Tag Archives: restaurants

Splurge-Worthy Dining

Sure. The definition of “splurge” has changed for many of us in recent months. But still there are, typically, two flavors of dining out. One: the casual “let’s go grab a bite” occasions or getting together with friends at a favorite spot. And two, those dinners out for which there’s prior planning, scouring web sites for critiques and recommendations, making a primesplurge1 Friday night reservation, considering how comfortable you are with how much dinner’s going to run you.

The splurge meal.

Which is what I thought I was going to read about when flipping through the new Gourmet magazine when I spied an article called “Restaurants Worth the Money.” But quickly scanning the piece I saw lots of hot dogs, some diners, bakery/cafés, places touting bao, burgers, pizza. For the Pacific Northwest, the selections include Tilth, Poppy, Dinette. Three places I really love, but I would have expected to find perhaps Rover’s, Canlis, The Herbfarm instead.

splurge2So I flipped back to the article’s intro and found, indeed, the selections were framed as “great places for spending your hard-earned cash. That means everything from casual Thai joints…to fine restaurants where you’ll have a once-in-a-lifetime meal.” Ultimately, a dining guide that crosses different budget thresholds.

And sure, a few of those latter destinations are featured. The French Laundry in the Napa Valley, Alinea in Chicago, Le Bernardin in New York. Of them, I’ve only been to Le Bernardin, stunningly perfect dining experiences each time.

The piece definitely got me thinking about those meals I’ve enjoyed whensplurge3 the high price was–while still not at the “no object” level–not enough to keep me from walking through the door. (By the way, these photos are from random splurge-worthy meals from recent past: Crush, Le Gourmand, WD-50, Dahlia Lounge, Sun Sui Wah, and Rover’s.)

I’ve already mentioned a couple reliable, splurge-worthy destinations in the Seattle area where we have never been disappointed about the (many) dollars we’ve spent there over the years. Rover’s and The Herbfarm. And while the latter is always a prix-fixe dining experience with a luxurious price tag, Rover’s does offer some less-splurgy options, with à la carte selections and that indulgent Friday lunch.

In Las Vegas, we’ve had more than a few splurge meals, which is only natural in Sin City. Bradley Ogden, Okada and Craftsteak are a few favorites. But I almost had a heart attack last December when approaching the restaurant splurge4chosen for my husband’s birthday dinner (which, annual tradition has it, is always celebrated in Vegas). I’d booked us at L’ Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the 1-star Michelin restaurant I’d also visited in its original Paris location. After checking in at the hostess desk, she gestured to her left, saying “Ma’am, we have you booked next door at Joël Robuchon,” the 3-star glam, sparkly luxe room that would cost us about three times the ticket at L’Atelier. I think she could instantly see my anxiety, and said quickly “…but we’re happy to seat you at L’Atelier.”

It took a glass of Champagne to calm my nerves, but our dinner at L’Ateliersplurge5 was out of this world. Like I said earlier, splurge-worthy dining most always comes with advance planning, mentally shifting into gears for the experience (and expense). I do plan that we’ll dine at Joël Robuchon one of these days, and if there’s any place where it can be spur-of-the-moment, Vegas is it. One more royal flush jackpot and we’ll be there with bells on! (My first such jackpot landed us at Nobu and sipping a bottle of Billecart-Salmon rosé Champagne!) I wasn’t quite prepared for the spontaneous splurge on that snowy night in Vegas last year.

splurge6After all, when budgets and bank balances rule the day, we can’t get so swept up in the anticipation of indulgence as to let spending get out of whack. Which is why I very sadly had to cancel one unique dinner reservation for next month. I didn’t watch much of the Top Chef Masters series, but did catch the last two episodes. Rick Bayless’ winning finale menu was amazing, inspiring. Like many viewers, I just stared at the screen thinking “Man, I want some of that!” So when Rick tweeted that he was going to be making the winning menu available at his Chicago restaurant Tompolobampo for a couple of months, I was lickity-split online and booked a table. Then reality slowly crept in. Plane tickets. Hotel rooms. Other random costs of being on the road even for just a couple of days. It was starting to add up to a $1000 prospect, that delicious dinner. A little to hard to justify right now, dang it.

