April 26, 2018

52nd Tofu House

You know that place you walk by all the time, or drive past on a regular basis, and wonder what the heck goes on in there? Pam’s Kitchen in the U-District was that kind of place for me, all interesting and mysterious until I finally ventured inside for dinner and found the food to be delicious. No more mystery, but now I knew that good food was to be found on that particular corner. Just up University from Pam’s is another one of those restaurants that seemed totally out of my sphere of experience, mostly because of their opening time. So it was that when that time got even later – pushed back from 8:00pm to 9:00pm! – Angela decided that we really needed to go inside 52nd Tofu House and investigate further.

The exterior is enough to pique your interest, with an apparent missing “Street” from the name itself, then the inexplicable white picket fence and apple motif. Inside, there is more of the country kitchen vibe, with a geese-patterned wallpaper border and dried flowers. There is one row of records mounted up high on the wall, and an eclectic bunch of vintage hanging light fixtures. It’s small – only five tables – but on this night almost all were occupied.

I don’t claim to be a Korean food aficionado, but luckily we had with us our resident expert. Ms. Kim pronounced the food pretty much what you’d expect at this price point and in this sort of venue, perhaps even just right for the late night second dinner crowd. We tried an assortment of dishes, starting with the green onion pancake – one of the favorites of the table. The beef bulgogi was nicely sweet for our western palates, but a bit too much so for the more discerning among us.

 

 The shrimp and gyoza hot pot tofu soup was spicy as all get-out, but didn’t have a whole lot of flavor once you got past the initial punch of spice. Susie’s favorite of the night was the dukboki, a plate of compressed tubes of rice (much like mochi for those of us more familiar with Japanese food), served alongside ramen noodles, fish cake, and a few slices of hot dog thrown in for good measure. Apparently this is a typical Korean street food kind of dish, or the sort of comfort food that your mom might make for you. This version was super spicy, along with the rest of the meal, and a touch sweet as well. Delicious, though, and I could definitely picture digging my chopsticks into a plate of this on the street in Seoul. 

 Thanks, gals, for our great (late night) adventure!

Cornuto Pizzeria

We actually happened upon Cornuto by accident, having come specifically to this stretch of Phinney Ave thinking that there was ice cream to be had. This particular evening we were out of luck, because the new outpost of Capitol Hill’s Bluebird wasn’t quite open for business. (Shoot!) Turned out not to be such a bad thing, though, because we noticed an open door just adjacent and decided to check it out.

That open door was Cornuto, a pizza newcomer to the Phinney scene. I’ve decided that one of my favorite things about the restaurant is its petite size. Four two-person booths (or four-person if you’re quite friendly with one another), four bar stools, two tall tables, and a smattering of outside seating. Add to that a big pizza oven with a very small adjoining prep area, and you have that entirety of the space. It’s all dark wood, with exposed beams coated with four coats (!) of shiny lacquer, crackled glass pendant lights, and a sizable bar. It seems like the perfect neighborhood spot, where you could just as easily drop in for a drink, or stick around a little longer for dinner. When we were there that evening we discovered that they also do brunch, so that’s the meal we returned for next time around.

 

If you’re wondering what constitutes “brunch” at a Neopolitan-style pizza place, it’s a couple of things: The meal can quite happily begin with a delicious bloody mary, and the pizzas have a fresh mozzarella base (and not the tomato sauce base of the evening pizzas) as well as a mostly cooked egg atop. The crust is thin, though less on the crispy end of the spectrum and more doughy. It also has a slightly sweet flavor, and in my book, all of these things are pluses. Aran and I were big fans of the pizza we sampled: The Pancetta, with pancetta, and roasted cherry tomatoes; and the Salumi e Funghi, with salami piccante and crimini mushrooms, both with the aforementioned mozzarella and egg.

Seattle seems to be awash in pizza options and everyone has their favorite, but I’d say that Cornuto’s is worth a try. Their brunch version will definitely lure me back for a return visit, and with small-scale atmosphere like that I’m a fan for sure.

Cornuto Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Not-Your-Usual Summer Activities, Part II

In the spirit of more summer activities that might not be on your radar…

Last Saturday night Aran and I communed with a smattering of other people on the beach at Carkeek Park to watch the sun go down over Puget Sound and listen to a piece by Nat Evans composed for the occasion. You can read the write-up about it here, in the Seattle Times article where Aran first heard about this happening. It was the perfect setting, the tail end of a beautiful summer day, and there we were perched on the end of a log watching this sunset emerge, and listening to the composition. It’s not something that I would probably have chosen otherwise – I usually favor more melodic, traditional music – but sitting there on the beach and knowing that others around me were doing the same thing, it felt just right. Incidentally, we didn’t hang around to view the sculptures referenced in the article, but spotted a few as we made our way into the park and on to the beach, and I would encourage you to go check them out.

