Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Homegrown Sandwiches

3416 Fremont Ave N

Man, this place has been getting some irrational hate! And that’s coming from me, America’s Premier Purveyor of Irrational Hate ™. After reading the bizarrely aggro comments about Homegrown in the Voracious comments section, I felt compelled to make a trip out to Fremont. Everyone loves to stare at a train wreck, especially if there are lots of severed heads rolling about on the ground like billiard balls, and tons of blood and guts everywhere, and piles of gross crap all over, detached fingers, maybe a couple slimy coils of intestines, and also lots of heavily damaged rail cars. And I wanted to taste the train wreck for myself (note: an actual train wreck tastes like metallic, bloody diesel fuel mixed with Arby’s).

Well I’ve got news for you, especially for the guy in the Voracious comments section who kept talking about how crude the palates of Seattleites are: this place is actually pretty fucking tasty. The flank steak sandwich ($9.95) had slices of grilled steak AND Portobello mushrooms, which basically counts as 1.5 kinds of meat. The condiments included bleu cheese, caramelized onions, mixed greens, and chimichurri sauce (officially the second funniest South American word after “Titicaca”). The chimichurri sauce seemed more like pesto, but what the fuck: I don’t actually know what chimichurri sauce is anyway. The flavors worked well together. The steak had a great grilled flavor, and the Portobello, with its subtle undercurrent of umami, was an interesting component. The greens remained crisp, and the sweet onions balanced out the bleu cheese tang. This was a hearty fucking sandwich, and if there’s anything that restores my faith in humanity, it’s a well constructed sandwich. Fuck the Pyramids. Fuck the Apollo Program. The sandwich is man’s greatest achievement.

The crab cake and bacon sandwich wasn’t as great. For $11.95 you get a crab cake, topped with bacon, avocado, and greens, on a brioche roll. The crab cake itself was quite tasty, with very little filler. The avocado was smooth and creamy, and the roll was fresh, soft, and as eggy as good brioche should be. But there was one problem. When I saw the sandwich’s description on the menu board I did a quick mathematical proof and sure enough, I verified the following differential sandwich equation:

as crab cake approaches bacon, flavor approaches shitty

For those of you with no background in calculus, that equation is available in an already differentiated form, where I’ve solved for “flavor:”

Bacon + Crab Cake= Shitty

I was hoping my equation would turn out to be false, because if true it would be the most terrifying mathematical proof ever encountered by man, even more horrific than the non- Euclidean geometry of Cthulu’s undersea palace. The following sentence is the hardest I have ever had to type, and I’m crying right now writing this. And it isn’t a dignified restrained Yankee WASP-y kind of cry where the tears silently roll down my cheeks and I dab at them with a silk handkerchief, but a full- on bawl, with snot bubbles popping out of my nose and lots of punching pillows and kicking at the air. As much as this seems like heresy (sob), the bacon seemed like the problem to me. It was good bacon but the smoky sweet flavor seemed out of place. I never thought I’d say it but they didn’t need to put bacon on this sandwich. There, it’s out in the open now. I can start to heal.

Each sandwich comes with your choice of South Carolina slaw (which is like regular slaw but more racist), apple- fennel slaw, something suspiciously called “Moroccan Carrot Slaw,” or a pickle. Since pickles are for fags we got the apple- fennel slaw and the Moroccan carrot slaw. The apple fennel was really good: crisp, sharp, floral, and sweet. The Moroccan slaw wasn’t very good. It wasn’t sweet enough, and in fact was bitter, just as bitter as all those Moroccans who can’t find a job in France. So I guess the name was pretty descriptive after all.

Finally, the rutabaga and parsnip fries ($4.95) had an interesting batter which I think had a touch of cinnamon in it. The fries themselves were okay, maybe a bit soggy. I probably would’ve liked it better if they were thinner and crispier. But I like the idea of seasonal fries made of different vegetables. When can we get some Brussels sprouts fries?

Homegrown is a great addition to the Fremont Sandwich Renaissance. I used to work in that neighborhood and until recently your lunch options were basically all Thai, all the time. It isn’t fine dining, but it’s not trying to be. Sure, their goal of only using local, seasonal ingredients is pretty ambitious, but at least they’re fucking trying something. Homegrown is a sandwich shop with a master’s thesis.

If the troll- filled comments on Voracious’s message board are to be believed, it sounds like Homegrown might be having a problem with one of their suppliers. BIG FUCKING DEAL. Every new business encounters a few snags when it first opens. Get over it. Or don’t, but don’t complain about it to me. Take your complaints to Lou Ferigno instead, because he’s deaf and can’t hear you anyway. And if he DOES somehow hear your complaints about Homegrown, he’ll just kick your ass because he’s super tough and he can’t stand to hear a perfectly good sandwich get disparaged by a douchebag.

