Archive for the ‘Merriment’ Category

One Night Only: Chef Mark Fuller and Georgetown Brewing

October 18, 2012

Launched earlier this summer, the One Night Only Project, brainchild of Julien Perry and Melissa Peterman, takes the supper club dinner party concept to a new level: participating chefs create a special menu, available for one night only, for around 40 guests. Each chef is paired with a winery, brewery, or mixologist to create pairings for the food, and the dinners are held in offbeat locations which can include event spaces or private homes.

The stand-alone nature of ONO events allows for some very creative themed pairings: past dinners have included Josh Henderson of Skillet stepping away from diner food for a night to prepare a meal of upscale seasonal favorites paired with wines from Efeste and Manuel Alfau of Blind Pig Bistro and  La Bodega preparing a Dominican pig roast paired with rum cocktails by Rob Roy’s Anu Apte on the patio at Bottlehouse, Madrona’s awesome wine shop-tasting bar.

Manny Chao of Georgetown Brewing and Marjorie Chang Fuller of Ma’ono discussing the menu and beer pairings.

When we heard that the latest ONO dinner would feature Chef Mark Fuller of West Seattle’s Ma’ono (formerly Spring Hill) cooking up a six course Mexican feast paired with beers from Manny Chao of Georgetown Brewing Company, we knew this would be an evening not to be missed.  We were right!!

First Course: smoked clam salsa on a porky crouton, with a tequila aperol cordial

The dinner was held at VUDE (Velvet Underground Dining Experience), a very cool private event space and dining club in South Lake Union owned by the Seattle-based proprietor of Argentina’s Hand of God Wines. The candlelit South American vibe of the room – paintings of Eva Peron and matadors, dark wood tables, and swaths of brick red paint on the walls – along with the mellow tunes spun by Andrew Means provided the perfect atmosphere for Fuller’s inspired menu, which paired perfectly with Chao’s beers. What’s better than great Mexican food and beer, right?

While every course was delicious, the standout courses for me came early in the evening. A rich and satisfying pork meatball soup with slices of smoky sausage, preserved tomatoes, and avocado was paired with Georgetown’s Belgian Ale for a light palate refresher to cut through the rich fattiness of the sausage and meatballs; and the undeniable star of the night, Fuller’s crispy pork shoulder tacos, served simply on corn tortillas with  chopped onion and cilantro, a drizzle of smoked tomatillo sour cream, and a crumble of housemade brined cheese. The tacos were served family style on a platter that would have defeated our table even if we hadn’t already consumed huge bowls of soup, and paired with Manny’s namesake crisp and malty Pale Ale.

Second course: pork and rice meatball soup with sausage, avocado, and preserved tomato broth

Third course: crispy pork shoulder tacos with housemade cheese, tomatillo sour cream, onion and cilantro. The showstopper of the evening.

One of our fellow guests opined that these were the best tacos he’d ever eaten in Seattle, and I’d have to agree they they definitely beat anything I’ve had in a restaurant here in town. We stuffed ourselves and consequently were not able to appreciate the final three courses – grilled skirt steak with pickled peppers, corn cakes stuffed with lard-fried beans, and a cucumber shrimp salad; Beecher’s jack cheese tamales with chocolate mole sauce; and dulce de leche rice pudding with Corn Pops (yes, breakfast cereal!) and horchata – nearly as much as they deserved. And trust me, everything Fuller and his team of cook-helpers prepared deserved a lot of appreciation.

Chef Mark Fuller (second from left) and his team hard at work

Hostesses with the mostest: ONO Project founders Melissa Peterman and Julien Perry

In the end, we could eat no more, and literally rolled ourselves back out onto the street, clutching the stylish canvas Ma’ono tote bags and growlers of Manny’s IPA that served as takeaway gifts and hoping against hope that Mark Fuller will someday open a Mexican taco joint somewhere in town – preferably in our neighborhood.

The next One Night Only dinner will be held November 3rd with Chef Eric Hellner of the Metropolitan Grill – who I can attest smokes some of the best ribs this side of the Mississippi – and the Met’s Master Sommelier Thomas Price. I highly recommend you check out this or any ONO event. Information and tickets here

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24 Hours in Portland: Part One

February 22, 2012

Porland, Oregon: one of my favorite cities. The home of Powell’s, the famed “City of Books,” it’s also a City of Coffee, City of Parks, and City of Food, with restaurants, butchers, bakeries, and bars serving up every kind of delicious delicacy the mind (and the stomach) can desire.