Not every splurge-worthy meal needs to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Nor does it necessarily need to carry a big price tag, as the Gourmet piece well states. Fact is, we rarely hit the high-end steakhouses in town any more, “indulging” instead at the more relaxed, bustling, wallet-friendly JaK’s in our neighborhood.

Food worth the money, at any price. For those of us who live to eat, I guess the yardstick’s always there, measuring the value, whether it’s a $9 reuben sandwich or a $125 tasting menu. What it is for you, that meal you count on being great, no matter what it costs?

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On the Road: Vancouver and Whistler

Now that it’s actually springtime in Seattle (at least for another day or so), it’s hard to remember having been in the snow up in Whistler early last month. vantrain2But watching a rerun of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations show on Vancouver a few days ago brought back to mind my great trip north early March.

As is my habit, I took the train up to BC. I haven’t driven to Vancouver (nor to Portland, for that matter) since Amtrak started the Cascades service along this corridor. The really sleek Talgo cars used on the Vancouver route were out getting spiffed up in advance of the Olympics traffic early next year, so we rode on more traditional cars. But the route is the real star, gliding along the shoreline in many spots, only occasionally skirting I-5. vantrain1Once in Vancouver, my sister and I had about 30 minutes to kill before boarding a bus from the same station that took us to the center of Whistler. Easy-breezy.

We were lucky enough to be staying at the Four Seasons hotel there, a 2004 addition to the upper part of town at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. We had dinner reservations at the hotel’s Fifty Two 80 Bistro later that evening, but I couldn’t resist a trip to a favorite spot in town: Bearfoot Bistro.

I’ve had a few splendid meals at BB in years past, but the real highlight is its bearfoot11cool champagne bar. There’s a strip of solid ice that frames the bar area, with indentations where your foot-less champagne flute nestles perfectly to stay chilled between sips. We chose the Blue Mountain rosé sparkling wine from the Okanagan, a 2004 vintage that spend a few years on lees. It was the perfect partner for a sustaining bowl of truffled fries, with a decadent dish of truffle aïoli alongside. Oh my, what a perfect snack!

Dinner back at Fifty Two 80 was a delight. What’s not to love about a salad course that includes lobster, shrimp, truffles, avocado, tomatoes…all under a heap of fried thin slivers of leek? Nothing! It was wonderful. whistler6Barb had a generous salad of grilled vegetables. For my main, I went with the night’s special: venison with crosnes, wild mushrooms and a fig-blueberry jus. Delicious. I love crosnes, which remind me–in flavor at least–a bit of Jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes. Rarely see them on menus, so I may likely order a dish just for the side! My sister’s pasta was rich and creamy with cheese, and packed with wild mushrooms. We sampled a glass each of two other local wines: Laughing Stock Cabernet and Kettle Valley Merlot, both outstanding, lush, balanced.

I really love the feel of the spacious room, it’s very relaxed, cosy, stylish in a low-key and slightly retro fashion. The fireplace in the dining room is accented with small colorful tiles, the club chairs in the lounge area an whistler2endlessly inviting spot to linger over cocktails and snacks, visit with friends, warm up after a day on the slopes (or walking around town).

Alas, time in Whistler was brief. One night, just a few hours the next morning to enjoy the hotel (a dip in the outdoor pool, a little steam and sauna time, blissful!), have some breakfast and do a little shopping in town. Back on the bus for another gorgeous trip on the Sea to Sky highway whistler4between Vancouver and Whistler. It’s had a lot of work since my last trip up that way, but they’re still blasting and widening and working on that roadway that will carry so many folks to some of the key Olympics venues early next year.

Vancouver had us at the sister Four Seasons property of our Whistler stay. This is a great central downtown spot that has some rather unusual curb appeal–they did wonders dressing up the sitting area at street level, where the vehicle drive-thru is, but really you don’t see much of the hotel’s character and style until you’re well inside. They’ve put millions into the interior over recent years, though, and it’s definitely worth a visit.

