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Best semi-affordable omakase in Seattle?

First, a caution about ordering omakase. There is a general notion that, by ordering omakase, the chef will dig out his hidden treasures for you, or at least serve you what he thinks is the highest quality of the available seafood, so that you will be getting better-than-average quality. But ordering omakase doesn’t necessarily lead to this result. At some sushi restaurants (like Sushi Kappo Tamura, for example), the “omakase” menu is in reality just a set price-fixe degustation menu. The chef isn’t hand-picking items especially for you. But there is a more general issue. It is one thing to order omakase if you are a long-standing customer and have a history with a sushi chef. In this situation, the chef knows your likes and dislikes, he also knows how willing you are (or aren’t) to try things that are unfamiliar and not liked by most Americans (e.g, shirako, sea cucumber), and he has a sense of how sophisticated and discriminating your palate is. If I can’t tell the difference, why would a chef waste his highest quality on me? Armed with this knowledge, and since I’m a favored, repeat customer, the chef has an obvious incentive to tailor his selection to what will make me happy. If, on the other hand, you are a total stranger to a sushi chef and order omakase, you are likely to get a “safe” selection, meaning a selection that would appeal to most mainstream American palates. If this isn’t what you want, I’d recommend starting out by telling the sushi chef what things you like and what things you don’t like, and giving him as much guidance as possible to help him personalize his selection. For instance, you might ask him to tell you about any seasonal specialties that aren’t always available.

My favorite sushi restaurant in Seattle continues to be Kisaku. I like the fact that the owner and chef, Ryuichi Nakano, usually has a variety of unusual, seasonal seafood in addition to the standard stuff familiar to casual sushi eaters. Nikano-san is extremely knowledgeable and skilled, and the quality of his seafood is very high. In addition to getting seafood from Japan, he has developed relationships with a lot of local fishermen and suppliers. When I ate at Kisaku last week, I enjoyed some marvelous fresh spot prawns that had just been caught and arrived at the restaurant hours earlier. Kisaku means “easy going” and the ambience is causal and friendly. Good sushi isn’t cheap, but In terms of price vs. quality, I think that Kisaku is a good value. You can make a reservation at Kisaku, and I suggest specifying that you want to sit at the sushi bar with Nikano-san. You can ask to make sure on the date of your reservation, buy typically Nikano-san is there on Sunday nights.

I also very much like Sushi Kappo Tamura and admire the vision and skill of the chef, Taichi Kitamura. What sets SKT apart, in my opinion, is not the sushi, but the kappo. I have had some very interesting and delicious cooked dishes at SKT, and they are the main draw for me to return there. But the omakase is expensive, seven courses for $100, so with tax, tip, and beverage, you will easily blow past your per person cost limit.

Although I admire the commitment to serving only sustainable seafood at Mashiko, I don’t like the noise level or ambiance. I also find that Mashiko serves a lot of American-style sushi, which is perfectly fine for those who like it, but I prefer the simpler, classic Edo-style sushi. I also think that Kisaku consistently provides more unusual, seasonal seafood. Last week at Kisaku, for example, I had kisu (aka shirogisu), which makes the very best fish tempura (Kisaku has an excellent kitchen for cooked dishes), a luscious blue-nose snapper, and pike conger eel (hamo), a summertime seasonal speciality from Japan that I’ve not seen in any other sushi-ya in Seattle.

The main reason to pay the high prices at Shiro’s was to bask in the presence of Shiro Kashiba, a master itamae (sushi chef) and local Seattle icon who trained with Jiro Ono, the star subject of the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” But, as has been pointed out on another recent thread, Shiro isn’t at Shiro’s anymore. Even though he sold all but a small minority interest in Shiro’s years ago, he still continued to work at the sushi bar a few days a week. But he sold the last part of the business and hasn’t been at Shiro’s since last April.

I’m not a fan of Nishino. As in all things food, I know that there are those who disagree with me, but I’ve just had too many disappointments there to warrant a recommendation. I also find that the seafood selection at Nishino doesn’t include very many unusual seasonal items.

Let us know where you wind up and give us a report.

1 day ago
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle
1

Is Filipino food embarassing?

Thanks, Brunhilde. I lived in the Philippines for three years long ago, and am anxious to check this out.

May 13, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

A Mild Dissent on Ribelle from a Seattle Chowhound

I’ve really enjoyed all the interesting, thoughtful comments in response to my o.p. Again, to be clear, I fully understand and appreciate Tim Maslow’s formidable creativity and skill. And I’m glad to know that he’s dividing his time between Ribelle and Strip-T’s. In fact, my wife and I had lunch on Thursday at Strip-T’s on our way to Logan, and Tim was there as well as his wine manager. Our server told us that Tim is working on revamping the dinner menu at Strip-T’s.

I totally agree with Opinionated Chef that it’s all about deliciousness. The interesting thing about food is the seemingly endless diverse roads to deliciousness including perfectly prepared classic, traditional dishes, edgy new “modern” combinations of flavors and textures, and simple, rustic dishes. I have great admiration for those who break new barriers of deliciousness when they hit the bull’s-eye with some new creative dish, and understand that the price for these triumphs is the occasional miss. All I can say is that, on my first experience at Ribelle, I didn’t experience the soaring highs that I did, for example, on Wednesday night at North in Providence, RI, another edgy, uber-creative restaurant, even though, as is almost always the case, I thought some of the dishes I had at North were better than others. In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered the chicories dish at Ribelle. I love chicory, but kind of got steered towards the other dishes I ordered by my server.

