Monday, December 8, 2014

Final Bites for My Seattle Trip: Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bar, The Calf and Kid Artisan Cheese Shop and Ivar's Fish Bar

During my final day in Seattle, it snowed which was quite exhilarating for me as I'm a native Californian. Although it wasn't snowing at the moment, it was just exciting to see it laying on the ground. With that being said, wanting to eat Oysters in Seattle seemed more appropriate than ever!

I walked up to Capitol Hill from my hotel in Downtown and had breakfast at Taylor Shellfish Farms Oyster Bar at the Melrose Market. I went in with the excitement of finally eating some of the Pacific NW's finest as TSF is the purveyor of Oysters for most of Seattle's restaurants. With that being said, it makes sense to eat here without paying the premium of dining at another restaurant if I'm getting the same thing. I ordered one of each of the oysters that were available:



The first drink I started out as I was desperate for a beer being in Seattle and also wanting to be refreshing while going great with oysters, I went with the Stiegl Radler Grapefruit Beer. Not only with the flavor being quite rejuvenating, it did not taste artificial at all like with some of the other fruit beers. With the natural grapefruit flavors present, it too tasted like an actual beer which was quite surprising.


Although I couldn't remember which exact oyster was what for some of them, I remember the Olympias being the smallest as they were packed with flavor and didn't require any mignonette or lemon juice. The larger ones were the Toten Inlet and Fanny Bay oysters. About the Toten Virginica, I can imagine that was one of the larger oysters. The Shigoku was certainly the oyster that was overall great with great flavors and size. My favorites were the Kumamotos and Kusshis in terms of flavor. What was interesting about the both of them that unlike some of the oysters I've had, they actually had deep shells albeit the oysters themselves looking deceptively small on the outside. Afterwards, I ordered another two more of the each of the following: Totten Inlet, Shigoku and Kumamoto. All of the oysters tasted extremely fresh and clean which is how some people are able to eat them without any sort of condiment. I find that more doubtful if I were to order them from a restaurant where I'm from since I'm not near the source.




I actually had wanted to go to Elliot's Oyster House on the waterfront. However, they were closed until summer of next year for seawall reconstruction. With that being said, I was glad to end up here instead as it was the best oysters I've had at only the fraction of the price with them being directly from the purveyor. I would highly recommend people to just go directly to Taylor Shellfish Oyster Bars if you just want a straightforward, no frills place that just serves some damn good oysters. To wash all of those oysters down, I had a Pike's Place IPA which was quite refreshing and bold.



Afterwards, I went next door to The Calf and Kid Artisan Cheese Shop. Since I watched the Seattle episode of Anthony Bourdain's The Layover many, many times; I definitely had this place on my itinerary. With that being said, you can probably imagine what I bought during my visit: a bunch of Briar Rose Creamery Chocolate Goat Cheese Truffles! When I brought them with me from my plane ride back from Seattle to SoCal, I immediately popped one in my mouth. They were just like how Anthony Bourdain described of it when he was eating them: something one would greatly enjoy if they weren't dessert people. Both of the Chocolate and Goat Cheese flavors were well balanced without one or the other being overwhelming. This is definitely something one should buy if they're wanting a delicious souvenir to bring back from Seattle. It certainly impressed the people down where I'm from :)


Before hopping on my plane, I couldn't leave at the time without ordering food from one of uniquely Seattle's fast food place, Ivar's Fish Bar. With four pieces of Cod and Chips (Fries) and their seasonal Salmon Chowder which was quite delicious and unfortunately wasn't able to take a pic of it, the fish and chips were certainly quite satisfying along with having some Scotch and Ginger Ale on the Alaska Airlines flight. Although I too forgot to take a photo, some of Alaska Airlines' flights offered free, complementary beer and wine for those 21 and older. The porter I had on the flight from one of the Pacific NW's breweries was certainly delicious. This is what separates Alaska Airlines from most of the other domestic airlines along with their wonderful service (*cough* *cough* Southwest *cough* *cough* United *cough* *cough*).



When I got back home, I immediately picked up an authentic Al Pastor burrito from Taco Del Rio in La Puente which was quite needed as I was back in SoCal.



It was certainly great to be back in Seattle, even though it was nine years since along with it only being two days. Although places like Las Vegas are certainly great for a short getaway, I would highly recommend not only to my friends in Southern California but to many others of visiting Seattle with its lush nature of being surrounded by trees, water and, of course, fresh air; but also with its warm and friendly citizens that contradicts their cold climate that I wished more people down here would become, especially as I thought that its never ending sunny weather would make people more outgoing.



