While Tina contributed a lot of photos, today's post was written by Ed (from Yuma) about explorating parts of Portland with some old friends. Tomorrow's post will be from Kirk or Cathy. Now you know.
We were looking forward to a couple of days with Steve and Helen, friends who live in Monterey CA. They had been visiting Steve's sister in Vancouver WA, so we picked them up and descended on downtown Portland.
It was lunchtime, and we were looking for interesting and inexpensive food. The food carts around SW10th Ave and Alder fit the bill:
All kinds of choices:
Tina, Helen, and I decided on Eurodish – street cart Polish food:
The Polish sausage (on a bun) was grilled only after it was ordered, placed on a nice large bun, and (since Tina asked for everything on it) looked like this:
Seriously, there is a Polish sausage hiding under the profusion of condiments. Much yumminess. What a hot dog aspires to become when it grows up.
I chose combination #2, a cabbage roll and dumplings:
The dumplings had a soft chew and were cheesy, creamy, and pleasantly bland; the onion and red pepper slices a nice contrast. The cabbage roll was a pretty good rendition. The tomato sauce was pretty straightforward, but there was a nice picante touch. The beefy rice filling was flavorful, and I loved the triple layers of cabbage – the roll tasted like cabbage:
Steve, being a Philly boy, had to have a cheese steak which came with curly fries. He pronounced it very good, considering it was Portland Oregon and not South Philly:
One advantage/disadvantage of the carts is that there is no seating provided, so we and a lot of other folks found impromptu spots to set ourselves and eat around the fountains in Director Park at Ninth and Yamhill.
After lunch, we started strolling south by southwest through the South Park Blocks. This picture shows the basic layout – a small park area flanked by two city streets:
But that small park area extends for 14 blocks. It is a beautiful walk with a variety of people – tourists, students, and the homeless:
Canopies of leaves above people hurrying somewhere or just sitting on a bench and talking:
A guitar and accordion duet:
There is also some old-school statuary. A classical water bearer, probably a Naiad:
A pensive Abraham Lincoln:
In the distance, an equestrian statue of Theodore Roosevelt in the beautiful park setting:
And here is good ol’ Teddy, ready to charge up San Juan Hill:
The Portland Art Museum, adjacent to the park, has some public statuary of its own, such as this beautiful intertwined couple:
Or this striking female who perfectly matches her surroundings:
Most of the time we were walking slightly uphill as the Park comes closer to the hills that flank the west side of Portland:
The southwestern end of the linear park extends into Portland State University. In that area there is a nice rose garden:
So Tina stopped to photograph one of the roses:
Then the elongated park transforms into a campus: A very pleasant walk, but we had to turn around and walk 14 blocks back in the direction of our car. As we approached the northeast end of the Park, we were all feeling a bit peckish, and I for one was looking for somewhere I could sit down for a while. I looked over my restaurant list to see if anything was nearby. I mentioned Veritable Quandary at 1220 SW 1st, and Steve said, "Oh, that's close – only eight or nine blocks away." So off we marched.
We sat down at the bar and each ordered a glass of wine. I had Elk Cove Pinot Gris, but I'm not sure about the others. We liked the atmosphere and the menu was sufficiently interesting, but when we asked about dinner, they told us that the dining room was booked up until 8:30 that night. By then, I would have starved, I'm afraid, or drunk myself to complete silliness. Fortunately our helpful server suggested that we eat in the bar area; in fact, she said, that she would put together two small tables at the window for us. Wow, sure, yeah, thanks!
While there was a television with some game on, no one would confuse this place with a sports bar:
Considering we were stuck at the end of the bar area, the service was outstanding throughout the meal, so here's a shout out for Sasha who was a perfect server (and she does not look this fuzzy in person):
The bread that was placed on the table was probably the most impressive I had on the trip. The dark rustic crust and the firm flavorful crumb reminded me of the breads of central Europe:
Sasha also helped us choose a wine, a reasonably priced Pinot Blanc from Elk Cove. Usually a glass of wine looks pretty much like any other glass, but for me, this glass weirdly reflects the ambience of the evening:
Or maybe it's just a bad photo.
We chose the rabbit pâté for our appetizer:
Fortunately Tina took a much better shot of the appetizer:
The pâté itself, wrapped in bacon, was smooth, savory, and rich. The brioche was light and crunchy, and we liked it so much that Sasha brought us extra.
While the two different mustards were nothing special, the prune jam was an unusual sweet complement, the watercress added a green and mildly bitter touch, and I nearly swooned over the pickled pear.
For their main courses, Steve and Helen decided to share, so Helen ordered the Caesar salad:
It certainly looked nice – an attractive pile of romaine lettuce fancied up with Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and a Caesar dressing.
Tina chose the house made brie ravioli:
The two giant pasta pouches lay atop wedges of roasted hubbard squash, the whole thing covered with grated cheese (Pecorino?) and fresh frisee. In a way, a really unusual pasta salad. The firm autumnal squash so different in texture and flavors to the richly melty cheesy ravioli and both set off by the crunchy lettuce and slightly tart, oil based dressing.
Steve and I had decided on the same thing, the fish special of the evening, something called Blackened Hawaiian Walu:
The large fish steaks that perched on roasted sweet potato wedges were accompanied by radicchio, micro greens, and a tangy sauce.
And the fish tasted very good. It was extremely rich and had a distinctive almost waxy texture. The blackening added a spicy note, and both Steve and I appreciated that the fish had not been over cooked:
Luckily, none of us had a bad digestive reaction to the fish, which we have since learned is more commonly called escolar and is banned in Japan, a country that happily devours fugu and chicken sashimi. It’s good to be lucky sometimes.
For dessert, we shared two items. First, a scoop of house made vanilla bean ice cream:
It was decent and the cookie added a contrastive crunch.
The chocolate soufflé was the highlight of the desserts:
Warm and puffy chocolate pillow with gooey chocolate sauce. More proof that the best thing you can eat with chocolate is more chocolate.
For the quality of the meal and service overall, the bill seemed reasonable:
As we walked another 10 blocks back to the car through the pleasantly cool evening, we all thought it'd been a pretty good day adventuring in Portland, though I'm sure Steve and Helen felt we hadn't walked quite enough.
Call it unfinished business. You know how that goes....we really need to close that circle; like returning to Istanbul twice to get things right. After our meal at Little Bird Bistro, the Missus really wanted to return to Portland. Which is how we ended up on the Red Line to Downtown PDX watching this couple and their ferret. He, smelling like he'd been knocking back a few....as if to confirm this, taking a "48" out of his bag and having a couple of swigs. She meanwhile, was going goo-goo and gaa-gaa over the little guy. As soon as they told the person sitting across the way from them how sweet the little fellow was, he dropped a huge load on her bag. Life is funny that way.
Anyway, we had caught the late afternoon flight to Portland, took the Red Line...a bargain at $2.50 a person downtown and to our hotel; the Paramount. I'd made late reservations at Le Pigeon....late enough that the Missus decided that we should walk the mile and a half or so to the restaurant.
Which was actually a pretty nice walk, in spite of having to pass all the street folks along the way. It was also quite warm.....and it would get much hotter, though not quite as bad as it was in San Diego at the time.
Since it was late in the evening, Le Pigeon wasn't too crowded and we got in a bit early.
The staff were very professional though I'm not a big fan of the communal seating. Call me anti-social, but we can really do without the fake cheer and really don't want to know your business, whether it's your prostate problem, or how you're getting sued by your patients and can't find a job on the West Coast anymore....and even more so all of your food allergies. The long suffering young lady put on a cheerful front when the guy sitting next to us insisted upon getting the tasting menu...then went down the list of all his allergies...tomatoes, avocados, carrots, garlic, this type of milk product, that type of milk product, gluten, blah, blah, blah.....I really, really don't want to know that the only thing in the world you can consume is breast milk. Why in the world are you getting the tasting menu when you can't eat anything except cardboard?
