Thursday, July 17, 2014

Prima Bistro

I was skeptical of Prima Bistro after encountering a cassoulet made by them which sported a thick tuft of breadcrumbs as bushy as the pubes on a 197’s centerfold. Besides, they’re located in the charming village of Langley, WA on Whidbey Island. Plus, they’ve got a killer second story deck and a pristine water view. So I assumed that it would be like many other Oceanside tourist traps: overpriced and bland shitholes which serve yellowing iceberg lettuce and anemic wedges of mealy tomato doused in a pint of Thousand Island Dressing and they somehow also discovered a way to put slices of pork tenderloin on top of fettuccine alfredo with a straight face and everything is $23. But did they fulfill my dire prophecy? READ ON IF YOU DARE!

We started with the chickpea “fries” ($6.50), which, since the "fries" actually do seem to be fried, was the worst abuse of quotation marks since I saw a sign asking people to “Please ring the ‘doorbell’” but it was in fact an ACTUAL doorbell, and not a midget’s nutsack painted to resemble a doorbell in the hopes of tricking you into comically molesting a midget. Six big foamy yellow planks of what I can only assume is a slurry of deep fried chickpea flour were burnished a crusty bronze outside, with a yielding and almost cheese-like interior. These had the consistency of the yellow foam that mascot costumes are typically made of, but unlike the Capitol City Goofball or the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, Prima Bistro’s Fightin’ “Fries” at least come with a ramekin of curry mayonnaise.

Crispy pork belly ($6.50) was tasty as fuck. This was a typically perfect example of pork belly, which is used to make bacon, which you might find in a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich: it had been confited, with a crunchy and salty fried exterior, and a moist interior so unguent, so tender, so delicate, it was as if the pig never did a situp in its life, which I suppose it probably never has, because pigs are lazy as fuck. The belly came with a neat quenelle of a sweet and tart apricot mostarda, which was good enough to spread upon a toasted slice of brioche and had no business playing second fiddle to a fried square of disemboweled pig.

Salade nicoise ($14.50) was an excellent template of the classic French salad. A big pile of spinach leaves were doused in a gleaming pearlescent vinaigrette, along with some boiled fingerling potatoes, a couple olives, thinly sliced apples, and a boiled egg, halved lengthwise. Slices of seared ahi tuna completed the picture. The vinagigrette was tart without being overly zingy: your mom could learn a thing or two about the way this vinaigrette comports itself. The egg was expertly boiled, with a perfect sunny orb of yolk completely devoid of the green shitty ring that indicates a cook who doesn’t even know how to boil a fucking egg.

The worst thing about this nicoise salad was these weird diamond-shaped slices of pecorino blanketed over the top of the salad, looking like cheesy Superman logos. These were worse than unnecessary because pecorino is not a proper ingredient for a true salade nisoise. The second worse thing about this salad was that they didn’t include any haricots verts. A third grader may disagree with me but freshly picked, lightly steamed green beans are tasty as fuck, and I’ll point in the face, yelling at any third grader who disputes my claim.

Salade lyonnaise ($12.50) was, like the salade nicoise, similarly well-behaved. A bushel of frisee, wilted under a warm vinaigrette like Tim Tebow under the pressure of professional football, was interspersed with crunchy lardons hidden cleverly within its midst, and topped with a poached egg. This salad worked well, with a dressing that mixed adequately with the soft yolk drooling from where I pierced the egg’s side, but I didn’t like how the frisee was so wilted it was almost cooked. I prefer frisee to be crisp and bitter as the repartee between two aging vaudeville comedy partners. Instead the frisee was as limp as my dick when I see your mom.

But the best thing was the charcuterie plate. A small one was a mere $8.50 and included: bresaola, boar and pistachio salami, fennel and coriander salami, smoked chorizo, pork belly rilettes, and lonza. The bresaola, air-dried beef bottom round for those of you ignorant of the charcutier’s art, was typically beefy and sweet, shaved into deep crimson curls, and not too salty. The boar salami, by contrast, was salty and greasy and had the rich priapic musky swagger of a rutting boar. The fennel and coriander salami was fairly standard and modest, but it seemed forgettable amid the other strong personalities on this charcuterie plate.

