skillet

I have never been to the Skillet Street Food truck.

There, I said it. So embarrassing. So hypocritical. While I can’t remember the exact moment, I’m pretty certain I’ve gone on and on to someone about how great Skillet is. Without having ever actually eaten there. Yep, that makes me a liar. Yikes.

I’ve lived in Seattle three years minus a week or two, and since day one I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews of Skillet’s comfort food out of their signature silver trailer. We’ve tried to go. I’ve tracked them online, on Facebook, on Twitter. I just never seem to be in the right place at the right time. Or I get delayed and pull into the Phinney parking lot directly behind them as they’re pulling out. Grrrr.

Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough? Maybe I’m not really a committed eater? Either way, I never gave up hope. I knew I’d eat some Skillet delights. Someday. When Skillet Diner opened last month, I was elated. A solid, unmoving, eatery where I could find that poutine I needed to try. And open seven days a week from 7am-midnight!? Now that’s service.

I finally got myself there this week. My parents are in town visiting, and while they really wanted something like a Plan B burger, that doesn’t exist in Seattle as far as I can tell, so Skillet seemed like the best option.

It was Monday night but felt like a Friday, or at least a Thursday, given the crowd. We just beat the rush, arriving at 6:45pm to a 30 minute wait. The hostess didn’t take our phone number, but we decided to live on the edge and skipped down the street to Elysian so my Dad, a hardcore beer connoisseur, could taste a few microbrews. Immortal IPA and The Wise ESB, yes please!

We were seated at minute 28 or 29 of 30, which is always a plus. The ambiance of the place is fantastic. People everywhere; laughing and casually enjoying their comfort food. The service was good. It appeared the servers’ uniform is plaid shirts, which seemed a little much to me (forced hipsterism?) but then again I was a total sucker for the “let’s serve everything in a different-sized mason jar” approach. I will have the “cheap beer du jour.” In a lowball Kerr jar. Thankyouverymuch.

Our party of four ordered: poutine, mac + cheese, 2x the burger, and the salmon burger split two ways. Overall, it was very, very solid food. Here’s what made me happy (in addition to the mason jars):

  • The Menu. So many options! Something for everyone! Breakfast all day! There were so many things I wanted to eat, I need to go back at least 20 times (given my history, that’ll take me my whole lifetime…). That’s what a diner should be like though. Nice work.
  • Mixed greens. When places offer up a mixed green salad, you usually get baby lettuce, baby chard, and maybe some radicchio. Skillet did not mess around with their greens. There was kale in there! So good.
  • Speed. Our food came out quickly despite the crowd. And the temperature was perfect. Again, true diner form. Impressive.
  • Beers in cans. Unsurprisingly, my “cheap beer du jour” was a Kokanee tall boy. But the other craft beers we ordered were also in cans. I I liked this. I’m a big fan of the “microcanning revolution.”

However. Me being me, I had some complaints:

  • The poutine is not poutine. Everyone knows fries and cheese is delicious, heck fries with anything salty on top is amazing. But I feel pretty strongly that you can’t take the cheese curds out of the poutine. Well, that’s not true. Quinn’s does, and it’s still poutine. What you need is distinction between gravy and cheese. I want white punctuating brown, and a mixture of textures. Skillet’s poutine was fries with a uniform covering of ample herbed gravy. Tasty? Yes! Poutine? Not so much.
  • Mac + Cheese = Poutine? The two dishes tasted alarmingly similar. Both really good, but wouldn’t again order both on the same visit.
  • Burger switch. We ordered two burgers: one medium rare, one medium. They were delivered, and midway through eating, we realized they’d been swapped. The medium rare diner was not wowed by the medium burger, and the medium burger lover was a bit pained to eat pink meat. Definitely detracted from the burger reviews.
  • No beers on tap. While they do have a tap list, they were out of all of them. Sure, that happens. I understand. Busy weekend. But did it make us happy? Nope.
I’m quite relieved I no longer have to be a liar when I talk about Skillet’s food. But I do still need to keep chasing that truck…
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my restaurant list

Part of the impetus for starting this blog was a desire to keep track of all the great restaurants in Seattle. One of my first posts was a list of places I like and places I wanted to try. I keep finding myself wanting to go back to that post and update it, but that’s not really what you’re supposed to do to blog posts (right?). So I decided to make it more easily accessible. The list can be found at the link underneath the header image, on the right.