Pearl District, Portland

A few times a year, we roll down I-5 to get our fill of book browsing, urban wandering, eating and drinking in the City of Roses. On this trip, we decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day a little early with a quick overnight stay, no agenda, and a rough plan to try to hit as many new spots and old favorites as our time and appetites would allow.

Our first stop after rolling into town was an early lunch at Pok Pok, James Beard Award-winning chef Andy Ricker’s original outpost of Thai street food. I’d been wanting to eat here for ages. Prepared for a crowd (Portlanders seem to enjoy waiting in line even more than Seattleites),we timed our drive to arrive right as the doors opened and were rewarded with a two-top near the bar in the tiny main dining room.

After settling in with refreshing, fruit-infused drinking vinegars, we ordered several specialties of the house including Kai Yaang,  game hen stuffed with lemongrass and spices and roasted over one of the restaurant’s charcoal-fueled outdoor rotisseries; green Papaya Pok Pok salad; spicy fish sauce-glazed chicken wings; and coconut milk-basted pork loin skewers served with peanut sauce and, interestingly, hunks of grilled bread.

We were not disappointed. The green papaya salad was crisp, crunchy, sweet, salty, and spicy at once, a perfect pairing for the fragrant and mild game hen. And those chicken wings . . . it’s easy to see why they are among Ricker’s most famed and beloved menu items. Marinated in fish sauce and sugar, then caramelized to a peppery, lip-burning crunch. A plate of those and a cold Singha beer could be the happy ending to many great nights.

Bubbly and chocolate cookies at the Hotel Deluxe

After lunch we headed across town to check in to the Hotel Deluxe, our favorite home base while in town. Located in an old hotel building in spitting distance of both the Pearl District and Nob Hill, the Deluxe exemplifies mid-century glamour. From the oversized black and white portraits of  classic movie stars in every hallway to the incredibly helpful, violet-clad front desk staff, from the plushly elegant lobby to the chiff0n-draped rooms, a stay at the Deluxe feels like a journey to a more civilized time.

On this visit, we took the pampering a step further and booked the “My Chocolate Valentine” package, which included, among other sweet treats, a gift certificate for a hot chocolate tasting at Cacao, a very cool little chocolate shop on the edge of the Pearl District.  We tried a trio of rich, frothy drinking chocolates – cinnamon, dark chocolate, and a smoky spicy dark chocolate – and browsed the chocolate offerings sourced from around the world before heading back out into the cold sunny day.

Drinking chocolate trio at Cacao

Portland’s Pearl District is a great place to amble away an afternoon. After checking out cards and stationary from local artists at Oblation Papers & Press and picking up some spices at Penzey’s, we headed a few blocks north to Tanner Springs Park, one of the network of open spaces developed along with the Pearl – originally the site of a wetlands and lake, and later tanneries and warehouses – in the 1990s.

Walkways through the marsh at Tanner Springs Park

The park features a large marsh area, which serves as a habitat for waterfowl and native plants and is crisscrossed by raised walkways, benches for contemplation, and public art. The entire square block park is surrounded by the modern highrise condos of the present-day Pearl District, creating a unique urban oasis and a great place for a chat, picnic, or stroll.

An urban oasis at Tanner Springs Park

Of course, no visit to Portland, no matter how short, would be complete without a lengthy visit to Powell‘s, one of America’s greatest bookstores.  Stepping through those doors, into the throng of people of all ages clutching stacks of books, renews my faith in us as a society of readers every time.

On this visit, we ventured for the first time to the top floor Rare Books Room, home to treasures including several books from the personal library of Anne Rice (including a copy of “The Last Temptation of Christ” complete with snarky margin notes) and a ten-volume, white leather and gold-leaf bound set of L. Ron Hubbard’s “Mission Earth” series, housed in its own white laquer bookcase with glass doors.

Overwhelmed, we decided it was time for a drink, and headed back down the block to the bar at  Oven & Shaker, where bartender “Cool Hand” Luke poured us the hot spot’s two most popular cocktails. The Pineapple Trainwreck, a tropical storm of rum, ginger, pineapple, and bitters, perked me right up, while the combination of rye whiskey, lemon, ginger syrup and soda in The Presbyterian worked wonders on Carl.

