Saturday, September 25, 2010

morimoto napa

The first fancy dinner of our stay in wine country this time was at Morimoto Napa on Sunday evening.  Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto's newest restaurant opened in July, just in time for our mid-August trip.  I knew Steve would be especially interested in eating there, so I made sure to fit it into our schedule.  Luckily, getting reservations on OpenTable for 5:30 on a Sunday night was pretty easy.
When we arrived, we were asked whether we would like to sit inside or outside.  While the dining room was appealing in modern yellow and gray, with warm woods and grapevines on the walls, I knew that the light would be more conducive to taking photos out on the patio.  We would also have a nice view of the Napa River, even though it's not the prettiest this time of year.
As we were led from the lounge area, past the open kitchen, we saw Morimoto himself standing at the pass in his black chef's jacket, striped apron, shorts, and running shoes.  I maintained my composure, but I was definitely thinking, "It's him!  He's here!!"  (squee!)  I really hadn't expected to see the chef, but the restaurant was still new enough that he was there to oversee things.  Most of the time, he appeared to be watching the food going out, making sure everything was up to his standards, but leaving the cooking to his crew.
We were shown to a table on the covered patio, next to the building.

The design on the menu and wine list covers seemed to be a stylized version of the grapevines that decorated the dining room.  The menu itself was rather large, but we saved ourselves the burden of choosing by ordering the Omakase tasting menu.

It had been hot all afternoon, so we ordered a couple cocktails to start off the meal.  Steve got the Tokyo Tea (bombay gin, lychee liquer, jasmine tea) and I went for the Lychee-Yuzu Daiquiri (matuselem rum, nigori sake whipped cream).  Mine was certainly the more girly of the two, but it wasn't a sugar bomb.  It was subtly sweet and refreshing—perfect for the evening.
tokyo tea & lychee-yuzu daiquiri
Our first course was a very Iron Chefy presentation of tuna tartare.
Toro Tartare
black nori paste, wasabi, crème fraiche, chopped chives, avocado, and rice crackers

toro tartare
Served on a bamboo tablet, it was finely chopped toro with various accompaniments.  The idea was to use the little shovel to get some tuna and one of the garnishes or condiments, then dip it in the dashi soy sauce and eat it.  I didn't have the black nori paste on mine, since it apparently had some sort of allergen in it, but I didn't miss it.  The whole dish was both fun and tasty.  I wasn't a big fan of the wasabi, but that's no surprise.  The other choices were satisfying, and the tuna was good on its own with the soy sauce too.  The little red ball in front was a yamamomo or mountain peach, to be eaten as a palette cleanser.  It was fruity and sweet and maybe a little tangy.
The second course was another favorite:
light ginger sauce, soy sauce
There were three bites of kampachi, also known as amberjack, which is a lot like my favorite, yellowtail.  I know there was soy sauce and ginger, but I don't remember exactly what else was on it.  Since we didn't have a set menu in writing, I wasn't able to take pictures of the descriptions.  I had to use the online menu and people's blogs for reference.  In any case, this was good.  I would have happily eaten more than three bites.
Next was a dish that was, in fact, on the regular menu.
Foie Gras Chawan Mushi
duck breast, wasabi, sweet soy sauce

chawan mushi
On first glance, one would think that the chawan mushi might be a soup.  However, one would be wrong.  Instead, it was a foie gras custard at the bottom with a tangier gelatin on top of that and a slice of duck breast on top of that.  The foie custard was really rich, so the flavor of the gelatin balanced it well.  I even did as the server instructed and used a tiny bit of wasabi in many of my bites.  (I mean tiny.)  I enjoyed the added flavor, as long as I didn't use too much.  Really, the best part of the dish was the duck breast.  It was perfectly cooked.
An intermezzo came after:
kelp tea

