Thursday, November 21, 2013

SPJ Presents Tasty Words: a Food Writing Workshop with Leslie Kelly

I’ve had an interesting time or two at the Sorrento Hotel before, that swank First Hill edifice of faded idle decadence, the Miss Havisham of luxury accommodations. But this time was special: one of Seattle’s very own literary all-stars, Leslie Kelly, was leading a workshop on food writing.

$27.37 got us a plate of five small bites of food and, more importantly, some sage advice from Leslie Kelly herself. The original intent was for the workshop to be more of a classroom environment, with Ms. Kelly lecturing, but unfortunately the giant load-bearing schlong in the middle of the Sorrento’s Fireside Room prevented this type of demonstration, so instead, Leslie went around the room for a series of intimate mini-symposiums with each table of students. She urged the students to consider all the sensory aspects of the plate of food in front of us, and to try to avoid clichés when writing, and to embrace our inner silliness and let our imaginations wander. I can’t say that I disagree with that instruction, so with Leslie’s advice in mind, I approached the plate of small bites we’d been presented.

A miniscule medallion of seared duck breast was quite tasty. It was nicely caramelized, with a lurid medium rare interior. A few crumbled walnuts were scattered on top, and a sautéed bed of something vegetal and dark and assertive, either kale or chard or maybe even wilted radicchio, was lurking below. The whole was drizzled in a sweet sauce, presumably a foil for the bitter greens. I liked it.

Next up was a small ramekin of beets. These crimson cubes were the color of a recently slaughtered oxen’s still-beating heart, but vegans relax! In case you didn’t know, and god help you if you, in fact, didn’t, beets are not actually meat, though they are quite rich enough to be. The plush flavor of the beets was lifted by a citrusy vinaigrette, and dispersed throughout was a superfluous dusting of chopped hazelnuts, provided no doubt to offer a textural contrast.

A baked oyster dish was, I’m guessing, the Sorrento’s take on Oysters Rockefeller: a broiled oyster was topped with a verdant mélange of breadcrumbs, perhaps butter, maybe tarragon, and certainly absinthe, for the mild anise flavor was, however lightly, curb stomped all over that oyster’s face. I generally enjoyed this, though my oyster was overcooked. Sadly I didn’t get a pearl; I suppose I’ll have to go back to polishing your mom’s pearl instead. Unsavory work, that.

Moving along, shreds of lamb shoulder, braised in a rich tomato sauce and perched on top of a silken pile of titanium white grits. This was no swarthy southern Mediterranean polenta, mind you: this mound of WASPy Caucasian grits would be right at home in the country club, sweater knotted about its shoulders, Izod collar rakishly popped. And lest you think this dish TOO rich, take note: to perhaps avoid a nondiscrimination lawsuit, they broke up the party by admitting a couple of pickled chanterelles. There goes the neighborhood.

Finally, a fairly innocuous grilled shrimp rounded out our plates. It was rubbed with the standard chili rub, the application of which was non confrontational and designed to offend no one except possibly those lunatic religions which consider the eating of shellfish to be a more serious offense than lopping off your infant daughter’s clit.

I was accused of being a ringer at this event, though I personally don’t see it that way. All of us are artists, and we must hunger for new technique wherever we may find it. I enjoyed a fine meal in a classy hotel with interesting people. What more could you ask for? Well my drink took way too long for the bartender to pour a double Buffalo Trace, neat. But nothing in this world is perfect.

Rating: 7 symposiums out of 10

The Sorrento Hotel is located at 900 Madison St.
For reservations call 206-622-6400

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Seattle Street Food Festival

I had a pang of matte black dread about going to the Seattle Street Food Festival. That’s because I hate food trucks. Yes, there are some, such as Where Ya At Matt and Marination, which are delicious, but most food trucks are stale gimmick wagons with menus designed for the second lowest common denominator: people with the palates of 3rd graders who just want to eat the sloppiest possible pile of bacon and melted cheese. But if that’s the second lowest what, you may ask, is the LOWEST common denominator? A horde of fat guys who got kicked out of a Chinese buffet for eating too much and then farting in public, of course.

