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

TanakaSan on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2014

mkt.

mkt. is the latest outpost of Chef Ethan Stowell’s culinary empire, but unfortunately the name of the restaurant annoys the shit out of me. According to mkt.’s website, and yes, the period is in fact part of the name, “mkt.” is an acronym that stands for “Meridian, Keystone, Tangletown,” which references the old name of the neighborhood, the name of the building in which the restaurant is located, and the new name of the neighborhood, respectively. And sadly (for me), this acronym is pronounced “market,” and not “em kay tee,” which is how it SHOULD in fact be pronounced, because YOU DON’T USE AN ABBREVIATION AS A RESTAURANT NAME.

You see, without vowels we would be fucked. Vowels form the “peak” of a syllable, and represent sounds that are spoken with no constriction of the vocal tract. Let me repeat myself for emphasis: NO CONSTRICTION OF THE VOCAL TRACT. Where would your mom be without vocals? Well besides not being able to suck cock like a champ, without the unrestricted access to your vocal cords that vowels allow, your mom would be “yr mm.” In fact, Ethan Stowell, you fucking smarty pants, hw wld y lk t f wrt ths rvw wth n vwls? Y wld b spr fckng annyd, nw wldn’t y, y fckng sn f btch?

Anyway, I set aside my two paragraphs worth of rage at mkt.’s name because they take reservations, so despite mkt.’s miniscule dining room, we were able to get a seat. We started with grilled green beans ($7). These thin filaments of haricot vert were served grilled, speckled with lemon zest, the skin a pleasingly charred green and black smoking jacket. These were skinny pencil dicks of smoky citrus deliciousness.

Squash fritters ($9) were only okay; they were just fried dough balls filled with “winter squash,” whatever that is. Squash is of course a blank canvas for flavor, and so these tasted mostly fried, accompanied by a little dish of a cilantro puree. Normally I despise cilantro but this was good: not particularly dominated by that assertive stupid cilantro flavor, it was topped with some crumbled pumpkin seeds.

Crispy fried quail ($13) was great. This dish was a playful take on that classic picnic meal, fried chicken and potato salad. I was as surprised by how good this was as I was by the fact that I actually just called it “a playful take.” Now I feel the way your mom feels about herself. A deboned quail, with its minuscule wing and a miniature drumstick attached to a lilliputin breast, was coated in a crisp batter and perched atop a pile of creamy, perfectly round little boiled potatoes. The potato salad was dressed in coarse mustard and diced cornichons. You’d think it would be really easy to overcook a tiny bird such as quail, luckily they didn’t. It was succulent.

Hamachi crudo ($15) was so tasty, I could fucking eat this all day, every day. Big chunks of hamachi, the flesh creamy and pink and erotic as fuck, with thin slices of cucumber and slivers of red pepper. It was topped with a cucumber granita. Everything about this dish was anti-winter. It was like summer on a plate, a girl sunbathing topless on your tongue’s beach.

A slow roasted vegetable salad ($9) was pretty dumb. There were a bunch of roasted baby beets, which were grainy as fuck because somebody forgot to wash the fucking things, and some red leaf lettuce, and perhaps some other stuff, all topped with a soft-boiled egg, sliced in half longitudinally. This was a lazy salad and I liked it about as much as I like your mom.

The last thing we ordered was seared scallops ($21), which were pretty good. For this price we got three big scallops, seared a luscious golden and staring up at you like areolas, and just as exciting to contemplate. Beneath the scallops was a shredded nest of softly braised pork shoulder, which was so pink they must’ve cured it with nitrites, and a bunch of creamy white beans, complete with little flecks of mirepoix.

We didn’t get dessert because our waitress was wearing a silver whistle around her neck. I asked her if it was a rape whistle and she said no, the whistle was the punchline of a bawdy anecdote and that it wasn’t appropriate to tell such a dirty story to customers. But when she came around again to ask if we wanted dessert, I told her that for dessert I wanted to hear her story about the whistle. “No!” she barked, “Your dessert was the scallops!” and curtly turned on her heel. Honestly I haven’t been so thoroughly chastised since I told your mom I just wanted to be friends.

At any rate, I like mkt. well enough. In fact, it’s probably my second favorite of Ethan Stowell’s restaurants, after How to Cook a Wolf. But if I were going to open a restaurant it would be called something like Café Maximillien Robespierre or Restaurant Antoine Lavoisier, or the Elite Wiener Room, or Chateau Castlevania, or something fucking cool like that.

