Dine Around Seattle – March edition

We are now into March, which means Dine Around Seattle is up and rolling again. We touched on Dine Around Seattle back in the fall and here we are again to try out some great dinners at some of Seattle’s best restaurants.

Also, a few new restaurants have been added to the roster for this go-around. In fact, we’ve written about a couple of these new restaurants; ART at the Four Seasons and Spring Hill in West Seattle are a part of this promotion, so take this great chance to visit them in March while they’re offering a discounted prix fixe menu. The prix fixe menu is really one of the great draws of these dining promotions – you still get a great experience but you don’t have to experience it at a full wallet-shocking price.

Because diners are watching how they spend these days, getting a great dinner value to take in the talents of chefs and the meals they create via events like Dine Around Seattle is a perfect tonic. Take a look at the list of restaurants that are involved this month. Prix fixe menus include three dishes for $30 – an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Tax, tips, and drinks are not included, so be mindful of that. The March Dine Around Seattle runs through the 31st, and is only on Sundays through Thursdays at the listed restaurants.

Enjoy your dinner!

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Wine values in the modern economy

The worldwide economic status has made every one of us evaluate where we put our dollars. Now more than ever we are going out of way to find value in what we buy. This also applies to wine. No doubt about it, wine can be expensive. The operative word being ‘can’. There is opportunity to find value with wine, it just requires some creativity as we do our best to navigate through this world.

First off, the economic downturn has drastically affected the wine industry. Sales of wine are down at restaurants, wineries are going out of business, grape growers are feeling the pinch, and now consumers have been watching their spending habits. For many gone are the days of splurging on bottles, now it looks like the new sweet spot for wine values is the $15 to $20 dollar range. This is the area where a lot of producers are trying to hit. There is a lot of great stuff in this range, but of course there will be bad stuff too.

Wading through this area can be tricky, but thankfully much more skilled wine writers than me (although I think Spain has some good values) are weighing in on finding good wine deals. Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher of the Wall Street Journal touched on some regions that you can find great value in their recent Tastings column – they weigh in with Chile. The WSJ even asked wine experts around the country for their picks on great values. Wine Spectator magazine has a breakdown too.

Finding wine values isn’t that difficult, you just need to know where to look. And in Seattle, we are fortunate to have a lot of great local places to find wine values. I’ve written about Seattle Wine Outlet, where you can find some good deals. Esquin in SoDo always has great deals and they recently opened up their backroom for some bargain buys. Pike Place’s The Spanish Table (I’ll be writing more about them soon) has all sorts of good stuff from the Iberian peninsula. Anson and Jenny at Picnic also have some nice buys on lesser known varietals and regions.

In this day and age, we’re working harder and harder to find ways to stretch our dollar. Food and wine can step into the realm of luxury, but it is still possible to keep things grounded and affordable. Good luck on the search, lots of people are looking out for you too.

Photo courtesy of Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Ramen Lunch at Tsukushinbo

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The options for ramen in Seattle are not that vast. And we’re not talking about the stuff you get at the grocery. This ramen is balanced in it’s salt and savoriness. The noodles have great flavor and is nothing like that prepackaged stuff. This is ramen to really enjoy and seek out. So far there are two really good places that have been talked about often on the internet; Samurai Noodle and Tsukushinbo. I’ve been to both, and I must say I’m leaning towards Tsukushinbo. Their ramen is awesome.

I first learned of Tsukushinbo via Jay Friedman’s post on Seattlest. This got my curiosity going. Then he posted a bit more of an in-depth article on his Gastrolust site. This was the tipping point to make me go. It was a great write-up to describe the noodles and the limited quantities (word off the street they only serve 20 bowls) of Tsukushinbo’s ramen on Fridays. Armed with this we went for lunch on Friday.

Tsukushinbo is located at the intersection of 5th and Main on the North Side of Jackson in the ID. If you’re familiar with Maneki, it’s right around the corner. Tsukushinbo only serves their ramen on Fridays as a lunch special and it’s in demand. They open at 11:45 and we got there about 10 minutes shy of opening to see a line already starting. By the time the door opened, it was about 15 deep. Stepping into the place you’ll notice that it’s very cozy; about eight tables and a sushi bar – the space fits about 35 people. We sidled up to the bar, because it’s always the best place to sit in any restaurant, especially a sushi bar.

About the ramen. It’s decidedly different than the ramen at Samurai Noodle. Samurai’s ramen is tonkatsu in style, so it’s very rich from a long simmering and has a creamy unctuousness that can be very filling. Tsukushinbo’s ramen is shoyu, which was something that just felt better on my palate. It had a delicate lightness that balanced nicely with the salt and savory package (think clear broth). It was so good that I kept wanting to drink it. The other ingredients were nicely done as well. A nice piece of pork, some bamboo shoots, and green onions all played well with the broth and noodles. But the thing that put it over the top for me was the piece of nori that came with it. With this bite I was in ramen heaven. Nori is pure umami, and this blast of flavor created a uniqueness that I really liked.