The Street Food Festival took place on 11th Ave in Capitol Hill between Pine and Olive Streets. Shitloads of food trucks were parked along the closed-off street, and shitloads of fucktards attended. Including me, I suppose. Admission was free, though attendees were given the option of spending $25 on a “Very Important Foodie” pass, which is douchey on so many levels, it’s like you froze some douche and observed an intricately crystallized doucheflake under a microscope. Nonetheless, I swallowed my socialist tendencies and got a VIF pass. In the end it turned out to be a wise investment since I was able to sweep quickly through the fair, pillaging these trucks with impunity as the fair’s staffers escorted me to the front of the lines.

So, passes in hand, or around neck actually, we started eating. All of the trucks featured a special $5 menu item in honor of the festival. Whenever possible, I ordered the $5 option, but in some cases the truck was already out of that, so when I deviated from the $5 protocol, I’ve listed the price. The trucks are ranked in order of shittiest to best:

Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max was the shittiest. I’m sure the poke they were selling was delicious, but they took my $15 and made me wait for 35 minutes before deciding to tell me that they were out of tuna. Fuck you Sam Choy. I’m so surprised that a famous restaurateur of Choy’s stature would lend his name to such a dismal shit show. Rating: 0 shit shows out of 10

Kurly’s was fucking fucked. This Bellingham-based farmer’s market stand specializes in fries, but they can’t even do that right. We ordered the sampler ($5) which turned out to be an enormous loaf of curly fries the size and weight of a brick, and greasy like a Congressman facing a sexting scandal. The fries were all stuck together, so to get some fries you had to actually peel them off of the loaf. Most places who specialize in French fries also specialize in sauces, like you know, curry ketchup or something, but not Kurly’s: while they did offer ketchup, there was nothing special about the plastic squeeze bottle of Heinz. There was Sri Racha and soy sauce and malt vinegar but tellingly, mayonnaise, that darling of the Dutch, was absent. Plus all the employees had mustaches, either real or fake. Even the women. I am so fucking tired of mustaches. Rating: 2 mustaches out of 10

Now Make Me a Sandwich is less of a food truck and more of a collection of things the internet likes. Here’s a list of things the internet likes: food trucks, videos of cats, bacon, sliders, and melted cheese, the latter of which is inevitably described as “cheesy goodness.” The only thing Mow Make Me a Sandwich doesn't have from that list is cat videos. Fuck the internet and fuck Now Make Me a Sandwich. I am going to have to drop Thor’s Hammer pretty hard on this fucking Viking themed truck that for some reason inexplicably serves the kind of sloppy cheese sandwiches that fatties line up for in droves. I would have had much greater respect for them if they’d serve lutefisk or hakarl or any other number of infamously disgusting Norse delicacies.

In fact, I initially entertained a glimmering sliver of hope that Now Make Me a Sandwich would be a sort of mobile NOMA, but no: instead, what I got from Now Make Me a Sandwich was the Valhalla pulled pork slider. Yes, they really did it. Pulled pork AND sliders, the two most prosaic food truck staples known to man. We got two sliders, each a sodden mat of bland pork with a skidmark of a mildly spicy barbecue sauce and a small mound of slaw. The slaw, at least, was interesting: spicy, sweet, and crisp, without too much mayonnaise to bog it down. Still, The only way they could possibly incorporate any more food truck memes would be if they put bacon and melted cheese on it. Oh, wait: they already did that. The Bad Lieutenant ($10) is a variant of the Valhalla with provolone and bacon. Fatties, rejoice! for your Messiah is at hand. Now Make Me a Sandwich is nothing like NOMA; in fact, it’s more like DOMA: a shitty idea that needs to be shut down by the Supreme Court. Rating: 3 memes out of 10 Now Make Me a Sandwich on Urbanspoon

Next up is a truck with a name so bland, it could be a catering company run by somebody’s aunt: My Chef Lynn. I got two things from My Chef Lynn. A gazpacho shot ($1) was cheap, but it tasted like watery salsa. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the chunks of cucumber and bell pepper and stuff were chopped as crudely as the discourse at a Tea Party rally, and this made it hard to actually shoot, despite the dish’s declaration that it was in fact a shot. A pair of sliders ($8), one a mini lamb burger and the other beef brisket, brought mixed results. The lamb slider featured a patty of grilled ground lamb, topped with a sweet peanut sauce and a mint and parsley salsa verde. This was quite tasty: the lamb burger was exquisitely charred on the outside, and the sauces were rich and flavorful without being too heavy. The brisket was tender but bland, with a forgettable sauce and a despondent slice of pickle. Rating: 5.5 Sliders out of 10 My Chef Lynn on Urbanspoon