Pineapple Trainwreck at Oven and Shaker

From there, we strolled downtown and had a quick Alpine-scented cocktail at Gruner before heading back to the Deluxe to finish off the night at my favorite bar in Portland, The Driftwood Room.

Nestled away in off the hotel lobby, the dark and cozy Driftwood Room harkens back to the days of the Rat Pack and “Mad Men,” and I always feel like I should enter wearing a cocktail dress and long gloves.  The curving bar is the perfect place to nurse one of the Room’s signature champagne cocktails or Manhattans, and the intimate back tables are ideal spots for a late night rendezvous. In the past, I’ve really enjoyed (and re-created at home) the Portland ’85, a blend of locally produced Clear Creek pear brandy and Pear liqueur topped with bubbly, as well as the Springtime in Paris, a heady tipple of sparkling wine, St. Germain, and rhubarb bitters. On this visit, our favorite bartender Mike, who has taken care of us on every visit since we began coming to the Deluxe and the Driftwood Room three years ago, tried us on two new drinks. The Frieda Kahlo showcases barrel-aged bitters and cassis in a tequila, orange, and grapefruit juice concoction, and tasted of sunny drives across the Southwest desert in spring. My favorite, though, was a special cocktail created for the Portland International Film Festival, which was being held that week in town. The rosy-hued Roman Holiday, a mix of hibiscus tea-infused simple syrup, Campari, and grapefruit juice topped with sparkling wine, was as fresh and exciting as its name implied, and a perfect way to end a long and enjoyable winter day in the City of Roses. Stay tuned for Part Two: Brunch at Beast!

Tuna Tinning With Slow Food Seattle

January 31, 2012

For the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as a board member for Slow Food Seattle, our local chapter of the international organization dedicated to, among other things, preserving local food traditions, increasing awareness of and interest in the foods we can grow and enjoy in our own backyard, and promoting the use of good, clean, and fair practices in food production.

Our group puts on several hands-on events each year, and without a doubt my favorite is the annual “Time to Tin A Tuna” workshop, coordinated by SFS’s resident fisherwoman Amy G, and presided over by Bellingham fisherman Jeremy Brown.

Once a year, Jeremy comes down to Seattle with about 1000 pounds of Northwest wild Albacore tuna,  and  guides a group of Slow Food members and friends through the steps of breaking down the fish and processing it into 8-ounce jars. The result is, in my opinion, the best canned tuna you’ll ever have,  and so a few Sundays ago I put on old clothes, picked up my chef’s knife, and headed down to Gourmondo‘s South Seattle catering kitchen to get my tuna on.

Step One: skinning and cutting tuna into boneless chunks.

 

Step Two: trimming tuna chunks and stuffing into jars

After the first team breaks down the tuna into fist-sized chunks, removing large bones and skin, the fish is taken on large trays over to a second station, where a group of us trimmed it into smaller, even pieces and removed the smaller bones and cartilage. Then another group packed it into jars with about a quarter cup of olive oil, pinch of salt, and the secret ingredient – a chunk of carrot. Why carrot? It adds a hint of sweetness and keeps the fish from developing a tinny taste when it’s cooked at high temperatures. 
 
After their rims are wiped clean, the jars are sealed and placed on racks, awaiting their turn in the line of pressure cookers that Gerry and his team man throughout the day. The jars cook for 90 minutes and come out sealed and shelf-stable. 
 

Step Three: Clean rims, seal jars, and place on racks to await cooking

 

Step Four: Cook the heck out of the tuna in a pressuer cooker to make it shelf-stable.

 
Step Five: Check seals, wait for tuna to cool, take home and enjoy!

All in all, the tuna tinning is a great afternoon with a bunch of fun people and, as I mentioned, there really is no comparison between the finished product and the stuff (even the good stuff) you get in a grocery store.

Last year I bought two cases of our Slow Food tuna and gave several away as Christmas gifts. This year, I hope to keep a bit more of it for myself  and use it in healthy, delicious recipes like the one below, which I have made several times for a quick, filling dinner. In the spring, I substitute chopped asparagus for the olives and you could also probably use spinach.

My Slow food buddies are a great group of people and I highly recommend checking out your local chapter. If that chapter happens to be Seattle, I hope you’ll join us for our next event!