The main restaurant, now called Yew, has been significantly revamped. I’m vanc1always charmed by large spaces, high ceilings, dramatic interiors. Yew has that, in spades. Dramatic art, natural light, lots of Northwesty touches in the colorscape and wood-and-stone accents. A great spot for a simple pint of local pale ale, or an all-out dinner celebration. Our meal that night was spectacular. This seafood sampler plate was a great start, which included an octopus salad, raw scallops with radishes, a tuna poke with olives, and lobster roll. On to luscious cauliflower soup with black cod brandade, smoked sablefish with pea puree, a breast of local duck for my main course. vanc3All outstanding dishes, full of flavor and local color.

Dessert was an embarrassment of riches, a sampling of what they might serve for a special 2010 menu they have on tap this year, leading up to the 2010 Olympics kicking off in February.  For $2010, you’ll be served a 5-course dinner for 10 in their cool glass-enclosed wine room at the center of the dining room. My favorite of the desserts we sampled was the salted chocolate mousse. Divine.

We hit town just a month or so after the new Shangri-la hotel opened. It’s a brand I wasn’t familiar with until recently, but anyone I know who’s traveled much to Asia clearly knows of the upscale hotel group. In fact, I was shang1surprised flipping through my copy of The New Yorker last month to see a full-page ad for the hotel, touting it as the first Shangri-la in North America. It cuts a striking pose in downtown Vancouver, standing 61 stories tall, the tallest building in Western Canada. The first 15 floors are hotel, the remainder residences (which, as I understand it, have been selling pretty well despite the economic times we’re in).

Luxury here translates into clean, sleek lines, simple but bold artwork, pretty understated all around. The lobby has a simple concierge desk and bell desk, but no registration. Most guests arrive by the underground drive, where a staff person greets them and they’re whisked up to their room where details of registration will play out. It may be a common practice for the super jet-shangdumpset types, but I’d only experienced that one other time: the Halekulani in Honolulu.

The hotel enlisted New York-based celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten for the restaurant. Market is, like the hotel, sleek and elegant, surprisingly busy on a Tuesday night, tables packed, a nice buzz about the place. The signature truffle pizza with fontina is reason enough to head to Vancouver, really decadent. We sampled a number of dishes from the menu, including Dungeness crab dumplings with Meyer lemon and celeriac tea (ethereal), rice cracker crusted tuna with citrus sriracha emulsion, a few other delights. And amazing desserts, not the least of which a caramelized banana tart with praline and a silky caramel ice cream. 

It seems a bit as though all we did was eat and drink during the trip. And vanc7there are a couple other meals I want to quickly add as well. Lunch at Rangoli, the newer, more casual, sibling alongside celebrated Vij’s restaurant. We walked here after tooling around Granville Island for a while one morning. A marvelous, filling, flavorful lunch. And we joined some Vancouver friends at Fraîche high on the hillside of North Vancouver for a really fun and tasty dinner one night, marking the first anniversary of this popular restaurant. Chef-owner Wayne Martin had been chef at the Four Seasons Vancouver for a while before opening first Crave on Main, now this fun spot. It was nice to get out of downtown for a bit and join the locals!

vanc8I’m excited for Vancouver and Whistler that they’ll be the home of the world’s beloved Olympic tradition come winter next year. I’m even more thrilled that it’s a few hours away from my hometown and will likely have just minor peripheral impact. I can’t imagine living in a city while it hosts such a monster of an event. But the Olympic buzz sure is building, as this clock in front of the art museum counts its way down.

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Dreaming of a White Vegas

This past week has served up some serious Winter Wonderland material. Not only is our West Seattle home nestled in a good foot or so of snow, but we were in Vegas for its newsworthy snowfall last week. The green glow the snow took on in the lights of MGM Grand was something to behold!

For our fourth and final trip to Vegas this year, we stayed mostly at the Palazzo, the new tower on the Venetian property. Top-notch rooms, spacious, lots of great amenities. So swellegant that when we moved a few blocks south for our last night, the rooms at Paris seemed somehow less enchanting than they’d always been before. I played in a live blackjack tournament at the Rio, which was a little intimidating but went just fine. Didn’t win anything, but my play didn’t scream “novice” either, so I was happy. Even lead in chips at my table at the check-in point five hands before the end of play. It was a nice change of pace from slot and video poker tournaments we usually frequent.