Despite this truck’s goofy title, Evolution Revolution was serving an ambitious menu. I was skeptical about the rabbit mousseline deviled eggs with truffle aioli, but it was only $5 so whatever. Deviled eggs are insufferably trendy, and they doubled down on the gimmickry by using a dated ingredient like truffle aioli. Still, despite my snide description, these deviled eggs were actually quite tasty: the mousseline was a delicate and savory topping for a deviled egg, and the truffle aioli was understated. Presentation could’ve been a bit better, though, since they scattered a few rings of sliced scallion atop the eggs and then just sat the things into a paper tray. With nothing to hold the eggs in place, the three deviled egg halves wobbled and skated around in the tray, playing bumper cars with one another. Rating: 7 bumper cars out of 10 Evolution Revolution on Urbanspoon

I first encountered Pel’Meni Dumpling Czar a couple years ago after getting shitfaced (for some reason) in Fremont at Pecado Bueno with my boss. We drunkenly wandered down the alley near the Lenin statue, where I saw the sign for dumplings. I immediately wanted to stuff my alcohol-brimming stomach with enough dumplings to fill a pillow case, but my boss was buying, and he wanted 7-11 tacquitos, so I never got to taste these mystical alley dumplings (instead I got to taste the tacquitos twice: both on the way down and, unfortunately, back up). Until the Street Food Festival, that is: this dumpling shack was luckily in attendance, so I was able to fulfill this long-denied Proust moment. A half order of beef dumplings ($4.50) was a pedestrian if effective booze absorber. For this price we got a paper water cooler cup, half-filled with doughy nuggets full of beef. These were topped with a melted haze of sour cream, some kind of orange sauce, and a few snips of parsley. Next time I’m drunk in Fremont, and don’t hold your breath waiting for that, I’ll hit this place up again. Rating: 7.5 misfortunate geographies out of 10 Pel'meni Dumpling Tzar on Urbanspoon

How a Pickle Got Out of a Jam was the loneliest fucking food truck. There was no line. That’s probably because the name is dumb, and none of the menu items contain bacon or melted cheese, so of course people disdained this truck. But that’s too bad because a cup of avocado and quinoa soup was superb: creamy, light, with a big nutty constellation of quinoa, and a bright citrus background, and a drizzle of chili oil that provided a not insignificant amount of heat. Rating 8 constellations out of 10 How Pickle Got Out of A Jam on Urbanspoon

Barking Frog Mobile is the catering arm of the venerable restaurant at the Willows Lodge in Woodinville. Given Barking Frog’s august reputation I expected something delicious. Luckily, the Grand Marnier Shrimp they were serving was, in fact, very good. We got two shrimp, lightly fried and speckled with sesame seeds and lacquered with a sweet orange glaze. Accompanying the shrimp was a small side of mixed greens and Clementine supremes with a delicate citrus vinaigrette. Presentation was problematic, since they just piled everything up into a cardboard clamshell, but presentation was everybody’s downfall so I can hardly fault them. Rating: 8 supremes out of 10

Monte Cristo is a very polished food truck that sells the kind of sloppy dreck that food truck patrons always seem to crave. Personally I’d think a truck called “Monte Cristo” would reference the Count of, and not the sandwich, but that’s just me. What would the Count of Monte Cristo food truck serve? Revenge, of course. Thoroughly chilled. Anyway, I wanted to resent Monte Cristo the way I hate Now Make Me a Sandwich, but it would be intellectually dishonest. The line for Monte Cristo was long, but they were straightforward with customers and warned them that sandwiches would take 25 minutes to prepare. I must give them credit for that.