Taylor Shellfish on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Canlis: Where Modern New York Gastronomy Meets and Evolves the Old School Distinctions & Traditions of Seattle's Most Prestigious, Historical Dining Establishment (Chef Jason Franey's Final Days at Canlis)


After hearing about Canlis for the first time a couple years back and how it's the premiere destination for modern, fine dining in Seattle, I was determined to dine there the moment I had a chance to return. After researching much about the current generation of Canlis as Chef Jason Franey from Eleven Madison Park in NYC and brothers Mark & Brian Canlis, the third generation owners, are directing the restaurant towards more modern takes on gastronomy; it was extremely eye opening of how the restaurant has a long established glory of being Seattle's finest restaurant when it served classic preparations of high-end Traditional American cuisine (and still does but with more apparent modern twists). With that being said, witnessing how Canlis transformed into what it is now for this generation was most definitely one of the most thrilling aspects of my dining experience, aside from enjoying the wonderful dishes and gazing at the serene views, of course. A month prior to my visit, I've heard that Chef Franey was planning to leave Canlis for other ventures in his career. Fortunately, I was able to book during his final days at the helm of the Canlis kitchen.

After being dropped off from my Lyft driver with the day before being the first time I've used the app and its services (Lyft>>>>>Taxi), I finally have walked into the building where I had been dreaming of doing so for many instances of viewing the restaurant's Yelp page. It was even more gorgeous than what I had visualized over in my head and after viewing the interior pictures on the internet. Not only was it appropriately dim, the restaurant was remodeled to exceed modern, sleek standards while preserving the charm of the previous generations since its founding. Walking in, I was gladly complying with their jacket policy as showing up in a Banana Republic blazer & gingham dress shirt and my recently bought J Crew Tie as my only Black Friday shopping seemed not only visually appropriate, but dressing up dapper is an absolute must for enjoying the most optimal dining experience at Canlis, especially with its tradition of serving some of the most influential clientele ever in American history. After walking in, I was immediately greeted by one of their gracious hosts. After telling him that I had a reservation without disclosing my name, without any written reference in front of him, he said my last name after immediately addressing me as "Mr." and immediately expressed his gratitude on behalf of the restaurant for my patronage while also offering to take my coat. After taking my coat, I was introduced by another gracious host who guided me to my table. Extremely lucky for me as I was a party of one, without asking, I was assigned to the table where the original owner, Peter Canlis, sat at during his days of operating the restaurant. As the waiter told me of how Peter Canlis would take reservations with his rotary phone (it's still there!) at that table while also using the spot as an optimal vantage point to monitor the front of the house, I then realized that I sat where many events of American culinary history took place and was immediately astonished and appreciative of doing so. That spot was also where I really savored the breathtaking view of Lake Washington, its flora and the North Seattle buildings that surround it that the building wanted to highlight for its patrons.



After that host sat me, I was then greeted by my main server for the evening with the menu. Not only was she very informative but she was one of the most courteous and empathetic servers I've ever had the privilege of being served by in all of my fine dining experiences. That says quite a lot! From knowing what to order from extensive research from the internet, I immediately ordered the four course a la carte menu with the addition of one supplemental dish after giving my initial drink order. Minutes after, my perfect starter for a fine dining experience has arrived: a Sapphire Martini with a Lemon Twist. Without using dry vermouth of course, this is the most cleanest, pristine tasting Sapphire Martini I ever had (I drink Bombay Sapphire on the rocks all the time and it still didn't taste as pure as what I was served). Puzzled of how this could be possible, this is definitely due to the extreme craftsmanship and magic of the Canlis bartender. This martini immediately beat all of the other martinis I've ever had, even from the bartenders of official Michelin starred restaurants.



After the arrival of my martini, The amuse bouches came of a Morel Mushroom Tart, Rice Crisp with Egg Yolk and Wasabi Infused Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe), and a Tater Tot. From reading online, Chef Franey's favorite foods are tater tots. At first, it may seem questionable in terms of maturity to have a tater tot at a restaurant part of the Relais & Chateaux association. Don't get me wrong: I love tater tots too. Be that as it may, they. no doubt, were made with the utmost care which was why it was was definitely the best tater tot I've ever had. The Rice crisp was certainly refreshing on the palate, especially with the wasabi infused tobiko bursting in my mouth. Out of the three, the Morel Mushroom Tart was my favorite as the morel flavor was bold and rich without being overwhelming. FYI, all of the three amuse bouches had some sort of sauce/puree underneath in order to serve as an adhesive, in addition to providing flavor. This is how the cooks and chefs make sure that they're transported to the table without any incident in regards to falling off of the unique serving platform.



