Monday, May 19, 2008

Jasmine Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant

This is my entry into The GastroGnome's Restaurant Review 360. Enjoy, fuckers.

Jasmine Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant
2822 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way S

This place is fucked. When you walk in the door the first thing you see is a humidifier which spits a thin ribbon of steam into the room. I foolishly thought it was a rice cooker until I realized that a high volume restaurant could never get by with a rice cooker the size of a toaster oven. Plus, why would the rice cooker be on the bar, and not inside the kitchen? Why do they even need a humidifier? Is it not humid enough inside Jasmine? Is Seattle’s famously soggy air not muggy enough to remind those Vietnamese fuckers of home? And if it’s home they’re longing for, shouldn’t they strew about some 40 year old landmines? Another authentic touch would be a bamboo tiger cage containing a life size mannequin of John McCain.

The walls and furniture in this place are a lurid shade of “fuck-me” red, the shade of crimson you used to see inside every Chinese restaurant but don’t anymore. A wavy papier- mache thingamafucky hangs from the ceiling. A plasma screen TV on the wall scrolls through images of impressionist paintings. There’s a baby grand piano in the corner, on which a dude occasionally plunks out Mozart. The spiral- bound menu is 20 pages long, and has some crepe flowers pasted to the cover so that it looks like a wedding invitation. The décor is so goddamned random I felt as though I’d walked into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I half- expected an Oompa Loompa to appear. Don’t you hate when someone says they “half- expected” something? I do. That’s because I don’t do ANYTHING halfway, not even expecting things. So you can imagine my disappointment when a normal man, and not an Oompa Loompa, appeared to take our order.

We started with the Grilled Prawns on Sugarcane ($6.75). Three lengths of sugarcane are served wrapped in shrimp paste. I still haven’t figured out how you’re supposed to eat this dish. Do you pull the shrimp paste off of the sugarcane and eat it with chopsticks? Or do you nibble the shrimp directly off of the sugarcane like a popsicle? Do you eat the sugarcane? Actually I know the answer to that one: you can’t eat sugarcane. Cows can; people can’t. It’s too fibrous. It’s mildly sweet, but tough and stringy, and sucking on a piece of sugarcane is like sucking on a wet rag. Fresh sugarcane is supposed to be a treat. I guess it WAS a treat of sorts, in the 1930’s, in Louisiana, before Gummy Bears were invented, and then only if you were too poor to afford REAL candy. Anyway, the shrimp was good: the paste was finely textured and seasoned lightly, so you could really taste the shrimp. The sugarcane in the center lent a subtle hint of sweetness. Some kind of sweet and salty dipping sauce came with the shrimp, but it was totally unnecessary.

Next we got the Vietnamese Egg Roll ($5.75). This was just an order of three crispy spring rolls. They were pretty typical and seemed to be filled with the usual stuff that egg rolls are filled with: pork, vegetables, noodles. The egg rolls were tasty enough, but not nearly as tasty as the Green Papaya Salad ($7.50). Slippery chunks of papaya were tossed with julienned carrot and daikon, topped with ground peanuts and slivers of crispy fried onion. The charm of this dish is in the contrast of textures: bites of smooth creamy papaya give way to crunchy carrot and daikon, punctuated by the crisp crackle of fried onion. The flavors are refreshing, though the ground peanuts were by this point quickly becoming unnecessary, especially since they came with EVERY dish. Even the egg rolls had ground peanuts on top of them.

The Tamarind Roasted Quail ($7.75) had crisp skin and rich flesh, but it was a little tough. The quail could have benefitted from a longer, slower cooking to make the meat really fall off the bone. The meat was well seasoned and the tamarind glaze was sticky and spicy. The worst part of this dish was the tiny bowl of seasoning that came with it: it appeared to be some kind of granular paste and when touched felt exactly like wet sand. The flavor of this paste was shocking: it was a mixture of salt, pepper, and lime juice. You could probably use that stuff to clean bicycle parts. I put some on my quail. Predictably enough, the salty acidic grit overpowered the meat just like Charlie overpowered the ARVN on the Fall of Saigon.

The Happy Beef ($10.75) was a little overpriced for what it was: cubes of grilled beef stir fried with onions and bell peppers. I liked it though, because it was simple and tasty, though not quite as simple or as tasty as the sugarcane shrimp (although to be fair, shrimp ALWAYS have an advantage, since everyone knows the people love shrimp. The people love it.). Oddly, the menu gave us the option of choosing rice or bread with our Happy Beef. I chose bread, because I fucking LOVE that crusty, flaky, Vietnamese French bread. It’s delicious. It’s light as cotton candy, and it delivers a swift gustatory kick to your taste buds’ nuts. Between the bread and the masterful cream puffs for which Vietnamese bakeries are known (but which Jasmine cruelly doesn’t sell), they should jump out of bed EVERY DAY and sing the fucking Marseillaise in thanks to the French for colonizing them. That having been said, don’t bother ordering the Crispy Fish with Orange Sauce ($12.75). It wasn’t very crispy, and the orange sauce obviously had too much corn starch in it: it was gloopy and stringy, as though the state of Florida itself jizzed on the fish. Gross.

Dessert was an adventure. I tried to order the Jelly Soup with Lotus Seeds ($6.50). Yes, it’s really called that, and even more ridiculous than the name was the fact that THEY WERE OUT OF IT. How could something called “Jelly Soup with Lotus Seeds” be so popular? Does it come with your own Vietnamese hooker, who conveniently utters quotes from Full Metal Jacket (including perennial favorite “Me so horny”) while doing obscene things with Ping- Pong balls? I have no fucking clue, because as a consolation they brought me a selection of four shitty ice cream flavors: coconut, mint, coffee, and mango. It was garnished with canned fruit cocktail and one of those tiny paper umbrellas you find in a pina colada. But I don’t think they charged me for the ice cream, which was nice.

