Eating in Seattle – Szechuan Chef

Living in London for three years has wholly transformed the way that I think about food in the United States. When I go back to visit, I have no interest in fine dining. I want the food I can’t eat in London. Period. Give me proper Vietnamese food, give me Mexican food, give me homestyle Southern cooking, sushi, and yes, give me Szechuan food.  This last may perplex English readers. There are some excellent Szechuan restaurants in London. However London does not have Szechuan Chef, and, more importantly, London does not have Szechuan Chef’s Szechuan style crab. Continue reading

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Eating in New York City — Ippudo

Whenever I come to New York, I have every intention of eating out as much as possible. Usually what happens, however, is I gorge on bagels and smoked sable from the Polish district in Greenpoint (which my mother buys in bulk, and which is one of those foods that permanently alters your DNA so you crave it forever), and/or I stay at home and eat my mother’s delicious cooking. Last Monday, however, friend K asked me, “Have you been to Ippudo?” “Iiiipppuuudddoooo,” crooned friend C, her eyes glazing.

Ippudo is a Japanese chain founded by “Ramen King” Shigemi Kawahara. There are 43 shops in Japan, but according to Ippudo’s website, New York is Ippudo’s first international outpost. I love noodles in soup, and for me, ramen is like the Holy Grail; I will go on the modern-day equivalent of a knightly quest if good ramen is promised at the end of it. K claimed this was “the best ramen.” She was right. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Sitka and Spruce Taco Monday

There’s a good reason why you start a Mexican meal with a shot of tequila and a bite of bracingly sour, salty lime. The two open your palate, preparing you for the subtle, delicate, complicated flavours that follow. Which brings me to a myth about Mexican food. This myth is that Mexican food means flabby flour tortillas and great big larded heaps of beans and rice and loads of cheese and two sauces: red and green. This could not be further from the truth. Mexican food – real Mexican food – is about slow cooking, refined flavours, and balance. Above all, balance.  In fairness, I think that thanks to chefs like Rick Bayless and the prevalence and huge popularity of taco trucks lately, most people know this, or are learning it.

This is the story of Taco Monday, as it was told to me by my one of my favourite Seattle dining buddies. Continue reading

Eating in San Francisco – Mission Chinese Food

I’ve been unreasonably suspicious about the new trend of so-called “Americanized” Chinese food ever since I had a bad experience with this kind of restaurant in Seattle. So when I was last in San Francisco and my reliable foodie friends C and A said that they wanted to take me to Mission Chinese Food, I announced grandiosely and unpleasantly that I wasn’t interested, and could they take me somewhere else? For a burrito perhaps? “Come on, Sooz,” said A reproachfully. “Have we ever taken you anywhere you didn’t like? Do you think we’d suggest a restaurant to you if we didn’t think it was good?” I immediately felt horribly guilty. Of course I’d go to Mission Chinese Food. I wanted nothing more. I was sure it would be fantastic. I wasn’t, really, but it’s true that C and A have never taken me for a bad meal. (I wish I could say the same.)

I hadn’t done my research (i.e., I’ve been living in London for the past two years), but if I had I would have known that Mission Chinese Food was opened by one of San Francisco’s culinary darlings and, in the year and a half it has been open, has taken San Francisco by storm Continue reading

Eating in San Francisco – Dos Burritos

A couple of weeks ago, I was in San Francisco for exactly 48 hours.  I was guided by a single purpose:  to eat as many burritos as possible. Jonathan Kauffman (a.k.a. SF Foodie), a food writer I revere, had just published his top 10 San Francisco burritos, and the plan was to go on a burrito crawl (a great idea, right?), ideally hitting every one of them, as well as some of my own standbys that hadn’t made it onto his list.  I made it through exactly two burritos before admitting defeat. I know, I know – I wimped out – but in my defense, it’s HARD to eat ten burritos in two days, especially when your friends bring you morning buns and take you to Mission Chinese Food (so worth it!) and fancy taquerias. Also, my friends love me, but it didn’t seem fair to force them to eat only burritos just because I am obsessed.

All the same, I am EXCITED to write this blog post, because one of those two that I did manage to eat was the best burrito I have ever had. That is a statement of cold fact, uninflated by hyperbole. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Marination Station

I’ve got a confession to make. I just got back from a trip to Seattle (where of COURSE I ate like a pig and drank lots of fabulous cocktails) and I still haven’t finished my restaurant write-ups from the last time I visited, two months ago.

Really, though, there’s only one review from that trip worth doing, and that’s the fabulously named Marination. I know that Korean Mexican fusion is old hat now. It’s all over LA, it’s proliferating in food trucks in Portland and San Francisco, and it has crept and spread eastward, like a virus, to Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and even London. (I’m not 100% sure about this last, but it sounded good.) But Seattle’s Marination Mobile, you must understand, was one of the forerunners of the movement. When the Marination Mobile food truck opened in Seattle, Korean Mexican fusion was new and daring and the Marination Mobile food truck (justifiably) got lots of press and even was voted best food truck in the USA by Good Morning America. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Bako

Into every life a little rain must fall. That’s how I feel about my dining and drinking experiences in Seattle, which were almost uniformly stellar, with one singular exception, Bako. Bako opened recently, with plenty of fuss and fanfare, as a self-proclaimed “upscale” Chinese restaurant on the north end of Capitol Hill. I thrilled to fancies of Hong Kong-style visionary culinary excellence. What I ate, instead, was uniformly brown, bland, and soggy. In fact, I disliked everything about Bako, from the mustaches on the bartenders (please, hipsters: shave for 2012) to the self-consciously sleek interior, to our irritatingly perky, alarmingly ditzy server. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Il Corvo

I liked everything about Il Corvo before I ever ate there. The story: a fastidious craft-oriented pasta geek leaves his slick exec chef position at a trendy restaurant to set up what is, essentially, a pop-up in a gelateria. The concept: a few dishes prepared fresh daily by hand, using lovingly-accumulated antique collectible pasta-making equipment, priced within easy reach of budget-constrained diners like me. The principles: Il Corvo’s only open for lunch, Monday through Friday, so that chef Mike Easton can spend time with his family. This singleness of purpose bespeaks a degree of confidence Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Brunch at Skillet Diner

Four years ago, when Skillet Street Food’s shiny silver airstream trailer first appeared, in Seattle’s Lake Union neighborhood in a parking lot near a construction site (if I remember correctly), I went the first week they opened. Delicious food that’s bad for you, cooked with heart. I was smitten. Poutine! My god! French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy! And bacon jam! It was a sunny day and I took the afternoon off from work and played Cornhole with Skillet’s genius co-founders. (Never heard of Cornhole? Nor had I. It’s seriously fun.) So perhaps you can understand my level of excitement when friend Z reported that Skillet was opening a diner (a diner!) a mere THREE BLOCKS from where I used to live in Seattle. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – King Noodle

When I have a hangover, there is one kind of food I want to eat and one kind only: spicy noodle soup. Preferably with lots of meat in it, and extra chili peppers.

Those of you who have been following my Seattle exploits (now sadly behind me, like a distant dream) will not be surprised at all that by Saturday (after I concluded my second cocktail crawl), I was so toxic that noodle soup was not merely an option, it was a necessity. I was eager to try King Noodle, which had gotten rave reviews Continue reading