Wednesday, February 17, 2010

FoodTrek: Dinner, Drinks and LUPEC in Greenwood

It's easy to take one's home turf for granted. While I don't live right in the heart of Seattle, it's not an unreasonable drive from the rural lands of Duvall (sans rush-hour traffic), so when the opportunity arrives to visit one of the many hidden-gem neighborhoods in the Seattle area, it becomes like a mini-vacation for the Prime, eating and drinking my way through the different bars and restaurants. I recently visited the Greenwood neighborhood, an area north of the main downtown Seattle area, not far from Greenlake, if you're familiar with the city. The occasion was the February meetup of the Seattle chapter of LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails), a group I've recently become familiar with since late last year, when I attended their last meeting at Spur. Acronyms can sound official and intimidating, but don't let it scare anyone -- this is a fun and friendly group who likes to get together every month to talk about cocktails and toast to the good things in life. This month's LUPEC Seattle meeting found the gang meeting up at Oliver's Twist, a deliciously literary cocktail bar on Greenwood Avenue.

'Allo, 'allo, Miss Nancy - Photo by Wasabi Prime

It had been too long since my last visit to Oliver's Twist, a delightful bar filled with ecclectic artwork and a cocktail menu with a nice balance of classic vintage drinks and their own unique, Dickensian twist. I have a love of bubbly and not-too-sweet drinks, so I was recommended their Miss Nancy, an herbal-infused version of the classic French 75, served in a stemless flute and a sprig of fresh tarragon. Much like the tough, but motherly character from the book, Oliver Twist, Miss Nancy is a combination of sweetness from the rhubarb syrup, balanced with a pinch of sharpness from the champagne and peppery tarragon.

Oliver's Twist - you don't have to have a rags-to-riches story to enjoy this place! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Like Fagin's Gang (minus the crime part), the scrappy and sassy LUPEC Gang took over the back area of Oliver's Twist, lording over several tables and nearly staying till closing time. It was nice to see familiar faces as well as meet new ones. There were so many who made it, I apologize that I didn't get a chance to chat with all you lovely gals, but something to look forward to in March! It was also nice to connect with people I'd chatted over Twitter, but not met in-person -- always a treat! Discussions ranged from traveling abroad, foodie adventures in Portland, cocktail experiments, and chickens. Yes, chickens! Yet another sign from above that the Wasabi household needs to consider getting some hens for fresh eggs, but that's for another post. There was also a discussion of making a version of limoncello with gin versus vodka, as the pine flavor would go nicely with the citrus -- consider it on the list of to-do's, and I hope to have a batch made before the next meetup!

There are several LUPEC chapters throughout the States, so if you're not in the Seattle area, do look around and see if your city has an organization. It's been a blessing to have been introduced to this great group of fun ladies. Along with raising a glass, the group raised money to help with Haiti relief. If you haven't already done so, an easy way to donate $10 is to text QUAKE to 20222 -- the amount will be charged to your phone bill, and go towards the Clinton Foundation's efforts towards assisting those affected by the tragedy.

Prior to the LUPEC meetup, I had arrived earlier to experience a self-guided tour of the Greenwood neighborhood, which couldn't skip a trip to the almighty bastion of burger nirvana, Red Mill Burgers. I risk going to fast-foodie hell for admitting this, but until that day, I'd never had a Red Mill burger before. *pause to wait for rocks and sticks thrown my direction* Thankfully, this omission in my Seattle food experience list has been righted, and I was most certainly not disappointed.

Heading to the Mill for burgers n' onion rings - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Everyone's got an opinion over what makes an ultimate, top-notch burger experience. Some people like ingredients and condiments piled high and some like just the basic meat patty with only a light scattering of lettuce, tomato, and maybe some cheese. I tend to go towards the latter -- keep it simple, because it's a burger, not an exotic meal jammed between two slices of bread. Save the crazy sandwiches for Dagwood Bumstead -- I prefer burgers basic, humble, with an honest bit of grease. When you walk into Red Mill, it's a brightly-painted, small space, where ordering and bar seating is in one half, and booths are in the next room. Bring cash, as they don't take plastic -- there are signs all over the front before you walk in, so consider yourself duly warned. A stereo blares music over the clang and clatter of kitchen sounds, and the air is thick with frying grease. My hair and clothing still smelled of the frying oil hours after the meal, but for a true burger experience, this is what makes it genuine, as well as a smelly favorite of the family dog when you come home.

I ordered their classic cheeseburger and a side of onion rings. It was everything a good burger should be -- nothing fancy, you taste all the ingredients, and the smoky char of the burger was plenty of flavor on its own without anything else. The onion rings were thickly-cut and in a peppery cornmeal batter, having a nice hearty crunch. The giant slices balance out the thick batter, otherwise it would just be a mealy fritter, and the combination of the two made for a delicious, indulgent meal. I think half of Red Mill's charm is its neighborhood feel, which makes it quite special. It serves burgers the old-fashioned way, no frills, and it's located in a great area full of regular visitors who live nearby. If anything, it just reminds me to visit our own neighborhood burger place in Duvall soon, as the spirit of supporting our favorite local businesses is always a good thing.

I continued to wander the neighborhood and stopped into Carmelita. Had I been more aware of my fry-oil perfume, I probably wouldn't have committed the faux pas of walking into a vegetarian restaurant after having a hamburger, but the Prime has never been one for social graces, and I'd heard so much about this place that I needed to have a visit. It was early, before the dinner rush, so I chatted with the hostesses before sidling up to their little bar in the back. I let their lovely bartender recommend a cocktail or two, settling on their Gin + Ginger, made with Hendricks gin, Canton ginger cognac, cucumber, and a sprinkle of lavender. Further proof that the bartender is always right -- let them choose your cocktail.

LUPEC prefunc at Carmelita's with their Gin + Ginger - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Much like Oliver Twist's rags to riches tale, my palate went from the humble hamburger to champagne wishes and caviar dreams, enjoying the fragrant delicacy of Carmelita's cocktail and an order of their paper-thin sunchoke chips, drizzled with white truffle oil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel. A beautiful drink paired with a light, savory snack. I was truly tempted by their spaghetti squash bonbons, but I didn't want anything too heavy to overpower the pleasantness of the drink. Plus, let's face it -- I had been impregnated with a Red Mill burger food baby and there wasn't any more room at the inn of my belly. Guess I'll just have to visit Carmelita a few more times and give its menu further samplings -- oh darn!

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  1. Great to see you again and thanks for re-posting the Haiti Relief Donation information. Great write up and see you again next month!!

  2. See, it is pictures and descriptions like these that remind me I can never be a vegetarian or a sober individual. Sounds like you had a great time with some great ladies!

  3. Yummm!! All of that looks SO good!! :D


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