The inital post was a frozen moment in my eating history. The new list will be constantly evolving. Like restaurants. Delightful.

june

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of full. There’s the “oh my god I feel terrible why on earth did I eat that fourth slice of mediocre pizza followed by two nondescript brownies?” full. And then there’s the “holy cow I feel pretty ill right now but it was completely and utterly worth it because the food I just consumed was out-of-this-world delicious.”

This past weekend, I experienced the latter.

We headed to Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood to try out June. It opened quietly last year, and has been on my list of places to try, but somehow Madrona rarely called for an evening out. New places in Cap Hill usually won out. But a few months back there was a Groupon for June, so that sealed the deal.

We had a reservation for 7pm but didn’t need it; we had our choice of tables. We opted for a booth in the back which was cozy and private but a bit monochromatic. We were right near the increasingly lively bar, but couldn’t see it due to the booth partition. The meal was tasty. Dessert was FANTASTIC. To start from the end, we had bioche bread-bitter chocolate bread pudding. It was, without a doubt, the best dessert I’ve had in Seattle to date. Heavenly. Just the right amount of chocolatey-ness, the perfect moistness and a generous dollop of crème fraîche on the side to compliment the caramel sauce. A few bites in I knew I was full but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t stop. I wouldn’t.

Clearly, the bread pudding was the most memorable, but other dishes were great as well. We started with a dish off the “bites” menu: tempura brussel sprouts and asparagus. It was a generous serving and served piping hot. We favored the appetizer part of the menu, trying lamb and chickpea chili, nettle soup with pickled mushrooms, and a beet salad with hazelnuts and blue cheese. The chili was amazing, the soup was beautiful and quite balanced, and the beet salad was enjoyable although pretty predictable.

The only let down of the night was our entrée. Goat cheese ravioli with fresh peas and spring onions. It was way too salty for my liking and I’m a chronic oversalter. (I salt pizza. Excessively. This could be what leads to the first type of fullness…) Not only were the flavors off, but there were multiple lemon seeds in the broth. Nitpicky I know, but come on. I watch Top Chef. I know those are two mistakes that will cost you a challenge.

Thankfully, dessert came and the disappointment of the entrée was forgotten entirely. It was a superb dining experience. Followed by a relaxing evening on the couch feeling wonderfully full.

If you now find yourself craving bread pudding, I’d highly recommend my friend Rachel’s recipe for Bourbon Chocolate Bread Pudding which was a winning dish over at food52. Another option, is my fall favorite pumpkin bread pudding (inspired by another restaurant dessert, this time from 1844 House).

bainbridge island

In our nearly three years in Seattle, we’ve been lucky enough to have a good number of loved ones come visit. One of my go-to activities is to take the ferry from downtown to Bainbridge Island for brunch. I love grabbing a coffee at Starbucks on the corner of 1st & Marion before walking down the walkway to the terminal, buying a $5 round trip ticket from the electronic kiosk and then walking aboard the ferry. The views of downtown never disappoint, and within 35 minutes (just about the time you realize you’re freezing), the boat docks. After disembarking (I love that word, fyi.), it’s a short 5 minute walk into the town of Winslow, where all the stores and restaurants are easily accessibly along Winslow Way for browsing and strolling.
But the thing is, if it’s a weekend, and you’re heading to Cafe Nola, which is where you’d be crazy not to be heading, chances are you’re not the only one. Awhile back, Giada De Laurentiis did a weekend guide of where to eat in Seattle on the Food Network. To be fair, she’s the one that deserves the credit for the brilliant Bainbridge Island brunch trip. But, anyway, whether it’s because of Giada or just good marketing and word of mouth, lots of Seattleites head to Cafe Nola for brunch. So when you get off the ferry you have to hustle. I invariably am annoying my companions by insisting we speed walk. “Hurry!” They always thank me. Because we get to Cafe Nola and get one of the last open tables, and we’re enjoying our amazing bloody marys while the other suckers are loitering in the entryway waiting for a table.
Brunch at Cafe Nola is devine. Their bloody marys are fantastic; the kind with a garden growing upwards out of them. They have different variations to choose from too, like one with beef juice dripped in. I always go classic though. And as far as food goes, it’s all good. But the must-order here is the Carmel Pecan French Toast. It is life changing. I promise. It comes with orange bourbon butter. Don’t waste any time being indecisive. Just order it. You won’t be disappointed. Especially after running from the ferry dock.

