Sunday, July 31, 2005


5425 Russel Ave NW

Hi-Life's menu has a word in it that I HATE: “blunch.”

They think they're so fucking cute, calling it “blunch” instead of “brunch.” Fuck off. Brunch is pase. Homer Simpson discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch. The taxonomists at the Royal Society have named the new meal “breakbrunch”. Using Homer's success as a starting point, I took his research further: I discovered a meal between breakbrunch and lunch, which I dubbed “breakbrulunch”. Then, I used a fractal equation to discover a meal between breakbrulunch and lunch, or “breakbrululunch.” By this point the amount of computer power needed to isolate any further new meals from the meal-time continuum had grown so large that I realized I'd need to use one of those supercolliders that will someday turn earth into a piece of beef jerky. Unfortunately, I can't afford that, so I instead dropped what had been a fruitful line of scientific inquiry went to Hi-Life.

So they remodeled the old Ballard Firehouse. Now there's nothing in the Seattle city limits for Great White to burn down! Where will Kevin Dubrow go to shake the sweat out of his jerry curl wig? (editor's note: Quiet Riot lead singer Kevin Dubrow is dead now, so fuck his corpse for ruining my joke) You goons in the Chamber of Commerce need to provide a draw in our fair city for all of those valuable B-list cock rock dollars, or the Emerald Queen Casino will get it all!

I know from experience that the place can get crowded, especially around “blunch,” which I finally discovered is brunch for people who can't spell. Luckily we got a table pretty quickly. The menu at Hi-Life is seasonal, with each season featuring a different European cuisine. This time, the featured cuisine was Spanish.

We started with a pitcher of sangria ($19.75), which was a let down. I expect sangria to be spicy, with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and slices of orange and lemon. Hi-Life's menu claims the sangria has figs in it. A worthy innovation, I'd say, except that you couldn't taste the figs in it. In fact, you couldn't taste any of the spices, only the shitty jug wine. There was no actual fruit in it. But that, of course, didn't stop me from swilling that shit like it was going out of style. After all, I might be bitchy but I hate wasting stuff (because I'm destitute).

Next came the tapas table ($14.50) and the pollastre de grellada ($29.50). You might think those prices are steep, but those two dishes were enough to feed three people. The tapas featured some interesting choices: marinated grilled flank steak, olives, sliced chorizo, eggplant spread, sauteed garlic shrimp, and spiced almonds. The flank steak I found a bit chewy, though pleasantly spicy, with lime and paprika. The olives were the standard mixed Mediterranean selection: black and green, tiny and big. The shrimp was fucking brilliant, and came served in a small dish of garlic and olive oil. When we finished the shrimp, the shrimpy garlic oil was in itself good enough to sop up with some bread, which we did, especially me, because I hadn't eaten in days. The eggplant was WEAK, similar to baba ghanoush, which I don't like to begin with. The almonds were dusted with chili powder and dotted with a cheap granular salt that looked and tasted more like Morton's Iodized than Fleur de Sel, the end result being that they were too salty and not spicy enough.

But it was the chorizo that insulted me the most. Imagine that, a grown man being insulted by a cured meat! How is such a thing possible? Well, just between you, me, and my nutsack, there's plenty of stuff that's offended me: Wal-Mart. The Academy Awards. The Strokes. Now add the chorizo in the tapas plate at the Hi-Life to the list. Why? Because there wasn't enough chorizo to go around. There were three of us, and TWO slices of chorizo! I HATE when places do that. Cheap bastards! Fuck.

The pollastre de grellada sounds boring when you try to describe it: it is, after all, roast chicken. But never mind that. The chicken was perfect. The skin was so crisp it shattered beneath my teeth, and the flesh beneath was so juicy and tender you didn't even need to chew it (Surgeon general's warning: always chew chicken thoroughly). The meat was well seasoned throughout. Grilled red peppers and green onions, deliciously charred on the skin and tender inside, were served as an accompaniment.