Lemony Tuna Pasta

Serves 3-4 with leftovers

Ingredients:

1 lb. penne, bowtie, or rotini pasta

 8 ounce jar or 2 cans tuna fish

juice and zest of 1 lemon OR dice of one preserved lemon

1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped

2 tbs parsley, chopped

2 tbs olive oil

salt

pepper

parmesan cheese

Method:

Bring water to boil in a large pot and cook pasta as directed.

While pasta is cooking, drain tuna and mash with a fork in a bowl with olives, parsley, and lemon zest. Add lemon juice to taste.

When pasta is cooked, drain and return to pot. Add olive oil, tuna mixture, and more lemon juice to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Serve topped with parmesan cheese.

 

Oyster Picnic at Hog Island

January 25, 2012
 

I am extremely lucky to have a good number of adventurous, food-loving friends who think nothing of dropping everything to travel hundreds or thousands of miles for the promise of good grub.

Kerry drove through a blinding blizzard in Vermont once to get us to Montreal for beer and poutine. Leslie orchestrated a trip to Memphis just so we could ride her coattails through the Memphis in May barbecue championships. And Ku? Ku guided five adults and a cranky toddler through several neighborhoods in Beijing so that we could try authentic hot pot before heading back to the U.S. Stressful? Nah, they live for this stuff, and it’s my luck to sometimes get to come along for the ride.

This is how, on a rainy Sunday in November, I found myself spreading old newspapers on a damp picnic table at the edge of a sandy spit jutting out into Tomales Bay, California. We were at Hog Island, and we were ready to eat some oysters.

View of the flats at low tide

How did we get here? My intrepid friend Kerry, the aforementioned beer-loving snow driver, began planning this picnic as soon as we’d finalized plans to meet at my mom’s place in Northern California for Thanksgiving. Kerry also loves oysters, and Hog Island is one of the most renowned local purveyors of the briny bivalves. They also have a very cool picnic area at their Marshall farm, where you can buy oysters straight from their beds to eat raw or cook up on the grill. The Hog Island folks provide shucking knives, lemons, a delicious mignonette called “Hog Wash,” and sell wine, beer, and assorted other snacks from an upended boat-turned-snack bar. What more could you ask for on a winter’s afternoon?

There was the matter of the rain – pounding down in sheets as we meandered up Highway 1 – but we were undeterred. After a quick stop  in Point Reyes for some dried fruit at Toby’s Feed Barn and delectable Mt. Tam triple cream cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, we tooled up the road, parked on the shoulder, and hauled our goodies – including a magnum of bubbly, a given with the menu and the presence of the Diva – to a table facing the bay, breathtaking even in the fog.

Our picnic.

 Once we got things set out and picked up three dozen Hog Island Sweetwaters and a dozen Kumamotos, we got down to the serious business of shucking. Luckily, Carl is a former professional, and Kerry, Sean, and the Diva were quick learners. I acted as supervisor and cocktail waitress.

Sean: shucking is serious business.

 

Carl shows Diva Armida how it's done

After a while, the picnic area filled up with other groups celebrating birthdays, early Thanksgiving, and generally having a fun time. The sun came out and the whole place took on the air of a great big oyster hoedown, helped along with numerous bottles of wine and the good cheer of our hosts and fellow picnickers.  As we discarded our trays of shells and packed up to head back across the county, full of oysters and smiles, I was once again reminded that good friends – and good food – are worth more than gold.  
 

No sun? No problem! Happy picnickers in front of "The Boat"

 

Aftermath of a great afternoon

 

24 Hours on Whidbey Island

January 8, 2012

The harbor at Coupeville, Whidbey Island

We needed to get away. After months of grey skies, the sun was shining and sweaters were finally shucked, but summer was quickly coming to an end. I was dreaming of an island getaway, something short and sweet and new. Somewhere we could smell the salt water and hear the clanging of buoys and eat from the sea. So on a cool but clear Friday morning, the last of the summer, we packed up the car and headed up I-5 to catch the Mukilteo Ferry to Whidbey Island.

From Seattle, Whidbey is the perfect quick getaway for a day, night, or weekend.  It’s nearby but feels like another, more relaxed world. There are a variety of outdoor activities from beachcombing to hiking to boating, and a surprising number of places to stay and tasty spots to eat. I was also excited about checking out the island’s thriving farm and gardening scene.