Jasmine is a strange motherfucking place. It’s mostly good, but some of the menu items aren’t that great, so it’s like being forced by Vietnamese people to play Russian Roulette, just like in The Deer Hunter. Maybe they’re still sorting out what works and what doesn’t. I’d go back if I was in the neighborhood, but I’m not in Jasmine’s neighborhood very often, so the next time I really need a Vietnamese fix I’ll probably just do some opium and rent Apocalypse Now.

Rating: 4 Errand boys sent by grocery clerks out of 10

Jasmine Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Steelhead Diner

Steelhead Diner
95 Pine St
(206) 625-0129
Normally I hate all things that are “meta.” When someone describes something as being “meta” they’re talking about something that describes itself or which references itself. Like a dude videotaping himself jacking off. A better example is the time I was in a bar and a chick came up to me, inexplicably wanting me to READ AN ESSAY SHE WROTE. I thought it was a pretty original pickup line until I actually read the essay, which was about how much she likes to write. No doubt she expected me to skim her work and instantly say “Hey, you’re a great writer! Let’s fuck!” Unfortunately for her, she picked the wrong dude. I started drunkenly comparing her to Michel de Montaigne, deriding her unoriginal verb choices, and reminding her that now even Stephen King is writing about writing, which means YOU SUCK!

Anyway, self referential bullshit is pretty common these days, but how can you tell the difference between masturbatory congratulation and mere description? Answer: no one knows. Not even me, because I constantly engage in both masturbation AND self congratulation. But I had to figure it out so we went to the Steelhead Diner. Refreshingly, they take reservations, so I didn’t have to hang out with the geriatric set.

After 2 Sazeracs I was pleasantly buzzed in time for the caviar pie ($12.95). It was too gimmicky for my taste: a huge wedge of cream cheese dotted meagerly on top with a scant spectrum of differently kinds of caviar. Scattered about the plate were diced onion, capers, and chopped boiled eggs. You were expected to scoop up a huge glop of cream cheese with some of the caviar, mix it with eggs and capers and other shit, and spread it on the provided toast points. I won’t say the flavors were bad (it tasted like oniony cream creese), but giving top billing to the word “caviar” in a recipe that featured so little actual caviar is kind of disingenuous, just like how that girl I met called herself a writer.

The bresaola ($11.95) was, unlike the caviar pie, worth every penny. For that price you got 3 large slices of rich beef, topped by creamy rounds of mozzarella, frisee, and a long thin rosemary bread stick which looked like the magic wand a culinary wizard would use to cast delicious spells. Note: the preceding sentence was the literary equivalent of a Pontiac Firebird with a unicorn airbrushed on the hood. Or maybe this restaurant review was actually written by Ronnie James Dio.

Next up was the beet tartare ($8.95). Diced golden beets glazed in a gorgonzola sauce were crammed into a cylindrical mold with a side bowl of fried yucca chips. Even though I’m really tired of cylinders, it was superb. The beets were crunchy and sweet, and the flavor was nicely offset by the tangy gorgonzola sauce. The yucca chips were crisp and dusted with cinnamon and paprika. Tasty, but not as tasty as the smelt ($9.95). I’d call it a good deal for a huge pile of about 30 of these tiny fried fish. The batter was flaky, and the smelt were fresh and accented nicely by the accompanying mustard sauce.

For $18.95 you get HALF a fried chicken, which means a breast, a drumstick, a thigh, and a wing. Shit, for that price you can get four times as many pieces of chicken from Popeye’s. But the juicy, flavorful fried chicken from the Steelhead Diner, with the same crispy crust as the fried smelt, was easily four times tastier than Popeye’s, so I guess it evened out.

The black cod ($19.95) was creamy as fuck but luckily not as fishy as your mom. A small square of fish swam in a salty sea of kasu broth with shiitakes, carrots, bok choy, and ginger. The cod was meltingly tender and was a refreshing change of pace after a huge plate of fried chicken.

What came next more than made up for all the relatively pricey stuff we’d eaten so far, and was possibly the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time: the Rich Boy Sandwich ($11.95). It seems the dude who owns the Steelhead Diner is from Louisiana. So am I. Ever since I moved here I’ve had trouble finding a decent poboy. If you don’t know what a poboy is, allow me to explain: it’s a delicious sandwich. This may seem like a simple concept, but believe me, it’s very difficult, like explaining “yellow” to a blind guy or “women’s suffrage” to the Mars Hill Church. Here in Seattle they either cheap out (by putting TWO shrimp on a poboy), or try to use wacky condiments like red leaf lettuce or sunflower seeds or a copy of Microsoft Vista. But the Steelhead Diner fucking NAILED it. The Rich Boy Sandwich is what we in the bayou would call a sausage poboy: slices of grilled sausage were piled onto French bread (NOT the mouth shredding classic Parisian baguette with its stern Gallic crust, but the fluffy, flaky Vietnamese variety) with shredded iceberg lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and dill pickles.

What more do you need, besides air, water, blowjobs, and poboys? The answer, my friend, is NOTHING. The poboy is the answer to life’s mysteries, balm of all wounds, the Platonic Ideal of the perfect sandwich. It’s the Ozzymandias of all sandwiches: “Look upon my condiments, ye mighty, and despair!” And unlike me, a poboy never ever gets drunk and turns in poorly written restaurants reviews at 3:00 am on the day it’s due. How’s that for “meta?”