Dessert? $4.75 worth of standard, middle of the road flan. Am I getting predictable with the desserts? Seems like I get the same dessert every week. Sorbet. Flan. Sorbet. Crème brulee. If you don't like it, fuck off. Oh, and go fuck your mother, while you're at it. She's free tonight because I just got finished doing that very thing! What, your mom's dead? I know. I fucked her to death.

Rating: 6 dates with your mom out of 10.

Hi-Life on Urbanspoon

Matt's in the Market

6-28-05 Matt's in the Market

These motherfuckers are laid back. Mlle X told me two things about Matt's in the Market: 1. It is incredibly small inside. 2. The waiters are unusually cool. As with so many things, she was right on both counts.

I showed up an hour early for my reservation, because when I got off work I didn't have time to go back home first, so I had to go directly to Matt's. You see, I work in Fremont, and live on Capitol Hill. Many people think I'm some sort of Unabomber-esque madman because I walk to and from work, every day, rain or shine. “Why don't you just drive?” they inevitably ask, “The President says the only way to fight terrorism is to drive your car everywhere. Why do you hate America?” You know why, you fuckers? Because the food I eat is so very, very expensive, it means I can't afford a car. You pedestrian losers (or am I the pedestrian loser?) pay however many dollars a month for a car note, insurance, gas, and maintenance for your ride, but then at the end of the month all you can afford are fucking frozen Totino's Pizzas. All of that money that I didn't spend on a car goes into my stomach. The side benefit is that I can eat literally whatever the fuck I want to, because I walk 8 miles every day, rain or shine. A friend of mine is a food chemist. He figured out that I'm burning close to 1000 calories a day, walking so damn much. Guess what that means, assholes? I can eat foie gras for every fucking meal, if I want. I can take a bath in butter, like some sort of mad Roman aristocrat. I can wash my hair with milkshakes. I can brush my teeth with Ranch Dressing. Get the picture? I can eat a whole turducken, a Luther Burger, or four and twenty motherfuckers baked in a pie, if I want. But I hear gout is a real drag, and would in fact hinder my daily commute, so naturally I try to lay off the organ meats, and have a salad every now and then.

Anyway. Because I was walking I didn't have time to walk all the way back to Capitol Hill, get dressed, and go back down to the Pike Place Market. So i went directly to Matt's, instead, even though that made me close to an hour early for the reservation. I was especially hungry because my appetite was stoked by the squashed rat (with a side of maggots) I saw along the Burke Gilman Trail. Luckily, those aforementioned laid back Matt's employees let me sit down, without any hassle. I got a glass of Durand Syrah ($7/ 28), which is a pretty typical example of my favorite varietal. Smoky, with hints of raspberry, it went down easy. Too easy, in fact, so I had a second glass.

They put the brakes on my fast approaching fucked-upedness by delivering to my table a plate of rustic rosemary bread, served with a ramekin of olive oil. Here was a very original touch: in the bottom of the olive oil was diced white and green onion. The oil by itself was extra virgin and bright green, no doubt from the first cold pressing, and was probably the product of one of those countries that were either in cahoots with or didn't put up a fight against the Nazis, and was good enough to have been served without the diced onion. But the onion gave the oil a sweet spiciness. I'm so fucking tired of the cliché pool of balsamic vinegar, staring up at you from the bottom of a dish of olive oil like a fish eye, so when you dip your bread into it you get it completely full of oil with no vinegar on it, until all the oil's gone, then you get nothing but a soggy piece of bread soaked all brown by the balsamic, and it makes your stomach turn when you eat it because the shitty restaurant you went to used cheap balsamic and it was too acidic. So kudos to you, Matt's in the Market, for not being cliché.

While sitting at the tiny table in the tiny restaurant, gazing out across the sliver of Elliot Bay visible from the dining room windows, I overheard the table next to me raving about the catfish. They were English, though, so naturally I took their accolades with a grain of salt. After all, the English think that the most disgusting crapola is good eating. Though I'm not one to judge, because being from the south, I fucking love catfish, which many spoiled yuppie scumbags (and Jews) think is disgusting (and blasphemous).