This past week, my dearest friend Alli was in town for a visit. We really wanted to take a ferry somewhere, so Bainbridge was the natural choice. But, it wasn’t the weekend. That meant having brunch at Cafe Nola was not an option. We decided to head there anyway (not walking as fast off the ferry though), and arrived around 2pm. Our friendly waitress popped up to our booth with “Hi! Would you like a Guiness!?” Huh? “In honor of St. Patrick’s Day!” Oh. No thanks. We instead looked at the menu. $1 PBRs!!?! You’re kidding me. “You basically lose money if you don’t order one,” advises our server. We’ll have two.
Lunch food was delicious. We had an arugula salad with roasted squash, blue cheese, and lemon caper vinaigrette accompanied by the more indulgent bacon wrapped chorizo stuffed dates. Yum. But the real clincher was the $1 PBRs. It wasn’t like they brought out the can from the back room. They poured them into the coolest high ball glasses. (It kind of made me want to get some of the same glasses. Until Alli reminded me I have way too many glasses already.) Duly noted: lunch at Cafe Nola is just as amazing as brunch.

Another advantage to the afternoon trip to Bainbridge, we discovered, is wine tasting. Apparently Bainbridge has a growing wine scene, with 8 wineries on the island. We ventured into eleven, where the friendly sommelier Kevin got our tasting started. There are a few other tasting rooms within steps of the ferry (see this guide from Sunset magazine) and I’m sure they’re all nice, but I recommend eleven. The wine was impressive, the prices reasonable, and Kevin provided fantastic service.

We opted to taste all 9 of the available wines (at $1 a taste, why not?!). We sipped away while Kevin told us about the winery, where they source their grapes (all from Eastern Washington except those that make their Pinot Gris port), and life living on Bainbridge. The wine was really good. My favorites were their Pinot Grigio and a red blend called La Ronde (65% Malbec, 28% Syrah, and 7% Petit Verdot). Alli treated me to a bottle of the Pinot Grigio and I bought a bottle of the Sweet Sarah port, so we have two bottles of Bainbridge wine to enjoy at some point this spring.
Moral of the story is this: if you live in Seattle or come to Seattle, make the day trip to Bainbridge Island. While there, eat at Cafe Nola. After some delicious fare, there are many other fun things to explore – one of which is wine tasting!

Cheers.

mistral kitchen

Last night was “date night.” And my kind, thoughtful, date used a sure-fire method to ensure he selected a restaurant that would delight: he picked one off my “must try soon” list. Mistral Kitchen.

I liked it. We liked it. It was a really good meal. To be fair, I have to do this as an overall assessment. A chronological review would not go well. Our relationship with Mistral got off on a rough foot. But more about that later. First let me talk about the food. We ordered:

  • kushi and kumamoto oysters with the chef’s preparation (beurre blanc on one and fresh cucumber and something on the other)
  • hamachi crudo with avocado, basil oil and radish sprouts
  • branzino with cannellini beans and black trumpet mushrooms
  • lamb loin with puy lentils, chard, and turnips
  • the ultra brownie with peanut butter ice cream

It was all delicious. Every last bite. The oysters were perfectly chilled and the accompaniments were flavorful. The hamachi was cut a bit thick for my liking, I’m more of a carpaccio-style curdo gal (How to Cook a Wolf!), but the basil oil was fantastic. The entrees were pretty amazing. The lentils, chard, and turnips were perfect with the lamb, and I enjoyed more than my fair share even though at sight I thought it was too undercooked…”eat it how it’s meant to be eaten.” The branzino was superb too, the perfect portion and the beans were marvelously al dente. Dessert was solid, but not that memorable. Our server told us the peanut butter ice cream was “life-changing” but I’m going to call hyperbole on that statement. It was good, but not make-yourself-ill-because-you-ate-it-all good.

But it just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some complaints. Like I said, we got off to a bad start. Our server (or the sommelier?) pulled an absurd stunt. I was not impressed. At all. We perused the beer and drink lists but decided we felt like wine, and also thought that would be the most economical option. Drinks were $12 each, but we could get a full bottle of wine for $35. We picked a Willamette Valley pinot blanc that we were sure we’d like. $35. Splendid deal. I have no problem ordering the cheapest bottle of wine on the menu. Too long passed after ordering, and we got to that annoying “where the heck is our wine?” moment. Finally our server came back to report that they were unfortunately out of the wine we ordered but he had a delicious alternative that we would LOVE. He was sure of it. He also slipped in that it was “closer to $50.” We not-so-subtly commented that perhaps we’d get it for the $35 price point. No dice. He insisted it was the best wine ever and everyone loves it, and before we knew it he was pouring. At first, I hated it. It was no Willamette pinot blanc. It was French. And SWEET. We drank it in the end, and it grew on me, but then the bill came and it was actually $55. What!? Seriously!? I’ve never worked in a restaurant, but I just don’t get it. We clearly ordered the chepaest bottle of wine on the menu. Why would you give us one that $20 more and think we were going to be pleased? There were several other whites on the list for $35 or $40. It’s not like we ordered a $100 bottle and he brought us a $120 bottle. Do I look like that much of a pushover that you can play me? Apparently I am. But I didn’t like it. Not one bit.