Having been on both sides of the irrational hate fence, as both a supplier and receiver of hate, I can sympathize with these guys. So I’m awarding their rating ONE BONUS POINT for enduring senseless complaining. That’s right, bitches.

Rating 6.5 trolls out of 10

Homegrown Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 28, 2009

One Pot

w/ Steven Rinella

At Via Tribunali
6005 12th Ave S

I first encountered Auguste Escoffier’s Le Guide Culinaire in a Barnes & Noble a couple years ago. I was instantly entranced by this, the greatest of cookbooks. Le Guide Culinaire is like if you took The Necronomicon, Hammer of the Gods, and the Bible, combined them, and soaked the entire thing in butter. The instructions are so vague! The writing style is so eldritch! The recipes are so unlikely! If H.P. Lovecraft had become a chef instead of a legendary horror writer, Le Guide Culinaire would have been the unholy result.

Later I heard an interview on NPR with a guy who’d followed Le Guide Culinaire and prepared a 40 course Thanksgiving feast entirely from ingredients he either hunted himself or found. The book was called The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine. The author was named Steven Rinella.

If you read The Scavenger’s Guide one thing will become immediately apparent to you: Steven Rinella is TOUGH. He is so motherfucking tough. You know that internet list of reasons why Chuck Norris is tough? Steven Rinella makes Chuck Norris look like a quivering orphan with a Hawaiian Punch mustache and a snot bubble. Fuck Chuck Norris: he’s old news and besides, he burned all his bridges with me for the rest of eternity by campaigning for Mike Huckabee. Steven Rinella is the real deal. Steven Rinella is so tough it’s like they genetically engineered him from DNA of the world’s toughest dudes, just like Serpentor from the GI Joe cartoon. No, fuck that: Rinella is so tough Serpentor cleans Rinella’s toilet for him. Then when Serpentor is done cleaning Steven Rinella’s toilet, Lou Ferigno comes in to give Rinella a blow job. Directly in line behind Lou Ferigno is Sylvester Stallone, readying his massage oil to give Steven Rinella a foot massage. In fact, there’s a line of the most legendary tough guys stretching out the door of Steven Rinella’s apartment and around the block, all waiting to sexually service him and/ or clean his house. That’s how hyperbolically manly Steven Rinella is.

So when I heard that the universe’s toughest dude would be reading from his newest book American Buffalo: in Search of a Lost Icon I jumped at the chance to attend. This is how Rinella wrote his new book: after he was done researching he let Paul Prudhomme and Kathy Bates fuck on his back while he did 100 push ups on a pile of broken glass. When he finished his push ups he took a quill pen, dipped it in the blood oozing from the cuts on his hands, and wrote the first draft IN HIS OWN BLOOD. ON KATHY BATES’ NAKED SKIN, which only someone as tough as Steven Rinella could possibly stand the sight of.

But I digress. Rinella would be reading from his new book at One Pot, which as everyone knows is the brain child of another mystical figure, culinary ringmaster Michael Hebberoy. One of Hebberoy’s ventures, as you well know, was recently reviewed by me, and like all polarizing figures he fascinates me. Besides, it seemed like a killer deal: the meal at One Pot was $45, and included a copy of Rinella’s new book. AND he would be reading from it. AND he would be eating four pounds of potassium cyanide, washing it down with hydrofluoric acid, then flossing his teeth with barbed wire.

The meal took place at the Georgetown Via Tribunali. It was crowded and loud. Wine was flowing freely; unfortunately none of it was flowing into my mouth, because although the event was advertised as “Bring Your Own Wine,” I forgot. But at least drinks were available from Via Tribunali’s bar. There was a long table for about 40 in the room. On one wall was a projection of a National Geographic documentary about Alaska. Sarah Palin’s face was luckily nowhere to be seen, though there were a few ice worms, which I thought only existed in the Star Wars universe.

Eventually Hebberoy clinked his glass and all the idle chatter died down. Everyone sat down at the long table, which was probably about 30 feet long and easily the biggest table at which I’ve ever been seated. Seriously, it was like Mr. Burns’ table. Hebberoy said a few words, introduced Rinella, and we started eating.

The first course was a salad. Apple wedges were tossed with escarole, thinly sliced Spanish chorizo, Manchego cheese, and red onion in a bright vinaigrette. This was a very simple salad. All the flavors interplayed well. The sweet apple countered the bitterness of the escarole. The chorizo was spicy, and the cheese was salty. With the salad was flat bread. Hebberoy swore that, despite the fact that we were eating at Via Tribunali, no pizza would be served. However, the flat bread was basically pizza with no cheese. As far as flat breads go, it was pretty damn good, with a crusty, sooty, charred bottom and chewy interior, and a smear of sweet tomato sauce on top. They should’ve just put some fucking cheese on it and let us have pizza though. I don’t see why not. I ate a vegan pizza once. Do I really need to say that it sucked? Everything’s better with cheese. Dairy council, you can thank me later.