The chorizo was unapologetically spicy. The rilettes were delicately spiced, as silken and greasy as that first delicious thrust, and I gleefully smeared the rilettes all over the (SPOILER ALERT) bread which Prima Bistro graciously provides to diners FOR FREE. Finally, the lonza was smoky and salty like some old lobsterman guy wearing a sweater and smoking a pipe. Alongside the meat was an unnecessarily spicy pickle. This charcuterie plate was fucking legit, and it hallmarks Prima Bistro’s dedication to technique.

Charcuterie is a difficult skill to master, so I'm impressed that they cure the charcuterie in-house at Prima Bistro. Especially challenging are dry-cured sausages such as salami. I know because I tried it and it ended up looking, and smelling, like a used condom filled with decaying roadkill. But all of the meats Prima put together on this very affordable plate were impeccably prepared.

We didn’t get dessert from Prima; instead I went around the corner to the P S Suisse bakery and dropped $2.50 on a spitzbuebe, a special Swiss raspberry sandwich cookie that sounds like something I like to do to your mom.

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by Prima Bistro’s deft avoidance of being a completely shitty tourist trap. In addition to what is an obvious working knowledge of classic French technique, Prima also boasts a solid wine list, reasonable prices, and a lively small-town atmosphere. A friendly small town, that is, and not one that puts a boot on your car and plants heroin in your pocket if you voted for President Obama. If you’re ever in Langley for some reason, by all means go.

Rating: 8 small town stereotypes out of 10

Prima Bistro is located at 201 ½ 1st St, Langley, WA

For reservations call 360-221-4060

Prima Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Requiem for Dot's Bistrot

It’s sad as fuck when something magical vanishes, while something that sucks continues to exist. Just as it’s a shame that Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead while Ashton Kutcher continues to plague the world with his spittle, so too is it a GOD DAMN SHAME that Dot’s Bistrot closed last week while the following shitass restaurants are still open:
1. That’s Amore
2. Perche’No
3. Bucca Di Beppo
4. Cheesecake Factory
5. Melting Pot
6. Patty’s Eggnest
7. Charlie’s
8. Snappy Dragon
9. El Camino
10. You tell me what number 10 should be

But I’m not here to poke fun at Perche’No for the tenth time; I’m here to eulogize Dot’s, which you obviously didn’t know was delicious because if you DID, Dot’s would still be open.

I first encountered Dot’s in its original incarnation as a neighborhood butcher and sandwich shop. There was a glass case where you could buy whole raw chickens or pork chops or Dot’s house-cured bacon, or slices of porchetta, or terrines and pates. If you didn’t feel like buying raw meat, of course, you could get a porchetta sandwich ($9), made with the very same porchetta you could buy from the case. A big slice of porchetta was pan roasted and served on sliced sourdough and topped with a big variegated red and green pile of coleslaw. The porchetta was succulent inside, with a shattering crisp curl of skin around the perimeter, and the coleslaw was crunchy and creamy and this was a delicious sandwich. To the max.

But then a few months ago Dot’s retooled and started serving dinner, and that too was awesome. Frisee salad ($10) was the typical salade lyonnaise, with a big pile of frisee, hidden beneath a bale of bitter herbs were big chunks of smoky bacon and croutons which were super fucking crunchy. Perched royally atop the pile was a gleaming white areola of poached egg, which when cut into bled its delicious golden heartsblood all over the place. The greens were dressed with a glittery vinaigrette, shiny as a newly minted coin, that mixed pleasurably with the egg yolk. This was a sincere treat with every bite. A sincere treat. With every bite. Sincere. Treat. Every. Bite. Please nominate me for a James Beard Award.