Meanwhile, our meal was excellent.
From the Foie Gras "Hot Brown" ($25), a wonderful piece of nicely seared foie gras that just melted in your mouth. The turkey, which tasted smoked was full of flavor as was the bacon.....
The egg was a wonderful runny joy, we loved the acid from the tomatoes, and the toast was light and quite crisp. Tell you what....I'll take a slice of foie gras over Mornay sauce on my Hot Brown any day of the week.
And while the Ricotta Gnocchi ($16) was a bit too "squeaky" for our tastes, the cheese and the sauce were wonderful.
Perfect garlic, salt, milky flavors in harmony....the wonderfully beefy beef tongue in the dish just topped things off.
The best overall dish of our trip (not necessarily the best bite...more on that later) in my opinion was the Grilled Short Rib ($29).
The short rib was amazing. Ever had medium rare, thick cut short rib that wasn't on the tough side? This was just toothful enough, nicely seared, beefy, and yes, medium rare. I'm thinking sous vide? And yet, my favorite component was the wonderful mashed potatoes....it had a mild sweetness and I swear, there was a familiar umami flavor to it. We were told that sweet corn and miso was pureed with the potatoes. The smoked corn and tomato salad with soy braised oxtail was excellent. I'd go back to Le Pigeon just for those potatoes.
Our least favorite dish of the night was the Beef Cheek Bourguinon ($28).
While the texture of the braised beef cheek was just perfect; fork tender without being mushy. The sauce was just plain overkill; much too sour and bitter for our taste. The risotto, made with that wonderful, ripe, epoisses cheese, would seem to be just up our alley, but the rice was on the tough side with a hard core and that sauce just killed any other flavors.
While I considered ordering the signature foie gras profiteroles, there was just no way I could put away anything more after all this rich food. We went with the Cucumber-Watermelon sorbet ($6) instead, which was still way too much for us to finish.
The service was friendly, professional, and the timing excellent.
I'm thinking Le Pigeon will be a regular stop on future visits to Portland.
Le Pigeon 738 E Burnside St Portland, OR 97214
We enjoyed a nice walk back to the hotel after dinner down "colorful" Burnside. It was a warm evening. We'd had a wonderful dinner and this was just our first evening in Portland!
I had just finished what could perhaps be the best single bite I'd ever had. So how would the rest of our dinner at Azurmendi line up?
We were given several different bread courses during our meal. Our favorite was by far were the "steamed rolls"; yeasty, puffy, light as air. The olive oil was delicious, very grassy-peppery. Though the thing that the Missus loved the most was the stylish cruet. She would hunt for these in various shops, finally finding them in San Sebastian, only to shy away at the 60 Euro price tag. I think she'll be getting it next time.
The dish we unanimously enjoyed the least was the Oyster, Tartar, and Gelee. The seaweed tempura was very nice, but for some reason the raw oyster tasted a bit off and it was a bunch of mushy-gummy textures, with too much brine flavors going on.
The Spider Crab and Sea Urchin was a beautifully composed dish.
I'd been wanting a taste of Txangurro, the region's Spider Crab. Here it was sweet, with nice texture, but the Missus wasn't impressed as She declared the crab She grew up eating in Qingdao was much sweeter. The sea urchin is actually infused in a tomato "jus" and it works rather well, adding a nice briney flavor (think of it as the celery in a Bloody Mary). The two items did not go well combined as the crab flavor was totally cancelled out.
So this next item was simply called "Tomato and Eel"....three words....
Take a look at this dish! The pieces of smoked eel were just fantastic; they melted in your mouth with a very clean smoke flavor coming through. The "tomato" was quite a bite! I'm glad I ate it after the eel as it basically exploded, a huge burst of sour and tart flavor.
This one is called "Roasted Lobster Out of the Shell on Oil Herbs and Sweet Chives".
Let me just say; every single piece of seafood here was cooked to perfection. The lobster was just perfect....perfect. It was so perfect that it really didn't need all the pureed herb spheres...or anything else for that matter.
"Stewed Wheat with Farmhouse Milk Emulsion and Oxtail".......figure out what this would look like?
Basically wheat berries in a beef reduction, the milk emulsion tasted like a farmer's cheese, not sold on how it went with the dish. The most interesting thing was the little "bites" of oxtail wrapped in a layer of crisp bread.....sort of Azurmendi's Beef Wellington. The wheat berries seemed to play havoc with the Missus's stomach a bit. A bit too salty overall.
"Pigeon, artichokes, and fried egg".
Really nice, great textures, the flavors went really well together. Now think about this......this was basically the second egg we'd had during this meal so far......along with all the other dishes.
"Hake, Red Pepper Infusion, Idiazabal Bon Bons".
Oh my; that fish, the red pepper sauce, the sauce....even the milky Idiazabal cheese......all working together.
We were given a nice intermezzo to help us recover......
Along with some almond scented "fragrance".......which sounds cheesy, but aromatherapy, what fun!
Such drama on the table!
It was all to refresh and set-up the Foie Gras dish......
This was such a beautiful piece of seared foie gras....not a mousse, but actual foie. It was also quite large considering what we had already put away........this would have been enough for the both of us as part of a 3-4 course meal! I could tell that fatigue was setting in for the Missus.
I hoped that She would recover for the (4) dessert courses. The first being the Apple, Caramel, and Yogurt.
At this point, I knew the Missus wouldn't make it, so I called it. After two bottles of wine and all those courses....we'd had a fantastic experience and it was time.
This was also when Chef Eneko Atxa started coming around to each table.
He seemed such a rather soft spoken, humble, and amazingly youthful looking guy. When the Missus thanked him for all the hard work that went into our meal, he replied; "oh no......it is not work....it is a passion...from here" while touching his heart. I mentioned how much I enjoyed this:
And he went into detail, with times and temps of how it is made..........
Waiting for our cab back to Bilbao, I had a few moments to contemplate our meal at Azurmendi. Disfrutar gave me insight into molecular gastronomy with soul and how fantastically well service can be, skillfully paced, without being stuffy. Etxanobe displayed how a chef driven restaurant can use various traditional flavors and modern techniques together. It also displayed how a Chef's personality and presence can drive an experience. At Azurmendi, I got to understand, how a mission, combined with technique that does not disregard the heart and soul of the product would mean the "sky's the limit". While our meal here was by no means totally suited to our tastes, there were some items that we didn't enjoy, the "highs" were much higher than everywhere else. I believe that Azurmendi takes risks......not everything works for us....but those items that do...oh my, the reward.
I would easily say; this has been the best eating experience I've ever had. And that's what came into play when deciding between the 1-2 Michelin star places and a 3 star place....the experience. Azurmendi will give you that.....
Azurmendi Gastronomico Corredor del Txorierri Salida 25 Larrabetzu, Spain
Our cab driver was a rather serious looking chap. But as we entered the city he asked me, "how do you like?" I told him; "Euskadi is great and Bilbao is wonderful......" Which brought a big smile to his face. And I wasn't lying......
As we left Azurmendi, I was handed something........
It's the tasting menu for our meal. I took this photo right before starting this post. I still haven't opened it yet. Maybe someday I will........
For the crown jewel of our "trifecta" of planned dinners in Spain, I chose Azurmendi. Not because of the three Michelin Stars, but because of the set-up of the restaurant. The location is actually in Larrabetzu, about a 20 minute cab ride from Bilbao. The all glass building, designed by architect Naia Eguino sits on top of a hill via a single lane winding road, with wonderful views.