Rating: 7 things that are “meta” (except Metallica) out of 10 (NOTE: the Rich Boy Sandwich gets its own separate rating of 9.5, that’s how badass it is)

Steelhead Diner on Urbanspoon

How to Cook a Wolf

How to Cook a Wolf
2208 Queen Anne Ave N

One of the occupational hazards of reviewing restaurants is having to wait in line with lots of old people. This is especially true when the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, which unfortunately is the case with How to Cook a Wolf. The inevitable queue usually congeals around the place’s door about a half hour before it opens. Whenever I find out that a restaurant I’d like to patronize doesn’t take reservations, I typically skip lunch because I know it’s going to be an Early Bird Special. So there I was, dutifully lined up at the top of Queen Anne Hill at FOUR THIRTY IN THE AFTERNOON on a Saturday to await How to Cook a Wolf’s opening. Luckily it was sunny. Sadly, we were the SECOND party in line, behind some overachieving geezers. More dessicated pensioners showed up after us.

The door finally opened, but not before an employee of How to Cook a Wolf felt the need to take a picture of the line. I waved. I think he deleted that picture from his phone and took another. I didn’t wave this time, and so he saved the picture. We went in and sat down. You should know that the inside of How to Cook a Wolf looks like a basketball court designed by M.C. Escher. I don’t usually care about ambiance: I’ve had some of the best meals of my life in places that look (and smell) like the emergency room in a charity hospital. But the décor inside How to Cook a Wolf is really unique.

We started with the Hamachi Crudo ($16). Six thin slices of raw sashimi grade yellowtail were drizzled with olive oil and lime juice, and peppered with finely diced jalapeno. It was very refreshing, mildly spicy, and perhaps BEST of all they resisted the clichéd urge to ruin this dish with cilantro. The olive oil was SUPERB, the jalapeno was piquant without overpowering, and the lime juice was a bright top note. It felt like a shorthand version of something vaguely Iberian, maybe Mexican, possibly Sicilian, but probably all three.

Next came the polenta ($13). Two hockey puck- sized discs of polenta, crispy on top but creamy beneath, were served in a shallow dish of a silky béchamel sauce which was so grandma fuckingly good I sopped the rest of it up with bread. After polenta the spaghetti arrived. For $15 you get a bowl of spaghetti anointed with plenty of the same bright green extra virgin olive oil they put on the hamachi, plus garlic, anchovy paste, and red pepper flakes.

In rapid fire succession came the Bucatini ($15). Bucatini is one of the few pasta shapes I hadn’t tried: it’s like really long macaroni, or maybe like thick spaghetti with a pinhole through its center. Either way, it’s awesome. The bucatini was dressed in a light tomato sauce with oregano and guanciale. Guanciale is an air dried pig jowl. Yes, jowls, just like Queen Elizabeth has. The guanciale was diced and seared crisp, and dotted the sauce like little salty porky flavor mines.

Following the bucatini was the Duck Salad ($16). Yes, the salad came out last. One quirk of How to Cook a Wolf is that the dishes seem to come out at random, so you pretty much HAVE to share with whomever you’re dining with, or else your bucatini may come out early while your companion waits for her duck salad. But anyway, I should point out here that How to Cook a Wolf’s duck salad is the first dish I have ever had that really didn’t need the duck, and it’s my opinion that EVERY dish needs some duck in it because I love duck. I’d eat duck ICE CREAM if it existed (which it probably does, thanks to all the Ferran Adria imitators who think they’re “molecular gastronomists,” when they’re ACTUALLY in fact turd burglars). But I don’t need to prove my duck loving cred to you losers. The duck salad was a mix of beets, orange wedges, and thinly sliced rings of red onion, and really didn’t need the roast duck breast which topped it. Don’t get me wrong, the duck was delicious: seared rare, it was juicy and expertly cooked. Still, the salad’s flavors were balanced enough without it. But fuck it, I’ll never turn my nose up at duck because, as the saying goes, if it walks like a duck and fucks like a duck it’s a duck, and that means it’s damn tasty.

By this point we were stuffed like motherfucks, so we wrapped it up with the cheese plate ($8) and the sorbetto (also $8). The cheese plate was a thick triangle of La Tur, which is a mildly pungent Italian soft cheese. A dollop of tomato jam accompanied the cheese, which was a great match because the tomato jam wasn’t cloyingly sweet, and was tart enough to cut through the creaminess. The sorbetto was of three scoops of mango, and was easily as creamy as the cheese, and also not too sweet. Altogether it was a fine ending to a delightful meal.

Unfortunately I have a complaint: the name “How to Cook a Wolf” is dumb because it takes too long to type. It references the title of some 1950’s book where the author talks about, among other things, how to create the cheapest possible nutritious meal, which I guess is some kind of hamburger gruel. This is ironic because my other complaint is that the food is expensive. Fifteen bucks is a lot for a bowl of pasta, especially since the waiter admitted that the pasta wasn’t made in house. That having been said, the dishes were masterful and the uncluttered palette of flavors seemed almost architecturally designed, as mod and crisp as How to Cook a Wolf’s interior. If only they could reduce the prices just a little and change the name to something cool like “Lucifer’s Dining Room,” which is the literary equivalent of a tattoo of a skeleton riding a dragon, I’d have nothing to complain about. And THAT, gentle fuckfaces, would be a FIRST.

Rating: 8 geezers (except Geezer Butler) out of 10

How To Cook a Wolf on Urbanspoon

Shadow Land

Shadow Land
4458 California Ave SW

Why did they name this place “Shadow Land?” Seriously. It sounds like the title of a mid 80's sci- fi thriller, like Dreamscape or Runaway. Runaway is so fucking rad because it's got Tom Selleck, Gene Simmons, and POISONOUS ROBOTS. How random is that? Answer: as random as Shadow Land's menu. But not even poison robots could get me to eat at Shadow Land again because it sucks.