Cassoulet ($22) was similarly awesome. Some people call things “cassoulet” but they falsely invoke the name of this painstakingly assembled French stew. You can’t just throw a few invisible shreds of duck meat into a pool of canned beans and some tomato sauce and call it cassoulet. Real cassoulet takes forever to make and it is so meaty as fuck, King Meatyass himself would think twice about laying siege to cassoulet’s carnivorous fortress. Dot’s cassoulet was fucking hardcore: you got a whole duck leg confit, submerged in a big silken pile of beans. Many lardons dotted this meaty landscape, and a couple torpedoes of sausage were lounging around in there too, pointed directly at your stomach and armed to detonate your hunger.

The Death Star of Dot’s dinner menu was the Cote de Boeuf ($90) and before you snicker and say “NINETY DOLLARS THAT’S WHY THEY CLOSED” I’ll have you know that the price was for TWO, jackass. We got a giant dinosaur steak, a 32 ounce ribeye that was actually like an entire cross section of a cow. It was two inches thick, charred to an almost apocalyptic crust on the outside, pleasingly seasoned, served medium rare. You didn’t get to choose how the steak was cooked and that’s how it should be, because if you want a $90 well done you should just hand over your money and get nothing in return because you are breathtakingly stupid.

With the cote de boeuf came a choice of two sauces: we picked a velvety béarnaise sauce and a red wine and shallot reduction which was easily sixty fathoms deep and as dark as my fantasies. All you can eat sides were also included. These were the chef’s choice, but luckily for us he chose wisely. A ramekin of roasted turnips was caramelized and piquant with flakes of red pepper. Braised greens (of some kind) came dotted with more of the aforementioned lardons. And potatoes gratin were creamy and cheesy, almost like mashed potatoes they were so tender, and with a scattering of parsley on top. And true to the menu, every time they saw us finish a dish of the sides they brought another.

We barely had room for dessert but we somehow managed to cram a crème brulee ($8) in anyway. Cracking into the perfectly caramelized brulee with your spoon revealed an unctuous and citrusy crème beneath, and I almost forgot to mentio that this thing was big enough to go ice skating on top of it.

I have no idea why Dot’s closed. Honestly I only ventured in there for dinner because Restaurant Roux had an hour-and-a-half wait. I was shocked that we were able to get a table for four, with no waiting, at 8:00 pm on a Friday night. AND the food was fucking tasty as fuck. So what went wrong? Was it the location? I wouldn’t think so because as previously mentioned, Roux was packed like your mom’s colon and it’s basically across the street from Dot’s. I’m guessing they had super expensive rent and there were so few tables, they probably had to turn them over too many times in one night to turn a profit. But that’s just my armchair quarterbacking, so take it with a grain of salt.

I really hope the team at Dot’s reopens it somewhere else. And when I say “somewhere else” I mean “not Seattle.” Fuck Seattle, Dot’s. Move to White Center or Burien or Tukwila or maybe some place along Aurora in Shoreline or Edmonds. Artists must live where the rent is cheap. Go south, Dot’s. Or north. But for fuck’s sake you motherfuckers have GOT to bring Dot’s back from the dead like vampire Jesus.

Rating: 8.5 jesuses out of 10

Dot’s is closed so there are obviously no reservations to be taken, nor fucks to give.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Aragona

The Spanish Civil War was more than just a disillusioning conflict in which the assholes won; it’s a strange allegory for modern Spanish cuisine. On the right is tapas, the traditional Spanish bar food which, for better or worse, inspired the tragicomic “small plates” phenomenon. On the left, of course, is molecular gastronomy: based in Bilbao, everybody knows that legendary recipe elf Ferran Adria brought the world mind-bending dishes composed mostly of air and slimy bubbles filled with flavored jelly.

Which side do you choose? the solid, but old-fashioned and unoriginal fascists? or the avant-garde but dickheaded commies? The only winning move, some would argue, is not to play. Which is actually what Aragona does. With the careful modifier “Spanish inspired cuisine” bukkaked all over its website, Aragona delicately threads the ideological needle.

Before you even get food, the wine service will unobtrusively introduce itself to you. A wine steward listened to what we ordered then recommended sherries and wines to complement the meal. This is fucking pimp. The best butler, it’s said, is one you don’t even realize is working for you, and the wine program at Aragona fits the bill. I was nudged toward a 375 mL bottle of sherry with the assurance that it was drier than most of the reds on the menu.

