Archive for the ‘Restaurant Reviews’ Category

Writing Under the Influence: Monsoon East Review (Bellevue, WA)

September 30, 2009

Blogging platforms should come with a warning:  Do not write reviews of tasty Vietnamese restaurants while under the influence of hunger!  My belly is telling me to get back in my car and drive to Monsoon East.  No, belly, no. 

Here’s the scene:  It’s lunchtime on one of the last sunny days for Western Washington.  After driving around the block four times looking for any parking spot, I find one right in front of the restaurant.  My baby, Rodger, and I stumble in and take a look around the swanky, contemporary restaurant.  No hostess, but smiling cooks behind the open-view kitchen. 

Finally the hostess appears from the back and seats us promptly with the menus and a high chair.  Ah, the menus.  Everything sounded so enticing, it took me forever to order.  Luckily I had a cheerful waitress who recommended the organic chicken in the vermicelli bowl.  Sounded good to me, but first a salad.   

The salad was Green Papaya with Grilled Prawns and Caramelized Pineapple.  It was tangy and bright with really well-balanced flavors, despite the sad looking pineapple.  Although, it couldn’t be too sad, because afterall, it was caramelized pineapple.  I think the prawns were good.  I’d love to be more descriptive, but Rodger only let me have one bite!

Then the vermicelli bowl came, filled to the brim with lemongrass chicken, crispy imperial roll, cucumber, mint, and a sauce that carried a real kick.  Wow, when the menu said “crispy” roll, I was expecting something along the lines of a deep-fried spring roll, but the Vietnamese apparently don’t use the word “crispy” lightly.  It had a serious crunch factor.  Delicious.  The only thing about the meal that left me wanting was the dry chicken.  Very unfortunate because if it weren’t for a little too long of a kiss on the grill this would be a gripe-less review. 

All of this came at a very reasonable price for such flavorful fare.  The vermicelli bowl was only 9.50 and if you don’t have a monkey stealing all your prawns and chicken, this would probably be more than enough for lunch, but I spent an extra 8.00 to get the salad too.  There were so many cool things on the menu I didn’t order, like Idaho catfish claypot, bo la lot beef and the raw bar.  I’m going to have to go back and try each of them! 

Tilth on Urbanspoon
 

 

I found vegan heaven at Tilth, but don't worry, they serve steak too

August 28, 2009

Doing research for my Skagit River Ranch Farm Day post, I heard about this James Beard Award winning local chef, Maria Hines.  She has an organic cuisine restaurant in Seattle called Tilth.  Of course I made reservations right away.

We sat in the outside dining area and it was quite charming.  Despite being right on a busy road, Chef Hines has done a beautiful job of creating a city get-away garden feel.  I’d read on their website that there was a vegan menu.  Even before I figured out I had a dairy allergy I loved vegan food for the freshness and creativity.  Tilth did not disappoint on either of these facets.  The other neat thing about this restaurant is that you can order a half portion of any dish.  Since three of the items on the vegan menu looked good to me, I ordered all three!

Before dinner came, hubby ordered a mojito and the waitress said, “I just have to go out back and pick the mint for it.”  I knew we were in for a treat then.  This take on the Cuban classic was so refreshing and much crisper than any I’d had before.  Apparently they should be made with Pellegrino, not club soda.

Next came a delightful amuse-bouche:  red pepper soup on a porcelain spoon.  Hubby’s had creme fraiche.  Without my prompting, they thoughtfully didn’t include any creme on my portion since I’d ordered off the vegan menu.

My appetizer was a chilled bowl of cucumber soup.  My, how I love a good cucumber soup in summer.

For my first main, they served the pea risotto with pine nuts and basil chiffonade.  It was light, balanced, fresh and probably the best risotto I’ve had yet.  I ordered a second half portion.

The second main was pot au feau with local summer squash, beans, peas and other veggies.  Rodger loved this one.  He ate most of it.

Now, if I haven’t lost the meat eaters yet, don’t think Tilth forgot about you.  For appetizer, we had pork which was cured for three weeks and sliced thin served with a berry coulee and pistachios.  Then duck burgers with a spicy aioli that was anything but lacking in flavor.  Hubby would like me to note that he was upset that the aioli wasn’t mentioned on the menu.  This is one of his pet peeves.  Finally, he had a steak, of course, which was good, but the portion small for hearty eaters (and that was the full portion).

To top off this delectable parade was Theo’s Chocolate Sorbet made with hazelnut and lemon marmalade served over strawberries.  A perfectly rich ending to a rejuvenating culinary experience.

Tilth on Urbanspoon

A Second Installment of Orcas Cuisine: The Inn at Ship Bay

August 25, 2009

The second place that my husband and I go every year on Orcas Island – and our hands down favorite – is the Inn at Ship Bay.  As you can see by the photos below, the food is amazing, but what we love is the staff.  The servers are all experienced and know every detail of the food off the top of their heads.