Everyone has seen menus at restaurants where below each menu item is listed a key ingredient or two, so you know what's in each dish. But Shadow Land ridiculously apes this practice by listing irrelevant ingredients. For instance, I don't need to be informed that fried Marcona almonds ($5) have sea salt and olive oil in them. Salt? and Oil? on something FRIED? No shit, Sherlock. Likewise, if I was on the fence about ordering the hummus ($7), I doubt that letting me know that the hummus contains PAPRIKA would be a definitive selling point. And why mention that the pulled pork sandwich ($7) has pickled red onions on it? Is it because they think pickled red onions is the BEST ingredient of the pulled pork sandwich? Why not print “A Bun” below the listing for the pulled pork sandwich? After all, a bun is clearly a crucial part of a sandwich. Or “Pulling,” which I would argue is the most important ingredient besides the pork because without any pulling it wouldn't be pulled pork.

They also name drop exotic ingredients. I know this is in vogue right now, ever since the beginning of the arms race about who has the oldest balsamic vinegar, or the most rustic bread, or the ham which came from the breed of pig which is the closest to becoming extinct, but as usual Shadow Land takes this already ludicrous conceit to an even more ludicrous extreme. The carpaccio ($6) has truffle oil on it, and the seared Ahi tuna comes with a boiled quail egg, but I guess that isn't fancy enough because the management of Shadow Land would like to inform you that the marinated Crimini mushrooms ($7) have black LAVA SALT in them. Perhaps most pretentious of all is the nebulously named ”Cassie,” which is ostensibly macaroni and cheese but which for the low low price of only $8 comes with the rarest and most intangible ingredient in human existence, LOVE.

The weird fucking menu isn't the only thing wrong with Shadow Land. I could forgive a quirky, poorly written menu if the food was really good or really cheap, but unfortunately it's neither. Some things seemed irrationally expensive: pork chops cost $28, while the ribeye is $32. For $12, the rare seared ahi tuna is a very tiny portion (about the size of the slice of tuna you would get on top of a piece of nigiri sushi, maybe a half ounce) and comes with a gimmicky cylindrical mold of green beans topped with the aforementioned boiled quail egg. The flavors here are light and well balanced, but 12 bucks is too expensive for a tiny fleck of raw fish. And while the carpaccio is a large portion for the price, the crispy fried squiggles of potato that top it are WAY too salty. The salad costs $9 and yeah, that's all it's called, “salad,” like the old black- and- white label generic grocery store products, and it seems like when they made the “salad” they just threw leftover shit together. Soggy mixed greens were topped with sunflower seeds and orange zest, which was completely and utterly overwhelmed by a massive dose of tarragon, of all things. Tarragon is not a salad herb. It's best suited to a dense or creamy substrate like roast chicken or an egg salad or in a bechamel sauce. Lettuce and orange zest are just too ephemeral to stand up to tarragon's muscular flavor assault. And don't get me started on the abomination that is poutine ($7). Poutine is a bowl of French fries with cheese curds and GRAVY on it, and in case this dish isn't funny enough, you should know that it's the NATIONAL DISH OF CANADA. I'm tired of bitching so feel free to insert your own joke about Canada here: . The fries were okay, and Beecher's cheese curds are always delightfully creamy and nutty, but the gravy was (surprise!) too salty and gloopy and tasted canned.

Anyway, Shadow Land is at a shitty nexus where the food is too shitty for it to qualify as fine dining and not cheap enough for it to be good bar food. The service is absent minded at best. The drinks are expensive. The menu is really, really pompous, and like every other goddamn shithole new bar the plasma screens are always tuned to ESPN. Even Shadow Land's fake movie title name is shitty. I'd rather have one of Gene Simmons' poison robots from Runaway inject me full of H2SO4 than go back there. If Shadow Land really WAS a movie it would be written by Kevin Smith, which means it's shitty, unrealistic, trendy, and tries way too hard. Can I say the word “shitty” once more in this review? Sure I can.

Rating: 0.0001 poisonous robots out of 10

Shadowland on Urbanspoon

Ama- Ama

4752 California Ave SW

Heath Ledger is dead. Who will play the Joker now? More importantly, whom will I dream about? In consolation we went to Ama- Ama, a self described “oyster bar” in West Seattle. I was surprised by the décor: with all the starburst clocks and wood paneling, Ama- Ama would be an exact facsimile of my great aunt’s house, if only they had more doilies, a Sacred Heart, and a velvet painting of JFK. It’s a perfect tableau of 1963, frozen in amber. I don’t know what the fuck they were thinking. Perhaps they were trying to bring back some kind of mythical past that never existed in which Elvis movies DIDN’T suck ass and people DIDN’T eat recipes that somehow contained corn flakes AND canned tuna fish AND gelatin.

We started with the Mojo Shrimp Salad ($11), which was fucking tasty. Three large prawns skewered and grilled with some kind of sweet spice rub, served over a bed of frisee, watercress, and avocado, although the avocado was a little too firm for my taste. I prefer avocado to melt in your mouth the way my heart melted for Hollywood heartthrob Heath Ledger.

Next came baked oysters. For $9 you get a half dozen oysters, baked in the half shell in a Pernod cream sauce and dotted with bacon bits. This was pretty good, though I personally couldn’t taste any Pernod. The fried oysters (also $9) were breaded in Japanese panko crumbs and served with a fucking BRILLIANTLY AWESOME slaw of cabbage, red onions, and red bell peppers in a citrus- tasting vinaigrette. I should point out here that the oysters were REALLY FRESH. They tasted as though they had died as recently as Heath Ledger.

