July 19, 2019

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

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.

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