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Tom Armitage's Profile

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Stateside

It’s been quite awhile since I had my one and only dinner at Stateside, and I don’t have a clear memory of the details of the food I ate there. I had heard rave reviews from many people in the food industry whose opinions I generally respect, so my expectations were pretty high. But I remember thinking that the food was somewhat spotty and inconsistent. I’m pretty sure that the short ribs were star of the show, and I have a vague recollection that I was disappointed with the goat curry. I also remember liking the tropical fruit plate for dessert. But I can’t remember much else. The “wow factor” wasn’t such that it made a return visit high on my list, especially given the irritating noise level. There were five people in my group, so we tasted lots of different dishes, and we ate at a table in the southwest corner at the window.

Randy’s report, and my respect for his palate, has moved a return visit to Stateside further up on my list.

Aug 28, 2015
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Good first experience at Goldfinch Tavern

Hi Kaleo,

The Goldfinch burger on the Happy Hour menu, which comes with fries, is $12. (It is $17 on the regular menu.) Considering the quality of meat (Mishima wagyu) and the generous size of the burger, the happy hour price seems like a good deal to me. Happy hour drinks are $8. I had the American Goldfinch with Citizen gin, Capitol vodka, Cocchi Americano, and Sibona Camomilla (a chamomile-infused grappa). It was a terrific drink. The Hamachi Crudo isn’t on the Happy Hour menu and is $17 on the regular menu. The total price for the burger, crudo, and two drinks, which my wife and I shared, was $45, or $22.50 per person. The Goldfinch happy hour is between 4 and 6 pm.

My other favorite happy hour burger is at the Sand Point Grill. Since my wife works at Children’s Hospital, this place is super convenient for us and we eat there frequently. The Sand Point happy hour burger is $10. It uses a high-quality Pacific Northwest grass-fed beef (I think they are currently using Painted Hills, but I’m not positive about this) and, like the Goldfinch burger, is made with onion marmalade, Beecher’s cheese, tomato, lettuce, and pickles, but with the addition of bacon. It is served with an ample portion of good fries. A large glass of good draft beer at the Sand Point happy hour is only $3.75. So a good burger consistently cooked to order as requested (in my case, rare), fries, and a beer is only $13.75. Talk about a good deal! By the way, Sand Point Grill also makes a terrific Reuben sandwich, one of the best, if not The Best, I’ve had in Seattle, with gruyere cheese and Essential Bakery rye bread. It is only $8 on the happy hour menu.

Hope this helps.

Tom

Good first experience at Goldfinch Tavern

I confess to being an unabashed fan of Joe Ritchie’s cooking. I first encountered Chef Richie’s talent when he was running the kitchen at Mkt., Ethan Stowell’s small 28-seat restaurant in Tangletown. Mkt. quickly became one of my favorite places to eat in Seattle, along with the likes of Altura and Spinasse. Ritchie’s creations often surprise me with lovely details that are like opening unexpected gifts. It’s the kind of cooking that produces “ooohs” and “aaahs” and much eye rolling. When I learned that Ethan Stowell was moving Ritchie to a new restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel downtown, I was disappointed and apprehensive. Not only did it mean that I would have to endure the longer drive to downtown with its congestion, traffic, and expensive parking, but I worried that the corporate hotel influence of Four Seasons might drown out the unique personality and innovativeness of Ritchie’s creations, which had wisely been given full flower at Mkt.

Last Thursday, my wife and I were downtown in the afternoon and decided to check out Chef Ritchie’s new venue at the Goldfinch Tavern in the Four Seasons Hotel. We started with some excellent and interesting cocktails and learned that Goldfinch had the great good fortune to hire Hideki Anpo, the former bar manager extraordinaire at Poppy. Since my wife and I arrived during happy hour, we decided to take advantage of the Goldfinch Burger on the happy hour menu. We both like our burgers cooked “black and blue” with a nice char on the outside, but rare on the inside (which requires the use of very high quality beef). It is almost impossible to find a restaurant that will consistently cook a burger like this, the Sand Point Grill (another of my favorite Seattle restaurants) being a notable exception and our previous gold standard for a burger in Seattle. The Goldfinch Burger was not only cooked perfectly to our specification, but was absolutely delicious, thanks in part to the coarse-ground Wagyu beef from Mishima Ranch. It was the best burger my wife and I have had in Seattle. We also had the hamachi crudo graced with small touches of Taggiasco olives, horseradish, red onion and chervil. Beautifully balanced and swooningly good. On my next visit, I won’t be able to resist ordering the hamachi again, but am excited to try other things like the beef tartare and the beet & Dungeness crab salad. I’m hoping that, in time, the menu at Goldfinch will expand to include more of the innovative small plates (like the hamachi crudo) that were what made Mkt. such a special experience. My wife and I sat at a table by a window overlooking Elliott Bay, and we liked the look, feel, and acoustics of the new space at Goldfinch. Service was excellent – informed, attentive, and friendly. Our very positive experience was especially impressive considering that Goldfinch was just finishing its first month of operation.