True enough, it’s not the kind of sherries hobos drink: this sherry was indeed arid, like a soda cracker topped with a crumbling fossilized baby doll’s femur. There were notes of copper and apricot, and in the finish was the unmistakably mossy and mineral aroma of one and only one thing: freshly ejaculated semen. Why “baby batter” isn’t on the wine flavor wheel is beyond me. Actually I know why: who wants to say “this sherry taste like jizz?” Luckily for all you readers, I’m cocksure enough (get it?) to admit that this sherry snowball was a perfect match to the dishes we ordered.

Anyway. We started with the gambas al pil-pil ($20). This traditional tapas dish was executed so precisely, it’s like they cooked the shrimp with a satellite-mounted laser. The prawns were cooked delicately, bathed in the famous basque sauce of olive oil, garlic, and peppers. It wasn’t too spicy, of course; the Iberian peninsula’s false reputation for “spicy” food comes from generations of liver-spotted English schoolmarms for whom a single peppercorn causes uncomfortable feelings in their collective clitorides.

It WAS, however, unapologetically garlicky, although it wasn’t over the top. In fact, the shrimp in some ways isn’t even the focus of this dish; the leftover oil is fucking KILLER. Here’s a list of the things off of which I’d lick the pil pil sauce:
1. An electric fence
2. Mike Tyson’s scrotum
3. Your mom
and finally (and most likely) 4. Bread, which luckily is not only abundant at Aragona,, but in the true commie Spanish Republican tradition is also FREE, bucking the trend of fancy restaurants who want you to pay three or four bucks for their special artisan lesbian bread with unicorn butter.

Next up was Ensalada de achicorias y pipas ($12), fancy Spanish words for chicory salad. The menu promises an anchovy vinaigrette and sunflower seeds, but the sunflower seeds were practically endangered, and the vinaigrette wasn’t especially anchovied. Anchovy flavor tends to walk a fine line: too heavy-handed and it tastes like your mom; not enough and you feel cheated. But if you use just enough, anchovies offer an almost mystical savory flavor without yelling I’M A FISH MOTHERFUCKER into your face. Aragona’s anchovy vinaigrette beautifully toed the line, offering a vague offshore saltiness to the proceeding which paid fawning compliments to the bitter greens, like a glossy and careful lothario’s advances toward a wealthy octogenarian.

Arroz meloso de costillitas de cerdo y garbanzos ($24) was a very basic dish of braised pork shoulder with rice and beans. This was fine, though I would have vastly preferred actual paella, with the seafood and the caramelized crusty rice on the bottom, and sausage and saffron and wood smoke and all the other stuff, but this was, as previously stated, fine. The rice was perfectly cooked, with firm and distinct but creamy grains. The shreds of braised pork were luscious and tender, and the beans were also competently executed, but my overall impression was that this dish was boring as fuck.

Trucha a la Navarra ($25) was a beheaded and deboned trout, topped with caramelized onions and stuffed with jamon Serrano. This was very good; the trout was flaky and well-seasoned, with a crisp skin. The advertised smear of caramelized onions on top was sweet and reduced down to an almost nihilistic nothingness; meanwhile, julienned threads of Serrano ham inside the fish’s cavity provided a covert saltiness.

The Zanahorias con ajo tostado y vinagre de muscatel we ordered with the trout was less successful. For $12 we got a big plate of carrots, roasted on the plancha, with garlic and muscatel vinegar. The garlic chips were toasty and sweet, and the vinegar brought a much-needed counterpoint to the sugariness, but the carrots were sadly undercooked: charred and blistered on the outside by the plancha’s inferno, they were still too stiff inside. Just like your mom!