For $7.50 you get a great bowl of soup. Plus, it also comes with a bowl of rice and three pieces of gyoza. And it’s really good gyoza. Seared perfectly and full of flavor, it’s a great add on with your lunch. But go for the ramen and you won’t be disappointed. Just get there early. And make sure to visit on their other days too. I can’t wait to go back and try their udon, katsu, sushi… So much food, so little time.

Tsukushinbo on Urbanspoon

Photo courtesy of Matthew at Urbanspoon

Portland’s waffle trainer: Flavour Spot

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Streetfood is one of those things that can add swagger to a neighborhood. Funky and cool, streetfood joints add a unique touch through their food. If Seattle has one thing that it can improve on, it’s streetfood. There is one option (which is supposed to be awesome), but after that it’s a bunch of taco trucks. This is where Portland has us beat. Particularly in the Mississippi area- loaded with streetfood joints, I knew I had to try some. When I was there, it was a holiday and a few where closed; Tita’s Pista take on food from the Philippines is a place I would love to visit. But we ended up going to a place with a singular hook: waffle sandwiches. Dial me in for intrigue, The Flavour Spot was our place for lunch.

On the south end of Mississippi lies a corner spot occupied by Flavour Spot‘s trailer. The signs on the fence called out ice cream and the waffle sandwiches. Or as they liked to call it Dutch tacos. They had me at ice cream, but waffle sandwiches was the hook to get me in. As an appreciator of fun food combinations, of course I would give it a shot. Sign me up, I’m ready for lunch.

I love waffles. The texture, the crispyness, the shape, and how it’s a perfect vehicle for flavor. The little nooks and crannies holding butter and syrup . The potential to be topped with all sorts of good stuff. Like fried chicken. The good people at Flavour Spot do theirs a bit differently. They take the idea of the waffle and fold it up like a taco – now you have something to eat on the go.

The menu is certainly eclectic enough. Ultimately we went with the THB (Turkey, Havarti, Bacon) and the Butter & Powdered Sugar. The combination of turkey and havarti has always been a favorite of mine. I think it started in college with the grilled turkey and havarti sandwiches at The Hub. Right when I saw the THB on the menu, I knew it would be mine. And it was good. The melted cheese alongside the smoky bacon and turkey, all folded nicely into the sweet crisp waffle. And because it was streetfood we were easily on the go to take in the rest of the day.

The sugar and butter was a straight up treat. The waffle wrapping some hunks of butter and dusted with powdered sugar. This is pretty much breakfast in your hand. I can envision Portland hipsters having these as their breakfast du jour

This waffle swoon made me start thinking on the next big things in food. Many call 2008 as the year of bacon. What will be the same for 2009? Bacon was the perfect storm though. A bit bad for you, but oh so good for you. Easy to prepare, wonderful to smell, distinct, and it is a pantheon level food item. So it’s possible nothing else can come close. I wonder if waffles could be the next big thing?

Ok, I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself with that train of thought. I did enjoy my Dutch taco from Flavour Spot. In fact, it’s not too far from a friend’s house, I’m sure I’ll be visiting more often. And if there’s a vegan in your party, they’ve got you covered. A few other things to try on the menu; Ice Cream Sandwich, Sausage & Maple, MB9, make your own…

Flavour Spot on Urbanspoon

Seattle Happy Hour: Boat Street Cafe

Thank our good friends at City Stimulus for this bit of food info; Boat Street Cafe has announced their new happy hour.

Yup, Renee Erickson’s great little French spot is having a happy hour that runs from 5-7pm. I’m excited about this for a bunch of reasons. The food at Boat Street Cafe (and it’s sister restaurant Boat Street Kitchen) is excellent, so having the opportunity to get their food at a deal is not to be missed. Even if you can’t make it to the happy, go for dinner or brunch, Boat Street Cafe is one of the great Seattle restaurants. It’s also great because this happy hour runs a bit later than most. A lot of Seattle happy hours seem to end at 6pm. I don’t know about you, but I doubt I could get out of work, make it to Belltown (or wherever), find parking, and figure out my order by 6pm. Close to chronologically impossible.

So now we have the option of Boat Street Cafe. Renee’s restaurants are in a funky location on the west end of Denny Ave. where it meets up with Western. Parking can be a bit tricky. I’d look for parking along Western and the side streets. Note, the North side of Denny could be a hassle with the rush of people trying to get off of work.

Enjoy happy hour at Boat Street Cafe! Happy Hour runs from 5-7pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I’ll see you there; I’ll be the one indulging in duck fat fries, hangar steak, and oysters. Other things on the happy hour menu include bread  from Columbia Bakery & Oregon Butter, pate tartines, Nicoise olives, pickled figs with goat cheese, and more! Top this off with the drink deals (four bucks for a glass of Muscadet or Beaujolais; $18 for a bottle!) – and you have a great post work meet-up with some friends.

Boat Street Café / Boat Street Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Slurpin’ at Szechuan Noodle Bowl

The cover story to the recent Seattle Magazine is dedicated to Cheap Eats. With a focus on dinner for under $20 and lunch for under $10, it highlights a ton of places to get more bang for your dining buck. There is a little section for good deals in the International District and the determined folks at MSG150 listed out their faves, with Szechuan Noodle Bowl being one of them. Armed with this knowledge we headed out and gave Szechuan Noodle Bowl a shot.

At the intersection of Eighth and King, Szechuan Noodle Bowl has a modest little storefront with a yellow sign up top. Just looking at it from the outside, it’s similar to most of the places in the ID; straightforward and without pretense, most people would walk by it. Heck, I would if it wasn’t for the shoutout in Seattle mag. Stepping inside the place is modest and quaint with about eight tables and enough space to sit about 20 people.

The noodle soups are the way to go. And they are super tasty. What’s makes it great is they are under six bucks each. Holla. The soups have a ton of mouthfeel, strong beef notes, but still on the lighter side, and not at all heavy. We had the Original and the Szechuan. Chief difference with the Szechuan is that it had a brown broth with a bit more heat and spice to it. This spicyness typifies Szechuan cuisine and has a nice little kick. The bok choy that comes with it is super fresh and makes you feel better for having your vegetables. You get a few chunks of beef that are meltingly tender too. Good stuff.

And the noodles in the noodle soup? Awesome! Large and similar to udon, they are a good size and have a good chew to them. The size is nice because they help absorb the flavor of the broth and have a tasty beefiness to them. I ate my entire bowl vigorously.

We also had the pork and chive dumplings. Our server asked us if we wanted them hot & spicy – of course we will! They come to the table steaming hot, so be careful. My tip; let them hang out for a minute or three. This time will let them absorb some of the hot and spicy liquid they are swimming in, which has good notes of vinegar and provides a nice bite to complement the dumplings. And you get ten for under six bucks!

I haven’t always loved soup, but in a city like ours, with options galore, from pho to tom yum, chowder, cioppino, ramen and noodle soup, I can now change my tune. I love soup and places like Szechuan Noodle Bowl help deepen this appreciation for the simple but perfect execution of broth and ingredients called soup.

Szechuan Noodle Bowl on Urbanspoon

Cream puff daddy

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, Seattle’s International District’s got you covered. Bubble tea at Gossip, cocktail buns at Mon Hei, now we can add another to the mix of fun stuff to get – cream puffs from Beard Papa’s.

I must admit, I had no idea of what Beard Papa’s was until about a week ago. Now I feel late to the party. Because I didn’t have any preconceived notions as to what Beard Papa’s is ‘supposed’ to be, I just enjoyed what they were. What first started out as a Japanese treat, became a bit of a phenomenon (read up on the history, it’s really interesting!). Apparently, lines would go out the doors with people clamoring for these cream puffs. Now, they’ve started expanding stateside with locations throughout California and New York. The first Seattle location opened up at Safeco Field this summer. Which makes sense given the strong ties the Mariners have to Japan (Ichiro!). But I wasn’t aware of this because the M’s stunk up the joint and fell off the map to locals that cared. Now Beard Papa’s has a location in Waji’s, that I’ll be sure to hit up frequently. And a third is coming to Lynnwood!

Located inside of Uwajimaya in their food court, Beard Papa’s sits as the anchor. And you can watch the whole show of cream puffs being made. I love cream puffs, the combination of dough and rich cream is always a winner. But Seattleites have been living in a state of cream puff mediocrity. Most are soggy and bland, and those ones you get before your meal at local pho places? No thanks, I’ll pass. The cream puffs at Beard Papa’s are a different story.

The cream puffs are large in size, about the size of a hockey puck, not the ping pong ball most are used to. And they bake them fresh throughout the day! Order a puff and choose one of three flavors of cream (vanilla, chocolate, and green tea), they’ll fill them in front of you, and then they’ll dust them in a bit of powdered sugar. Then they are yours! I love this process because adding the cream before serving keeps the shell crisp, so this dichotomy of crisp shell with creamy filling is a bona fide winner. Biting into it is a delightful experience I look forward to doing again and again.

The cool thing about Beard Papa’s is that the cream puffs are baked fresh daily and the cream is made day of. So things are fresh and they don’t use preservatives, so be mindful that they won’t keep that long. Why would they? You’ll finish yours soon enough. The staff is really friendly too, which as always nice. Smiling faces go a long way.

Head on down to Uwajimaya and enjoy feeling like a kid that loves sweets. Plus, the Waji’s location doesn’t have the massive lines that typify the Japan locations. I will say that they are a bit expensive. $2.15! But it’s a treat, not a necessity. So treat yourself to some cream puffs at Beard Papa’s.

Beard Papa's on Urbanspoon