After the Amuse Bouches to kick off the meal, I was given bread service. Certainly as one of the most unique takes on it I've had, I was given a Sourdough Roll with Fennel Seeds and lemon. No doubt, with the sea salt and butter, it was one of my favorite breads I've ever had the pleasure of being served at a fine dining establishment. Not only was it moist, but the crust had a nice consistency with the right amount of crunch which shouldn't be that much. This showed of how freshly baked it was as it was certainly made with tender care like with their other dishes of greater presence. Plus, it's great how they don't overwhelm you with bread as I'd much rather have one, very savory tasting and moist roll vs having a bunch of dry ones to fill the precious real estate in my stomach.


After finishing my elegantly crafted Sapphire Martini, I've looked at the Canlis cocktail list greatly eager to trying out a new age libation in our current renaissance of mixology. After having something light (in flavor, not ethanol content), I've decided to go for the L'Emozione Di San Valentino. Listed from their website's cocktail menu, it was made with cognac, Pimm's No. 1, a liqueur of cocoa cream and cardamom infused Madeira. As it was placed in the middle of the cocktail list as it ranged from the lightest at one end to the heaviest at the other; with its herbal component, it made a great transition into the more heavier items I've ordered for my first and second course.


My first course was the Foie Gras Torchon with Dehydrated Cinnamon Meringue and Washington Apples. It came with a warm slice of Cinnamon Brioche. The Foie Gras Torchon was loaded with more meatier flavors of the duck liver which differs from my other foie gras experiences of the fattier flavors being more of the forerunners. With that being said, this distinction played well with the refreshing apple component of the dish while the Dehydrated Cinnamon Meringue served as the sweet bridge that brought them together. Sorry about the picture being quite blurry


As the last dish was very modern as it signified that it was from the influence of Chef Franey, I had previously wanted my next dish to be one of the classics of Canlis. However, since I was dining during the final days of the chef being at the restaurant, I went with the Pork Collar. Served with the plate being very hot, the collar was sitting on Polenta and Chorizo with bits of popcorn on the top. Cutting it through, the Pork Collar was cooked beautifully. With it being moist, it had deep flavors while the polenta served to keeping them restraint while delivering another flavor profile for the dish.


For sure, I definitely had wanted to try one of Canlis' classical dishes. For my supplemental course, as my very kind and empathetic waiter had mentioned that they would charge the least expensive dish as the supplement, I ordered the famous Canlis Salad. Now, what I have to note is that the salad is meant to be more straight-forward as it existed since the beginning of the restaurant; nothing utilizing molecular gastronomy or fancy ingredients like white truffles from Italy. As I was dining for one since I knew a head of time that I wouldn't receive a presentation meant for two, I was fortunate enough to witness the waiter (who happened to be also my waiter) making the salad for the table of two next to me.  As all of the components were separated into their own individual tiny bowls, the waiter then tossed all the components together in one giant wooden bowl. By the time I received mine, it came on one plate neatly presented before me as another server applied the pepper. No doubt, this is certainly one of the most freshly prepared salads I've ever tasted. The romaine lettuce and the mint were definitely crisp while of course proving their roles to cleanse the palate. In addition, the lemon juice added provided the refreshing acidity to counter the more savory bacon and Romano cheese that was used to give the salad a savory element. My only issue was that the salad may have had a tad bit too much salt. Be that as it may, it was quite fulfilling while greatly serving the purpose as an intermezzo to refresh the palate for the upcoming main course.


After finishing my second cocktail, another member of the waitstaff had recommended me a more lighter cocktail to transition for my following main dish of seafood. Complying with his recommendation, I went with the Nemean Lion which consists of Royal Dock Gin, Cynar (an Italian herbal liquor with Artichoke as the dominant component), Cherry Heering (a Danish cherry liquor), grapefruit, lemon and rosemary. Immediately, I could tell that this was a well crafted cocktail and the waiter skillfully thought it went well with the upcoming seafood dish along with the cocktail itself being refreshing and a long one. Unfortunately for me, mainly the herbal liquors and rosemary threw me off. As I've just mentioned of how I could tell of how well made it was, it just wasn't those cocktails that just doesn't suit to my tastebuds, personally. They were really kind of not charging me for the drink as I didn't finish it and was replaced with something else; ended up completely going to a Lagavulin 16 yr Single Malt Scotch which might baffle some individuals who partake in fine dining quite frequently as, you know, Scotch is quite harsh on the palate. But with me being extremely partial to whiskey in general, I can drink Scotch with pretty much just anything.



