November 18, 2019

The Well-Stocked Home Bar

Lately there have been more cocktails sampled when out and about – now that I’ve successfully branched out from the classic gin martini – and more cocktail parties thrown at home. Maybe it started with recent hours spent watching Mad Men and having the characters’ excessive cocktail consumption wash over me. Or maybe it was the search for the right bar to buy, finding the appropriate size to hold an ever-expanding collection of liquor and liqueurs. The other day I opened up what serves as my liquor cabinet and started rooting around looking for something or other, and realized that I had an excess of bottles. Too many bottles acquired for a single drink (Frangelico) or recipe (Starbucks liqueur chocolate cake), making for liquor actually stored in three different places at home. So many bottles, too infrequently used, taking up way too much space. And as my cocktail interests broaden, not enough room for the green Chartreuse, maraschino liqueur, and Lillet that I use on a far more frequent basis than you might think.

Thus began a more careful examination of what I was actually using, and the question of what makes a well-stocked bar. Assuming that you want to have on hand the spirits to make a select number of cocktails, what bottles should inhabit your bar? I’m sure that the recent popularity of Mad Men has contributed to the parallel resurgence of the classic cocktail, and I’m all for it. The Manhattan, Sidecar, Gin Gimlet, and perhaps lesser known Corpse Reviver or The Last Word, are all drinks I heartily endorse. I’ve no doubt that this could be the subject of much debate, but after careful consideration and in consultation with a few select cocktail-savvy friends, here is my version of the well-stocked home bar. Notes about brands only where I feel especially wed to one or two:

  • Two gins (I’d recommend Miller’s and Hendrick’s)
  • OK, three gins because I’m such a fan of the Old Tom style right now (Ransom is smooth and lovely)
  • Vodka (mostly because I love Vespers)
  • Whiskey
  • Rye or bourbon
  • Dry vermouth
  • Sweet vermouth
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Campari
  • Maraschino liqueur
  • Chartreuse
  • Fernet-Branca
  • Cynar
  • Elderflower liqueur (has to be St-Germaine, given my recent taste-off)

Another important question: Do you need a bar book? Of course you can always look up a recipe online, but if you’re going to have the well-stocked bar, how about a book to go with it? One of my go-to cocktail-y friends recommended The Savoy Cocktail Book, and since then I’ve spied it sitting on the shelves of several of the bars around town. Though if the Savoy isn’t your speed and you’d like to explore other options, start with this post by bartender- blogger-tweeter Andrew Bohrer. Then hang around and read more because he’s wickedly funny, but only if you can handle the irreverent. As long as we’re on the topic of books, one more suggestion before I close with a recipe. If you’d be happy finding yourself at the intersection of cocktails, cooking, and history, keep an eye out for Bitters, the soon-to-be released book from Amazon-editor-turned-book-author Brad Thomas Parsons. Apparently chock full of recipes – both of the food and cocktail variety – with history woven throughout. Sounds like just my kind of read!

Last but not least, what would a classic bar be without the cocktail of the house? Given my current love affair with Old Tom Gin (and Ransom in particular), I’ll share the Dover Calais with thanks to the nice people at Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor for graciously providing proportions. And although I’m a fan of mixing this one at home, I must say that it tastes especially good when consumed at Frank’s alongside several goat cheese deviled eggs and an iced flat of oysters…

Dover Calais
2 1/4 oz. Old Tom Gin
3/4 oz. St-Germaine
1/4 oz. Chartreuse

Cheers, and happy cocktailing!

50 North

I’ve been struggling for the last week or so, knowing that I needed to write about a recent trip to University Village-adjacent 50 North but not quite moved to put fingers to keyboard. And I should want to, given that it’s a new restaurant – just open since December – and I love being able to explore new places and give y’all the inside scoop.

The food certainly is good, if not spectacular. The calamari was deliciously chewy and lightly fried, served with a nicely tangy lemon garlic aioli. We were excited to try the Copper River Sockeye Salmon, as it had just made its first appearance of the season the day prior. I found the fillet to be quite overcooked, though the creamy corn broth with zucchini, rainbow carrots, fennel, snap peas, and fresh corn was just the right spring-y accompaniment.

The Grilled Steak Salad had a delicious sweet tang courtesy of a rhubarb gastrique, with slices of perfectly pink steak atop sautéed greens, spring onions, zucchini, and more rainbow carrots. A trio of dishes that I didn’t sample myself, but mom and sis can attest to their deliciousness. The sweet makes another appearance in the Pomegranate Short Rib; Dungeness Crab Cakes are made even better with bacon and Granny Smith apples; and finally Grilled Local Asparagus with goat cheese and more – you guessed it – pomegranate, this time in vinaigrette form.