Finally dessert. Faithful readers of this blog may know by now that I don’t usually give a shit about dessert, but the Xuxos caseros ($12) was fucking magnificent. I’m guessing, based purely on the number of x’s in the name, that “xuxos” is a Basque variant of “churros.” These were cute little cigars of puff pastry, tightly wrapped around a crème anglaise filling and dusted on top with granular nuggets of truffle salt. Normally I would laugh at a nouveau riche ingredient like truffle salt, which is the gastronomic equivalent of a hot tub with colored LED’s in the bottom of it, but Aragona makes it work, since just a little salt, and the earthy petroleum of (probably fake) truffle flavor neatly offset the sweet cream filling, We paired this with a scoop of a smooth and fucking chocolatey as hell cocoa sorbet ($7), thus manufacturing our own postmodern iteration of churros y chocolate.

I generally like Aragona. The décor is breathtakingly mod, with carefully curated modern artwork all over the place, and clean lines in an airy and uncluttered dining room. I rarely comment on ambiance, but they nailed it. The cuisine, with only a few missteps, is technically perfect. Plus, your dish may very well be brought to your table by certified famous person Carrie Mashaney (as with almost everyone, Mrs. Mashaney, I have you at a disadvantage, but thank you for bringing us our trout). If I have any real complaints, and I never thought I’d be saying this, it’s that Aragona doesn’t acknowledge molecular gastronomy enough. I don’t mean that they should blanket the dish in foam and smoke and jelly bubbles and “caviar” made out of ingredients which clearly were not extruded from a fish’s vulva, but an El Bullian nip slip here and there would have paid homage to what is, whether you like it or not, part of Spanish cuisine for the rest of human history. Rating: 8.5 nip slips out of 10

Aragona is located at 96 Union Street

For reservations call 206-682-3590

Aragona on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

2014 Voracious Tasting Awards

The Seattle Weekly was kind enough to hook me up with a press pass to the Vocarious Tasting Awards. It was an about-face in terms of classiness; last year these fucking nerds told me they wanted me to GIVE AWAY two passes to the awards on my blog. When I asked if I could get a press pass I was resolutely told no, so of course I knew WELL IN ADVANCE who would “win” the two tickets. Answer: me.

But this year they seem to have realized how dumb they were last year and actually, you know, let the press do its fucking JOB. So we went to the Tasting Awards. Many of Seattle’s finest restaurants (and some of its crappiest) were represented at the Tasting Awards. Each vendor had a booth set up to hand out small bites and cocktails. I don’t know exactly what awards the Tasting Awards were handing out, because I didn’t see any statuettes or presenters or anything; there was, however, some 1990’s sounding band playing some girl music or something.

At any rate, we ate as much as we could and here, listed in my usual order of shittiest to best, are my reviews of each of the presenting restaurants:

Crush was serving a bizarre macaron sandwich. Squished between two vaguely savory macarons was an uncomfortable spread of goat cheese and Moroccan spices. This thing was incomprehensible and unsettling, like an encounter with Cthulu’s minions, only not nearly as awesome. It was too salty, smoky, and weird.
Rating: 1 Shoggoth out of 10

Poquitos was serving bland soggy beef tacos: a big slug of sloppy braised beef studded with jarring, undercooked nuggets of diced onion was plopped down on a single sad corn tortilla. Without the customary double tortilla layer, this taco collapsed under the weight of the bland filling within. Plus, the big watery wad of beef tasted like a peepshow mop.
Rating: 2 mops out of 10

The WA State Beef Commission really sucked. I realize these guys are lobbyists, not chefs, but they weren’t even trying. A few gristly slices of bottom round were served atop a bean salad. There was too much black pepper strangling everything, but at least the beans were cooked properly. I’m guessing they were just a bunch of canned beans thrown together. Your mom likes to eat this exact meal under the bridge on cold nights.
Rating: 3 hobos out of 10

A spoonful of “foie tofu” was Miyabi 45th’s offering. This was a neat ivory square of tofu with foie gras, wasabi and bonito dashi. It wasn’t bland, though I couldn’t taste the wasabi or the foie; in fact this dish is best described as having the taste and consistency of a savory toothpaste for true gourmands.
Rating: 4 blasphemous decadent dental hygiene products out of 10