Speaking of the different roads to deliciousness, and in light of kimfair’s praise for the octopus at Ribelle, one of the highlights of my recent trip was the octopus stew at Galito, a Portuguese restaurant in Pawtucket, RI. There certainly wasn’t anything “edgy” about this dish. It was just perfectly tender octopus in a deeply flavored tomato sauce that defined the meaning of “comfort food.”

Given Tim Maslow’s prowess, I’m sure that as the menu develops and changes over time, things will only get better. I was just surprised, in light of all the extravagant, over-the-top things I’d read about Ribelle before going there, that my reaction was so muted in comparison. And I can certainly understand and respect those who disagree with my assessment.

Feb 28, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Boston Area

A Mild Dissent on Ribelle from a Seattle Chowhound

Every time I’m in Boston, which has been a couple times a year but usually for only one to three days per visit, I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I spend my precious few eating opportunities returning to my old-reliable favorites – Neptune, Oleana, etc. – or do I explore some new places (at least new to me)? My most recent visit on Feb. 23 presented a particularly tough choice since I had time for only one dinner before driving to Providence, RI. Ultimately, I decided to try a new place, and narrowed the list to Ribelle and Fairsted Kitchen. Although the reputed uber-friendly vibe and menu items like cumin-dusted lamb ribs, veal and caraway stuffed cabbage, and braised whole oxtail at Fairsted were tempting, I chose Ribelle based on a spectacular dinner I had at Strip-T’s about a year ago. Unfortunately, the huge wow factor I experienced at Strip-T’s wasn’t repeated at Ribelle. So much has been written about Ribelle – almost all of it highly positive – that my first inclination was not to add to the flood of words and opinions. But since I only liked Ribelle rather than loved it, I feel like a somewhat lonely voice, so here is my two cents worth.

By contrast with Strip-T’s, Ribelle seems less daring, more precious, more gentrified, and ultimately less exciting despite the ambitious menu and complex preparations. The dishes that my wife and I shared by were truffle egg toast, kohlrabi with veal tongue, golden tilefish, duck liver mousse, and lamb shoulder with Carolina gold rice and parsnip. The lightness of olive flavor in the tilefish’s leek-and-olive broth was perfect, enhancing not overpowering the delicate flavor of the fish. But the plethora of other ingredients, including caper, lardo, and tiny dots of tomato jam didn’t integrate well and just seemed like fussy affectations. In this case at least, the whole was not more than the sum of its parts. My favorite dish of the evening was the aged lamb shoulder. It was very flavorful, perfectly cooked to medium rare with a light char, and married well with the mixture of rice and parsnip puree. My least favorite dish was the duck liver mousse. The best liver mousses and patés I’ve had put the liver front and center with just a few grace notes in the background. It’s all about simplicity and clarity, demanding subtlety and restraint in its preparation. (My gold standard is the chicken liver paté prepared by Chef Greg Atkinson at Restaurant Marché on Bainbridge Island, Washington.) Ribelle’s duck liver mousse had so many strong flavors rolling around in it that the flavor of the liver was mostly lost, providing just a creamy, fatty texture for the other flavors. There was also a bitter finish that I found off-putting. After a few bites, my wife and I left this dish untouched.

Don’t get me wrong. With the exception of the duck liver, I thought the food at Ribelle was pretty good. I just didn’t think it was great or amazing, certainly not worthy of four stars, and not as good as the dinner I had the next evening at Birch in Providence. Faced with the many diverse ingredients and complex preparations, I found myself reacting in a serious, studious mode, analyzing and evaluating, but not quite getting my arms around most of the dishes. It felt like a date with a girl who is smart and interesting, but there’s no romance. Food is about more than creativity and technique. Great food seduces you. It’s about love. Therein lies its mystery.

Maybe if I lived in the Boston area I’d try Ribelle again. But since I don’t, and since my opportunities to sample the Best of Boston are so limited, I don’t see a return visit to Ribelle anytime soon in my future.

I was interested in another Chowhound thread that addressed the question of whether Strip-T’s could maintain its quality now that Tim Maslow is spending all of his time at Ribelle. (I was told that Tim’s father divides his time between Strip-T’s and Ribelle.) Some of the posts on that thread thought that the quality at Strip-T’s hadn’t suffered. I loved my experience at Strip-T’s, so I hope this is correct, but wonder about the long-term effects of Tim’s absence.

Feb 26, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Boston Area

Cascade Fresh Yogurt is gone!

I was interested in Laurella’s comment about additives, so I did a little checking. The traditional way of making the thick-textured style of Middle Eastern yogurt (“Greek yogurt”) is to strain the yogurt to remove its whey. To avoid the cost of expensive straining machines, many companies use various thickening agents like dried non-fat milk, starches, and pectin to provide the thick texture, which obviously has become wildly popular. The biggest selling Greek yogurt in the U.S., Chobani, uses the classic method of straining and its lack of artificial thickeners is a major marketing strategy. Fage, another widely available supermarket yogurt, also doesn’t use artificial thickeners. Ditto for Voskos, Wallaby, and Trader Joe’s.

I checked some of the supermarket brands and discovered that Nancy’s adds nonfat dry milk. Mountain High adds pectin. And the yogurt I’ve been buying at Goodies Market, Byblos Natural Plain Yogurt, contains pectin and carrageenan. Ouch!

Another issue is the type of milk used to make the yogurt. Skim milk may be heart healthy, but in my opinion it tastes like crap, so I drink whole milk and just drink less of it to adjust for the higher calories. For the same reason, I prefer the richer, creamier, more buttery taste of whole milk yogurt, although the thick texture of nonfat Greek yogurt compensates to some extent for the wimpier dairy flavor.

