Monday, October 15, 2012

FoodTrek: FEAST (before famine)

I'm pretty sure my going-out habits are like a version of social anorexia/bulemia. And I'm not downplaying the seriousness of eating disorders, they are serious and not to be joked around with, unless you're a witty writer on Arrested Development, then nothing is sacred.  I'm  just saying it's literally Feast and Famine when it comes to my penchant for restaurant-going and cocktail-ing. The month of October has had me on steady 12-16 hour days, 1 day of a Cheeto-binge meltdown of despair, questionable weekends (minus one joyous Oktoberfest, praise the Beer Gods), and me checking off the "bathing optional" box. But at least the month of September was super-duper fun. And the Cheeto binge was so totally worth it - Prozac in a bag, yo.

This is usually meant for AFTER a long day, I had it before stuff went sideways - Photo by Wasabi Prime
 It's called "work" for a reason. Otherwise we'd call it something more pleasant, like "fun," or "sleeping more than 4 hours a night." It's not important what I was working on, simply that we've all been in those situations where for whatever reason, you can't climb over the mountain, you just have to dig through it with a rusty teaspoon, and it was a reminder over why I'd sooner become a hobo than return to Corporate America. I was prepared for a Month of Crazy, and so while I had the energy to do so, I did a Leaving Las Vegas/Dead Wasabi Walking whirlwind for a month, catching up with friends, heading to favorite places and just enjoying what was left of the amazing Global-Warming-is-Upon-Us extended summer. I hate the word Staycation, because it makes you sound like the person who insists on calling appetizers "apps" or says "chillaxin" without even a hint of douchey self-awareness -- but that's essentially what this month-long restaurant/cocktail tour was. It was a genuine treat, I can't even begin to describe how happy I was, and it was all thanks to the good friends and marvelous places we visited, right in our own city.

My ideal summer afternoon, including an awesome photo-bomb at Local 360 - Photos by Wasabi Prime
When people visit Seattle and they want a recommendation for a genuine Northwest food experience, I always tell them: get thee to Local 360. The concept is fantastic, they source as much of their menu as possible from local producers and farmers within a 360-mile radius. And why shouldn't they -- the Pacific Northwest region is bountiful and all that rain helps things grow. The menu changes regularly with the seasons, you can skip the standard menu altogether and just order whatever is on their fresh sheet, and you'll be eating peak-seasonal meals. On my last visit, I kept to liquids versus solids -- their bar has a ton of locally produced spirits. I went with an Old Mischievous Ways, which was like an Old Fashioned on summer break, named aptly for the Fremont Mischief John Jacob rye whiskey they use, along with a spiced simple syrup. I went lighter, trying their take on the classic French 75 - the NW 75, a mix of Voyager Gin from Pacific Distillery in Woodinville, fresh lemon, geranium liqueur and sparkling wine. The rose geranium liqueur is by BroVo, a distillery from Washington I'd never heard of until now, but was quickly charmed by its delicate floral flavor. It reminded me of the St. Germain elderflower liqueur that became very en vogue with cocktail-making. Once my St. Germain is gone, I'm switching to BroVo. The flavor isn't exactly the same, but that fragrant essence is similar, and it's always great to support your local distilleries. They help keep the bad days away, as does Local 360's awesome bartenders. Note to self: totally doing the local liquor flights the next time I Unleash the Kraken at 360 - consider yourself warned.

