Thursday, July 09, 2009

Top Pot Donuts

2124 5th Ave

An argument on Twitter about the best donut in Seattle resulted in a gauntlet being thrown down: I had to review Top Pot Donuts. I posited that Top Pot sucks; many people vehemently disagreed with me. These people are fanatic kooks. Top Pot is the Scientology of the breakfast pastry world.

My original plan was to try one of every kind they make. I didn’t realize, however, that Top Pot sells over 40 varieties of donut so I had to make do with a moderately gluttonous 16. I limited my choices to “regular” donuts. I didn’t want any of the ones with sparkles and sprinkles all over them; I was in no mood to eat the gastric equivalent of a My Little Pony doll. Having successfully obtained what I hoped was a representative cross- section of Top Pot's wares, I returned home, plopped down on the floor, and began working my way through them.

The glazed raised ring was only okay. The glaze was a little too sticky and humid; I prefer a drier glaze that crackles a little when you bite into it. The pastry itself had a good, classic donut texture, though it could have been lighter. The raspberry glazed raised ring was better, if only because the raspberry coating, with its slight tartness and occasional actual raspberry seed, was better than the regular sugar glaze. The raspberry glazed cake, by contrast, wasn’t as good: it was too heavy and greasy to be redeemed by the raspberry glaze. The raspberry old fashioned, on the other hand, was very tasty. The pastry was almost creamy, and the raspberry glaze seemed sweeter and thicker somehow than it tasted on the other donuts. Even better was the regular glazed old fashioned. Not overly sweet, the old fashioned was as creamy and cool as the raspberry version, with a tart hint of sour cream in the finish.

After the old fashioned I dragged my way through the cake donuts. These are like the fucking Battan Death March of breakfast. The plain cake was so fucking lame I couldn’t understand it: dry, crumbly, not sweet, and too dense to deserve the donut name. Only marginally better was the glazed cake, since at least it was (kinda) sweet because it was glazed. The cinnamon sugar blueberry cake donut was sugary for sure, but that doesn’t mean it was good. After all, Mountain Dew is sweet too, and I’d rather drink a pint of my own piss. The blueberry flavor easily overpowered the light dusting of cinnamon, and the pastry itself was stained an unappealing grayish- green by the berries. The cinnamon sugar cake donut (sans blueberries) was much better, lighter in texture, and sweeter, plus you could actually taste the cinnamon.

I tried to forget the misery of the cake donuts, but unfortunately the worst was not yet behind me: chocolate. The chocolate raised ring was pretty good: with a deep chocolate flavor and its heavy glaze, it tasted like somebody somehow enlarged a Cocoa Krispy. Better than the chocolate raised ring was the chocolate old fashioned; with its thick coating of glaze and a chocolate flavor so dark and rich it was like if you got in trouble with the mafia, and to punish you they threw you into a sinkhole on a deserted highway that they’d filled with chocolate syrup, and made you drink your way out. In other words it was okay.

What REALLY sucked were the chocolate glazed ring, the chocolate glazed old fashioned, and the double trouble. The chocolate glazed ring was a raised ring with a layer of chocolate glaze. The chocolate glazed old fashioned took the usually tasty old fashioned and draped it in the same chocolate glaze. The double trouble was a chocolate donut with chocolate glaze. In all three cases the chocolate glaze was waxy and tasted like they mixed Magic Shell with those weird clear crayons you get with Easter egg dying kits.

By this point eating these donuts had became a chore, baroque and fatiguing, a somnolent fugue in pastry, like a Philip Glass opera that someone had fried without using -trans fats. Still, I’m nothing if not dedicated (note: I’m not dedicated), so I soldiered on and ate the WORST of Top Pot’s wares: the plain cruller. The plain cruller was a weird and completely atrocious misstep. It sucked. It tasted like shit. Maybe I should clarify: it didn’t taste like shit per se, because it tasted more like a stale greasy piece of bread than actual shit (note: I don’t know what shit tastes like), but it didn’t taste very good. I’ve never referred to a piece of food as a “dumbass” before, but the plain cruller drove me to it.

