July 8, 2020

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



Brave Horse Tavern

Have you ever wandered into a new part of town, and suddenly felt as though you’d been transported to an entirely different and unfamiliar city? I had that very experience this week, navigating my way through what seems to be the pop-up neighborhood of South Lake Union. In truth, there have been all sorts of businesses there for years, but with the recent arrivals of PATH, Microsoft, and Amazon, not to mention all of the condos and apartments, there is now a critical mass of diners and shoppers ready and willing to support businesses in the area.

This feeling of geographic dislocation might have been part of the reason that I felt a little out of sorts on my first visit to Brave Horse Tavern, one of the trifecta of restaurants newly opened in South Lake Union by Tom Douglas. Although just blocks from other parts of Seattle that are quite familiar to me, once inside BHT it felt as though I had made a very quick trip to Las Vegas, or somewhere else equally tourist-friendly. The interior is a very well-conceived, slick version of the wild west, what you might call upscale rustic. Lots of exposed brick, beam, and wood of all varieties, and distressed leather stools at the bar and multiple tall tables.

Though I shouldn’t fault Brave Horse Tavern for having a very clear identity, and instead should celebrate that they make no bones about what they do. The front of the menu, really, tells the whole story: “Twenty-Four Taps, Housemade Pretzels, Shuffleboard.” Nothing on here about Tom Douglas and the promise of great cuisine, just a space where you could happily tip back a few beers and enjoy some food somewhere along the way.

My fault for not coming to this conclusion earlier in the experience, as it would have greatly improved the evening. Instead, I hear Tom Douglas and immediately think that the food will be fantastic. And there is the promise of some of that at BHT, borrowing some from his other restaurants (naturally), in menu items that I didn’t happen to sample this week: Dahlia Bakery bread for the “Egg in a Hole;” the Seatown Smoked Trout; and beef tartare, spring onion, and anchovy chili on the “Cannibal Crostinis.” What we had, however, mostly missed the mark for me.

The malt-boiled Brick Oven Pretzels were soft, salty, and delicious, and two of the accompanying spreads were tasty (cheddar-pimento, and sour cream and crispy onion), but the smoked peanut butter and bacon was terrible. Somehow sharp and overly salty, all at once. The Fried Cheese Curds with grain mustard mayo were of the greasy fried variety, and many of the puffs were empty of cheese entirely. Mom’s Dungeness Crab Dip definitely felt like a throwback in its super-creamy texture, and the Ritz were indeed just the right cracker for the job. (No wonder this was such a popular combo of cocktail parties past…) The Smoky BBQ Brisket Dip was my least favorite dish of the night; even the spicy ancho chili sauce couldn’t save this rather spartan sandwich.

Without a doubt every restaurant deserves a second visit, and when I make my next trip to Brave Horse Tavern I’ll go in with a different mindset. I’ll know that I’m not headed for the kind of meal I might expect at Serious Pie or Palace Kitchen. Instead, I’ll look forward to the big, salty pretzel and happy hour boilermaker of Jim Beam and Olympia that will be waiting for me — just as soon as I finish my game of shuffleboard.

Brave Horse Tavern on Urbanspoon

The Injera Connection

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately – for the last year, in fact – at the Eastlake home of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Luckily, I’m not the patient, but not so luckily, my mom is. My mother and sisters and I all marvel at what good care she’s receiving; if you have to have cancer, SCCA is one of the best places in the world to be treated. And I use the word “care” very intentionally, because it’s not just top-notch medicine happening here, though the doctors and nurses and nursing assistants are clearly highly skilled. It’s also the waiting area with the extraordinary view of Lake Union that makes you forget for a while why you’re there, and the volunteers who come around offering bottles of water and hand massages, and the cashier in the café who quite happily handed me a free latte when he made the wrong kind by mistake.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that we’re extraordinarily lucky to have access to this care. I know that not every facility has the resources to provide the kinds of things that SCCA does. I also know that I’m lucky to work for myself, and that my reasonably flexible schedule means that I can take my turn among the daughters spending time with Mom at SCCA. On the days I’m able to be with her, Mom and I fall into a bit of a routine: I’ll sit in the chair next to her and tap away on my laptop getting work done while she plugs in with an audio book on her iPod.

The nursing staff there is wonderful – chatty when you want to be and perfectly un-chatty when you don’t. When it’s the former we’ll fall into conversation about one thing or another, and on one occasion we got to talking with one of the staff about Ethiopian food and where to find the best in Seattle. (Meskel on East Cherry, in case you’re wondering.)  But things got especially interesting when she said who we really should talk to was her friend, Miheret, who works with her at SCCA. Next thing I know Miheret has stopped by to say hello, and the conversation turns to the making of injera, that wonderfully spongy bread that accompanies Ethiopian food and serves as the utensil with which one picks said food. When they first came to the Pacific Northwest, she said, the only way to make injera was with self-rising flour and it was making her family sick as anything. It was the teff that she was missing – a tiny tiny grain that wasn’t available here until relatively recently when they began cultivating it in Idaho. (This last bit was of particular interest to Mom and me, with our family’s Idaho origins.)

