Seattle Metropolitan’s “Best Restaurants” list is heavy on tradition this year, with few surprises - the only one I see is that Serious Pie made the grade, rather than a more formal Tom Douglas restaurant. It’s still an issue worth sending any out-of-towner asking “Where should I eat on my trip to Seattle?” Canlis made the 10 Best list, though it’s had a few subparreviews elsewhere this year. Kathryn Robinson writes that Canlis is “the best it’s been in years.” (Nancy Leson also tweeted earlier this year that she’d just had the best meal she’d ever been served there. It isn’t often you get such stark disagreements among critics; I’d like to get them all in a room and hash it out.) Robinson also said Jerry Traunfeld is currently “the best chef in Seattle,” and also gave props to his Poppy pastry chef, Dana Cree. Boat Street Cafe sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of hot new restaurants, but Robinson is a longtime fan, and I was glad to see it still, deservingly, is on her 10-best radar. Check out the whole Seattle Met list here.
Those of us who keep calling Jonathan Kauffman of Seattle Weekly the best restaurant critic in the country were feeling good over the weekend when the national Association of Food Journalists agreed, awarding him first prize in that category in its 2009 contest. (Among his competitors was the also excellent Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post, who took second place.) I was also feeling good myself when AFJ awarded me the first and second place prizes in the category of Best Online Food Writing. (I call it a real victory for Kate McDermott, who taught me to make an apple pie, the subject of the first-prize post.)
Want to do some voting yourself? You have a chance over at Foodbuzz, where the finalists for the 2009 best food blogs are up, and some super writers from Seattle are among them. Anticiplate is there under “Which Blogger(s) Would You Most Like To See Open Their Own Restaurant,” Cakespy is a finalist in both “Most Humorous Blog” and “Best Baking Blog,” Gluten-Free Girl for “Best Healthy Living Blog,” Lorna Yee (The Cookbook Chronicles) for “What Blogger(s) Should Have Their ‘Foodie Life’ Made Into A Movie” and “Best New Blog,” Orangette for “Best Visual Blog” and “Best Writing Voice,” Tea and Cookies for “Best Writing Voice”. I’m glad to see so many talented local favorites on the list; you can vote for your choices here, through Oct. 29. If you have a favorite blogger who wasn’t among this year’s finalists, feel free to share your picks below.
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.
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:
The big new Capitol Hill branch of Cupcake Royale opened July 22 with free babycakes for everyone who stopped by to say the magic words: “Legalize Frostitution!” After visiting for the pre-opening party, tasting more of the revamped recipes I wrote about a while back, and seeing the jumbo mixers and the 15-rack oven in the back kitchen, I think they’ll be prepared for the crowds descending on the pretty place. (Early bird note: The store will open for business at 6 a.m., and it’s at 1111 E. Pike St.)
Here’s a video to show you their techniques — we saw a few examples, using slightly different methods, but all with the same polished results. (Even on the last example on the video, where the froster — what a great job title! — is repairing my own clumsy first attempt.) For those of you who aren’t in the area, or who prefer baking at home, we also have a recipe for the shop’s new vanilla cupcake, scaled down for the home baker, which CR owner Jody Hall kindly shared. (The Medosweet dairy products would be tough for the home cook to find, and if you’re not in Washington you probably want to substitute your own local brands to follow the money-where-your-mouth-is ethos, but here’s how it’s done in these parts.)
Vanilla Buttercake Recipe
makes 1 dozen
2 3/4 c. Shepherd’s Grain cake flour
2 3/4 c. sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. local egg whites
1/2 c. warm water
1/3 c. Medosweet sour cream
5 ounces Medosweet butter
3 tbs expeller-pressed canola oil
1 tsp Gahara vanilla bean paste
Line a cupcake tin with your favorite cupcake wrappers, and set your oven to bake at 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a mixer and mix on low speed. In a separate bowl, combine water and sour cream. Add vanilla paste and egg whites to this mixture and stir until combined. Add the butter, oil, and 1/4 of liquid mixture to your dry ingredients, and mix on low speed until moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and gradually add the remainder of the liquid mixture in three doses, beating for 20 seconds after each dose. (Editorial note: Do you see now why it took 57 tries to develop the new recipes?) Scoop batter into wrappers. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until edges are slightly golden. Set cupcakes aside until they are cool to the touch, then frost ‘em up with real buttercream.
Successfully combining movie theaters with restaurants isn’t as intuitive as it sounds. Restaurants are social; theaters are the place for companionable silence. At the cinema, we expect quality on the screen but devour overpriced junk; at restaurants we want satisfaction for mouth and eyes alike. I’m encouraged, though, by a pre-opening talk with the folks behind Cinebarre, an 8-screen theater opening May 29 in the space that used to be the Regal 9 in Mountlake Terrace. (It’s 8 screens now because one theater was gutted and converted to a full kitchen.)
“We feel like we stand out,” said Jeff Martens, vice president of operations for the chain, which operates Cinebarre branches in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Colorado. On the theater side, he means that they show major first-run movies. On the food side, Cinebarre serves “casual dining sort of stuff,” he said, but the pizza dough is made daily from scratch, the hamburger meat is ground in-house. It’s not that nothing comes in frozen, he said, but “We make our own chicken fingers. We cut our own French fries.” (more…)
Follow this one carefully: Forty-eight restaurants are participating in a new dining promotion in May, called “Urban Eats.” It’s the replacement for the deal previously known as “New Urban Eats” (which focused on newer restaurants) and the one known as “Seasoned Seattle” (which focused on older mainstays.) And, no, the merger is not reserved for adolescent restaurants. It’s a 3-course, $30 dinner open to any place in King County offering “a significant value” by participating, which means, for instance, that Garage will have bowling or pool as “dessert,” and Snoose Junction Pizzeria in Greenwood is including a glass of wine.
I’m not sure why these promotions keep morphing, but I do prefer the confusion to the days when people just talked about how boring it was to see the same old places in 25 for $25. (That deal, if you’re wondering, was reborn as Dine Around Seattle, and will be back in November.)
Here are the restaurants participating in the May Urban Eats. The site isn’t updated yet, but looks like you should be able to find menus after April 24 here: (more…)
Ethan Stowell’s band of merry competitors, having worked their way through chili, hot wings, and other challenges, are participating in a “Battle of the Lasagna” at Union on April 19. Thirteen professional and amateur cooks will compete that night for the title of “Lasagna Champion of Seattle” (because I don’t know anyone else in town who’s going to challenge them on that), plus a chance to raise money for a good cause.
Where do you come in? For $50, all benefiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, you get all the lasagna you can eat, plus salad, garlic bread, and beer — and a scorecard to vote for Best in Show.
The 5-Spot isn’t letting its specials go for a five-spot, but the restaurants in the Chow Foods group are extending what’s still a strikingly inexpensive dinner deal. It was originally supposed to end by spring.
Endolyne Joe’s, The 5-Spot, and The Hi-Life are all offering blue-plate specials linked to the price of the Dow Jones. Tonight, with the Dow’s most recent closing price at 7,278, the special would rung up at $7.28. The “Bell Ringing” deal runs Sunday through Thursday. Atlas Foods also features a nightly Blue Plate for $9.50, which the Chow folks describe as “simple supper specials like an applesauce-topped pork chop, Chicken-Fried Steak or Spicy Sausage Lasagna,” with sides and coffee. Actually, they say, “with sides and a cup o’ Joe,” because that’s how they talk at Chow. I put up with the schtick because their food is solid (sometimes much better than solid — did you notice that their chef took the title of “Prince of Pork” against the city’s best at Cochon 555?) and I still have fond memories of the Beeliner.