Jul 14, 2015
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Somali Food at Kabsa House

I just discovered this new Somali restaurant in Lake City. It has only been open for three weeks. Located in a small, spare room, it serves a limited number of dishes, mainly seasoned rice (curiously referred to by its Arab name “kabsa” rather than the Somali name “bariis) with a choice of three types of protein – chicken, goat, or salmon. Other dishes include lentil soup, hummus, falafel, sambosa (samosa), chicken salad, and sabiyad (a Somali flatbread similar to Indian paratha). They don’t have a written menu, but you can look at the menu on a computer at the check-out counter. I had a small sample of the rice with goat and thought it was pretty tasty, but I’m not familiar with Somali food and would be interested in what more knowledgeable folks have to say. I haven’t really explored the other Somali restaurants in the Seattle area which, with the exceptions of Dur Dur Café and Indian Ocean, seem to be located either in Tukwila or in the Brighton neighborhood of Rainier Valley. I’ll try to check out Kabsa House in the next few weeks and update this post. Hopefully, others will also report their experiences. Since it’s so new, it’s relatively undiscovered and, with the exception of one brief, favorable report on Yelp, there isn’t much information about it.

Kabsa House
12340 Lake City Way NE

Good food, but not loud

I'll add a third for Nell's. Yes, there's a lot of grey hair there (including mine), but I agree 100% with bourbongal's comments about the consistently high quality of the food and the quiet, relaxing, peaceful atmosphere. Another reason I'm so high on Nell's is that the prices are very reasonable given the high quality of the food, making it a good value. Eating with friends and/or family isn’t just about the food for me. It’s also a social event. I ate at Stateside last week and the noise level was so deafening I couldn't hear the friend sitting next to me, much less those sitting across the table from me. I also ate at Café Lago which I wouldn't describe as "quiet," although you can comfortably carry on a conversation with your tablemates. Much to my surprise, given my previous experiences at Lago, I had a mixed experience with both the food and the service. Although the pasta was as ethereally light and delicate as always and the tomato sauce tasted as fresh and delicious as ever, the pizza was totally and disgustingly soggy. The service was at times attentive and helpful, but at other times was inattentive and missing in action. Maybe it was just an off night.

Feb 22, 2015
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Jason Franey to Leave Canlis as Owners Launch National Chef Search

I agree. I just checked the Restaurant 1833 website and there was no mention at all of Jason Franey, not even in the extensive listing of the restaurant's key staff. I also looked at the menu and it looked pretty pedestrian without any hint of a new creative approach. Other than the news last October that 1833 had hired Franey, the only recent news I could find were postings on Craig’s List and on Twitter about Franey seeking line cooks to work with him. So if this move was supposed to mean greater creativity, fame and glory for Franey, it doesn't seem to be working, at least in the short run.

Feb 19, 2015
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Top four winners and losers in 2014

Lucky you for having the opportunity to eat at Red Medicine before it closed on Oct. 31 last year. I'd hoped to be able to eat there, but didn't make it in time.

Commis and Lotus of Siam are way up there on my list of favorite restaurants. In fact, I discovered the culinary genius of Saipin Chutima in the 1990s when she was cooking at Renu Nakorn in a dumpy strip mall in Norwalk, California, and wrote about it extensively on the Los Angeles Board of Chowhound.com at that time. So I’ve got two decades worth of affection, respect, and wonderful memories associated with Lotus of Siam.

Jan 08, 2015
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Top four winners and losers in 2014

I’d be interested in what Seattle area chowhounds view as their top four winners (best meals or best new finds) and top four losers (bad experiences, disappointments, closings) during 2014. Here are my lists:

Winners:

1. Joe Ritchie’s elegant, delicious food at Mkt.

2. Birria de chivo and tacos de cabeza at Taqueria El Taco Maestro in Renton.

3. Mana’eesh at Goodies Mediterranean Market on Lake City Way.

4. The extensive collection of amari and creative cocktails at Barnacle.

Losers:

1. The inconsistent and often mediocre food at Westward. Waterfront location and vibe? Yes. Carefully prepared food? No. My wife and I ate here several times, and we can’t understand how bon appétit magazine picked Westward as one of its top 10 new restaurants of 2014.