We sat outside with a gorgeous view of East Sound.  My husband thought the meal was absolutely perfect.  He ordered a steak (just like he does at every restaurant).  I thought it was almost perfect…

Salad of Duck Confit, Roast Sweet Onion, Local, Greens, Shaved Reggiano, Peach Vinaigrette and Toasted Almonds

The greens, vinaigrette and toasted almond blended so well in this salad.  I’m not an expert on duck confit, but the texture and taste didn’t seem different from roast duck.

Yes, I am a duck-oholic and ordered duck for my main as well:

Seared and Roasted Duck Breast, Yukon Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables and Local Shiro Plums

I ordered the breast medium-well was worried it would come out over cooked, but I it was cooked exactly and was crispy on the outside and juicy inside.  The veggies, especially the beets, were all delicious.  It was missing a little something and I quickly figured out it was the black cherries on my husband’s steak and stole them – every last one!

And I never go without dessert…

Lemon Baked Alaska

Hands down the prettiest dessert I’ve had in a long time.  I just wish the meringue was crunchier.  I haven’t made Baked Alaska before, but I imagine that is not an easy task in an ice cream dessert.

Christina's: True Northwest Cuisine

August 20, 2009

It’s my last night on Orcas Island.  I’m sitting at the computer trying to decide if I should call Christina’s white gazpacho creamy.  It was smooth, but light in the way a vinaigrette becomes emulsified as you whisk in the oil.  Pure olive oil was drizzled over the green grapes in the summery puree.  It was surprising, refreshing and cool.

The first time I ate at Christina’s, it was still owned by Christina.  I can still remember what I ate:  A single ravioli… two sheets of pasta measuring three inches by three inches filled with caramelized onion and smothered in a sauce of soft French cheeses, garnished with crispy sage.  Perfect in every way.  It’s different now.  Owner Maureen Mullen has a little way to go to reach the level of service and cuisine that Christina had built, but I can see glimmers of hope in her gazpacho.

This time I ordered an empanada with local greens.  The empanada pastry was filled with cannelloni beans and summer squash served with house-made tomatillo sauce and cojita cheese.  The greens stole the show though.  They had a fruity or citrus-like quality.  The waitress said they were sauteed in oil, shallots, white wine and vegetable stock.  There was kale, red cabbage and kohlrabi (green turnip) picked young, so they weren’t too bitter.

A non-cheesy mint risotto transformed roast chicken into Arroz con Pollo.  I’m not sure if that was intentional.  There were some of the tiniest carrots I’d ever seen in orange, purple, white and green.  Hubby’s medium steak came out still mooing, but they quickly fixed that and brought it back out lightly charred on top, rich brown on the sides with pink running through.

The service… We couldn’t decide between four of the wines, so they brought out four glasses and gave us a taste of each.  I was impressed with their effort.  The waiters were attentive.  They smiled at the baby.  Something was a little off though.  My suspicion was that they were tired.  It was the last seating of the day.  My husband thought they might be having trouble with his accent or having a culture clash.  Either way, the overall experience was relaxing and delicious and we’ll return next time we’re on the island.

Skagit River Ranch Farm Day August 30th!

August 10, 2009

chickens

I just got my tickets for the Skagit River Ranch Farm Day and am very excited.  Even though Skagit River sells at my local farmer’s market, I love taking the drive up to Sedro-Woolley a few times a year to chat with farmers George and Eiko, see how my meat is grown and see the fluffy little chickies.

This first annual farm day will have everything I could ask for: sustainability panels, prestigious guest chefs, farm tours, a petting zoo and of course, lots of grass fed burgers and sausages.

steer

Malissa’s daughter trying to coerce the horses at the ranch to eat out of her hand:

Audrey at SRR

Here are bios of the guest chefs:

Maria Hines:  Executive Chef and Owner of Tilth restaurant in Seattle, which serves organic cuisine in the New American style.  Among numerous other accolades, she was winner of the 2009 James Beard Award for Best Chef Northwest.  Let’s just say, I’m calling as soon as they open tomorrow to make reservations!  In an interview for Savory Cities Blog, Chef Hines was asked what the best piece of cooking advice she’s ever received was.  What was her answer?  “Take accountability.”

Greg Atkinson:  cookbook author specializing in Northwest cuisine.  Chef Atkinson is a local leader in the slow food movement and won the James Beard Foundation’s M.F.K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award in 2000.