After a short hop up the highway and onto the ferry at Mukilteo (we thankfully got to the dock before the weekend crowds arrived and lines for the boats got long), and a quick trip across the Sound,  we arrived at the southern end of the island. From there it’s a 10-minute drive to Langley, where we stopped to get our bearings and poke around the shops on First Street.

One of my goals for our trip to Whidbey was to try as many of the local specialty Penn Cove mussels, from as many different sources and in as many preparations, as possible. I started my quest over a leisurely lunch on the sun-dappled deck at Prima Bistro, a recommendation from a food-loving co-worker, where we enjoyed mussels “a la mariniere” steamed with white wine, shallots, and garlic. These mussels were served in their own little cast iron pot, and the simple preparation allowed their fresh brininess to shine through.

Burrata and salmon rillettes plates at Prima Bistro in Langley

Fresh preparations seemed to be a hallmark at Prima, where we also enjoyed a flavorful and light wild salmon rillette and a toothsome and satisfying duck leg confit over lentils dressed with a bacon vinaigrette. The tomato, basil, and burrata plate could have been improved with riper, more flavoful tomatoes (even in this late-blooming summer, delicious heirloom varieties are ripe all over the region), but the burrata itself was elastic and creamy, set off nicely by a light drizzle of sea salt and balsamic vinegar.

Duck Leg Confit at Prima Bistro - delicious!

Full and feeling good from our lunch in the sun, we continued north up the spine of the island towards the Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens in Greenbank, where I had heard a big Labor Day sale was in progress. We’ve got a beautiful pink rhody right in front of the house and thought it might be fun to get another one to go with it.
 
Turns out we went searching in the right place. The Meerkerk nursery is located in a wooded glen behind the public gardens, and on this day rows and rows of plants of all different colors and variations were available for sale, including several different hybrids created by local hybridizer Frank Fujioka. After a lot of debate we picked a lovely orange and silver “Seaview Sunset” from Fujioka and strolled out for a quick look at the gardens before heading back up the road.

Meerkerk Gardens in Greenbank

 Our next stop was just down the road. Greenbank Farm is a former working farm that now houses several small shops and galleries as well as the Whidbey Pies Cafe, known for pies made from local loganberries and other fruits. We shared a slice of huckleberry pie a la mode at a picnic table overlooking a tranquil duck pond, then headed for our final destination of the day.
 
Located about halfway up the length of Whidbey Island on the banks of Penn Cove, Coupeville has a tiny, two-block long commercial strip along Front Street, a wharf with a pretty great coffee shop out at the end of it, and many original Victorian era homes, some of which have been turned into charming B&Bs. We stayed at the Lovejoy Inn, a cozy three-room lodging two blocks up from the water. Mitch, the innkeeper, spent several years working at the nearby state park and seemed to know every cranny of the island. Our first floor room was small but sweet, with a large walk-in shower and comfortable bed.

The Lovejoy Inn in Coupeville

After a walk around the corner to check out Bayleaf, a cute gourmet food and wine shop, we took Mitch’s advice and popped in next door to Christopher’s for an early dinner including a second round of mussels. This version was steamed in a creamy, garlicky white wine sauce that nicely offset the plump, juicy oysters. With a basket of warm bread, it would have been a meal in itself but, intrigued by the European-influenced menu, we ate some more. And some more.
 
First linguine in a surprisingly light smoked salmon cream sauce, then a paprika-scented Austrian chicken and spaetzel, and finally a delicate chocolate mouse and lemony cheesecake. Overindulgent? For sure. But we were on vacation! A leisurely stroll down to the harbor and we were ready to call it a night.

Sunset over Coupeville harbor

 The next morning, we were up early for a tasty hot breakfast prepared by Mitch and a visit to the Coupeville Farmer’s Market, where we stocked up on home-brewed root beer, local berries, and honey before heading out to Ebey’s Landing for a hike along the beach and up the bluff, where farmland meets coastline with spectacular views of the Puget Sound and Mt. Baker.

Bluff Walk at Fort Ebey State Park

 After our walk it was time for one last sampling of mussels, this time at Toby’s, a classic tavern on the water back in Coupeville. Juicy and basically unadorned, accompanied by thick pieces of garlic bread and icy beers, they hit the spot and Toby’s, like Whidbey Island itself, was comfortable, unpretentious, and fun. On the drive home north through Deception Pass and back down I-5, we were already plotting our return trip.