The lamb sliders ($9) were awesome. A globe of ground lamb the size of a tennis ball came served draped in melted gouda and doused with chipotle sauce on a brioche bun. When you bit into the slider the lamb gushed forth a lurid torrent of juices down your chin onto your hands and down your forearms. How’d they make the lamb so juicy? ice chips? pork fat? stem cells? I don’t know, but the BRIOCHE BUN was somehow the best part. What’s brioche, you ask? Answer: a French dinner roll. They’re light, eggy, as soft as a comforter made of vaginas, and utterly superior in every way to the shitty 3 X 4 grids of dinner rolls we get here in the USA for Thanksgiving. How awesome is brioche? Allow me to frame the answer in this convenient S.A.T. style analogy: dry shitty pre packaged American dinner rolls are to brioche as Monica Lewinsky is to Nicolas Sarkozy’s SMOULDERING HOT mistress. In other words, the French do everything better. Yet even the mighty French cannot bring my beloved Heath Ledger back from Death’s cold embrace. Sigh.

One pound of steamed Penn Cove mussels cost $15. The mussels came in a big bowl, steamed in a sauce that the menu claims is “tomatillo” but which looked and tasted like plain old Hunt’s tomato paste, which would be fine with me because the tomato sauce flavor was a good complement to the mussels, except they had to put on airs and claim that a common ingredient was fancier than it actually was. After all, if you’re willing to fake tomatillo paste with tomato paste, why not go all out? Serve chicken liver and call it foie gras. Claim beef brisket is “Unicorn Roast.” A side dish of crack rocks could be billed on the menu as “Professor Cornelius Fantabularius’s Magic Pebbles.” Still, I must point out that like the aforementioned oysters, the mussels were fresh and very tender. Almost as tender as the tender love I once shared with dearly departed hunk Heath Ledger.

The New York strip steak was a mistake. At $24, it’s the most expensive thing on Ama- Ama’s menu. It was a calculated risk, but I have a test: at steak houses I always get seafood, and at seafood restaurants I try the steak. If they can get it right they pass because it’s supposed to be extra difficult because everyone knows a cow is the opposite of a fish. After all, the Metropolitan Grill’s crab cakes are awesome. When I order a rare steak I expect it to come out a dark crusty brown outside and bright red inside. But Ama- Ama’s New York strip wasn’t that great: it was barely seasoned, and grilled to a watery blonde color, as though the grill wasn’t hot enough. It was just sad: as sad as the untimely demise of promising young actor Heath Ledger.

The meal limped to a close with dessert: the Praline Dream ($8) was some sort of chocolate mousse thing which resembled a real praline only in its sugar content. The lemon tart (also $8) was okay, but the most depressing thing about these desserts was that the menu ADMITTED they came from Bakery Nouveau, the Parisian style patisserie across the street, as if that were a selling point. I’m not saying Bakery Nouveau isn’t good; quite the contrary. What I’m saying is this: when you run a restaurant, you can’t buy stuff made by someone else. After all, if you can do that, then I too can own a fucking restaurant! Please bear with me, faithful patron, because it’ll take a while to fulfill your order, since when you choose a steak from the menu I’ll have to drive to the Metropolitan Grill, order the steak, wait for it to come out, get it to go, then drive back to West Seattle to serve it up to you.

Ama- Ama is an easygoing neighborhood joint. The seafood is really fresh and the lamb slider is superb, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there, mostly because the name is too dumb. And now it seems I’m out of clever asides about Heath Ledger so…. Heath Ledger Heath Ledger Heath Ledger. There. Satisfied?

Rating: 5 Heath Ledgers out of 10

Ama Ama Oyster Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon


926 12th Ave

My brother used to be friends with this guy who was born with only one ear. Actually the “missing” ear was still there, but shriveled, as though the kid had used the Ronco food dehydrator as a pillow. One day my brother and the earless kid went to a party with my friend and me. My friend ended up smoking pot with the earless guy. Eventually my friend got so stoned that the hilarity of being in the same room with an earless dude eclipsed political correctness and he started calling the kid “Vincent van Gogh.” The rest of us laughed the shrill snorty titters that can only come out of the mouths of the sky high, but the kid with the missing ear didn't get it. Pity, because that was probably the cleverest put down that the guy would ever get about his cauliflower ear. After all, the extent of the levity he was probably used to hearing was “Hey, nice ear asshole,” or “Your ear is ugly, dude.”

Well what's all that got to do with Lark? Nothing, except that Lark is as awesome as that dude's ear is fucked up. Which means it's really fucking tasty. I was crestfallen upon my arrival at Lark because the place was packed, but they took my name and even offered to CALL MY CELLPHONE when my table became available. I've never heard of a restaurant that would do that. What could be more convenient? Only the Door-to-Door Cotton Candy Blowjob Mobile.

When our table came up I immediately sat down and started laughing at the guy next to us, who was chowing the fuck down. He kept stuffing his face and wiping up all the sauces and gravy on his plate with bread. “Why?” I wondered to myself? I would soon find out.

We started with the hearts of palm salad ($10). Hearts of palm are the inner core of a palm tree. While some people would shun the idea of eating the inside of a tree, I jumped at the chance to eat the inside of something besides your mother for a change. The salad featured thinly sliced palm hearts (which taste like artichokes), frisee, and satsuma wedges. The secret weapon was a VANILLA BEAN vinaigrette, which blew the fuck out of my mind. It was bold and innovative and left me feeling like one of those wide eyed Chinese kids you always see playing with a butterfly in commercials about “technology.”