If you happen to be downtown today at lunch, you might spot me in the crowd at Westlake Center taking in the classic soul and funk of Wheedle’s Groove. The concert is part of the Out to Lunch series offered by the Downtown Seattle Association and the Metropolitan Improvement District, and one of the things in that nifty brochure that I mentioned in last week’s post that I’m actually going to do.

Sadly, another event will keep me away, otherwise I would definitely be at the Moon Viewing at the Japanese Gardens next Saturday night, August 13. Check out Brown Paper Tickets for a full description of all of the activities involved, including a Tsukimi Chakai (Moon Viewing Tea) in the Shoseian Teahouse and a chance to hear haiku about the moon and enter your own haiku in the Moon Viewing poetry contest. I’m a fan of anything that involves the space being “magically lit with lanterns, luminaries and floating boats.”

Picnicking with William Shakespeare

If you’re like me, you receive the brochure from the City of Seattle at the beginning of the summer – the one with all of those great summer activities like concerts at City Hall, or dance lessons at Freeway Park, or the Night Market at Hing Hay Park in the International District – and you set it in a Very Important Place to be perused and those great summer activities calendared… at some later date. Or Seattle Magazine’s June 2011 issue of “Summer Cravings,” which should have been my roadmap for the summer because of its food focus and tips on all sorts of different places to eat in Seattle and further afield. I have the best intentions for all of those things, and yet somehow summer seems to slip away with too many activities left undone and food left unsampled.

I am pleased to report that due to the diligence of my SO, one of the things that DID happen this summer was Shakespeare in the Park. It has been on my radar for what seems like forever, but I just never got around to doing it.

So it was that last Sunday afternoon, three of us were camped out on blankets at Discovery Park in Magnolia, having arrived early to stake out our territory. We were there for a performance of Antony and Cleopatra by the actors of GreenStage, one of a couple of different Shakespeare-in-the-Park-performing groups in the area. GreenStage and Wooden O put on an impressive number of performances, something like 70 shows all the way from West Seattle, to Mercer Island, to Redmond, to Lynnwood. Even with minimal staging, this talented troupe from GreenStage managed to put on an utterly engaging show – and that’s saying a whole lot given the 2+ hour length and especially hard ground under our picnic blankets.

Which brings me to one of the great joys of things like outdoor theater, movies, and musical performances: The picnic aspect. I confess that it’s a big part of the appeal for me, and I embraced the chance to fill our retro picnic basket with tasty salami, Leyden cheese hoarded from a visit to the James Ranch in Durango, CO (thanks, Dan and Becca!), freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, and summer salads. Food eaten in the out-of-doors always seems more interesting, and the act of organizing it all into a basket and packing it off to be laid out on a blanket in the grass, makes it even more so for me.

Although this particular salad didn’t make the cut for Sunday’s performance – no time for hot oil and puffing of maifun noodles – it is an excellent candidate for your next picnic. I don’t know its origin, just that it was a favorite of my mother’s and thus appeared regularly, especially in the summer. As a result, Maifun Salad also figures prominently in my childhood memories, though for many year as this mythical, too-hard-for-me-to-contemplate kind of recipe. I’ve no doubt that it was the hot oil required for the noodles, but after much cautious practice dropping a small piece of un-puffed noodle into slowly heating oil to test its readiness I got over that fear.

From then on I started making it really quite often, so often that I finally had a friend say in response to my offer to bring something to the potluck, “Are you bringing your Foon salad?” (In what I hoped was a hopeful tone rather than a resigned one.) But the funny thing about it was that having never seen the name written, I think that my friends always heard me saying I was making “my Foon Salad” rather than “Maifun Salad.” And forever after that’s how I think of it whenever I spy the card amongst the others in my recipe box.

The chicken and shrimp make this more of an entrée salad, and the maifun noodles themselves are just plain fun. As for the iceberg lettuce I know it’s not fashionable, but it seems to be just the right variety for this recipe. I’ve often thought to make this dressing and use it for other things – it’s wonderfully tangy – but somehow for me it only ever appears when maifun noodles are involved.