It was a hot broth served in an adorable little teapot, and it tasted like the sea.  It was salty and flavorful, almost like a chicken broth.  I enjoyed about a cup and a half before giving the rest to Steve.  It started to remind me of how the Sea Lion Caves in Oregon smelled, which was not necessarily a good thing anymore.  The broth was probably just more concentrated at the bottom of the pot.
Having thoroughly intermezzed, it was now time for more courses.  The first of these looked a lot like a fondue.
Bagna Cauda
garlic, anchovy, local vegetable

bagna cauda
In the container above the candle was some garlic and anchovy paste in oil.  We were instructed to wait until a few bubbles started rising to the surface and then start dipping things.  There were several vegetables, a couple pieces of lightly breaded chicken, and a couple spicy croutons (behind the container of oil).  My favorites ended up being the cherry tomato, the carrot, and a baby turnip.  It was probably because those were the things that had a little sweetness to play against the saltiness and savoriness of the garlic and anchovy.
tuna, fluke, hamachi, mackerel, giant clam
sushi sampler
And what would dinner at Morimoto be without a little sushi?  Well, I do think it would have been better—for me, at least—without the wasabi on that sushi.  There's a reason I usually stick to sashimi and rolls at sushi restaurants, avoiding the nigiri.  That reason is wasabi, a dab of which is almost always between the fish and the rice.  Because Morimoto is a well known sushi chef, I was willing to try each these as they were intended, wasabi and all.  Unfortunately, all I could concentrate on was the wasabi.  It overshadowed the flavor of the fish and the rice for me, so I couldn't really tell you which of these I liked best.  I do remember that the giant clam was unexpectedly sweet, but I had some problems with the slimey texture.  Also, there's no way I can get most of these down in a single bite, like you're supposed to.   I'll stick to my sashimi and rolls strategy for a while longer.
Meat was next—the final savory course. 
Lobster 'Epice'
garam masala, lemon creme fraiche
Wagyu Beef
carmelized onions
Pork Loin
spicy tofu sauce

surf & turf & turf
By the time this course came, I was getting full.  I had most of my lobster claw (the best part) and a bite of the half-tail, both of with were spicy but good.  The lemon creme fraiche was a pleasantly cooling counterpart.  I also got through a bite or two of the pork loin, but I avoided the tofu sauce underneath, because of my slight soy protein allergy.  Then, I managed one bite of the wagyu beef before trading plates with Steve to let him finish mine.  It's always so sad to not finish such wonderful meat, but there comes a point in these meals when I just can't eat anymore protein.  I can tell that it's good, but it stops appealing to me, and I don't want to have to choke it down.  That's where Steve comes in handy.  He can usually finish what I can't, so at least the plates don't go back to the kitchen too full.
Thankfully, there was only one course left now.  They offered us coffee, which was a very good sign that dessert was coming.  I reserve my coffee drinking for the occasional morning or afternoon, but Steve got some.
coffee service
This was the point at which I realized just how much they must like the teardrop shape and playing that against circles.  The cream container (in front) had a teardrop top and circular bottom, the coffee cup had the same, but the handle was at the point of the teardrop, and the saucer was also similarly shaped, with a circular cup to hold the sugar packets.  The kombucha tea and the chawan mushi had come on teardrop-shaped saucers too.
Steve and I each got different desserts, due to the fact that the dessert on the tasting menu was all about the pistachios.
Pistachio Ice Cream 
poached peaches, roasted pistachios, and champagne sabayon

pistachio ice cream
I was served a sampling of sorbets instead.
trio of sorbets
raspberry-wasabi, white peach-miso, pineapple