Next up came the Muscovy Salami ($11). Muscovy is a kind of duck. Salami is a kind of awesomeness, solidified into sausage form. To paraphrase the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cups slogan, they're the two great tastes that kick so much ass together you'd let Mike Tyson molest you to taste them. The thinly sliced muscovy salami was dense, chewy, and studded inside with whole peppercorns. It was accompanied by a small ramekin of raspberry mostardo, which is just a fancy name for jam and mustard mixed together.

The bacon wrapped cod was at $18 the most expensive thing we ordered, but it was worth it, though not merely because it was wrapped in bacon, which I find is too easy. Wrapping stuff in bacon is the culinary equivalent of saying “Hitler was a bad guy.” Not a difficult position to justify. It's too easy because ANYONE can wrap ANYTHING in bacon and it will taste good. You could wrap a leper's used condom in bacon and eat it, and not only would you not puke, you'd reminisce about that meal years later. That's how powerful a tool bacon wrapping is. While the cod was creamy and succulent with a perfectly crisped corona of bacon, it wasn't the best part. No, surprisingly the highlight of the bacon wrapped cod was the SAUCE: a black truffle and celery root cream broth. The celery root gave the sauce a fresh woodsy base, while the truffle came through with that subtle organic, almost petroleum bouquet of flavor which justifies the fact that perigord truffles cost $400 a pound. The sauce was so good I soon found myself in imitation of the dude seated next to us, wiping up the sauce with first bread and then, when I ran out of bread, my fingers. I would've licked that sauce off of ANYTHING. I would've licked the sauce off of an electric fence while peeing on another nearby electric fence at the same time. That's how damn tasty it was.

The roast squab ($17) was tiny, delicate and meatier tasting than prime rib. Part of the unique pleasure of eating squab is the sensation of feeling like a giant when you hold the squab's miniscule drumstick in your hand. I guess I bellowed “Fee Fie Fo Fum” too many times because the waiter glared at me. But it was worth it. Note: squab is baby PIGEON MEAT. Who would have thought that such a tasty fellow could eventually grow up to shit on the worlds freshly washed cars?

Dessert was the malt ice cream. $8 is pricey for ice cream, but we got a pretty big scoop of it and it came adorned with a chewy caramel wafer stuck vertically into the scoop like a sail. Normally I'm not that big on ice cream but it really did taste like the inside of a malted milk ball, like Easter in a bowl.

Lark is awesome. The food is good enough to prompt men with otherwise good table manners to lick sauce off their fingers. The service is friendly and helpful without being annoying. The menu is very innovative without seeming trendy, precious or gimmicky. Perhaps best of all, Lark's management specifically prohibits people with fucked up ears from eating there. I personally guarantee that the previous sentence is completely, 100,000,000% absolutely true without a trace of falsehood. And if you believe that Lark would actually bar people with disfigured ears from eating at the restaurant, you're probably also one of those people who believe that college kids frequently wake up kidneyless in bathtubs of ice after a drunken evening with a beautiful stranger. So go fuck yourself. But before you do that, go to Lark.

Rating: 9 fuck ears out of 10.

Lark on Urbanspoon


1001 E Pike St

What the fucking fuck is up with all these fucked fucking yuppie catchprases? Labradoodle. Bo-Tox. Flex- time. Soccer mom. Gastropub. I never knew what the last one meant until I heard about Quinn's.

No one ever asks me before they open a business in this town. If they did I would have said “No gastropubs because they're for yuppie douche bags. Now make out with your twin sister and let me videotape it.” But they opened Quinn's anyway. We showed up about 6:30, which is too late. Quinn's fills up fast and they only take reservations for parties of six or more. So we sat at the bar. However I was astonished to see on the beer menu, nestled there among the $10 half pints of Belgian beers, PBR for the more than reasonable price of $2 a pint: a metaphor for my presence at Quinn's.

So I ordered a PBR and a whole bunch of food. First we tried the duck egg ($3). It was served soft boiled and sliced in half for sharing, with a filet of boccarones on each half. Boccarones are white anchovies, but they aren't as salty as regular anchovies because they're usually marinated instead of salt cured. The menu claims the duck egg comes with sea salt but it must not come with very much because it was pretty bland, and the boccarones only added a fishy flavor to the egg. The cold, fishy, clammy end result was like what I imagine a turtle egg tastes like. There's a better way to spend three bucks: for instance, I could get three blowjobs from your mom.

Next came the gougeres ($5). For this price you get three of these gruyere cheese puffs. I've had these before, and they're usually delightful, flaky and fluffy with a delicate cheesy flavor. Quinn's gougeres were filled with a gloopy cream sauce that tasted like Cheez-Itz, although the pastry itself was good.

The assorted cheese plate was for $9 a little steep, but the three cheeses (a white cheddar; a triple cream with a Chimay washed rind; and a nutty, dry sheep's milk cheese) were all unpasteurized and very flavorful and came with a dollop of apricot jam. But fuck, who goes to a restaurant for a boiled egg and apricot jam? Not even me, and I pray every night that one day Jesus will magically transform me into a European (because only Europeans order stuff like boiled eggs at a restaurant. Get it? Get it?). Jesus: the David Copperfield of the ancient Middle East. So we had to order something more substantial. Like the brandade ($7). Brandade (not to be confused with a Band- Aid) is mashed salt cod. Sometimes it's mashed with potatoes. Sometimes not. Quinn's version was combined with potatoes and lots of rosemary. The salt cod adds a rich pelagic essence to the potatoes, and while it does taste fishy, the fishiness is muted and distant and salty, like a sea breeze. Damn tasty. The brandade was served with a plate of Quinn's house made potato chips. These were a fucking revelation: easily the best chips I've ever eaten in my life, and I've been pretty stoned. The chips seemed to have been surgically prepared: they were sliced so thinly they were exactly one potato cell thick, and when you bit into them they shattered, releasing a fine spray of hot oil molecules and sodium atoms directly onto your tongue. Beautiful.