So 14 years ago Miheret embarked on a mission to perfect the recipe for her own injera, one made with teff that would be healthy for her family to eat. She makes hers with brown and ivory teff, as well as the starter, water, fenugreek, and a little thyme, and not self-rising flour and barley, as with other injera. Magically, we happened into Miheret’s life just as she was putting the finishing touches on the recipe, and starting to share the fruits of her labor with friends and family. Ever so graciously, she offered to bring some to me, all I had to do was call her a couple of days in advance so she could prepare the injera for me and we could settle on a time to meet. I also came away that day with a small sticky note of ingredients and directions for making two dishes to go with the injera, one with cabbage, carrots, onion, and pepper, and one with lentils and more onion. When the day came early this week that I picked up the injera from Miheret she had also included a bit of the berbere spice mix, something I’d read about in my quest to find a lamb recipe to go along with my vegetables. Quite thoughtful of her, because when I’d looked at various recipes for the mix they all seemed dauntingly complicated for my weeknight meal.

But the thing of it is, the meal I assembled from Miheret’s injera and berbere spice mix, and a Sunday night of cooking with Aran, and a Wednesday afternoon of cooking with Mom, was less about the food and more about the connections that food represented. The fact that we were able to share this meal with family and friends was what I loved about the experience. I am grateful that Miheret and her colleagues at SCCA take such good care of my mother, care that has extended beyond the building and right into my kitchen. That connection continues, too, because when she handed me the injera Miheret also invited me into her kitchen to learn a bit more about cooking Ethiopian food. I can’t wait – and I’m already thinking about what food tradition I can share with her.

Hunger

Hunger had been recommended to me by a similarly foodie-minded colleague of mine, so I knew that it was worth a look. And then I heard more and more about this relatively new addition to upper Fremont (in the vicinity of Via Tribunali, Caffe Vita, and the Fremont Abbey), so clearly a visit was in order.

It just so happened that friends and I went at the very tail end of the most recent Dine Around Seattle, that twice-yearly dining-out promo that hits Seattle every March and November. Though allow me a brief digression… Was anyone else completely caught by surprise this time around? I consider myself a reasonably food-aware person, reading my share of blogs, websites, and tweets as I do, but I heard nary a word about this month’s food fest until a co-worker scheduled a lunch out for us. (It was at Shuckers, by the way, and the most noteworthy thing about it was the simple syrup offered along with the iced tea. So civilized!) So when I mentioned this over dinner my two friends demurred slightly, one saying that she had seen mention as a banner ad on a Seattle Times webpage. Duly noted, but STILL, it felt like the promotion was a bit lackluster this time around. Harumph.

Diatribe aside, I was pleased with my experience at Hunger. It seems a bit off the beaten path, even in the midst of those well-known neighbors mentioned above. Once I found my way inside I noted immediately that it had a distinctly neighborhood vibe, a small space with red- and orange-hued walls and an eclectic assortment of art. The tile-topped counter that fronts the street mirrors the curved bar, and was our first stop for a happy hour drink before dinner. The 4-6pm happy hour offers a decent menu of food and drink, with $3 Red Stripe tall boys as well as a good selection of nibbles for $5 each. The Cucumber Martini, one of the $5 specialty cocktails, was particularly tasty: an concotion of their well vodka, macerated cucumber, and simple syrup. A little sweet, but not too much so. Mostly just delicious!

In the yellow-hued room just beyond the small front room and bar, there is a big communal table and it’s there that we sampled Hunger’s offerings for Dine Around Seattle. Being the good food buddies that they are, they participated in my favorite activity for promotions like these: ordering one of everything (or very nearly) and sharing bites of all. We started with the Roasted Beet Salad with spicy toasted nuts, chevre, organic herb greens, and aged balsamic vinaigrette, a solid if not revolutionary beet salad. The Curried Mussels, given the accompaniment list of coconut milk, green curry broth, fresh lime, and basil sounded absolutely delicious, and it came through in spades. The Moroccan Lentil Soup with Northern beans, Flageolet beans, tomato, truffle oil, and fresh herbs was just a touch spicy, with tremendous flavor.

I’d say that was the theme of the meal for the most part, in fact. “Tremendous flavor” definitely described the Andouille Gnocchi, one pasta I’m always hesitant to order because it can so easily come off as bland. There wasn’t a chance of that in Hunger’s version, with andouille, caramelized red onion, plum tomato, arugula, and balsamic reduction. The same could be said for the Wild Mushroom Risotto, another dish that can sometimes fall flat, but apparently not when you’re Hunger and working with wild mushrooms, plum tomato, marjoram, black truffles, and shaved reggiano cheese. I wasn’t as much a fan of the Steak Frites. The truffle shoestring potatoes were deliciously thin and crispy, but the beef seemed swamped by the demiglace of red wine, mushroom, and onion. Perhaps a bit more demi, next time around?

It feels as though the desserts – a cheese plate, Empire ice cream, and Ginger & Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta – weren’t as stellar as the savory dishes that preceded them, so maybe it’s the Small Bites and Big Bites for which one comes to Hunger. I’d be OK with that, with items on the menu like Wild Boar Sliders, Harissa Smoked Lamb, Curried Cauliflower Gratin, and One Seriously Gouda Burger. I think that it’s tough to judge a restaurant on a Dine Around Seattle or Seattle Restaurant Week experience, so count me in for another visit. Starting with one of those delicious cucumber martinis, if you don’t mind.

Hunger on Urbanspoon