In addition to the issue of flavor, and although the scientific evidence of health benefits is controversial, there’s the issue of whether the milk is from cows that are fed organically without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and synthetic growth hormone. Wallaby, for example, states that it only uses organic milk from local pasture-based family farms in Sonoma and Marin counties, and its website has a list of these farms.

Epicurious, Huffington Post, Consumer Reports, Serious Eats, and even Rachel Ray (gag) have conducted Greek yogurt taste tests. Fage Total Classic won the Epicurious taste test with Trader Joe’s Greek Style Plain in second place. The bottom three were Oikos Organic 0% Greek Yogurt, Dannon’s Plain Greek Yogurt, and Greek Gods Nonfat Plain Yogurt. In the Huff Post taste test, Fage Total 2% and Fage Total 0% tied for number one honors, Chobani 0% came in third, and Fage Total fourth. Last place was Yoplait Greek 2x Protein. The Consumer Reports taste-test was weird in that they only tasted 10 strawberry and one strawberry-banana yogurts. Fage 2% was deemed “excellent,” while the two fat-free Stonyfield yogurts were rated as mediocre with little dairy flavor. Rachel Ray’s test rated Wallaby’s Organic Plain Lowfat Yogurt as the best plain low-fat yogurt, with Fage Total 2% the runner-up. There weren’t any results for whole-milk yogurt. According to the Serious Eats assessment of low-fat yogurts, “If you’re really into that trademark sour Greek yogurt funk taste, go with Fage, whereas Chobani is best for intimated beginners.” As for the richer, higher-fat yogurts, Serious Eats liked Trader Joe’s Plain Greek Yogurt (“so thick, stirring it felt like mixing cement”) and Fage’s Total Classic. (Warning: Fage’s Total Classic has 23 grams of fat and 300 calories per serving. Yes, I am sensing the scowls of disapproval, but I’m reminded of a comment that Diana Kennedy made in a cooking class I took with her long ago when one of the participants questioned her use of lard rather than vegetable oil. “I think you are in the wrong class,” she responded. “This is a class about Mexican food, not health food. If you want the flavor of authentic, traditional Mexican food, use lard, eat less, and enjoy more.” There are so many reasons to love Diana Kennedy.)

So it looks like I’ll add yogurt to my lineup of taste tests to compare Fage, Trader Joe’s, Wallaby, and maybe a couple of others. To be continued . . . .

Feb 14, 2014
Tom Armitage in General Topics
2

Biang!

My wife and I went to Biang! on Saturday night – not the best timing in light of the snow which started falling during our dinner, making the drive home on the narrow, curvy road through our hilly neighborhood a pulse-pounding experience.
I was guided in selecting the four dishes we shared by the previous posts in this thread, so I don’t have much new to share. As expected, the Hot Oil Seared Biang Biang Noodles were clearly the star of the show. I loved the slightly chewy, elastic quality of the noodles, the intense flavor of the broth, and the big kick from the generous amount of chilies. I also very much liked the Broccoli with Garlic Sauce and Sesame Oil. The sesame oil was just a whisper of a background note, which meant that it didn’t overpower the broccoli, the flavor of which remained front and center. And the broccoli was perfectly cooked to the Goldilocks standard – neither undercooked nor overcooked and lightly crispy. I’d definitely order this again. There wasn’t anything “wrong” with the Spicy Cumin Beef Sandwich, but it didn’t particularly excite me. The flavors were curiously subdued given the list of ingredients, it wasn’t what I’d call spicy, and I didn’t get much taste of cumin. I wanted to have more intensity of flavor – something closer to the pork burger at Facing East, for example. Our fourth dish was the Xi’an Strip Pork with Skin. In this dish, the pork had been fried and then steamed in a light broth. The pork was very tender, but not intensely flavorful. The broth, on the other hand, was delicious and totally comforting on a chilly evening. I might order this dish again primarily to drink the broth, dabbing the pork in a mixture of chili sauce and vinegar. I’d be interested in exploring more of the menu at Biang!, but it will be hard, if not impossible, to resist ordering the hot oil seared noodles.

I never ate at Shi’An, so can’t compare it to Biang!

Feb 10, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle
1

Cascade Fresh Yogurt is gone!

I don’t buy yogurt with fruit, either mixed into the yogurt or not. I buy Bylbos yogurt at Goodies Market and then add my own fruit, honey, nuts, or other toppings of my choice. That way I can use really good local honey and/or high quality fresh fruit and other toppings. So I never have a problem with “weird tasting,” sugared-up fruit. Of the supermarket brands, I agree that Nancy’s is okay, but I’d still buy the plain, whole-milk yogurt and add my own stuff for quality control. I think it makes a huge difference.

Feb 05, 2014
Tom Armitage in General Topics

Lake City Way: Three Recommendations

This is great news. Thanks. I didn't eat at Aloha Ramen at its former Greenwood location, but have read that it has a pretty decent shio ramen.

Feb 05, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Lake City Way: Three Recommendations

Thanks to all for recommending Falafel Salam. It is now near to top of my falafel taste-off list. It’s interesting that the owner/chef of Falafel Salam is from Israel, but describes his falafel as “authentic Arab falafel,” which, since it is made with both fava and garbanzo beans, is consistent with my current understanding of the difference between Israeli and Arab falafel. When I go to Falafel Salam for my taste of its falafel, I’ll ask about that.

Feb 03, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Aragona

My first visit to Aragona reminded me of some of my dating experiences as a young man. Specifically, it was like going on a date with a girl who is attractive, smart, and has a good personality, and not being able to explain to my friends afterwards why I wasn’t more infatuated. I liked the food at Aragona, in fact I liked most of it a lot, but for some reason I’m not sure I can explain, I didn’t come away with the same love-struck feeling that I’ve experienced at restaurants like Spinasse, Altura, and Four Swallows. Ah, the mysteries of love.