The oxtail ($13) was braised, so tender you could have shot it up intravenously, and served in a pool of not one but TWO sauces: a red wine gravy that tasted one thousand fathoms deep, and the same aforementioned Cheez-Itz flavored gruyere sauce that filled the gougeres, although in this context the Cheez-Itz sauce was actually quite tasty. Floating in this million calorie brew were six impossibly fluffy potato gnocchi and a small cylinder of marrow that was so tender it practically spread itself onto the extra toast rounds that we had left over from our cheese plate. Please buy this dish. When we'd finished the oxtail and gnocchi we soaked up the last of the gravy and cheese sauce with a $4 order of herb fries.

Don't bother with dessert unless you've got nothing else to do. The chocolate bread pudding ($6) tasted like a box of powdered brownies. The lemon creme brulee ($6), while perfectly creamy with a nice crackly burnt sugar crust, was a little too lemony for me. Get an espresso instead, or another pint of PBR. Or another dish of oxtail. Or something. But remember, no one ever said a pub was a good place to get dessert.

End result: I'm ambivalent about Quinn's, because it's okay, but not consistently awesome enough, especially since the guy who owns Quinn's also owns my beloved Restaurant Zoe (AKA the second best restaurant in Seattle, fuck-O's). Some of the menu items are REALLY good, but others are as lame as someone who admits they own a Labradoodle. If you live on Capitol Hill and can stand the idea of eating at a gastropub, go to Quinn's. But don't go now: wait a couple of weeks until after the hipsters and “foodies” (AKA bored old people) have gotten over this place and you can actually get a table. But only go if you happen to be walking directly in front of the place. But you SHOULD go eventually, just like your mom SHOULD eventually give up the crack pipe, because the menu is unique and reasonably priced. Plus, if I had to go there, you should have to as well. After all, if I'm brave enough to face the hordes of soccer moms and labradoodles, you can be too. How's that for an inspirational message, fuckfaces?

Rating: 6 labradoodles out of 10.

Quinn's on Urbanspoon



Cache is a private dining club. To sign up you go to their web site, email them and then wait for them to write you back. It's supposed to be all cloak & dagger but it's really quite simple. The hardest part is booking a reservation because they're usually sold out for 2 months. I wish I was that fucking popular.

The theme for our dinner was “The Food of Emilia- Romagna.” Emilia- Romagna is the region of Italy famous for Parmigianno Reggianno cheese and Prosciutto di Parma. Prosciutto is made from pigs that have been fed the rinds of Reggianno cheese. They like to feed pigs weird shit in Emilia Romagna: pigs fed only apples; pigs fed only acorns; pigs fed only bacon. Note: I made the last one up. But bacon made from such a pig would some kind of obscene DOUBLE BACON and would be EXQUISITELY RAD!

We went to Cache's Belltown location, which is actually some dude's architecture firm during the day. His girlfriend is the chef. Our hosts sat us down in a tiny foyer in front of an ENORMOUS plate of various varieties of Salumi brand charcuterie. The architect handed me some kind of gin cocktail and told us to dig in, which of course I did instantly, stuffing my face with handfuls of cured meats like they were going to outlaw nitrates tomorrow.

Anyway, after copious cocktails our hosts seated us around the table and started to serve appetizers. The first course was a platter of antipasti: zucchini and radicchio, olives, prosciutto, and sliced reggiano. Everything was damn tasty except the radicchio: it was sliced into huge wedges and grilled. It's just too bitter to chow down on a giant slice of it. Radicchio is better served in a mixed salad with its robust flavor tempered by arugula and red leaf lettuce. And the zucchini was limp. Otherwise the antipasto was tasty.

Next came fettuccine bolognese, known in New Orleans as “noodles with red gravy.” No, “red gravy” does not refer to anything menstrual. It's bolognese sauce, a mixture of ground beef, veal, and pork in tomato sauce. Cache's bolognese sauce featured pancetta in place of the usual ground pork, but nonetheless was rather dry, crumbly, and bland, with the meat particles barely clinging to the pasta and the noodles dyed a light pink from the meager amount of tomato sauce. Our hosts repeatedly assured us that this is how they do it in Italy: very little sauce is used so you can really taste the pasta, and the sauce is not seasoned with any herbs or spices so you can taste the meat and tomatoes. I'll have to take her word for it because I've never been to Italy, but it's plausible enough. After all, ever since the Renaissance ended the Italians are full of bad ideas: Fascism. Andrea Bocelli. Sending troops (all two of them) to Iraq. Though I must give them credit for the Lamborghini Diablo and that porn star they elected to Parliament. What the pasta lacked in flavor, it made up for in volume. That bowl of pasta was as massive as one of the EEE knockers on the old lady next to me. Luckily the pasta wasn't as flabby.

But they made up for the blandness of the fettuccine with the next course: cotechino con lenticche. Cotechino is a really fatty, flavorful sausage. It was simmered then served sliced over lentils. The sausage was very tender and bursting with spices and oozing juices onto the lentils, which were creamy and fresh tasting. This dish was pitch perfect and utterly satisfying.