Here are a list of Atkinson’s books (Disclaimer:  Links to Amazon.  If you purchase these books from these links BBS gets a percentage from Amazon):

In Season: Culinary Adventures of a San Juan Island Chef
The Northwest Essentials Cookbook: Cooking With the Ingredients That Define a Regional Cuisine
Entertaining in the Northwest Style: A Menu Cookbook
West Coast Cooking
Recipes from the San Juan Islands

Craig Hetherington:  Executive Chef for TASTE Restaurant at the Seattle Art Museum where sustainability is an integral part of their philosophy.  Check out a quote from Chef Hetherington:

“Our local cuisine is the cornerstone of everything we do. If someone in the kitchen comes up with a great idea for a dish, we first see if we can get the ingredients locally. If we can’t get them, or we’re unable to adapt the dish using local ingredients, we don’t make it. It’s as simple as that.”

I’m looking forward to seeing these chefs square off in the perfect burger cook-off and hope to see you all there too.

Updated 8/22/2009 with chicken and steer pictures courtesy of Eiko Vojkovich, Skagit River Ranch.

Restaurant Review: Watercress Asian Bistro

August 4, 2009

Why is it that most Chinese restaurants are stuck in the seventies?  They are covered floor to ceiling in black lacquer with orange flourishes and menus that haven’t been updated since 1972 either.  Well, lucky for Redmond, this is not the experience at Watercress Asian Bistro.  It has a very contemporary feel, friendly and attentive staff and a fusion menu with modern takes on classic Chinese dishes.

I’ve been meaning to get over to Watercress since they opened a few years ago.  I have friends who are regulars there since they have a gluten free menu.  They were very careful to help me find a dish without dairy too.  I was able to overhear the waitress talking with the chef about the ingredients of the specific dish I wanted, so I know they weren’t just telling me what I wanted to hear (you’d be surprised how often this happens).

As far as taste goes, I can’t say it’s in my top 5 of Redmond restaurants, but at least the food wasn’t deep fried and coated in msg and sugar.  I had a very fresh mango chicken dish with sticky brown rice.  The rice was cooked perfectly (brown seems hard for even Asian restaurants to get right) and there were lots of nice veggies in the dish.  Best of all, they didn’t skimp on the mango.  My only criticism is that something in the flavors didn’t quite go.  I’m not sure if it was the curry spices or just too many bell peppers.  Overall, though, the peas were crisp, the chicken tender and the mangoes sweet.

Most dishes at Watercress will set you back $11 to $15.  In my opinion, if they’re going to keep people coming in the door during the recession they may need to offer some dinner deals.  It’s not that I felt ripped off, I just think it’s getting hard to justify spending that kind of money when Redmond has so many other restaurants of the same quality with mains closer to $10.

BlogHer '09 Foodie Dinner

July 31, 2009

I can’t believe a week has already past since the food blogger meetup at BlogHer ’09.  It was so inspiring I have been blogging, twittering and reading blogs nonstop since then.  It was so exciting to meet all the rock star food bloggers and as you can see from the expression on Rodger’s face, the food wasn’t bad either.  : )  That’s taramosalata (or taramasalata) that he’s enjoying at the Greek Islands restaurant.  This kid has good taste, let me tell you.  My favorite dish of the night was the baklava for dessert.  By far the best baklava I’ve ever had. 

I had one goal for my first BlogHer and that was to get connected with the food blogging community.  It is so much more interesting to me to read other blogs when I’ve met the people behind the page.  Then you can imagine the words in their own voices and envision them cooking up these treats in their kitchens.  This dinner accomplished this goal single handedly.  The seminars and networking events were just icing on the cake.

How does one find out about these events?  I’m not exactly sure, but I just happen to be lucky enough to be sitting next to Elise from Simply Recipes while getting a hand massage in the expo hall and she told me about it and introduced me to Lydia of Perfect Pantry, who was organizing the event with Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen.  Lydia and Kalyn put together lovely bags with spices for us too. 

I put pretty much everyone I met in my blogroll, which was mostly empty before, so check that out to visit some super blogs.  I was most excited to meet Hetal and Anuja of Show me the Curry – two other ladies that, like Malissa and I, have an online cooking show.  Only they do numerous episodes every week.  I’m in total awe.  I was very lucky to sit next to Krista of Londonelicious who really knows her stuff and walked us through all the dishes.  Did you know dolmades aren’t normally vegetarian?  To think the number of times I ate them when I was.  Oops. 

I put the photos up on my SmugMug account, so you can go there to view and download them if you like.  I promise they’re not all of Rodger.  Please let me know if you have any problems with it.  This is the first time I’ve used SmugMug to share pics.  Click here for the gallery Click here for the Flash slideshow.