 

Maifun Salad

 SALAD INGREDIENTS

1 qt. vegetable oil

5 oz. maifun noodles (available at most grocery stores)

1 whole chicken breast, with bone and skin

1/2 lb. shrimp, without head and tail, cooked

1 head iceberg lettuce, sliced in thin ribbons

3 green onions, sliced

2 stalks celery, sliced

1/4 c. toasted slivered almonds

4 T. toasted sesame seeds

DRESSING

1 T. ginger, minced

1/4 c. sesame oil

1/4 c. rice vinegar

6 T. sugar

1 t. salt

1/4 t. pepper

1/4 c. lemon juice

1. Pour entire container of vegetable oil in a large pot. (A stock pot is ideal because of its size and shape). While the oil heats over high heat, break the maifun noodles into approximately four or five large chunks, depending on the size of the container. Test the heat of the oil by dropping a single piece of maifun into the oil: If it puffs up right away the oil is ready. Working quickly, drop a batch of maifun into the hot oil, wait a few seconds for the maifun to puff up, flip over to ensure that the top side got its share of the oil, then remove with a slotted spoon. Place on paper towels to soak up a bit of the oil. Once you have cooked all of the maifun immediately move the hot oil off the heat so it starts to cool. (Once cool, the oil can be poured back into the container from whence it came and thrown out, or reused if you happen to have a vehicle around that runs on such things. This is Seattle, after all – you never know!)

2. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Rub the chicken with a bit of olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a cast iron skillet on the stove, sear on all sides, then roast in the oven for about 20 minutes; set aside. (Or, forget this step all together and use one of those handy roasted chickens from the grocery store. And don’t feel bad about the shortcut, either!) Once cool enough to handle, pull the chicken off the bone, discard the skin, and cut into bit-sized pieces.

3. Put the maifun noodles in a LARGE bowl or two large-ish bowls and break into smaller pieces. Then add remaining ingredients (chicken through sesame seeds) and combine.

4. For the dressing, combine all ingredients and shake well or whisk together. Pour over salad and toss.

The Yard Cafe

The Yard Cafe is a newcomer to the Greenwood scene, and for this cousin of The Dray in Ballard, it seems to be less about the food and more about providing a tasty accompaniment to beer and good times. The expansive graveled area out front, complete with big picnic tables and heating implements, accommodates a big crowd and will be super popular on these warm summer days and into the chilly evenings. There’s a big patio just above that graveled area, good for standing and leaning and getting under cover when the weather is warm enough to be outside but a bit too soggy to be down below. There isn’t a whole lot of seating inside, but the big table in the nook and the bar look to be particularly inviting.

One of the best things we sampled on our recent visit came early in the meal, when we started with freshly-made chips and a side of bean dip. The name didn’t promise a whole lot, but there was something about this particular bean dip that made it creamy and delicious, and frankly much better than our other chosen side of guacamole. Avocado made another appearance in the Crab and Shrimp Stack, an impressively constructed tower of avocado salsa and crab topped with tequila shrimp. Visually quite something, but with such finely shredded bits of crab that its flavor was barely discernable. The tacos and tortas we had were perfectly fine, but definitely not something to write home about. The carne asada, carnitas, adobada, and tomatillo chicken options for both all sounded entirely promising, just not as flavorful as I might have hoped.

None of the four of us tried any of the platters, and next time I return I’d definitely order the Grilled Fish Veracruz from that part of the menu. And the bean dip, of course, along with my delicious beer, two things that The Yard does extremely well.

[Photos courtesy of David Franzen]

The Yard Cafe on Urbanspoon



Stationary Siblings of Mobile Food Favorites

There is something about food delivered out of a mobile location that just seems so much more FUN, even if the location isn’t anything as eye-catching as the big steel pig of Maximus/Minimus. We love that whatever truck it is sets up shop for a couple of hours on a busy downtown corner, or at the Thursday Farmers Market, or in various parking lots around town. We’ve gotten used to the idea that we can locate these trucks by following them on Twitter or Facebook, though some of the fun is also happening upon a truck at lunchtime, just when your stomach is starting to grumble. Although not quite the mobile food hub that Portland seems to be, Seattleites have embraced this particular trend with wholehearted enthusiasm.

Perhaps it’s the next step in the evolution of food trucks, then, that some of them have found brick and mortar locations. Does having a fixed location take some of the fun out of the mobile version, or is it just a way to give us better access to the food we already love? Some of both, I’d say.