Fried Chicken at Spring Hill

August 1, 2011

Much has been written about Spring Hill‘s acclaimed Monday night fried chicken dinners, at which a group of four could nosh down on a feast of fried chicken and a variety of sides, and then stumble out holding their sides, for just about $25 each.

Sadly for us finger lickers, the restaurant discontinued the Monday night tradition this summer (you can still get an excellent meal there any night of the week). Luckily, they gave plenty of notice, and in late February our friend Gina was able to secure a table for one of the last chicken dinners in early June. (Really!)

Fried chicken, spaetzle, blasted brocoli, and mashed potatoes at Spring Hill, shortly before the carnage began.

You may be thinking to yourself – isn’t 25 bucks a little steep for some chicken and potatoes? Well, friends, this was no ordinary chicken and potatoes. The platter carrying two chickens’ worth of pieces, fried to crunchy perfection, glistened in the fading sunlight from near our table in the front window. Surrounded by platters of mashed potatoes and gravy, herbed spaetzle, blasted garlicky broccoli, refreshing cucumber salad, and moist jalapeno cornbread with honey butter, it was a feast fit for the King himself.

“You’ll never be able to finish the whole platter, there’s always tons of leftovers,” laughed owner Marjorie as she stopped to see how we were doing. We took it as a challenge, and I think even Elvis would have been impressed at the wreckage of our table once we finally called it quits. A few lonely pieces of chicken, a swipe of creamy potatoes, some cornbread crumbs.

We may have seen the last of Spring Hill’s fried chicken, but I’m looking forward to seeing what new and delicious replacements Mark and Marjorie come up with next.

48 Hours in Washington, DC with Chef Kerry

May 22, 2011

One of the benefits of traveling a lot for my day job is that occasionally I get to spend a few hours – or even a day or two – exploring a new city. Over Easter weekend, I got the chance to spend a few days in our nation’s capital with my favorite foodie travel buddy, Head Chef Kerry.

It was a cold, rainy afternoon when we met up at the Dupont Circle Hotel, a nifty and apparently newly refurbished boutique hotel right off of Dupont Circle that Kerry had gotten a great deal on through SniqueAway. Our corner room was not huge but nicely furnished and comfortable, and the location near the Metro and in walking distance from the restaurants and bars of both Dupont and Logan Circles made it a great home base.

We immediately headed off through the rain to our first stop, The Willard Hotel, for afternoon tea in the hotel’s Peacock Alley. A dowager empress of a hotel, full of marble, low light, and the quiet murmur of harps, the Willard is an ideal spot for a civilized spot of tea and accompanying tea sandwiches, scones with lemon curd and jam, and mini pastries.

After sipping our tea like ladies and polishing off the sandwiches (my favorite was a smoked turkey salad on wheat), we headed out by foot towards the National Mall and the Smithsonian Museum of American History, where Julia Child’s Cambridge kitchen is preserved under glass. On the way, we were passed by the presidential motorcade, a nice “mostly only in DC” moment.

That night, we headed to dinner at Birch & Barley in Logan Circle, walking distance from our hotel. It was here that I realized how much the food scene has progressed in DC in the years since my last visit. Housed in a narrow two-story building on 14th Street (the upstairs is a beer-focused bar, Churchkey), the restaurant is a stark yet cozy spot with a Northern European feel, devoted to showcasing a huge collection of artisan beers and the foods that go with them.  It also has a great, Germany and Alsace-leaning wine list.

We started off with seared foie gras and crispy polenta with mushrooms and taleggio, both of which were rich, flavorful, and full of texture. The bread basket with house-made pretzel rolls and cornbread were delicious as well, but I managed to save room for a delicious fresh tagliatelle with braised rabbit, baby carrots, and homemade ricotta. The pasta was chewy and light as air, a perfect base for delicate pieces of pulled rabbit, sweet bits of carrot, and the creaminess of the ricotta. It was a great meal and I look forward to going back.

Saturday morning was sunny and warm so we ambled down to the Old Ebbitt Grill for brunch before tackling the Spy Museum. A DC classic, the Grill is famous for its oyster bar and the clubby green booths in which everyone from lobbyists to senators to celebrities have dined. I had the country brunch, a plate of grits, eggs, and glazed Virginia ham shanks. Because of where we were, we also got some oysters – I introduced Chef K to little Kusshis from British Columbia, and to compare we got some similarly sized Virginicas from Virginia – briny and delicious, especially with champagne.