This December trip has become an annual tradition to celebrate the husband’s birthday. It’s a fun town in which to answer that old “where should we go for your birthday dinner?” question. A couple recent favorites for the occasion include Okada at the Wynn and Hugo’s Cellar in the Four Queens Casino downtown (the two could not be more polar-opposite in style, each delicious and satisfying in their own way).

Last week we chose L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon for the fête. (Had we won a big jackpot prior to the dinner, we’d have happily upgraded to the more posh, formal, refined restaurant, called simply Joël Robuchon, next door. Another trip, we hope to make that happen!) The upscale-counter-service concept created something of a stir in Paris when Robuchon opened his Atelier there in 2003. I happened to have a trip to (the real) Paris that summer, the restaurant within walking distance of my longtime favorite hotel. Looks like they’ve become a bit more accommodating about reservations, at the time I recall a strict no-reservations policy. The elite French diners dropped off by their drivers strutted in to the hostess desk, past all of us waiting patiently on the sidewalk, haughty heads held high. Then returned to their cars at a quicker pace, muttering unpleasantries in such lyrical fashion, after confronting the fact that no pedigree or social rank was going to secure them a table. The wait was to be 45 minutes-plus, just like the rest of us. I don’t recall details about the meal, but we ate very well and had a lot of fun.

But back to Vegas. They do take reservations at this Atelier, though in these slow times they were also able to take walk-ins from the Cirque de Soleil theatre adjacent, with the KÀ production. Dinner was outstanding, service polished but friendly, the theater of the kitchen an enticing show to accompany our meal. Though it was tempting, we passed on the menu découverte, a 10-course selection that included langoustine carpaccio, creamy pumpkin soup with confit chestnuts and your choice of quail or hanger steak for the sole meaty element. We ordered, instead, from the left side of the menu, which was described as a chance to craft your own tasting menu, we were recommended to each choose 3 to 4 dishes.

Our amuse bouche was same as that for the découverte, a foie gras parfait topped with a thin layer of port reduction, then a generous layer of parmesan foam. Ohhh, baby, baby, delicious and decadent. And lucky me, I got two, this wasn’t quite Bob’s speed. Next we both had the layered Mediterranean vegetables, something like an elegant, pure-and-simple take on ratatouille, large slices of the grilled vegetables layered with buffalo mozzarella and herbs, very fresh and delicious, almost tasted like summer (a fun surprise on a snowy night).

We both also chose the langoustine, described as a “fritter” with basil pesto. Wow, so wonderful. Though not much like a fritter, to my mind. One large, perfect langoustine topped with a leaf of basil, wrapped in Feuilles de Brick
and lightly fried. A tiny but perfect little microgreen salad alongside was an ideal accent.

From here, we diverged. Bob really reveled in the fresh anchovies that had been marinated and served with sliced eggplant confit. Presentation was gorgeous and simple, a perfect, generous rectangle of the anchovies atop the layer of eggplant. I, meanwhile, was moaning quietly over the veal ravioli with fried artichoke scattered over the top. The pasta was paper thin and very delicately enclosed the veal filling. A rich veal reduction served as the sauce, and those crisp fried artichokes complemented beautifully. I was in heaven.

I wrapped things up with the quail offered on the découverte menu, the boneless breast stuffed with foie gras, the roasted leg alongside, accompanied by the famous, luxuriant Robuchon mashed potatoes that were generously embellished with truffle. Wow. The classic version of the potatoes was served alongside Bob’s John Dory, which had been pan-seared and came with baby calamari and artichokes.

(When I started working for Patricia Wells back in the early 1990s, she was just wrapping up work on Simply French with Joël Robuchon, I helped a bit with some of the book’s final details. There, the secret to his purée de pommes de terre  is spelled out. A couple highlights include the proportion of 2 pounds baking potatoes to about 1 cup of butter, and the technique of both pressing the potatoes through a food mill, then passing them through a fine tamis. See? totally luxuriant and worth every penny.)