Rating: 8 Elite Wieners out of 10

mkt. is located at 2108 N 55th St

For reservations call 206-812-1580

mkt. on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 24, 2014

Loulay

Loulay is the newest restaurant in the empire of Seattle’s most haberdasherous celebrity chef, Thierry Rautureau. Loulay is named for Rautureau’s hometown of Saint Hilaire de Loulay, and according to the restaurant’s website will feature “menu items [that] are rooted in his childhood memories.” Hey motherfuckers: that is the FIRST time I’ve ever used brackets in a quote so drink five times.

It’s a touching concept, at any rate, but is Rautureau’s personal Proust moment compelling enough to make you pause in thought with each bite, overwhelmed with nostalgia? You’ll see.

We started with an endive salad ($7.50) This salad looked less like a childhood memory and more like it was actually plated by a child: all the stuff seemed to be randomly tossed on the plate in a disarrayed scattering of grilled apple slices, a splayed out wedge of grilled onion, and a sloppy bale of frisee, with a lonely pond of mustard vinaigrette off to the side. Each component was tasty on its own, but it was difficult to get all of it together in one bite; this salad was like herding meth heads.

Veal sweet bread ($15) was okay: cute chunks of sweet bread were fried and draped in a glossy madeira reduction, with a couple roast baby turnip halves thrown in. The watery bite of the turnip offset the richness of the sweetbreads, but in general this dish lacked a textural contrast. In theory this textural contrast would be provided by the accompanying cube of grilled brioche, but really it just ended up being a bland piece of toast, boring but nonetheless useful for sopping up the reduction, like a mop you can eat. Your mom’s a mop you can eat.

A trio of duck ($19) was really good, with a confit of duck leg, a few slices of roasted duck breast, and a heavily smoked chunk of duck sausage all swimming in a slick demiglace. Sharing the pool with the duck parts were a pile of flageolet beans and a few amaranth microgreens. The confit was shrouded in a brittle skin that barely clung to the succulent flesh beneath. The confit could be separated from the bone with the merest thought, and the breast meat was juicy like the details of my weekend with your mom. The sausage was coarsely ground and rustic, but not in a bad way, and the smoke flavor complimented the creamy pile of flageolets well. The microgreens didn’t need to be in attendance, their whispery voices lost in the shouting chorus of intense duck flavor.

Loulay also offers a four-course tasting menu, which at $49 is actually a fairly good deal. The first course was a beet salad. This was fairly pedestrian, with a couple wedges of creamy roasted beets which poked up their heads from beneath a small pile of amaranth greens. Here and there were a couple nuggets of chopped walnut.

Next up were seared scallops, which was unfortunately probably the biggest letdown of the tasting menu, because we got one seared scallop, yes ONE, as in the number of Academy Awards your mom would have if they gave out Oscars for gang bangs. Accompanying this prime number of scallops was a couple florets of roasted cauliflower. The scallops were perfectly executed, and the cauliflower was good too, but GIVE ME MORE THAN ONE MOTHERFUCKING SCALLOP OR I WILL PISS IN YOUR HAT THEIRRY RAUTUREAU AND THEN YOU WILL HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR NAME TO THE CHEF IN THE PISS HAT BECAUSE YOU WILL BE WEARING A PISS HAT.

All raging priapic complaints about the scallops aside, the third course was roasted beef and it was superb: a big tender softball of braised beef was crowned with a wreath of with celery leaves, chunks of roast sweetbreads, and a turnip puree. The beef was exceedingly tender like a Lifetime Original Movie, and the flavors here were understated without being bland.

Finally the dessert course featured apple beignets: four fluffy balls of beignet, dusted in powdered sugar like an investment banker’s nose, with caramel sauce and a couple wedges of sautéed apple. Beignets, if done wrong, can become tiresome mattresses of stale pastry, but these were as light as a titty nimbus. The caramel wasn’t cloyingly sweet, and you could actually taste apple flavor amid the competing sugary noise.

Loulay is a solid restaurant with an obviously competent kitchen. That having been said, I found the food fairly impersonal, especially for a concept which specifically mentions that the menu references the chef’s childhood memories. I’m sure Rautureau has some old family recipes he could feature on his menu. After all, old people eat the dumbest fucking things, like ribbon candy or slumgullion or crazy cake or, worst of all, hot hams, which in case you aren’t ancient enough to know is a hot dog on a hamburger bun. I once overheard a nonagenarian lamenting the time J. P. Morgan was ahead of her in line, and bought up the last of the hot hams at Woolworth’s.

Even my own grandfather used to eat a tin of devilled ham for dinner, washed down with a glass of milk to which he would add a tablespoon of granulated sugar and a slice of white bread. So, Chef Rautureau, if you’re reading this, and your own grand-pere used to eat the French version of Satanic pork products and diabetic slurries, then by all means PUT THIS SHIT ON THE MENU. It’s nothing personal.

Rating: 7 hot hams out of 10.

Loulay is located at 600 Union Street.

For reservations call 206-402-4588

Loulay Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung, the famed Taiwanese dumpling house, recently opened in the University Village shopping mall. This restaurant is notorious for the irrational exuberance it inspires in people, a frantic obsession akin to the panty-moistening power of one million Bubles. Seriously, with the wait for a party of four on Friday night measured in geological time frames, Din Tai Fung is clearly the most popular restaurant in the known universe, and people will do anything to get inside. Here is a list of atrocities I have personally seen committed by frenzied diners attempting to jump ahead of Din Tai Fung’s ponderous dinner rush:

• A man threw a bunch of black widow spiders onto a child.

• Somebody wedgied a pregnant woman.

• A kid sprayed the crowd with a Super Soaker filled with hydrofluoric acid.

• Richard Sherman yelled a lot.

But is Din Tai Fung actually delicious enough to elicit such a cultlike response? Short answer: no. Long answer: no, but… Longest answer: read the rest of this review.

We started with the sweet and sour spare ribs. $7.50 got us a bowl of these meaty nuggets, glazed in a high-gloss sauce. While the pork was very tender and fell off the bone, the ribs had been clumsily hacked apart, like plastic surgery on a reality-tv starlet, so that there were little chips of bone which bedeviled my maw as though I were a Rancor. Plus, the sauce tasted suspiciously like Aunt Jemima syrup, so not only was the glaze cloying, it was also latently racist.

Sauteed spinach with garlic ($9) was pedestrian but tasty enough, with tender leaves of baby spinach sautéed in a sauce which, while certainly garlicky, was not pungent enough to destroy a makeout session. This dish benefitted enormously from the therapeutic splash of soy sauce I self-administered, since it was a bit bland without it.

Shanghai rice cake with chicken ($8.25) was interesting, to say the least: chicken, spinach, and cabbage were stir fried with the eponymous rice cakes, which are NOT the puffy foam coasters white people think of when they read the word “rice cake.” Rather, these were glutinous discs of steamed rice dough, pleasantly sticky, almost like savory Jujyfruits, though far less aggravating.

Sauced noodle with pickled mustard green and shredded pork ($8) was pretty interesting actually: gossamer strands of pasta were tossed with finely julienned greens and a few thin shreds of delicately cooked pork in a light sauce. The noodles were perfectly cooked, with the same quirky permanent wave sported by Top Ramen noodles, albeit much tastier. There wasn’t a lot of pork, but that was okay: the most intriguing flavor was bitter tang of the greens, which lingered sullenly on the tail of each bite, like skulking teenagers downing half-empty glasses of Franzia at a wedding.

Finally, xiao long bao, AKA juicy pork dumplings, the crown jewel in Din Tai Fung’s noodly crown. These fucking things, while definitely clever, are overrated to the MAXX. When you get an order of these $9.50 for ten of them, your server will warn you to tear each one open a bit to release the steam inside, then dunk each dumpling into a mixture, prepared tableside, of soy sauce and rice vinegar, with a thatch of shredded ginger thrown in. Each dumping sags noticeably under its own weight when hoisted with a chopstick, pregnant with filling. With its paper-thin wrapper and liquid filling and its pork testicle, the xiao long bao resemble nothing so much as a dumpling scrotum.

When you bite in, the aforementioned juicy juice floods your tongue, followed by, of course, the pork filling, swept into your mouth by the savory tsunami released by your bite. These are generally tasty, but are they THAT tasty? Are they good enough to inspire the erotic sonnets which populate Din Tai Fung’s bazillion Yelp reviews? After all, people go fucking apeshit for these things: if you snatched one away from someone about to take a bite of a juicy pork dumpling, your unwitting victim would continue to futilely chomp the air in frustration. Have you ever seen two dogs fucking, then the female somehow escapes, leaving the male dog to continue to instinctively hump the air? That’s what would happen to someone about to eat a juicy pork dumpling, only with their mouth instead of hips, if you were thus inclined to culinarily cock-block them. Seriously, the victim of your prank would resemble Pac-Man, chowing down uselessly through empty glowing hallways, avoiding ghosts, occasionally encountering a bouncing cherry or, if your luck holds, a pretzel.