Sky City's short ribs were okay. The Space Needle tries valiantly to compete with shit like Millers Guild and La Bete, but the chocolate braised short rib they were serving was too chocolatey, like they just melted a bunch of Hershey’s Special Dark minibars all over it. The beef was tender, but this was sadly topped with a few wholly unnecessary amaranth microgreens.
Rating: 5 minibars (not the good kind) out of 10

Ponti Seafood Grill was the only one of the restaurants at the Tasting Awards that I have personally been kicked out of, but I’m not holding a grudge. Ponti was serving salmon tartare. Delicately minced raw salmon and cubes of avocado were draped in way too much sesame oil, and piled atop a yucca chip. The major misstep here was that they should have served the tartare on a Silverchair CD since this dish was SO FUCKING 90’S. Par for the course at Ponti, I suppose.
Rating: 5 Paul Reisers out of 10

Skillet was serving sweet potato latkes with bacon jam, crème fraiche, and smoked trout. Too sacrilegious to appeal to jews and too smoky to appeal to anyone who wasn’t a lifelong smoker, this thingy barely elicited a “meh” from my august and borderline loose-cannon tastebuds.
Rating 5.5 loose cannons out of 10

Shanik’s dish was what I can only describe as an Indian nacho: a crisp rectangle of chickpea papadam with butternut squash and eggplant on top. This wasn’t bad, and the suite of spices they used was classic. In fact, the only way it could have been more Indian was if they arranged for me to eat this thing when I was five years old.
Rating: 6 subcontinents out of 10

Matt’s in the Market was offering smoked trout with peas on crostini. Cute little cubes of trout suspended in some variety of creamy, but otherwise harmless, substrate. Mayonnaise? Crème fraiche? I couldn’t tell, because the smoked trout muscled its way into my mouth and refused to stand down, though the peas provided sweet bursts of springtime freshness which diffused the relentless fishy assault.
Rating: 6.5 assaults out of 10

At Island Soul’s table were small sweet and crusty cornbread muffins, accompanied by a cup of jerk chicken thigh. The chicken was bright with citrus and spices and a big splash of hot sauce, though clearly incapable of competing in jerkiness against me.
Rating: 6.5 jerks out of 10

Café Campagne served crostini with a dollop of brandade and a thin smear of tapenade on the very top. This tasted like a sea breeze and could only have been more “Mediterranean” if it was also a swarthy cab driver of indeterminate nationality.
Rating: 7 cab drivers out of 10

Prima Bistro was handing out cassoulet. A Dixie cup of the famous and persnickety French stew was grainy, with way too many breadcrumbs on top, but beneath this thick layer of crumby asphalt was a big pile of perfectly cooked “rockwell beans” (whatever those are), some specks of mirepoix, and cute little slices of tiny sausage. The signature special cassoulet ingredient, duck confit, was either not in attendance, or they put too little in for me to notice, but it was otherwise a pretty ballsy attempt at a finicky and time-consuming dish like cassoulet, so I have to give them credit.
Rating: 7 ballsy motherfuckers out of 10

Radiator Whiskey apparently deconstructed a bunch of reubens for the Tasting Awards. The “deconstructed reuben” was actually a cup of shredded cabbage with “beef belly pastrami” and rye croutons and thousand island dressing. They kept pushing the “beef belly” aspect but really, it’s just pastrami made from a hanger steak instead of brisket. That having been said, the beef belly pastrami was yielding and succulent to the bite, in perfect contrast to the extremely crunchy croutons and the cabbage, which was very lightly pickled. The only misstep was the big glob of thousand island lurking in the bottom of the cup like a porn theater masturbator. When you could get everything in one bite it really tasted reubenesque, but most of the time it just tasted like a big chunk of pastrami and a forkful of cabbage.
Rating: 7.5 masturbators out of 10

My frenemies at Miller’s Guild had a big obscene platter of 48-hour braised short ribs, dripping with an erotic mélange of sauce and juices. The ribs had been obviously cooked sous vide since they were still medium rare, then seared on the wood fired grill, with a yuzu and green peppercorn horseradish cream. The beef was tender as a skinned knee and the cream, while tasty, was impossible to taste the yuzu’s beguiling citrus flavor over all the yelling from the horseradish and pepper and way too many big chunks of finishing salt. They were also serving some tequila cocktail, which the bartender was to my amusement dutifully grinding black pepper over.
Rating: 8 peppercorns out of 10