My main course then arrives: Pan-seared Sea Bass with Parsnip, Quinoa and Preserved Lemon. Pan-seared beautifully with a nice golden crust without the slightest blemish; the thick, moist piece of Sea Bass looked decadent as it sat on top of the other components. The moment I sliced through the fish, I immediately was able to tell that the fish was cooked to perfection (I rarely use that word) as my knife went through it consistently without encountering much resistance. And when the fish itself made contact on my tongue, a rush of emotions and thoughts when through my conscience. This is certainly not only the best cooked Sea Bass I've ever tasted, but I knew right then that this immediately was the best dish of my Seattle trip. Seasoned to the right point, the butteriness and the meatiness of the fish, in terms of flavor, were balanced at the right point especially with how generously thick the piece of fish was that greatly contributed to this effect with, of course, the fish being such skillfully prepared. Not only cooking the Sea Bass to perfection but consistently doing it for many orders is astonishing as cooking seafood, especially cooking such a thick piece as such, takes immense talent, skill and the utmost strain of one's cognitive abilities for doing so. The Quinoa definitely provided another element of texture to the dish while the Preserved Lemon provided the acidic component that's needed to invigorate the senses in order to enjoy such a beautifully prepared fish.



After enjoying the best dish of my Seattle trip, I was given the dessert menu to which I proceeded with the Apple Tart with Hazelnut Cremeux, Caramelized Apples and Cider Granita. Although I was excited with the dish as it had the icy granita which I wanted and needed as it seemed refreshing, I was unfortunately quite disappointed with this dessert. Let's start with what was good: it certainly looked beautiful and vibrant as the colors of each component popped out and the Washington Apples tasted splendid as my waitress mentioned of them being harvested at the peak of the season. Be that as it may, the hazelnut cremeaux was quite heavy; not only in terms of flavor but mainly in consistency of almost that of peanut butter which overwhelmed the dish. What was the main offender was the part that I was the most excited about: the cider granita. Unfortunately, it tasted more like apple vinegar rather than cider to which it soured the dish (sorry for the pun).


Be that as it may, the waitress then came over with a well-crafted, luxurious wooden box filled with Macarons! I understand that not only it came in two flavors but they change periodically. The flavors offered were Hazelnut Coffee and Red Velvet Cake. I only took one of each as the waitress graciously implied I could take more but was getting really full from the meal. They were very well made. The Red Velvet Macaron was delicious although I'm generally not a fan of Red Velvet Cake. The Hazelnut Coffee was not only my favorite of the two. but it definitely made me recover from he Hazelnut Cremeaux of the previous dessert.


I then proceeded with a liquid dessert I usually like to end my meals with of either Cognac or Scotch. With that being said, I went for the Hennessy VSOP Privilege Cognac which was a great way to end the meal.



After receiving the bill, I then began to walk out to which I was then gratefully thanked for my visit by my waitress and then one of the hosts immediately proceeded to grab my coat and helped me put it on without hesitation. I was also given a complementary bar of Chocolate at the end of my meal. Like with the macarons, the flavors of the chocolate bars change periodically; it was Peanut Butter & Jelly. Within its boxing, it looked very elegantly prepared. When I flew back from Seattle was when I enjoyed it. It was certainly very delicious and had wished that the dessert I had tasted at least as good as the chocolate bar.



My meal at Canlis certainly exceeded expectations, albeit the dessert. With that being said, Canlis is most definitely Seattle's best fine dining establishment. Not only with the interior being extremely classy and elegant as staying true to when the restaurant was initially constructed but also updated to modern definitions of American luxury, but the breathtaking views of Lake Washington and North Seattle make it quite suiting as Seattle's premiere dining destination. Aside from that perspective, the amazing food was brilliantly made with not only the finest ingredients but was skillfully prepared with such effort to which I was graciously fortunate of being able to dine during Chef Franey's final days. As I was chatting with the waitress in regards to the subject, I found out that it wasn't certain to which direction they would be heading but I hoped that they still would continue in the same way in regards to modernizing their cuisine when they had initially hired Chef Franey. Seattle certainly deserves a fine dining establishment that serves today's modernist cuisine. With that being said, for the price I paid of five courses and four drinks being under $200 before gratuity, Canlis is certainly of the best value while also serving the best food among all of the other of Seattle's fine dining restaurants that serve more simpler food at prices higher beyond reason which is quite shameful for them. In addition to the elegant food served at Canlis, what highly sticks out as I've dined at many fine dining establishments is that the restaurant provides some of the greatest service, if not, the best service I've ever experienced; this includes the Michelin starred restaurants. Without a whiff of pretentiousness, they will politely and gladly address you and cater to your needs with such empathy and concern that will amaze even the most seasoned of diners. Extremely knowledgeable and courteous, the well-trained staff at Canlis will make your dining experience one to remember for the rest of your life. I will certainly return to Canlis in the future as I will certainly count on them to have another memorable moment.