Le Soufflé Magnifique

July 29, 2009

Choc Souffle

Grand Souffle

Rushing back from the Castle at Versailles, 30 minutes late and dressed in tourist shorts with cameras in hand, the Le Soufflé maître d’ welcomed us with a smile pointed to our casual wear and said “Magnifique!” as he led us to the corner table in the air conditioned back room.  What’s more, they had ice water (a real treat in Paris).  And when I saw a 3-course, all-souffle dinner on the menu?  Well, I knew this was the France I’d come to see.

For my appetizer I ordered a simple cheese soufflé, which tasted a bit like brie with the earthiness of a good rind.  I’m not sure if it was actually brie (especially since I lost my notebook where I wrote down the name of it), but very similar anyhow.  My first impression of a true Parisian soufflé was that it had a light, uniform texture and was not too eggy.

For my main course I ordered Le Soufflé’s specialty, the King Henri IV soufflé.  This is a plain savory soufflé which comes with a small bowl of chicken and mushrooms in cream sauce.  When they set the soufflé down at your table, they take the spoon and make a well in the middle and pour in the sauce and chicken.  It had the perfect balance of light, spongy soufflé  and creamy, hearty sauce.  This one was definitely my favorite.

Finally, it was dessert time.  I ordered the Grand Marnier soufflé, but it was not at all what I expected.  I imagined that it would come out, they’d pour a little alcohol in it, light it on fire and then I’d eat it.  Instead, I knew I was in trouble when they came and dropped the entire bottle of Grand Marnier off at the table and walked away to get the soufflé.  They came back with the sweet, angel-food like soufflé, poked a well in the middle and started pouring.  After pouring a couple shots in, they put the bottle back on the table and walked away.  No fire meant there were still two shots of alcohol in my dessert.  Well, I have to admit this was a bit much for me and especially for my nursing son, so I ended up stealing a lot of my husband’s chocolate soufflé, which came with a boat of smooth chocolate sauce.  And really, that was not a bad way to end a perfect Parisian meal.

European Musings

July 21, 2009

I just returned on Thursday from twelve days of sightseeing, wedding celebration and delicious eating in Europe.  I’m just starting to be recovered enough to have a few minutes to blog and now I’m leaving tomorrow morning for BlogHer in Chicago!    I have so many pictures to share from France, Germany and Switzerland, but they will have to wait until after I return.  I kept a detailed food log, so I won’t forget anything.  This experience will definitely influence my cooking.  Here are a few thoughts on my European cuisine experience:

Paris was our first stop and what a busy way to begin our trip!  Here I had the best vegetables and morels I’ve ever had (La Terrassee, Westin Hotel) and tasted many things I’d never tried before: canelé (a SW French pastry), tarte tatin (upside-down apple tart), mâche (a tender lettuce).  I even had a dinner of 3-courses of souffles!

Next we took the train to Southern Germany for a relaxing time celebrating the wedding of our friends.  I was happily surprised to find the food in Germany even better than in France (Don’t tell the French I said that!).  The best dish I had the entire trip was at the reception.  It was a vegetarian lasagna with just a perfect mix of roasted bell peppers, carrot planks, zucchini and creamy cheeses.  There were over 20 wedding cakes – each one more beautiful and delicious than the next and most baked by the mother of the groom!  I have tons of pictures of these to share.

The last leg of our journey was a quick stop in Zurich, Switzerland before heading back to Paris to fly home.  Here I had my first taste of European pork Cordon Bleu.  There are cafés on every corner to sip tea and people watch.  I only wish I’d had more time to sample Swiss chocolates!        

For those of you that know me, you’ll know that all this cheese and cream does not do good things for my sinuses and I’m still getting migraines every single day even though I haven’t had a lick of dairy since I returned, but was it worth it?  I have to admit, yes, I’d do it again.  To me, experiencing the culture of a place is so closely tied with the food.  How can you go to France and not have crêpes outside the corner café?  How can you go to Switzerland and not have chocolate?  It’s just the price I have to pay.  And I do it with a smile on my face.  : )

Safari Cake

February 4, 2009

Safari Cake

We celebrated my niece’s eighth birthday at the Rainforest Cafe, so I thought a safari cake would be appropriate.  There wasn’t much time to make it since my in-laws were in town, so I did a simple chocolate cake with vanilla frosting and Wilton animal figures.  The sides are dusted with cocoa powder using a powdered sugar shaker.  The tastiest part was the chocolate frosting I used for the writing.  I wish I had written down the exact recipe, but, like I said, I was in a hurry.  It went something like this though:  Lots of powdered sugar, lots of butter, lots of cocoa powder and a little milk and vanilla extract.  

Haley was so delighted at the ambiance of the Rainforest Cafe, where you sit among the trees and mechanical swinging apes and every few minutes there are “thunderstorms”.  They even put a sparkler in the cake for her.  The food is overpriced, but I felt it was worth it.  We had fun.