The manchego cubes with candied walnuts, and a cute little watercress leaf, which Pinxto was serving was unpretentious and perfectly conceptualized. This is the kind of snack they should serve on airplanes, but don’t.
Rating: 8 airplanes out of 10

In the typical insane overachieving style of resident geniuses McCracken and Tough, Spur served razor thin slices of cured and smoked pork with an onion mustard, which was as dark and sweet as Bill Withers. Along with the pork was a neat cup of rhubarb confit: thin kidneys of cross-sectioned rhubarb ribs were pickled in a highly agrodolcic pickling liquid. Nice.
Rating: 8 overachievers out of 10

In Harvest Vine’s usual inscrutable fashion, they were serving a boquerone skewered in an erotic serpentine around a guindillas pepper and a green olive. The whole thing, stuffed down your mouth in one bite, was salty and piquant and dripping with olive oil and so fucking Basque, it could only be more Euskaran if they called in a bomb threat in a deserted parking lot 12 hours ahead of time to ensure that no one got hurt, but nonetheless were still able to blow shit up.
Rating: 8.5 ETA bomb threats out of 10

Westward’s “mint julep” pea soup confused the fuck out of me. At first I thought that this was a super fucking inventive flight of fancy by Westward impresario Josh Henderson: an ACTUAL mint julep drink, mixed with pea soup. In theory it should work. Peas, that delightful springtime bridge between sweet and savory items, should be able to handle both the smoke and vanilla flavors inherent in bourbon, and they ALSO taste great with mint, so why the fuck not mix a mint julep with pea soup and serve it as a sort of combination dinner AND drink? Alas, it was just mint pea soup, and while it sadly didn’t contain alcohol, the soup was rich yet as light as a feather, very minty, and the very essence of springtime. They should’ve garnished it with a live bunny.
Rating: 9 bunnies out of 10

La Bete’s chicken liver mousse was superb: perched atop a lurid maroon smear of mousse on a cracker was a slice of radish and a snip of chive. As usual La Bete nailed it. The mousse was silken and not too funky, as chicken livers can sometimes be. In fact this mousse was so silky, eating it was, for my tongue, like lounging on a California king bed with satin sheets and popping a bunch of lorazepam washed down with Johnny Walker Blue. That’s how fucking good it was. It was that fucking good.
Rating: 9.5 lorazepam out of 10

Finally, La Bodega’s yucca root empanada was fucking great. A granular crust as fragile as my grasp of differential equations enclosed a cheese filling, supple and creamy enough to soothe all broken hearts. At the bottom of the cup was a smear of green sauce of some kind. I didn’t need the sauce, though it brightened things up a bit. This empanada was light enough to eat all day, yet nonetheless capable of slaying any hangover. Well done, La Bodega. For your hard work you win this years’ Surly Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Blowing the Fuck out of Minds. Kudos!
Rating: 9.6 kudos out of 10

Monday, April 07, 2014

Tanakasan

While I was really excited to eat at Tanakasan, I was at first frustrated by the menu, which lists pages and pages of sake and beer and cocktail choices, all written in a giant Reader’s Digest font. Eventually we got to the food listings, which are arranged by main ingredient, for example “dumplings, meat, fish, vegetables, noodles,” etc., and we ordered a bunch of stuff. We started with Gen Tso’s Short Ribs ($12) which, if you know me at all, jumped the fuck right off the page and into my brain. You see, I love General Tso’s Chicken the way Marco Rubio loves bottled water, or the way Arnold Schwarzenegger loves getting cleaning ladies pregnant, or the way (insert thing that a dated topical reference ______ loves here______).