On the grounds sits a winery, greenhouse (more on that in a few), and the pret-a-porter, which is more of a bistro.
And it's not just the looks. The restaurant itself is totally sustainable; waste is recycled, rainfall is collected; I think the term is "harvested" and recycled, heating, cooling, and other energy needs is done using geo-thermal energy. It's own little eco-system.
For our blow-out meal; I wanted something special....heck, the Missus bought Valentino Flats and backpacked them for the whole trip just for this dinner! The Missus birthday had just passed a few days previous and I'd promised the Missus years ago that She'd never spend it sitting at home and it's a promise I aim to keep for as long as I am able.......we didn't want to be just sitting in a stuffy restaurant behind a white tablecloth; we wanted an experience. And that's just what we got at Azurmendi.
Arriving at the reception area, we were greeted and asked to wait for just a moment. A few minutes later, a young lady in Chef's whites greeted us with a smile. She explained that before dinner she would like to take us on a tour of the greenhouse area and also "forage" for some snacks....forage is used in the loosest of all terms.
The garden is so orderly that it puts our scraggly back yard pot and dirt collection to shame.
We entered the greenhouse and were given the first aperitif.
This is where the fun starts as not everything is as it seems. Beyond that, it is an impressive set-up. Like the rest of the place; very sleek, very clean, looking deceptively simple.
It is obviously not.....
The very nice young lady, a pastry chef, is from Italy. I asked her why she was here. Her answer, "I want to be and work with the best!" She had a great sense of humor as well. When I mentioned how good her English was, she was quick to tell me, "oh, but my Spanish is sooooo bad!"
She guided us around the greenhouse pointing out the various plants...often pointing out the little basket hanging; say, on a branch, loaded with what looked like tree bark. It would turn out to Jerusalem Artichoke made to look like tree bark with a citrus gel........a bit too strong and somewhat bitter for us.
So was the "peanut" made from peanut butter and cocoa with a pulverized dried mushroom coating. It struck me as somewhat odd in flavor and was quite salty.
And so we explored.........with stops for cotton candy and such.....
The best of the lot was the Pumpkin and Sheep Cheese biscuit, which was also kind of salty, but had a really nice flavor.
And this....the avocado pit, which was a delicious chocolate and liquid avocado (think guacamole) bonbon.
It can be quite overwhelming. Like when we returned to the reception area and were asked for a moments pause while our table was readied for us. And out came a picnic basket....it was time for a picnic!
It was Anchovy Mille-feuille....think of it as a anchovy flavored 'nilla wafer. Too much for the Missus, good for me! The roe and dill positioned on a cracker was again a bit high on the sodium scale for me. The most amazing thing was the "CalpiriTxa". We'd heard about Txacoli, the acidic sparkling wine of the region (we'd have our share in San Sebastian) and this was our first encounter. Azurmendi produces its own Txacoli and that is encased in cordial. It had that wonderful sweet citrus punch of a caparinha and was an amazing bite! Simply fantastic, perking up your tastebuds, leaving you wanting more......
Soon a small glass of an hibiscus infusion, tart and palate cleansing arrived.
Followed by a box of leaves? Leaves?
That's right, this is Azurmendi.....
The two "leaves" on the edges were made from walnut and mushroom, two disparate "earthy" flavors that worked really well in crisp form.
After finishing up, we were taken to the kitchen en route to our table.
The Chefs were hard at work....and they scared the crap out of me when they all suddenly turned and greeted us!
The décor of the room is simple, pleasant, and unpretentious, perfect for our needs. The service was excellent, timing perhaps not quite as good as, though more formal than Disfrutar...but all the basics were well taken care of. The Maitre'd; I believe his name is Jon was a joy. As was the view from our table.
Would you believe our table service hadn't even started yet? We chose a bottle of wine from Azurmendi's winery and things got off to a nice start with the Frozen Olive and Vermouth.
Spherification. We'd had the Disfruta de la Aceituna at Disfrutar, but this was even a larger explosion of flavor. The grassy, peppery olive flavors offset by the sweet vermouth....I'm thinking it would have even more intense if this wasn't still partially frozen.
That was followed by possibly the best bite I've ever had in my life....truly. They call this Egg from our Hens, Cooked Inside Out and Truffled.
I love the flavor of eggs, I love onsen tamago, truffle? C'mon, the earthy and savory flavors are among my favorites. Basically an egg yolk that has been infused with warm truffle broth, causing it to cook from the inside out. Oh my.........such wonderful flavors and textures, richness, savory-earthiness, all the best of both eggs and truffles. At the end of our meal, the Chef came around and visited each table. When I mentioned how amazing this one bite was, he told me how it was made in detail.....I don't remember it all, but I will never forget this. Never.
I'm thinking this is getting mighty long. I'll stop here and pick it up in another post.
Waking refreshed after a short nap, we relaxed for a bit, then got dressed and headed off to dinner. While we were told that the best way to get to our destination; located on the top floor of the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall was to catch the tram. The Missus decided (of course) that we should walk. And in all honesty, it was a nice walk.
And of course we just had to stop and take yet another photo of the topiary canine, I nicknamed "Fred".
And while finding our way around downtown Bilbao was kind of confusing to us, this walk was a breeze. We walked through Parque de Doña Casilda de Iturrizar, a very nice green space.
I read that Bilbao was once a rather gritty industrial port city and this park was once the only green space in the city.
And while we were just passing through, we had a great time watching Bilbao's four-legged citizens cutting loose.
I wish I took a photo of an amazing border collie. The owner was sitting on a bench and would whistle and the dog would come running and eagerly vault over the bench! We saw the dog do this, with great joy I might add, several times!
The Conference Center is located across the street from the west end of the park. Built on the former site of the Euskalduna Shipyards, it looks quite nice. Off to the right side are some rather discreet elevators.
Getting off the elevators, we realized, having left with a nice time "buffer"(the really nice folks at the hotel told us it would take 30 minutes - but it took us about 15), we had arrived for our already ungodly early dinner reservations (830), a bit too soon. So we just took in the view.......
We walked in right at 830 pm....the place was totally empty! Yikes.... A very nice gentleman in chef's whites greeted us, "hello...welcome.....my name is Fernando." And he led us to our table while the Maître D' was elsewhere.
The restaurant looks quite formal, but the atmosphere is far from that. We were given a nice table with a view and the really nice gentleman started up a short conversation...whereupon I put two and two together. "Fernando" is Fernando Canales Etxanobe, the Chef/Owner of Michelin starred Etxanobe. He was quite amiable and talked about the culinary "gifts" of the Basque region.
We had ordered the Chef's tasting menu and soon enough the first amuse arrived...delivered by who else, the chef of course.
I really didn't do much research on Etxanobe. In fact, I made reservations at pretty much the last minute; a week before leaving on our trip. I had gotten the feeling that it would be a nice addition to the two other Michelin worthy meals on the trip having a more traditional Basque influence. So imagine my amazement when these tubes of "lipstick" arrived....Sardine Lipstick actually. Very tasty sardine mousse, just enough oil and fish flavor, and quite delicious....so delicious that I don't even remember the other amuse!
And then things really got going......
Ajo Blanco is a traditional cold almond and garlic soup....this version had the amazing flavor of truffles as well.
The flavor of the almonds came through clearly, the truffle flavor was balanced and not over-powering. The garlic flavor was restrained and that olive oil-pesto like drizzle was delicious.
We let the Sommolier pick our wine, a very pleasant and drinkable three grape blend.
Next up was what they called a "Txangurro of prawns and gel".
More of a very shrimp-y croquette than what I understand traditional Txangurro is supposed to be, if you like the true taste of shrimp/prawns/langoustine you'll like this. Even the condensed flavor of the aspic.
