Friday, December 7, 2007

Harvest Vine 2nd Visit

After some deliberation we decided to celebrate a recent anniversary at Harvest Vine on Madison. We had a great meal here a few years ago, and we hoped that we'd get to enjoy a similarly monumental meal this visit too. We were not at all disappointed!
We asked the server to choose a reasonably priced wine suitable for celebration, and he was happy to oblige. He chose a very nice Tempranillo for us. I believe it was a 2000 Bodegas Alion Ribera del Duero. Very very good and we were quite happy with the choice. Medium body, fruity, good balance of oaks and tannins, and so on. I never know what to say about wine other than whether or not I like it. I just haven't developed the vocabulary I guess.
After an amuse bouche of marinated red beets on a bit of toast, the meal started in earnest with the following:
Boquerones en Vinagre - anchovy filets cured in vinegar with pickled guindillas
This is a signature dish at Harvest Vine, and really great. Delicious firm meaty anchovy filets paired with green olives and small pickled peppers. Every bite was bright and tasty and refreshing.
Mejillones en Escabeche - mussels in vinegar pimenton sauce with baby greens
This was another bright vinegary flavorful dish. The fluffy baby greens were a great contrast to the briny slightly spicy moist cured mussels served out of the shell.
Both of these dishes were a good way to clean our palates and get us ready for what would end up being a tremendous meal.
Next we had a small cup of soup. The soup was a Pure de Raiz de Apio - a shot of celery root and choricero pepper puree. After the sharp brightness of the first two cold dishes the little cup of hot soup was a nice simple set of flavors that I enjoyed quite a bit. It didn't stand out tremendously though, it was just a nice segue into the rest of the meal.
We began the hot tapas portion of the meal with Colas de Bruselas - brussels sprouts sauteed with serrano ham. I have to say that these were just about the best brussels sprouts I've ever had. Perfectly cooked, and the diced serrano ham and (I think) shallots were terrific. That was the one vegetable dish of the night.
We then moved on to some more seafood; Ventreska a la Vainilla - pan seared tuna belly finished with vanilla infused olive oil. Holy cow is this dish awesome. I think we had it last time we were here, and I believe it is another signature dish for Harvest Vine, with good reason. The tuna belly is served in a thin seared slice that is drizzled with basil oil (I think) and this really amazingly aromatic vanilla-infused olive oil. The combination of the scent of the vanilla and the simple soft texture of the mild tuna belly is amazing.
At this point we were ready for some meat courses. The next course was Conejo Confitado - confit rabbit with bacon and leeks. This was two scallop-sized breaded patties of rabbit confit and caramelized onions served over leeks sauteed 'til very soft with bacon. This dish was terrific. The flavors were simple and strong, but refined. The rabbit was moist and tender, the leeks a great accompaniment.
Now for some pork belly! Panza de Cerdo - braised pork belly with leeks. Once again, a delightful combination of tender meat served over a bed of perfectly braised leeks. I actually don't remember the leek part very well. The pork belly itself was great though, coated in pimenton and braised 'til it was just about falling apart.
At this point we were ready to order our final dinner courses. We decided to end with a bang, so we chose Crepas de Oca Confitada - goose confit crepes with purple cabbage and squash-foie sauce, and Foie de Pato con Arrope - pan seared foie gras with pumpkin caramelized in grape must. The crepes were really tasty little bundles of goose meat and purple cabbage coated in a creamy flavorful sauce that tasted mostly of squash. This was a pretty inspired dish that we very much enjoyed. The foie gras dish was amazingly good. I think this is the best foie I've had, better than Mistral for sure, and a larger portion than we've had anywhere else. The pumpkin was not really evident, though I think maybe it had just cooked down a lot. It ended up being pretty much just a thick dark caramelized sauce that went very well with the foie. This was a great way to end the main part of the meal and really prepared us for dessert.
From what I understand and have experienced, desserts have never been a strong point at Harvest Vine, but they've never been a disappointment either. Today was no exception. We shared a slice of Tarta de Chocolate y Coco - chocolate and coconut tart with chantilly and toasted coconut. This was actually a pretty light dessert, not terribly strongly chocolate, with a perfectly light and flaky crust. We ate it with a glass of Don PX Gran Reserva 1971 Montilla, otherwise known as Amontillado sherry. Delicious stuff.
So that was the food.
Now the rest of the meal. The space itself is pretty small. There are 3 tables upstairs and about 12 seats around the bar, which face the chefs. We sat at the bar and watched the crew prepare every dish for us and chatted with the chefs a bit. We were quite surprised to see the chef from Licorous behind the counter! He apparently quit Licorous last week and just started at Harvest Vine. This is a great move for him, but maybe not so great for Licorous. We love that place, but I think a lot of the reason we love it is because of his food. I really hope it doesn't decline with his departure. I suspect though that they'll get another talent in there. It may be that Licorous could benefit from a culinary change of pace anyway.
Okay, back to Harvest Vine. I really like the interior of the place, and I very much appreciate being able to sit at the bar and watch the chefs at work. It was a little bit weird that for the first hour or two that we were there, the only other parties were a bunch of middle-aged couples who moved in and out. I guess maybe it's just that kind of place. I dunno. We were the youngest people in the room until a man brought his college-aged son in though, for sure. What does that say about us?
After some consideration I have very few complaints about Harvest Vine. The one thing that I did notice about the food is that almost every meat dish was a little bit oversalted. It wasn't enough to truly detract, but once I noticed the salt it was hard to miss. I started watching the chef, and sure enough, he always used a pinch more than I would have.
So in summary, despite the salt, I love this place. I think it is one of the best restaurants in Seattle, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to just about anyone looking for delicious food.
On a side note, though Mistral and Harvest Vine are pretty different from a culinary perspective, it should be noted that we paid less for this whole 9 course meal plus dessert and amuse and a not-inexpensive bottle of wine than we paid for just half of our meal at Mistral. Is Mistral worth it? Sort of. I don't believe the wine pairings are worth it. Is Harvest Vine worth it? Definitely.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Blog News