Marination Station is the new Capitol Hill outpost of Marination Mobile, the roving truck that brought us delicious food in the vein of Hawaiian-Korean fusion. Their small parking lot-adjacent second story space is mostly spare, with the same clean lines as the rest of the Marination brand. On our visit there we sampled what seemed to be all of my favorites from the truck, though missed out on the revolving specials which I presume are, uh, special to the Station. First came the Hawaiian favorite, SPAM, served in slider form on a Hawaiian-style sweet roll. Really good sweet slaw, and as a sandwich much more delicious than I might have expected given SPAM’s bad rep. The relatively substantial quesadilla with kalua pork, kimchi, and cheese was the right combination of gooey and just a little spicy. The Kalbi beef taco was a little soft number, and not really much to it; for me it could have used a bit more oomph. Saving the best for last, the kimchi fried rice bowl with spicy pork, and a fried egg served atop. Spicy and perfectly gooey because of the egg, and altogether delicious. All in all, the Capitol Hill location is great because it’s drive up-able, for those of us who don’t live on the Hill. And having ready access to the food I know I already like, rather than having to track down the truck. But apparently tracking down the truck is half the fun for me, because although all the same food, I found that the experience wasn’t the same without the fun truck element.

Rancho Bravo Tacos has occupied the former KFC on Capitol Hill across from Cal Anderson Park for quite some time, but it wasn’t until last week that I made it in to sample their wares. I’ve been a big fan of the truck version parked next to the Winchell’s on 45th, so was interested to see what was happening over on Capitol Hill. The Rancho Burrito (flour tortilla with steak, rice, pinto beans, diced onions, cilantro, and cheese) was the same as I remembered it, and served the same as well: efficiently wrapped in foil and served on a paper plate. The soup offerings must be new to the fixed location, and both the pozole (with chicken and hominy) and albondigas (meatballs) were hearty servings, with sliced radishes, cilantro, onion, and lime alongside. I love that Rancho Bravo moved into the former KFC space, with seemingly very little renovation or redecoration. The ultimate in recycling! It’s utilitarian to the max, and allows them to pump out a considerable amount of food at a great price. I’m so big on ambiance, though, that I’ll stick to the (relatively) mobile location on 45th from here on out.

Skillet Diner is at the other end of the spectrum, a full-fledged restaurant with a menu expanded way beyond their mobile version. And now that I think about it… Although I didn’t track the specials that have rolled through the airstream that houses the mobile Skillet, it feels as though that was a bit of a test kitchen for the eventual restaurant. The diner is on the ground floor of the Chloe condo building on Capitol Hill (I know – Capitol Hill AGAIN), just across the plaza from another of my favorites, the reborn Marjorie. The space is hip in comfortable fashion, with mint green cushioned benches and fixed counter stools. The exposed concrete peeks out at the top of the walls, the tables are silver metal-topped, and any seating that isn’t mint green cushioned is of the metal and plastic variety that you’d find in a grade school, just adult-sized. The serving staff is hip in comfortable fashion as well, especially with all of that plaid running around. (When there for dinner I thought to myself that there was an excess of plaid among the servers, even for Capitol Hill, and it turns out that I was correct: A uniform of plaid shirts for all.)

As for food and drink, Skillet has a substantial bar with an excellent selection of bottles, though I did note that my cocktail (the Hey, Jack Kerouac: bourbon, Peychaud bitters, sugar, absinthe washed glass, lemon twist) was the only one that wasn’t served in a jar of one shape or another. I suppose that’s more of the casual hip vibe coming out. I want to assure anyone who is a fan of mobile Skillet that you can still get your favorites – the amazing burger with arugula and bacon jam, perfectly pliable french fries and their poutine’d cousin – as well as so much more. We had the rabbit duo, a grilled loin and braised leg, served with fava bean ragout, corona beans, fine herbs, citrus (orange?), and picholine olives. Couldn’t resist a side of sautéed swiss chard with pine nuts, port-soaked currants, and bacon. The fried chicken sammy had a fennel seed crusty that was especially crispy with an interesting bite, and I loved the picked and charred jalapeno aioli and especially the unusual use of kale as the green on the sandwich. All in all, it feels like Skillet Diner is just the kind of place you’d want to go for cocktails and snacks, brunch, or a full-on dinner. It’s not every restaurant that can do all of those well, so I applaud Skillet Diner for making it happen.

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!