The birthday boy’s dessert of choice is always cheese. Here’s where we hit a serious jackpot. With the 3-star Michelin restaurant next door, guests at l’Atelier have a chance to sample some truly outstanding cheeses that are brought in from France regularly to stock the cheese cart next door. Granted, we had just the 4 selected choices rather than a whole cart to pick from, but that will be a joy for another day. The four we had (and here I’m kicking myself for not taking better notes…) included a Sainte-Marue de Touraine goat, a tomme de brebis, and the rest is a blur of artfully aged milk. The presentation was, to our minds, cheese plate perfection, no honey or relish-this or pickled-that. Just a tiny green salad for a bright, fresh palate contrast.

The chef saw how much we enjoyed the cheeses and offered a plate with more of the tomme de brebis, what a treat that was. Though I was maxed out by that point; Bob was happy as could be.

It was a marvelous evening, really delicious, creative, finessed food, an ideal way to celebrate a birthday. Not inexpensive, we topped $300 with tax and tip (of which just 2 glasses of wine). It can be unnerving to look at a menu with small plate prices ranging from $20 to $38. But I was pleased with the size of the portions (more than a few bites) and for the quality/flavor values, the price was right. I’d go back to l’Atelier in a heartbeat. Though still looking forward to walking into the grander sibling alongside with a fistful of hundred dollar bills on one of our next trips.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand) on Urbanspoon

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On the Road: New York City

Lucky me. I seem to hit New York City at its most memorable extremes. My previous trip was February 2007 and there was a blizzard. I was wearing heavy boots, dressing in layers and leaping over mountains of snow at each curbside. On this recent trip, by contrast, I was treated to a heatwave, 95 degrees at least during my last couple of days in the city, and you can add about 10 degrees thanks to radiating heat from the buildings and streets. I was seriously looking forward to returning to Seattle’s October-in-June weather. The Seattle Times homepage welcomed me home last week with a headline that noted Seattle’s temperatures as lower than those in Siberia.

Enough about the weather. My 5 days in the Big Apple were great, nonetheless. The original reason was to attend the red-carpet-and-black-tie James Beard Foundation Awards last Sunday night. The ceremony and following food fest were held at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. Lots of wow power just with the venue, and that’s before you consider all the luminaries around you: from uber-chef Thomas Keller to the doyenne of cookbook editors Judith Jones. MCing the awards was the food world’s Bobby Flay and the celeb world’s Kim Catrall. The Beard web site has all the details of the winners, but of particular interest to me were Holly Johnson’s award for best chef in the Northwest (well-deserved and long overdue) and the fact that Tom Douglas did not win (yet) for best restaurateur in the country. I hope soon to say “well deserved and long overdue” about him winning that honor as well.

I don’t have the stamina that I used to when it comes to eating marathons on trips like this. The extreme heat certainly didn’t help. Lots of my food friends who were also in town were hitting top spots for lunch, checking out two or three others for a progressive dinner, with wee-hour nibbles at yet another flatironmust-go or two. A couple places folks raved about were Prune and Eleven Madison Park (the latter I went to on that blizzardy trip last year, it was out of this world). The one “hot-spot” I went to with a group of friends was WD-50, one of the more avant-guard restaurants in town. Interesting, but it didn’t float my boat. A favorite bar stop from last year’s trip was the Flatiron Lounge, which I only got to walk by pre-cocktail hour this trip.

My welcome-to-New-York dinner the first night (with longtime pal and best drinking buddy Jack Robertiello) was at 81, the new restaurant opened by Ed Brown. He’d long been the chef at SeaGrill in Rockefeller Center, I know him from way back in Simply Seafood days. Really great meal, loved the pea and fava bean soup, served with a crab fritter. I know he can cook fish like a dream (Jack was impressed with his cod entree) but I opted for the lamb, served with favas, artichokes, braised greens, fiddlehead ferns. Really outstanding. Great start to the visit.