But I did like Mistral Kitchen overall. But it won’t be making the “love” category. Not with that ridiculousness.

seattle eateries

I love the Seattle restaurant scene. Mostly, I love eating. And like most people, I like trying new places. But I also like order. I like not being overwhelmed by options. That’s the great thing about eating out in Seattle. There are so many fantastic options, and new restaurants opening all the time, but there’s a small enough number that you can keep your mind wrapped around it. You (er, I) know about the new places opening their doors, the places that are closing, and where the food trucks are.

A few months back, I started compiling a list of restaurants I needed to try. We were planning a few dinners out for birthdays and visitors, and I wanted to make sure we were prioritizing. My list, of course, is always expanding. It seems new places open faster than I can eat. Or afford to eat.

I’ve received a few inquiries about my list, so I decided to post it here. To my “must try” list, I added on places I’ve already been. Places I’ll happily go back to any day of the week. I suppose I should explain a bit more about what types of places I like, so you have a sense of whether or not my opinions have any relevance for your eating desires–

“Places I love” are a combination of great food, nice service, excellent atmosphere, and decent location. If a place is really hard to get to but has awesome food, it’s probably in the “like” category. I hate stuffy service (white linens) and also get turned off by too-cool folks. I prefer small plates and sharing to giant eat-yourself entrees. I love all types of drink lists – good beers, good wines, fun cocktails. I don’t mind paying a lot for a good meal, but I hate overpriced average food. I don’t mind a long wait, if I’m mentally prepared. I do, however, like reservations. I’m a planner. For pizza, it needs to be artisan or New York style. Oh and most importantly – there would never, EVER, be a restaurant on my list that makes you hold onto your silverware between dishes/courses. I HATE that.

As for places that “underwhelm,” let me explain. These aren’t places I hate. They’re places (for the most part) I actually like. They’re just places that others rave about and I don’t really buy the hype. But, to each his own.

Ask questions, please. And certainly feel free to disagree. I like a debate.

PLACES I LOVE
Poppy (Capitol Hill)
Anchovies and Olives (Capitol Hill)
How to Cook a Wolf (Queen Anne)
Quinn’s (Capitol Hill)
Via Tribunali (Capitol Hill & 4 other locations)
Sitka and Spruce (Capitol Hill/Downtown)
Volunteer Park Café (Capitol Hill)
Brad’s Swingside Café (Fremont)
Delancey (Ballard)
Chiso (Fremont)
Geraldine’s (Columbia City)
Nettletown (Eastlake)
Salumi (Downtown/ID)
Dahlia Lounge (Downtown)
Umi Sushi (Belltown)
Cichetti (Eastlake)
Dad Watson’s (Fremont)
Silent Heart Nest (Fremont)
Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 (Bellevue)

PLACES I LIKE
Sushi Kappo Tamura (Eastlake)
Tilth (Wallingford)
La Spiga (Capitol Hill)
Tilikum Place Café (Seattle Center)
tidbit (Capitol Hill)
35th Street Bistro (Fremont)
Homegrown (Fremont, Queen Anne)
Paseo (Fremont)
The Shelter Lounge (Ballard)
ocho (Ballard)
King’s Hardware (Ballard)
Spur Gastropub (Belltown)
Branzino (Downtown/Belltown)
Flying Fish (South Lake Union)
Monsoon (Capitol Hill)
Dinette (Capitol Hill)
Tavolata (Belltown)
Matt’s In the Market (Pike Place)
Serious Pie (Downtown & SLU)
Lola (Downtown)
Tutta Bella (Westlake, Wallingford, Columbia City)

PLACES OTHERS LOVE THAT UNDERWHELM ME
Canlis (Queen Anne)
Kingfish Café (Capitol Hill)
Toulouse Petit (Queen Anne)
Jade Garden (ID)
Bastille (Ballard)
Portage Bay Café (SLU, U-District, Ballard)