One of the strangest sounding items on the menu turned out to be perhaps the best - "Anchovy Lasagna with Tomato Soup".
The tomato soup was basically a very elegant salmorejo, and in spite of the Missus dislike of anchovies; these were very nice, great oil, not too fishy...nice texture. Topped with a nice slightly smokey and sweet red pepper sauce which added to the dish. And then there was that really al dente, just pillowy enough noodle in the bottom which the Missus really took to. Without a doubt, Her favorite dish.
The "Grilled Scallops with Ragout" was nice....the scallops quite sweet and perfectly prepared.
The sauces were curious as I didn't think they added to the dish. Perhaps the cauliflower was the most interesting. Still, just the scallops with nice sea salt alone tasted the best.
The Scampi with Sautéed Vegetables and Fresh Pasta was a nice dish.
The scampi was very moist; the pasta nice and tender, good overall.
By this time, we were done with our bottle; I still wanted something to pair with the last couple of dishes. The sommelier told me the dishes would be a bit more flavor forward and suggested a half bottle of the Vina Ardanza 2004, a nice wine, with a nice acidity and dried cherry notes.
Though it did not pair well with the Hake in Mussel Juice.
While the gravy-like reduced shellfish juice was full of flavor; I thought the mild sweetness of the hake still came through. As expected; the fish was cooked to tender perfection.
When the Tuna with Sumac arrived, I wasn't particularly thrilled as it looked grey and "dead"......
I think they did a sous-vide job on this as it was so moist, literally melting in your mouth....the sumac really added a bit of punch to the dish. The spinach-mustard puree was fine; but this was all about the tuna.
The last non-dessert item was the Suckling Lamb with Sweetbreads.
For me; the most interesting thing was that thin and transparent potato galette, light, with the texture of fried pork skin. The lamb was very moist and tender and the demi glace quite tasty, but it really didn't have the "flavor of the pasture" we both enjoy.
I'm not much of a dessert guy; but I really enjoyed what we had here. The Caprice of Fennel, Strawberry, and Tomato added the right amounts of sweet, savory, and acid to balance things out for me.
If the thought of anise ice cream scares you; in this case it should not as the ice cream had those licorice tones (not my favorite flavor) but nicely balanced with the milkiness and sweet. The strawberry galette and the tomato crumbles really balanced things out.
By this time, the place was packed....every table and seat filled (there's actually a funny story about the folks on the table next to us which I'll reveal in a later post).
But then, Chef reappeared from the kitchen.
Apparently, if you ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu, the finale was prepared by the Chef tableside.
Orange Cream with Liquid Nitrogen...........I was in food geek heaven.
A dollop of orange flavored heavy cream placed in liquid nitrogen.......yielding flavors that took me back to "small kid time"......
Think of it as the best creamsicle bite you ever had...........
In the end, making comparisons with the other fine dining options we had meals at was like choosing your favorite child. While we thought the pacing and service at Disfrutar was better; the food here spoke to us in a different way. And while the highs weren't quite as high as what we had at a three Michelin Star Restaurant the next night; the lows weren't as low. This place really fits that gap.....not too crazy in terms of technology and familiar flavors. Plus, we really enjoyed the intangible....the chef. We asked for a copy of our menu to remember our meal. Our Server smiled and said he would get it for us. What we ended up with was a copy of the menu with a nice note from the Chef. A nice touch. When I got home I did a search on Fernando Canales and was quite surprised. He's a quite the television/celebrity chef in Spain with his own television show and such. So think about it this way; when was the last time you had Emeril or Mario Batali walk you to your table and talk about what they're serving......did they make your dessert table-side? What's up with these really cool Michelin Star Chefs? I got one flashing the peace sign and another seating us at our table....... In terms of price, it was about 220€
Etxanobe Avenida de Abandoibarra 4 Bilbao, Spain
We had a nice relaxing stroll back to the hotel taking the path along the Nervión River.
The "Nana's" were still dancing outside the Guggenheim.
The Arcos Rojos (Red Arches) really catches your eye at night. Bilbao seems to be filled with public art. If you'd like to read the story about this, here's a link
The Maman Spider looks really creepy at night. In a really cool way.
Bilbao was quite a fascinating city. If you'd like to read about how it evolved from industrial city to now (named the Bilbao Effect); here's a nice article.
For us, it was off to bed. We had a day trip planned for the next day.
Kirk and Cathy finally get to take things easy as Ed (from Yuma) is blogging today about a meal in Vegas about a month ago.
Usually when I am posting about a vacation or even just a couple of days in San Diego, I go in chronological order. However, this time, I want to start with Tina and my last dinner in Vegas – the splurge meal at Twist – while I still can remember most (some?) of it.
When I made the reservations, I had no idea that the Mandarin Oriental hotel containing the restaurant is allegedly one of only six five-star American hotels, and the only one in Vegas. From the moment of our arrival, when a valet parked our car and another guided us to the elevator, we were astounded by the level of service.
The stylish dining area is located on the 23rd floor; the view as one enters the restaurant is nice:
The restaurant decor is clean, angular, modern, and stylish:
We were delighted to be seated at a small table next to a giant window. Looking one way:
Looking the other way:
Even the reflections of Las Vegas scenery on other windows added a nice touch:
At first, the table held a lamp, two water glasses and two discs of butter, like little yellow hockey pucks – one sweet and one salted:
We each were given three breads: crunchy raisin toast, a rustic fruit and multigrain miniloaf, and my favorite, an outstanding old world style hard roll:
We were asked if we preferred sparkling or still water, and our water glasses were filled repeatedly throughout the meal.
After discussions with our waiter, Tina and I decided to go with the full five course grand tasting menu ($155) with the Discovery Wine pairing ($95).
Speaking of our waiter, I need to emphasize again the quality of the service. Waitstaff was ubiquitous, but not disruptive or intrusive. While everything was "proper," everyone was friendly and helpful, particularly our main waiter, Sunday, who hails from southern Nigeria and is very knowledgeable about the cuisine:
To amuse our mouths before our first course arrived, we received some tasty and interesting tidbits, like this slice of black radish with creamy herbed goat cheese and a large walnut half:
On another plate, there were two crunchy crackerly layers separated by a creamy filling; but the most memorable item on that plate was the gelatined martini cube:
On another platter, a radish slice – looking like a mini tortilla – was folded over a shallot and sesame paste. Another radish slice was wrapped around truly excellent steak tartare lightly sprinkled with coarse salt, sortof a mini raw salami:
Accompanying these little tastes were two of the best green olives: rich, creamy, and mild. Beside them, a small silver serving bowl with coarse salt, Panko crumbs, two crunchy Parmesan mini biscuits, and four green wafers – none of which made much of an impression on me – though I inadvertently snapped a selfie, thanks to the base of the silver bowl:
The first real course, called printemps, both Tina and I agreed was tasty and impressive:
At the bottom of the bowl lay an intense asparagus coulis that underlay the rest of the ingredients – including asparagus spears – and brought them together. Contrasting with the asparagus were the chunks of smoked hamachi and Asian pear. Cubes of another smoked fish were hidden inside the spinach leaf pouch, and the very thin radish and cucumber slices around the edge added crunch to the whole dish. Perhaps most interesting was the scoop of broccoli ice cream topped with caviar and gold foil. While this sounds like a mélange of flavors, the dish as a whole exceeded the sum of its parts. Even the smoked fish somehow enhanced the springtime flavors of the other ingredients.