Canlis on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sitka & Spruce - One of the Most Ideal Restaurants to Enjoy Modern Pacific Northwestern Cuisine: Truly (Organic) Farm to Table Food / A Brief Prelude of the Best Espresso I've had Ever at Victrola Coffee Roasters

After seeing Anthony Bourdain's The Layover Seattle episode many times, it was definitely certain that I would be dining at one of Seattle's modern dining establishments that truly highlights the bounty of the Pacific Northwest: Sitka & Spruce. To be honest, I had been hearing of how "overrated" the restaurant was as some people's comments were along the lines of the food at Sitka & Spruce "being just a bunch of barely cooked vegetables on a plate". Because of that, I was almost unjustly swayed away from the restaurant by wanting to try some of the other restaurants in its league such as The Walrus and The Carpenter or The Whale Wins. Fortunately for the case of Sitka & Spruce, both of Renee Erickson's restaurants were closed for lunch (certainly hope to dine at those places in the future) as that was the only time I could dine since I reserved dinner for Canlis to which I will certainly review soon.

As I was looking for time to kill as Sitka & Spruce opened up at 11:30am as it was pouring, I ended up going for coffee; something I actually wanted to avoid in Seattle as I would down five shots of espresso each day at work. In addition to it not being Starbucks, I actually wondered to an amazing coffee house in Capitol Hill as the exterior immediately exuded a vibe that it was where the true, local coffee connoisseurs went to get their fix: Victrola Coffee Roasters. The moment I walked in, the man with a welcoming, relaxed demeanor in a place that sold stimulants immediately took my order for a double espresso for $2.50. After waiting for a while, it actually turned out that my order had already been called for. Be that as it may, the barista willingly offered to make another one without me needing to bring it up. After immediately picking up the remade order, I divulged in what was the best espresso I've ever had: harmoniously and elegantly bold & bitter, garnished with a slight, natural sweetness.


After I enjoyed the best espresso, I immediately walked over to Sitka & Spruce when it opened; albeit my 12:00 reservation. Impressed by the tasteful modern decor while the Seattle rain further accentuated its vibe, I became quite excited to sit at my table and receive the menu when the host promptly sat me ahead of my reservation. Although the descriptions may seem either too merely simplistic, downright weird, or both to those not familiar with or perhaps unwilling to open their horizons in regards to this style of food preparation; for those that truly enjoy food: this menu will certainly make the mouth of any dining enthusiast immediately salivate.


After gazing over the drink menu (not pictured), I ordered one of my standard cocktails, the Manhattan, from the extremely attentive and informative waiter who also happened to be the bartender. Of course, he crafted my cocktail with the utmost care even though an orange twist/peel was used as the garnish like that in an Old Fashioned instead of the traditional Maraschino cherry. I didn't catch what bourbon was used but it was still a great way to start the afternoon nonetheless.

Originally wanting to go for three dishes, I actually decided to order just two. I later realized that it was quite the wise decision as I felt that it was quite misleading of some of the negative reviews I had read saying that the dishes were small & overpriced. In reality, it was quite the contrary as the price of each dish was quite reasonable when factoring not only the amount of food actually on the plate but also including that it was made with extremely fresh & organic high-quality, local ingredients while utilizing the accurate expertise and the utmost care from the chefs themselves.

Starting out, I had the Black Cod Brandade with Apple, Cultured Cream and Sourdough. Garnished with fennel, the dish looked absolutely like a work of art (please excuse the clich√©). Just a warning: eating the brandade as is was actually quite aggressively fishy. Some of my readers might say "seriously? Don't you eat sushi quite frequently?", even though when in actuality sushi should definitely be clean tasting. After making that mistake, I immediately realized to eat all of the components together; made clear sense after that. To balance the "fishiness" of the brandade, the tang from the cream, the crunch and slightly buffering quality while too contributing to the tang from the sourdough (hence the name), and the refreshing sweetness of the apples all go together in order to create a harmonious and complex symphony of flavors. As my waiter put it, putting all of those components together in one bite is supposed to hit all characteristic aspects of one's palate: sweet, savory, sour, umami, etc..


After finishing my Manhattan, the next drink choide definitely seemed quite logical to go with the next dish: a non-sparkling Domaine de Torraccia, Corse Porto Vecchio Rosé.