sorbet trio
My favorite of these was the white peach-miso.  It was creamy and peachy and light.  The pineapple was also really good, but it was a little icier and not as smooth.  I took one bite of the raspberry-wasabi sorbet and promptly gave the rest to Steve.  The wasabi definitely came through, and it was clearly not my thing.  I've never been a big fan of concentrated raspberry flavor either, so that was another count against it for me.
I was a little disappointed that the desserts weren't more elaborate for the tasting menu.  I'd much rather have regular plated dessert than ice cream at a fancy restaurant, and many fancy restaurants with tasting menus do separate sorbet and dessert courses.  I had seen pictures of a donut dessert from Morimoto Napa, with donut holes and several little dipping sauces or powders.  It would probably need to be scaled down to fewer donut holes and less of the condiments to work for a tasting menu, but I think it would have bookended the meal nicely.  The concept is similar to the tuna tartare, and it's a bit more impressive than ice cream or sorbet.  I considered ordering it after our last course, but I was too full anyway.
My other criticism of the restaurant was that the service was rather slow that night.  I'm can forgive it, since it's a new restaurant.  They were probably still getting used to things, and I'm sure Morimoto demands a lot from the chefs preparing his food.  However, we got there at 5:30pm and finished dinner after 9:00pm.  I would expect that kind of time frame at the French Laundry, but there were fewer courses here and the pace felt off.  There was a lot of lag time between courses, especially in the latter half of the meal, as it got darker and chillier outside.  The heaters weren't terribly effective, so I was glad I had brought a cardigan and had a napkin to cover the part of my lap that my dress did not.  Our server also neglected to notice when Steve had finished his cocktail and ask if he'd like something else.  A couple courses went by before he started asking others to get her so he could order a beer.  Hopefully, they've gotten all the kinks ironed out now.
It really was a good meal, despite a few issues.  On the way out, I somehow got up the nerve to ask Chef Morimoto for a picture.  I had seen him pose for a few with other patrons, so I knew that he probably would if I asked.  Still, I'm usually way too big of a coward to actually do it.  I ended up acting on impulse, though, knowing that I'd probably regret it if I chickened out.  The chef was standing against the wall, watching the action in the kitchen, with a look of concentration on his face.  When I asked if he'd mind if I took a picture, he replied "no flash."  I assured him that I wouldn't use any—I almost never do—and I took two frames of him and Steve together, before thanking him and telling him that the meal was wonderful.

the morimoto
It was a kind of dark, so only Morimoto is really in focus, but he's one that matters more anyway.  He was a little intimidating, even though he was nice about letting me take the picture.  I can see how intense he must be and how his chefs must feel, working under his watchful eye in the new kitchen.
With that, we left Morimoto Napa, stopping across the street to take one last picture of the place.

morimoto napa
Overall, it was a memorable experience.  I'm glad we did the tasting menu, but I would definitely order a la carte if we were to return.  I'd get the toro tartare again, maybe his layered sashimi dish that comes with the little pipettes of sauces, the sea urchin carbonara, and probably the donuts.  (See this blog for pictures of those.)  I'm sure Steve would want something with meat, but I'd be happy with sashimi, pasta, and dessert.  Asian cuisine may not be my favorite; however, there's still plenty for me to love here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

return to wine country

Steve and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary on August 16.  Like last year, we decided to spend a few days in Napa Valley, going to wineries and trying out some more of the fancy restaurants in the area.  We had ended that first trip with a quick stop in the town of Napa on the way back to SF, checking out the newish Rancho Gordo store and Oxbow Market for lunch.  This time, we began in Napa.

We left home on Sunday morning and drove for a little over an hour, up 101 and then through Sonoma and Carneros to get to Napa.  Arriving around 11am, we found a nice parking spot in the lot across the street from our lunchtime destination.
We had some time before our 11:30am reservation, so we walked down Main Street a little.  There were some streets that were closed off from traffic, but it was all pretty quiet.  By the time we got back to the restaurant, parking was looking a little more sparse, though.

Lunch was at Ubuntu, a vegetarian restaurant that has a yoga studio attached.  Steve and I are not vegetarians, although I sometimes prefer lighter, meatless dishes.  In any case, Ubuntu is known for doing vegetarian so well that you don't really miss the meat.  They grow a lot of the food themselves and present it in fancy, refined ways.  The only potential disappointment in going there now is that Chef Jeremy Fox, who pretty much made Ubuntu what it is and got all sorts of accolades there, left the restaurant in February.  Luckily, sous chef Aaron London took over and managed to maintain the quality.  According to critic Michael Bauer, the menu is a little harder to read, but the food is still great.
We sat outside, in the little patio area out back.  It was a tiny bit chilly, but it was a nice day to sit outside anyway.  Better light for pictures that way too.  We were greeted by our server, and she immediately asked if there were any food allergies.  I told her "no nuts, but pine nuts and almonds are fine," and she took my menu back to the chef to check what was safe.  When she returned, there were little notes written next to the dishes.  It was a pretty efficient way to do it, although they would need to replace the paper menu in the holder for the next person.
Since the majority of the dishes were meant to be shared, we settled on four regular plates and no appetizers.  The first was a pasta.
garden-inspired extruded pasta: fennel fiore, assorted squash 
lemony carrot top broth, miso pickled radish, sweet herbs
extruded pasta

This may have been my favorite.  The lemony broth was really good with the pasta, and the flavors all blended together really well.  The pickled radish on top gave it an extra kick, and the nasturtium flowers were both pretty and sweet.  There were also chunks of squash in there to break up the texture of the pasta.