2. Disappointing food, both in concept and execution, at The Whale Wins.

3. Gloppy, carelessly prepared noodles and horrible service at Trove (even though I’ve been a big fan of Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang and continue to like the food at Trove’s sibling, Revel, especially the corned lamb salad).

4. The closing of Four Swallows (Bainbridge Island) and Paseo. The Spanish-inflected mussels, butterscotch budino, and other treasures prepared by Chef Geraldine Ferraro will be profoundly missed, as will the roast pork and the shrimp sandwiches at Paseo. I have no information or opinion on the merits of the lawsuit brought by Paseo’s employees. I just know that I always looked forward to the delicious sandwiches there.

Jan 06, 2015
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Pop Pop Thai Street Food

I really liked Olympia Jane’s comment about the original mission of Chowhound – to find undiscovered gems as opposed to rendering one more opinion among many on a well-known restaurant. So kudos to you, Creepy Girl. I was excited to learn about Pop Pop and my wife and I went there last night. We had the chicken wings, spicy holy basil with ground pork, and pad kee mao with shrimp. My preliminary opinion, based on just this one visit, is generally positive. I agree with Creepy Girl that the food is carefully prepared. In particular, the shrimp in the pad kee mao were perfectly cooked, tender, juicy and flavorful, not overcooked, dry and mealy like the shrimp I’ve had at many other Thai restaurants. And I was excited to have real holy basil with its spicy, peppery, clove-like flavor, rather than the sweeter Thai basil or other types of sweet basil. The only other restaurant that I know of off-hand that uses real holy basil is Noodle Boat in Issaquah. The food at Pop Pop wasn’t as cloyingly sweet as it is at many of the more “Americanized” Thai restaurants in Seattle. But I still sensed some restraint, and missed the funkiness and sharp edges of disparate, contrasting notes (bitter, sour, spicy, etc.) that I look for in Thai cuisine. On the plus side, Pop Pop is reasonably close to where I live and is a wonderful addition to the generally bleak eating scene in this area of Seattle’s north end. It’s a better alternative than other north-end Thai restaurants like, for example, Thai One On on Lake City Way. My wife and I agreed that we would happily return here again to try other dishes, like the braised pork leg and grilled chicken.

Dec 31, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

RIP weekend brunch at Harvest Vine

I just learned that Harvest Vine will no longer be serving weekend brunch, with the occasional exception of special holiday weekends like Easter. The last regular weekend brunch will be served on Sunday, December 28. This is a real loss since so many brunches consist of badly cooked, rubbery, overstuffed omelets and other similar mediocre fare. So what are the Seattle alternatives to the usual boring brunch menus? Dim sum, yes, but I wish Seattle had better quality dim sum. There are some acceptable options in Seattle, but they suffer by comparison to the best dim sum in other West Coast locales like the Greater Vancouver, BC Area, the Bay Area, and the Greater Los Angeles Area (particularly the San Gabriel Valley). When people have asked me to recommend a weekend brunch in Seattle, I would often suggest Revel for its interesting Asian fusion fare and Harvest Vine for its breakfast-inflected take on Basque pintxos. Yes, I know that some feel that the food at Harvest Vine isn’t as good as it was when Chef Joseba Jimeniz de Jimenez was cooking there. But my wife and I would often enjoy spending a lazy weekend morning or early afternoon at the bar at Harvest Vine, eating things like Huevos a la Flamenca with Spanish chorizo, Serrano ham and piquillo peppers, and Calabaza Relleno con Morcilla (blood sausage stuffed delicata squash with poached egg and piquillo vinaigrette), and bacalao (salt cod) croquettes, accompanied by a glass or two of cava. Alas, no more. .

Dec 28, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Birthday Dinner 2014

Re: the “Ethan Stowell empire,” I was merely reflecting the reference in this thread by Kaleo who contrasted the savory food at Zoe with Boat Street and “Stowell Empire.” And when I checked out your previous post last August on Mkt, I noted that one of the responses stated “I’m not much of a fan of Ethan Stowell’s restaurants . . . but compared with his other spots, Mkt’s menu is a bit more inspired and refined.” I used to eat at Union quite often, but haven’t been to many of Ethan Stowell’s current restaurants, especially recently, so don’t really have a personal opinion about them.

Dec 23, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Birthday Dinner 2014

Great report, Kaleo. And a belated Happy Birthday. I've been absent from the Seattle Chowhound board for quite awhile, but you've inspired me to check out Zoe. I haven't been there since they moved from their previous location a long time ago.