With that first dish being quite satisfying albeit the initial mishap, I was immediately ready to proceed to my next dish: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Borani (a Persian yogurt appetizer), Chili Vinegar and Dried Cranberries. At Sitka & Spruce, it seemed quite imperative and crucial to order a vegetable dish. Some may scoff at ordering a vegetable dish if it doesn't have any meat. However, this dish is a prime example to think twice before doing so as it actually was the second best dish overall of my Seattle trip, let alone being the best dish for this meal. With the Brussels Sprouts roasted, there was not only the flavors and moisture kept intact but it also gave it caramelization which gave it not only more texture, but also bringing out the sprouts' natural sweetness. The Chili Vinegar besides obviously giving the dish overall a spice component, the flavors of it along with its acidity complemented well with the earthiness of the sprouts. In order to bring down the heat, the Borani along with its tartness provided quite the refreshing contrast to counter while also working at the same time with the chili vinegar. In addition, the dried cranberries gave the dish quite the concentrated tart and fruity component that provides it the well-needed, satisfying aftertaste while the cilantro served to cleanse the palate.


After noticing that I immediately devoured this at a much more rapid pace while traces of the Borani and Chili Vinegar was still left on the place, my waiter was kind to provide some slices of their amazing bread at no charge to mop it up.



As I've said earlier, I extremely disagree with the negative criticism of the dishes being small as I was very full. Really wanting to try a third dish as I would be flying back the next day, I whipped up the courage to order dessert; something I rarely do - Parsnip Cake with Salted Bay Leaf Ice Cream and Walnut Praline. Besides looking quite decadent to those that have blogs or Instagram pages completely devoted to baking and cakes, this was a great way to end the meal aside from the Balvenie 12 year Scotch I had immediately after. In addition to not being overwhelmingly rich and sweet that turns me off from most desserts, the Parsnip Cake was quite moist and provided the flavorful experience as if one was eating shortbread cookies. The Salted Bay Leaf Ice Cream was not strong but extremely refreshing as it proved itself to be a much more unique alternative to the much plainer vanilla flavor. Finally, the sweet and crunchy Walnut Praline provided the candy texture that pairs extremely well with the cake.




To say that my meal at Sitka & Spruce was an extremely satisfying one would be quite an understatement. Having food like this is certainly a lifechanger as this is the first time in quite a while where I've felt that I actually ate wholesome food as it is essentially the complete opposite of the processed foods I'm used to eating back home. Everything I put in my mouth felt natural for my body to consume not only for nutrition but also for pure enjoyment. I hope that me writing this post can justly negate the comments of the food at Sitka & Spruce being "extremely weird, small in amount, very overrated, and food only for hipsters". For those that want to experience modern, truly wholesome Pacific Northwestern cuisine; Sitka & Spruce, without hesitation, is a must as one of Seattle's premiere dining destinations.


Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Aqua by El Gaucho: Amazing Traditional American Seafood on the Beautiful Seattle Waterfront

Desperately looking for any means to get away from one of the obnoxious yearly holidays known as Thanksgiving where relatives place massive guilt on you if you don't show up for the awkward reunion, in addition of coercing you to take part in following their traditions or whatever the hell they want you to do which would otherwise lead to obnoxious drunken outbursts if not followed; I headed off to Seattle. Its cold weather and rainy skies were actually quite refreshing in contrast to the annoyingly never-ending sunny days that plague Southern California. Something to be noted when flying to Seattle: if you see people wearing a North Face jacket or vest, even more so if they're young college-aged women; they're most likely from Washington State.

Tangent aside, most of the restaurants that I wanted to try out were closed on the holiday; even more so as they were the trendy New American or European-influenced restaurants that SoCal lacks in comparison. As I wanted to have seafood as it deemed more appropriate of the colder, northwestern state; I ended up choosing Aqua by El Gaucho even though I had feared that the food might be too pedestrian for most dining enthusiasts (I really abhor the term "foodie" if taking a picture of the cereal you had poured yourself qualifies you as one) as it seemed like some of the people who dine there really just want to eat at the place solely for the gorgeous location on the Seattle Waterfront and don't mind paying for it without really caring about enjoying the food itself.

Definitely when I arrived there, the restaurant was certainly in a phenomenal location as it was right on the waterfront. The interior was certainly decadent as well with it being a place that serves old-school, traditional American seafood. The hostesses were very warm and kind in acknowledging my reservation while offering to take my coat. However in actuality, the vibe seemed quite accommodating not only due in part of the warm, highly-attentive staff and comforting interior; but it was filled with happy and kind families that chose to festively celebrate the holiday at this restaurant which contributed greatly to the momentum.