Next up was another vegan-friendly dish... or at least it was, until Steve decided to order it with a fried egg on top.

rustic rancho gordo 'yellow eye' bean stew, hoja santa
rosemary, chili, smoked 'red russian' kale (+ubuntu farm egg)
bean stew

It was a very good bean stew, using Rancho Gordo heirloom beans.  It was pretty hearty too.  I let Steve eat a lot of it, since he likes such things more than I do.  I was also getting a hint of a scratchy throat from it, so there might have been soy protein or something else that I'm vaguely allergic to in it.  I sometimes have similar issues with chickpeas, so I wasn't very concerned.  I just didn't eat a ton of it.
The next two dishes to come out were the prettiest, and the first one looked like some sort of alien flying saucer thing.

"inside out" arbuckle grits cooked with goat's whey, various beans 
goat's milk ricotta, assorted roots, 'delfino' cilantro, smoked corn husk
inside out arbuckle grits

It featured grits cooked with goat's whey, which made it like a tangy polenta.  Predictably, this was the thing I had insisted on ordering.  I'm not sure it was quite the tang I was expecting, though.  I ended up kind of on the fence about the dish, but maybe it was also because I was getting full already.  In any case, I'm happy with the polenta that Steve makes at home.

The final dish was Carrots and Squash.
an expression of carrots and squash; aerated, roast, escabeche, 
our vadouvan, 2 cilantros, mint/eisley wax pepper infusion
carrots and squash

The colors in the dish were gorgeous, and the asymmetrical oblong plate had a hole in one end like an artist's palette.  Somehow, it was subtle enough not to be hokey.
As with most of our other dishes at Ubuntu, there were words on the menu that were completely unfamiliar.  Since I had no idea what vadouvan was, I didn't really know what to expect for flavor from this dish, aside from carrots and squash.  It turned out that the carrots—cooked various ways—and the vadouvan were the main flavor components.  Steve asked and found out that vadouvan was a special curry blend that could be found, conveniently, at Whole Spice in the nearby Oxbow Market.  So that explained why the dish had a distinctly Indian flavor, but not a particularly familiar one.
By the end of our four dishes, I was really full.  It was tempting to get a dessert, but I knew that there would be many more opportunities for desserts that day.  I had my eye on a cupcake place down the street for a snack, and we were planning to eat a large dinner around 5:30pm.
To fill the afternoon, we decided to walk around Napa a bit more.  However, we quickly learned why those streets had been blocked off when we approached crowds sitting along them.  There was a parade going by with the usual small town floats, including the victorious little league team.  Then, some people around us told us that the main event of the parade was the famous "dancing horses."  We decided to stick around and see what that could possibly mean.
The horse section of the parade began with kids on ponies.  Very cute.
mini cowboy

Then, a guy doing lasso tricks led the adults on horses.

parade in napa

You may notice that the back horse's legs are crossed in the picture above.  We found out that dancing horses are sort of exactly what you'd expect.  Since my new camera takes video, I tried it out on the parade.  This was my first attempt, so I didn't know that although I can take pictures while I'm taking video, it disrupts things quite a bit.  I cut the thing together the best I could in iMovie to take out the stutters from the pictures I took.

Some horses were clearly better "dancers" than others.  The main one in the video was probably one of the best, kind of step-touching down the street.  Others looked like they were staggering around, sometimes sideways, and a few were just walking.