Fried cheese curds were available immediately, though, so we got them: a paper cone of curds, delicately breaded and fried for the precisely right amount of time. Frying cheese curds can be tricky: fry them too briefly and the curds are still chilled in the very center, too long and the cheese escapes out the side of the breading, leaving you to bite into an empty shell, as though the curd were devoured by a cheese-loving spider. But Monte Cristo nailed it, providing tender, perfectly melted curds within a light and brittle crust. The curds came with a superfluous cup of minced garlic in oil for dipping. Gilding for the lily, I suppose. I just tossed the garlic. Rating: 8.5 spiders out of 10 Monte Cristo Mobile Food Truck on Urbanspoon

Nosh is a very sleek truck, bedecked with flat screen TV’s which display the truck’s menu. This, I suppose, makes it easy to change the menu if something runs out with, I’m guessing, the simple click of a keyboard. This is so much classier than a blackboard with a chalky smear where the depleted item used to be. Perhaps Nosh could loan out those flatscreens so that Now Make Me a Sandwich can show Youtube videos of cats and complete its mem trifecta. The wait times for Nosh were obscene; as I smugly sidled past people in line to claim my birthright as a VIF at the front, I overheard a woman mention to someone on her cell phone that she’d been in line for, and I’m not shitting you, AN HOUR AND A HALF. So my expectations for Nosh were high. Luckily, they delivered: the meatloaf sandwich was killer. A puck of meatloaf, juicy and not overworked into a dense, shitty meat log the way inferior meatloaf sometimes is, was served with a charred tomato and a small bale of arugula on a potato roll. This meatloaf sandwich was tasty as fuck. Would I have waited 1.5 hours for it? Dude, I wouldn’t wait an hour and a half to watch unicorns fuck, so no. But my impatience doesn’t mean that Nosh isn’t totally super. Rating: 8.5 fucking unicorns out of 10 Nosh the Truck on Urbanspoon

Narwhal was fucking astonishing. After eating all that fucking kiddie food and fried state fair bullshit from the other vendors, Narwhal was like a breath of fresh air, after being stuck in a tightly sealed room with a bunch of fat dudes who were eating shit from Now Make Me a Sandwich and farting. It was a delicious change of pace to finally eat something for grownups: the smoked trout salad ($10.50) was superb. A delicate filet of trout was accompanied by a lentil salad, dressed in crème fraiche, and topped with a few rings of pickled red onion and a dusting of diced chive. It was light, with just a waft of smoke on the flakes of trout. The lentils were expertly cooked, tender without being mushy, and the pickled onions were just tart enough to counter the richness of the crème fraiche. Perfectly balanced. Magnificent. Thank you, Narwhal, for restoring my faith in food trucks. Rating: 9.5 paragons out of 10 Narwhal on Urbanspoon

In general the Street Food Fair was exactly what I expected: a consummate cluster fuck. It was, in fact, a fuck SO CLUSTERED, its gravitational field threatened to collapse upon itself, forming a fuck hole from which nothing, not even the rancid farts released by a bunch of fat dudes eating the sloppy kid’s menu from Now Make Me a Sandwich, can escape. Steven Hawking went apeshit trying to figure out of the physics of the clusterfuckhole, driving his Hoverround in circles and chirping evil incantations with his creepy robot voice. He even rolled over my toe. It was totally fucked up.

Am I going to go back next year? FUCK. NO. But if I were inclined to return to the Street Food Fair, and by “inclined” I mean “coerced by a comic book super villain to attend upon pain of a loved one’s death,” I’d definitely get the VIF pass. Yeah, you’ll feel like a douchebag, but suck it up and be an adult and get over it. And start with Narwhal.

Overall rating: 3 clusterfuckholes out of 10.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Sandwich Time, or a Total Cocktease

Hi there peeps. For the first time ever I'm posting something on the blog that isn't a restaurant review. I'm writing a novel. Here's the first chapter. Your thoughts?

The buzz surrounding this fucking place, Sandwich Tina, was intense even by Seattle standards, where the opening of every can of Vienna sausage gets a mention in the Times. So yeah, the buzz was comparable to the sound of a million bees each playing a specially designed kazoo, specially designed, of course, to be able to be played by a bee. Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square was the city’s de facto sandwich district: the area boasted shitloads of office workers, and of course these people needed to eat, and they were total fiends for sandwiches. Which made this neighborhood an obvious choice for proprietor Wilbur Tina to open his eponymous sandwich shop, Sandwich Tina.