Eventually Mlle X and Uncle F appeared. We perused the menu. Note: the menu, like the interior of Matt's, is tiny. Five appetizers (including salads), and four entrees. If you're looking for a 25 page opus like they have at The Cheesecake Factory, forget it. If you're a picky bastard, crazy, or on the Atkins diet (the third choice actually encompasses the first two), don't even waste your time at Matt's. Mlle X and I both chose the white anchovy salad ($9.50). I'd never had a white anchovy, and I was pleasantly surprised by its flavor. It still tastes like an anchovy, but milder. It's as if they took the salty fishy oiliness of regular anchovies, and turned the volume down a couple clicks. “Anchovy Lite,” I'd call it, if and when they make me president of the American Anchovy Association, if and when they actually get around to creating the American Anchovy Association. Four white anchovy filets were served criss crossed over a bed of endive, with kalamata olives and mandarin orange slices. Delicious!

Next I chose, predictably enough, the catfish ($18). Breaded and fried, it was served covered in Carolina Barbeque Sauce, which is light, smoky, and tangy; in other words, exactly the opposite of the gloopy, sickly sweet barbeque jizz that Kraft sells. Along with the filet were a couple oven roasted red potatoes and a coleslaw. The catfish was crispy on the outside, moist and flaky inside. They of course used farm raised fish, which is a shame because I miss the dirty, dirty taste of wild catfish, so dark and grimy like my soul. The roast potatoes were crisp outside, creamy within, and studded with sea salt.

A word about the coleslaw: normally when restaurants serve that crap to me, usually in a big pile beneath whatever kind of food I actually ordered, I leave every single strand of the shit untouched. I don't usually like cabbage. I'm ambivalent about mayonnaise. So why the fuck would I eat coleslaw? But the coleslaw at Matt's was julienned apple, red cabbage, and red onion, dressed with a vinaigrette. White, purple, and purple. No mayonnaise to be seen. Crisp, tart, and light. Brilliant. Congratulations, Matt's in the Market, you win the First Annual Surly Gourmand Best Coleslaw Award. The prize for this prestigious award: I didn't dine and dash.

Dessert was an apricot sorbet. You may have noticed I usually get sorbet for dessert. Know why? Because sorbet tastes good.

All the while, of course, our plates were dished out by the previously mentioned smooth operators on the wait staff. It's as if they exhumed the corpses of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis, Jr., reanimated them, and forced the zombies to work as waiters. An added bonus? The waiters at Matt's smell better than rotting corpses. And that's why I left them a 25% tip.

Rating: 8.5 swingin' Rat Pack cadavers out of 10

Matt's in the Market on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 18, 2005

Restaurant Zoe

Upon arrival at Restaurant Zoe I was forced to engage in a game of one-upmanship with the maitre'd over whose sideburns were bigger. Winner: me, asshole. There are only a couple dudes on earth with bigger sideburns than me. One of them is the lead singer of Bloodhag. Another manly man capable of shaming my dundrearies is Burt Rutan, famous (kinda) engineer and aviator. Unfortunately, my victory in the facial hair arena did not come with free food. I guess the “prize” was that they honored my reservation.

The wine list is the only thing that sucks at Restaurant Zoe, because it is TOO EXPENSIVE. I think the bottle we ordered, Montegrossi San Marcelino, was at $42 among the cheapest on the list, and honestly I can't recall being blown away by that vintage. If you're one of those ostentatious bastards, the kind of guy who drives a solid gold car, and can afford to pay Bill Gates to walk your pet unicorn, and you have an entire staff of robot butlers which are powered by burning Picassos, or if you're an NBA player, maybe you wouldn't mind dropping $150 on a bottle of wine, but I'm so poor I would've settled for Thunderbird. Or an upside down can of Whip It.