After the parade had passed, Steve and I headed across the bridge to Oxbow Market.

whole spice

Steve decided he wanted to get some vadouvan from Whole Spice, as well as a couple other obscure things.  Then, he got some coffee from Ritual Roasters, and we looked around the market a little.  Things were a little more developed than they had been last year, although there were still a couple stalls under construction.  We passed an "innovative taqueria" called C Casa that serves interesting combinations with things like buffalo meat or spiced lamb.  Too bad we didn't have time to devote a lunch to trying it.  I also looked at the cupcakes at Kara's, but I had tried one of theirs last year and had another spot in mind for later.
Around the side of the market, we stopped at Fatted Calf.  Steve got some dried mushrooms and some different polenta to cook up sometime, and we bought a couple of dried meat sticks to eat as a snack during our trip.  It's always good to have snacks in the car in wine country.
From there, we walked back to the main downtown area via a different bridge (the one in the picture below) with a nice view of the new Riverfront development and the old Napa Mill.  That would be the beautiful Napa River pictured.  I imagine it's a little prettier in the winter, when there's more water. 


We scoped out the area a little, including Morimoto Napa—which is in the Riverfront complex—and the parking garage across the street, where we would need to go that evening for dinner.  Then, we walked back along Main Street.  When we reached Sift Cupcakery, we went in to check it out.  I had hoped to get a cupcake as a snack there, but I decided that I really wasn't hungry enough for it.  They have several intriguing flavors, including a Boston cream pie cupcake and an "Irish Car Bomb" one.  I guess it will have to be added to the list, along with C Casa, for next time we're in town.
There didn't seem to be a ton to see in downtown Napa, so Steve and I liberated our car from its 3-hour spot pretty much on schedule.  Then, we drove to Yountville so we could check into our hotel.  It didn't take us long to get there, so we were a little early for check-in time.
Having stayed there before, we knew the area well enough to kill some time at V Marketplace, a little complex with shops and Michael Chiarello's restaurant Bottega.  We caught sight of Chef Chiarello himself, as he apparently made the rounds, checking in at his Napa Style store and the outdoor seating at his restaurant.
We looked around Napa Style, and I lusted after the antique silverware, which would be good for food pictures.  Then we made our way around the shops inside the main building.  Most of the stores are pretty obviously aimed toward middle-to-upper class, middle-aged women who are tourists, so a lot of the stuff is too cornball for Steve and me.  It didn't take us long to cover both levels of the building.  We had walked around a tiny bit three years ago, before our dinner at the French Laundry, but we were able to explore it more fully this time.  Turns out, there's not much to it anyway.
Once we had had our fill of the V Marketplace, we drove back to the Yountville Inn and checked in.  We were able to chill for a while in our room, which had a couch this time.  Steve and I each brought our own laptops, since we didn't have to fly anywhere for this trip, so I worked on transferring the pictures from the afternoon to my computer.  Soon, it was time to get dressed for dinner and drive back to Napa. 
Coming up: dinner at the restaurant of an Iron Chef!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

summer selections

Summer was in full swing by week 19 of our food project.  Cherry tomatoes and summer squash were starting to make an appearance at the farmers markets by Steve's work, so he started bringing some home.  Luckily, he had also found an interesting recipe to make good use of those things.
summertime lasagna
The idea behind this Summertime Lasagna was to have a lasagna-type dish that didn't involve heating the oven or baking the whole thing.  In fact, the dish is really good kind of lukewarm.  I imagine that would be a fabulous thing if we lived somewhere with a normal crazy-hot summer, but San Francisco only gets into the upper 80s a few days a year.  The summers here are kind of cold and foggy, especially this year.

Nevertheless, this is a wonderful summery dish, and we've made it several times since the end of June.  Like the penne with summer squash and ricotta that we had made several weeks prior, this one pairs pasta with zucchini and parmesan-spiked ricotta cheese.  However, the lasagna also throws in cherry tomatoes that have been cooked down with garlic.  Really, the only thing I can find wrong with the whole thing is that the layers slide around a little as you try to cut through it and eat it.  Well... that and the temptation to eat way too much of it.
The next weekend for the Fourth of July, we invited Dan and Carmen up to eat with us, and Steve made Pork Arista from the Ad Hoc Cookbook.  To go with it, he did polenta with parmesan and the recommended tomato marmalade.  It was pretty good, but not my favorite.  The tomato marmalade was a little intense from the vinegar, and I've had better versions of pork.
pork arista

The picture was also my least favorite that I've taken in a while.  The pork took longer than Steve expected, and the daylight was nearly gone by the time it was ready for its close up.  I did what I could to save it in Lightroom, but the colors and light still don't look right to me.