Before this course, Tina and I had been sharing a flute of champagne ($26), which we finished along with the amuse bouche. Just in time, then, the wine pairings began with a full flavored crisp northern Italian white wine with flavors like Sauvignon Blanc or Soave:
Note the distinctive Riedel stemware; each wine we were served came with a different type of glass. In general, we were pleased by the pairings, but I wish I’d photographed each bottle because I did not recognize the labels and my notes for the entire meal get pretty sketchy as the evening and the wine drinking progressed.
The next course, sliced fresh Maine lobster tail with baby carrots and enoki mushrooms, was excellent – the lobster tender, flavorful, moist, and succulent:
This was certainly the best lobster I have eaten west of the Appalachians; while the serving was not large, it was masterfully prepared, and it was also perfectly matched by the fragrant and richly flavored white wine from southern Italy:
Likewise, the turbot poached in Nantes butter (with avocado, leeks, baby clams, and butter foam) was fresh and well prepared. The mild whitefish matched perfectly with the more subtle flavors of the glass of Marsanne from Crozes Hermitage in the northern Rhône Valley:
The serving size, however, was not very large:
At this point, we were given a palate refresher – rhubarb foam on top of crushed pineapple. Not only was this cool and tasty, it gave us a chance to pause and reflect and finish our last white wine:
The next course was American wagyu beef, tender and flavorful, served medium rare on a bed of diced turnips and a brown violine sauce that I cannot remember:
The thing that looks like a breadstick next to the beef is actually crusted dauphine potato topped with herbs. Like an edible pun.
To accompany the wagyu, the chef chose Le Gravot, an organic and rare wine from the Loire Valley, made primarily from the indigenous pineau d’aunis grape:
The wine was certainly full-bodied and interesting, with a flavor profile that reminded me of a good Spanish garnacha, but it did not seem, to my pedestrian palate, to complement the beef as perfectly as the white wines had matched their dishes.
While not as spectacular as the view nor as interesting as the cuisine, the music playing softly in the background was various, pleasant, and intriguing. Early on, there was some Sinatra (that was expected, we were in Vegas), and then some Rolling Stones (was it "Tumbling Dice"?). And later I was pleased/amused to hear the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" about looking out over a mass of humanity during a beautiful sunset:
Now it's time for me to apologize for dessert. I have some pictures of the interesting and creative desserts, and some memory/notes about the various plates. However, Tina and I had been having a wonderful time, and because of medications I had been taking, I had not consumed much alcohol in months, so most of the pictures by this time are fuzzy and my notes and memory are hazy at best. I do remember, however, that the desserts were served with a glass of Malaga, a dessert wine from the South of Spain, I forgot to take a picture of the wine.
This dessert certainly looked interesting; wish I could remember more about it:
I believe this martini glass has green apple foam on top of vanilla ice cream on top of a sweet fruity (mango?) surprise at the bottom:
This three layered dessert balanced chocolate flavors with orange flavors and offered three distinctly different textures:
Tina and my favorite had chestnut ice cream on a cheesecake accompanied by a sweet crunchy almond wafer topped with cassis marmalade:
Overall, we had a wonderful experience. Virtually every dish was perfectly executed and the food was often interesting and creative, as were the wine pairings. The organization of the courses, the pacing of the meal, the friendly and professional service, and the stylish ambience elevated our splurge dinner to a level (and a price) beyond what we anticipated. As it was time to go, Tina took a final photo that blended neon Las Vegas with reflections of the interior of Twist. A good way to end this long post – thanks for reading:
More info and details about Twist can be found here:
So what do you get after the defacto "Best Restaurant in the World" (could there really be such a thing?) closes and three of the Chefs de Cuisine (Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch and Mateu Casañas), with over 45 years in the hallowed kitchens of the restaurant decide to collectively open up their own place in Barcelona?
You get Disfrutar, which opened at the end of 2014. When planning for this trip, I decided on three upscale dinners and Disfrutar was one of them. We took the metro to the Hospital Clínic stop which is just a few blocks from the restaurant.
The restaurant looks fairly small from the outside but the dining area is actually quite large. We had arrived at about 8pm, pretty early in Spain, but were relieved to see at least two parties had arrived before us. Being led to our seats, the Missus had a stroke of genius....She asked if we could sit at the bar instead, which is actually the dessert prep area. We were cheerfully accommodated. Like Suzunari and Wakuriya, sitting at the bar watching the food being prepped with precision and skill is a treat.
Also a treat was the service, which we found unpretentious, relaxed, gracious, well paced, knowledgeable, and very pleasant. We enjoyed the service at Disfrutar the most of all the high end places we visited on this trip, which says quite a lot. All questions are answered with enthusiasm and recommendations are made as to the best way to enjoy each dish.
There are two tasting menus each evening; the Menu Disfrutar (68 Euros) about 19 dishes and the Menu Festival, which is 25 (98 Euros). You know which one we chose, right? The serving style is perfect for us; almost family style. The Sommelier, understanding our taste in wine, made some great recommendations, which paired well with our meal.
Enough you say....where's the food? Anyway, here's the deal. I don't want this to be bedtime reading, so I'll try to keep it pretty straight, short, and sweet from here on. I'll highlite our favorites and those we didn't care for as much.
Things started with a foamy Melon Caipirinha, Liquid was poured into a cup of ice, yielding something that frothed up and was nice, with the jellied melon-mint-salt cubes rejuvenating your tastebuds.
Our first bottle of wine.
Our Server brought us what looked like a bowl of black rice. He shook the bowl and up rose "The Beet That Goes Out of the Land".
The balls were light and crisp, the flavor of intense beets coming through. The Missus, who has several times told me; "I hate molecular gastronomy" was sold! This is what I call soulful transformation. We were actually shown how this was made. A beet meringue was created, then dehydrated.
Crispy Bow with Iberican Bacon.
Crisp strand of what was like chicharron with a sticky, thin, slice of jamon on it.
Another flavor explosion; Caramel coated hazelnuts with elderberry.
Another great dish for us; Tomato Polvoron and Arbequina Caviaroli.
A polvoron is basically a shortbread cookie; the texture was similar to that, but with a wonderful deep tomato flavor; a "cookie that spreads edible sunshine", the olive oil caviar, a product of spherification added the fantastic grassy-peppery flavor of good Arbequina Olive Oil.
What I was told is a classic El Bulli dish - Transparent Pesto Ravioli.
Made from oblate film, the stuff folks use to help them swallow meds, is used as a wrapper for pine nuts and basil. It is dipped into a parmesan jus, the wrapper starts melting and basically melts away in your mouth. Nice flavors of pine nuts and parmesan.
Another favorite of ours; from what I was told later another classic El Bulli item; Disfruta de la Aceituna.
Spherification at work again. Two cocoa coated "olives", one contains a concentrated olive flavored liquid, the other a blood orange concoction. Amazing and intense flavors that just explodes upon breaking the cocoa butter crust.
Smoked Idiazabal Cheese Bisquit with Apple.
Looking all the world like a simple cookie with frosting; the creamy unpasteurized goat cheese, with a nice smoke flavor was a surprise. The tart cider aperitif helped balance things out.
Next up, an amazing dish; Crispy Egg Yolk with Mushroom Gelatin.
Think egg yolk tempura; crisp and light on the outside, soft and oozy when you bite into it. It's a fabulous bite. The eggshell holds a mushroom gelee that was full of savory mushroom flavor.
Seafood and Avocado Merengue sandwich.
This was a bit fishy and rich, the Missus could only finish half of this tiny flautas.
For some reason we didn't take to the overly salty and fishy anchovy part of Anchovy and Almond Mato with Truffle, Fir Tree Honey, and Pine Nuts.
Too many strong flavors and textures. This just didn't seem to go together real well.
The Missus was really worried about the Marinated Oily Fish with Cauliflower Tabbouleh and Mushrooms. First, She's not a big fan of mackerel and also not fond of strong parsley flavor.