While the short ribs were expertly prepared, and basically fell off the bone when you looked at it, I would hesitate to call this “General Tso’s.” The sauce was sweet, with a citrus tang on the back end and a lurking underground heat. A few bright green strips of sautéed scallion clung to the sides of each rib, and while on paper it might seem like a fine iteration of the General, it really just didn’t inspire the militaristic zeal I experience when I eat a really good plate of Gen Tso’s Chicken. These were served atop a big pile of fluffy steamed rice. Despite the technical proficiency of their preparation, these short ribs would never pass muster in General Tso’s army; the sauce unimpressive sauce would resort in a dishonorable discharge.

Next up was a tasty chicken salad ($12). This was pretty good, with pearly shreds of poached chicken breast hiding beneath a bale of finely shredded brussel sprout slaw and julienned basil. Drizzled into this vegetal pile was a bracingly tart nuoc cham. This chicken salad was as light and effortless as a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, with the nuoc cham cutting through with the bright sharp flash of a samurai sword.

The Osaka pancake ($14) was a big shredded patty of cabbage topped with a riot of sliced scallion, a zigzag of kewpie mayo, a furry pile of bonito flakes which waved “eat me” in my general direction, and maybe there were some shrimp in there too. I know what they were going for here, and by “they” I mean “whoever the fuck came up with this giant pancake:” they were trying to layer all of these intense flavors into what they hoped would be this umami symphony, but in the end it tasted like a bunch of political assholes shouting at each other on one of those Sunday morning round table pundit shows.

Grilled hanger steak ($25) was very good. Slices of steak were cloaked in a dark, dark, almost black crust, and a ripe medium rare inside, were served atop a pile of braised kale and a bale of enoki mushrooms. Here and there were a few floury gnocchi, as insubstantial as the programming on Bravo, but in a good way.

Beef bulgogi dumplings ($11) featured a big bowl of steamed wontons, filled with a rich garlicky beef filling, floating in a brassy broth with shreds of kimchee, cubed daikon, and some scallions on top. The menu inexplicably urges you to add American cheese to this dish (“for fun!”), but that doesn’t sound like much fun to me. I could come up with a humorous list of things that sound MORE FUN than putting American cheese on some fucking wonton soup but… meh. What am I doing with my life?

A side of fried cauliflower ($6) was superb. They probably made this dish out of Faberge cauliflower, that’s how good it was. We got a big bowl of florets, burnished a pleasing bronze exterior crust which encased delicious creamy white cauliflower brains inside. These sat atop a secret subterranean layer of Kewpie mayonnaise, the ultra-rich Japanese condiment which lesbians hate but I love. In fact, I love Kewpie mayo more than a Ford Econoline van with the Castlevania logo airbrushed on it. And that, my friends, is true love: the love a man has for imported mayonnaise.

Finally, Tanaka family fried rice ($9) was great, with delicately fried rice, paella-like crusty bits peeking out here and there. Big chunks of bacon studded this dish, and a fried egg reclined luxuriously on top. The menu proudly mentions that ketchup is an ingredient, but they disguised it well: the tomato faded politely into the background, leaving only a savory whisper in the wake of its departure.

In generally, I enjoyed Tanakansan, but this restaurant has a big problem because Revel exists. I know, I know, you can make a million comparisons of two things where “X is fucked because Y exists.” Pepsi is fucked because Coke exists. Arby’s is fucked because taste buds exist. You’re fucked because your mom exists. You get the jist. But Revel, the Fremont Korean fusion restaurant, does the same thing Tanaksan does, but does it like a billion times more effectively: Revel’s bolder flavors and more technical preparations far outclass Tanakasan. It’s like you took regular Jeopardy contestants and let them compete on Celebrity Jeopardy.

Still, maybe being a salon of cutting-edge fusion cuisine isn’t Tanakasan’s mission. It falls, after all, under the Aegis of the Tom Douglas Restaurant Group, which is generally dedicated to safe, crowd-pleasing flavors and raking in fistfuls of cash. I certainly wouldn’t mind raking in fistfuls of cash. Doesn’t everyone? Maybe I just feel like typing “fistfuls of cash.” Maybe I’ll do it one more time, in fact.

Rating: 6 fistfuls of cash out of 10

Tanakasan is located at 2121 6th Ave.

For reservations call 206-812-8412

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