I stopped complaining about the wine list when the food arrived. The romaine salad ($8.50) was good. It was a grilled romaine heart topped with sauteed apples, bacon bits, and Roquefort dressing. The edges of the lettuce were charred crisp, which combined with the bacon gave the salad a pleasantly smoky flavor. The dressing, tangy and creamy, delightfully balanced the sweetness of the apples.

Next up was the foie gras. Aahhh, foie gras, cruelest of the cruel foods. Or is that veal? Hmmm, I can't decide, so I declare it a delicious tie (at least until they finally invent “orphan cracklin's”). That foie gras was as juicy, yielding, and soft as a cloud of titties, with hints of curry powder and saffron. It was perfectly prepared, and served with sauteed mango slices. The mango had a carmelized sugar cinnamon crust, just like on top of a crème brulee, which gave it a sweet, spicy crunch to contrast the juicy ripeness of the fruit. The foie gras cost fifteen absolutely delicious dollars.

The yellowfin tuna nicoise ($22) was quite a treat. A square block of rare seared tuna topped a bed of green beans, olives, and roasted potatoes. Usually nicoise salad has chopped up chunks of boiled egg, which I hate because it seems like the kind of crap my grandma eats. This nicoise had instead a poached egg, which stared patiently up at me from the plate, like the old dude's vulture eye in “The Telltale Heart.” The yolk was runny. The white was firm and seasoned with cracked black pepper. Fucking AWESOME.

Next was grilled branzino ($29.95. What the fuck is up with that price? $29.95? It's like a damn infomercial. “But wait, there's more. If you call now, and promise to tell a friend, you get two branzinos for the price of one!”). Served whole, the waiter filleted the branzino right at the table. It was flaky, and the flesh had a pleasantly nutty flavor, reminiscent of trout. Actually the fish looked like a trout too, so maybe it's a kind of trout. I don't fucking know. What am I, an ichthyologist? As the old adage goes, if it looks like a duck and fucks like a duck, it's a duck. Or in this case, trout.

Dessert was interesting. I don't usually go for the ultra chocolatey bullshit, puddings, or cake, so I went with the blackberry sorbet ($6). Our waiter, who looked like the dude from Swingers (no, not Vince Vaughn, the other guy), recommended the Moscato d'Asti dessert wine ($6) to accompany. A perfect recommendation! The muscat was lightly sparkling, and just a little tart against the blackberry sorbet. The sorbet was smooth, not cloyingly sweet, and without a trace of the ice crystals that plague lesser sorbets, and it really tasted like fresh fruit.

The ultimate verdict is that Restaurant Zoe RULES. If I had any criticism, it's that the Swingers guy waiter was a little too chatty. I found myself wishing I could change places with him, and I could be the waiter and he could be the customer, so I could serve him a rich creamy bowl of SHUT THE FUCK UP. Now I'm no elitist, only because I'm too poor, but I generally prefer my waiters to be like culinary ninjas, or gustatory ghosts; in other words, I want the motherfuckers to sweep away my dishes, make the occasional recommendation, and otherwise stay the fuck away. But that's a minor quibble, I guess.

Rating: 9.5 chatty waiters out of 10.

Restaurant Zoe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Cellar Bistro

7/3/05 Cellar Bistro

One time I went to a party, years ago, in Baton Rouge, LA. My brother, in his first year at LSU, was there with his friends. I was there with all the lowlifes I called (and continue to call) friends. The party was at this random guy's parents' condo. I don't know how we got invited, since I knew neither the host nor any of the host's friends. Crazy old Mr. D got my brother and my brother's friend with the fucked up ear high in the host's parents' bedroom. They smoked pot out of a coke can (classy!!!!) and Mr. D, the clinically insane art major, took to calling the kid with the fucked up ear Vincent van Gogh. The fucked up ear kid didn't get the insult. Pity, because that was probably the cleverest putdown that guy would ever hear about his cauliflower ear. “Hey, nice ear asshole,” or “Your ear is ugly,dude,” is probably the extent of the levity he was used to, since he was, after all, from Houma. So he should have thanked crazy Mr. D for the sublime comparison to that tortured, earless, prostitute soliciting bastard genius from the Netherlands.