After a long walk in the sunshine to work off some of those grits, we met up with the lovely Ms. T at the next spot on our food itinerary, Chef Jose Andres’ Cafe Atlantico. Dizzy with the sunshine, we ordered margaritas and decided to splurge on the restaurant’s Chef’s Tasting Menu, featuring several courses representing the menu’s theme of “Nuevo Latino” cuisine, including  a rich, earthy foie gras soup, braised pork belly with mofongo, grilled cobia fish with parsnips and pineapple, and a pineapple colada cake with housemade sorbet.

Although not mind-blowing, the food was innovative and tasty, and I was sorry to hear that Cafe Atlantico will be closing in June to make way for an Andres-run theme restaurant tying into an upcoming National Archives exhibition. Hopefully a new location for this interesting spot will be found soon.

Our final morning in DC was Easter Sunday. Enticed by the lure of all-you-can-drink Mimosas, we took a chance on a spot neither of us had heard much about, Policy, also located on 14th St. near Howard University.  The slick, wonkish name didn’t quite match the hip, black and red interior, but the small plates menu offered eclectic treats such as crab eggs benedict, corned beef hash, beignets, mini-croissant BLTs, and fresh fruit muffins.

Everything was priced to order widely and share, which we did. Sweet, salty, and paired with multiple Mimosas, it was the perfect decadent end to a decadent weekend of wining and dining. Thank goodness DC is a walking city.

Walrus and Carpenter Low Tide Oyster Picnic

February 17, 2011

Although I grew up a stone’s throw from Tomales Bay and have always loved a good bowl of steamed mussels, pile of fried shrimp, or mess of crab legs, I was never an oyster eater.

Something about swallowing the gooey, briny little knobs always made me a little queasy. And chew them? Forget it!

Elliott's Chef Robert Spaulding shucking Olympias

Even when I lived in Boston and frequented the bar at McCormick & Schmick’s with a bivalve-loving co-worker, the best I could do would be to douse one or two small oysters in Tabasco sauce, close my eyes, and gulp them down with a healthy swig of whatever white wine was on hand. I appreciated the ritual of oyster eating, but it just wasn’t my thing.

Then I met Carl, whose years cooking at Elliott’s Oyster House on the waterfront in Seattle had given him a healthy knowledge of, and appreciation for, the bountiful oysters of the Pacific Northwest. 

Every November Carl returns to Elliott’s to shuck hundreds of oysters at the restaurant’s Oyster New Year bash. It was at this huge party, wandering through a massive tent on the end of Pier 56 and sampling scads of oysters whose names I’d never even heard of,  that I finally began to “get” the appeal of these tasty little shellfish, to enjoy the sweet succulance of a perfect bite of cold fresh Kumamoto or Skookum or Snow Creek.

I am lucky to have my own personal shucker

Like a nice wine, a good oyster is a perfect encapsulation of a specific terroir, in this case the waters from which it came, redolant of  cold seawater and (in my imagination at least) clean air and pure earth and sand.

In the flush of my new way of considering the oyster, I was thrilled to get a chance to attend this winter’s final Walrus and Carpenter Oyster Picnic, organized by oyster impressario Jon Rowley and held at low tide in the dead of night on the shores of the South Puget Sound’s Totten Inlet.

Our host, Bill Taylor of Taylor Shellfish Farms, giving us the oyster lowdown as the bus approaches the beach

The idea: a group of eager oyster lovers dress in many layers and gather with Jon at Elliott’s. In a light rain, we hop a bus south. At a gas station off of Highway 101 we pick up a man in a red jacket – no ordinary hitchiker but Bill Taylor, fourth generation owner of Taylor Shellfish. Bill guides us off the main highway and down a dirt road to a stretch of tidelands near Steamboat Island where his family has farmed shellfish for over a century. The bus parks, we eagerly disembark, turn on head lamps and pull up hoods, and set off down the beach, which is littered with oysters of all shapes and sizes, there for the plucking.

Shucking Kumamotos and Pacifics

Winter low tides are the best time for picking oysters right out of the water, and the Taylor team has set up a line of oyster and wine-tasting tents along the sand, with lanterns illuminating other stations where harvesting and shucking lessons attract small groups up and down the tideline. A bonfire provides warmth and the opportunity for rustic oyster roasting.

