Saturday, August 25, 2012

my favorite croque (café presse, capitol hill)

Confession: I've likely eaten more croque monsieurs / madames in the last month than the average person eats in a year. Maybe even a lifetime. Without question, my favorite in Seattle is from Café Presse, a French bar / café on 12th Ave. and sister to Le Pichet. Fluffy white bread, thinly sliced baked ham, creamy gruyère and béchamel, served toasty warm with an optional extra serving of cholesterol (fried egg). Mmmmm. And the absolute best part? The slightly burnt, deliciously crispy cheese around the edges. If you haven't tried it, go there. Now. Run. Café Presse is open every day from 7 am until 2 am, so there's really no excuse for missing out.
Croque Madame = Yummy deliciousness.
More yummy deliciousness.
Why are you still reading? There are no pictures of shoes, just croques. And you need to eat one ASAP.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

cheers to julia! french cooking with a modern twist (rn74, downtown)

Do you know what today is? That's right. It's the 100th celebration of Julia Child's birth day! It's said that Julia was responsible for revolutionizing American home cooking in the mid-twentieth century, replacing green-bean casseroles (among other splendid "American" classics) with classical French recipes accessible to the everyday cook. Julia could be considered our first celebrity chef and is fondly remembered for her big, comical personality and unwavering passion for French cuisine. It's no wonder there's so much excitement over what would have been Julia's 100th birthday, with restaurants nationwide celebrating this day with a commemorative "Julia Child Restaurant Week" and Knopf's release of a new biography and app!
Happy birthday, Julia!
Even Google is celebrating with this "foodle."
(Does this put the JC100 celebration on par with the 2012 Olympics?)
In honor of Julia, I headed to RN74 to try their tasting menu featuring Julia-inspired dishes. Just over a year old, this Michael Mina wine-centric venture is quite the hit in Seattle (RN74 is a reference to the main highway, Route Nationale 74, that runs through the Burgundy wine region in France). Located in the heart of downtown at 4th and Pike Street, RN74 offers not only a deep selection of wine by the bottle and glass, but also creative cocktails, shareable plates, and full entrees that highlight local and seasonal ingredients. The restaurant's size and diverse seating arrangements allow for an array of diners: stylish U-shaped booths around the edges allow for more intimate conversations, while tables sprinkled throughout the space easily accommodate both small and large groups. There is a large bar in the center of the restaurant as well as spacious brown leather couches near the front for those who are just stopping in for a drink or small bites. Even the solo diner has excellent options here -- the small bar-height tables along one edge of the dining room serve as a great perch for people watching.
RN74: 1433 4th Avenue
I was tempted by pretty much everything on the dinner menu (Painted Hills beef bourguignon with maitake mushrooms? Liberty Farms duck cassoulet?), but I was here to celebrate Julia and stuck to my guns -- well, other than my stray cocktail order before the dinner and wine pairing began. I couldn't resist ordering the Downtown Donkey, a concoction of Pearl vodka, muddled cucumber, fresh ginger, and lime served over a mountain of crushed ice in a stylish copper mug. It was exactly the kind of icy, fresh deliciousness I was looking for on this "hot" Seattle summer day, and the flavor was somewhat reminiscent (in a good way) of sunomono, a Japanese pickled cucumber salad.
Downtown Donkey: Vodka, cucumber, ginger,
and lime served in a copper mug.
But back to Julia. RN74 is one of several restaurants in Seattle participating in Julia Child Restaurant Week, and their Tribute to Julia Child tasting menu is already so popular that they will be offering it for the entire month of August. It's a five-course meal for $65 with two wine pairing options offered for an additional $34 or $62 per person. We opted for the $34 wine pairing at the suggestion of a server. While overall the wines seemed well paired with each dish, I'd be interested in what others think of the higher-end pairing. The food, however, was outstanding. Each dish was expertly prepared (with slight modifications to the original Julia recipes), artfully presented, and wonderfully seasoned.
Amuse bouche: Cauliflower royale with black truffle vinaigrette. 
Heirloom tomato salad with hearts of palm, celery, and
tomato water gel (top right).
Bouillabaisse: Mussels, prawns, dungeness crab, and more.
Grilled lamb chops served atop Israeli couscous, ratatouille,
and niçoise olives.
Raspberry and fig crostata paired with vanilla sabayon and
assorted Washington berries.
The cauliflower amuse bouche and bouillabaisse were my absolute favorites. The cauliflower royale was like a savory panna cotta -- silky smooth and complemented by the black truffle vinaigrette that was both tangy and earthy. The bouillabaisse was bursting with flavor, with its delicately seasoned seafood fumet and saffron rouille. There was an abundance of seafood -- mussels, clams, prawns, scallops, dungeness crab, and halibut -- and each piece appeared to be carefully placed in the bowl to create an artful and clean presentation. The dessert course was probably my least favorite, but it still had a wonderful flavor (who doesn't love Northwest berries?) and gorgeous color.