At the other end of the culinary spectrum, another pilgrimage was to Artichoke artichokeBasille’s Pizza & Brewery on East 14th, which I learned about thanks to my New York Magazine subscription. Lines are a regular thing here, not only because the place is so popular, but because it’s so small: room enough for maybe six salivating patrons in the tiny space, the rest spilling out onto the street. While I was at the end of the line, a local asked me “what’s up with this place, last night the line was all the way down the sidewalk,” she said, waving her arm up toward 2nd Avenue. Feeling suddenly the insider, I told her that I knew their pizzas to be outstanding. I took my pizzalarge slice of their signature artichoke (it’s a very simple operation, just a couple of options available) to a park bench in Union Square and had a perfect Manhattan lunch, complete with repose from the heat and plenty of people-watching.

 

 

 There is so much more to tell about that trip, but I’ll save other tidbits for another time. Just can’t pass up this last shot, however. I was early for a lunch appointment in the West Village and slipped into The Grey Dog’s Coffee on Carmine Street for an obligatory iced coffee (a wonderful hang-out and casual coffeelunch spot). I was checking email, making notes, etc., barely noticing the tabletop. At first, when I thought I saw something familiar out the corner of my eye, I figured it was brain-fry from the heat making me see things. But I cleared away my phone, notepad and map to find that I’d chosen the Seattle table, complete with Boeing jet and sailboats on Lake Washington. It was almost like a cool Puget Sound breeze on an incredibly hot New York day. It’s a great city to visit, New York. But I’m very happy to be home.

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Back to NOLA

I leave bright and early tomorrow for a week in New Orleans, where I’ll be attending the annual conference of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. I’m on the board, so being at the conference is something of a command performance. But I’ve only missed one conference–San Antonio, for no particularly good reason–in the 16 years I’ve been a member. It’s a highlight of my year.

 

Returning to New Orleans for this year’s conference is big in a number of ways. Topping the list is support of the city. Conference groups much larger than ours have been patronizing NOLA for months now, but I don’t know that a food-focused organization has made a major appearance yet. It’s our honor to be giving back to the community well beyond our hotel and restaurant dollars. Different sectors of the organization, from food photographers to cooking school owners, have devised ways to give back through a range of activities. As a whole, we hope to all encourage food lovers to return to New Orleans in support of those people working so hard to rebuild their lives. K-Paul's bandAnyone reading this who’s within a crawfish-toss of New Orleans might want to consider attending one conference highlight open to the public: our Gumbo Giveback on Saturday evening April 19, benefiting the Crescent City Farmers Market.

 

For me, this is a nostalgic return to the site of my first conference as a member of IACP, back in 1993, which was also my first trip to New Orleans. I’ll never forget piling onto a bus for a pre-conference tour that took us into the surrounding region for a food tour. It was maybe 9:30 in the morning and we were all handed small paper bags of fried pork skin. They are serious about their food at any and all hours of the day in this part of the world! Our host was Paul Prudhomme, which was a huge treat. A phenomenal introduction to the area.

 

At the time, Emeril Lagasse had just a couple of restaurants there in town–Emeril’s and NOLA–and had just started (if memory serves right) his first show on the Food Network. He had not yet shot up to the stratosphere of culinary stardom. I’d had an interview with him early in the week for Simply Seafoodmagazine and returned for dinner another evening. It was a who’s-who of customers that night, including Julia Child. Mr. Lagasse was nonetheless incredibly gracious and kind to this fledgling magazine writer and editor; I remember he brought me a small glass of brandy to help relieve the discomfort from a raging cold I’d picked up. (I had the chance to meet with him again on a trip he’d made to Seattle a few years ago. The security detail was new, but he was the same warm, friendly, engaging chef I remembered.)