As far as dumplings go, the juicy pork dumplings aren’t bad. But the recommended dose of vinegar and soy and ginger is actually mandatory, since without the sturm und drang of these toppings, the unctuous filling of the xiao long bao fatigues the tongue like a motherfucker. Especially if, like me, you eat 20 of them.

Din Tai Fung sells dessert but come the fuck on: everyone knows asian desserts suck. They’re either overly sweet or not sweet enough, or else they are completely inappropriate, like the shave ice with assorted toppings. In the name of journalistic integrity I’m telling you that I did NOT actually order the shave ice with assorted toppings, but I don’t need to. I ate something like this in Hawaii once. THEY PUT BEANS IN THE SHAVE ICE. No kid wants that. What the fucking fuck. You can’t do that, putting some savory dinner item into dessert threatens the order of nature. If you’re going to put beans onto a snow cone, where do we draw the line? Why not sprinkle an ice cream sundae with corn? Won’t someone think of the children?

Rating: 5 disappointed children out of 10

Din Tai Fung is located at 163 University Village

No reservations. For inquiries or pickup orders call 206-525-0958

Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 21, 2013

SPJ Presents Tasty Words: a Food Writing Workshop with Leslie Kelly

I’ve had an interesting time or two at the Sorrento Hotel before, that swank First Hill edifice of faded idle decadence, the Miss Havisham of luxury accommodations. But this time was special: one of Seattle’s very own literary all-stars, Leslie Kelly, was leading a workshop on food writing.

$27.37 got us a plate of five small bites of food and, more importantly, some sage advice from Leslie Kelly herself. The original intent was for the workshop to be more of a classroom environment, with Ms. Kelly lecturing, but unfortunately the giant load-bearing schlong in the middle of the Sorrento’s Fireside Room prevented this type of demonstration, so instead, Leslie went around the room for a series of intimate mini-symposiums with each table of students. She urged the students to consider all the sensory aspects of the plate of food in front of us, and to try to avoid clichés when writing, and to embrace our inner silliness and let our imaginations wander. I can’t say that I disagree with that instruction, so with Leslie’s advice in mind, I approached the plate of small bites we’d been presented.

A miniscule medallion of seared duck breast was quite tasty. It was nicely caramelized, with a lurid medium rare interior. A few crumbled walnuts were scattered on top, and a sautéed bed of something vegetal and dark and assertive, either kale or chard or maybe even wilted radicchio, was lurking below. The whole was drizzled in a sweet sauce, presumably a foil for the bitter greens. I liked it.

Next up was a small ramekin of beets. These crimson cubes were the color of a recently slaughtered oxen’s still-beating heart, but vegans relax! In case you didn’t know, and god help you if you, in fact, didn’t, beets are not actually meat, though they are quite rich enough to be. The plush flavor of the beets was lifted by a citrusy vinaigrette, and dispersed throughout was a superfluous dusting of chopped hazelnuts, provided no doubt to offer a textural contrast.

A baked oyster dish was, I’m guessing, the Sorrento’s take on Oysters Rockefeller: a broiled oyster was topped with a verdant mélange of breadcrumbs, perhaps butter, maybe tarragon, and certainly absinthe, for the mild anise flavor was, however lightly, curb stomped all over that oyster’s face. I generally enjoyed this, though my oyster was overcooked. Sadly I didn’t get a pearl; I suppose I’ll have to go back to polishing your mom’s pearl instead. Unsavory work, that.

Moving along, shreds of lamb shoulder, braised in a rich tomato sauce and perched on top of a silken pile of titanium white grits. This was no swarthy southern Mediterranean polenta, mind you: this mound of WASPy Caucasian grits would be right at home in the country club, sweater knotted about its shoulders, Izod collar rakishly popped. And lest you think this dish TOO rich, take note: to perhaps avoid a nondiscrimination lawsuit, they broke up the party by admitting a couple of pickled chanterelles. There goes the neighborhood.

Finally, a fairly innocuous grilled shrimp rounded out our plates. It was rubbed with the standard chili rub, the application of which was non confrontational and designed to offend no one except possibly those lunatic religions which consider the eating of shellfish to be a more serious offense than lopping off your infant daughter’s clit.

I was accused of being a ringer at this event, though I personally don’t see it that way. All of us are artists, and we must hunger for new technique wherever we may find it. I enjoyed a fine meal in a classy hotel with interesting people. What more could you ask for? Well my drink took way too long for the bartender to pour a double Buffalo Trace, neat. But nothing in this world is perfect.

Rating: 7 symposiums out of 10

The Sorrento Hotel is located at 900 Madison St.
For reservations call 206-622-6400