So this was a wonderful surprise for Her, the fish rich, not too fishy, tender, the oil negated by the acid and the savory mushroom jus. The tabbouleh was delicious, the cauliflower seemed the perfect foil for the parsley. This was delicious.
In turn we weren't wow'd by the Macaroni Carbonara.
Gelatin based noodles, parmesan and pancetta were combined with a parmesan-truffle foam, which became the sauce. The "noodles" didn't break down quick enough and the texture was like eating plastic.
The Vegetable Sashimi served as sort of an intermezzo, we loved the pure flavors of the vegetables combined with the sauces/seasonings each one was graced with. Those tomatoes were amazing and the combination of cucumber with mint just worked right.
The Scallop Marrow with Osetra Caviar was fine....this really reminded me of swordfish bone marrow, which I actually prefer to this. I thought it needed less salt and a bit more citrus or acid.
Mussels with Peas in Salsa Verde.
Asparagus in Fennel Meunière with Trout Eggs.
The trout eggs added the zing to a rather mild dish. For some reason we didn't enjoy the flavor of white asparagus with fennel.
Deep Fried Monkfish "Ssam", I'm guessing from the Korean Bossam as this came in the lettuce cup.
Loved the fry job on the monkfish, the flavor came through, it was moist, a perfect piece of fried fish.
We both thought the Unilateral Langostine was a bit overcooked for our taste.
But man, the Perigueux Beef was amazing.
You wrapped the slices of beef around a little crouton and foie gras and had the perfect bite(s).
Nice meal, eh?
But it wasn't over yet.
You know I'm not a dessert kind of guy; but man, some of this stuff was plain amazing. The photo above is of the "Tangerine", a frozen tangerine rind which bears a granite, rose jelly, and a parfait.
Chocolate Cheesecake Cornet
That's Catalan Cream Bread, which came with Blood Orange Couscous.
We saw one of the Chefs placing what looked like chili peppers on a plate. We had no idea what it was. It turned out to be my favorite dessert item; Chocolate Peppers, olive oil, and salt. Man, what a combination! The sea salt really brought everything together. Like I said, I'm not a dessert guy, but this was really, really good. This was the perfect whimsical, fun, but delicious dessert.
As for our after dinner coffee? Well it came in the form of Coffee Profiteroles. A nice way to finish dinner. And though it seems to be a lot of food, we weren't stuffed to the gills, which I think is a tribute to the pacing of dishes.
As we finished up our dinner, our wonderful Server told us to follow him and took us on a short impromptu tour of the kitchen. The place was packed with customers greeting their dishes with wide eyed anticipation.
When I quickly mentioned the skill it takes to make these dishes, his answer came quickly; he pointed to his heart and said, "we are always reminded, it must come from here." Ah, a perfect end to an epic and wonderful meal. One of a trio of unforgettable experiences. We will not forget you Disfrutar, as you are unforgettable. Might be the best 250 Euros I've ever spent.
Disfrutar Calle Villarroel 163 Barcelona, Spain
Heading back to our apartment, we decided to take a walk around Sagrada Familia, which looked quite beautiful without the swarms of tourists around.
The Missus turned to me and said, "ok, we've had a great dinner. Now we're burning it off tomorrow!"
If you have visited here before, you know mmm-yoso is KirkK's foodblog, mostly featuring his wonderful reports on dining in San Diego and worldwide. Cathy helps keep the blog going and has an encyclopedic knowledge of San Diego eateries, particularly those that the rest of us might miss. Some days, Ed (from Yuma) will post about eating on his travels and especially about dining in Yuma. Today is one of those days; you have been warned.
The most exciting new addition to the Yuma dining scene is The Farmhouse Bistro:
Its location – set back from the street with limited signage and lighting – makes this a tough location and many eateries have occupied this site for brief periods since I moved to town, including Mi Playita, TJ's Marisquero, Viejo Loco, Small Fries, Rusty Spoon, and most recently Spanky's Chophouse. But long time Yumans know the location as "where Hensley's Beef, Beans, and Beer used to be," a steakhouse that thrived here for 20 years, 1979-1999.
The interior is small and simple. Of course, there are a couple flatscreen TVs and a bar area that can't yet sell alcohol:
But most of the dining area is filled with about 10 tables of various sizes, and the rustic painted walls are reminiscent of a rural farmhouse (and when packed at lunch, the room almost sounds like the mess hall at a ranch):
While the decor is nothing to speak of, the menu looked interesting right from the start.
On my first visit, my friend and former colleague, Dawn, wanted the lamb burger ($12), so I went conventional and had the basic burger ($14). Hers looked like this:
She said the flavor of the ground meat had a distinct lamb flavor, and she loved the brie cheese topping. My farmhouse burger looked similar and different:
I was happy. I loved the char from the grill, the medium rare doneness of the patty, and the beefy taste of the meat. The restaurant tries to source all of their meats and produce locally – if possible. Maybe that’s part of why it tasted so good.
We were both delighted by the french fries (and surprised as the menu had not mentioned that they came with the burgers). While not crispy crunchy, they were full of real potato flavor – clearly none of them had ever seen the interior of a freezer. People with more perceptive tastebuds may have detected the touch of truffle oil on the potatoes, but I was just happy to get real honest french fries.
On my next visit, I had to try the pork belly tacos ($12) –who could pass up Korean style pork belly tacos? There were 4 well filled tacos:
This close-up gives you a better idea of what is going on:
The thick chunks of pork belly were simply prepared; I could detect no Korean marinade or seasoning, but I was delighted by the smoky char of some pieces. The coleslaw with red and regular cabbage was lightly dressed and definitely not sweet or goopy. As far as I could tell, the only "Korean" seasoning was the ground red chili powder sprinkled over the slaw.
Nonetheless, I had no complaints. The flavor of the pork belly was excellent, and the preparation of the tacos emphasized the chewy, porky, chargrilled flavor of the meat. I would have this again.
Currently The Farmhouse has no liquor license, which is a bad thing for the restaurant I am sure, but it can be a good thing for customers because diners can bring bottles of wine (and maybe beer?) with them to enjoy – and pay no restaurant markup on the beverage. I'm not sure when they will get a liquor license, but let me suggest that my wino friends come try the bistro now when you can save money.
For those not interested in alcoholic beverages, The Farmhouse offers your standard choices plus this amazing beverage ($3):
What you are looking at is a glass of kale lemonade (no I'm not making that up). It is complex and refreshing and probably even healthy for you. Welcome to 2015.
Since two lunches had been a success, Tina and I decided to come by for dinner. We started our meal (after the kale lemonades) with the most unusual sounding item on the menu, fried pickle ($7):
The restaurant brines a range of vegetables – this night included green beans, zucchini slices, small cauliflower florets, sweet potato chunks, and onion strips – dips them in tempura batter, fries them, and serves them with their house sauce, a spicy teriyaki mayo.
Eating the fried pickles was a treat for the palate. Sour, salty, and crunchy/greasy all at once. These were definitely addictive, if a bit repetitive, and we ate every piece.
The main courses continued to challenge our taste buds and our expectations. Tina chose the diver scallops ($26), which were perfectly cooked – charred at each end and rare in the middle. But look at how they were served:
What a treat for the eye. The scallops were perched atop a mound of beet risotto. The little white puffs are goat cheese quenelles, and the mound is surrounded by a buerre blanc sauce.
And what a treat for the mouth. The riced red beets with rice balanced the scallops nicely and contrasted with the goat cheese much like the old school borscht/sour cream combination. Tina (with a little of my help) happily ate everything on her plate.
