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 Pintxo 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


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