Does this mean I won’t ask Aragona out on a second date? No, I’m definitely up for seeing more of her. And the more I think about it, the more Aragona moves up the ladder of my affection.

The first thing brought to our table was a sunflower cracker which I found boring and an odd choice for a first impression. Our first ordered dish was spot prawns in cider broth. The spot prawns were perfectly cooked and I couldn’t get enough of the sauce, which was addictively delicious. In fact, my wife and I had a little friendly competition to see who could sop up the most sauce with our bread. There wasn’t the slightest smidgen of sauce left when we were through. My wife’s only negative comment, which was repeated for some of our other dishes, was that $20 seemed expensive for five small spot prawns. For me, knowing the cost of fresh spot prawns, this wasn’t a big issue, especially given how amazingly wonderful the dish was. Our next appetizer was beef tongue escabeche, a hearty dish with a strongly flavored brown sauce with onion, currents, and capers. I liked it, even though I thought that the delicious sauce somewhat overpowered the delicate flavor of the tongue, leaving the tongue as a more of a textural vehicle for the sauce. I contrasted Aragona’s preparation to the tacos de lengua I’ve enjoyed that are garnished only with a little salsa verde or onion and cilantro, where the flavor of the tongue is more prominent. The black cod in adobo was served with a cup of consume laced with sherry. This was close to a perfect bite – a crisp, non-greasy crust encasing the subtly flavored silky black cod inside. A complete wowser-dowser!
Well-prepared Spanish arroz caldoso (“brothy rice”) is characterized by a highly concentrated broth, a classic example of which I’ve had the good fortune to experience at Bar Pinotxo in the La Boqueria market in Barcelona. Aragona’s version of arroz caldoso, made with geoduck and turnip, captured the classic briny intensity of the seafood broth, but I wished that the flavor of the geoduck had been more prominent. For me, it seemed to get lost in the dish. The grilled pork chop with prune, garlic cream, pig’s trotter, and amontillado sherry came perfectly cooked to a medium rare (medium pink center) and tender as could be. The sauce was fabulous with the richness of the pig’s trotter and cream balanced by the acidity of the sherry. For dessert, we ordered the xuxos caseros, crispy fried pastry dough stuffed with crema catalana. The classic version, which I also had at Bar Pinotxo in Barcelona, dusts the fried pastry with crystallized sugar, and I was skeptical about Aragona adding truffle salt, fearing that it would be just an affectation. But it was wonderful. The xuxos were a perfect balance of crispy, soft, salty, and sweet. It took all my restraint not to order a second plate of them.

The service got off to a bit of rocky start with our appetizers arriving before we’d had a chance to order our wines. But our servers made sharing the dishes easy by bringing each dish to the table with separate small plates so that my wife and I could share the dish with swapping plates. It was a thoughtful and much appreciated aspect of our service.

I was excited to seek the advice of the one of the two superstar sommeliers Aragona has to guide you through your beverage selections. We were assisted by Jackson Rohrbaugh, formerly of Canlis, who was recently recognized for his best-in-class performance in passing his Advanced Exam at the Guild of Sommeliers. (The other sommelier is Christopher Tanghe, formerly of Canlis and RN74, who is one of only seven Master Sommeliers in Washington State.) Rohrbaugh selected different wines to pair with each of my wife’s and my dishes. The selections, which included some Spanish sherries, were thoughtful and interesting, introducing me to some wines I wasn’t familiar with, such as the lightly sparkling Avinyó Vi D’Agulla Blanco from Penedes, Spain and the Occhipinti SP68 Bianco from Sicily made from the rarely encountered Sicilian Albanello and Zibibbo (Moscato di Alessandria) grapes.

My wife and I sat in the uppermost dining room next to a window that looked out at the wall of a building next door. As others have pointed out, the best views are in the bar, where you can also order the full menu. But I was pretty focused on the food and wine, and our table was just fine.

Both Jason Stratton and Carrie Mashaney were in house, visibly checking all the dishes as they came out of the kitchen. In fact, Jason brought one of the dishes to our table.

All in all, despite the absence of love at first bite, my first date with Aragona was a very enjoyable experience, and I’m looking forward to more dates in the future.

P.S. Some of my favorite experiences in Spain, especially in coastal venues, are eating the amazingly fresh and abundant seafood prepared very simply, like the razor clams flash-grilled a la plancha with only a little olive oil and salt at Cal Pep, a seafood bar in Barcelona. Given the abundance of fresh seafood in the Pacific Northwest, why can’t we duplicate that kind of experience here in Seattle? I suppose our oyster bars come closest to this, but they aren’t quite the same.

Feb 03, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle
1

Biang!

Wow, this great info. And it's not that far from my hood. Will try it soon.

Jan 31, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Bumbu truck

I guess the early bird gets the nasi gudeg. Thanks for the heads up, equinoise.

Jan 31, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Lake City Way: Three Recommendations

I live near Lake City, certainly not the culinary hot spot of Seattle. However, there are three places that don’t get a lot of attention on this board that I can recommend if you happen to find yourself on Lake City Way. I’m excluding Chiang’s Gourmet which gets lots of attention and is already on the radar of most Chowhounds.