MUST TRY SOON {dinners}
The Corson Building (Georgetown)
Serafina (Eastlake)
Re:public (South Lake Union)
Café Flora (Madison Valley)
Madison Park Conservatory (Madison Park)
June (Madrona)
Cascina Spinasse (Capitol Hill)
Boat Street Café (Capitol Hill)
La Bête (Capitol Hill)
Tamarind Tree (ID)
Lark (First Hill)
Mistral Kitchen (Downtown/Belltown) [tried 2/11/11]
Local 360 (Belltown)
Lecosho (Harbor Steps)
Joule (Wallingford)
Elemental (Gasworks)
Art of the Table (Fremont)
emmer&rye (Queen Anne) [went 2/15/11]
The Book Bindery (Queen Anne)
Staple and Fancy (Ballard)
The Walrus and the Carpenter (Ballard)
Spring Hill (West Seattle)

MUST TRY SOON {drinks | small plates | casual | brunch | lunch}
Seatown Snack Bar (Pike Place) [went 3/11/11]
Delicatus (Pioneer Square) [went 3/26/11]
Verve (Columbia City)
Sutra (Wallingford – Vegan)
Licorous (Seattle U)
Harvest Vine (Madison Park)
Bisato (Downtown/waterfront)
Uneeda Burger (Fremont)
moshi moshi (Ballard)
Lunchbox Laboratory (South Lake Union)
La Carta de Oaxaca (Ballard) [went 3/12/11]
Flying Squirrel Pizza (Ballard, Seward Park)

AmazonFresh

I absolutely love AmazonFresh. I seriously can’t say enough good things. A few months back, at an alumni gathering for my college, I met someone who works at Amazon. He doesn’t even work on anything related to AmazonFresh, and I had only had half a drink, but I still went on and on and on about my affinity for AmazonFresh. But I’m going to try to calm myself for a moment here, and give a more balanced view. And then I’m going to return to looking forward to my groceries that will be arriving on my doorstep before 6am tomorrow morning. Yes I will have a whole wheat cinnamon raisin bagel with organic neufchâtel cheese for breakfast, thankyouverymuch.

PROS:

Convenience – Order from your computer at home or work (shhh!) or from out of town. When travelling, it’s great to tee up a delivery order so your fridge isn’t empty when you get home late on a Sunday night and have work the next day. Last year, my family was heading out to the Olympic Peninsula for Christmas, so we ordered a big AmazonFresh order and had it delivered right when we were packing up the car. The delivery man helped us put the bags in the car right then and there!

Selection – Amazon is regularly adding items so there’s rarely an item I want that I can’t find.

Produce quality – before my first order, the quality of the produce was something I was worried about. I’m one of those annoying people who picks up and inspects every apple before putting it in my bag. You can’t do that online. But the quality of produce is outstanding.

Free Delivery – Orders $75 and above qualify for free delivery. Not hard to meet.

Automatic Delivery & Case discounts – money can be saved when you set up automatic delivery or purchase things in cases. I don’t do this now, but when/if I have more mouths to feed I can see this being convenient. The 10% and 15% discounts would off-set the price difference between AmazonFresh and Fred Meyer.

Great website – Just like Amazon.com, the website is so easy to use. You can save lists for future use, and the site automatically generates things you “might like” which you inevitably add to your cart.

No tips allowed – While some might think it’s weird I find this a pro, I really do. There’s no awkward moment with you and the delivery person where you give them a few bucks. I am sure Amazon pays their drivers well, and the rule is that no tips are accepted.

AmazonNOW items – Amazon has an ever-growing selection of items you can add to your grocery order. (I wish I hadn’t just bought The Help at the UW bookstore for $24.95 or I would add the $13 one from Amazon to my order.)

 

CONS:

Price – My grocery bill with AmazonFresh is without a doubt much higher than when I shop at Fred Meyer. However, it’s no more expensive than Whole Foods or even some QFCs and Safeways. While the delivery is free, the somewhat increased cost accounts for the convenience of delivered groceries!

No generics – part of the reason the cost is higher is that AmazonFresh only carries name brand items. For example they only have Talking Rain seltzer water instead of the BigK generic brand I get at Fred Meyer. And there’s only Silk soymilk, no 365 brand which is the cheapest at Whole Foods.

No bulk – A lot of money can be saved by shopping in bulk at conventional grocery stores.  All the items you need are still available at AmazonFresh, but they are more expensive because they’re packaged instead of being sold in bulk.

Inclement weather – I ordered Thanksgiving dinner groceries from AmazonFresh. Seattle got a snow storm. They cancelled my order. An AmazonFresh truck was stuck on the hill outside of my house. Completely understandable, but still a con.

Item sizes – While the descriptions on the website are entirely accurate, sometimes you’re not sure just how big a 4 ounce block of cheese is. Then you get it, and it’s way smaller than you thought. Your own fault, not theirs, but still a drawback to shopping online.