My new fave in Seattle is Mkt. Yes, I know, it's part of the Ethan Stowell empire, but the food there is very much the creation of Chef Joe Ritchie, and I find his food to reflect great care, attention to detail, and elegantly balanced flavors. I'm a regular at Kisaku, which is right across the street, and first decided to check out Mkt on a whim. It was love at first bite, and I've been eating there a lot lately.

Dec 23, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Is Filipino food embarassing?

On Bainbridge Island, if you want some creative preparations, I'd recommend Hitchcock. I've had some wonderful dishes there, but I've also had a few dishes that have been pretty far off the mark. So consistency has been an issue. However, it's been quite awhile since I've eaten there, and hopefully the occasional lapses in the kitchen have been corrected. I'm a huge fan of Four Swallows. The menu there may not be as adventurous as Hitchcock, but the chef cooks with great care and finesse and I've never had a bad plate of food there. If you go to Four Swallows, be sure to have the mussels (the Spanish-inflected broth with sherry and smoked paprika is amazing!) and, for dessert, the butterscotch budino. Restaurant Marché has a justly revered local chef, Greg Atkinson (formerly a chef at Canlis), whose preparation of classic dishes (mussels with Pernod, trout meunière, grilled salmon) is consistently impeccable. He makes what is IMHO the best chicken liver paté in the greater Seattle area and his preparation of vegetables is especially exquisite. When I eat lunch at Marché, I often get the Market Vegetable Plate which consists of five vegetables prepared five ways. Hope this helps.

Oct 01, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Seattle Spanish Staying Power?

Those are interesting questions, Equinoise. Going down the list of Spanish restaurants that didn’t make it, I was never very impressed by the quality of the cooking at Taberna del Alabardero the few times I ate there, despite an ambitious menu. And to add to your list, another Spanish-leaning restaurant that bit the dust is Olivar. I agree that Txori was terrific. I can’t remember the circumstances of its closing, but perhaps the divorce played a part. There may be a little downturn in quality at Harvest Vine, but I don’t think it is all that noticeable or significant. Even during his co-ownership, Joseba was often absent from the restaurant, and his right-hand man, Joey Serquinia, has stayed on at Harvest Vine to run the kitchen there. I still enjoy going to Harvest Vine, especially for the weekend brunch (a welcome change from bacon and eggs and other standard American-breakfast dishes). A glass of cava with the brunch doesn’t hurt either.

I don’t have any special insights or wisdom on why authentic Spanish restaurants don’t seem to fare well in Seattle. Maybe it is the mainstream food preferences of most Seattleites, despite a growing minority of adventuresome foodies, that makes Italian food a “safe” choice, but less familiar cuisines (e.g., Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish) a little scary and off-putting. Perhaps that explains the passionate defense by many hard-core Seattle loyalists for Dick’s hamburgers, the prevalence of Americanized (as opposed to authentic) Thai restaurants, and the fact that many of the new restaurants opening in Seattle feature “new-American” cuisine (e.g., Mkt., Babirusa). (P.S., I absolutely love the food at Mkt.)

I don’t sense that Spanish cuisine is becoming out of fashion on a national scale. José Andrés’s restaurants, for example, seem to be doing fine. On recent visits to Jaleo in Washington, D.C. and also in Bethesda, both places were packed and the food was, in general, very good.

As noted in my previous lengthy Chowhound review of Aragona, I thought many of the dishes there were both authentic and first-rate, and I’m saddened to see its early demise. My salvation is that, thanks to Spanish Table and mail-order options for the availability of ingredients, I often prepare Spanish food at home. Already this week, I’ve enjoyed a dinner of morcilla, and an evening with assorted pintxos, including the classic gilda (aka the “Rita Hayworth”) made with anchovy, guindilla pepper, and manzanilla olive (or other green Spanish olive). It is fishy, salty, spicy, and sour from the vinegar-pickled guindilla. Definitely not mainstream American fare.

Aug 28, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

Gooseneck barnacles? (SEA)

Wow, I'm so envious, Equinoise. I have eaten goose-neck barnacles (percebes) in Spain, where they are hugely expensive but well worth it. The only other place I've had them was once, long ago, at the Alder Wood Bistro in Sequim, but they were not very tasty or well-prepared and didn’t hold a candle to those that I’ve had in Spain. The chef at Alder Wood told me that he got his goose-necks from a local forager whose name I can’t recall offhand, but who, at least back then, apparently sold his foraged foods from time to time at the Port Angeles farmers market. I think you’ve got the answer, which is to discover where to find them and forage them yourself. Here’s a video I found of harvesting goose-necks in Clayoquot Sound, B.C.: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/n...

Aug 25, 2014
Tom Armitage in Greater Seattle

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.

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.

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.

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 . . . .

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!

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.

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).

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