So I know it seems like I don't write about food anymore. I do sometimes! My friend R. convinced me to write some reviews for yelp. So I did.
I actually hope to get around to updating this blog more often. I used to hold back because I didn't have pictures, and what's the point of a review without pictures? Well the point is to have a review, obviously. So I'll be doing this more. I may duplicate reviews between here and yelp sometimes, or I may just link to a yelp review. We'll see. Not too many people read this blog, after all.
Oh, and on that note, if you do read this blog and you know I've been somewhere and you want to hear about it, ask me and I may just write a blog post about it. It's not like I don't have anything to say!


So Quinn's . This place is getting a lot of exposure in some circles these days, and I think this is for good reason.
It was pretty good. We'll definitely go back. However, nothing we had was amazing. We started with 'duck & duck rillettes,' which was quite tasty but didn't live up to its name. I asked the server why it was called 'duck & duck rillettes' and apparently this is because it is duck rillette with chopped up duck in it. I couldn't find any chopped up duck at all, just rillettes. This wasn't necessarily negative, but I felt like the description wasn't all that accurate. It was served with a little frissee and some toasts and a smear of a sweet sauce, possible some sort of berry.
For an entree I had the 'smoked hanger steak, romesco, cabrales, fries.' The serving of steak was a little small compared to the big mound of fries, but it was quite well-prepared. I couldn't detect smoke as much as just grill flavoring. The fries were excellent, though completely unadorned. The cabrales cheese was served nicely melted on top of the sliced steak. The romesco sauce was a little bit bland but not a bad addition. I've never had it before, so it was interesting to taste. It's a nut-based sauce, I believe.
M. had the '8oz. "snake river farms" wagyu beef burger, cheddar, bacon, fries." We were both in the mood for something pretty hearty. The burger itself was quite good, though maybe a little more done than we both like, the cheese and bacon were both great, with tons of bacon included. I think the burger had 4 slices! However, that was all there was on the bun! No condiments of any sort! No onions, no lettuce, no tomato, nothing! There was a side of ketchup included, but that's it. I now wonder if one could have asked for that stuff. I think they were trying to highlight the meat, which I appreciate, but I also feel that the burger would have been improved by making it a little more traditional, especially given that it was closer to medium than medium rare. The bun itself was pretty good. It's a little bit lighter than Macrina's buns, but not too soft like the one at Cafe Campagne, which tends to just fall apart. I approved.
We finished the meal with an apple tart, which was basically apples, a cinnamon/sugar crumble topping, and a little bit of some kind of cheese. It was quite nice, the tart crust was excellent, the caramel-like sauce around the edges was tasty, but I felt like it could have used a little more oomph somehow. The cheese was a nice touch, but there wasn't much of it. I would have liked a dollop of whipped cream maybe, or a little ice cream or something to cut the sweetness of the tart filling.
All this with 2 cocktails each ended up being I think $78.00 + tip. Not bad, I thought. Everything was competently prepared, but I think all of the dishes felt a little bit incomplete somehow. The rillettes didn't live up to their name, the hanger steak was good but not very smoky and the romesco was only vaguely evident, the burger was good but needed toppings, the fries were good all around, but only Maika's entree came with ketchup. The apple tart was tasty but needed a foil to the sweetness.
I think part of the problem may have been that we tried what may have been just about the most pedestrian entrees on the menu. I wish I'd ordered something like the 'oxtails, potato gnocchi, crispy marrow.' I had considered it but the server talked me out of it because he didn't think it would be enough food for me. Frankly that would have been fine if it had been better-composed. The 'wild boar sloppy joe' is apparently very very good, as is the ham and gruyere sandwich. Some friends went there recently. L. had the ham and gruyere and J. had the fish and chips. I guess the fish and chips were not that great; one very large piece of breaded and fried fish with little or no seasoning. However, L. believes the ham and gruyere on potato bread to be the best grilled ham and cheese she's ever had in her life! I think I'll be ordering that next time I go!
Oh, but the cocktails actually were quite good.
So Quinn's has now been added to our list of places to eat at on the Hill. I very much look forward to going back. I really hope it comes into its own or that we find some better things on the menu. We're definitely going to try and I have a feeling they'll come through for us.
Oh, the space itself is great. Lots of bare (and treated too, I think) concrete, dark woods, and nice big open windows. There are a few interesting architectural elements in there that you can pick out, like the fact that the second floor is made of lots of vertical 2x4s bolted together, which I though was sort of cool. I honestly didn't recognize a single bit of the former interior. It used to be a very marginal Mexican restaurant, which I think has now taken the place of the other marginal Mexican restaurant up above Broadway Market.
The only really negative thing (none of the food stuff was negative, just not as positive as I'd hoped), was a very drunk woman at the bar making out with pretty much every man in reach. After the kitchen closed (at midnight) the chef came out and as soon as he noticed her he asked her to leave. I wish someone had done that earlier. It was embarrassing to watch. She could barely walk and had to be helped out of the building.
So there you have it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mistral In June

