Wednesday, May 30, 2012

FoodTrek: Seattle State of Mind

We are lucky. We are incredibly lucky. This thought was running through my head when I was at an event in Seattle, celebrating the opening of a new Korean restaurant and bar, Chan, and being surrounded by so many incredible food writers, bloggers and edible enthusiasts. If there's a New York State of mind, then there can definitely be a Seattle state of mind when it comes to what you're eating.

Yes, sliders are everywhere, but they sure are cute to photograph! - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Nestled in a cozy little spot in the courtyard of the Inn at the Market on Pine, right by Pike Place Market, Chan is joining the well-populated ranks of Seattle restaurants, expanding palates into the realm of Korean cuisine. It's not a giant restaurant, it's small and intimate, looking almost like a little sushi place, with its long communal bar area where a lot of the guests will likely sit (the place was in party-mode, so most of the tables and chairs were moved out so the group could mingle). Along with flavorful food, Chan focuses on sustainability, using local ingredients prepared with familiar Korean seasonings and flavors, like spicy pepper paste, fresh ginger and garlic, all balanced out with sweetness.

Friday night at Chan in Seattle - like a foodie-reunion! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

It's an open kitchen – you see everything being prepared, so there's no hiding what's being worked on. It almost feels like you're in the home of a friend who has a big, airy kitchen, and you're the lucky guest, enjoying a cocktail or two while someone cooks dinner. Chan's menu is a mix of modern and traditional, with familiar items like a marinated grilled pork bulgogi, pickled vegetable banchan, and newer twists like layering the bulgogi into friendly little sliders and a sticky-sweet-spicy take on chicken wings. The names on the menu may not yet sound familiar to your ears, but you take a bite and it's instant recognition of flavors you've probably had before, and it emboldens your palate to try everything.

Tasty bites; bulgogi, savory rice cakes, chicken wings and the almighty slider - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Chan is part of a growing interest – I see more Korean-style restaurants opening up, and they're not trying to be slaves to tradition, but experiment with the food and present the base flavors in a way that's approachable to everyone. I think Korean food is a perfect combination – it's refreshing with spiced pickled vegetables, and satisfying with grilled marinated meats cooked to a sizzling finish. It's savory-spicy-sweetness, the right mixture that appeals to so many tastes. Chan's proximity to the Market makes it an easy choice for visitors, and it's food cooked with sincerity, something that Seattleites can get behind and support. Where other cities would shove a large tourist trap-style chain restaurant close to a popular city destination, Chan is a small, pleasantly tasty oasis that's presenting a slice of what makes Seattle so special.  Exotic, flavorful and sustainable – a good mantra to have, and very much what I'd consider a Seattle state of mind.

Yes, you can pickle that, Chan - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I felt lucky to be at Chan for the event, but one of the biggest reasons I felt so fortunate was that I was surrounded by such great company. I saw so many people I hadn't seen in a long time and many that I've chatted with over Twitter or Facebook, but we've never managed to meet in real life, at least until now. Seattle has a diverse and intelligent food community. I know this isn't breaking news – a lot of cities have food-smart folks, I just appreciate the fact that this area has a combination of people with restaurant industry background and enthusiasts who put a priority over where the food comes from. There are a lot of people here who garden or regularly buy their produce from farmers markets and community supported agriculture subscriptions. Nobody's perfect, we can't eat every meal in an artisan organic way, but it's something people strive towards and there's an overall sense of awareness over true quality. It makes going to an ingredient-conscious place like Chan feel like less of an eco-trendy sound bite and more of a regional movement towards getting everyone to a better place. And there's a great base of people who express these ideas in their own way, whether it's what they cook, write or photograph. It was a good reminder for myself to be aware and thoughtful, to value the ingredient and those who wave this banner every day.

Spicy sticky goodness - chicken wings done right - Photo by Wasabi Prime

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