Delicious nibbles and the most heavenly cracklins (that aren't really cracklins) at  Coterie Room - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I saved my appetite for The Coterie Room, a mere sneeze away from Local 360. It was my first visit to Coterie, but not to the location -- they took over the old Restaurant Zoe space, which is a really pretty little jewelbox corner spot in the Belltown neighborhood. My friend insisted we go for the cracklins. I know, it sounds crazy -- go to this fancy-schmancy darling restaurant and order... fried pork rinds?? But oh these crispy, melt-in-your-mouth creations of Divine Swine! We sat at the little bar, which you should all know, is the ideal place to be at any restaurant -- and not just for the easy access to booze. We chatted with the bartender who was full of menu recommendations and interesting wines to try. He explained why the cracklins aren't even really cracklins -- it's pure pork fat suspended in a tapioca starch mixture, which is then left to set and thin shavings are made from the block, and that's the "skins" that are fried. The tapioca mixture allows it to puff up and crisp like a traditional pork rind, and the flavor is pure, buttery pork fat that if you let a bit of it sit on your tongue, it completely melts down into a bacon-y whisper. I don't need to live forever. I don't want to live forever. I want to be a rockstar young corpse from overdosing on these faux pork rinds. But not before more snacks. Chickpeas/garbanzo bean fries are like the new polenta fries. And I heartily welcome this trend. Imagine fried hummus -- creamy and sweet with a velvety smooth texture. And also three times hotter than the sun's surface, so bite cautiously, but you will be rewarded. We rounded out our dinner of little plates with Coterie's steak tartare. You can't beat a classic, especially at a McCracken and Tough restaurant, as they put such high standards on ingredients and preparation. You could hear the cow mooing, the beef was so fresh. It had the right balance of clean-flavored raw meat, like tuna done sashimi style, seasoned enough to where you savor it but you don't feel like the beef's natural raw flavor is hidden. It took me a while to appreciate raw foods -- I was the hot dog and scrambled egg kid, remember? But it's like a drug, once you get that first good high of something prepared very well, you're always on the lookout for the next flavor hit.

Diving in at Blueacre's oyster happy hour - and oh, crab and shrimp tater tots? Yes, please - Photos by Wasabi Prime
My other raw food addiction has become oysters. This mystifies my parents, and rightfully so, given our no-seafood household. But one never questions how one gets to be a shellfish-addled addict, it's just a thing that happens and you're left to wander the streets, a glazed-over look on your face, stalking whatever bivalve you can get your tweeker hands on. For an oyster fix, Blueacre Seafood will be your Dr. Feelgood, especially at happy hour. It's whatever seasonal oyster they have on-hand, a dollar each, and it's shucking awesome. Yes, you could go to some sports bar and get a monster pile of nachos covered with cheese that came out of a jar for like, $3 at happy hour, but honestly -- why would you? That beautiful, saline-fresh flavor of a just-cracked open oyster -- it goes as well with a glass of bubbly or a cold beer, and they're surprisingly filling. It's a pretty good protein base, so I admit, I'll usually have a few oysters if I'm planning on making a night of things. Still not sold on raw creatures of the sea? No worries, have some spicy crab and shrimp tater tots. Of course I had to order them! They were on their happy hour menu, but I'd have an entree-sized pile of these if I could. Imagine if a tender crab and shrimp dumpling made sweet, sweet love to a crispy potato tater tot. This would be their delightful offspring. I don't need to say anything more than that, because I'm sure you're heading out the door right now to have some of these, and don't forget to get some oysters along with it!

Koral and my un-model-like meal for Fashion Week in Bellevue - Photos by Wasabi Prime
My usual happy hour oyster fix when I'm on the Eastside is over at Koral - they have a great happy hour menu that includes a Buffalo Trace Manhattan,which I enjoy frequently. For a while they had oysters, but it's a seasonal item, and they change their menu items up a bit. I was in downtown Bellevue almost every night during this year's Fashion Week, taking runway photos. That was actually a good reason to stay up super late, not so much partying like a rock star, but shuffling home and editing tons of runway photos every night. If you want to take a peek on my Jaunty Magpie blog, I shot the Independent Show, Nordstrom Show and Front Row. I always wonder why I do this every year, the schedule can be pretty exhausting, but when you're in the madness of the crowd, the music, and the models strutting their stuff, the excitement and energy is as much of a drug as oysters and raw steak. It's also fun to visit favorite spots for a bite to eat before the shows. Koral, of course, since it's right in the Hyatt where the runway shows are -- no oysters on this visit, but they had some thick-cut truffle salt Parmesan fries that were calling my name in a most un-fashion model-like way. I had the voice of Emily Blunt's character from The Devil  Wears Prada screaming in my head, "...And you eat CARBS!!!"