50 North’s motto is “great good food” and they pride themselves on natural and organic products, and their solidly good food reflects that. My difficulty with the place is that this good food is presented in a bright, shiny, new space that is perfectly serviceable, but doesn’t seem to have much personality. I’d probably be more interested in the Vashon Island sibling restaurant our server described, The Hardware Store. I haven’t been, but a space that old (121 years, apparently) naturally has a bit more character. The 50 North space was just a bit too flat to make me feel like I was really settling in for a good meal; more that I happened to luck into well-prepared food on my way home from a shopping excursion at U-Village. Maybe less a destination than a good option if one happens to be in the neighborhood.

I know that in a recent post I said that I needed to give a restaurant a second shot before judging it, but perhaps I’ll revise that somewhat. With re:public it was the case that I heard from several sources that it was fantastic, and that I needed to give the restaurant another try. Such is not the case with 50 North, at least not yet. If I hear that I’ve misjudged, for sure I’ll be back.

50 North on Urbanspoon

The New Normal

I was talking with friends the other day about how much each of us eats out, and it was accepted as common knowledge that the average is four times a week. Now that’s ANY meal, mind you, and not just dinner. After that conversation I started poking around on online message boards and such, and saw lots of posts that claimed to be in the range of that four times a week, somewhere in the 4-8 vicinity. Sometimes they didn’t count meals other than dinner, as though any eating that occurs before late afternoon is too free form, so shouldn’t be a part of their ultimate eating-out total. Or sometimes they wouldn’t count take-out, but given that the word “out” appears right there in the phrase I think that’s a bit of a stretch.

How many times a week do you eat out? And are you single, coupled, with kids, without, suburban, or urban? This is an entirely unscientific and unmoderated survey, I know, but I’m interested in the results.

What has influenced our choice to eat in or eat out, cook at home or have a meal prepared for us? Clearly, the economy of the last couple of years has made us think more about how we spend our money, and as a result likely we eat out less frequently. (Though as the economy starts to perk up, perhaps we’ll begin eating out more but less extravagantly. I loved the Best Seattle Restaurants 2011 feature in Seattle Magazine’s April issue, and the various budget dining tips. How to continue to enjoy all of the good stuff the Seattle restaurant scene has to offer without breaking the bank.)

As well as the economy, another factor that seems to point toward more in and less out is the increasing prevalence of an assortment of dietary restrictions. Those who might be gluten- or dairy-intolerant, for example, might choose to avoid the hassle of sifting through options in a restaurant and just cooking at home. Though at the same time, with the rise of dietary issues there has also been a corresponding response from restaurants, making it easier to find good options on the menu. Witness places like Volterra with wheat-free pasta upon request, and Tango with its entirely gluten-less menu. Or for the vegan among us, the vegan doughnuts at Mighty-O and what I understand to be the granddaddy of vegan restaurant in Seattle, Hillside Quickie’s.

One last piece of the puzzle to consider is the ever-increasing pace of our lives, which seems to push us in the other direction. I talk to friends who have to work more hours just to keep afloat in their staff-slimmed offices. Or others who have busy families, and spend a considerable amount of time shuttling kids to multiple activities so don’t have a chance to hang out around the dinner table. Or what often describes me, the person busy trying to fit in quality time with friends, time that more often includes a quick happy hour drop-by at a bar rather than a leisurely dinner party at home.

I haven’t seen your responses yet, but all of this thinking about eating out and I’ve come to the conclusion that I likely won’t do it a whole lot less, but I’ll work on doing it with more intention. Good food – or something crazy and different so you have no guarantee that it’ll be good – chosen with care and not just the default because I was too busy to pack a lunch. And more leisurely dinners with family and friends, please. That’s one of my very favorite activities – enjoying the company of interesting people over good food and drink. Even better if both are the product of my kitchen!

Uneeda Burger

For starters, let’s just start with the name: Uneeda Burger? You bet I do! Scott and Heather Staples are definitely on the right track with their new addition to upper Fremont. Not that this should surprise any of us, given their success with downtown’s Restaurant Zoe and gastropub Quinn’s on Capitol Hill. Three very different concepts, each very well-executed.