Zaina is located in the little mini-mall (where a burger hut used to be, and where the now-closed Diva Coffee, Subway, and a few other stores and eateries are located) at the triangle intersection of NE 80th St. and Lake City Way NE, not far from the Lake City Way off-ramp from I-5 North. Lucky for me, it moved from its previous location on Cherry Street in Pioneer Square to its current location on Lake City Way last July, and is on one of my regular routes to and from my house. Zaina isn’t unknown to Chowhound’s Greater Seattle Board, with both its former Cherry St. location and its still-current location on First Avenue & Pine St. getting some mixed reviews. Zaina serves falafel, gyros, shawarma, and other Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare. It’s a small space, with a counter and a handful of stools inside, and picnic tables outside, which needless to say aren’t very useful when it’s raining. They do a lot of take-out, but the pita sandwiches are a pretty messy affair, definitely not eat-in-the-car friendly. The Zaina restaurants are owned and operated by a Palestinian family from Jerusalem. The staff, which includes lots of family members, is very accommodating, helpful, and exceedingly warm and friendly. And I like that it is open until midnight for those times when I’m driving home hungry after a late-night arriving flight. Although in previous posts, Chowhounds have disagreed about the quality of Zaina’s falafel, which is made with a combination of chickpeas and fava beans, I like it and often order a falafel sandwich for lunch. I used to go to Curbside Kebab, a trailer on the northwest corner of 145th and Aurora, for my falafel fix. Curbside Kebab was associated with Goodies Market on Lake City Way. The falafel at Curbside was aggressively spiced, but I liked it. Alas, Curbside Kebab is no more. I understand the trailer was sold and moved to Portland. So how good (or not good) is the falafel at Zaina? Well, I’m not sure I have enough of a sample to compare it to other falafel around town, so I’ve decided to go on a falafel taste off, with Mawadda, Halava, 2 Chefs, Mr. Gyros, Hummus, Gyro-cery, and Shawarma King on my current list. Any other suggestions? On a previous thread, Terrier addressed the fact that many places cook a large quantity of falafel and then leave it sitting in a hotel pan for as long as it takes to sell out, which I agree is a big problem. Falafel is best eaten right out of the fryer, with a crispy crust and warm, fluffy, soft interior. So, with respect to my taste-off, side-by-side comparisons are going to be difficult, if not impossible. Not that this is going to deter me. Finally, as a somewhat interesting footnote, I recently read that, unlike Arabic falafel that is made with fava beans or a combination of fava beans and chickpeas, Israeli falafel is typically made with only chickpeas because many Jews have a medical deficiency called G6PD, which is a hereditary enzymatic deficiency that can be triggered by fava beans. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of this statement, but thought it was intriguing.

My second recommendation is Phở Ân, located at 12526 Lake City Way NE, on the east side of the street just north of 125th St. Street parking can be a problem in this area, but there’s a parking lot in the rear of the restaurant, accessible from 125th St., and there’s a rear entrance. Perhaps I missed it, but I couldn’t find any mention of Phở Ân on Chowhound’s Greater Seattle Board. I certainly don’t hold myself out as an expert on Vietnamese phở or other Vietnamese cuisine, so I’d be very interested to learn what more knowledgeable and sophisticated Chowhounds think of the food here. My experience has been very positive. The broth is very flavorsome in a light, clean, delicate way. The flavor appears to come from long simmering of the bones, rather than substituting salt or MSG to boost the flavor of more hastily prepared broth. Phở Ân is spacious and meticulously clean, and the staff is extremely friendly and helpful. I haven’t yet had anything I didn’t like here, but I’ll specifically mention the phở Ðuói Bò, because it includes the unctuousness of ox tail along with eye-round steak. Although I’m interested in what those who have more sophisticated palates than mine for Vietnamese food have to say, for me, Phở Ân is a very welcome addition to the Lake City eating scene.

My last recommendation is Goodies Mediterranean Market, located at 13721 Lake City Way NE. I’ve been shopping regularly at Goodies for many years, and it’s my go-to place for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern groceries, with many items that aren’t available elsewhere in Seattle (at least to my knowledge). At Goodies you can get freshly made hummus and baba ghanoush, addictive Morrocan oil-cured olives, hard-to-find fruits and veggies (e.g., green almonds), Űlker labneh, Ohanyan’s soujouk and bastirma, Bylbos yogurt, and all sorts of other wonderful stuff. But Goodies has now installed a Mediterranean flatbread kitchen in the rear of the store named Man’oushe Express. It’s only been open a month or two. My first try was the half-za’atar, half-jibneh mana’eesh, and I liked the contrast between the intense herbalness of the za’ater and the mild salty tang of the jibneh. Other mana’eesh include lahm b’ajeen with ground lamb and tomato (which sounds similar to Turkish lahmajoon), and soujouk with garlic and sliced tomatoes. Prices are very reasonable, ranging from $2.95 (for the classic za’atar mana’eesh) to $4.95 (for the soujouk mana’eesh). By comparison, the mana’eesh at Mamnon range from $6 to $9, roughly double the price. Maybe the quality at Mamnoon is worth the extra cost; I’m not yet in a position to assess that. For me, the convenience of Man’oushe Express is a real blessing. Man’oushe Express has a couple of sweets for $3.95 and hot tea with fresh mint for a buck. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 8 pm, and on Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm.

There are certainly other restaurants on Lake City Way that have merit, such as the value-priced mainstream sushi at Toyota Sushi. But because of their relative newness and the fact that I personally like to eat at these places, I wanted to focus on Zaina, Phở Ân, and Man’oushe Express (Goodies Market).

Jan 30, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle
1

Aragona

Page received, Equinoise. Wow, I'm a Dr.? I haven't been active on Chowhound for quite awhile, but I'm glad I checked back in today. I'm going to Aragona on Friday night, and will post a report after that. I've got a lot to catch up on, Chowound-wise. It's nice to be back.

