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.

Sometimes You Just Need A Burger

May 22, 2011

Painted Hills chuck burger with cheddar and fries at the Bravehorse Tavern. Other Seattle favorites: Palace Kitchen, Spring Hill, Zippy’s, Dick’s. What are yours?

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

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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


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)


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.


September 3, 2009

We’ve been having a great time this summer spending time at Carl’s family’s place in Mazama, in Washington’s upper Methow Valley very near the Canadian border. The place is beautiful and serene and we spend our days reading, riding bicycles, going to the farmer’s market, hiking, cooking, and generally relaxing.

It’s a very special place and I feel instantly better whenever we crest the pass and start heading down Highway 20 into the Valley. Here are some photos from our various trips over the past several months.

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The road to Mazama, across from the Miller cabins.

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Atop Washington Pass

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The long driveway

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View from the top of Goat Peak down the Valley

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Atop Slate Peak

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The view from the porch of the big cabin

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On the deck at the Sun Mountain Lodge

Pig Roast at Chez Liang

August 31, 2009

Every year on his wife Adrian’s birthday, Kuo-Yu performs the ultimate act of husbandly love and procures a whole roasted pig for her from Chinatown. The Liangs then prove their love for all of their friends by inviting us over to feast on all the porcine goodness, making Adrian’s birthday not only a day for celebration but one of the happiest of the year!

Adrian’s pigs come from Kau Kau, famed in Seattle for its barbecued and roasted pork and duck. The meat is succulent and juicy, with just the right richness and tang from the spice rub. Nestled into a bed of banana leaves, the pre-feast pig looks like this:

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Although we’ve not yet tried actually roasting an animal out in the back yard, Ku plays an excellent butcher:

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Although Carl was a little unnerved by Ku’s plastic gloves, he did enjoy the pig skin. mmmm. crispy. Even Chowder had a good time.

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In addition to the piggy (although what more could you want?) we enjoyed some delicious sides including Jenni’s bleu cheese potato salad, Carl’s Asian slaw, grilled corn, zucchini bread, and Cupcakes Royale for the big finale, which were also enjoyed by all, especially the birthday girl and Miss Mia, whom I had to fight off for that salted caramel cupcake. Three year olds can be quite wily!

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By the time we finally stumbled home we were full of pig, cake, and wine, but still in better shape than our porcine friend. Thanks pig! and thanks Ku and Adrian for another great party!

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August 17, 2009

Every year, Carl and his sister Pamela special order chile peppers from Hatch, New Mexico – apparently the “Chile Capital of the World” – which come overnighted to Pam’s door at the height of the harvest in August. When the boxes – three bushels this year – show up, they get some friends together, grill up all the peppers, vaccum pack them, and freeze for use the rest of the year. This year, I got to help with the packing of two huge boxes of Big Jim medium-spicy peppers, and one bushel of Sandia hot peppers. Let me tell you, that is a lot of peppers.

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The first batch of Big Jims.

After washing the peppers, Carl and his brother-in-law Brad tossed them on the grill and took turns blistering them until they were nice and charred.

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Peppers, blistered and off the grill!

After cooking and cooling, I helped man the Foodsaver and we vacuum-packed all the peppers for freezing and future use in delicious enchiladas, chile stews, taco sauces, etc. Since I benefit from the use of these delicious peppers, I was more than happy to seal and freeze until the machine overheated!

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Carl, workin’ the old Foodsaver.

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The finished product, ready to be eaten in a few weeks, or whenever.

Walla Walla Weekend

August 9, 2009

I had some work to do in Walla Walla last weekend and Carl decided there was no better way to beat the Seattle heatwave than to escape to the even-hotter east side of the Cascades, so off we went over the Pass.

Our first stop: Red Mountain and Col Solare, where the estate vineyard is looking great and winemaker Marcus Notaro is looking at an early September start to harvest.

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Col Solare vineyard and Horse Heaven Hills in the background.

After the winery we headed to scenic Pasco, WA for some minor league baseball fun at Gesa Stadium between the Tri-Cities Dust Devils and the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, Single A teams for the Rockies and Giants, respectively. We had a thoroughly good time as the temperature dipped to 96 and the Mariners Moose entertained the crowd of kids.

The next morning, well rested after a night in luxurious AC, we set off for Walla Walla. I rarely get a chance to play tourist out that way so we did it up, stopping at pretty much every historical marker on the way to the Whitman Mission outside of town, site of Marcus Whitman’s extremely ill-fated missionary camp. As the mercury climbed past 100, we figured it was a great time for a hike and hoofed it up the hill to the Whitman Shaft, which contrary to its name is not a mining tunnel but an obelisk on top of the hill commemorating the unfortunate Whitman massacre. Hot and sweaty but well worth it for the views:

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View of the Whitman Mission

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Carl exploring his roots.

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Near the end of the Oregon Trail.

The rest of the weekend was filled with winery visits – to L’Ecole No. 41 , the new, impressive  Waterbrook winery, Blue Mountain Cider Company over the border in Milton-Freewater, OR, where we were impressed with the array of hard apple and fruit ciders produced, then back to Walla Walla to Beresan, Trust, Chateau Rollat, and of course Northstar. Highlights included the Cab rose from Trust, Rollat’s Cab Sauvs, and Northstar’s Merlots and Petit Verdot.

We also had a fantastic time at the Spring Valley Vineyard wheat harvest party, despite the 106 degree heat that evening it was beautiful out, the wines were delicious, the company fun. The ranch at Spring Valley is one of my favorite places and it was great to share it with Carl, meet new friends and catch up with old, and enjoy a beautiful sunset over the wheat fields.

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View of the vineyard from the garden at Spring Valley.

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Sunset over Spring Valley – this photo doesn’t capture the half of it!

On Sunday, the car stuffed with wine, cider, onions and melons from the Walla Walla farmer’s market, and a crate of peaches from a stand outside of Yakima, we headed home, just in time for the temperature to dip back into the 80s, reminding us that there is nothing better than a Northwest summer.