Sandwich Tina was precious as fuck. It was twee, wry, and wizened, simultaneously old yet impishly young. If Bjork were a sandwich shop, she would be Sandwich Tina. To frame this as a convenient, SAT-style analogy, a normal sandwich shop is to clothes as Sandwich Tina is to doll clothes. Beneath Sandwich Tina’s handmade lace awning, hidden speakers dripped the kind of inoffensive music which is made by bearded fuckos and their greasy-haired girlfriends, and there are too many people in the band, and they play irregular instruments like the zither or the washboard, like a fucking jug band staffed by Muppets.

Inside Sandwich Tina, the preciousness intensified in concentric circles the closer you got to the counter, as if Dante wrote about Brooklyn instead of Hell. Every table was a carefully-sourced antique, charmingly wobbly and propped up with folded cardboard coasters. Atop each table was a handmade doily, crocheted by Wilbur Tina’s very own grandmother. Above each table hung either a dilapidated chandelier or a tortoiseshell lampshade, spotty and brown and as unappealing as fly paper, complete with those inefficient old-timey light bulbs. Decorating the walls were Ansel Adams prints and rustic kitchen utensils and apple dolls; the latter were attached here and there on Sandwich Tina’s walls, and while they might have exuded a certain charm during the day, the apple dolls’ withered and cramped faces were creepy at night, and absolutely terrifying after hours. Plus one of them eerily resembled George W. Bush.

Tina’s retarded décor obviously didn’t deter customers; it was packed daily, with lines out the door. Part of the allure was Wilbur Tina’s obsessive commitment to locally sourced ingredients. He made everything, including the cold cuts, bread, and even condiments himself, and almost all of the vegetables came from the Pike Place Market. If he could’ve found a sugar farmer in the Puget Sound region, he would’ve bought sugar for his irrationally popular clafoutis, but of course sugarcane, which is apparently much wiser than millions of people, refuses to live in the Pacific Northwest.

But today there was something going on across the street. It was such an intriguing development that no one could keep their attention from drifting to the window, to view what was going on: the bearded fucktard line cooks stopped adjusting their suspenders. The waitresses in their frumpy grandma clothes quit showing each other their tattoos. The customers ceased taking photos of their sandwiches with their iPhones, for possibly the first time ever. Even the apple dolls seemed to be checking out the flurry of activity.

Outside there was a film crew setting up. A white van was parked across the street, its side door slung open. Lots of black cables spewed out the side of the van like intestines, as though the vehicle had perpetrated some grave atrocity and had committed seppuku in disgrace. Maybe the van ran over some kittens. It was so ridden with guilt that suicide was the only option. People darted about, checking wiring and setting up lights and microphones and all the other shit necessary to make a movie or, in this case, a television program. And the focus of the filming was Sandwich Time.

Across the street from Sandwich Tina was its nemesis: Sandwich Time. “Purveyors of Fine Luncheons since 1897” read the antique shingle hanging from Sandwich Time’s door. This legacy lunch counter had been in business since the Klondike Gold Rush, when young entrepreneur Cornelius Armstrong came west to sell groceries and cheap lunches to prospectors headed north. When the Canadian government passed a law requiring gold miners to bring a year’s supply of food with them; Armstrong’s fortune was assured.

Antoine Lavoisier Armstrong was Cornelius Armstrong’s great-great-grandson, and Sandwich Time’s fifth proprietor. Times change. Sandwich Time had successfully adapted to the public’s changing appetites over 116 years in business, even weathering the disastrous 1970’s, when American food really tasted like shit. Lately, however, Sandwich Time really sucked. This was entirely Antoine’s fault. He was a total asshole and he didn’t know how to run a business. Which was why the film crew was setting up inside his restaurant.

Dominique Beretta was Seattle’s hottest celebrity chef. His show, “Dominique Republic” was HBO’s first and only cooking show. But this was a very special episode. Sandwich Time was a Seattle institution, and Dominique Beretta was trying to save it.