I chose the duck breast ($28):
The breast, topped with garlic lemon purée, was served on a bed of lemon risotto, accompanied by three superb giant fresh local asparagus spears. I love asparagus and it doesn't get any better than those three spears. Moist crunchy tender flavorful.
The duck breast was cooked a perfect medium rare:
I enjoyed how the chef used the garlic and lemon flavors to contrast the richness of the duck breast. Certainly the best duck I have ever had in Yuma. The risotto was perfectly prepared, the rice being both creamy and al dente. If I had any quibble, it would be that the lemon risotto flavors were monochromatic. While the risotto was a perfect match to the duck breast, it was less interesting by itself.
For dessert, we had wanted to try the grilled peach, but of course, peaches aren’t in season (even in Yuma) so we opted for the banana crema ($9):
The small mason jar is a nice farmly touch. The banana crema itself was the bottom half of the desert. A layer of crunchy banana flavored cookie crumbs separated it from the raspberry/banana flavored crema at the top. The desert was certainly rich and unusual. It was also nice to see cheese courses on the dessert menu.
For me, The Farmhouse has exceeded expectations. The menu is certainly the most varied and interesting in town. The kitchen can turn out a wide range of dishes skillfully. Farm-to-table ingredients – witness that incredible asparagus – should be a perfect fit for Yuma, at least in the winter. In addition, the place is well staffed, and the service on each visit has been professional and personable. Of course, The Farmhouse is in a tough location, and the menu with lunches or salads between $9 and $14 and entrées from $25 up may intimidate some folks, but the restaurant has been busy and I hope that Yuma will support creative quality cuisine.
The Farmhouse Bistro, 2855 S. 4th Ave., Yuma AZ 85364, (928) 276-9735; open11- 2, and 5-11 Tuesday through Saturday, Sunday brunch 9-1. Closed Mondays.
Before heading off to Sitka & Spruce for dinner, the Missus needed a couple of gifts. Chocolate is always appreciated. I looked up a couple of places and found a listing for Intrigue Chocolate who specializes in truffles.
The kitchen, cum shop is located....well, I'll quote the website:
"The shop, which is also our industrial-style kitchen, can be a little tricky to find because we are not on the street level. Easiest way to find us is to find the entrance to Sake Nomi (Sake bar) and continue up the stairs. Then it's just down the hall which turns to the left, and we are the clearly marked brown door, third on the left."
The two guys running the place were so enthusiastic, they'd let us try everything if we'd been able to stay longer! They also make a nice cold brew concentrate as well!
Our favorites were the Juniper Berry and the Nutmeg & Chipotle.
We loved the place, they just seem to enjoy what they do.....and even though they currently use, high quality Belcolade chocolate, we were given a taste of a work in progress, the chocolate they are developing on their own. It was nice talking coffee and Belgian chocolate. We'll be back.
Intrigue Chocolate 76 S Washington St. Suite 104 Seattle, WA 98104
We headed back to our room, dropped off the truffles, and headed off to....
Sitka & Spruce:
The walk was a tad over a mile, though the hills.....sheesh...anyway we did pretty good time, about 20 minutes to Melrose Market in the popular and trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood. We loved the setting; Sitka & Spruce is located in back of the brick building, understated, in that warm, yet somewhat industrial style, high ceilings, a large communal table, and open kitchen.....
The restaurant itself is not large; just a few tables, counter, and communal table seating. As is our MO, we try to eat early, before the rush and crowds. We usually get a better experience and the restaurant is able to do "it's thing".
My main reason for selecting S&S was the menu, which is nice and tight, focusing on seasonal Northwest products. We both thought the tapas-type dishes were much more interesting and we prefer having a tasting style meal. Our diet has changed quite a bit over the last couple of years and the small dishes at S&S seemed right up our alley. A variety of great local produce with interesting combinations of texture and flavors. So we were quite excited to try this establishment of the Matt Dillon empire.
There was one interesting thing about the beverage selection.....based on our dinner the previous night at The Walrus and the Carpenter and now Sitka & Spruce, it seems that Wine and Cocktails are still king for meals in Seattle. Which I thought strange since I usually see Seattle ranked in the top 10 beer cities in the US. Here it's nothing on tap, five choices Hilliard from a can or Rainier?
Whatever....I guess we'd just go and find the Stumbling Monk, or another place after dinner.
We started with the Charcuterie ($25)
While the air dried ham (aka prosciutto, though they can't call it that) was "meh", really bland and lacking in the deep cured flavor we love, there were some real winner here. The chicken liver, basically a a light, spreadable pate really caught me off guard, sweet molasses at first, giving away to savory, with that chicken liver finish. I'm not a big fan of metallic chicken liver flavors, though I love my pate's. This gave me a wonderful ride. The duck rillette had a tremendous almost condensed duck flavor. The head cheese was nice and balanced and the pork terrine was also very tasty. Loved the variety of flavors present here.
Next up Delicata Squash, Haloumi, and Pumpkin Seeds ($15).
We started seeing Delicata Squash on menus last fall. The Missus loves them; moderately sweet, with a nice texture, and an edible peel....heck, even I enjoy them. So it goes without saying the Missus loved this. I really enjoyed the combination of flavors, the nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds, the light subtle milkiness of the haloumi cheese. I thought the amount of nuttiness and milky flavors went beyond just the haloumi and pumpkin seeds. When I mentioned this to our Server, she also noted that the sauce was made of whey and argan oil. The mint also added another dimension of flavor.......
My least favorite dish of the night was the Charred Celeriac, Braised Quince, Ambrosia Apple and Bread Crisps ($15).
I really didn't care for the amount of almost tart-tannic flavors. The celeriac was lost in the dish. Tongue numbing and not in a good way.
The Smoked Potato, Pickled Seaweed, Anchovy, and Egg Yolk ($16), took me to that edge.....I loved the smoky flavor, the seaweed added a nice oceany brine, the anchovies were teetering on the edge of too salty, but that egg yolk somehow seemed to temper the salt.
I loved the smoked potatoes....why hadn't I tried that before? Smashed potatoes also seemed to be "the thing" in Seattle. The Missus said She'd have preferred bacon, but I told Her, "that would be so TGI Friday's". Loved the crisp skin on the potatoes as well. you can tell by the meal I made the day after we returned, that this dish made an imprint.
By far, the best single dish we had on this trip was the Hen of the Woods Mushroom, Guanciale, Oyster Cream, and Cider ($18).
My goodness, the earthy-savory aroma, meaty texture of the Hen of the Woods mushroom, more familiar to me as Maitake, was just superb. The sage along with the cider added an citrus tone, along with a hint of sweetness. The oysters in the sauce just took the flavors to another level. I'm not sure of the purpose of the guanciale as I couldn't make out any pork flavors. But who cares. In terms of an outstanding dish; this has our votes.
I realize that the dishes we chose and enjoyed at S&S might not be for everyone; especially the hardcore carnivore. There are 3-4 entrees on the menu any given night....this time it was chicken, black cod, and rabbit. I just chose dishes that best reflected the foraging background of Matt Dillon. I believed that this would be the strongpoint of the restaurant and it seemed that way to us. Our check came in at a bit over a hundred and it was worth every penny.
Sitka & Spruce 1531 Melrose Ave Seattle, WA 98101
We were a bit too full and decided against finding a pub. But, as we headed back toward Pike Street we noticed a crowd of people being let into a building. We walked up Pike a bit, then headed back down. When we passed the building again, the Missus couldn't help it.....we had to go and check it out.
The place seemed buzzing....hip.....totally perfect for the Missus....totally wrong for me.
Arriving at the door, we asked the gentleman inside what was going on. "This is the grand opening of the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, please come in......" Wow, it seemed like a big deal.