Moving on...  When we ate at Delancey during the Seattle trip in early June, Brandon generously wrote out his pizza dough recipe for Steve.  We finally got around to trying it for week 21.  Steve used Brandon's recommendation for tomato sauce as well—simple and uncooked, since it cooks on the pizza.  And I suggested that we top it with padron peppers, since I had seen pictures on the internet of Delancey's padron pizzas from the year before.  They weren't on the menu yet when we were there, so we couldn't order one.
padron pizza

The pizza came out rather creatively shaped, since Steve was figuring out how to roll out this dough and how much flour he needed on the pizza peel to get the dough off it and onto the pizza stone in the oven.  It ended up kind of oblong in places, but it was delicious anyway.

Of course, my curse with padron peppers continued with this pizza.  The little peppers aren't supposed to be very hot, but occasionally you'll get a hot one.  And by "you," I mean "I."  For some reason, I always end up with the insanely spicy ones, not Steve.  Despite that, it was a pizza that was worth doing again.  And we did.
We got week 22 out of the way relatively early the next week.  Steve had picked up some squash blossoms at the farmers market on Tuesday, and we wanted to use them before they got sad this time.  (The last ones sat in the fridge for too long.)  He happened to buy them around closing time at the market, so the vendor loaded up the container with a whole bunch of extra blossoms.  We decided to have a squash blossom feast to eat them all on Wednesday.

Steve stuffed some of them with a goat cheese and fontina mixture and fried them, similar to ones we had had at Chez Papa Resto the week before.  The rest were served raw in a salad: Shaved Summer Squash with Squash Blossoms from the all-yellow summer menu in A Platter of Figs.  It used yellow summer squash, squash blossoms, feta, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper.
yellow salad
Since it was pretty and I had taken a photo, we counted it as our new thing of the week.  It turned out to be pretty tasty.  The flavors were fresh, and the squash and blossoms were well complemented by the cheese and the lemon/olive oil dressing.

The next week's recipe was for a savory tart that I had found on Cannelle et Vanille.  Since that blog is mostly gluten-free and we are not, Steve used his own gluten-filled recipe for the tart crust.  The filling had arborio rice and parmesan, and it was topped with heirloom tomato slices and bread crumbs.  Steve forgot to put the oil in the bread crumb mixture, so it didn't brown much.  A drizzle on top toward the end of cooking helped a tiny bit, but it still didn't get much color.

heirloom tomato tart
I liked the tart.  It needed a little more salt and perhaps more tomatoes, but the combination was good.  I ate the leftovers the next couple days after work and was happy.

Week 24 was another blog recipe from 101 Cookbooks: Broccoli Cheddar Soup.
broccoli cheddar soup
Steve made it using an aged raw milk goat cheddar, so there was a bit of extra goaty tang in the soup.  I think it was more concentrated with broccoli flavor than the average broccoli cheddar soup.  It was also a pretty green color from the broccoli and had a smoother texture from blending, unlike the usual bright orange soup with token pieces of broccoli in it.  My favorite part, however, was the croutons.  They had some mustard in them, which I don't normally like, but that wasn't very noticeable with everything else.  They did a good job of breaking up the sameness of the soup.  To garnish we used the croutons, some cheese, paprika, and a few drops of olive oil for prettiness.
And that takes us through the end of July!  More coming soon, once I catch up on posting the most recent pictures to Flickr.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