Anyway, later that night a fight broke out after one frat boy called another frat boy's grandmother a dago. Now, my grandmother is a dago, and I wasn't in the least angered enough to resort to fisticuffs, but apparently the frat boy's opponent was, because they started tussling drunkenly in the living room, upsetting a framed Anne Geddes print and causing a general ruckus. Luckily, the glass in the Anne Geddes shattered when it fell off the wall. I say it was lucky because Lt. Dan's dog had a piece of stringy shit hanging out of his asshole, and the good Lieutenant used the Anne Geddes print to remove the offending shit string. “What do you feed that bastard?” I slurred drunkenly at Lt. Dan, in reference to his dog, “Towels?” Clever, eh? Yeah, well after a case of Shiner Bock you try to sound like the fucking Algonquin Round Table, shithead. Do I need to make a joke about the appropriateness of using an Anne Geddes to wipe a dog's ass? I'll let you fill in the blanks on your own. It's kinda hard to miss at this point anyway, isn't it?

What does any of this have to do with the Cellar Bistro? Fuck if I know, so I'm going to weakly segue into the review by talking about dagos. Like I said, my grandmother is a dago, which makes me ¼ dago. So I'm at least ¼ qualified to talk about dago food, which is to say, any kind of pasta covered in red sauce. The Cellar Bistro is dago food par excellence. Simple, no nonsense, generic Italian food. Eye-talian, as Mr. E, my no- nonsense pal from Cumberland Gap, TN, used to say. Yeah, it's plain, but sometimes less is more, as I've said many times, and besides, it's cheap.

I took Mlle. X to the Cellar Bistro because we'd heard it was awesome. Well the short answer is that is IS awesome. There exists a triple point in restaurant quality. Were any of you bastards aware of the culinary triple point? I bet you weren't. It's the nexus at which quality of food, quality of service, and price intersect. If you go too far in any direction, either the quality of food goes down, or the quality of service goes down, or the price goes up. The Cellar Bistro is one of those rare establishments that straddles the triple point (fuck you, Beavis, I know “straddling the triple point,” sounds like the title of a gay porno, but I'm trying to make a point here, 'kay?).

We started with the gorgonzola dolci ($5.95), which is a plate of sliced gorgonzola, drizzled in a balsamic vinegar reduction, and served with toasted bread and a small ramekin of roasted garlic. Normally I hate when stuff is drizzled with other stuff, but I'll make an exception this time. The bread was a sourdough. Normally toasted sourdough is as impenetrable as kevlar, and grates the flesh off of the roof of your mouth when you bite into it. In this case it was acceptable because a sturdy substrate was needed on which to spread the gorgonzola, which was served at less than room temperature and so was a little chilly- were the bread not toasted we'd have destroyed it trying to smear the stiff cheese all over it. Also included was a ramekin of pureed roasted garlic. My only complaint is that I wish they'd use a more tangy balsamic to offset the sweetness of the gorgonzola and garlic. But I guess that's why they call it dolci. Verdict: fucking delicious!

Next we tried the fried mozzarella. Let me tell you about the time my dad tried to make fried mozzarella. When I was a kid we had this big party at my house. My mom took out the good silverware (as opposed to the usual set, that was mostly stolen from Denny's). The white zinfandel was flowing like, um, shitty wine. My dad manned the Fry Daddy. To say he dropped the ball is to put it kindly. Half of the sticks were undercooked, so that the breaded exterior was barely toasted and the cheese inside was cold. The other half were cooked too well. You'd bite into the breading and find it fucking hollow, an empty breaded husk, as if it had been victimized by some kind of spider that eats cheese. The cheese inside had either vaporized or leaked out through a hole in the breading into the hot grease in the Fry Daddy, which caused the oil to froth and bubble, the way milk bubbles when you blow into it with a straw.