This year for M.'s 30th birthday she decided she would like to go to Mistral here in Seattle. Earlier this year we had a pretty amazing meal in New York, and we've been trying figure out if we can come close to that experience here in Seattle ever since. Based on readings in various august forums (egullet) we decided that Mistral was a top contender for a really extraordinary meal.
So this is what we ate.

Amuse Bouche:

Amuse Bouche
The beginning to this meal was a sashimi of hamachi collar served with a little olive oil, fresh chives, and 'orange dust.' With it came a microgreen and radish salad with more olive oil and some celery foam.
The hamachi was really great. it was very soft in texture and the fruity olive oil and the citrus of the orange dust combined to make a pretty delicious little bite. The salad was was very nice, but as one might expect, celery foam doesn't seem to have a lot of flavor on its own, so it was kind of overpowered by the greens and maybe a little bit superfluous.
Orange dust is apparently made by cooking orange peel in a simple syrup for a while, roasting it in the oven, then letting it dry and grinding it up in a spice mill. It provides a fairly sweet citrus-y flavor and a nice little crunchiness occasionally.
I thought this dish was very good all around and was a fairly simple way to refresh one's mouth and clear one's tastebuds for all the flavors to come.

First Course:

The first full course was a pea soup with a fresh Maine bay scallop, carrot foam, and basil oil.
This is one of Mistral's signature dishes, and one I'd read about elsewhere on more than one occasion. Our server told us that the kitchen shells the peas when the dish is ordered and makes it to order.
This was delicious.
The scallop was very fresh and had a terrific crust on it, but was otherwise very lightly cooked. The flavor was very light and fresh and worked very well with the fresh brightness of the peas.
The soup itself was just a delightful slighly creamy fresh green pea flavor, not a lot of embellishment, and that was just fine with me. The carrot add a little bit of a sweet tang and the basil oil enhanced the bright green flavor of the soup very nicely.
I can see why this dish is so well-known. It really was a highlight.

Second Course:

Our next seafood course was halibut with a cauliflower puree, sugar beets, and a beet puree, topped with some fresh herbs that I can't recall.
This was the first fairly unremarkable course. I'm sure the halibut was very good, but in combination with the relatively mild cauliflower puree and the sweetness of the sugar beets it ended up being a little bit monochromatic in flavor, all together. We both agreed it was a fine dish, but neither of us were very excited by it.

Third Course:

Okay, this course was better aligned with my expectations! This is Lake Superior walleye with some sauted vegetables, dill, some sort of sweet sauce (the orange stuff. I think it was mango?), and olive puree.
This was quite interesting and really delicious. Walleye is pretty delicate and not too flaky and this was cooked quite nicely. The vegetables were all very fresh and simply prepared, providing a nice crisp counter-point to the walleye. The olive puree was sweet and olive-y without being particularly briny or even terribly salty! It really was delightful and added an interesting dimension to the whole dish that I liked a whole lot. This dish really stood out for both of us.