full steam ahead

With all of the Seattle trip blogging finally done, I can now get back to catching up on another project.  The 52 Weeks of Food thing has quietly continued despite the trips and busyness of the summer.  June feels like it was several months ago—oh wait, it was—and my recaps are way behind.  As minor consolation, however, Steve is still a couple weeks behind me in blogging these dishes.
Picking up with week 14 in late May, we have duck tacos.
duck tacos
The inspiration for these was something similar that we had at Loló, a Mexican-Turkish restaurant in the Mission.  They use duck confit and serve it with corn tortillas, cilantro, and grapefruit-jalapeno sauce.  For ours, Steve also used duck confit and cilantro on corn tortillas, but he made an avocado-tomatillo salsa from a Rick Bayless recipe and topped the whole thing with queso fresco.  The result was quite good, although I didn't like the salsa quite as much as the Frontera tomatillo salsa that we buy occasionally.  Steve had made this dish before, using the store-bought salsa, and I can imagine that being a little more flavorful.
Week 15 was one of my favorites: Minted English Pea Soup with Lobster and Orange.  It was one of those weekends when we didn't have anything specific planned, so I was looking through the recipes I had bookmarked in Firefox, trying to find ideas.  The very first one there was this soup on Martha Stewart's website from Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington.  I didn't really know who this guy was at the time (he has since appeared as a guest judge on Top Chef), but I had obviously seen this segment of Martha Stewart's show a couple years ago and decided that this looked good enough to bookmark.  
And lucky for us, it was pea season.  Not only did Steve find fresh peas at our neighborhood store, he found fresh English peas—just what the recipe requested.  He also picked up a lobster from Sun Fat so that we could do the more substantial version of the dish with lobster and orange.
minted english pea soup
Steve followed the directions, but he finished the lobster in butter a la Thomas Keller.  We had had a lobster dish from the French Laundry Cookbook on Valentine's Day and decided that the butter was a good way to go here too.  The dish turned out really well, and the orange wasn't as jarring as Steve expected.  It provided a nice bit of sweetness and acid that contrasted with the creaminess of the soup and the butteriness of the lobster.  The peas, both in the soup and as garnish were lovely and fresh, sweet and green.  The one thing I would change: more mint.  Steve was conservative with the amount of time he left the bouquet of mint in the soup to steep, so it wasn't very noticeable in the end.  We will definitely be making this dish again next spring, though.
Once we got back from Seattle, we had to do a dish in the middle of the week to make up for missing it that weekend.  I was still in love with the fresh peas, so I picked out an easy, weekday-friendly dish from Mario Batali's most recent cookbook, Molto Gusto: Penne alla Papalina.
p pasta
I have dubbed this dish "P. Pasta" for its name (Penne alla Papalina) and its main ingredients (peas and prosciutto).  It's essentially a carbonara, but the combination of peas, prosciutto, parmesan, pepper, and pasta is a particularly pleasing one.  (Okay, done with the alliteration now.)
The recipe calls for frozen peas, which are way more likely to be found in most places year round.  Steve used fresh peas, however, since they were still available.  They did indeed taste very fresh.  Since that first time, he's made it once more with fresh peas and once with frozen.  It didn't come out very well with frozen, but I think he tried to blanch the frozen peas like he did the fresh ones.  Apparently, Steve had forgotten that the recipe was for frozen peas already, so he didn't think to just follow it.  Another attempt may be needed to judge properly.
Next on the list was octopus.  In one weekend, Steve made two dishes out of the one octopus that he had purchased and frozen a few weeks prior.  The second of the dishes was a re-creation of Tom's Big Breakfast from Lola in Seattle.  It was good, but it didn't quite measure up to its inspiration.  The first of the dishes was the one that we actually counted as our new dish of the week: warm spicy octopus with black olive and preserved lemon, sherry vinegar gelee, and extra virgin olive oil.  
This was a recipe from Eric Ripert's On the Line, which we had bookmarked after eating a different octopus dish at his restaurant in New York.  For the less adventurous eaters, it may sound disgusting, but octopus is really very good.  I won't lie, the texture of the tentacles takes a little getting used to, but it's not that much different from eating the squiggly bits of squid (calamari).  Flavorwise, the dish had a lot of brightness from the preserved lemon and the sherry vinegar gelee, which balanced the salt of the olives and the spiciness of the octopus (from cayenne and hot paprika).  It was meant to be just a small starter, so it wasn't terribly heavy.  We managed to fill up enough by each eating a salad-sized plate full, though.
It was starting to feel a little more like summer by now, so we settled on two gazpachos from Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud Cookbook for week 18.
gazpacho night
That Saturday, we went downtown and stopped at Crate & Barrel.  I got a few vodka shot glasses to use for pictures (see above), and then we went to Williams Sonoma to finally purchase the cereal bowls we had been wanting for a while.  The cereal bowl match our other dishes and replaced some similarly shaped Bed Bath & Beyond ones to which cling wrap always refused to stick.  I ended up using both shot glasses and cereal bowls in my pictures of the gazpachos, although we actually just used the cereal bowls to eat our dinner.
Unfortunately, the pictures turned out better than the soups themselves.  The white gazpacho (bread, almonds, pine nuts, garlic, grapes, vinegars, etc.) was pretty good, but it got really sweet after a while.  The shot glass full of it probably would have been enough, just as a starter.  The red gazpacho (tomatoes, bell peppers, red onion, garlic, cucumber, etc.) had way too much of that raw onion bite, and it just didn't work very well.  The anchovy toast that was suggested to go with it, however, was a winner.  It wasn't fishy—just salty and good.
That's about enough for now, but I will mention another non-52 weeks thing that I made.
rosemary olive oil cake
It was a recipe from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain that I saw featured on 101 Cookbooks.  I finally got around to making it in late June, having tracked down some spelt flour at Whole Foods.  It turned out to be a good breakfast bread, especially since I made it in a bread pan.  But it was also good as a dessert cake.  The olive oil makes it really moist, the rosemary makes it feel kind of healthy and homey, and the chocolate is just plain delicious.  I made it again a few weeks after so that I'd have something to eat for breakfast before work, freezing about a third of it to pull out at a later date.  It worked great.  It also used up the Stonehouse olive oil that we hadn't been using at all.