Inside Sandwich Time, cameras rolled as Beretta tired to whip Antoine into shape. Beretta wanted to start by sampling Sandwich Time’s menu. Cameras trailed him as he ventured into the restaurant and sat down. The place was deserted inside: an old lady sat in the corner cheerily chewing what appeared to be an egg salad sandwich. At another table a couple douchebags were vainly trying to position their plates in the most artful possible angle to record the meal on Instagram.

Once seated, Beretta glanced at the menu, which was waiting for him on the tabletop. He looked up, ready to order. He was immediately approached by a handsome man with a nose like a knife blade and a shark’s smile and a gunslinger’s dead eyes: this was Rex Boudreaux, Sandwich Time’s sommelier/ mixologist/ butcher. Rex never met an arm garter he didn’t like, and tonight in honor of Beretta’s visit he was wearing a vintage lacy red one. Looped twice around his left bicep, Rex had obtained the garter on auction: it once actually graced Jayne Mansfield’s upper thigh.

“What would you like, chef?” Rex asked. “The Tournedos Rossini Crostini is quite tasty.”

But Beretta already knew what he wanted. “Maybe something a little less extravagant, thanks,” he decided, handing the menu to Rex. “I’ll try the oxtail biscuit and the porchetta.”

Rex smiled thinly. “Both are delicious choices.” He backed away.

Beretta looked around the room and dictated his impressions to the cameras. “The dining room has seen better days, obviously. The fir floors are clean, but worn down.” He gestured to the art on the walls, “Oil paintings of pastoral countrysides, and long-dead lords and ladies in stupidly ornate gilt frames everywhere. Peeling Victorian wallpaper. The tables and chairs are all antiques, but…” he paused to wobble the table back and forth, “… the legs are as uneven as fuck. The pressed tin ceiling is cool but it looks like they painted over more times than the bike racks at my junior high school.” He quit looking around and gazed directly at the camera to render his verdict. “All in all a portrait of ruin, or a decadent descent into utter madness. This restaurant is the living embodiment of every Edgar Allen Poe story, condensed into a sandwich shop.”

Rex returned with Beretta's order, setting down a couple plates on the table and interrupting Beretta's reverie. “Quoth the raven," Rex sneered, "‘Eat your fucking sandwich.’”

Monday, May 27, 2013


My biggest problem with Mamnoon is the fucking words on the menu. The names of all the menu items are transliterated into the roman alphabet from Arabic, so all the words have lots of z’s and k’s and apostrophes, like the way alien language is written in really lazy science fiction. Learn to speak American, foreigners! Get a brain! Morans.

Fortunately, my rage over the weird words quickly evaporated once the food started coming to the table. For $8 we got four yalanji, the Syrian version of stuffed grape leaves. These tightly rolled flavor blunts were filled with a creamy packing of lemony and minty rice, and with each bite delivered an agrodolce haze directly to your taste buds.

The arnabeit makli ($7), also known as fried cauliflower, looks like brains but fortunately tastes way better than the average human brain. That having been said, I do find seven bucks to be a princely sum for a few florets of cauliflower. Despite my grumbling about the cost, however, the cauliflower was expertly prepared: it was burnished a warm bronze and smeared with a thin SPF 50 layer of tarrator sauce, which if you don’t know is basically fancy tahini. The cauliflower was light and tender and devoid of that shitty cauliflower flavor that plagues shitty cauliflower.

Lahm bi ajine ($11) was a kind of baked crepe, loosely rolled around a pile of diced lamb, sautéed onions, sprigs of mint, and big bunches of parsley. Much like your mom, this was a crusty loaf of pure flavor. The difference is that the lahm bi ajine tastes good. This thing fits right into the groove in my brain’s pleasure center like a record needle. The chunks of sautéed lamb and onion were highly caramelized, and the mint and parsley give it the lift necessary to keep the lahm bi ajine from gut-bombing your stomach like a common cheeseburger. The bread was thin and foamy and pleasantly nutty, as if it were the Crispin Glover of bread. I could eat a million of these things. In fact, I want my entire body to be wrapped in a huge one the size of a tarp so that I can eat my way out. Or maybe I don’t eat my way out, choosing instead to remain tightly mummified by deliciousness for all eternity. It’s like a tasty Choose Your Own Adventure book.