 

Enough with the reminiscing. I did make a quick trip to NOLA last fall for meetings in advance of the conference. It was good to reconnect with the city. The French Quarter/Riverwalk core where we spent most of our time was in fine shape, no visible remains of damage. The only visible hint of hurricane aftermath where I went was the random closed shops; many folks have chosen to leave town if the prospect of rebuilding overwhelmed. A friend from cooking school days works with Paul Prudhomme and we met for dinner one night at K-Paul’s (where he and I had lunched back in 1993; I had their Cajun Martini both times, a tasty tradition). He’s an upbeat guy, but the toll of Katrina was still in his eyes, and in the lower, slower tone of his voice when describing the previous months to me. His own home was thankfully not severely damaged. But the damage to the city, to his friends and family, colleagues, the psyche of his hometown–the ripple effects are clearly there. And it’s why even where you don’t see damage, there isdamage. Slowly rebuilding, slowly turning the corner, slowly regaining that “laissez les bon temps rouler” attitude. But they still need help. (This photo is one of the colorful caricatures from K-Paul’s. Up above is a shot of the band that paraded through the restaurant during dinner.)

 

Irene’s was a crazy-busy place, loud, bustling, too many bodies, not enough R & O'schairs. So frenetic I’m afraid I don’t much recall the dinner specifics. The next night we ate, thanks to deep-inside information, at R & O’s in nearby Metairie. So low on the radar, I can’t find a decent link to offer. No-frills, all the way. This photo gives you an idea. Napkins off the roll, baskets of saltines, bottles of Tabasco, eating with your fingers, deeply friendly service, pitchers of beer, an old boxy TV in the corner,  amazing seafood (a nearly empty plate of garlic shrimp below). Ask a local once you’re in New Orleans and surely someone can steer you in the right direction. BUT, it’s important to ENUNCIATE clearly. Or you’ll end up at Arnaud’s, a far fancier spot in central New Orleans where you’ll probably have to behave yourself.

 shrimp

I would give anything to be able to share a couple of other photos with you from that trip, but nightime shooting outdoors just didn’t work out. We walked one night to dinner at Irene’s after a reception at Bourbon House, both in the French Quarter. It’s like some civic stage manager yelled “cue the parade” as we wended through the streets. Out of nowhere came a marching band leading a crowd on a wonderful brassy march, tossing beads. Later on our way back to the hotel, we happened upon on a less touristy, far more arty parade that clearly was celebrating Day of the Dead. Large fabric and papier mâché figures, skulls, skeletons paraded through the quieter streets of the Quarter, bobbing gently to more somber but still spirited music, akin to that of a jazz funeral. It was mesmerizing.

The city is still mesmerizing, surprising, delicious, delightful–if operating at some fraction of its earlier level of frenetic energy and joie de vivre. But it’s coming back. Long as we all continue to return to the city, those who live there can work toward returning to their lives, many of which so bitterly disrupted.

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Best New Chefs — Food & Wine

Ethan StowellI just got a press release from Food & Wine Magazine announcing the 2008 winners of their coveted “Best New Chef” recognition. Of course, I’m always thrilled when Seattle chefs gain recognition nationally. An ovation goes out to Ethan Stowell, chef/owner of Union, Tavolata and the new How to Cook a Wolf for being so honored this year. Woo-hoo!!!

The ten winners are being fêted tonight in New York City. That explains why Ethan could so easily make an appearance on today’s episode of Today (as I learned from Nancy Leson’s blog this morning, too late to try to catch the spot). Sorry to say that I haven’t been to any of the other award-winners. But I can try to make it to Gautreau’s in New Orleans in a couple of weeks to sample some of Sue Zemanick’s creations. 

Past F&W “Best New” winners in our neighborhood include Jason Wilson at Crush (2006), John Sundstom at Lark (2001), and Maria Hines at Tilth (2005).  And we’ve inherited a couple: Danielle Custer won in 1998 while she was cooking in Dallas (she’s now general manager at Taste at SAM) and new chef at The Herbfarm, Keith Luce, won in 1997 while in Chicago at Spruce.

Oh, and just to keep the kudos coming, I’m late in sending out three cheers to Maria for her inclusion on Frank Bruni’s recent list of ten “Intriguing New Restaurants Outside of New York” in The New York Times. Outstanding news, bravo Maria! I have been to one other on that list, Central, which I reported about in an earlier post about our trip to DC (keyword: banana split). And one I will definitely be visiting on my New Orleans trip: Cochon. So excited about that dinner, gathering with a number of IACP friends before the big conference begins mid month.

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On the Road: D.C.

