohol, tax and tip included, cash only.)
Here’s the wrinkle I like best, from Caswell’s e-mail to his mailing list:
“On Thursday of each week I will be sending out an email asking two questions: would you like to join me for dinner on the following Tuesday, and what would you like me to cook for you? The first question is pretty straightforward. The second is going to require a little bit of your input.
If you should choose to dine on the following Tuesday, I will send a list of 40-50 seasonal ingredients and you will pick out 3-5 that you’d like to have for dinner. I will create a menu based on the first 20 responses I receive. I hope to be able to include everybody’s choices each week and feature some inventive flavor and texture combinations. Remember, I am a huge supporter of local agricultural and keeping food money in the hands of smaller, regional businesses. So don’t expect lobster and bananas, coconut and alligator, or ostrich and tamarind.”
Enjoying a dish cooked “sous vide” at one of the many Seattle restaurants that use the high-tech technique? Chances are the restaurant is unwittingly violating county health codes.
The King County Health Department recently notified restaurants that the sous vide process — cooking vacuum-sealed food in water baths at low, precisely-controlled temperatures — requires a variance from the health department, as well as an approved Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan, a detailed food safety plan more commonly seen in large-scale or industrial operations.
The first (and only, to date) legal kid on the block? It looks to be four-star Crush on Madison, where chef-owner Jason Wilson is legendary for his aromatic, tender, sous-vide short ribs, and employs the technique for other ingredients from carrots to calamari. Crush has been working on its plan for weeks, and recently submitted it (along with $400 in new fees) and provided inspectors with a sous vide class and demonstration. Chef-owner Jason Wilson thought last night the plan had been approved; the health department said approval was “really close.”
Don’t blame restaurants if they don’t have a plan on the books, though — chances are they had no idea they needed one. Restaurants statewide, not just in King County, have technically been required to get the variance since 2005, a health department spokeswoman said, following changes in the state food code. The department only recently realized, though, that sous vide cooking was increasingly common in Seattle restaurants. Many — if not most — high-end restaurants use the techniques, whether advertised on the menu or not. Chefs love sous vide cooking for its even precision, for the way it preserves and even intensifies flavors, allowing them to play with taste and texture.
The regulations stem from food safety worries, chiefly fears that the low temperatures and oxygyn-free environment could increase the risk of botulism. Sous vide cooking has been similarly regulated in New York, where, the New York Times reported, plans must “include step-by-step specifications that regulate how the food is packaged, what equipment is used to cook it, what internal temperature the food must reach, and how it is chilled. The rules require cooks to use expensive water immersion units or combination convection ovens and industrial vacuum-packaging machines.”
In King County, the health department recently alerted restaurants to the requirements, and are working with them to get on board.
If they’re serving sous vide food now, it’s technically against the health code — but inspectors are not giving cease and desist orders, they’re letting the restaurants they work with know they’ll either have to start the permit process or cook up something different on the menu.
Part of Douglas’s game plan until now has been keeping his entire empire in a small, walkable area downtown (see under: Danny Meyer). You’d barely work up an appetite making the full circuit from Etta’s to Palace Kitchen to Lola to Dahlia to Serious Pie. Ballard is hardly Peoria, but it would be a good five miles north, the first “neighborhood” outpost for Seattle’s best-known restaurateur. So I chatted on the phone with Douglas today to find out what’s making him break tradition now. (more…)
It’s a mixed blessing for a restaurant to be as hotly awaited as Ballard newcomer Delancey. Expectations are pitched high, just when all the kitchen edges are at their roughest. And Delancey comes with a whole level of anticipation that goes beyond its pizza. As I wrote here in the Christian Science Monitor, it’s hard not to feel as though you’re walking into the pages of a book when you enter the front door, a favorite story come to life.
What I wound up thinking after a “soft opening” dinner last week, though, transcended what I knew about the restaurant walking in. I wound up wishing I was part of the real neighborhood, not the storybook one, wanting to look forward to a standing reservation at my window table at the end of a long week, like the people walking dogs and pushing baby strollers by, looking inside and saying this is just what they hoped to find.
Here’s a little peek at the inside, with final commentary from the peanut gallery:
As we forecast, Urbanspoon is piloting an online restaurant reservations system here in Seattle. The popular site already provided tons of information in 90+ cities on how to find a restaurant and whether to eat there. Now, a handful of high-profile Seattle eateries — Canlis, Dahlia Lounge, La Spiga, Matt’s in the Market, and Rover’s, so far — will let you reserve a table on Urbanspoon as well. Urbanspoon showed available reservations for all four earlier this evening, then gradually removed the links as the time slots passed.
Keep an eye out for a new feature on Urbanspoon. The site already cleverly maps restaurants in cities worldwide, mines useful data about them for consumers, and aggregates reviews. Now, some Seattle chefs tell me, the Spoon is looking at allowing users to make online reservations at participating restaurants — something like Open Table, but more affordable than that service, which mines data for the restaurateur but gets dinged for its costs. (It’s free to diners, but the restaurants pay.)
The folks at Urbanspoon don’t want to talk about projects that are under development, but check back — I’ll update this when there’s more to tell.
*updated 8/6. It’s live, with more information here.
Spur got marks for being “playful and ambitious,” Poppy for the “lilliputian creations” on its thalis and for inventive cocktails. Coincidentally, I’ve been meaning to mention Poppy for the last few days. I had visited months ago, the first week it was open, gloating that I no longer had to follow the critic’s rules of letting a new restaurant work out its inevitable kinks before testing it out.
I still remember the wistful e-mails I got way back, asking where chef Charlie Durham had gone after the closure of Cassis. Then, it turned out he was at the Sand Point Grill, adding new life and spark to the menu of a neighborhood favorite. I’m glad now that I can pre-emptively announce that I know where Durham is landing after leaving Sand Point (the new owners will now helm that kitchen.) Judy Neldam, owner of the Grange Cafe in Duvall, housed in a 1926 Grange Hall, wrote to alert me that Durham will take over as the cafe’s executive chef when he returns from a trip to Paris. The cafe’s menu is similar to Sand Point’s, she wrote, it has a close connection to local farms and dairies, and “I am sure Charlie will take what we have done and add his own signature to it.” Look for him there in about two weeks.
Something like, oh, five minutes after Trophy Cupcakes opened in Wallingford Center, customers started asking for auxiliary branches in their own neighborhoods. It took a little while — two years — but Trophy #2 is now a frostings-breadth away from opening its doors in University Village, with the grand opening set for June 11. Here’s a sneak peek, from a party earlier this week. Cupcakes will be frosted and decorated in the shop’s generously-sized back room; the best spot for a sit-down cupcake fix is just outside the front door, watching kids play in the frog fountain that spouts enough water to rinse their sugary, satiated hands.
“Barbecue” is a fighting word in this city; there’s no way to express a preference for one place over another without hearing how (a) Seattle has no good barbecue, and (b) your favorite isn’t actually the best. I’m glad I don’t man Sunset magazine’s inbox after seeing the latest issue choose “10 best barbecue joints in the West”. Surprise! While the top honors went to BarBersQ in Napa, Seattle won two spots on the list . Washington was the only state besides California to score more than one spot.