Tag Archives: Tom Douglas

Dahlia Lounge Nostalgia

I imagine more than a few Champagne corks will be popping over the course of this month as Seattle’s beloved Dahlia Lounge restaurant celebrates its 20th anniversary. Beyond Champagne toasts, they’re celebrating too with lots of fun and prizes throughout the month, check out the goings-on here.

Any restaurant that survives and thrives to hit such landmark milestones is something worth celebrating. (Tip of the hat to Pike Pub & Brewery where our friends Charles and Rose Ann Finkel are also toasting 20 years since they first opened doors of the brewery! Woo-hoo!!) With Dahlia, the anniversary stands out for me for a number of reasons.

Professionally, I’ve been eating at, and writing about, Dahlia Lounge and its

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Tom Douglas and me, March 1993, both much younger then....

 eventual siblings for about 18 of those 20 years. After enough meals to form a solid opinion, I came to the conclusion that–for me–Dahlia stands out as a quintessentially Seattle restaurant. Its colorful, inviting room. The professional but relaxed and friendly service. Carefully prepared food that’s got finesse without ever being fussy. Menus rooted in Northwest ingredients  and seasonality but with Asian and European influences that show Seattle’s got an open palate.

Personally, Dahlia’s been the home to a number of my own celebrations over the years, so I definitely connect with the place by way of deeply fond memories. My husband and I chose Dahlia–then in its original 1914 4th Avenue location–for the “rehearsal dinner” location when we got married in 1993. We had that upstairs area at the back of the restaurant to ourselves, and Tom cooked up the dinner. The menu included spicy cornmeal pan-fried oysters with artichoke remoulade, ginger and garlic

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Hmmmm, looks like a bottle of Bernard Griffin? Nice.

glazed spare ribs, chipotle glazed Alaskan halibut with grilled cornbread salad and pear tart with caramel sauce.

Ten years later, it made sense to celebrate again with Dahlia. Now in its new 4th & Virginia location, we took over that back room and had one of the best nights ever with family and friends, eating and drinking well to toast a decade of married life! Mark Fuller (now making his own waves at Spring Hill in my neighborhood) was in the Dahlia kitchen then and cranked through an amazing menu that included shrimp dumplings, slow roasted sucking pig with fennel relish, salt-roasted ehu (a Hawaiian snapper) and lemon-thyme panna cotta with rhubarb confiture. What a fun and delicious night that was. I’d say that we’ll be celebrating there again in 2013 for our 20th, if not for

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Ten years for Bob and me, twelve for Dahlia Lounge

 our master plan to run off to Vegas and get married again on that occasion!

Dahlia opened in November of 1989, a few months after I’d left Seattle for a spell to attend culinary school in France. But I learned about the opening and the restaurant’s early popularity long distance, my mom a trooper about keeping me up to date with Seattle goings-on by way of newspaper clippings. (She also sent me every single batch of Sunday comics; oh, how I love and miss that lady!) Upon my return a couple years later, I wrote my first national magazine article about Seattle restaurants, for a May 1992 issue of Restaurants and Institutions magazine. By then, I’d had a chance to check out Dahlia Lounge in person, noting that “The free-spiritedness of chef-owner Tom Douglas makes a strong first impression when you walk in the door.” And, later, “Douglas swears that his cooking is simple, but to me, his food is testament to a Northwest culinary attitude that is deliciously refreshing to come home to.”

A couple of decades later, I think those reflections are no less true. Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Etta’s, Lola, Serious Pie are all imbued by the free spirit of Douglas, his wife Jackie and the passionate, creative team they work with. And that Northwest culinary attitude? More than ever it’s about consciously chosen ingredients of quality, made to shine without unnecessary flair. Just great food that feeds us well, makes us happy, and makes us glad to call Seattle home.

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Andrew Zimmern and Not So Bizarre Foods

A couple of months ago my husband and I were at Etta’s enjoying a Saturday dinner, sitting at the windows watching a lovely sunset unfold before us. I looked up from my crispy shrimp spring rolls to see a bald fellow fiddling with a bunch of luggage or equipment at the back of a van parked in front of the restaurant. After watching him for a few moments, I pointed one of the spring rolls toward the gentleman and said to Bob, “that guy looks a lot like Andrew Zimmern.” He looked up from his (delectable) albacore tuna sashimi and quickly determined that it was, in fact, Mr. Zimmern.

A few moments later he and some of his crew were heading into the restaurant, clearly not there just for a bite of Tom Douglas’ take on Northwest seafoods. I couldn’t help myself. I started working mentally down the menu we’d looked at just a few minutes earlier and wondered “What’s bizarre enough here to merit a spot on his television show?”

Ends up I’d unfairly pigeonholed the poor guy. He does not, in fact, live by Bizarre Foodsalone. When chatting with him and Tom a bit later, Andrew told me that it’s getting so he can’t eat out with his family for a little pizza or a burger without someone coming by, gesturing toward his plate and making some hardy-har-har comment, asking what’s so bizarre about his meal tonight. Geez, that must get really old. And very fast.

