Monday, March 24, 2014

FoodTrek: Going Out to Eat? Have ALL THE GOOD STUFF

Yes, I realize it's St. Patrick's Day today (no, it's not, I just completely spaced on when this would post). But it's as good a transition as any to talk about luck and good fortune. I don't have to find some end of a rainbow to realize how very lucky I am for a lot of things, one being that I live near a city like Seattle with so many great food offerings. I'm also very fortunate to be able to work from home, for myself as an Evil Boss Overlord, which also means for financial and practical reasons, I have to be selective about my adventures outside of my Hobbit-House. Going out to eat isn't just food for fuel, it's an experience. That being said, when I go out, I want All the Good Stuff, even if it's just a hamburger, pie for breakfast, and breakfast for lunch.

Ev'ry-body in the club gettin' Tipsy - burger from Tipsy Cow - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I'm fortunate that a lot of close friends are on similar schedules as me, so we try to make regular lunch dates to try out places and just pretend we are Leisurely Ladies (or Lads) Who Lunch. I'm slowly making my way through the Tipsy Cow Burger Bar's menu, over in Redmond. They opened recently, late last year -- the place was packed to the gills at the time. It was better to just get something to-go, but since then, the crowds are more manageable, and if you go after the lunch rush (usually after 1:00), it's much more relaxing and low key.

Great menu full of regionally-sourced ingredients -- the beef is grass-fed from Long Valley Ranch (which is actually over in Central Oregon, but that's closer than stuff getting trucked-in from, say, Texas), Macrina Bakery in Seattle makes the buns, and they try to use ingredients like Walla Walla sweet onions and cheese from Beecher's, so there's a lot of mindfulness that goes into sourcing the menu. And it shows in the burgers -- my most recent Burger Escapade had me trying The Winemaker, which was an all-beef patty topped with melty Brie, a tangle of fresh alfalfa sprouts (which I totally want to do all the time now), caramelized sweet onions and a smear of white truffle aioli. No actual wine in the burger, but it does sound like something a fancy winemaker would want in a burger, no? It was delicious and messy with the gooey Brie, but that's why you go with a good friend who won't judge when you just inhale that tasty burger and a pile full of shoestring fries.

Burger Break at the Tipsy Cow in Redmond - Photos by Wasabi Prime
My lunchmate, a burger purist, went for their signature Tipsy Burger, which is a simple cheeseburger using the same beef, a slice of Beecher's white cheddar, and they put all the fresh toppings like tomato, onion, lettuce and their sauce on the side, which I wish more places would do. It keeps the raw items fresh, plus gives you the option to add what you want. You could even skip using their sauce, which is horseradish-based, eliciting much Arby's nostalgia over our lunch. The basic burger is so good on its own, it really don't need anything else. Tipsy Cow's burgers are not Dollar Menu items at McDonalds, you're paying for carefully sourced goods, but getting real food flavor in return, which I think is worth the price. Again, because I don't go out to eat that often, and while I do make burgers at home, all these ingredients make something beyond a typical burger and fries. It's a classic food that I consider a treat, so if I'm going to have it once in a while, dammit, I want it to be good. And Tipsy delivers -- I'm saving my appetite for a milkshake next time. And some of those eggplant-fries with honey aioli. And maybe a pickle sampler. And a second stomach.

It's good to be bad - coconut cream pie bite for breakfast - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Another recent foray into Me Leaving the House was inspired by a friend who borrowed a copy of Tom Douglas's Dahlia Bakery cookbook and we read with awe, the ingredient list and method for making their famous triple coconut cream pie. Knowledge is a powerful, terrible thing when it comes to dessert recipes. This pie is legendary. There should be an Arthurian sword in each pie, and whomsoever pulls this sword from this pie shall be King. It's downright Presidential, because POTUS thought it was the bomb-diggity. And it's available in the morning -- they were so good to confirm its availability and promise not to tell my mom I'm having dessert for breakfast.