Newly seated, the gracious server who sacrificed spending time with his family immediately took my drink order while another server placed warm rolls of White, Wheat and Sesame bread. I ordered one of my favorite cocktails, a Manhattan made with Knob Creek Bourbon. Although standard in terms of appearance, I immediately noticed that it was prepared with the utmost care and precision as it tasted extremely balanced in terms of the measurements for each of the components. This certainly was the best Manhattan I've actually had ever! It certainly was so good that I immediately ordered another one after finishing it.





I ordered the Barents Sea Red King Crab Legs with Lemon Butter and Black Truffle Aioli. Boy was I glad to be enjoying this on Thanksgiving as it arrived quite beautifully! With the shells precut with sheers, it was not difficult opening it up which I greatly appreciated. The crab eaten by itself was extremely bold and lush in flavor. Be that as it may, the lemon butter was definitely the perfect complement for the crab. Although provided some nice acidity at times, I felt that the Black Truffle Aioli fought against the flavors of the crab. With that being said, I picked all of the meat within the crevices of the shells and devoured most of it using the Lemon Butter.




For my side dish came the half order of Sweet Roasted Yellow Corn with Chipotle Lime Butter. It was very richly flavored and satisfying. I could be wrong, but it definitely had a smoky flavor as it might have been cooked with bacon. Although the side was definitely delicious, I felt that it was a tad bit salty. Be that as it may, I would certainly order it again but also hope that the chefs would be more conscientious of adding the right amount of salt to the corn.


As I'm not much of an actual dessert person, I've ordered the Lagavilin 16 Year Single Malt Scotch from Islay (the "Ron Swanson" whisky) to end my meal. It came nice nosing glass in order to efficiently savor the whiskey aromatically.



My time at Aqua by El Gaucho was certainly amazing. Although I had earlier mentioned that I was worried about how the food might have come off as too simple, I was certainly impressed as its simplicity made the flavors of each high quality component stand out boldly. Although the food is quite delicious, the price I have to unfortunately admit was quite high for the value, especially at $89 for the crab legs. In most situations involving dining, I have no problem paying that price if it certainly is worth it. Would I pay for it again? I would but not often, for sure. However, what really left a sour taste in my mouth was paying $20 for a Knob Creek Manhattan. Even though I've just said that it was the best Knob Creek Manhattan I've ever tasted, I felt that it was quite unreasonably steep that I actually filled out a comment card complaining about it. I understand that the upkeep of maintaining a restaurant on a extremely valuable property is quite high, but I still don't feel that reason is adequate enough to justify its high price as even Michelin-starred restaurants don't even charge that high for the same thing.


Be that as it may, I acknowledge that it takes great skill to prepare deceptively simple yet extravagant seafood and craft amazing cocktails with accuracy and precision as they have to maintain high standards throughout the night. In addition to the food and drink, the skills and the attitude of the front of the house staff were certainly quite polished and attentive. The next time I come to Seattle with a companion, I would definitely like to bring that person here without much hesitation, except in regards for the price.
Aqua by El Gaucho on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 24, 2014

ROC: Ikko (3rd Post) - The Most Authentic, Non-California Roll Serving Sushi Restaurant in Orange Country Triumphs Again

With being busy at work and the hideous commute preventing me from dining out, I've finally gotten a chance recently to do so. In addition to me being desperate of satisfying my authentic sushi craving, I figure what better place to settle my cravings at Orange County's best and most authentic sushi restaurant: Ikko.

On Yelp, people have been talking about how "rude" the chef is. I would like to respond by saying that Chef Ikko is actually quite warm and respectful but it takes time to see that side of him. Initially, he does seem quite reserved and doesn't talk as much as there are lots of past customers who don't want and aren't willing to try authentic preparations of sushi (hence the "No California Rolls" sign in front of the establishment). Be that as it may, I've developed a relationship with the restaurant the more and more I keep coming back. The staff saw that I can greatly respect and appreciate the quality and traditional preparation of their food as they understand that I would never dream or dare ordering a spicy tuna roll. The bottom line is for customers to show respect by not hesitating to try something out of their comfort zone and they shall be rewarded of not only receiving the respect of a talented chef but also experiencing culinary pleasure that greatly exceeds most dining experiences.

After ordering a large Tamanohikari, a Junmai Ginjo sake from Kyoto that has a silky smooth flavoring as described on their menu, while giving a glass to each of the sushi chefs, I've started out with the White Fish Carpaccio with Balsamic Vinaigrette and topped with Yuzu Kosho, Sea Salt & Basil. The three pieces on the left are Halibut (Hirame) and the right are Bullseye Fish. As mentioned in my past reviews, this amazing dish is not listed on their menu. The fish are not only delicate tasting along with the salt, balsamic vinaigrette and sea salt bringing out and complementing the fishes' flavors, but the unique touch of basil gave it quite the delicious variation as I'm tasting the carpaccio with this for the first time.