I’ll admit that I can’t bring myself to watch Bizarre Foods, at least not for more than a few minutes flipping around the stations, hopefully landing on a segment more about an unusual wild mushroom in Chile than one about some big fat winged insects being fried up in Southeast Asia. I do not have an adventurer’s stomach, much as I hate to admit it. I don’t care how much you try to convince me that it tastes just like a potato chip or something I’m supposed to already love….  (I had to laugh when I read in the bio on his web sitethat he’s the “international spokesman for Proctor & Gamble’s Pepto Bismal brand.”!! How wildly appropriate.)

Thankfully he and Tom weren’t going to be cooking up any sea cucumbers or jellyfish (yes,  yes, I know…both are delicacies somewhere). The subject instead was mussels.

The segment, about 5 minutes long, from Zimmern’s new Appetite for Life series went live earlier this month on msn.com. The “road trip” concept has him starting up on Whidbey Island with Rawle Jeffords at Penn Cove Shellfish. Then Andrew drives his haul down to the Etta’s kitchen where Tom whips up a perfectly Seattle, straight-forward, flavor-packed stovetop recipe with the delicious bivalves. There are five other cities featured to date, including Palm Springs and Portland.

The show’s part of a new wave of new media, created exclusively for the web. Televisions? Who needs them these days. I was talking with friends recently about Netflix and the growing number of immediate-download movies and shows that are now available, just click and watch on your computer screen (eco-friendly wide LCD screen, right? nah, me neither, but surely will be the norm before long). I, for one, spend FAR too many hours each day at my computer screen already. Come evening, no way I want to sit in front of it with my knitting and glass of wine. I’m still a fan of retreating to the comfort of my living room for that.

I digress, as often happens. It was fun to run into Andrew that evening and have a couple moments to chat with him before the crew needed him in the kitchen. And nice to know that he does indeed get his fair share of opportunities to enjoy some good old mundane foods now and then.

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Summer Camp for Foodies

I always loved summer camp as a kid. For many summers my folks dropped me off at Camp Killoquah north of Everett for a week of canoeing, swimming, archery, making sand candles, singing camp songs. I can’t remember much about what I did last month, or the name of someone I met at a meeting last week, but I can remember those darn camp songs. Why is that?

The food? Well, not much sticks with me about the food. Aside from one delicious recollection. Some mornings we’d build a camp fire (we were Camp Fire girls, after all) and toast slices of bread on sticks held precariously over the flames. Then came the fun. A virtual smorgasbord of toppings we could add at will: peanut butter, jelly, chopped nuts, raisins, coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon sugar. Man, that was some amazing toast, I’ve thought about it more than a few times over the years. But never had the nerve to try recreating it. Maybe one of these days.

Short of going back to relive the bug bites and lumpy cots, the early reveille and KP duty — there’s a better option for us grown-ups to enjoy a taste of summer camp right here in Seattle. Make that a surprising, delicious taste of summer camp. Summer camp, done up Tom Douglas style. Which means your breakfast might just be a bowl of pho made by Eric Banh from Monsoon, as was the case on the morning I joined Summer Camp last year.

Some of last year’s highlights included making breads and pizza at Serious Pie, learning cake decorating techniques, wine tasting challenges, a demo with Armandino Batali from Salumi and an outing to Pike Place Market followed by cooking together in the Palace Kitchen. Oh, and loads of demos by local chefs, such as John Sundstrom from Lark and and Mark Fuller from Spring Hill.

It’s a busy week, five full days. But the pacing’s great, lots of different things going on throughout the day, great conversations and interactions, the guests clearly having a lot of fun together, and intently interested in the subject at hand: great food and beverage, shared in a convivial and engaging setting. Think about going back to camp this summer. It’ll definitely be delicious. Maybe I’ll share that toast recipe with Tom, for old time’s sake.

I can’t promise that there are still spots available, they go QUICK, many guests from previous years jump right on board again. But they have added a second week this year, so it’s possible! To find out more, check out this link on their web site.

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A Cookbook Extravaganza

If anyone on your holiday gift list is a food lover, you can make some progress on your shopping with a little visit to the Palace Ballroom in Seattle on December 1. Tom Douglas is hosting his third annual Ultimate Holiday Cookbook Social from 4:00 to 7:00 that afternoon. I’ve been honored to be part of this gathering each year, it’s a fun format that sees a dozen Northwest authors gather, with a tasty sampling from their book. You get to mingle with a bunch of local writers, nibble delicious things while having cookbooks signed and personalized for you and everyone on your holiday list! Such a deal.

For the $20 entry fee (advance purchase highly recommended, it’s been a wm-72-dpi-50sell-out each year), you get samples from each station, a glass of wine and a really fun couple hours with a few hundred other food lovers. I’ll be there with all my Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Seriesbooks, as will be Fran Bigelow with Pure Chocolate, Greg Atkinson with his West Coast Cookbook,  Kathleen Flinn, author of the cooking school memoir The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cryabout her studies at Le Cordon Bleu and Keith Robbins with Tini Bigs Big Martinis! Among others. Call 206-448-2001 now to get your tickets!

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