My friend and I made a pact to trek out one afternoon to have a slice of this mythic dessert and see if it's worth all the hype. We decided to fully embrace a day of Great Things, which was easy to do, so freshly off a Seahawks Super Bowl win. We said, to hell with rules and a sensible Food Pyramid -- we're going to have coconut cream pie for breakfast!

We also picked a freezing-cold day to do this, and Dahlia Bakery is more of a to-go place, with no indoor seating -- consider this when you want pie for breakfast. But fear not - we had our breakfast dessert in the warm comfort of the Nordstrom Cafe, who was so gracious to let us eat our not-from-their-bakery desserts with their lovely coffee with many, many refills. The pie was as amazing as legends and heads of state claim; a light topping of whipped cream over a coconut curd-like base. Richness defined, and not overly sweet -- it reminded me of a fresh-made haupia pudding. And you'll notice it's not pie-shaped at all -- I took a look at the whole pies, the size of the slices, even the "mini" pies behind the glass at Dahlia Bakery, and they were culinary beasts to be reckoned with. And I didn't want a sugar tummyache. But bless their sensible hearts, they have coconut cream pie bites, which are golfball-sized bonbons that you can have one (or two) and not feel the overwhelming guilt of sugar and high-fat dairy products.

Markets, dresses, and wigs - just a day in the life of Downtown Seattle - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Even with just a small sampling of coconut cream pie heaven, you have to walk it off a little. Despite the cold, the sun was out, so we made the most of our Downtown Seattle afternoon, wandering through Pike Place Market discussing favorite vendors for coffee and snacks, staring dreamily at couture gowns for events that will never happen in this not-formal-gown-town, and admiring the hypnotic power of stripper wigs rotating in a store window, right next to an impressive collection of hookahs. Don't change a thing, Seattle.

Dessert for breakfast, eggs for lunch - never let me leave this crazy train - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Staying true to leisurely lunches, we managed to grab a small table in the bar at Loulay, Theirry Rautureau's new restaurant that also opened around late last year. It's named after his childhood home of St. Hilaire de Loulay, with a menu populated with French-inspired, fresh Northwest ingredient-filled dishes that are rustic and approachable. You won't wonder what's on the menu or worry you're pronouncing anything wrong. It's in a great location, in a huge corner space near the Seattle Convention Center. I'm already scoping this place out for lunch/early cocktail hour when PAX is in town. Great lunch spot -- clearly a popular business locale to impress visiting clients who want to experience a bit of local chef celebrity, and rightfully so. We saw the Chef in the Hat himself, walking through the restaurant, greeting everyone and being his always-charming self. The bar area is small, but better for good conversation, since it's more cozy and away from the open dining area -- barside my personal choice for where to sit.

My lunchmate and partner in crime had Loulay's  trout salad, full of peppery arugula, chunks of savory-smoked white trout, and sprinkled with arils of pomegranate seeds. That sounds so sensible and good-for-you. I was like, eff that, I may not see the light of day again, I'm having their Croque Madame, which is a ham and cheese sandwich covered in toasted mornay sauce, topped with a duck egg.

Go big or go home - Croque Madame at Loulay with a duck egg - Photo by Wasabi Prime
It was like the breakfast I skipped in lieu of coconut cream pie, so I feel like the Universe balanced itself out and I had a really amazing lunch. True, I can make a Croque Madame or Monsieur (sans oeuf) at home, but having someone else who knows what they're doing, make it so well, with such delicious intent -- that's the reason we have restaurant experiences. I hunger for the opportunity to make the most an afternoon with friends as I do for the food on a menu. And sure, we could easily grab a cheap teriyaki bowl at some corner-stop place, but I do food-as-fuel plenty of times at home, in my own kitchen. Eating at a restaurant is a treat, so even if I'm getting the simplest of dishes, I appreciate the care that went into it, and frankly, the fact that I don't have to be cleaning dishes afterwards.

I consider luck and fortune to be on my side to live where I live, and do what I do, even if it means not going out as much as before. But I think that's part of the blessing of feeling fortunate, that you are able to recognize and truly savor the little luxuries you can afford now and then.

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