Uneeda Burger is definitely a casual joint, though one with too much polish to be considered a dive. The interior sports lots of medium-hued wood, what feels like retro tin chairs, and tall metal stools along a stretch of counter adjacent to what will be a fantastic outdoor space. The old school typeface of the printed menu complements the strong logo and graphics, all of which make it feel so very of-the-moment. Which this trend is, apparently, given that burgers seem to be the hot new thing. Witness just a few other new and relatively new additions to the upscale burger universe: the insane pairings of Lunchbox Laboratory; the habit-forming bacon jam atop the burger at Skillet; and even Ethan Stowell getting into the action, with his Hamburg + Frites at Safeco Field.  

On our visit to Uneeda we sampled a few different things-between-bread, both sandwiches and burgers, starting with the Monsieur. Modeled on the “croque,” their version also had ham and gruyere, though with truffled shoestring potatoes as well. Delicious, but it felt as though the well-buttered bread was just a bit too much for this already rich sandwich. The Medi-Terra lamb burger was the unanimous favorite, with charred peppers and onions, manchego, arugula, cilantro, and lightly crispy tempura lemons strips. The Carolina pork sandwich topped with slaw was tasty, but needed more oomph to be considered top notch barbecue. We also tried the fries (waffle-y and delicious) and onion rings (missing the punch of flavor), though clearly need to return for the good ol’ beef burger. I could also be talked into the chop salad and poutine – I know, two ends of the spectrum! – when I make a return visit.

Beyond the food, I’d come back to Uneeda Burger because it’s a solid neighborhood hangout. Inside it’s medium level comfortable and thus easy for most – not dive-y and not too upscale – and the aforementioned deck will be a fantastic location once our warmer weather arrives. Check it out if you haven’t already, but be sure to leave room for a milkshake. The Uneeda professional behind the counter recommended mixing salted caramel and Oreo ice cream for ours, and she couldn’t have been more right. Sugar and sweet overload in the very best way.

Uneeda Burger on Urbanspoon

re:public restaurant & bar

It’s amazing what a difference people make… The first time I went to re:public in South Lake Union it was right after they opened, it must have been 5:00pm, and I was there to meet a friend for a quick glass of wine. I think that we had a small plate of something or other, but obviously it wasn’t particularly memorable. We were one of three occupied tables – noticeable in a place as big as re:public – and as a result the restaurant felt rather empty and I left feeling sort of… blah… about the place.

Such a different experience this time around! I went recently with Mom and Aran, and we had a great time. It was bustle-y and lively, the perfect vibe for the space, and our server had that unique server ability to cover a big bunch of tables while still managing to make us feel appropriately doted-upon. I confess that it’s a visit just like this that reminds me that I need to return to a place after having a substandard experience, because it’s entirely possible that one time was an aberration and not representative of food or experience. I’m glad that was the case with re:public, for sure!

Part of what made this meal so great was the careful composition of the food, something I’m so impressed by knowing the time it takes to put these dishes together. (If I served only on white plates my food would look like this too, right? Right??) Being good sharers, we chose a multitude of dishes from the bouchées, small plates, and sides sections of the menu, and had good things to report from each area.

I’ll start with one of my favorites, both for taste and composition. The house-smoked Chinook salmon was a tightly packed mound of salmon, laced with slightly bitter arugula and complemented by the cool of the spiced yogurt. The crispy pork belly on a bed of poached local rhubarb was just the opposite, full and rich though with the lovely counterpoint of the sweetly tart rhubarb. The surprisingly light house charcuterie featuring a rabbit ballantine wrapped in bacon; a creamy semolina gnocchi with fontina fonduta; and grilled asparagus with hot copa, torn croutons, and a smoked soft egg that was this lovely orange color, were all delicious, while the braised beef short rib with tomato conserva was another return to the rich and meaty.

Though not pictured, the roasted mushroom dish – this night a combination of button, shiitake, oyster, and hashimati (though now can’t locate so I think that I didn’t quite hear our server correctly on that one…) – was one of the favorites of the table. Straightforwardly “tasting of itself” with a dash of sherry and thyme, and absolutely delicious. The stack of roasted beets paired beautifully with the creamy avocado mousse and cara cara orange, and was a lovely light addition in the midst of lots of wonderfully heavy flavors. Dessert was interesting in its own right, a silky lemon semifreddo with an alternately sweet and sharp citrus salad, and toasted marshmallow gelato atop a magnificently dense round of chocolate budino.

 

   

I have nary a bad word to say about re:public, start to finish. Excellent drinks, delicious and beautifully composed food, and the sort of atmosphere that makes you want to stick around for a while. Though it was the people, the buzzing crowd all around us as well as the excellent company at the table, that really made the restaurant come alive. The context of the experience makes all the difference, and in this context re:public scored big.

re:public restaurant & bar on Urbanspoon