Jan 29, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Looking for Kaffir Lime Leaves

I recently bought some at Uwajimaya in the I.D.

Jan 27, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Revel opens tonight

I always order the corned lamb salad to start with. To say that it "wakes up the palate" would be an understatement. Maybe not every dish that Chef Seif comes up with hits the bullseye, but so many of them do that Revel continues to occupy a spot on my list of favorite Seattle restaurants

Aug 21, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle
1

What's good in Kitsap?

I agree. PGGS is a little pricey, but the quality is mostly pretty good. One advantage at breakfast is the good coffee. For lunch, the chicken salad (either as a salad or in a sandwich) is excellent. I also like the upscale version of the meatloaf sandwich. They serve dinners on the weekend.

Jul 17, 2013
Tom Armitage in Pacific Northwest

Seattle-3 days next week, comments on dining itinerary?

I certainly understand -- and commend -- trying to find food that isn't done better in your hometown. It's really hard coming from a place like L.A. where there is so much good food across such a wide range, And, if you are not a seafood person, that limits a lots of options in Seattle. I also understand the transportation issue, even though a lot of the Seattle "vibe" is better experienced in some of the outlying neighborhoods, like Capitol Hill, Ballard, and Fremont, than in downtown Seattle.

Thanks for the explanation and, again, I hope you have a good time in the city that I have grown to love more than L.A., though not for the food.

Jun 08, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Seattle-3 days next week, comments on dining itinerary?

I happen to think that the breakfast at Lola is overrated, including the often recommended octopus hash. It sounded wonderful so I was anxious to try it, but found it much more interesting in conception and it was in my mouth. It's curious that none my personal favorites -- such as Altura, Spinasse, Revel, Walrus & Carpenter, and Sitka & Spruce -- made it on your list. I do applaud your choice of Il Corvo however. Do you not like oysters? Seattle has several good oyster bars, including the huge selection at Elliott's, if your have any interest in sampling our Pacific NW oysters, which are some of the best in the world.

I never recommend the Underground Tour to visitors. The underlying story of the Seattle fire and the underground is interesting, but the tour itself, wandering through dark, uninteresting subterranean passages, is pretty boring. I think the Chihuly Glass Garden is great, and walking along the paths at Bloedel on Bainbridge is also lovely, especially this time of year.

Have fun. BTW, I grew up in L..A. and lived there for many years. I miss the food scene there, especially the deep and wide ethnic diversity. I used to tell my friends that you go can go around the world and never leave Los Angeles County.

Jun 08, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Four Swallows on Bainbridge Island -- what took me so long?

Yes. Chuck and I practiced law together at Tuttle & Taylor and remained friends after we both left the firm to pursue different adventures. It's been a long time since we've been in contact though. My e-mail is t.armitage@comcast.net.

Jun 08, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Four Swallows on Bainbridge Island -- what took me so long?

One of my embarrassing little secrets is that, although I’ve lived in the Puget Sound area for over 25 years and think I have a reasonably good knowledge of the food scene here, I’d never eaten at Four Swallows on Bainbridge Island until last week. Even though Four Swallows has consistently received high praise, I think my reason for not going there sooner was that somehow the menu just didn’t seem all that exciting or innovative. “Not bad, but pretty conventional,” I thought. Now I’m kicking myself. My wife’s and my inaugural visit last week was delightful in every respect – the food, the service, and the ambience. I also re-learned a valuable lesson. The difference between so-so food and outstanding food is principally the finesse and attention to detail that a chef exercises when preparing carefully selected high-quality ingredients. I’d much rather have a relatively straightforward dish that is perfectly prepared than a fancy-schmancy dish with a jillion exotic ingredients thrown together with a careless and inattentive hand. The chef at Four Swallows, Geraldine Ferraro, obviously cares deeply about the quality of the dishes leaving her kitchen, and prepares them with great restraint and care.

My wife and I started by sharing some gnocchi with local asparagus, peas, and morel mushrooms. The gnocchi were among the lightest I’ve ever had, like eating a cloud. The asparagus was cooked to the Goldilocks standard – not too raw, not too well done, but just right (lightly crisp and intensely flavorful) – and likewise with the peas and morel mushrooms. All of these ingredients benefited from a light, flavorful broth. Perfection! Could our other dishes measure up to this lofty standard? The answer was yes. My brined pork chop was tender, moist, and deeply flavorful. My wife likes salmon more rare than anyone else I know, including myself. This can make it hard on a kitchen, because what the cooks consider rare, my wife typically regards as medium. So I was not surprised when my wife’s Neah Bay salmon came somewhat more well done than she likes. The salmon was brought to the table by Chef Ferraro, and when my wife gently indicated that is was slightly more well done than she likes, Chef Ferraro quickly and graciously replaced it with another piece of salmon that was cooked exactly as my wife likes it. Both my wife and I were deeply impressed by this example of the restaurant’s commitment to please their customers. My wife and I are “plate traders” and, after sampling the salmon myself, I agreed that it was a beautiful piece of fish perfectly prepared. The choice of dessert was difficult, but the butterscotch budino turned out to be a perfect end to a perfect meal.

Our server, Rich, knew the wine list backwards and forwards, informed by a broad knowledge of wine in general. His recommendation for a wine that would compliment the dishes we had selected was spot on.

I mentioned ambience, and my wife and I loved the coziness and rustic charm of the 1889 yellow clapboard William Grow Farm House in which the restaurant is located.

I really feel stupid for not discovering Four Swallows sooner. But now that I realize why so many have raved about Four Swallows for so long, my wife and I won’t be waiting long to return.

May 29, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle
1

Mamnoon?