Fourth Course:

This was a bonus course sent out by the chef. Tournedos of rabbit served with a beet risotto and basil puree. This was very good! The rabbit was super tender and flavorful, the beet risotto was a little earthy and very rich and maybe a little bit sweet!
I don't eat rabbit much, for no particular reason, but this dish made me think maybe I should seek it out more often. I do wish the dish had some crispiness to it, but I'm not sure what. It sort of didn't feel completely finished, but we both liked it very much all the same.

Fifth Course:

Now it was time for the foie gras course! This may be the best foie I've ever had (that's not saying much though). It was very nicely seared, served with a slice of apple dipped in simple syrup then baked, and a rhubarb puree. This was very good; a simple, fairly classically sweet presentation that I really enjoyed.

Sixth Course:

Our 'main' course was a lamb rib chop served with cippoline onions, potato puree, sauted greens and some little mushrooms. It was sprinkled with garlic buds and black Cyprus salt.
This lamb was pretty much perfectly prepared. I almost wonder if it was prepared sou vide, then seared, but I don't think so. It was just delightfully pink all the way through.
The rest of the dish seemed a little less calculated than lots of the other courses, which made this a little bit of a let-down, considering it was the 'peak' of the meal. The potato puree was nice and creamy and rich, and the onions were sweet and quite good too. This was certainly delicious, but I guess I wanted something a little more exciting.
The natural light was fading by this point and I was sort of trying not to use the flash too much, so that picture unfortunately turned out a little bit grainy.

Seventh Course:

So things were winding down a bit now, and along came our cheese course. There were five cheeses, a mix of goat and cow, a little bit of everything, it seemed. I can't remember what they all were at this point. They were served with some walnut bread, apple, and a bit of fig preserves. I have to say that after being served a cheese course by Max McCalman at Picholine early this year, pretty much every other cheese course is going to pale in comparison. This was no exception. None of the cheese was bad. The ice wine served with it was good, but none of it was super exciting.

Eighth Course:

Now we came to the sorbet course. This was pineapple, mango, passion fruit, and papaya, not necessarily in that order. These were all quite nice, but I think I liked the pineapple best. It very much seemed to encapsulate the flavor of pineapple nicely. A couple of the other flavors were a little bit too creamy and not quite fruity enough for my tastes, but it was all very good.

Ninth Course:

Now we come to dessert. This was a couple more sorbets, some fresh fruit with a little pepper, a big chocolate crispy wafer thing with sesame seeds, and a bit of some sort of almond cake, almost like a tuile? I don't remember what this was called. In fact, earlier today I couldn't remember a thing about this dessert. I guess that tells you a little bit about what kind of impression it made on me. Then I asked M. about it and she couldn't remember either, so I wasn't alone. Also, this comes to 6 sorbets! What's up with that? I really would have liked a little more variety in that regard.

So that's the whole meal! Did this come close to our meal at Picholine? Maybe in terms of food preparation alone, but as you can tell it was actually slightly uneven in that respect.
The wine service certainly didn't come close. Since Mistral prepares dishes sort of on the fly, I understand that it's hard to perfectly match wines with every dish. However, I think an above average sommelier could certainly have made a very good go of it. As it is, the choices are certainly competent, but as you can see I don't remember what most of them were, and I don't think any of them really were perfect or overly exceptional matches for the courses with which they were matched. We did have a nice sauternes with the foie gras, and there was a pretty good California chardonnay in there with one of the two fish dishes, but that's about all I can recall very well.
The table service itself was very much Seattle casual, or maybe semi-formal. The server did her best to get us the right forks and spoons on the table in the right order at the right time, but at one point she actually came out and took away some silverware because the chefs had changed their mind about what they were going to server and in what order. Also, our wine glasses were empty for a course with no offer of a refill. Little things like that added up to make the experience a little less elevated.
I guess the real question is whether or not we enjoyed ourselves. Yes we did! It really was a delicious and enjoyable meal. The food was obviously quite creative and used really fresh and carefully chosen ingredients. The wines were good, they just didn't quite meet our very high expectations. The service was by no means unfriendly or bad, it was simply a little more casual, as such things tend to be here in the northwest.
Would we go back? Yes, probably. But not 'til after we've tried all the other high end places on our list.
Would we recommend Mistral to others? Sure! Just don't go in expecting a world class experience. It's not quite up to that level yet.
Oh, and I think it was a little over-priced, particularly in regard to the wine pairings.