Carl and Marcia examine a Virginica

Carl, his friend Marcia, and I have a blast roaming the beach, pulling oysters from their tide-exposed perches, and savoring them with copious amounts of ice cold, Oyster Wine award-winning vinos (which I was also helping to pour for the group).

Delicious “Oyster Wines”
Carl finds a bunch of Olympias, the only oyster native to the Northwest, nestled in the sand and shucks them open for us to enjoy. Olympias are tiny, about the size of a quarter, and have a coppery yet creamy taste – sort of like eating a penny, if pennies had the consistency of butter. A little weird, but oddly appealing.

Shucking lesson with Waterfront Chef Peter Levine

As the rain begins to pour down harder and the moon disappears behind full cloud cover, we trudge back up the beach to enjoy a steaming cup of oyster stew prepared by Chef Xinh, a former star Taylor shucker who now runs her own seafood restaurant in nearby Shelton. It’s a warm, comforting end to a fun and delicious evening.

Chef Xinh serves up oyster stew

End of Summer Barbecue

November 22, 2009

To mark the end of summer, my birthday, and just for fun, we had a few friends over for a backyard barbecue. Ku, Adrian, Mia, Dave, Shelly, Hank, Nhi, Katrina, Leya, Ewan, and Leo helped us eat a mountain of kebabs, sausages, potato salad, tomato salad, margaritas, guacamole, and Carl’s special blackberry pies from berrys foraged along the Beacon Hill bike path.

The spread. Note the many near empty wine bottles in background.

Ku and Hank, hangin’ in the shade

A highlight of the afternoon was the Liangs’ gift of a bottle of Bakon vodka, a new, Northwest-produced vodka that tastes scarily like everyone’s favorite cured pork product. After a round of shots, our reactions were mixed. Some liked the vodka, some felt it would be best served in a Bloody Mary or other savory cocktail, and some agreed with Ewan’s assessment:

We all had a great time hanging around in the back yard, eating, drinking, and laughing – the perfect way to end summer in Seattle!

Leo and Mia enjoying blackberry pie

Nhi and Carl

 

Long Weekend In Seaview

November 22, 2009

Had a great, relaxing weekend at Lisa and Buzz’s place in Seaview, WA. The weather was beautiful and we spent our days walking the beach, visiting the farmer’s market in Ilwaco and antique shops in Astoria, poking around Forts Columbia and Canby, eating fried seafood, drinking wine, and reading in the back yard.

The ocean at Cape Disappointment

Oysterville, WA

Carl reading in the back yard.

The port at Ilwaco on a rainy Saturday

When we were through with our adventures for the day we’d retire back to the roost and cook up dinner in the house’s tiny but well-stocked kitchen.

One day it was raining and I decided to doctor up some tomato soup for a simple but hearty and tasty dinner.  Tomato soup is a great base for all sorts of main course soups – you can add all manner of  veggies, pasta, rice, even tofu to liven things up. The below recipe is a little simpler, owing to limited ingredients, but felt perfect for a weekend beach house type of meal, or one for a cool night at home when you’re pressed for time.

 

Chunky Tomato Soup with Cheese Toasts

Ingredients:

1 large can or the better part of a 28 oz. box of tomato soup

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbs. olive oil

a pinch of crushed red pepper

herbs de provence or a mix of oregano, basil, rosemary, and other savory herbs

salt and pepper

1/2 cup whole milk or cream (optional)

half a baguette or loaf of french or crusty bread

grated parmesan cheese

parsley (optional)

Method:

For the soup, heat the oil and garlic in a sauce pan until garlic is fragrant. Add the whole tomatoes and cover. Cook until tomatoes start to burst, about 5-10 minutes. You can help this along with the flat end of a wooden spoon to get them nice and saucy. Add the red pepper, stir, and cook another minute. Add the herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and stir. Pour in soup and simmer to combine flavors. If using, stir in milk or cream right before taking off heat.

In the meantime, make crostini by brushing slices of bread with olive oil and sprinkling with cheese and parsley. Cook under the broiler 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted and browned.

Serve the soup with chopped basil leaves, a sprinkle of grated cheese, or just pepper, with the crostini on the side for dunking.