The final stanza of this epic pastry poem concerned the filled donuts: a Bavarian crème- filled and a raspberry Bismarck. Honestly I have no idea what criteria distinguishes a Bismarck from a mere “jelly donut;” more puzzling is why you’d name a donut after a German leader, given the poor track record with German political figures in the popular imagination. I’m just going to go out on a limb here and say that they wanted to call this donut “the Hitler,” but unfortunately that name had already been appropriated for a method of styling pubic hair. The Bismarck was luckily quite lovely, with a light dusting of powder sugar and LOTS of raspberry jelly inside. The Bavarian crème, on the hand, was lame as fuck: while the cream itself was smooth and not excessively sweet, the pastry itself tasted stiff and the whole thing was lacquered with a slab of the same shitty chocolate veneer that disgraced the other chocolate glazed donuts. Needless to say (yet mysteriously, I’m going to say it anyway), the cream filled churros at the Salvadorean Bakery make Top Pot look like as foolish as people who eat at McDonald’s in France (note: I ate at a McDonald’s in France).

In the final analysis, was Top Pot as bad as I’ve always claimed? I’m going to swallow my pride the way your mom swallows cock and say it’s not that bad. The old fashioned series, in particular, borders on masterful. Was it as rapturously delicious as Top Pot’s brainwashed masses of supporters claim? Nope. The true benchmark of donut superiority is the regular glazed donut, and Top Pot’s just isn’t good enough. If you somehow applied the Moh’s Scale of Relative Gemstone Hardness to snacks, the ideal donut would be ranked as only slightly more dense than cotton candy. A good donut should have a dry sweet glaze that crunches lightly when you bite it, but the pastry beneath should be just slightly more substantial than a shadow. Krispy Kreme’s regular glazed is a good shorthand for this style of donut, but the true grand master of donut density is the Donut Plant in NYC. In the donut universe, the Donut Plant’s crème brulee donut, with its crunchy burnt sugar glaze, gauzy pastry, and rich crème filled center, is Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, a blue supergiant which shines in UV and burns brilliantly until it blows itself apart, like Jim Morrison, if you’re the kind of douche who really thinks Jim Morrison was a tragic genius (and a donut). Top Pot, by contrast, is a brown dwarf: a sullen and unremarkable misfit which also happens to suck big time. Like your mom.

Rating: 5 glazed rings (AKA your mom’s mouth) out of 10

PS This is probably the most boring review I have ever written, so fuck you, Top Pot fans, this is your comeuppance.

PPS Here’s a rare photo of the donut aftermath, soon to be a new movie from Sony Pictures. Donut Aftermath: The Movie will star Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Professor of Donutology no one listened to until it was too late, Megan Fox as Princess Tam- Tam, and Ryan Gosling as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Megan Fox’s Thumb will be reprising her role as Quato, the mysterious Martian rebel leader, and I’ll be played by Jimmy Smits!

Top Pot Doughnuts (Belltown) on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Tilikum Place Cafe

407 Cedar St
(206) 282-4830

I don’t understand the name of the Tilikum Place Cafe. I always thought that the local Indian crap was spelled “Tillicum.” Bill Gates agrees with me because my spell checking software allows “Tillicum” but not “Tilikum.” So why don’t you assholes properly spell the restaurant’s name so I quit getting this squiggly red line underneath it?

Unfortunately for me, Urban Eats was going on, and the Tilikum Place Café was participating. In case you aren’t aware, Urban Eats is a local program here in Seattle where participating restaurants design a menu where you can choose 3 items, usually an appetizer, entrée, and dessert, for $30. It sounds like a great idea, but too bad it sucks. I’m calling BULLSHIT on Urban Eats. Urban Eats is a TERRIBLE program. The Emperor not only has no clothes, he’s walking down Main Street with a strapon hanging out of his ass. And the strapon is attached at the other end to Barbara Bush. Let me tell you about Urban Eats: the kitchens don’t like to do it. The chef at Crush comped us some appetizers once just because we DIDN’T choose from the Urban Eats menu. And even when the kitchen DOES like to do the Urban Eats menu, they don’t try very hard. The only people who really like Urban Eats are the fuckers who tip 10% and then have the stones to DEDUCT POINTS because the waiter didn’t refill their water glass in what their penny- pinching asses consider a timely manner. If you can’t afford it, save up until you can get the REAL DEAL from the REAL MENU. Fine dining doesn’t offer discounts. It’s gauche.

And so, liberated thusly from the tyranny of Urban Eats, we got stuff to eat. A cup of lentil soup ($3.50) was a delicious bounty: tiny green lentils were creamy, yet still firm to the bite, with chunks of carrot and celery. Minced parsley lightened up the flavor, and a drizzle of some kind of pepper oil sprung a subversive heat upon your tongue.