The fried mozzarella at the Cellar Bistro wasn't quite as bad as my father's sophomoric attempt, but it was close. At $6.95, this was about $5.95 too expensive. It was just lame, breaded, fried, mozzarella sticks. The cheese was rubbery, and overall the mozzarella tasted like it came pre- breaded and frozen from Costco. Boring. Plus they served it barely warm, so the cheese wasn't melted, just like 50% of the ones my dad tried to cook.

The antipasta plate ($8.95) was perfectly serviceable. It was served with provolone cheese, olives, pepperonici peppers, sopressetta, salami, and my perennial second-favorite cured meat, coppocola. Enough said. Except that the olives were the shitty pitted black olives that look like garden slugs and taste like a tin can.

On to the entrees. Verdict: good enough. I had the veal marsala. The veal was too thick for this dish, and chewy. I'm guessing it was overcooked, and the marsala sauce was too sweet. When I cook this dish I use dry marsala. These fuckers obviously used sweet. Bizarrely, they served it with a side of fettucini alfredo. Overkill, anyone? If you were Paul Prudhomme , that morbidly obese, Dom Deluise looking fuck, you might think it's a good idea, but I don't. On its own the alfredo was good, but you can't pair a pasta that heavy with an entree as heavy as veal marsala. I'd have substituted angel hair with olive oil and lemon juice. But that's just crazy old me. Still, at $14.95 the price wasn't that bad.

Mlle. X had the linguine puttanesca ($11.95). This dish is one of my favorites, if only because it appeals to my juvenile sense of humor: in case you didn't know, this dish literally translated means “whore's linguine.” This is supposed to be a light, not too filling dish. The flavors of anchovies, garlic, roma tomatoes, capers, and olives should all be discernible and separate, not in competition with each other, but all working together to make the prostitute eating it feel satisfied, but not full so that she could go back to whoring after lunch without feeling too bloated. After all, I know I wouldn't want a 250 pound mafioso on top of me on a full stomach. Ultimately, it was another mild disappointment. All the bases were covered, but they just couldn't pull it off. The flavors were muddy, and the pasta came drenched in marinara sauce, so that tomato paste dominated. Blah. If I were a hooker who ate this puttanesca, I'd give up streetwalking and become a real estate agent. Or an Italian Member of Parliament.

We finished with sorbet. In the true Italian style they served the sorbets in the shell of the fruit from which the sorbet was made: coconut for Mlle. X, lemon for me. Unfortunately, they were frozen to absolute zero and so were impenetrable by spoon for about 30 minutes. To pass the time we finished the bottle of sturdy, passable chianti ($22) and had an espresso. Finally we were able to (sort of) dig in to the sorbets, but they were served, oddly enough, in martini glasses, so it was fucking unwieldy to eat, because you had to constantly worry about tipping over the glass while you wrestled with the ultra frozen ice age sorbet. Though they were obviously frozen too hard, they tasted fresh, and representative of their native fruit, so it wasn't all bad.

With all these misfires, why do I, harsh master of all things culinary, give the Cellar Bistro a passing grade? It's my ¼ dago talking. The place fucking rules. According to Mlle. X there's a velvet painting of Sinatra in the women's bathroom (no, no, you got me, I can't lie. I confess. It was I who saw the velvet painting of Frank Sinatra. I like to sneak into women's bathrooms in restaurants, and, um, in every other kind of building too). The Chairman's velvet men's room counterpart is Sophia Loren, predictably enough. The Cellar Bistro's interior is red, and cavernous, with a fake trellis of fake grape vines suspended from the ceiling, Every doorway is arched, like a roman crypt. The wait staff is competent and friendly. Plus, it's cheap. All these factors combine to make the Cellar Bistro a good place to swill cheap chianti, eat some inexpensive (if overly saucy) pasta, and enjoy the company of a fellow dago. If my dago grandmother weren't senile, and if she didn't live 3000 miles away, I'd take her there. If your grandmother's a dago like mine, you should visit the Cellar Bistro with her, post haste, you filthy fuckers.