When I didn't think I could eat anymore, they made us have dessert. It was a chocolate fruitcake called castagnaccio. Apparently the original Roman version of this dessert was made with chestnut flour and was almost inedible it was so heavy. The modern version isn't that much of an upgrade since it was still pretty dense. The chocolate flavor was very rich, and the cake itself was satiny and flecked with chestnuts and candied cherries. It wasn't cloyingly sweet, though.

After dinner the hosts sat down with us for a chat. I discussed architecture with the guy who owned the place and told him that the following architects are ALL DOUCHEBAGS: Le Corbusier. Mies van der Roh. Frank Gehry. He disagreed.

But enough talk about the world of architecture and the douche bags who populate it. What about Cache? On the bright side, Cache is CHEAP. We got a four-course meal, several cocktails, and wine with each course for $50. Plus the portions are gargantuan, the service is generous, and what they did well they did REALLY well, like the cotechino con lenticche. Plus I have to give them points for the DIY aesthetic. However, it wasn't very polished, and half the dishes were lackluster even though you could tell they put a lot of work into the preparation. On the other hand, the fact that they've got a two-month waiting list indicates that the marketplace disagrees with my assessment.

So here's my advice: decide in advance which architects you hate, email Cache, wait two months, and experience it for yourself. In the meantime, I'll be busy feeding a pig only bacon in the hopes of creating DOUBLE BACON. Patent pending, bitches.

Rating: 6 architects out of 10.

Sitka and Spruce

Sitka & Spruce
2238 Eastlake Ave E

Why do old people love to wait in line so much? Is it: a) because they're about to die and they're trying to imagine what it's like to wait in line to get into Heaven? or b) because they're used to waiting in line because they had to wait in all the soup lines during the Depression? or c) because they just want to piss me off by obstructing my entrance into Sitka & Spruce? Answer: obviously c). When we arrived at the restaurant no fewer than 13 old fuckers were waiting in line ahead of me. Luckily Sitka & Spruce, while tiny, was still large enough to accommodate the geriatric baker's dozen plus me.

We started with the pork belly ($12). Pork belly is a peculiar item. It tastes like a bacon-flavored booger. You heard me. The texture is exquisitely soft. Like foie gras, it’s very yielding to the bite (and salty, too), like when you cough up a loogie in church or at an Amway meeting and don’t have any place to spit it so you must swallow it. But don't let my description fool you: it's fucking delicious. The bacon booger was served over a bed of giant crusty croutons, pillowy balls of mozzarella, thinly sliced red onion, tomatoes and pine nuts.

Next came a dish of potatoes sautéed with chorizo and garlic in a bright green parsley butter sauce ($8). Potatoes are the perfect blank canvas upon which any flavor landscape can be painted. They were crisp outside and creamy within; the flavor of the bright fresh parsley butter was cantilevered by the dark smoky chorizo and rosemary.

Then we tried the rabbit loin ($12). Much tastier than your mother’s loins, which I’ve also eaten. I couldn’t tell how exactly it was cooked but it was meltingly tender, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette with radicchio, walnuts, crimini mushrooms, and small chips of a dry hard cheese that was probably Reggiano. The surprise flavor here was the addition of mint, which really freshened things up.

After the rabbit loin we had the albacore ($16), served with cubes of watermelon, slices of heirloom cucumber, red onion, dill and more mint. This dish was light, refreshing, yet complex. I’d like to take a brief intermission at this point to discuss the masterful use of spices at Sitka & Spruce. Mint. Dill. Chorizo. Rosemary. Cucumber. It was a shock and awe flavor bombardment in EVERY DISH we sampled, layer after layer of taste as dense, deep and varied as both your mom’s cunt and the Grand Canyon (both of which are also alike in that they contain many things that confuse Creationists).

Illustrating the shock and awe flavor bombardment doctrine was the duck breast ($17). It was seared rare and accompanied by a grilled peach topped with fried sage leaves. Just in case the duck breast itself wasn’t somehow rich enough, the whole dish was swimming in FOIE GRAS BUTTER! Maximalism in its purest form. A word about foie gras: It will indeed be a sad day in Hell, my friends, when the nannies that rule this state finally ban those geese livers like they’ve banned everything else fun. By “fun” I mean lap dances, smoking, malt liquor and unsecured junk in the bed of your truck. Fuck those Safety Nazis.

By the time dessert arrived I think I was both shocked AND awed, because the waitress mentioned that I had a “glazed duck look.” Yeah, my eyes were glazing over after I ate all that maximalism but I still had to pack in a few hundred more calories so we got the lemon verbena gelato. Like all good gelatos it was rich and silky yet light, and dotted with fresh blueberries. We also tried the chocolate cake. It was doused in a caramel sauce and sprinkled in granular grey sea salt. The desserts were $8.50 each.

I wouldn’t call Sitka & Spruce cheap, but it certainly wasn’t expensive. In fact, one person who wasn’t an insane gluttonous foul-mouthed restaurant critic could easily make a good meal of two small plates. Depending on what you chose you could get out of there for only $20. It’s more expensive than Hot Pockets but several orders of magnitude tastier. All those old people who lined up to get into Sitka & Spruce are fortunate to have gotten in before impending death comes to claim them. I’m young so I’ll get plenty of chances to eat there. But someday in the distant future I’ll be one of the ancient geezers waiting in line to get in and while the pork belly when adjusted for inflation will cost $4000, at least you won’t have to tip the robot waiter. Because everyone knows robots can’t get paid. Why can’t they get paid? Because robots suck. Figuratively, I mean. Except for the vacuum bots and hooker bots. They’ll suck literally.

Rating: 9.5 vacuum bots out of 10.

Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon