Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dragonfish happy hours and CAFE CAMPAGNE conquers at brunch (Seattle)

If you are in downtown Seattle and have a munchy yen at midnight, there is always a place to get a bite. Last night after the opera, my body said "eat" not quite sure what time zone I was in, so I stopped by DRAGONFISH CAFE ( across from my hotel and enjoyed a simple snack at an UNREAL PRICE.

Dragonfish has HAPPY HOURS daily from 4-6pm and again from 10pm-1AM as well as on Monday from 3pm to closing nonstop. The Happy Hours feature $1.95 half sushi roll orders (of 4 pieces each), $2.95 appetizers and drinks, and while it might be a bit funky and noisy, it's a great place to nosh.

The BOSSA NOVA Sushi has ahi tuna, kaiware sprouts and is wrapped with Nova Salmon for a slightly salty fishy taste to boot. I had the MONOKANE Silver (driest) sake served in a large shot glass overflowing into a sake box, a square lacquer box that ultimately gives you a glass and a half if you down the overflow! I switched to the 2nd driest, Diamond and ordered the PIKE PLACE Sushi, also ahi tuni with the same crunchy sprouts but a hint of mango and a dose of ground CASHEW for flavor on the outside.

I was very happy with my choice, and while I won't rave about the food, it was just what I needed.

This morning I woke up, worked out and headed toward the Pike Place Market as it was a sunny day crisp and cool (63degrees) and I was hungry! One can't enter the Pike Place Market without tasting, buying and being amazed; if you haven't been to Seattle, you won't have clue, but hopefully many of you understand.

You will recall my raves yesterday for VEIL and Johnny Zhu, the chef there hails from Campagne, one of Seattle's well known dining spots. Underneath Campagne, is CAFE de CAMPAGNE ( just next to the Pike Place Market. When I googled up the Cafe the other day, I kept getting rave remarks for one I headed there and ordered the OEUFS en MEURETTE. Most of you know, I don't care for brunch or big breakfasts, but I'm travelling on EDT and am so confused this trip, I figured at 11am, I could eat TWO poached EGGS on GARLIC CROUTONS with Pearl Onions, BACON, Mushrooms all engulfed in a RED WINE FOIE GRAS Sauce with POMMES FRITES with AIOLI. DO I HAVE TO ELABORATE? This was the BEST BRUNCH, breakfast or lunch dish I CAN EVER RECALL! Skip that aioli and dip those frites in the foie gras sauce!!! OK, I was good and skipped the wine drinking only coffee, so I could stay up for the opera matinee. I missed Seattle and need to come back again real soon!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

VEIL in Seattle soars to stratospheric culinary highs

I arrived in Seattle yesterday and prior to the opera headed to the nearby Queen Anne neighborhood, home of VEIL Restaurant ( where Chef Shannon Galusha owns and runs the kitchen. Last night Mr. Galusha was nowhere in sight, but his Chef de Cuisine Johnny Zhu was so totally in charge of the spectacular cuisine, that I would never have known had I not been told.

The superb staff (Lindsay, Mima and Leslie at the bar) all took care of the diners in the small dining area that has 9 tables for 2 and two more for 4. There is also one large "communal" table that is raised and has high black leather bar chairs surrounding it for up to 18 people. The large bar area is more like a 70's living room with small square ottomans and cushy sofas and also serves the full dinner menu. The key color at Veil is WHITE: tables, walls, leather banquettes, chairs, columns, etc. Even the sheer "veils" that adorn the windows of this unassuming storefront location are white; only the black floor contrasts.

I was greeting with a complimentary glass of Cava Brut and when the amuse arrived I knew I was in for a treat: HALIBUT CEVICHE with corn and tomato was dressed with JALAPENO Foam and Black Lava Salt. The menu was exciting and large and it was very hard to decide, but Lindsay offered much help and gave me three courses that I will always remember:

GRILLED LAMBS TONGUE was an adorable whole tongue trimmed and served over a slash of PAPAYA Mustard with a White ANCHOVIE (I was not sure why the menu spelled it this way)-ARUGULA SALAD with SHALLOT PAPER and SMOKED PAPRIKA. The dish was gorgeous and simply brilliant. The mustard was not sweet nor too strong for the meat and the salad was a nice foil with tasty little chunks of anchovy. A glass of NOVY SYRAH 2005 was a pretty full bodied red that I have had in other years and is a great wine in itself that goes with so many types of food. The tasty simple breads were walnut, potato and baguette served with coarse rock salt and creamy butter. The wine was also perfect with what had to be the best PORK BELLY I have ever had perfectly cooked and truly fatless with a crunchy seasoned crusty top to die for, served with a salsa of CHARRED TOMATILLO and CILANTRO and an AVOCADO Puree with Red Pepper Syrup (a slash of chili oil). As I heard other diners ponder whether they wanted to order this dish, I wanted to yell out across the dining room that they HAVE TO!

I must mention the all white individual unisex toilets that have floor to ceiling smoked glass doors with votive candle lighting making a very relaxing mood (not to mention the TOTO toilets; I love them!)

I switched to a white ALBARINO from Fillaboa 2006 from RIAS BAIXAS whih had an intense fruity nose and a balanced acidity since I had ordered the SEARED SAILOR GIRL DIVER SCALLOPS. I asked about the term "sailor girl" which must be a brand, but find they come from Long Island, NY and sure are tasty. Three large (but not huge) scallops were served with a CORN & JICAMA HASH that included black eyed peas, onion, green beans and crunchy tasty bacon. A JALAPENO COMPOTE with CHILI OIL and Corn Sauce rounded out the dish giving several sauce options. It was a light dish, which was what I needed, but another brilliant coup from the kitchen!

I had to skip dessert as I was full and had a long opera to follow, but this long weekend has given me so many options that I know VEIL is where I will head straightaway on my next visit to Seattle!

Friday, May 02, 2008

two Houston HITS: VOICE and the GROVE

Today was a great day for food in Houston as I dined in two spots that have been open only since January, but have garnered great well-deserved praise.

For lunch I was at the ICON Hotel which is in an historic bank building with a gorgeous lobby much of which is occupied by VOICE ( The folks at Voice managed a great coup by bringing in starchef Michael Kramer who created and maintained for eight years the stellar McCrady's in Charleston, SC. The atmosphere is classy yet modern with the high gilted ceilings above thick columns, a bar with cowhide chairs (this IS Texas) and tall leather gray chairs at formal dining tables. The original bank vault covers the far wall behind the reception desk and is impressive as well.

I started with the excellent PATCHWORK of LOCAL BEETS with TEXAS GOAT CHEESE, Beet Caramel, Micro Arugula and a dash of novel yummy Hawaiian salt (coarser than anything I have ever had before). Chef Kramer is clearly using the wonderful local ingredients to the best of his capability.

My entree were the MAINE LOBSTER SLIDERS and while they were pricey, they were spectacular. Two large rolls had huge chunks of juicy lobster, PANCETTA, ARUGULA and TRUFFLE AIOLI with tasty crunchy TARO CHIPS in between the two mini-sandwiches.

I had to resist dessert, but I left hoping to return after the opera tonight for a snack. Alas, I have an early flight and it was not in the cards, but I KNOW the next time I'm in Houston, I'm headed straight for VOICE.

Before the opera I had some spare time to eat at a new spot right next to my hotel facing the convention center and a wonderful new large park area called DISCOVERY GREEN. The park is also facing Minute Maid Stadium and is supposed to get an outdoor theater and ice rink (in 84 degree humid heat??) so it will quickly become a destination. In the park is The GROVE ( which has floor to ceiling windows, the requisite bar/lounge at the entry and a large dining area with blond tables, green leather (lots of leather in Texas) chairs and some booth-like sofas with fabric/leather furniture. One wall is all brick and opens into the open kitchen and rotisserie grills which are a big part of the varied menu. As I sat I received a selection of marinated olives and almonds which was a nice touch. It was tough to decide as I really wanted to try everything, but my eye caught the first of the season SOFT SHELL CRAB with WARM POTATO SALAD, FAVA BEANS and an AIOLI with Shallots. The crabs were large and juicy and tempura battered and fried to perfection. A Cotes du Rhones Blanc BALADRAN "Les Muges" 2006 was cold, crisp and refreshing in the heat. My server spotted a fruit fly in the mini carafe partway through and immediately replaced the glass and carafe. Indeed, Alexandra was a super server having just started there this week. She was charming and as helpful
as she could be, especially since she had not tasted a lot of the food and wines yet.

My entree was the slightly spicy MESQUITE SMOKED TEXAS QUAIL which was crusted to perfection and served with Turnips, Broccolli-Rabe and Local PEACHES in a Light Brown Sauce. A Spanish PASANOU Cep Nous Red was simply perfect with the two tasty little birds.

I could not resist dessert so I ate half of the ROASTED PEAR BREAD PUDDING with Poached Pear and Marinated Dates (the dish could have used some more dates) as I was so full, even though the dish was a treat. I would definitely put The Grove on my list of places to visit again as it is open for lunch and dinner and is also great with kids because of all the park attractions outside.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

ZULA not a zero, maye a three (out of ten) Houston, TX

Here in Houston there are numerous downtown dining options, thought the haute cuisine tends to not be in the immediate area. Yesterday I chose ZULA ( which bills itself as "new American cuisine" but is sadly looking more to the club/bar/disco crowd these days I fear.

The place is quite wild with a beautiful bar area in the front opening into a tall almost three story dining area in the rear bordered by giant two storey modern scones than undulate in colored lights from within. The tables are all huge, well-spaced and have comfy high back leather chairs. The staff was friendly and helpful, and if you are looking for a "Playboy Club" feel the female bartenders are dressed in skimpy tight bustier lingerie type outfits with garters and fishnets--enough said..Oh, the wine "room" area at the ed of the dining area is glassed in and is where these girls apparently dance "a la birdcage" on weekends!!

I enjoyed the DELLE VENEZIE Pinot Grigio 206 that was offered by the glass, but I had no wine list by the glass and did not know the prices or my options, which I hated. The server said there was house wine, but never got specific; however, he did let me taste before filling the glass.

Warm yummy onion bread (akin to focaccia) came with my appetizer of BOULEVARD SASHIMI which was four thinly wrapped in rice paper pieces of ever so slightly seared tuna filled with greens as well over RED CHILI SAUCE and Flying Fish Roe. One small piece of the tuna was tough, but otherwise it was a nice large serving and spicy and tasty. I wanted light fish so I chose the RIVER TROUT with LUMP CARB and Garden Veggies (Zucchini/Carrot/red peppers) in Brown Sauce which was a huge tasty piece of trout, but a fairly boring dish.

Dessert sounded good, so I opted for a cappuccino and that was a small cup with almost no froth.

Despite everyone's attempts to make me happy, the meal was unmemorable, and I think the club will survive, not the food.