The sardine sandwich was so cute it could only have been more adorable if it were served by a leprechaun riding a Chihuahua. Large chunks of fresh sardine filets were served on a tiny baguette that somehow managed to be crusty WITHOUT at the same time shredding your gums the way a haughty Parisian will shred your French pronunciation when you ask the motherfucker a simple “Ou est le bibliotheque?” This sandwich was dressed with arugula, roasted tomatoes, and tapenade. It came with a side of pickled beets, cornichons, olives, lemon zest, and razor- thin onion rings. This was too much tanginess for me, even between bites of sandwich, because as you know the only ‘tang I like is your mom’s. And, at $9, the sardine sandwich cost about twice as much as your mom.

The butternut squash tart (also $9), had a moist, flaky crust and had in the center of it a giant mons venus of butternut squash so soft, sweet, and succulent it could’ve been apricot. The very center of this erotic pastry was veined with caramelized onion. A side salad of mixed greens played second fiddle with an evenly coated citrus vinaigrette.

The mint pea soup ($7 for a bowl) was as finely textured as suede. It tasted springtime fresh, with a mild minty top note. Scattered throughout the bowl were tiny cubes of apple or pear or something crisp and sweet, cut into such a miniscule dice that they had to have hired a fairy with a scalpel to be the prep cook. Like the lentil soup, the mint pea also had an unexpected heat. The soups at Tilikum Place Café remind me of a friend of mine from high school. He was a small, frail, quiet guy. I knew him for years and thought he was cool, but a total nerd. Then one day we were sitting at a bar, drinking. Apropos of nothing he just blurts out “Did you know that jizz burns when you get it in your eye?” He then went on to relate how he accidentally came in a woman’s eye while receiving a BJ, then suddenly began to ape the aftermath, jumping from his seat and running around in circles in the barroom rubbing his eyes and squealing in falsetto, “Somebody get me a towel!” That was the first and only time that I’ve laughed so hard I actually fell off of a piece of furniture. That story is about as fun to recount as the mint pea soup was to eat. And like the soup, that guy was secretly spicy. Moral of the story: when going down on a guy always swallow.

Speaking of things that I recommend you swallow, the grilled asparagus salad ($8) was a bit pricey but still good. Spears of really fresh asparagus were soft outside but still crisp within, dressed with a lemon oil vinaigrette that was as bright as a new penny, and garnished with a liberal snowdrift of REAL REGGIANO! This was simple yet very classy.

The grilled tri-tip steak ($19) was grilled an even medium, with a salty, crusty exterior. Usually ordering what I call the “loser steaks”-- tri-tip, flank steak, skirt steak-- is a gamble, since they sometimes have lines of gristly crap running through them. This tri- tip avoided the usual loser steak curse, and in fact was quite tasty and juicy and beefy. Accompanying the steak was a fluffy pile of silky mashed potatoes topped with batons of roasted carrots and parsnips. The whole plate swam in a comforting amniotic pool of rich red wine gravy. If you were some kind of 1950’s writer who smokes packs of cigarettes per day and only drinks two different liquids—coffee and whisky, often mixed together—this is the kind of shit you’d eat.

The grilled chicken breast ($16) wasn’t as good as the tri- tip, though I don’t know why I’m even bothering to mention that fact. After all, EVERYONE knows chicken isn’t as good as steak. Even vegans know that. While the chicken itself was juicy, it came with some weird spongy pastry things that looked sort of like hockey pucks and a rhubarb sauce that was so sour I couldn’t handle it. Whenever I got a taste of rhubarb sauce it really aggravated me. Finishing this dish was like trying to run the marathon with a piece of glass in your shoe. The pea vines that came with it were very tender and fresh at least.

Finally, a plate of 5 profiteroles cost $7. These pastry balls were so soft and flaky they were almost like croissants. They were filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with a caramel rum sauce that could actually get you drunk if you chugged a quart of it, although if you’re going to go to those lengths to get a buzz, Ny-Quil and rotten fruit will also do the job, with far less cholesterol.

Speaking of being desperate to get drunk, I think I’ll stop writing now and do that very thing. But before I go, remember this: The mint pea soup, tri- tip, and profiteroles together were together only $33, and you get to choose EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT, and YOU GET A LOT OF IT. So for all you fans of Urban Eats, I hope you enjoyed saving $3.

Verdict: Urban Eats is for CHEAP FUCKERZ. The end.

Rating: 7.5 profiteroles out of 10

Tilikum Place Cafe on Urbanspoon