Friday, September 3, 2010

leaving seattle

And finally, it's time to leave Seattle.  Our last day there was really just a morning.  We had decided to get up a little earlier and head back to Tom Douglas Land for one last breakfast. 
tom and his fish
We had eaten at Lola for breakfast on Friday morning, but on Tuesday morning, we went across the street to Dahlia Bakery for a quicker bite.
dahlia bakery & breakfast
Steve got some coffee, and we shared a chocolate eclair and a coconut cream pie bite while sitting at one of those tables outside.  The eclair was relatively small, but it was good.
I wanted to try the coconut cream pie bite, because the Dahlia Lounge's coconut cream pie was supposed to be amazing.  The pie bite had all those layers of coconut filling, whipped cream, and coconut and white chocolate on top; but in the end, I think it would have been better in standard pie form.  The crust to filling ratio was off: there was just a little too much crust and not enough room for the various coconut creams.  And obviously, the tasty filling is the reason for pie.  The crust shouldn't overshadow that.
Walking back to the hotel, I took a moment to notice the random trees growing in the middle of downtown.  Cool.  I can't think of too many other cities that have that.  SF certainly doesn't have huge trees growing in the financial district.
We also made one last stop on the rooftop deck at the hotel.  I think I prefer the light in the evening shot from the night before, but I got a ferry in this one.
morning market
And that is the last of the Seattle pictures.  We went back to the room, packed everything up, and checked out.  From there, we walked our luggage to the lightrail station and caught the train back to SeaTac Airport.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I ate the rest of my chocolate chip cookie from Delancey on the plane home to SF.  It was a fitting farewell.
Overall, we had a great trip.  We were happy to find that Seattle is a good food town with some quality restaurants.  It definitely doesn't have the embarrassment of riches that we have in San Francisco, but we ate at some wonderful places—Poppy and Delancey being our favorites.  And there are plenty more that we didn't get to visit on this trip.  I still have a list of restaurants for our next visit, although we have no idea when that would be.
As far as neighborhoods go, we hit a several of them: Pike Place & downtown, Belltown, Capitol Hill, Fremont, Wallingford, Queen Anne, and a tiny bit of Ballard.  For the next trip, more exploration of these (and others) may be needed, especially Ballard, since we didn't actually see the main drag there.  There were also numerous coffee shops and ice cream places that we didn't get to try, because we were always too full or saving room for dinner.

I probably wouldn't want to live in Seattle—too much rain/drizzle/cold for too much of the year—but it is a fabulous city to visit.  I highly recommend it. 

I leave you with some stats.  (Perhaps now it will be obvious why my feet were always so tired and why it took so long to post all the pictures after the trip.)
Approximate Miles Walked
Thursday: 3.1 miles
Friday: 7.1 miles
Saturday: 3.7 miles
Sunday: 6.1 miles
Monday: 7.6 miles
Tuesday: 0.9 miles

Total: 28.5 miles

Pictures Taken: about 2,800 :)