After the salad, Rinella read an excerpt from his book, where he described half- mile long piles of buffalo bones encountered by pioneers in the Midwest. Then he passed around a container of pemmicam which he’d made from the buffalo he shot. Said buffalo is of course the subject of the new book, which details Rinella’s adventures on a buffalo hunt, and also discusses the buffalo’s place in American history.

Pemmicam is made of ground buffalo meat, mixed with buffalo fat and ground nuts. The pemmicam had a weird taste: like powdered dog food that someone had farted through. It was also disturbingly crunchy. Rinella claimed he used pine nuts to make this pemmicam, but I don’t believe him. It was CRACKLY it was so crunchy. Also, it was sickly sweet. Plus it left that nasty shellacked layer of waxy grease on the roof of your mouth like shitty movie popcorn. I guess I’d eat pemmicam if I was starving in the woods.

Next up was the main course: beef stew, served over farro. The farro came out first. Though Hebberoy expressly forbid us from doing so, I tasted the farro by itself before the braised beef came out. It was good, chewy, and earthy, with asparagus, cauliflower, and leeks. Normally I disdain farro, spelt, and all those other “old- timey” grains because that’s the kind of shit lesbians eat, but I must admit it was tasty. Then the braised beef stew came out. Ladled over the farro, it was quite delicious. The stew was hearty and rich, with carrots and bay leaves. The chunks of beef were so tender I didn’t even need to cut it with the superfluous knife they’d provided me. With this dish came of bowl of what Hebberoy called “salsa verde.” I’ve got news for you, Mr. Hebberoy: ACTUAL PEOPLE know that chopped parsley in olive oil with lemon zest and garlic is called GREMOLATA. But no matter what you call it, the gremolata was bright and fresh, and really gave a high note when dolloped over the beef.

As dessert was being passed around, Rinella entertained questions. Most people asked about buffalo, but I really wanted to know if Rinella thought that the dude from Into the Wild was as much a misinformed, na├»ve pussy as I did. Unfortunately, he stopped answering questions before I could pose my earthshaking query. Dessert was coffee from some loser country (I don’t remember which one) and Theo chocolates. The chocolates were mostly like tiny Three Muskateers bars, but better, with a chocolate outer shell filled with chocolate mousse. Still, like all chocolate it was pretty girly, and not at all the kind of manly dessert I imagine Steven Rinella eats. Maybe they should’ve served chocolate covered eyeballs.

After dessert Rinella autographed copies of American Buffalo. I insisted he make the inscription in my copy out to “The Surly Gourmand, the only guy in the universe who’s manlier than me.” He refused, so I challenged him to a duel to the death in the Thunderdome, which will be on Pay- Per- View next year. I better start training, I suppose.

This meal was a fucking great deal. The cover price of the book is $24.95, which means that the meal cost about $20. And that’s an awesome price for a 3 course meal, especially since the menu was designed by the dude from Art of the Table. It’s too bad that this was a one- of- a- kind event. I was so impressed with One Pot, I’ll be back for sure. And if you ever get a chance to see Steven Rinella in person, be sure to do so, or he’ll hunt you down with unflinching resolve like the Terminator. And unlike the Terminator, Steven Rinella can’t be killed by crushing him in an industrial press or dropping him into a metal smelter. So you better do what he says.

Rating: 7.5 unstoppable action heroes out of 10

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Pike Street Fish Fry

925 E Pike St
no phone

If every English class I've ever taken is to be believed, one cannot truly understand a work of art without first understanding its creator.


No one cares about the artist's life (if by “no one” you mean “me,” and I do in fact mean “me,” so suck it if you don't like it). If you pay attention too closely to the artist's life you get shit like that movie about when Metallica went to therapy. I don't give a fuck about James Hetfield's grandma, Lars Ulrich's collection of Basquiats (which I'm sure he was forced to unload for the paltry sum of $2 million because Napster was ruining him), or which brand of activator Kirk Hammet uses in his jerry curl. And I SURE AS HELL don't care about the new douchebag bass player they hired who used to be in Suicidal Tendencies.

Likewise, I don't give a FUCK about any chef. I don't care about the chef's kids. I don't care about the chef's dog. I don't care about what the chef likes to eat at home. I don't care about how hot the chef's mom might be, although mostly because I'm fucking the chef's mom and my standards are dismally low, which is of course why I don't care how hot she is. The only thing I care about is how good the food is. I don't have time or energy to spend worrying about the personal details of a chef's life because we're in the middle of a WAR, an eternal battle going on between good taste and bad. We're all conscripts. You're either on the side of good taste, or you eat at Arby's. There's no grey area here.

