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.