hhf says: You won't want to miss RN74's tribute to America's legendary chef, Julia Child. The menu is beautifully executed and a wonderful illustration of how Julia, along with her fanciful French cooking, found her way into so many hearts and homes. I can't wait to return and see what else RN74 has to offer (and I'm secretly dying to order off the Last Bottle List, if only to hear the fluttering of the train station-style board). Bon appétit!
Last Bottle Board. 

Kate Spade wedge sandals in a watercolor printed satin.

Shoes: More strappy wedges! These are by Kate Spade in a watercolor printed satin.

Monday, August 13, 2012

bigger isn't always better (hunger, fremont)

Just a few months ago, Hunger re-located to the former Dad Watson's space at 36th and Fremont Ave N. I was a fan of the former (and apparently haunted) neighborhood location up the hill, so I was excited to give the new Hunger a try despite mixed reviews (both good and bad).
Hunger: 3601 Fremont Ave. N
Hunger's new home is much bigger and offers at least twice as much seating, including a bigger bar and outdoor tables. The layout of the space is similar to when it was occupied by Dad Watson's, with the bar and table areas essentially the same, but spruced up with new décor. The high ceilings and big windows create a bright and open space -- something that should be appealing but instead leaves me longing for the past: a cozy table in a darkened, intimate dining room. The new Hunger now feels too big, especially when less than half the tables are filled for dinner service on a Saturday evening.
Inside the too-spacious Hunger.
As noted by other reviewers, the Spanish/Mediterranean-influenced menu has undergone some changes since the move. Unfortunately, offering more options and attempting more creative dishes have resulted in poor execution overall. We started with Hunger's version of a caprese salad: a beautiful arrangement of housemade mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, balsamic gelee, olive oil dust, sea salt, and basil. Sounds impressive, right? Only it wasn't. The mozzarella was rubbery and bland, and the tomatoes were still firm and lacked the summery sweet, juiciness of heirloom tomatoes. The balsamic gelee had the right amount of acidity and sweetness but the gelatinous cubes were strange and difficult to incorporate with each forkful, and the olive oil dust was oddly powdery on the tongue. Perhaps Hunger should reconsider their attempts at molecular gastronomy.
Housemade mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes with balsamic gelee,
olive oil dust, sea salt, and basil.
I wanted to try the fries and tomatada, so we had an in-between course before our main course. And it's a good thing we did -- these were the only two dishes of the evening that I actually enjoyed. The fries were thin and nicely crisped, topped with a sprinkle of shaved manchego cheese and served with a slightly spicy harissa ketchup and curry aioli. The tomatada consisted of an egg softly baked in a saffron tomato sauce with melted manchego. It was accompanied by slices of grilled bread for dipping. Both the fries and tomatada were piping hot, full of flavor, and a welcome change from failed tomato mozzarella salad.
Moroccan spiced fries with harissa ketchup and curry aioli.
Tomatada: soft baked egg in a saffron tomato sauce.
On this visit to the new Hunger, I was most excited about the paella. I was also happy to see that the paella no longer required a minimum of two people -- no more convincing someone else to order it with me! It arrived looking as tasty as ever, but on first bite, I knew it wasn't the same. The top layer of rice was crunchy in an undercooked sort of way, and the rest of the rice was a soupy mess. There were too many peppers, in my opinion, giving it an overwhelmingly sweet taste. The mussels and clams were bland, the cubes of chicken were dry, and I'm not sure that I found any substantial chunks of andouille or chorizo despite my search efforts. I will say that the two shrimp hidden underneath the pile of greens were lovely -- salty, peppery, and not overcooked. I devoured these immediately.
Paella with shellfish, chicken, peppers, andouille and chorizo (maybe?),
and saffron rice.
The second main dish is barely worth mentioning. It was the house pasta of the day: gnocchi with mushrooms in a spiced tomato sauce. Despite having a decent overall flavor, the gnocchi was dense and chewy.
Gnocchi with mushrooms and a spiced tomato sauce.
In the end, we left with overly full but unsatisfied stomachs. Oh, and we also paid more than twice the value for a bottle of Mark Ryan "Vincent" off of Hunger's still limited wine list. I'm not impressed.

hhf says: Hunger is definitely suffering from some growing pains. The "old" food was great... perhaps they should stick to the familiar and work out their new dishes behind the scenes. However, my previous affection for Hunger won't let me write it off entirely -- maybe it's the perfect spot for afternoon fries and a cocktail/beer? (note: the inside is air conditioned, and there is also a shady outdoor patio).

Prada braided bow platform wedges.

Shoes: Prada braided bow platform wedges with ankle straps. A fun sandal for these warm Seattle days.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

adventures down under (sydney, australia)

Hello, friends! It's been a while since I've updated my blog, but I hope you haven't given up on me because I have a lot of excellent summer shoes dying to make their appearance now that summer has arrived. But before any of that can happen, I want to share a bit from my recent work trip to Sydney, Australia. As you might expect, I also squeezed in a good amount of touring and tasting. Thanks to my wonderful colleagues for indulging me in a few hhf adventures down under.

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Winter at Bondi Beach -- it was almost 70 degrees and sunny. 

Jamie's Italian (Central Business District): Celebrity chef restaurants have a way of being disappointingly mediocre (after all, the chef himself is typically in another state, or in this case, another country), so I was a bit wary of selecting Jamie's Italian for dinner. But the restaurant was near our tourist destinations of the day and local reviews seemed positive, so we decided to stop in for an early dinner. By early, I mean 4:30 pm, and there was already a 10-15 minute wait for a table (remember: celebrity chef appeal). While waiting, we grabbed a seat near the bar and took in all the Jamie paraphernalia -- shopping totes, kitchen linens, and cookbooks (sans autographs, I would like to point out).

Jamie's Italian: 107 Pitt Street, Sydney
Once seated, service was prompt and friendly. We began with a few "nibbles": parmesan chunks drizzled with balsamic vinegar (good, but you could make this at home by literally drizzling some balsamic on parmesan), Italian nachos-- fried four-cheese ravioli with "angry" arrabiata sauce -- (the "nachos" were under-seasoned, and there was nothing angry about the sauce), and green olives on ice with a black olive tapenade (these came highly recommended by our server, and the olives were plump, fruity and ice-cold). For dinner, I ordered the osso bucco milanese, a wonderfully fragrant dish consisting of tender Aussie lamb shank, tomatoes, saffron, wine and herbs, served atop a creamy (but lukewarm) polenta. Minus the temperature issue, I would highly recommend this dish. The prawn linguine was also tasty, with a lot of bold garlic and chili flavors, but the truffle tagliatelle was my favorite -- a simple but luxuriously rich pasta composed of shaved black truffles, butter, parmesan, and a bit of nutmeg. We were all pretty full by this point in the meal, but I couldn't turn down a good panna cotta, especially one that is described as "lovely" and "wobbly." It was served with a mixed berry compote, and dutifully lived up to its promised wobbly-ness.