Now I'm going to contradict all of that crap I just typed about my indifference to chefs. It's unavoidable, really. I blame the internets and all of the knowledge which Al Gore has personally fisted into its various tubes. All of that information on the interwebs has osmosed into my brain, and now I know something about the Pike Street Fish Fry. The man who owns it started out with an underground supper club in Portland. Lately he's personally gotten mixed reviews: a magnificent hero to some, a sperm guzzler to others. Yet isn't that true of us all? It is at this point sufficient to say that the dude started a restaurant, closed a restaurant, moved, then opened another restaurant. His rise and fall has been luridly documented by the chumps who care about that crap, but if you ask me you might as well just insert a Seinfeldian “yadda yadda” into the boring middle parts of the dude's story and skip straight to the menu. Which I will do. Right now.

While everything on the menu isn't fried, I for one don't order ANYTHING from a place called “Fish Fry” that hasn't been previously dipped in boiling oil. The halibut ($8) had a crisp panko coating, was VERY fresh tasting, and was so succulent and juicy, it was like the fish meat was weeping tears of pure deliciousness into your mouth with every bite. Unfortunately, you only got three small pieces.

Fried prawns were also $8. These were coated in a very light, thin beer batter. This was a nice change of pace from the usual huge puffy parka of fried dough which less- skilled frymasters usually try to pass off as beer batter. The prawns were tender, but I was disappointed again by the price, since for eight dollars you only got FOUR shrimp. One thing which I found interesting about the halibut and shrimp were that the traditional breadings were reversed: shrimp usually gets a panko crust and halibut usually gets beer batter, but here it was the other way around. Maybe it was a stylistic play on expectations. Or maybe they got the order wrong.

Calamari was (surprise) $8, which I'm guessing is the default price for seafood. At least you got a LOT for your money: the bowl was overflowing with a big pile of rings and tentacles. The squid had been dusted with cornmeal, and was expertly fried without a hint of the lame chewiness which plagues lesser calamaris.

I should point out that everything comes with fries. And not pussy fries, either, like the ones at Oddfellow's Cafe. Pike Street Fish Fry sells the kind of greasy, hand- cut, hangover- slaying fries that are similar to the ones at Dick's, but better, the kind of fries you can get two bums to fight each other over. Best of all, you get LOTS of them, so even if they skimp on the prawns and halibut, you can at least have a massive bowl of carbs to fall back on. In fact, Pike Street Fish Fry piles SO MANY fries into each bowl, the cooks carefully construct a newsprint retaining wall around the perimeter of the bowl to keep the mountain of fries from becoming a fry- slide. Or would it be called a “french slide?” Either way, it's the most delicious geological formation known to man. Besides the Big Rock Candy Mountain, of course.

Are there any REAL vegetables available at this place? Answer: yes, although they too are fried. Green beans were $5, and were dipped in a thin egg wash batter. The batter was pretty well seasoned, and the beans were cooked just until only a wire- thin tenuous vein of crispness remained in the center of each bean.

One major misstep these motherfuckers made were hushpuppies. For $4.50 you get about 6 shitty, dense hush puppies that settle down into your stomach like a black hole and pull your appetite into its event horizon. Bad hush puppies are worse than shitty gnocchi. Frying hush puppies is counterintuitive: if you cook them until the outside is an appealing golden brown, the inside remains raw. You've got to fry the exterior to a dark mahogany color, so that it seems like it's burned, in order to steam the interior into delightful fluffiness. A good hush puppy has a crisp crust but the inside is like flaky, crumbly, sweet cornbread.

I have one more thing to complain about. I didn't play the “I'm from the South” card when discussing the prawns, but I will now: I'm from the South, and NO ONE PUTS CHEDDAR CHEESE OR JALAPENOS INTO HUSH PUPPIES. The cheese only made the density problem worse. So when you bit into the hushpuppies, what you got was a soggy, solid core of cool cornbread batter strung through with shitty cheese. And spiciness. Lame.

In general, this place certainly knows how to fry the fuck out of ANYTHING. Except hushpuppies. But everything else that I tried came in a different type of batter, and nothing was overcooked at all. In fact, it was spooky how perfectly the fish, prawns, fries, and green beans were prepared. In fact, it was almost like the dude who owns Pike Street Fish Fry sold his soul to Satan in return for his success and mythological frying ability. I personally would've traded my soul for something better, like a cotton candy machine and some guns, but to each his own.

Rating: 7 demagogues out of 10

PS I didn't try it, but for $14 you can buy something called the “Old 96er,” which I imagine is an homage to the gigantic porterhouse consumed by John Candy in The Great Outdoors. It's a sandwich with any item on the menu as the main ingredient, and topped with cole slaw, fried green beans, and french fries. If you can finish the Old 96er in 5 minutes, it's free, plus you win a beer. One day when I'm feeling bulimic I'll be sure to try one of these behemoths.

Pike Street Fish Fry on Urbanspoon