I know that borsch ($12) is supposed to be BORSCHT, but I can’t tell if the missing “t” is a typo or a result of the aforementioned transliteration, but even if it is a typo I don’t give a shit because this borsh rules. It was served in a clear glass teacup, the better to see the electric purple puree inside. Alongside the cup of soup was a spoon, of course, which contained two cubes of braised short rib. The instructions were clear: drop the short rib into the borsh. And eat. And keep eating, because this borsch was so fucking good. The sweet and dirty flavor of beets rumbled along in the background, with a clear and piercing citrus fanfare, and tiny starlight sparkles of dill. Then there was the short rib: perfect tiny cubes of the very essence of beef. The short ribs were impossibly crusty on the outside, yielding on the inside.They could probably charge $12 just for a couple little cubes of these magnificent short ribs, but no: you get the FUCKING BORSH TOO. It’s just such a pleasure to eat; I want to part the borsh’s velvety maroon thighs with my tongue and get lost in the center of it.

Tenderloin kebab ($28) was, like all the other stuff at Mamnoon, an exercise in technique. Big chunks of beef tenderloin were roasted in what must be the inside of a star, which left the meat with a deep, deep sear that just danced away from being charred, while still remaining a lurid and vaginal medium rare inside. The tenderloin was beguilingly spiced, and accompanied by roasted pearl onions and cherry tomatoes. The onions, sadly, were undercooked, and I honestly have never seen the appeal of whole roasted cherry tomatoes, which inevitably ejaculate a gout of sour watery tomato entrails into your mouth when bitten into. Still, the sheer deliciousness of the tenderloin amply compensated for the vegetable failures.

Dessert was paloudeh ($9), a lime sorbet with a drizzle of pomegranate syrup and some fried rice noodles on top. The sorbet was light and creamy and refreshing without being cloying, and the syrup was a bracingly tart counterpoint. Unfortunately the fucking squiggle of crispy pubes on top was so 1980’s, they should’ve garnished it with a copy of Sports by Huey Lewis & the News, which they could’ve inserted vertically into the scoop of sorbet like a Billboard chart-topping tuile. I’ve been a fan of Mamnoon’s chef Garrett Melkonian ever since I encountered some of his mind-bendlingly fucked up desserts at Spring Hill, but the fried noodles just made me as confused as a Republican Congressman’s sexuality.

Luckily the mouhallabia (also $9) more than made up for the paloudeh’s gastronomic “Where’s the Beef” bumpersticker. The mouhallabia, which by this point I felt they were just fucking with us with the words on the menu, was described as “milk pudding pistachio,” but this minimalist caption hardly does justice to the silken cup of creamy deliciousness we were served. The mouhallabia was like spanking a pinup’s ass: creamy and jiggly and it made you feel like a big man. It was sweet, but not too sweet, and topped with a pastoral green field of ground pistachio.

Middle eastern cuisine is an ancient art which dates back to the time when George Washington walked the earth, and Mamnoon is a sterling example. If I have any complaints, it’s that the different dishes just randomly appear at the table with no apparent order or structure. I only wish they delivered, because if they did I would construct a conveyor belt directly from Manoon to my house and I would have them convey food directly into my mouth 24 hours a day. Even on Christmas day. That’s how delicious Mamnoon is.

Rating: 9 Christmases out of 10

Mamnoon is located at 1508 Melrose Ave

For reservations call 206-906-9606

Mamnoon on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


I was impressed by the speed with which Spring Hill changed concepts and became Ma’Ono Chicken & Whiskey. Seriously, these motherfuckers turned on a dime: Spring Hill was closed for maybe a couple days while they revamped the menu. Then they unveiled the new concept: all fried chicken, all the time.

This, of course, was a brilliant idea: Spring Hill’s weekly fried chicken dinners on Mondays were perennially sold out. If you’ve got a goose that lays golden eggs, you make that motherfucking goose lay eggs ALL WEEK, not just on Mondays. Which is what they did. Was the change worth it? I wanted to find out for myself, so off we went to Ma’Ono.