So where do we go next? Right now there is a pretty short list of possibilities on this level (in no particular order):
  • Lampreia
  • Cascadia
  • Chez Shea
  • The Herb Farm
  • Le Gourmand
  • Rover's
I think that's it. I think we may try The Herb Farm later this summer. Other than that, I'm not sure when we'll manage to try any of the others. Will any of them meet our (admittedly pretty high) expectations? I have read arguments in various places that Seattle just can't do it. I used to disagree. Now I'm just not sure.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Oceanaire's Hamburgers

So after reading this article here about the burgers at The Oceanaire, in which the author claims them to be the best fancy burger in the city, I made it my mission to go to The Oceanaire and try them. I have my own opinion about the best burger in the city, based on some little research and possibly an inordinate amount of thoughtful consideration. As an aside, I don't see the point in distinguishing between fancy and ... and what? and 'normal' burgers. If you're going to make hamburgers, then you should be judged against the same criteria as everyone else.
The Oceanaire claims to use kobe-style beef. Their burger is topped with lightly (sparsely) breaded red onion rings, and some sort of herbed blue cheese sauce. They use a nice slightly chewy bun with a crisp top. All of these things together sound like the fixings for a tasty burger! Maybe that's why I was a little let down.
It wasn't that it was a bad burger. It was really a pretty decent, actually. It was certainly above average. However, in this age of Sysco-provided pre-formed patties, above average isn't hard to do. Make a hand-formed patty from decent meat and serve it on a nice crusty bun with quality garnishes. That's all you have to do, aside from cook it competently.
My major complaint about The Oceanaire's burger, the summation of my feelings on the matter, is that it is bland. The blue cheese sauce is almost undetectable. Maybe that's okay though, too much blue cheese flavor is overpowering. The onion rings add almost nothing above and beyond what a slice of red onion by itself would provide. The bun was fine, maybe even great, but I believe they may have buttered the bottom half or something. That seemed to add a hint of butter to almost every bite and made the bottom of the bun practically fall apart with greasiness almost immmediately. Maybe the meat was fried in butter? And speaking of the meat, this was maybe the worst part. I am sure this patty was fine and delicious by some standard out there, but I just felt like it didn't taste of much, and certainly not of good ground beef. It needed some seasoning of its own, for one thing. It could have used some salt and pepper. If it already had some, it needed more. Be that as it may, I think what really sets my favorite burger a step above the Oceanaire's is the meatiness. You can taste the meat in every bite, and it tastes deliciously beefy! That just wasn't the case here.
Now there are some other problems with my favorite burger. The french fries are almost always over-salted. The french fries at The Oceanaire are the tiny thin kind, and they were just about perfect. There was a little pot of mayonnaise on the side that they went with quite well. My favorite burger can be served with bacon, but it's always a bit too salty. My favorite burger seems to usually be served with green tomatoes. That's not terrible, but it's not usually what I want on a burger.
Oh yeah, my favorite burger is at The Palace Kitchen. It's a fairly popular choice for burgers, and I think that's with good reason. I did have someone tell me recently that they love the burgers at Geraldine's Counter down in Columbia City. I have not gone there yet, but it's on my list.
Oh, and what about the rest of the meal? Well, we started with some really good Netarts Bay oysters. They were actually the highlight of the whole meal. 4 perfect little mouthfuls. I'd go back to this place for oysters alone. We also had 1 crabcake, and it was .. meh. The crab was in large lumps and was actually pretty flavorless. It was embedded in a sort of mustardy lemony batter that totally overpowered whatever other flavor the crab might have had. I think it was sort of east coast style and I think it was actually blue crab, based on their fresh list. Either way, not exciting.
We had lemonade, which was pretty okay.
Service was fine, though a little strange for one reason or another.
The room itself is nicely appointed. 2:00pm on a Friday found it mostly empty. There were a couple of long business lunches and one family meal, not much else aside from us.
So the only reason we'll ever go back there is for oysters. The burger just didn't cut it. It's certainly better than the pre-formed frozen patties you find most places, but that's about it. I wonder if maybe it could have been prepared better? Maybe it needed better seasoning? Maybe it needed to be cooked a bit less? My medium rare was just pink in the middle. Maybe it needed better garnishes? I sort of wish I could just get their meat and try cooking it myself and see how it turns out.

Friday, April 20, 2007

This is the Beginning

I really like food. I like to cook and I like to go out to eat. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about food and talking about food.
This blog will be about the food I eat and the food I cook, the restaurants I eat at and probably lots of other stuff.

That is all!