Just looking at the equipment, it looks like Starbucks is experimenting with going more high end.
I'm not the biggest fan of Starbucks....but kudos to them for seeming to ride the Third Wave.
This place looks fantastic and smells wonderful. Roasters were on hand to explain the different processes and equipment.
These guys really know how to market.......
Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room 1124 Pike St Seattle, WA 98101
Heading down Pike, we ran into the inevitable shopping crowds.....heck, Christmas is around the corner.
But the crowd seemed extra dense and we heard music in the air......and my goodness...Sugarplum Elves?
It's all these things that makes Seattle special for us....there's always an interesting surprise.
We talked about this as walked back to Whole Foods......the Missus wanted me to get in as much exercise as I could. This was the reason I was thinking of moving here before I met the Missus.
And while I don't think we could live here; it's a bit too cold, there's not enough Asian food within a 2 hour drive, and there's not enough sunshine. The city holds a special place in our hearts. So I guess we'll have to keep coming back.
I'd planned of having a heck of a first full day in Tokyo....it was to be our "red lettered day". We started out at Tsukiji Market, then had lunch at Sushi Iwa. I wanted to finish off the evening with something special. initially, I thought about one of those 2-3 Michelin Star places....but, as I've mentioned before, I think folks put a bit too much in the "star" system, though there's a good bit a rating like that does say. I started thinking a bit differently about things when I overheard a conversation regarding some of the "top rated" places in Tokyo.....and I read about this common theme as well. You won't find any Japanese Nationals at many of these places....nowadays it's mostly Chinese/European/American tourists. Nothing wrong with that, but it's just not our style. Also, we wanted something that wasn't too stuffy or pretentious, not overdone and precious. I wanted a place where we'd find Japanese eating. After doing a whole lot of research, hemming and hawing, a little Kaiseki place named Suzunari came up. No, you won't find it on Chowhound, I just did a search on the Japan board before starting this post. A big plus was this little place was located in rather close proximity to our apartment in Yotsuya. The only obstacle was trying to get reservations...nothing online, we had no concierge, no English spoken. We're lucky to have friends who were able to make reservations for us. So we headed down the narrow streets of Arakicho a neighborhood of small, somewhat private looking bars and restaurants....we just followed the Salarymen.
I had read that Suzunari had no real sign and it was very difficult to find so we started early....strangely, perhaps it was luck, we found the place with no problems at all. Sticking my head in the door, quietly saying in my fumbling Japanese "Yoyaku shitemasu......" to the young woman working the tables, suddenly I heard a greeting from behind me......this happened to be Chef Murata and the kind and warm young lady is his wife. They were of course expecting us, first grabbing our coats then leading us to our seats at the bar.
The bar seating was already filled in this tiny restaurant.
There are three versions of the menu available, basically, 60, 100, or 150 dollars. Heck, we were in Tokyo, we had arranged for the 15,000 yen menu. There's so much preparation done ahead of time, that you need to indicate which offering you want. I had the folks choose our Nihonshu, just indicating we wanted something "local"... the young woman knew a little English, which helped, and I did my best....which wasn't much.
It was great watching Chef Murata and his assistant prep all the dishes. The entire staff was a total of four, the Chef, his second, his wife who worked the front of house, and an older woman, who seemed to be one of their mothers, who took care of the dishes and cleaning....it really seemed to be a family affair. And yes, this is Tokyo, most everything was done in almost a hushed silence.
The meal itself was amazing.....Chef Murata would often stop everything he was doing to try and explain what he was serving, or his wife would try to find the English words for items......they seemed to be pleasantly surprised that I knew the Japanese or at least the English names of what was being served. Of course there were still many, many, gaps...items I've not had experience with, which made this meal even more pleasant.
The Sakizuke, first course was a refreshing, understated course of shrimp and tender tako with what seemed like, but I don't think was grated yamaimo, it was too smooth. The aspic was subtle, but refreshing.
The range of flavors all seemed to compliment each other.......so smooth...
The Hassun, basically a arrangement of appetizers was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen.
No matter what angle I tried; I couldn't capture the breath of this in one photo. It's also impossible to explain all the tastes, textures, and fragrances in just a few words.
I will say, some the simpler items were just amazingly perfect; the smoked duck was moist and tender that you would think it was pork, except it had that nice duck flavor....the ginnan, earthy, with a hint of sweet and bitter but also made crunchy. The two almost ohitashi like dishes; the greens and mushrooms with yuzu, topped with beautiful, briney ikura, served in a hollowed out yuzu....the fragrance of the fruit adding a nice touch. The tai with shiokara sauce, sweet, pungent, chewy and silky smooth at the same time. The bo-zushi was a fantastic combination of milky and savory flavors, cut by the vinegar in the rice. You really could go on and on.....
And yet, the one item we're still talking about is the simply perfect shirako........perhaps my best bit of the year. Firm until it enters your mouth, turning into a wonderful melting creaminess upon your first bite. Just simply amazing.
The Mukōzuke, the sashimi course, was fine.......
The Mushimono - steamed dish was a fabulous. A chawan-mushi, steamed egg dish, was so smooth and custard like. This version had suppon (soft shell turtle) in it.
Comfort food taken to the next level.....the suppon is quite mild in flavor.
Botan Ebi - October is pandalus nipponesis season from what I understand.
You know which part we treasured the most, right?
We watched as fish were skewered and roasted/broiled in the salamander. Chef told me what kind of hikarimono these were but I really couldn't understand and I didn't want to take him away from the now full house he was dealing with. I figure these were the yakimono items.
The fish were rich, with good oil, savory, and quite tender. Our favorite was the version served with a smooth, savory, beany, but not salty aka miso. It just blended in so well with the fish and especially the shiitake mushroom....umami overload.
This was so good, we don't even remember the next item.......
I'm thinking this was a palate refresher....because next up was the Kamameshi, the grand finale as it were. Noticing that I was taking photos......the young lady kindly brought me the pot of rice to photograph before serving......it was just so touching in a way....so thoughtful....
Mixed and served with the typical Kōnomono, seasonal pickles.....this was by far the best kamameshi we'd ever had...it was just masterfully prepared, so perfect in proportion. Also, the entire pot was for us! We saw the couple next to us totally clean out the entire pot....but there was no way we could do this. In the typical way, they made onigiri for us.
The aka miso shiru had a large amount of lobster in it. It was rich, yet not salty......it wasn't a favorite of the Missus, who I guess prefers the really salty versions we have here in the states....She really didn't care for any of the miso soup we had in Japan.
And yes, there's dessert....but there was no way we'd be able to do that. I just nodded "no" and patted my stomach and said, "oh no. soon sumotori....." Which got a nice laugh.
As the evening wore down, the folks here took time to formally introduce themselves to us and kind of of wondering where we were from. I do wish I spoke and understood more Japanese. They were genuinely surprised to find we were from San Diego.
We both loved Suzunari. In fact, if we're ever back in Tokyo, I'll try and find a way to return. The food is great, the folks running the place are wonderfully gracious, very relaxed, and so sincere. It's more than wonderful food; it was a memorable experience It was the perfect place for us; no pretense, not stuffy, a family operation, gracious hosts, and fantastic food. There were no tourists in the place other than us......the place was fully booked. We didn't want any concessions and that's a great thing we found in Japan, I'm sure there are places that will do this....but as a whole, you'll eat like the people. We loved it!
Yes, you need to book months in advance as it has perhaps 8 bar seats and three small tables. And yes, they do have a Michelin star.
All customers are escorted out as they leave and thanked; though the Chef came out from behind the counter to join us as well....to give me his business card. But I gotta ask.....when was the last time you saw a Michelin-starred Chef flashing the peace sign in a photo? You gotta love this place! We do!