After a great starter, my nigirizushi course began with Akami (Lean Bluefin Tuna). As always, it is very delicious, especially with the flavors of the Tare (Seasoned and Simmered Soy Sauce) bringing out the complex flavors of the lean tuna.


The following piece is the Spear Squid (Yari Ika). This has a nice texture of it not being too firm at all where it would have came off as rubbery. The neta (sushi topping) has a nice bite to it along with it being quite delicate, not aggressively fishy as some might perceive squid to be.



The next fish as I have a fuzzy recollection at this point is what I assume was File Fish from Kyushu. Like all of the white fishes from Kyushu, it was quite delicate in flavor with the sea salt bringing out its flavor.



Although they usually blowtorch their Chutoro (medium fatty tuna) in order to have the fat melted so that it can spread throughout the fish, I actually prefer it to be unseared with only a brush of Tare applied to it. As expected with Chutoro, it was of course quite luscious as it's moderately marbled in fact versus Otoro (very fatty tuna) which they didn't have.


For the next three, and right near to the expected Uni that I would have soon savorly embraced with all of the receptors within my palate, the Katsuo (Bonito), Suzuki (Sea Bass) and Kurodai (Black Sea Bream) were the stars of that day's course. On the left, the Katsuo was deep, smoky and earthy in flavor while the Grated Ginger served as a nice contrast and the Tare served to carry out the rest of the fish's flavors in full throttle. In the middle, the touch of Sea Salt brought out the delicate yet quite deep flavors of the Suzuki. With the same touch of Sea Salt, the Kurodai had elegant flavors dancing around on my palate. 



To be honest as I wasn't sure if the chef had brushed it with Tare along with applying Sea Salt, but the Tai (Japanese Snapper) was certainly divine in flavor which makes it quite fitting as the fish itself is used in Shinto rituals. 



Next is the Premium Mackerel (Saba). Although it's brushed with the Tare where it would have masked the unpleasant fishiness associated with the fish, my taste buds ultimately assured me that this is of the highest quality where it wouldn't have had it in the first place.



This was definitely a real treat: Engawa (Halibut Fin). With the tare bringing another dimension of the delicate flavors of Engawa, the texture of this neta was quite tender as it contributes to the pleasantness of this particular sushi piece.


Following Engawa came Ikura (Salmon Roe) and Sanma (Pike Mackerel). As with the Saba before it, the Sanma was quite bold in flavor, even more so than the Saba, without it once again being aggressively fishy. As with my past visits, the freshly marinated Ikura was literally bursting with briny flavor as the roe popped in my mouth.



The grandeur moment of the course as I've preemptively ordered two pieces instead of one: Uni (Sea Urchin). Along with the Tare bringing out and complementing its complex and deep earthy flavors, the Santa Barbara uni is of extremely high grade that I can safely say that Ikko serves the best Uni in Southern California, let alone Orange County. Even though I've experienced it so many times, it was such a compelling religious experience that I definitely savored it as long as I could in my mouth. That's how divine the Uni is at Ikko.

 
Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the Hotate (Scallop) and the Anago (Sea/Conger Eel) that followed the uni. The Hotate was touched with Sea Salt. Some might be hesitant of trying raw scallop without any sauce but I assure you that with only the touch of salt was more than adequate in bringing out the clean flavors of the scallop; not fishy at all. Although there was certainly no issue with fishiness as just mentioned, like with some of the other sushi restaurants, a touch of yuzu juice would have greatly complemented the Hotate. In regards to the Anago, it was freshly roasted as it was complemented with a much thicker Tare (some would call that version "eel sauce"). The meat of the Anago was quite moist and loaded with flavor as the result of it being freshly roasted. Unfortunately, the shari (sushi rice) under the Anago fragmented quite easily due to the heat. 



At the end of the Nigirizushi course, I was then presented with Hata (Grouper). Although quite clean and delicate in flavor and with it being so, I had wished this was presented initially in the course.


At the end, I ordered the Green Tea Mochiko Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Anglaise sauce. Usually, I like the desserts at Ikko as they're never overwhelming in sweet and richness. However, this was the biggest disappointment of the night as the cake was quite dry. If it were moist, I definitely would have enjoyed it instead of it being an afterthought.



Regardless, I had a wonderful meal at Ikko. It definitely satisfied the high-end sushi deficit my palate was surely suffering from. Although dessert was the low point, it did not weigh down my overall impression of my most recent visit. With fresh and high quality fish and Chef Ikko's innovative touches on dishes, such as applying basil for the first time, this is what makes Ikko the best Sushi restaurant in Orange County.