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.