This will be one of those “a picture is [hopefully] worth a thousand words” posts. Although unfortunately, you end up getting nearly a thousand words as well. My little digital camera must have been near capacity when we got home last week from five days in Washington D.C. I can’t resist sharing some of the favorite sites and best bites of the week.

farmers marketWe hit the Dupont Circle farmers market on Sunday, which was a big treat. This proved to be somefarmers marketfarmers market of the most springy color we saw all week! A bit early for all the blossoms. I was thrilled to find YARN for sale at this market. And yes, I bought a bunch. 

WA monument 

Sunday afternoon we spent time visiting a few of the monuments in town. I’d never been to the Lincoln Memorial, which is really impressive and moving. This is the view from the steps, looking back down the mall toward the Washington Monument.                                

We spent a few hours in the Natural History Museum, particularly enthralled by the amazing stones, minerals and gems. There is a Butterflyspecial butterfly exhibit there now, including a live butterfly pavilion (which requires advance tickets and timed entry). It was amazing. This butterfly really grabbed my attention, looking every bit like an owl’s eye sitting there. Its interior wing coloration is brilliant blue. So cool.                  

Navy MemorialWalking down Pennsylvania one morning, we happened upon the Navy Memorial. My dad was a career Navy man (which in large part explains why three of us four kids were born on Pacific islands), so this was a touching connection for me. Particularly seeing the bronze panel devoted to the “Sea Bees” — the “can-do” Contruction Battalion division that my father was in.

                                                                            
Any place we vacation, I’m always interested in checking out local
orchidsbotanical gardens. It’s the frustrated gardener in me, I guess. I love seeing lush, colorful, inspiring gardens. (This is one of my all-time favorites, on Kauai.) I was surprised to find that the US Botanic Garden was just steps from the front of the US Capitol. It features an amazing orchid display right now, went nuts shooting many of the flowers.                                                        

                                                            

papayas

Papayas growing in the botanic garden. I’ve always been jealous of the years my family lived in Hawaii before I was born. Apparently there was a papaya tree in the backyard. I’m still not over it. I don’t really care to live in a tropical climate, but the idea of walking outside to pluck a papaya is mesmerizing.                   

crispy porkHere’s a sample of our lunch at The Source, a new Wolfgang Puck restaurant in town. It’s connected to the Newseum, a news-focused interactive museum that will be opening April 11. (A cool feature out front is print-outs of that mornings front pages from a newspaper in each of the 50 states, plus a handful of international papers.) Anyway, this lunch started with a plate of Crispy Suckling Pig with Black Plum Puree, Pickled Cipollini and Sweet Bean. Really, really delicious.                                                       

slidersWe stopped in to Zola a couple of times for a drink and a bite. These are their Shrimp and Lobster Sliders from the bar menu. Very tasty. Zola’s next door to The International Spy Museum which we went to one day. Tons of memorabelia, information, background, interviews with former spies, etc. Slick, busy, more commercial than many DC museums, but a fun option for culture of a different kind.

banana split

This photo barely does justice to this delicious dessert at Central. A most perfect banana split. I already can’t wait to return to DC just to have that dessert again.

                                                                                             

houseIn the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden, this was my favorite: an optical illusion of a house created by Roy Lichtenstein, the perspective shifts visually as you move from side to side. 

Library of CongressOne of many photos I took in the Library of Congress. What a stunning interior, so much craftsmanship, beautiful materials, interesting stories to be told by the figures and designs. The ornateness of every detail–mosaics, columns, lighting, color, statues, inlaid stonework–it was nearly sensory overload. I could have spent another hour or two in there.

Lunch at Oyamel on our last day was a treat. I’ll definitely return oyamelhere for dinner sometime, particularly for a dose of that delicious-looking tableside guacamole they whip up. Here’s my “gaspacho estilo Morelia” which is a sort of chunky salad with jicama, mangoes, cucumber, jalapeno and orange. Wonderful.                            

Oh, there are so many more shots to share, bites to recount, museums and other experiences to regale you with. But I simply have to call it a night! There will be other travels, other meals, other adventures to share with you soon enough.

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