We started with an order of brussel sprouts. For $10 we got a plate of roasted brussels sprout halves, caramelized until they were a pleasing mahogany on the cut side, and as vibrantly green as a leprechaun’s jizz on the other side. Accompanying these masterful sprouts were big sautéed slices of apple. The whole thing was shingled on top with savory medallions of thick-cut bacon. The only way this dish could possibly be more autumnal would be if it were garnished with a fallen leaf and a sense of foreboding.

Manapua were $7. For this price we got two of these barbeque pork buns: delicate ivory spheres of pastry filled with finely shredded roast pork. Unlike the usual humbow you get on the street, purchased from some shady dude under a bridge, who glances repeatedly over his shoulders before surreptitiously palming a dimebag of pork buns into your hand, the manapua at Ma’Ono are fucking legit. The dough was airy and foamy, like Gwenyth Paltrow’s thoughts, with a filling of what tasted like real barbequed pork. They were the total opposite of the aforementioned street pork buns, whose gloomy maroon filling usually resembles red Kool Aid mixed with sausage. The only downside to the manapua was the dipping sauce, which was too brassy and tasted like a doorknob with lightning bolts shooting out of it.

A side of grits ($6) was so slick it could convince a carney to give up a giant stuffed Spongebob Squarepants. Seriously, these grits are so smooth and creamy and rich, it would make the most comfortable and also most disturbing waterbed filling ever. I didn’t want to eat these grits as much as I wanted to jump into a giant tub of it and luxuriate as though I were an obscene roman aristocrat. But at least then my elbows wouldn’t be ashy.

A whole fried chicken is $38 and this, of course, is Ma’Ono’s signature dish. It came to the table dismembered into 10 pieces, of course, as fried chicken typically does, because nobody deep fries a whole chicken, despite the fact that it would be cool as fuck. The crust was a rich bronze, which shatters when bitten like the stained glass in a bombed out cathedral. Beneath the chicken’s brittle armor was a succulent and yielding flesh, dripping its juices erotically down your throat with every bite. And that was the white meat. The dark meat practically melted, collapsing into your mouth like a fainting Victorian matron, overwhelmed by a challenge to the social order by some dashing vagabond.

This mind-altering chicken is served with a perfectly serviceable bowl of rice and a little jar of kimchee, fresh-tasting and briny, without a trace of the farty smell that plagues shitty dented cans of lesser kimchee. Also included with your fried chicken purchase are two dipping sauces: a pretty lame honey mustard, and a fucking PRISTINE chili sauce which is sultry and sweet, with an ocher heat that approaches slowly from behind. Just like your mom. Ignore the honey mustard the way I ignore your mom. Go for the chili sauce. I insist.

Dessert was milk chocolate crème ($5), which was basically a fancy name for pudding, which came with a dusting of superfine sugar and some macadamia nuts. We also had a huge wedge of banana cream pie ($7) which had such an intense banana flavor, a monkey would stop throwing his shit at you if you only offered him a slice. A coconut milk shake ($7) was okay, but they made the mistake of putting cubes of tofu or something else that’s leathery and bland and cubular, and I wasn’t very pleased by that at all. I realize that tofu takes on the flavor of whatever it’s in, but the texture is always just too gross to me. After all, I imagine that tofu cubes are what Q-Bert’s jizz probably closely resembles.

This is expensive fried chicken. There’s no sugarcoating it. But like all handcrafted works of art, the food at Ma’Ono is of high quality: the ingredients are exquisite, the preparations skillful. The decision to change Spring Hill’s fine dining format to Ma’Ono’s slightly more casual family-style Hawaiian menu was a gamble, but it’s one that has clearly paid off because the place is fucking PACKED every day now. Make a reservation. And you should mention whether you want to order the fried chicken when you call, because they DO run out. Don’t worry: the Spring Hill classics, like the saimin and the cheeseburger and the popcorn ice cream, are all still on the menu. But the permanent addition of this magnificent chicken to Ma’Ono’s menu is just the icing on this perfect solid gold cake which is garnished with a leprechaun.

Rating: 9 perfect cakes out of 10

Ma’Ono is located at 4437 California Ave SW

For reservations call 206-935-1075

Ma'ono Fried Chicken & Whisky on Urbanspoon