Green olives on ice.
Osso bucco milanese.
Truffle tagliatelle.
Lovely, wobbly panna cotta.

Malaya (King Street Wharf): If Malaysian food is always this good, I'm its newest fan. Malaya sits along the water overlooking Darling Harbour and has a covered, but open air dining room. Our server was a little strange and at times downright obnoxious (he didn't really recommend items as much as tell us what we needed to have.. and if we didn't take his advice, he could have cared less about what we ordered). Complaints aside, he did encourage us to try the coconut beef rendang, a spicy Indonesian curry, and it ended up being one of the best dishes of the night. Another favorite was the otak otak, white fish mixed with chiles and other spices and steamed in a banana leaf wrapper. It was not at all what any of us had imagined, and the sheer novelty of unfolding the perfectly wrapped banana leaf and taking the first bite made the dish even more exciting. The fish was very finely minced and then pressed back together with the spice mixture -- and it was somehow spicy, savory, and sweet all at once.

Coconut beef rendang.
Otak otak: Neatly wrapped and gorgeously presented.
Otak otak: The delicious white fish mixture inside.

Zumbo (Pyrmont): Upon first glance, Zumbo looks like a display of fake candy -- everything is tidy, petite, and oh-so-colorful! Once we learned that the brightly hued assortment of goods was edible pastry and the creation of Adriano Zumbo, an Australian and French trainer patissier, we immediately changed course and headed across the Pyrmont Bridge to get a taste of his "zumbarons" (Zumbo's take on French macarons). It was almost closing time and the selection was limited, but this didn't stop us from each ordering two zumbarons which were neatly packed in pristine white, cube-shaped boxes. The flavors were all amazing, but the late hour had definitely taken a toll on what would have been the light-as-air meringue cookie sandwich. To avoid chewy (but still delectable) meringues, visit Zumbo early in the day!

Zumbo at The Star.
Playful, cartoon-like wall display of zumbarons.
Late night zumbaron selection.
Pyramid of Zumbo boxes! Hours (or at least several minutes) of entertainment.

Sticky (The Rocks): Another recommendation led us to The Rocks in search of Sticky, a little confectionery making and selling "traditional hand made yummy." I can't disagree with that! We arrived just in time to witness the rolling, stretching, and breaking of the candy pieces, a process I can only compare to glassblowing. They passed samples of the finished product around to all the onlookers, and the flavor was so fresh and fruity that I left with 9 bags of this yumminess to take home.

Roll it...
Stretch it...
Break it!
(Photo from Sticky.)

Tetsuya's (City Centre): The culinary highlight of the trip coincidentally took place on July 4, an otherwise uneventful day of our trip (no fireworks display for the visiting Americans?!). A good friend and I embarked on an impressive culinary journey -- 4+ hours of Japanese-French-inspired food paired with bubbles, sake, and wine at Tetsuya's. We received only verbal explanations from the servers of the 10-course dégustation menu, and combined with the language barrier (you know, Australian English vs. American English) and the constant flow of alcohol, it turned into quite an entertaining night complete with giggles galore. Here are a few photos of the delightfully fresh and creative dishes I can only explain thanks to the printed menu provided as a keepsake at the end of our meal. (As you will see, I got bolder with my use of flash as I consumed more alcohol.)

Savory custard with avruga (herring roe).
Tuna -- I mean, "tchuuna," according to the Aussies.
Petuna ocean trout with a fennel-seaweed crust.
Steamed tian of Queensland Ceas spanner crab with curd, foie gras, and junsai. 
Roasted breast of quail with jamón ibérico and onion jus.
Seared filet of Cape Grim beef with wasabi and braised mustard seeds.

Shoes: Pretty much the best thing that happened on this trip was coming across a Christian Louboutin boutique and finding myself amidst shoes on sale. In my size. Needless to say, I came home with two extra pairs of heels that will be making their debut soon.