Korean comforts at Chan in Seattle, and delicious morsels from the sea at Black Bottle Postern - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I also put in some quality time at Black Bottle Postern's bar, waiting for a fashion show to start. I purposely went extra early to just soak in an extra hour or two of just being a barfly. But a well-heeled one -- I had a new dress and a big sparkly necklace on, I was fancy, dammit. It's not weird to eat and drink by yourself because you can order the dishes you love and don't have to share with anyone. This logic is sound. I chose gluttony as my sin that day and got their crispy salt and pepper squid, and the spicy, smoky Manila clams and chorizo. Sharing might be caring, but I was looking out for Numero Uno that day because I was starving like a model and those nine almonds just weren't going to cover their bases for a long day.

The power of Mine, All Mine! was with me when I had a strong hankering for Korean food one chilly afternoon. I appreciate the new interpretations Chan does, like with their bulgogi sliders or even their cocktails, but that evening, I wanted their skillet bi bim bap. It's a great combination of a classic dish and using a small cast-iron skillet like the hot stone grills some Korean restaurants use. The food comes blazing hot, which is good if you're relaxing with a glass of wine and a kimchee sampler. I really like their daikon kimchee -- it's slightly sweet, I almost thought maybe it was pickled apples or something crazy like that. The heat and flavor are more traditional, not the more Japanese-style vinegar-pickled versions of kimchee you get bottled at the stores. It's got a deeper flavor from shrimp paste and the Korean chilis are like Szechuan peppercorns, a smoky, slow heat that builds as you eat. Total flavor and sensory experience in one meal, my stomach grumbles as I write this, disappointed we're not eating sizzling skillet bi bim bap with kimchee right now.

Closing out the night at Vessel, my new favorite thing to do - Photos by Wasabi Prime
It feels strange to finish off a long night with cocktails, but I've happily enjoyed many evenings getting wrapped up with a drink or two at Vessel. They're in a great spot, right in the heart of downtown Seattle, on the corner of Olive and 7th. It's so close to where the Mister works, the next time I get a spare moment, I'll meet him for a post-work drink. Any excuse to let the bartenders take control and make something amazing, plus have you heard of foie gras popcorn? Because butter is so middle class. Of the last few visits, I've only ordered one drink off the menu, everything else I said, mix up something fun. This is definitely the bar to give whoever's at the rail carte blanche for what you should be drinking that night,  you won't be disappointed. I've been sticking to whiskey-based drinks, but one night I had a Scotch-based cocktail that was incredibly smoky and hearty. It was like Chuck Norris in a glass, it was so manly. And twice as likely to beat the crap out of you, so just one was enough. I like that the bar menu gets changed out based on whoever is working that night, so when you go, you'll see a person's name at the top of the bar menu pages, showing who designed those drinks for the evening. It's like a restaurant, except that instead one chef, you have many. I need to get over to Vessel during the day -- it's not a vampire, this bar and restaurant comes out in the sun and offers a full lunch menu during the weekdays - Chef Cameo McRoberts is at the helm of their very cool open kitchen space, and the menu deserves a proper taste-through.

So, despite my current overworked/under-bathed status, I was, indeed, a Real Girl during the month of  September, enjoying fashion shows, sipping cocktails and knocking back oysters all over town. With any luck, I'll be a girl-about-town again soon, but until then, I'll look dreamily at these photos and remember fondly that thing called a social life.... and maybe play some Barbara Streisand "Memories" a la The Way We Were

1 comment:

  1. Whoooo I feel giddy and slightly liverachey just reading this! Hoooray for not chillaxin!


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