I haven’t been to Mamnoon, but I’ll add my two cents worth about my experience at Café Munir. Overall, what I particularly liked about the food here was the fact that the spicing was in general more subdued and subtle than I’ve experienced in other Lebanese restaurants. (During the years I lived in Los Angeles, my place of work was located in an Armenian/Lebanese neighborhood with many wonderful restaurants.) Some people, like my wife for instance, may find the preparations at Café Munir “blander” than they like, but not me. For example, I thought the preparation of m’tab’bal (baba ghanoush) let the eggplant flavor sing without being overpowered, as it often is, by tahini. My wife, on the other hand, missed the more usual prominence of tahini and cumin. My wife and I also disagreed on the pastry turbans filled with spicy lamb and veggies, which I liked and my wife didn’t. But we both liked the winter greens with tomatoes and the chicken wings with a garlic sauce that was strikingly similar to the much revered garlic sauce at Zankou Chicken, one of my Los Angeles mainstays. And we both loved the Sheik Al Mahshi, eggplant stuffed with lamb in a tomato sauce. I liked the space and ambience, and thought the service was friendly and helpful, even if a little inattentive at times. Although the Ballard area is a schlep for me, since I live in the northeast corner of Seattle near Lake City (generally a culinary desert with a few exceptions), I’d happily return to Café Munir, even if it means twisting my wife’s arm a bit to do so.

By the way, with respect to the mention of Golden Beetle in this thread, a non-Seattle-based award-winning chef who specializes in Eastern Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, found the food at Golden Beetle “terrible.” Based on this chef’s privately expressed opinion, which I greatly respect, I’ve never been to Golden Beetle.

Apr 19, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Anniversary Dinner: Altura or Spinasse?

Thanks for the detailed and even-handed report, Kaleo. I’m glad that the anniversary dinner experience was, overall, a good one and that you were at least “whelmed.” I haven’t had any of the dishes that you and your bride chose, so was especially interested in your report. I always get inspiration for my own cooking from Nathan’s preparations, and the halibut with anchovy crust definitely got my attention.

I’ll add my experience at Café Munir to the thread where you reported your experience there (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/885005), but I certainly understand and appreciate the “value” issue at all high-end restaurants, including Altura – an issue that I briefly raised in the thread that followed my post about my first visit to Altura (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8209...). It might be interesting to start a thread on Chowhound’s Greater Seattle board about what Seattle restaurants offer the best value for “high-end” dining (meaning expensive, carefully sourced ingredients used in complex, labor-intensive preparations, etc.). I’m willing to spend up for the occasional high-end meal, even though I completely understand the joy of eating less fussed-up and precious preparations that still manage to dazzle the palate at a fraction of the cost.

I think you order much more judiciously than I do, since my tab at Café Munir was $81 for my wife and me. Still a very good value, however.

Cheers,

Tom

Apr 19, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Anniversary Dinner: Altura or Spinasse?

Let me add my congratulations, Kaleo. Happy anniversary to you and your bride!

You can’t miss at either place in terms of the quality of the food. These are probably my two favorite restaurants in the area at the moment – with some close runners-up, of course. I just had dinner on Monday night at Spinasse and it was wonderful as always – a fabulous antipasto of shaved kolrhabi and watermelon radish with anchovy, meyer lemon, capers, and parmigiano reggiano; roasted Jerusalem artichokes with baga caoda; and capunet, a very rich but wonderful mixture of pork shoulder, foie gras, and potato wrapped in Swiss chard and served with a caramelized honey sauce. The only dish that I had any fault with was the stinging nettle risotto which I thought was a bit too heavy-handed with the lemon. But, all in all, it was another in a long series of amazing meals at Spinasse.

However, I agree with the others about the choice of Altura for your anniversary dinner. As you may recall, I have praised Altura effusively on Chowhound (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/820980), and my many experiences since my last post have been nothing short of wonderful. Part of the reason for my recommendation has to do with ambience. I agree with dagoose that Spinasse has an informal, rustic, casual ambience that is not quite as celebratory as the ambience at Altura. Also, the dishes at Altura are less rustic and more refined and elegant than those at Spinasse. Like PAO and gingershelly, my wife and I usually sit at the counter, but primarily because I like watch the cooking and talk with Nathan and his cooks during the meal. (My favorite spot is in the center of the counter where Nathan usually works.) But for an anniversary dinner, I might be inclined to sit in one of the booths so that I could have a more intimate setting and focus my undistracted attention on my loved one. Unless your wife would feel like she would be missing out by not watching the preparation of the food, which admittedly is very enjoyable and entertaining, a booth seems like it might be more romantic. But either way, I’m confident that you will have a wonderful anniversary dinner at Altura.

Whevever you decide to go, I hope you will give us a report.

Tom

Apr 17, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Three Highly Recommended Dishes at Spinasse

I think you’ll enjoy Spinasse. It is one of my top five favorite places to eat in Seattle. But a word of caution about my “three highly recommended dishes.” The menu at Spinasse changes often, so there is a high probability that these dishes won’t be on the present menu, given the fact that I posted about them 10 months ago. For your first visit, there are some items that tend to stay on the menu and are classics. One is tajarin al burro e salvia (thin hand-cut egg pasta with butter and sage), very rich with lots of butter but oh so delicious. However all the pastas are wonderful. One of the wonderful aspects of spring in the Pacific Northwest is the appearance of stinging nettles. Spinasse does a risotto with nettles, raw egg yolk, and parmigiano-reggiano that, if available, I don’t think I could resist. Another Spinasse classic that I always find hard to resist is the rabbit meatballs with roasted baby turnips and turnip greens. And as pricey as it is ($24), the “Pio Tosini” prosciutto di Parma is swooningly wonderful. If the prosciutto sounds appealing but the price and quantity are too much, ask for a half order. Don’t be afraid of ignoring these recommendations. Spinasse is an embarrassment of riches, and as often as I’ve eaten there it is always hard for me to choose among its many splendors. Enjoy!

Apr 10, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle
1

What's good in Kitsap?

Hi Gingershelley. Fancy meeting you on this board.

Inlet Grille is in the Silverdale Beach Hotel, 3073 NW Bucklin Hill Road, in Silverdale. I haven’t eaten there, but it sounds like the menu has lots of standard stuff on it (e.g., crab-and-artichoke dip, smoked salmon bisque) – at least “standard” for places that are aiming at a somewhat upscale market without trying anything too different or out of the mainstream. I agree with Mom2two’s post about Pho T&N in Poulsbo. I eat there a lot and it’s one of the few places in North Kitsap that rises above ho-hum for me. Green Garden Pho wasn’t on my radar, so I was glad to learn about that.

Tom

Apr 09, 2013
Tom Armitage in Pacific Northwest

Recommendations needed for a wine group dinner

I’m a member of a group of wine lovers that meet once a year in connection with a nuclear medicine conference. These annual dinners are a tradition dating back 40 years. The participants come from all over the world (USA, Canada, Europe, South America, etc.) and the format is that each person brings one bottle of a prized wine from his or her cellar (two bottles per couple), and these wines are paired with food at a good local restaurant. The number of those attending these dinners is typically 20 to 30 individuals. This year the meeting is in Vancouver, BC. I am looking for a restaurant that would accommodate our group. A private room is ideal, but as long as the group can be seated together at one or two large tables and the restaurant is not so noisy that it makes it difficult to converse and to hear the oral presentations discussing the wines that have been brought, a private room isn’t critical. The other big issue is the corkage charge. I’m aware of the recent change allowing BYOB in Vancouver, but some restaurants have responded with a very hefty corkage charge of $30 or more per bottle, which would put them out of range cost-wise for our dinner. So I’m looking for suggestions for potentially suitable restaurants with good food, the ability to accommodate a large group, and reasonable corkage, hopefully under $20 or at least a willingness to negotiate a reasonable corkage fee. Most of the people will be staying at hotels near the Vancouver Conference Centre, so restaurants located far away might pose a problem with respect to travel time and cost of a taxi. Any suggestions from my fellow Chowhounds (I’m a long-time Chowhound now living in Seattle) will be deeply appreciated. Thanks.

Apr 04, 2013
Tom Armitage in B.C. (inc. Vancouver)

Is Walrus & Carpenter “the most important” restaurant in Seattle?

Don’t get me wrong, equinoise, I share the love for Commander’s Palace. I ate there last month and had a fabulous experience, as I almost always do. I’m a huge fan of the elegant riff they do on Creole cuisine and think that the kitchen, under the present leadership of Chef Tory McPhail, is better than ever. And the service is always amazing. I also ate at Galatoire’s where the preparation of classics like shrimp rémoulade and crawfish maison was as good as ever and my order of redfish was cooked to perfection. The classics at Galatoire’s may be more “basic” than the preparations at Commander’s, but as a New Orleans institution, Galatoire’s clearly has its own claim to “importance.” Are Commander’s and Galatoire’s important landmarks of New Orleans? Of course. Is Cochon worthy of praise for making new interpretations of Cajun cuisine available in a city where Creole cuisine takes center stage? Yes, even though I’ve found the food at Cochon somewhat uneven. My only point is that I have a long list of wonderful places to eat in New Orleans (a list that I’m constantly adding to), and when I stop to ask if one place is "more important” or “better” than another, first I get dizzy thinking about it, then I get bored and conclude it really doesn’t make any difference. I’m happy to spread my love around without worrying about who I love more and who I love less, or which places on my list are “important” and which are not. Okay, enough of this. Now I have to plan my next trip to Louisiana.

Mar 01, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Is Walrus & Carpenter “the most important” restaurant in Seattle?

Focusing just on the food at Jacques-Imo’s, not the “scene,” I had mixed results the last time I ate there, and nothing hit the "ethereal" level you experienced. It didn’t make me anxious to return to deal with the line, the wait, and the scene. But that was quite awhile ago. I’d defer to Gizmo, who I’ve discovered knows a lot more about NOLA and Louisiana cuisine than I do. On my visit to New Orleans in January, one of my faves was a weekend brunch at Coquette on Magazine Avenue – kind of upscale and trendy, but the food was really, really good.

Feb 28, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Is Walrus & Carpenter “the most important” restaurant in Seattle?

I understand your point of view about Donald Link providing some interesting Cajun-inspired food in a city dominated by Creole cuisine. So I won’t quibble with you about whether or not this makes the New Orleans Cochon “important.” I know that in your post you only mentioned Cochon, but I think my response was colored by Randy’s inclusion of Commander’s Palace. Anyway, I’m really surprised that the Lafayette Cochon closed. I was in Louisiana just last month, and ate twice at the Lafayette Cochon, once on Monday, Jan. 21 and again the next night in order to partake of the whole pig that had been charcoal roasted in a Caja China that night (yum!). The restaurant seemed pretty busy on both nights, and no one leaked a word about closing, despite the fact that I had some long conversations with the staff. There were certainly places in Cajun Country where I had more “authentic” Cajun cuisine, but I enjoyed the food, the space, and the ambience at the Lafayette Cochon and was looking forward to a return visit. I’m really sorry to see it go.

Feb 27, 2013
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle