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December 23, 2011 7:08 AM

More kimchee for me: Jeonju B'Bop Fusion Rice Bar

Posted by Nancy Leson

Ask this North End restaurant maven what's hot, and I'll tell you: Korean food. Travel Highway 99 from Shoreline through Lynnwood, and you won't drive two minutes without coming across a Korean restaurant. That said, it's easy to miss Jeonju B' Bop Fusion Rice Bar -- one of a trio of Korean eateries set back off the highway just north of 188th Street Southwest. But now that I've found it, I'm addicted.

Wait! Don't stop reading because you're unfamiliar with the cuisine, uncomfortable around kimchee and unsure what to order when much of the menu is in Hangul and much of the staff speak limited English. Consider this a culinary journey-without-a-passport.

Picture steaming bowls of soup with rice cakes and dumplings, fragrant soybean stews and rib-sticking bibimbap. No salt and pepper on the table? Reach instead for the jars of salty fermented shrimp and flaky red chilies. Need a translator? Ask those folks taking chopsticks to pork feet. Now repeat after me: "This is an adventure!"



Stone-pot bibimbap (foreground), with complimentary kimchee on the side. [photo: Nancy Leson]

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November 21, 2011 12:13 PM

It's a wide world of noodles, Seattle. Love them? List them!

Posted by Nancy Leson

Where do I go for noodles? The list is endless. But when it came time to round-up some favorites to go along with my cover story for Sunday's Pacific Northwest Dining Out 2011, here's what I had to say:

Tender tubes of perciatelli con le sarde (translation: with sardines) are the picture of Sicilian soul food at La Medusa (4857 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle; 206-723-2192). I'm still jonesing for its dark, saffron-scented sauce with fennel, olives, pine nuts and raisins.

Squid ink tints tubes of bucatini, an anchovy-and-breadcrumb-bedecked beauty I devoured during a multicourse feast at Staple & Fancy Mercantile (4739 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle; 206-789-1200).

I'm crazy for the cavatelli at the Book Bindery (198 Nickerson St., Seattle; 206-283-2665), where those seashell shapes share the plate with wild mushrooms, bitter greens and pickled pearl onions, the sauce finessed with foie gras.

And sign me up for tagliatelle with fresh figs and lemon verbena at Cantinetta (3650 Wallingford Ave., Seattle; 206-632-1000; 10038 Main St., Bellevue; 425-233-6040), unless the season's greetings include butternut-squash ravioli with hazelnuts.



'Tis the season, for butternut-squash ravioli with hazelnuts, at Cantinetta. [Seattle Times/Mike Siegel]

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September 27, 2011 7:00 PM

Southeast Asia an inspiration for Seattle chef Chris Kong

Posted by Nancy Leson

For Christopher Kong, spring 2010 began a year of living dangerously. It included months of grueling work bussing tables in an open-air dining room in Malaysia, and prepping vegetables and sauces in the adjacent sweltering kitchen. It meant living and working with Nepalese and Bangladeshi contract-crews sleeping four on the floor; sharing a single bathroom with 20 men and no hot water; washing clothes by hand and drying his stained apron over Chinese steamer-baskets in the restaurant's kitchen.

"It was a reality check," says the 24-year-old chef. "There, nobody knows where you came from or what you've done." Nor do they care. "You have to fend for yourself."

Where he came from is Seattle, where his father David (born in Malaysia) and his mother Lily (raised in Thailand) have been feeding their many loyal customers an abbondanza of Italian food for 20 years at Perché No, first at the restaurant's intimate Lower Queen Anne digs, later at the tri-story paean to bella Italia they built near Green Lake.


Christopher Kong lends a hand at Perché No Pasta & Vino, his parents' Italian restaurant near Green Lake. [Seattle Times/Mark Harrison]

Coming from an ethnic Chinese family whose idea of home cooking is spaghetti alla carbonara wasn't always easy for the Roosevelt High School grad. Kong was 6 years old when his parents opened Perché No (translation: "Why Not?"). While his mother ran the dining room, her boys played in a hallway behind the kitchen, a small TV for entertainment. "My dad could peer out and watch us when he was cooking," Kong recalls.

"You sacrifice a lot, from both perspectives, as parent and child," he says, about growing up in a restaurant. "As a kid you want the freedom of a social life." But as a family member, you've got your work cut out for you.

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September 19, 2011 6:00 AM

Love it -- or leave it? When restaurant service goes south

Posted by Nancy Leson

"The way I see it," I wrote in a Taste of the Town column in 2004, "when service isn't what it should be, I'm inclined to give a place the benefit of the doubt" -- as well as a second chance. The way my husband sees it, I explained, he'd "rather throw the money in the street" than return to a restaurant where he's encountered bad service.

"And therein lies the difference between a paid critic (me), and a restaurant-critical patron (him)," I continued [read the full story here, recounting the dirty details of a restaurant visit gone awry]. "My job description requires that I give the place another chance, visiting three, sometimes four times before making a final assessment. His -- and presumably yours -- does not."

So tell me: What are your thoughts on the subject? When service stinks, do you go back for another go-round, as restaurant critics are obliged to do? Or, like my husband, do you immediately write the place off?


[Seattle Times illustration/Julie Notarianni]

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September 15, 2011 7:25 AM

What's the best restaurant? Depends on who's asking

Posted by Nancy Leson

Early this morning, while drinking my first cup of coffee, I answered two queries regarding where to take guests for dinner. One was from a fellow looking for a special occasion restaurant to celebrate his mother's 70th birthday. The other from a guy who wanted to impress out-of-town guests hungry for Chinese. Add to that the suggestions sent last night, via Facebook, to a childhood friend -- and well-known Philadelphia restaurateur -- who's on his way to Seattle for an overnight.

To their great good credit, each of these folks gave me excellent details: the 70-year-old mom's party-man's looking for a "once-in-a-lifetime experience" and he's willing to drop a grand. The Chinese food-lovers are older out-of-towners and "fussy, in a good way." And the restaurant chef? He's got his college-bound son in tow, an 18-year-old with "very sohisticated taste buds," and he's looking for something casual for lunch and dinner. Which reminds me of my "Taste of the Town" column, excerpted below, written 10 years ago: a family tale that segued into a how-to for readers who regularly ask me: "Where should I go to eat?"

My sister Jill, a single mom who's looking 40 square in the eye, called from South Jersey a couple of weeks ago to tell me all about her New York adventure. She and a group of galpals left work and kids behind, drove up the Garden State Parkway to New York City and hit the town for a much-deserved Girls' Night Out. They saw a Broadway show, and afterward, treated themselves to dinner at (as she put it) "Molto Mario's new restaurant." "You ate at Esca?" I asked, as jealous as I was impressed, having been blown away by the food at Mario Batali's Greenwich Village gem, Babbo."How was it?" "It was," she said, pausing for effect, "the worst meal I ever ate in my life." [Read the rest of that 2002 column here.]

And if anyone wants to weigh in on the reader queries above, by all means, please do.



70th birthday? Willing to drop a grand? This place would work. [Seattle Times/Tom Reese]

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September 12, 2011 8:36 AM

The Ten Commandments of restaurant behavior, redux

Posted by Nancy Leson

I'm away from the blog again this week working on the fall dining guide. The following column, written in 2005 -- with professional commentary from some of the city's restaurant managers -- offers advice that still stands today. Have something to add? Feel free. The comments box is open for business.

When it comes to bad behavior in restaurants, I've seen and heard it all -- from restaurant patrons as well as those they've patronized.

One incredulous reader wrote in dismay after a waitress at a neighborhood sushi bar screamed "Shut up!" to an otherwise well-behaved toddler. The child's sole offense? Making a joyful noise from the comfort of her high-chair. Then there was the restaurateur who called at wits' end, citing an egregious example of table-hogging: a woman who came and went in the course of her stay, running personal errands while a pal held "their" table for hours, oblivious to customers who stood waiting, and waiting, for their reservations to be honored.

As a critic, I acknowledge that there are three sides to every story: the patron's, the restaurant's and the truth. But as a former waitress, I'm inclined to wag my finger at those who've taken the "hospitality business" hostage and beg: "Oh, behave!" To that end, I offer this list of common courtesies that should help make dining out a more civilized endeavor for everyone involved. [Read the column in full, and that list, here].


[Seattle Times illustration/Paul Schmid]

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September 1, 2011 1:00 PM

Say what? Menu-speak: It's a foreign language, readers say

Posted by Nancy Leson

Recently, Seattle Times restaurant critic Providence Cicero got a dressing down from a reader regarding Providence's rave review of Hitchcock. Here's a taste of the rant:

I think I am a pretty sophisticated diner but I shouldn't have to look up every other word to find out what you are saying. "What normally sauces gnocchi became a dazzling intermezzo 'macchiato'." Strange to say the least. "The lasagna noodles clumped together despite the brodo." (I can't even find that word in a dictionary). Or how about "fregola sarda pasta" which you preferred "fregola-free."

Funny: It reminded me of the time I got a phone call from another reader with a similar complaint. Rather than respond privately, as Providence did, I responded publicly with my 2006 column "Say what? A guide to menu-speak."

While I'm out on assignment during the coming weeks, I'll offer up a look back at some previously published columns and blog-posts I (immodestly) suggest are worth a second look. Among them, that mini user's-guide (read it here).


[Seattle Times illustration by Julie Notarianni (2006)]

Perhaps it's time to update it in a future blog-post? Feel free to comment below, asking for an explanation of any unidentifiable food word you've come across on local menus. P.S. If you're fortunate enough to be dining at Cafe Juanita this week, as I was, do try the "Carne Cruda of Blackmore Wagyu with Crostini," but don't tell the waiter "I'd like my steak tartare medium-rare" -- OK?

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August 5, 2011 8:50 AM

Today: a live-chat. Me, you, Providence Cicero. Coming?

Posted by Nancy Leson

There's nothing I love more than sitting down for a nice long chat with my pal -- and Seattle Times restaurant critic -- Providence Cicero, discussing our favorite subject: food. Today we'll do just that from noon to 1 p.m., and you're invited. Got a question for us about today's restaurant roundup? Or anything else you'd like to know about the local food scene? Pull up your computer screen and join us at seattletimes.com. We'll "see" you at noon!



Nope, that's not Providence. But Deirdre Cross, seen smiling at the Melrose Market, apparently knows where to show-off some of the city's best foodstuffs to her out-of-town guests. [Seattle Times/John Lok]


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July 21, 2011 8:01 AM

Coming over haute at Crush: Jason Wilson gets happy (hour)

Posted by Nancy Leson

I generally leave the happy hour news to my cocktail-hoisting colleague Tan Vinh, but I can't help but share this tasty tidbit: Just in time for another three minutes of summer, James Beard Award-winning chef Jason Wilson has launched a happy hour Sundays through Fridays at his lovely dinner house Crush.

Which means if you're one of those people who say, "Isn't that the haute house off 23rd and Madison, where I'll pay big money for fine food and wine I wish I could afford?" your conscience can counter with, "Well, I guess he's attempting to lure in a broader range of patrons by providing a small-bites menu of fancy foodstuffs that show 'em what he's got." And guess what? You'd be right.

That new happy-hour menu ($4-$12) includes everything from housemade chicharones ($6) to Painted Hills shortrib sliders ($11), because how can they call it a proper happy hour without sliders? And trust me: If you've ever tasted Wilson's short-ribs (I have) you'll be wanting those beef-filled mini-buns.


Clockwise from bottom left: mascarpone potato croquettes, salmon gravlax, chicharones and Painted Hills shortrib sliders. [photo courtesy Sean Balko]

But wait, there's more!

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June 28, 2011 7:00 PM

Szmania's "steaks" new claim, Nell's summer patio menu, Lark's little Licorous goes to Boudreau

Posted by Nancy Leson

Seattle restaurateurs are weathering the recessionary storm by changing things up to suit the times, doing what it takes to keep their businesses alive and well.

Among them are Ludger Szmania and his wife Julie. This month, they re-branded their 20-year-old Magnolia restaurant, now known as Szmania's Steakhouse & Bar, where you may still sit at the open kitchen counter and score a plateful of spectacular jager schnitzel. With summer at hand, Philip Mihalski introduced a casual "Weekend Patio Menu" at his Green Lake restaurant, Nell's, taking advantage of daylight hours and proximity to the summer fun. And the closure this week of the cocktail lounge Licorous on Capitol Hill leaves John Sundstrom more time to concentrate on his award-winning restaurant, Lark.

Since Szmania's debut in 1990, Ludger Szmania has opened and closed a Kirkland outpost, remodeled the original several times and have now changed-up his menu entirely. The latest redo puts a greater emphasis on the bar, while the meaty sizzle is meant to divert customers who might otherwise head downtown for steaks.


Julie and Ludger Szmania, at their eponymous restaurant, in Magnolia, now with a steakhouse-styled menu. [Seattle Times/Greg Gilbert]

"When we opened Szmania's, it was the hot place to go," the German-born chef recalls. "We used to be a destination restaurant," with a majority of customers trekking from the Eastside. These days, there's no need to cross two bridges to find a great neighborhood restaurant, he says, and competition is stiff.

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June 14, 2011 7:00 PM

Seattle architects have the blueprint for hot new restaurants

Posted by Nancy Leson

Describing a recent visit to the Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle's Kolstrand Building, Frank Bruni of The New York Times writes of "a palpable conviviality that so many restaurants aim for but so few achieve. That kind of warmth and vibrancy often boil down to luck: to the animation of the crowd that gathers, the pitch of people's voices."

"It's not luck. It's something we think about," insists Jim Graham, whose company, Graham Baba Architects, designed the Walrus and the Carpenter. Their imprint is on the blueprints of a growing number of local projects that house eat-and-drinkeries basking in the national limelight.

Graham and his business partner Brett Baba have the magic to create magic. Their work defines the look of the new Seattle restaurant. In addition to the Walrus and the Carpenter, they have designed (among others) the trio of Tom Douglas restaurants in the Terry Avenue Building at South Lake Union, Eltana and Skillet Diner on Capitol Hill and Revel/Quoin in Fremont. "It's all about place-making. And we are basing all our decisions on how you get there," says Graham.


Brett Baba (left) and Jim Graham, at La Spiga -- their company's first restaurant collaboration. Their offices are located downstairs from La Spiga (and Plum Bistro, which they also designed) in the Piston & Ring Building on Capitol Hill. [Seattle Times/John Lok]

At the Walrus, those decisions extended to the height of the banquettes and bar stools, a glass wall looking onto Staple & Fancy next door, and the placement of a chandelier -- which casts a sensual glow over the central oyster bar, and adds to the drama of lighting that reflects the Parisian mood chef Renee Erickson was after.

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May 26, 2011 6:24 PM

Michael Mina gets Murray Stenson at RN74, but that's not all!

Posted by Nancy Leson

America's Best Bartender is on the move. Yes, it's true: after nearly a decade, Murray Stenson's taking leave of the Zig Zag Cafe. You'll soon find him putting his signature on the bar at the much anticipated second coming of RN74 -- the grand restaurant and wine bar slated to open downtown June 13 in the historic Joshua Green Building at Fourth and Pike. Word regarding Stenson's defection spread like wildfire today.

Turns out the legendary bartender dished the deets on his departure in an off-the-record conversation with Seattle Times cocktail kingpin Tan Vinh in March, explaining then that his bar at RN74 will feature a shorter menu than the one at Zig Zag. There won't be any molecular mixology or "esoteric ingredients," according to Murr the Blur. Just simple cocktails that can be crafted in less than two minutes: an efficient drinks-menu, designed for a crowd that needs to move from the bar to the dining area.


Murray Stenson, America's best bartender, shaking things up at the Zig Zag Cafe.
[Seattle Times/Erika Schultz].

Stenson has received many job offers during his tenure at Zig Zag, but this move felt right, he said. For one thing, he'll get to keep his Tuesday through Friday schedule. For another, unlike other proposals he's considered, the Mina Group's came with just the right mix of top-shelf ingredients -- including a kitchen staff he trusts, and an ownership and investment group he respects.

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April 22, 2011 8:55 AM

It's a good Friday -- for restaurants, and recipes

Posted by Nancy Leson

Good Friday to you. It's been some week of eating, both for me and for my Seattle Times colleagues. Need proof? See Providence Cicero's review of Munchbar, dubbed the "new Bellevue-by-way-of-Vegas restaurant and night spot" in Bellevue Square. And check out Lynn Jacobson's take on The Spice Room -- a date-night-worthy Thai place in Columbia City. Need a drink and a nosh? Tan Vinh got happy at Mulleady's Irish Pub in Magnolia (barrel-aged Negronis? the pipes, the pipes are ca-awl-ing!).

As for me? I got that old-time religion again this year with the Monday night reading of a newfangled haggadah and plenty of fabulous foods at a Passover seder. There was chicken soup with matzo balls, roasted chicken, matzo roca and yes, controversy aside, we ate quinoa, a tweaked version of the nutted rice recipe from the original Silver Palate Cookbook -- with the grain taking the place of the rice and the addition of dried cherries along with the raisins. There was also some fine wine, as well as the less sophisticated and cloyingly sweet ceremonial grape-juice of my childhood (talk about plagues).



We laughed (oh, how we laughed!), we sang, we ate, we recounted the story of the Exodus. Dayenu.

Though I won't be joining the masses at Qwest Field on Easter Sunday, I will be joining friends for leg of lamb at our annual Easter dinner since, as you likely know by now, I'm an equal opportunity enjoyer. Need a lamb recipe, a ham recipe, or an idea for a not-so-traditional but most delightful Easter cake? We've got you covered there. And if you're wondering whether -- and for how long -- your hard-boiled Easter eggs are edible, you'll find that answer right here.

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April 19, 2011 7:00 PM

Seattle and beyond: restaurant menus, the collector's edition

Posted by Nancy Leson

The email came from a woman who'd had enough. Her husband, she said, had been collecting menus for decades, their garage was full of them and now he needed to get rid of them. They were considering the dump. Did I know anybody who'd be interested?

"Hon! What are those boxes in the garage?" asked my husband, several days after he returned from a lengthy business trip. "Uh, menus?" I told him, trying to ignore his raised eyebrow and look of utter derision.

What I didn't tell him was that I'd been patiently waiting for him to leave town before I dragged my best friend -- and her minivan -- to the menu collector's house to pick up my precious booty: 20 sturdy boxes filled with colorful menus from near and far.

"Near," as in the Pantley's on Edmonds Bay, a place I'd never heard of, though I might have enjoyed its $12.95 Wednesday seafood buffet and a walk home afterward, had I lived in my house in 1985 when my new best friend snagged a menu.

"Far" as in The Lobster House in Cape May, N.J., where I'd certainly have enjoyed a steaming kettle of local shellfish: the "Schooner Dinner" I served to tourists in 1978, when I waited tables at the historic waterfront seafoodery while wearing a white uniform with a sailor collar. Oh, how my eyes lit up when I saw that one.


"Oh, Miss! I'll have the Schooner Dinner. But first, a dozen cherrystone clams on the half-shell." [photo at right courtesy The Lobster House]

There were menus from Mexican restaurants throughout the South, chains known across the land and -- be still my heart! -- a treasure trove of Seattle restaurants gone but not forgotten.

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March 31, 2011 7:00 PM

Speak Greek? Seattle-area chorus offers restaurant raves

Posted by Nancy Leson

A resounding efkharisto (thank you!) to scores of readers who shared with me their Greek food go-tos: from the corner gyro joint to the Greek diner hangouts to the sit-down-dinner places where I might lift a glass of retsina and say, "Here's looking at you, squid!" Their "bests" included many of my favorites. Did we miss yours? Feel free to join the chorus.

Whether they've got a taste for gyros or Greek omelets, arni psito or pastitsio, long-timers pledged their allegiance to a Greek fleet of familiar names. "Mr. D's at Pike Place Market is the best for a run and grab lunch," says a fan of Demetrios Moraitis' gyros. "Just be prepared to have happy onion/garlic breath the rest of the day." No lie!



"Hey Mom, got any Altoids?" asked my son, Nate, after we dined and dashed last weekend at Pike Place Market, where Mr. D's is temporarily doing business out of a big red truck due to Market construction.

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March 28, 2011 7:18 AM

Rainier Valley restaurant promotion is a "Plate of Nations"

Posted by Nancy Leson

Perhaps you're a regular in Seattle's Chinatown International District, as much at home in old Japantown as Little Saigon. Or you might be just as fixated on the wide world of food choices in White Center -- where Vietnamese cafes and Mexican tiendas are a major draw. Maybe you get your cross-cultural fix on the Ave, seek out strip mall-spots along Highway 99 for Korean soondubu, or delve into the delicious ethnic enclaves of the Eastside for Indian chaat and Eastern European delis. As I always say: In and around Seattle, you can travel the world without a passport.

The MLK Business Association most certainly agrees, proving me right by shining a light on their own Rainier Valley neighborhood, and inviting you to share in the global goodness during their newly launched Plate of Nations. This two-week event (March 27-April 9) supports a dozen independently owned restaurants offering group-meal deals costing as little as $15 to $25 (see their stories and menus here).

From dim sum to doro wat, banh mi to Cajun crawfish, they're stirring the melting pot, and you deserve a taste. Need a shove to get on the right track? Allow me to mention these restaurants are all easily accessible by light rail from downtown.



What is it? Well, that's for me to know, and you to find out while eating along Martin Luther King Way South.

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January 25, 2011 7:00 PM

Pay for bread, butter at restaurants? Worth it, says me. You?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Is there a bread-and-butter brouhaha on the rise?

Last week on the blog, I enumerated the joys of the Madison Park Conservatory. For me, and Eaters who weighed in on the new restaurant and bar in the former Sostanza space, it's an exciting addition to the Seattle restaurant scene. But one reader e-mailed with a bone to pick.

"Yes, we've been there several times," he wrote, "but as they charge for the butter and make a point of this, we won't go back. I think this is foolish and diminishes what could be a great dining experience."

You read that right. They charge for butter.

But rather than recoil, like the disappointed diner, I laughed when I saw the tongue-in-chic notice on chef Cormac Mahoney's rustic menu. It read: "Columbia City bread, complimentary. Golden Glen Creamery butter or Tuscan Olio Nuovo $3." I've got to admit, I've been waiting with buttered breath to hear from readers regarding the increasingly common practice of charging for "bread service" -- a practice employed at other well-regarded restaurants.



At some of the city's most well-regarded restaurants Columbia City Bakery's bread will cost you. Worth it! This plateful from The Walrus and the Carpenter, in Ballard. [Seattle Times photo/Ken Lambert]

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December 20, 2010 12:11 PM

Lunchbox Laboratory blows-off Ballard for South Lake Union

Posted by Nancy Leson

If you're one of those people who never understood the lure of Lunchbox Laboratory -- the burger-joint some consider the best in town -- you're not alone. There are those who found the Ballard hole-in-the-wall too small, too spendy and way too funkadelic. Others were offended by gruff service and fear of cardiac failure. Even the Lab's fervent fans were known to balk at its erratic hours. "When they sell out, they close -- so call ahead" suggests the 2011 Seattle Zagat Survey, published last week touting the Lab's "`amazing', cooked-to-order creations `huge' enough to `feed two adults.'"



Bet you can eat just one. A bacon-burger deluxe with curly-fries and a handmade strawberry shake at Lunchbox Laboratory in Ballard. [Seattle Times/Greg Gilbert]


Of course, no one has complained as vociferously about Lunchbox Laboratory than the man whose love/hate relationship with food -- and his restaurants -- has been well documented. "I hate being owner of this place," owner-chef Scott Simpson told me last week -- days before shuttering his joint Sunday in preparation for its big move to South Lake Union. "I'm a terrible businessman. I'm awful at it!"

Simpson made his name as the original owner of the Blue Onion Bistro (since sold, later closed), followed by the short-lived fine-dining-place Fork. And everyone who follows such things knows he's been looking for a way out of Ballard since he moved into the ramshackle shack at 7302-1/2 15th Avenue N.W. Well, he's finally found an exit-strategy -- thanks to a new business-partnership that has him jumping out of the managerial fire and back where he belongs: into the kitchen with his French cast-iron frying pans.

Providing the platform for his jump is John Schmidt, owner of Southlake Grill.

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November 30, 2010 9:18 AM

Canlis: the gift that keeps on giving

Posted by Nancy Leson

Canlis has hosted umpteen birthday parties in its day. But the celebrated restaurant, set to celebrate its 60th birthday December 12, is preparing to party-hearty by paying tribute to the people who make Seattle -- and the world -- a better place.

"We thought about having a typical big-bash deal, where we'd charge customers $1000 a head and give the money to charity," said third-generation co-owner Mark Canlis, "but no one was into it." Not his brother Brian, with whom he runs the restaurant their grandfather envisioned, nor their parents Chris and Alice, who famously hosted a $10,000-per-couple millennium party in 1999, raising $500,000 for local charities in a single night.

Instead of inviting wealthy patrons to open their wallets, says Mark, the family decided to open the doors of their restaurant to "like-hearted people" who "live generously" by "redefining the meaning of community" at a time when community is all some of us may have. Invitees include representatives from 100 local philanthropic organizations, among them FareStart and the Union Gospel Mission.

Also on the guest-list is Seattle's Eugene Cho, founder of One Day's Wages, whose mission is to encourage all of us to give one day's wages each year to fight extreme global poverty. And the folks behind Aurora Commons, offering a clean well-lighted place for down-and-out denizens of Aurora Avenue. They'll have an opportunity to meet -- and eat -- with leaders from PATH and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.


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October 28, 2010 9:15 AM

Hero sandwich: Let's all go buy a French Dip, at Rizzo's

Posted by Nancy Leson

OK, that's it: I'm going to Rizzo's for a French Dip. Ever since Kenny Johnson opened his sandwich joint, Rizzo's French Dip in Ballard, I've been promising myself I'm going to stop in. But when I'm in the neighborhood and in the mood for beef, you can usually find me down the street at the competition. Now, after reading about Kenny's heroics today in my morning paper, I'm here to agree with the folks who say the man who endangered his own life to save a child's deserves our admiration -- and our business. My heart goes out to the girl he saved, and to her family for their tragic loss.



Kenny Johnson, also known as "Frank Rizzo" (Yo! you talking to me?): Yes. You're my hero. [Seattle Times photo/Steve Ringman]

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October 5, 2010 8:36 AM

Burgers (Dick's), Burgers (Pick-Quick), Burgers ($100,000)

Posted by Nancy Leson

Wading through all the news fit to "eat" and repeat during my month-long hiatus is one of the joys of getting back to blogging. In my absence came news of soft openings, loud openings, second comings, second goings, and "Ciao for now!"s, but the overriding theme has clearly been burgers, burgers and more burgers. As if I hadn't had enough of those in the interim.



September rhapsody: The green chiles-fueled Laguna Burger enjoyed at 66 Pit Stop in Laguna Pueblo, N.M. (left), eaten on the Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail with a Kool-Aid pickle alongside (I kid you not). And the green chiles, bacon and cheese-sportin' burger I devoured at Lunchbox Laboratory in Ballard upon my return.


First came the news that Dick's Drive-In crowned a winner in their eater-driven geographical quest to open a sixth Dick's. The North takes it: with Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, Edmonds and South Everett all in the game. Which will win the grand prize?

"We've looked at several sites and hope to nail it down shortly," says Jim Spady, son of founding father Dick Spady and VP of the family biz. Describe "shortly," I prodded him Monday. "Could be this week, or this month, but certainly by the end of the year." So why did the iconic Seattle company wait so long to expand?

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August 17, 2010 6:30 AM

In a lunch rut? Go see these old friends at the Harbor Cafe

Posted by Nancy Leson

I was walking down Fourth Avenue last Friday on my way to check out the new location for Michael Mina's RN74 when I stopped dead in my tracks. "Wait a minute!" I thought, reading a sidewalk sandwich-board touting the Harbor Cafe's "Thai Panang Chix w/Jasmine Rice + Veggies" for $6.95. "Why does this place sound familiar?" Then the light bulb went on, and I hurried inside.



Stop. Look. Then get in there.


There, just off the lobby of the 1411 Fourth Avenue Building, I found the cafe and its owners: Thai chef Rut Poladitmontri and his business partner and kitchen sidekick, Judy Lew, who've been selling bargain-priced eats on the ground floor of this historic building since 2002. It had been years since I'd seen them last, and Judy's eyes widened when I re-introduced myself.

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August 13, 2010 9:04 AM

Napkins: rant and rave

Posted by Nancy Leson

When I was an impressionable teen, I spent a lot of time at the home of a friend whose family always used linen napkins at their dinner table -- the height of elegance for me, seeing as table linen only made two appearances at my house: at Passover and Thanksgiving. And my mom had ripped those napkins off from the Woodbine Inn.

But at my friend's house in bucolic Bucks County, each family member had his or her own dedicated napkin-ring encircling a colorful collection of cotton napkins. These were kept in a worn wooden bowl in his family's old farmhouse-kitchen, reused by their rightful "owner" and laundered as necessary.

Taking note of this practice, I swore that when I grew up and became the maid of the manor, I'd adopt the custom myself. No paper napkins for my dining room table! And indeed, that's the case today. Which might explain why I have a pet peeve when it comes to the specifics of paper napkin-use in restaurants.



Bon Appetit! Mac and I found a pair of "Madame" and "Monsieur" napkin rings in an antiques shop in Paris on our honeymoon years ago. After Nate was born, my best friend Abbie scored a second set for us here in the U.S., and each is put to good use.

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July 19, 2010 9:26 AM

Sidewalk cafes: the more the merrier. Your favorites?

Posted by Nancy Leson

There's cloud cover again this morning, but if the last week was any indication, it's likely to be warm and sunny again later today. Of course a little cloud cover hardly puts the chill on our love for sidewalk seating. If you caught Saturday's Seattle Times cover story on the subject, you'd have read this:

"Since Seattle eased its policy on sidewalk-cafe permits in late 2008, almost 100 cafe and restaurant owners have received approval or are awaiting approval to put cocktail tables and seats along the sidewalk."

Right on, says me. And I'm far from the only one who looks forward to making "Yay!" while the sun shines (or not, as the case may be). Reporter Tan Vinh's story got people talking -- about the politics of sidewalk seating. But forget the politics: tell me which sidewalk cafes (and restaurants, and bars) entice you when you're in the mood for a pavement party.



AJ Ghambari (left) of Cherry Street Coffee House, serves a great bagel and lox (among other eats) at his coffee house near First and Seneca. And my neighborhood Parisian-styled wine bar, Daphnes, next to the movie theater in downtown Edmonds, as seen early this morning. Sorry! You'll have to wait till 4 p.m. to get a glass of wine and a nosh there.


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June 15, 2010 1:30 PM

Fried chicken recommendations? -- and recipes!

Posted by Nancy Leson

Fella named Dan, who signed off "Can't-stop-thinkin'-'bout-Southern-fried-chicken" wrote with the following query:

I found myself TDY in Oklahoma City last April for two weeks. Hankering for something homestyle and comforting, I inquired from everyone I talked to about where to find great fried chicken. A couple of Northwest transplants took mercy of my plight and drove me several miles westward to the town of Okarche. The joint is called Eischen's. There are five things on the menu, three of which I was advised to steer clear of. Absolutely the best fried chicken (Mom's included) I ever recall cleaning up after.


Which brings me to my current quest. Is there anywhere local that serves up a great family-style fried chicken dinner, in a restaurant setting like they used to out on Highway 99 at Rose's Diner? I've been referred to places such as Pomegranate in Redmond (they don't do fried chicken until the Summer Menu late June) to non-chain take-out joints in the Central District, even to the Steelhead Diner in the Market. Any recommendations?

Well, that's a great question, Dan! Isn't that what "they" always say when "they" (and by they I mean me) don't have the definitive answer? So I thought I'd throw this one out to the Eatership. Eaters? What say you re: family-style fried chicken? However, in addition to the suggestions Dan's already gotten -- none of which truly describe what he's in the market for -- here's my two shakes on the subject.

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June 9, 2010 11:44 AM

Chinese "soup noodles" Seattle style: where do you go?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Funny how time and place can affect my eating habits. When it comes to what I lovingly refer to as "soup noodle" houses, joints that specialize in the Chinese answer to Bubbie's finest, I tend to favor one place for a while, then throw it over for another.

When I moved to Seattle 20-some years ago, I regularly hung out at the noodle cafe to the left of the big stairway at Ocean City in the ID. Later shining it on for Canton Wonton House across the street. And later still for Hing Loon up the block (which isn't a "soup noodle" house per se, but a terrific little Chinese restaurant whose chicken stock and sui kau I regularly crave).

But somehow in all my slurping, I managed to miss Mike's Noodle House. Which has been on my radar for a few years, though until yesterday -- when I was in sorely in need of a restorative bowl of something -- I'd never zeroed in on it.



Mike's, at 418 Maynard Avenue South, and yesterday's late lunch

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June 8, 2010 12:43 PM

Pink Door's "la padrona": I have MS, and life's still a cabaret

Posted by Nancy Leson

For the Pink Door's "la padrona" -- stage name Jacquelina di Roberto -- life is a cabaret: literally. At her Post Alley trattoria, Jackie Roberts opens the pink door to anyone willing to step through it and buy into the magic. That magic, the one she's been selling for nearly 30 years, is food, drink and entertainment. The Pink Door's mood owns the spotlight here in Pike Place Market, taking its musical cue from the theater, cabaret culture, bawdy burlesque.

Why, yes, that is a trapeze artist swinging from the rafters while you eat your antipasti. And no, this is not Teatro ZinZanni, but its lower-key forerunner: a ristorante e bar known for its flamboyant owner, its romantic rooftop overlooking Elliott Bay and its enormous entertainment value. Willkommen to the Pink Door, kept very much alive by a padrona whose taste for life is insatiable, though that life has taken a turn since she was diagnosed six months ago with Multiple Sclerosis.



The Pink Door's Jacquelina di Roberto says, "Life is a cabaret. Or a cabernet. Whichever comes first!" [photo of Jackie by Steve Smrstik]

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May 26, 2010 2:04 PM

Tat's tawks pastrami, takes bigger bite out of Pioneer Square

Posted by Nancy Leson

Five years ago, Brian "Tat" Tatman (who grew up outside of Philadelphia) and his buddy Jason Simondejka (who hails from South Jersey) opened their Philly-style steak and hoagie shop, Tat's Delicatessen, at 115 Occidental Ave. S. in Pioneer Square. It didn't take long before word got out about their sandwiches. Their 15 tables filled. Lines formed. As did opinions about which was the better -- Tat's cheesesteak wit Whiz or the best-selling Tat'strami piled with pastrami, melted Swiss, sweet coleslaw and Russian dressing.

Simondejka has since moved Back East, their pal Mike Sichel (who's been around from the get-go) has taken on an ownership role, and the pair recently announced that they, too, are on the move: to a far more spacious 50-seat spot around the corner from the original. June 4 is the latest target-date for their move to 159 Yesler Way, where the crew will soon be chopping steak, frying onions, shouting "hot or sweet peppers?" serving beer and wine and asking, "Whiz? Provolone, American, Swiss, Cheddar, Pepper Jack or Mozz?" (Whiz? Cue the canned laughter, says this Philly girl!)



Owners Mike Sichel (far left) and Brian Tatman (in ball cap, standing third from right) with their crew at Tat's Delicatessen, soon to be on the move. [photo courtesy Tat's].

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May 24, 2010 9:00 AM

Good morning. You need a bagel and coffee. Here you go!

Posted by Nancy Leson

I've never met AJ Ghambari, whose family owns and operates Seattle's Cherry Street Coffee House (now with five locations to serve you). But when I do, I intend to give him a big buss for turning me on to this Cherry Street video. I'll be in, soon, AJ, for that house-cured lox and Seattle Bagel Bakery-bagel you're so proudly touting. Promise! (P.S. Way to promote the local product -- and attempt to get me off my bagels-and-lox-loving tush and get over to Cherry Street for a nosh.)


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May 21, 2010 10:57 AM

RezBook: Urbanspoon guys say, "There's an app for that!"

Posted by Nancy Leson

Seattle-based Urbanspoon is a restaurant website and popular iPhone app that's been shaking things up in the world of on-line reservations -- and downloaded from the Apple App store 9 million times. On Thursday, the company announced the launch of RezBook, an iPad application that takes the concept of an old-fashioned restaurant reservation-book and turns it into a slim, smart, high-tech table-management tool.

Having dealt with the Luddite version during my waitressing career (anybody got a pencil?), and seen the RezBook pilot-program in action last week at the new Madison Valley bistro, Luc, I think it's destined to become the hot new thing in restaurants nationwide.

Apparently, I'm not alone. Urbanspoon got the full-court press this week, with the Wall Street Journal calling the company's iPad-based service "a nascent but serious threat to OpenTable's dominance of the online reservations market (full story here). And RezBook wagged the tails of tech-talkers here, there and everywhere.



Urbanspoon's new RezBook application as seen on an iPad, resting in an iPad cover on the zinc bar at Luc -- one of only five restaurants presently operating the system. [photo: Lara Ferroni].

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April 7, 2010 1:00 AM

Squab for dinner? Party on! at Spinasse and elsewhere

Posted by Nancy Leson

Food & Wine wasn't the only Big Name to invite Jason Stratton to a party honoring great chefs. On Friday -- before he flew to New York City to be annointed one of the nation's "Best New Chefs" -- Stratton got another unexpected invitation. This one arrived via "courier squab."



These pretty pigeons almost didn't make it, having been stuck on the other side of Snoqualmie Pass on Friday due to "fowl" weather. Photo: courtesy Brian Canlis

"Come eat at Canlis," read the invite, which went out to a dozen Seattle chefs on behalf of brothers Mark and Brian Canlis and their chef Jason Franey, who were hosting the May dinner.


Jason Stratton, holding his invitation at Spinasse on Friday day. Photo: courtesy Brian Canlis

Their only request, engraved on the invitation, was that invitees bring "a killer bottle of wine, thoughts about sustainablity and a good squab story." Had I been invited, I'd have told this squab tale:

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March 12, 2010 3:32 PM

Whale of a problem: local Typhoon! mistakenly harpooned

Posted by Nancy Leson

When news broke this week about a Santa Monica restaurant accused of illegally serving meat from an endangered whale, an innocent and unrelated Northwest restaurant group got caught in the fray.

The local Typhoon! happens to have the same name as Typhoon Restaurant Inc., the parent company of The Hump, which is the accused restaurant in Santa Monica. That Typhoon and one of its sushi chefs have been charged with illegally selling meat from a sei whale, which is listed as endangered and protected by international treaty.

Since the story came to the nation's attention, managers at Typhoon! Thai restaurants in Oregon and Washington have been fielding phone calls and e-mails from an outraged public threatening to boycott. And that case of mistaken identity has become a whale of a problem for owners Bo and Steve Kline and their employees.



The parent-company of the (unfortunately named) Hump restaurant and its Santa Monica Airport sibling unfortunately share a name with an unrelated Northwest restaurant-group. [photo: Al Seig/LA Times]

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February 18, 2010 8:11 AM

James Beard Awards 2010 semifinalists announced

Posted by Nancy Leson

The James Beard Foundation today announced a long list of semifinalists for the 2010 James Beard Awards in 19 restaurant and chef categories. This represents the first cut before the final five nominees get the nod March 22. On that date, the James Beard Foundation will also announce the final nominees for restaurant design and graphics, books, journalism, broadcast media and special achievement at a private event at the Palace Cafe in New Orleans. Winners will be feted May 3 at the annual awards ceremony and gala reception at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall in NYC. Congratulations to our local semifinalists.



An Outstanding Restaurateur nominee, out standing in front of one of his many restaurants.

Yep, Tom's in again, and I hope he'll win it. By the way, that was his South Lake Union restaurant-to-be (slated to open in 2011) starring in the "mystery photo" in yesterday's post. And the local nominees are . . .

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February 12, 2010 2:55 PM

Phoenecia now open on Alki: same family, new approach

Posted by Nancy Leson

Last summer, Hussein Khazaal's family mourned the loss of the gregarious West Seattle restaurateur whose familiar face and Mediterranean menu were fixtures on Alki Beach since 1992. That "family" extended from blood relations to the many customers he adored and embraced since opening the original Phoenecia in the Alaska Junction in 1973.

When Khazaal died in his sleep after another busy night at Phoenecia at Alki, the fate of his restaurant was uncertain. In the months since, his widow and children made the decision to carry on with the family business by breathing new life into the old place, as reported in the West Seattle Blog. Today, the next generation has taken over where their doting dad left off.



It's a family affair. From left, Inaam Khazaal and her children, Sonya, William and Nadia. [photo courtesy West Seattle Blog]


"About two months after he passed I decided we should try to reopen, but I wanted to do it differently," said William Khazaal, who, with his mother and sisters, threw open the doors to the new Phoenecia on January 28. Under his father's direction, Phoenecia "wasn't a high-volume place, and it was spendy. A table of four had a hard time getting out of there for less than $200, and they could easily spend more than $300." For many patrons, "it was a special occasion place, and I wanted people to come through two or three times a week."

With a casual, updated atmosphere in mind, remodeling was a necessity. To that end, they've pulled out false walls to open up the dining room, built two small bars (one seats four, the other three), striped the old carpet, stained the concrete floors, ditched the white linen, refinished the wood tabletops, reupholstered the chairs and added color to the walls as well as chalkboard paint so they might list -- rather than recite -- the daily specials, as dad so famously did. The menu also got a major makeover.

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February 9, 2010 10:27 AM

Valentine's Day. Isn't it romantic? So, where would YOU go?

Posted by Nancy Leson

You know how I feel about dining out on Valentine's Day: I'd rather stay home and cook. But if someone were to put my feet to the fire and insist I make a list of "romantic" places to send my readers (and they did!) I'd tell 'em, "Cut me a break! One woman's romantic restaurant is another's `You've got to be kidding!'" Sure it's romantic to sit at a tiny table for two with a view at Place Pigalle, sharing a half-dozen oysters and a chocolate pot de creme. Or side-by-side on a banquette at Licorous, savoring a well-made cocktail and a couple of pretzel dots -- says me.



Place Pigalle, hidden away in Pike Place Market and a pair of pretties at Licorous, where I love to lift one. [Seattle Times photos/Betty Udeson (left) and Mike Siegel]


My idea of romance involves dining at the counter at Spinasse next to a total stranger, sharing antipasti and tajarin with two of my dearest friends -- as I did last week. Though you may beg to differ. In fact, I can already hear you saying, "Yeah? But what if there was no room at the bar and you had to sit at one of those communal tables listening to some Capitol Hill condo-dweller carry on about her ex-husband?" (Point well taken.)

Well, because the season is nigh, here are some ideas for places where you and yours might do the romance dance. Please take these suggestions with a grain of salt, preferably fleur de sel -- which you'll find on the tables at Boat Street Cafe: a perfectly romantic place. At least I think so.

And because I'd really like to know: where do you like to eat and drink when romance is on the menu? My comments box is open for business!

Mash notes from Nance Romance:

If your sweetheart rides a Hog: Check out the vroom-vroom room at Renton's newly Irish-accented Mick Kelly's at Full Throttle. Lift an Harp -- and some fish 'n chips -- while straddling a leather bar-stool built to resemble your ride. Or repair to the indoor "patio" overlooking the spacious showroom at Renton Motorcycle Company.



Indoors -- and out -- at Full Throttle. You're either for us, or a Guinness. [I'm for you!]

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February 8, 2010 8:49 AM

Portage chef Vuong Loc takes Cremant space in Madrona

Posted by Nancy Leson

If you're a talented chef in search of a new restaurant, there's no doubt that at times like these, when one door closes, another opens. The door I'm talking about today is Cremant's: one that has seen it's share of adoration, though it's also been a portal for much controversy -- as you may have read right here.


1423 34th Avenue, in the heart of Madrona.
[Kevin P. Casey/special to the Seattle Times]


As I mentioned last week, Donna Moodie came close to signing a lease on the old Cremant space, but decided instead to relocate Marjorie to new digs at 14th and East Union. With that deal off the table, the building's owner and architect Roy McMakin turned to another Seattle restaurateur who had his eye on the prize. "We got a pretty good deal on it," chef Vuong Loc told me last week. "We've been debating it for, like, six months."

Loc, the owner of Queen Anne's petite Portage bistro, doesn't have firm plans for the new restaurant yet, but says we can expect "something along the same lines as Portage, but with more of a Vietnamese influence." He hopes to have the place open by May.



Chef Vuong Loc, and his wife and business partner, Tricia.
Seattle Times/Greg Gilbert


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February 4, 2010 10:50 AM

News from Niceville: Cantinetta's Cartenuto (plus Spinasse)

Posted by Nancy Leson

Sure, he calls Seattle home now, but 28-year-old chef Brian Cartenuto -- whose menu has been wowing 'em here in the Emerald City at Cantinetta -- is getting plenty of good press in his hometown, as I read in this week's dispatch from Florida's Emerald Coast. Turns out Brian's doing the James Beard mambo, blowing out of Seattle next week to cook at the James Beard House, as so many terrific Seattle chefs have done before him.

According to the story out of Niceville, the chef comes from a line of restaurant-savvy individuals. His brother owns a couple of Niceville businesses, including Joey Tomato's Deli and Little Joe's. His folks work at his brothers' restaurant. And (here's my favorite part of the story) the Seattle chef had another vocation in mind before attending culinary school and launching a cross-country cooking career: he planned to become a priest.

I'm a big fan, as I confessed to Cartenuto (and his amiable boss, front-man Trevor Greenwood) after a quick bite at Cantinetta, which has become my defacto pit-stop when I'm showing friends from out of town what a great Seattle neighborhood-restaurant looks like. That's the second time in recent weeks I've ended up at the bar at Cantinetta, entertaining out-of-towners, sipping a mean Negroni and sharing a cataplana filled with fresh mussels.



Hey! Jo and Larry! Why don't you quit that frozen wasteland and move down here and open a nice little neighborhood restaurant? We've done it before ("lee-ly? no kidding. high crass") and we can do it again! [photo courtesy Kiyoshi Grollman]

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January 28, 2010 11:19 AM

Raising dough for Haiti: generosity comes in small slices

Posted by Nancy Leson

There's a reason they call it the service industry. Area restaurants -- large and small -- have reached out to Haiti, offering financial aid (with your help), as mentioned in previous posts. From pho stops to bakeshops, neighborhood bars to neighborhood bistros, its heartening to see the local aid effort take off and deliver.

For those who feel Haiti would be better served if we all just sent a check directly to a charitable organization -- rather than help fund these fund-raising efforts by dining out -- I say, consider this: It's all about community, and if there's a more generous community than the local food community, I've yet to meet it. Need proof? How about this good news:

Family-run Bob's Bakery on Vashon Island raised $12,000 on two successive Sunday drives, says co-owner Jill Beytebiere, who, along with her baker (and husband) Paul, graciously accepted a $4000 matched donation from a regular customer who wishes to remain anonymous. That $12,000 will go to four child-centered Haitian organizations. "Our children have been to Haiti," and seen the orphanages there, says Jill. "So we know first hand what they do." For more on the Beytebiere's ongoing efforts, here and in Haiti, watch this video:

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January 27, 2010 6:30 AM

Buffet brunches in Greater Seattle: where do you go?

Posted by Nancy Leson


"Where have all the brunches gone?"

So asks Eater Peter Rohn, who wrote in an e-mail: "I remember when just about every major hotel in Bellevue and some in Seattle and Sea-Tac had wonderful self-service buffets for Sunday brunch, or for weekday lunch or Friday seafood dinner. What happened? Most have disappeared. A few lonely survivors include Ivar's near UW, Salty's in West Seattle, a Chinese buffet near Northgate, Chengdu in Bellevue, the Pan-Asian in Renton and several Indian lunch buffets in Bellevue and Seattle. Do you know of any others? Recommend any?"



Seafood on ice (nice!) at Salty's weekend brunch (photo courtesy Salty's).

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January 26, 2010 7:47 AM

Vancouver B.C. restaurants! Granville Island! Your favorites?

Posted by Nancy Leson

I'm crazy for Vancouver, and each time I go I ask myself, "Why don't you come here more often?" If you haven't been, what are you waiting for? Yeah, yeah, I know: you're waiting for the Winter Olympics to blow over, and who can blame you? It won't be easy getting a reservation to eat -- or sleep -- in Vancouver in the near future (let alone get a ticket to one of the big events), but unlike the folks converging on the city right now, we've got plenty of time to head north, as I mentioned in my food-focused story in Sunday's travel section. But whenever you do get there, trust me: if you like to eat, it'll be well worth it.



The view from Vancouver's Granville Island. Heaven -- on a plate -- awaits.


In addition to hitting a lot of restaurants during my December stay, I spent an afternoon tooling around the Granville Island Public Market, home to Vancouver's version of Pike Place Market. And as much as I cherish our major tourist attraction and everything it offers, the stunning foodstuffs available at their Public Market made me weep. Why? Well, let me show you.

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January 23, 2010 2:37 PM

Lampreia closed, Scott Carsberg to open Bisato in its place

Posted by Nancy Leson

With the downtown commercial real estate market in a free-fall, his plans for moving Lampreia into a grand new space in the nearby Gallery building off the table, and his Belltown restaurant looking at a slow year ahead, Scott Carsberg did what he says he had to do. The James Beard-award winning chef closed his four-star restaurant Tuesday. He's in the process of remodeling Lampreia, set to reopen mid-February as Seattle's second Venetian-inspired cicchetti bar, Bisato.



Scott Carsberg, at Lampreia in 2008.

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January 20, 2010 12:08 PM

More Seattle-area restaurants for Haiti relief

Posted by Nancy Leson

Yesterday, I offered a list of local restaurants holding fundraisers for Haiti. And as I anticipated, many more were in the works. Here's an update:

Purple Cafe & Wine Bar and Barrio restaurants are accepting donations for UNICEF's Haiti relief fund now through Sunday, January 24. Corporate owners Heavy Restaurant Group will match a percentage of those donations.

Thursday, January 21: Pan Africa Restaurant near Pike Place Market is hosting a fundraising dinner. Call 206-652-2461 for reservations.

Saturday January 23: ART Restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle will donate 10 percent of all dinner bills (before tax and tip) to Red Cross. Monies raised will be sent as part of a large corporate donation from Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts.

Sunday, January 24: A number of area restaurants, including Quinn's Pub, Restaurant Zoe, Dinette (mentioned yesterday), Le Gourmand and La Rustica will donate a percentage of the night's proceeds for a group donation to NetHope. Skylark Cafe & Club will donate a portion of brunch proceeds. More on that effort here.

Monday, January 25: Bengal Tiger Cuisine of India is hosting a buffet dinner from 5-10 p.m. ($14.95 per person), with 50 percent of proceeds going to World Vision.

Wednesday, January 27: Sushi Joa on Mercer Island will donate 20 percent of all restaurant sales to the Red Cross.

Wednesday, January 27: LTD Bar & Grill is hosting a fundraiser from 5 p.m. till close. All proceeds from draft beer sales will be donated to Mercy Corps. There will also be raffle prizes, donation jars and complimentary snacks!

Sunday, January 31: Mercer Island's Cellar 46 wine bar and restaurant is hosting "Turning Wine into Water" -- with all proceeds from wine sales sent to Haiti for water, food and medical supplies. The event begins at 5 p.m. and includes live music, food, wine-tasting and a wine auction. Individual donations will be collected at the door.


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January 19, 2010 8:16 AM

Haiti relief: help Seattle restaurants help raise funds

Posted by Nancy Leson

This week and next, local restaurants are extending a hand to Haiti with a variety of fundraisers and other ways to donate-by-dining. I expect there are many more restaurants with plans to help those who are helping raise funds -- and hope -- for the earthquake-ravaged country in the days and weeks to come. Please feel free to add to the list via my comments-box, or contact me directly via e-mail at nleson@seattletimes.com with details of events not listed. I'll add them in an update. [1/20/10 12:10 p.m. list updated here.]



Amid the catastrophe: Smiles of joy and celebration when Gladys Louis Jeune is pulled from the rubble of her home in Port-au-Prince (AP photo/Patrick Farrell).

Here's the list (as I know it) so far:

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January 15, 2010 12:02 AM

Trippin' over dippin' -- into fondue. You?

Posted by Nancy Leson

It was not-so-skinny dipping over the past few weeks as I went in search of fondue, seeking out the Swiss classic and its many variations for today's Ticket roundup. I found fondue aplenty, at obvious places like that Bellevue bastion of cheese-in-all-it's-glory, Artisanal -- where I tried the fondue du jour. On the jour I visited, 30 different types of cheese were melted into the mix. Or so they said. It could have been four cheeses, or 17, and after a few ridiculously rich mouthfuls I couldn't have told you the difference. But rest assured, I was forking it up like a lonely goatherd who'd just come in from a long stint on a cold mountain.



30 different types of cheese in a single fondue at Artisanal -- but who's counting?

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January 14, 2010 6:01 PM

Cactus Madison Park temporarily closed for face lift

Posted by Nancy Leson

Hey, don't freak out if you've stopped by Cactus in Madison Park this week or last only to find the place closed and under construction. Unlike neighboring Impromptu Wine Bar Cafe, it's not closed for good. Instead, the Madison Park stalwart -- set to celebrate its 20th anniversary next summer -- is getting a cosmetic makeover.

"The restaurant wasn't set up to accommodate the numbers we do," says Bret Chatalas, co-owner of three Cactus restaurants located in Seattle and Kirkland. (With 75 seats, Madison Park is not only the oldest, it's also the smallest.) In addition to expanding and remodeling the kitchen, the front of the house is getting some much needed love, he says.



The dining room at Cactus in Madison Park (photo courtesy Bret Chatalas)


The wall between the bar and dining room is coming down, the tapas bar is coming out and new booths and bench seating are being installed. "We're making it a functionally better experience for our guests, so the next 20 years can be better than the last 20," Chatalas says. Baring unforeseen difficulties and pending health inspection and occupancy permits, Cactus should be reopened by next week. "We're shooting for January 20th."

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January 14, 2010 9:49 AM

Red Mill Burgers donates profits, I donate onion rings recipe

Posted by Nancy Leson

It's been 15 years since John and Babe Shepherd opened Red Mill Burgers on Phinney Ridge. In the years since, the brother-and-sister team opened a second location at Interbay and continue, in my opinion, to serve some of the best not-so-fast-food burgers -- and certainly the best onion rings -- in town.

Beg to differ if you must, but there's no denying this: unlike the Rolling Stones (their favorite musicians) the Shepherds get great satisfaction -- by selling burgers. Thanks, in no small part, to the support they've received over the years from Seattle's burger-loving community. And to honor their commitment to the city that keeps them rolling, they've got a plan for paying it forward. Here's how you can help:



My standing order: a Double Bacon Deluxe with cheese, and Babe's Onion Rings

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January 12, 2010 11:04 PM

Keff takes flight: Flying Fish moving to South Lake Union

Posted by Nancy Leson

In 1995, chef Chris Keff opened Flying Fish in what was then a burgeoning business district in the heart of Belltown. Fifteen years later she's flying out of there, setting her sights elsewhere and readying "The Fish" -- as we've come to know and love it -- for a big move to another up-and-coming neighborhood: South Lake Union.



Christine Keff, at Seattle's Flying Fish in Belltown. (photo: Mark Bauschke).


Flying Fish is slated to make the move this spring to the Westlake/Terry Building at Westlake Avenue N. and Thomas Street -- also home to neighboring Portage Bay Cafe.



See that corner? Now envision it with a neon sign that says: F-L-Y-I-N-G F-I-S-H.

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January 11, 2010 3:28 PM

Jane and Michael Stern talk Roadfood: tonight and tomorrow

Posted by Nancy Leson

Before there was Chowhound, Yelp, the fooderati on Twitter and that spiky-haired blond guy on "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives," food writers Jane and Michael Stern made it their mission to take our tastebuds on a cross-country tour. Armed with prodigious appetites, useless roadmaps and plenty of Alka-Seltzer, they've spent more than 30 years on our highways and byways, eating as much as 12 meals a day during some 200 annual road trips.

They've made it their mission to stop for the likes of chess pie and pig's ear sandwiches along every turn in the road. She hates ketchup. He loves kishke and together they've traveled to joints with names like Putz's Creamy Whip, fending off waitresses offering "Jewish tea" (er, that's "Do you wish tea?") and attempting to avoid the worst of the no-tell motels.

When they're not on the road, gathering material for their Roadfood books and Web site, they're on the radio -- dishing with Lynne Rossetto Kasper on "The Splendid Table." You've read their columns in "Gourmet," seen them on "CBS This Morning" and portrayed on the Lifetime movie "Ambulance Girl," based on Jane's memoir of a food writer turned small town EMT.

Today, they're in Seattle talking about their favorite subject: eating. And it's not too late to join the conversation tonight at 6 p.m. when they're hosting a benefit dinner for Seattle Arts & Lectures at the Palace Ballroom. Or you can catch them tomorrow, January 12, when they'll be yukking it up with a lively lecture at 7:30 p.m. at Benaroya Hall (tickets available at the door for both events, or via the SAL Web site: details here).



Jane and Michael, doing what they do best (AP photo/Jim Cooper).


Last week, I had a chance to chew the fat with my fellow food-loving fressers, comparing notes on eating for a living during a coast-to-coast phone chat from their home base in Connecticut -- with Jane's French bulldog Elmer listening in. Here's what they had to say:

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January 6, 2010 7:54 AM

In Seattle, teriyaki has the Edge. Your favorite teriyaki spot?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Today, in his ongoing series "United Tastes," my clever colleague John T. Edge -- the award-winning columnist, author, raconteur and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance -- introduced New York Times readers to one of Seattle's worst-kept secrets: our lust for teriyaki.

John T. (yes, that's his name -- he's from the South!) is not the first to examine Seattle's teriyaki fast-food-fanaticism, nor is he likely to be the last, but his extensive reportage is worth examining, so give it a read right here. Then tell me this: What's your favorite teriyaki-stop?



You haven't lived till you've shared a laugh -- and a story -- with John T. Edge, seen here in Seattle last month taking a break from teriyaki to check out the Danish pastries at Nielsen's. And yes, he loved those Snitters.

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December 28, 2009 7:00 AM

Steelhead's Davis snags Oceanaire site for Blueacre Seafood

Posted by Nancy Leson

When Kevin Davis left Sazerac to take the creative helm as executive chef at Seattle's Oceanaire Seafood Room in 2001, he was the happiest guy alive -- or so he thought. Five years later, with the chain's corporate bean-counters dampening his spirit, he stepped out on his own with a new source of inspiration -- the Steelhead Diner. "The Steelhead has been successful beyond our wildest dreams," Davis says of the three-year-old Pike Place Market restaurant he owns with his wife Terresa. "It allowed a level of happiness I didn't think was possible."



Kevin Davis happily wearing his Steelhead whites.


Yet even in their wildest dreams, they never imagined what the new year would bring: twin sons, due in May, and a lease on the shuttered Oceanaire site -- slated to re-open by spring as Steelhead's downtown sibling: Blueacre Seafood.


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December 4, 2009 6:00 AM

Dim Sum in Greater Seattle: Your favorites?

Posted by Nancy Leson

As I said in today's dim sum round-up, if you ask local dim sum fanatics to name the "best" dim sum house around, you can expect a vocal food fight. Me? I'm no fighter. But I did offer a quartet of popular dim sum joints where you'll find me with chopsticks in hand. (And yes, I do love the dim sum served during brunch at Monsoon on Capitol Hill, so don't start with the "how could you leave that out?" routine. As for Jade Garden, yes, their dim sum's good 'n plenty. That said, I'm still scratching my head over those long lines, when there are other worthy contenders close by.)

Feel free to chime in with your two-cents, because I know you want to. And I'd love to have you help put together a definitive dim sum list right here. Where do you go? What dishes are on your gotta-have-it list once you get there? And if all this talk about dim sum is making you hungry, here's a little taste of what I've been enjoying over the past month:



If you haven't tried chicken feet yet, those served at Imperial Garden in Kent are worth a trip.


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December 1, 2009 8:17 AM

5 Point Cafe celebrates 80 years with new owners

Posted by Nancy Leson

Excuse me for heretofore ignoring the biggest news to hit dive-bardom and 24-hour eats: the sale and subsequent revitalization of Seattle's 80-year-old 5 Point Cafe. When rumors of the potential closure of Belltown's oldest bar went swirling in September, fans steadied themselves for the shock of having one less legendary watering-hole to cry in their beer and one less 24-hour joint to soak up their sins with chicken-fried steak. But it's been up-periscope since.



"Alcoholics Serving Alcoholics since 1929," as the bartenders T-shirts advertise.
[Photo courtesy 5 Point Cafe
]


New owners David Meinert and Mandy Park took over last month, promising to keep the infamous periscope in the men's room (offering a view of the Space Needle), updating the menu (they've brought back liver and onions and added the curry tofu scramble vegetarians loved at Capitol Hill's late Green Cat Cafe), serving bottomless cups of Caffe Vita coffee and launching a senior citizens discount.

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November 23, 2009 8:14 AM

Good Morning America: get your No. 1 spicy pork tacos here

Posted by Nancy Leson

Good Morning, Greater Seattle! -- now even greater since Good Morning America got a taste of Marination Mobile's spicy pork tacos and (with your help) crowned the 5-month-old taco truck "Best Food Cart in America." The local contenders waited for the good news Sunday morning with a crowd of well-wishers, and can be seen -- live from Seward Park! -- in the 4 a.m. hour when co-owners Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison joined a hard-core group of die-hard fans for a live feed in every sense of the word.

In the grand not-so-old tradition, Marination Mobile got everyone hot and bothered long before they got rolling, and those hungry for "Korean-Hawaiian Curb Cuisine" were soon in hot pursuit, following their every movement (forget the GPS, you can find them here).

Swift success culminated with the win this weekend as their spicy pork taco gained fame as Good Morning America's "Best Bite" -- an accolade sure to make those lines even longer.

Congratulations to the home team, who shared the recipe for their No. 1 pork tacos with the viewers everywhere and answered the question, "So, what's in your spicy `nunya sauce'?" with this spicy answer: "Nunya business!"

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November 16, 2009 9:28 AM

Seattle-area restaurants: "Now" meets "Then"

Posted by Nancy Leson

I hope you had a chance to relax with Sunday's paper the old fashioned way (via newsprint) and read "Dining Out 2009" when, once again, our Pacific Northwest magazine was devoted to my favorite subject. Time flies when you love to dine out, as I mentioned in last year's blog-post "A Decade of Dining Out." That post linked to a 10-year retrospective of my Sunday magazine restaurant cover-stories (a service the old-fashioned print version famously doesn't provide). This year I profiled 10 pairs of restaurant notables old and new, representing a look at where we've been and where we're going. Missed it? Read it right here.



Now meets then: Pacific Northwest "Dining Out" covers 1999-2009


Whenever I write these magazine pieces, I hear from readers who suggest I've left out their favorite spot, or failed to mention a hot new (or fabulous "old") restaurant they adore, or otherwise managed to miss the boat. And, as always, your comments are most welcome.

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November 10, 2009 11:49 AM

Greenwood, Everett: fires devastate restaurant community

Posted by Nancy Leson

Residents and business-folk in Greenwood are reeling from a devastating string of arsons in which the restaurant community has been particularly hard hit. On October 23, a fire set at the Green Bean Coffee House near 85th and Greenwood also destroyed the adjacent Szechuan Bistro, C.C. Teriyaki and Pho Tic Tac. Three more fires set late Sunday and early Monday have the neighborhood unnerved. The latest arson extended to Greenwood's popular Mediterranean bistro and take-out shop Olive You, which suffered $20,000 in smoke- and fire-related damage. And on top of that came Monday's news of the total destruction of Emory's Lake House on Silver Lake in Everett after an early-morning fire. That news hit me on both a professional and personal level.



Emory's Lake House, before the fire. [Seattle Times/Ellen Banner]

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November 6, 2009 9:46 AM

Wild Ginger? I'll say. Fancy/hole-in-the-wall: you say?

Posted by Nancy Leson

From the initial comments on my overview of the new Wild Ginger and its Seattle counterpart today, I can see they're coming out of the woodwork already. Nah, not the attractive hostesses, the servers pointing out the signature dishes that helped put the Ginger atop Zagat's "Most Popular" index for 20 years, nor the sommeliers here to assist with a wide world of grape juice. I'm talking about the readers who need to note you'll find "better," more "authentic" and far less fussy Asian food -- priced for a bargain feeding frenzy -- at restaurants in the ID and Little Saigon, in the strip malls of Redmond, Lynnwood and Federal Way and at the take-out counters of our super Asian supermarkets. To them I say, "Oh, cry me a river!" -- of this:



Malaysian laksa: my go-to dish at Wild Ginger.
Seattle Times photo/Dean Rutz


Yes, there are many, many reasons to frequent Greater Seattle's lesser-sung Asian food haunts. And I do, all the time, as you know if you spend much time here at All You Can Eat. Places like these:

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November 5, 2009 10:33 AM

NYT posts "100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do"

Posted by Nancy Leson

Journalist and author Bruce Buschel is opening a seafood restaurant, and in preparation for that he's put together a two-part list of "100 Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do." The first debuted in the New York Times last week, the second ran today. His list pushed all the right buttons re: wrong-doing, and I'm not surprised at his readers' (voluminous) reaction, having seen it before when I've delved into the subject of service.

A decade ago, after taking the job as Seattle Times restaurant critic, I posted a list of my own restaurant service peeves -- among them many cited by Buschel. In 2004 I was floored by the volume of commentary after writing "When Restaurant Service Goes South." Two hundred readers e-mailed or called in a single day to offer their two-cents regarding lousy service, a number that was a big deal back before we had global commenting capabilities via our Web site. In 2005 I wrote my "Ten Commandments of Restaurant Behavior" -- a how-to for diners, with restaurant pros weighing in on how we can all get along better, regardless of which side of the table we're on. And again, readers rewarded me with commandments of their own.

As a former waitress, a longtime restaurant critic and someone who dines out often and loves the restaurant business -- imperfect though it may be, I think Buschel's list provides excellent advice, as well as some "in your dreams, pal" suggestions.

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November 4, 2009 10:17 AM

Right on 'cue: Casper's to bring BBQ and more to Shoreline

Posted by Nancy Leson

Be still my beating BBQ lovin' heart: that rascal Casper Townsend has gone and done it again, only this time he's opening another outlet of Casper's a Taste of the South even closer to my front door. If all goes accordingly -- and I'm counting on it -- he and his staff of rib-ticklin' Southern foodstuff-savvy servers will be yelling "Come and get it!" in Shoreline by early next month.



Casper, smiling at his Lake Forest Park "Come-get-some, Sugah!" shack.

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November 3, 2009 10:45 AM

Foodportunity opportunity + Emmer & Rye @ Art of the Table

Posted by Nancy Leson

If you're a food-blogging Tweet-and-greeter, chances are I ran into you last night at the second Foodportunity event at the Palace Ballroom. These food-networking shindigs, put together by Frantic Foodie Keren Brown, are a lot of fun for a social butterfly like me, and they're open to the public, so stay tuned for the next one. While there, I heard Ethan Stowell tell an audience he prefers not to read blog-reviews while Kurt Dammeier swears he loves them.



Panelists (from left) Kurt Dammeier, Tamara Murphy, Ethan Stowell
(photo/Nate Naismith, Far Sighted Images)


I learned that a very excited Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang of Joule just got back from filming "Iron Chef" in NYC -- in time to make apple head cheese for the masses (they even brought the head). And also that Jackie Cross is keeping her fingers crossed that her darling daughter, Miss Loretta Douglas (who's got a restaurant nicknamed after her) may soon be cookin' on local TV, something she proved she could do on King 5 last summer.

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October 7, 2009 8:02 AM

Greetings from New Orleans!

Posted by Nancy Leson

Can you believe I've never been to New Orleans -- till now? Me neither. I'm here until Saturday for the Association of Food Journalists annual conference. Our agenda is full-up (and yes, Leslie, I'll give John Besh a big kiss for you). I got in late last night and whoa: it's ghastly humid here. After checking in at my hotel near the French Quarter, I took a languid stroll in hope of finding some cold oysters and an even colder beer. Instead, I ended up on Bourbon Street, which was every bit as much of a zoo as I've always imagined -- only more so.



Boys Gone Wild round midnight. on Bourbon Street.

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October 6, 2009 7:15 AM

Binuya goes full circle: chef returns to Ponti Seafood Grill

Posted by Nancy Leson

Last month, I was sorry to report the closure of Madoka on Bainbridge. Turns out Richard Malia, owner of Ponti Seafood Grill, has benefited from that bad news. He's since hired back the chef who brought early acclaim to his Ship Canal-side restaurant and says he's "excited and proud" to have Alvin Binuya back at Ponti -- this time as his business partner.

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October 1, 2009 5:39 PM

Tamara Murphy to open Terra Plata: new Pike/Pine restaurant

Posted by Nancy Leson

Tamara Murphy's at it again. It's been a decade since she opened Belltown's Brasa and nearly a year since the celebrated chef breathed new life into Pioneer Square's Elliott Bay Cafe. Now she's back for another helping of the Seattle restaurant pie -- with Terra Plata.



Tamara, hanging out at Brasa with sculptor Carla Grahn's fine artwork (Seattle Times/Mike Siegel 2007).

Her restaurant-to-be stands in a prime Capitol Hill location: 2,200-square feet of space at the Melrose Project, a merger of two historic buildings presently undergoing redevelopment between Pike and Pine streets.

Murphy gets the point (seen in this architectural rendering, courtesy Melrose Project LLC).


Terra Plata will stand at the apex of the triangular building, and Murphy's jazzed to count as her new Melrose Project-neighbor another culinary icon, Matt Dillon -- whose Sitka & Spruce will relocate from its unlikely little Eastlake location.


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September 30, 2009 11:30 AM

"Fit for Foodies": OK, I said it. Now name your top spots

Posted by Nancy Leson

Yes, I (sparingly) use the term "foodies" -- but only when I'm overcome by the need to alliterate. And oops, I did it again: in order to pass on some news via the "real-time" online reservations service that knows more about you than your next door neighbor does. Today OpenTable.com announced their 2009 "Fit for Foodies" Awards, in which those who make use of the service got out the vote, recommending restaurants fit for I-refuse-to-say-it-again. Among the nation's top 50 vote getters were three Seattle restaurants: Restaurant Zoe, Spring Hill and Tilth. (Love them all.)



What they used to call us, before the word "Foodie" found favor.

Oh, and in case you missed it, Kathryn Robinson does a great riff on the subject in this month's Seattle Metropolitan Magazine (read it here). All of which left me wondering: If someone asked you to list your top area restaurants fit for "GORMAYS," what would you say?

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September 28, 2009 8:00 AM

Picnic? At Phinney favorite it's never too late -- or too early

Posted by Nancy Leson

And now, from the better-late-than-never department, say hello to Anson and Jenny Klock -- owners of Picnic on Phinney Ridge. That's what I did late last week after a friend's eyes widened in shocked surprise when I told her I'd never been to their year-old "food + wine boutique" nor tasted their housemade pork rillettes.



Life's a Picnic -- literally -- for Anson and Jenny.

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September 24, 2009 12:56 PM

Gad Zeeks! -- in Issaquah: city councilman-to-be talks pizza

Posted by Nancy Leson

Say the word "pizza" (as I have, recently), and you'll get people talking. But will it get folks buying condos in the Issaquah Highlands? The brain trust at Incolo hopes so and sent me a news-release today detailing the offer. During a fall promotion, they're giving away a year's worth of Zeeks Pizza to anyone who takes a Starpoint condo off their hands.

That's approximately a $1000 incentive explained Mark Mullet, owner of the new Zeeks in the Highlands, when I called to get his take on the creative ways in which real estate agents are attempting to lure buyers to this "urban village." Mullet was more than happy to oblige the creative minds who came up with the promo.

That's a large pizza a week, diner's choice, says the Zeeks franchisee, who's new to the pizza-purveying game. "People who live in those condos are in the restaurant a lot. They come in all the time," he said of the denizens of the mixed-use complex housing 92 residential condos.

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August 27, 2009 9:27 AM

Rover's chef to hang his hat at bistro Luc: wanna invest?

Posted by Nancy Leson

For years -- years! -- I've been hearing rumors that Rover's jaunty "Chef in the Hat," Thierry Rautureau, has longed to hang his chapeau at a little bar-centric bistro, something far less formal than his four-star restaurant, Rover's. Maybe you've heard those rumors, too: that he's planning to take over the Falling Waters space (didn't happen), spending time in the company of real estate brokers (I've seen that with my own eyes) or chatting about the idea with other chefs who've gone beyond the "one, singular sensation." In the end, it turns out he need to look no further than the nearest corner.



Break out the Champagne: "The Chef in the Hat" is opening a new bistro!

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August 21, 2009 8:59 AM

Tavern Law open. Don't expect a Spur-of-the-moment seat

Posted by Nancy Leson

With all the early press -- both locally and nationally, my guess is there won't be a lot of room to move at Tavern Law when the Capitol Hill restaurant and speakeasy-styled drinks-joint makes its public debut at 12th and Madison tonight. Doors open at 5 p.m. and listen up: it's 21-and-over.

Considering the talent at hand (chefs Brian McCracken, Dana Tough and their barman David Nelson -- who brought us Belltown's Spur gastropub), and the foot traffic alone on this Pike/Pine corridor (they're ensconced in the Trace Lofts complex), chances are you might just have to poke your nose in and head elsewhere. Not that you'd have far to go given the implosion of worthy places to eat and drink within a few short blocks.


Chefs Dana Tough (left) and Brian McCracken want you: to check out their new place.
photo/Kristin Zwiers


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August 20, 2009 2:23 PM

Paladar Cubano -- music to Cuban sandwich lovers' ears

Posted by Nancy Leson

Say hello to a sandwich well worth waiting for: Paladar Cubano's cubano, a $6.50 two-fister so bountiful the construction crews (and other trenchermen) who seek out this parking lot pit-stop on the corner of 90th and Aurora can't finish their lunch either.



The classic cubano with roast pork, ham, cheese, pickle, mustard -- plus a side of terrific tostones ($2.50)

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August 18, 2009 10:09 AM

For me, it takes a Green Village. Who can ID you in the I.D.?

Posted by Nancy Leson

If you're like most people, you find a restaurant you like and stick with it, returning again and again over the years and praying it never closes. For a time Green Village in Seattle's Chinatown International District, known for Chinese-American favorites like green pepper beef, fried rice and chow mein (as well as my "go-to" dishes, cold bamboo shoots and seafood noodle soup) was that place for me.

These days you're more likely to find me seeking out other cheap eateries within a stone's throw of the place, like Hing Loon (where I'm crazy about the sui kau noodles and the smoked duck) and Samurai Noodle (where the thick slices of roast pork in the Samurai Armor Bowl regularly put me over the edge). But on a recent Saturday, when the line at Samurai was way too long (again!) I returned to Green Village -- reopened in December after a lengthy closure. And standing there, as always, ready to greet me warmly was proprietor Wendy Lu.



Wendy Lu, back where she belongs. And that makes two of us.

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August 17, 2009 10:07 AM

Laredos -- new Texican joint un-Veiled on Lower Queen Anne

Posted by Nancy Leson

Laredos had barely been open a week when the hits just kept on coming from curious Eaters. Like this one, from Brandon Olin, who wrote: "I'm wondering if you've had a chance to eat at Laredos yet, the new restaurant that has taken the place of Veil in Lower Queen Anne? I saw your earlier report of the transition, and it looks like they've opened up. Curious to know your opinion!" OK, Brandon, since I was already out and about on Friday I stopped by for your benefit, and this is what I saw:



A shot in the dark -- and make it a double!


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August 14, 2009 8:13 AM

BBQ ribs, Seattle-style: I took my 'cue, how about you?

Posted by Nancy Leson

I almost knocked my coffee over this morning after pulling my Seattle Times out of its plastic bag. Right at the top, the front-page teaser reads "Nancy Leson's rib-joint roundup. Five great 'cues." Uh, I don't think so. While my monthly restaurant roundups usually profile places that do the job well, this time, in the name of getting my hands on some great ribs, I hit a quartet of popular barbecue joints (read the roundup here). The tally on the taste-test? Great ribs (3), Could Have Been Better (1), and No way! I Paid For This? (1).

On the "great" list is a relative newcomer: Casper's A Taste of the South in Lake Forest Park, which I'm crazy about for many reasons. Excellent ribs, killer beignets and Casper himself among them.



Good 'ol boy Casper Townsend, showing off his bodacious beignets on his outdoor patio-with-a-view.


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August 12, 2009 11:56 AM

Faceless in Seattle: restaurant critics chime in

Posted by Nancy Leson

Last night, my husband and I entertained friends at our favorite neighborhood sushi bar -- Taka Sushi in Lynnwood. The tiny place was packed, and I couldn't help but notice a couple dining in a corner with their toddler and a newborn baby. When they got up to leave, they stopped by our table and inquired, "Are you Nancy Leson?" Then, bless their hearts, they thanked me for turning them on to Taka, which they love and regularly frequent -- despite the fact they live in the University District. Yes, I was busted: in the best possible way.

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August 10, 2009 10:40 PM

Restaurant critic: get out! Is anonymity a thing of the past?

Posted by Nancy Leson

With the announcement last week that New York Times editor Sam Sifton has been appointed to take on the role as the paper's new restaurant critic, the hue and cry was swift: "Everyone knows what he looks like, so how can Sifton get a `true' read on the restaurants he'll be reviewing?" NYT executive editor Bill Keller answered that question in the Diner's Journal blog today, writing, "Read Ruth Reichl's book about her long stint as the Times restaurant critic, and you learn that despite all her theatrical dress-ups she was often made by the maitre d'hotel." True enough. As a restaurant critic of longstanding, I too was occasionally "made" -- even when I arrived wearing my favorite disguise.



The nose knows!

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August 6, 2009 2:46 PM

Can o' worms: Eat "right" or else? I don't think so.

Posted by Nancy Leson

I love it when readers get riled up, as some did after I gave the big nod to pancakes in a can. Some of you agreed that the organic pancake-mix Batter Blaster is not only a blast -- but a must-have on summer camping trips. Some took me to task for promoting it. Others voiced concern that Seattle's recycling laws may render the product (with its "recyclable" plastic cap and steel can pressurized not by aerosol, but by the CO2 in the batter) unwelcome here in the most emerald of cities. I'm still working on getting answers to that one from the City of Seattle and the brass at Batter Blaster -- who FedEx'd two cans to the recycling gurus yesterday. Verdict pending.

Meantime, I need to talk to you about something that riles me up: the pervasive attitude that educated consumers must be 100 percent clean and green in the kitchen. If not, suggest the righteous, we don't deserve to breathe the air we share with Alice Waters and Michael Pollan -- esteemed by our Slow Food nation for what they've brought to the table. Nor are we doing our part for our children, ourselves and our planet. P.S.? B.S.

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August 3, 2009 10:16 AM

Stratton at Spinasse: "I feel like I've won the lottery"

Posted by Nancy Leson

It's been a year since Spinasse made its much heralded debut. Back then, celebrated pasta-maker Justin Neidermeyer -- dubbed "a boyish Pavarotti"-- presided in a kitchen built to remind him, and those who came to taste his wares, of his beloved Piedmont. Neidermeyer has since taken his last curtain call, his sights set on a return to Italy, and today Spinasse's kitchen is firmly in the hands of Jason Stratton, who was there in the Capitol Hill cascina at the start.


Jason Stratton: now the creative artist in the kitchen at Spinasse.

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July 31, 2009 5:31 PM

Tan takes you on a Seattle Happy Hour tour. Weigh in?

Posted by Nancy Leson

In case you missed Tan Vinh's tour of terrific happy hour-haunts in today's Ticket, be sure to take a look.

As you probably already know if you spend much time here on All You Can Eat, my happiest happy hours are spent lifting one in the comfort of my home, noshing on Planter's Cocktail Peanuts and Trader Joe's Pretzel Slims. Tan's picks offer far more exciting options for great happy hour eats, and the accompanying photo of the moules at Maximillien look like something I could dive into right about now.

Anyway, I was wondering: Did Tan miss your favorite happy hour-stop? Does your restaurant offer a happy hour he's ignored? Feel free to give it a shout-out right here. And now, it's off to get happy and enjoy the weekend. You do the same, OK?



Happy hour noshes at Maximillien in Pike Place Market
Seattle Times photo/Greg Gilbert

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July 30, 2009 2:05 PM

Help! Air-conditioned restaurants: Who's hot, who's not?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Andrea and Phil Mann wrote with a question: "Can you provide a list of air-conditioned restaurants?" Wish I could. Short of calling every restaurant in town (sue me -- it's hot and I'm lazy) I've decided to make a few suggestions and throw the question out here on the blog. So, tell me: Have you been in a deliciously cool restaurant in the past week? Where was it? Do you own, work in or represent an air-conditioned restaurant? Feel free to chime in right here in my comments box.



"I'm melting! I'm melting!"

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July 28, 2009 9:58 AM

Here's what I crave when it's hot out. You?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Last night, after a day's worth of sweating over a hot keyboard, there was only one thing on my mind: South Korea's summertime sensation, mool naeng myun -- cold soba noodles in an icy beef broth with pickled cucumbers, hard-cooked eggs, sweet Asian pear and daikon radish. So I made a beeline for Kaya, my new favorite Korean restaurant, across from Aurora Village on Highway 99 in Shoreline.

"Bet they're moving a lot of soondoobu today," I told my friend Clint, who came along for the ride. I was joking. I mean, who'd want a bowl of hot stew on a day like yesterday, or today for that matter? The joke was on me of course, because the place was packed with brow-swiping diners eating a variety of hot spicy stews and firing up the tabletop grills for barbecue. That said, I noticed the pregnant lady sitting across from me (bless 'er, in this heat!) was on the same page as I was: the one that said, "I'll have the mool naeng myun, please -- with extra ice."



Ohhhhhh, what a relief it is!

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July 11, 2009 10:02 AM

Restaurants expect more sizzle than fizzle ahead

Posted by Nancy Leson

On Monday it was Seattle's Oceanaire Seafood Room. Friday it was Todai, the Japanese buffet in Redmond Town Center.

Two more restaurants abruptly shuttered, joining an ever-growing list of recent closures: Cremant in Madrona, Blue Onion Bistro in Ravenna, Iris Grill in Issaquah, Andre's Eurasian Bistro in Bellevue, Yarrow Bay Grill in Kirkland.

When will it end?

Soon, predicts Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Restaurant Association, who echoes the optimism he's hearing from restaurant owners throughout the state.

"Individually, there will always be operators struggling, but collectively the industry's improving," Anton said. For the first time since the economy soured, the association's "shockingly accurate" monthly surveys report that more restaurant owners expect sales to be the same or increase during the coming fiscal quarter.

"I talk to restaurant operators every day, and while they're everywhere from 'Chicken Little' to 'All roads are paved with gold,' the optimism is outweighing the pessimism, and all the data I've seen reflects that things are getting better."

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June 11, 2009 9:49 AM

Barbecued Ribs in Seattle? Yeah, I know a guy.

Posted by Nancy Leson

Eater Ash Milad sent me an email. Subject-line? "Ribs in Seattle." Query as follows: "Other than braising them myself and taking hours to do it, I have had very little luck with finding great barbecued ribs in the five years that I've lived in this city. Floyd's remains my `best'-bet as I live in Queen Anne, but it is often hit-or-miss, depending on the time of day you get them. Any advice here?"

Oh yeah. I know a guy:



Casper the friendly good 'ol boy. He'll give your ribs a kick.

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June 9, 2009 11:42 AM

Serafina to annex Venetian-inspired cicchetti bar

Posted by Nancy Leson

It's been nearly 20 years since Susan Kaufman introduced Seattle to Eastlake's sexy little osteria and enoteca, Serafina. Here, every night's a party, and for some, the scenery in the bar is as appealing as the secluded courtyard's lush greenery.



The bar at Serafina: this place drives me to drink.


Something different this way comes.

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June 8, 2009 1:07 PM

A Square Meal on-the-go. Get yours here -- and where?

Posted by Nancy Leson

When traffic's bad on I-5 as I'm heading north from Seattle, I frequently take the Lake City exit and travel along 15th Avenue Northeast toward home. Recently, a certain sign has been catching my eye:



Slave over a hot stove? Fuggetaboutit!

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June 5, 2009 5:42 AM

Water. View. Seattle. Restaurants. And more.

Posted by Nancy Leson

When asked to wrap my arms around the idea of great rooms with a view -- as I did for my June Ticket roundup -- the options were unending. Far from comprehensive, I list a dozen classic water view-restaurants, many of which were named when I posed the rooms-with-a-view query to you Eaters a couple weeks back. Thanks for all those great suggestions -- including places I've never been (the Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor, the Ajax Cafe in Port Hadlock and the Bay Cafe on Lopez Island) and others I regularly frequent (Matt's in the Market, the Steelhead Diner, Place Pigalle). Pike Place Market alone offers so many rooms with a view (the Pink Door! Chez Shea! Lowell's! Maximillien!) it's deserving of its own round-up -- not a bad idea for the future. My focus today was on classic restaurants with water view, including these:



Why I love the view from Anthony's Pier 66 and Bell Street Diner

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June 4, 2009 6:43 PM

MistralKitchen: lease signed, and the wind cries Belickis

Posted by Nancy Leson

MistralKitchen, spawn of the late Mistral, dream of chef William Belickis, is expected to be a reality by fall. Touchstone Corp. announced today it has signed Belickis (and, presumably his financial backers) to a long-term lease: 5000-square-feet of ground-level space at 2020 Westlake Avenue. MistralKitchen will anchor the West 8 Office Tower, a 28-story skyscraper rising high above the confluence of Westlake Avenue, Eighth Avenue and Virginia Street.



West 8, at right, under construction (Seattle Times/Chris Taylor, 2008)

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June 1, 2009 1:39 PM

Lake Forest Bar & Grill: neighbors get happy, thrill to grill

Posted by Nancy Leson

At the bar, several fellas sat watching the game on TV. One took a last swig of his beer, paid his bill and grabbed his bike helmet, perhaps heading back to the nearby Burke-Gilman Trail. With happy hour in full swing at Lake Forest Bar & Grill last week, my son and I arrived for an early dinner. Measuring the menu's merits we got happy with a starter of garlic buffalo wings ($4.99, him) and a short margarita ($3.99, me). Even the Shoreline cops were getting into the act. I watched as officers in full regalia came in for a bite, joining a fraternity of northenders at the hottest thing to hit the 'hood since Third Place Commons made its debut:


Sign 'o the times.

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May 29, 2009 6:48 AM

Street food keeps truckin': Here and There -- and everywhere

Posted by Nancy Leson

Last week I was carrying on about Skillet Street Food, now wheeling and dealing outside Safeco Field on game days. And this week in The Stranger, Jonah Spangenthal-Lee offers a broad look at Seattle's growing street-food scene. One set for the imminent arrival of two high-profile newcomers: Marination Mobile ("serving Hawaiian and Korean curb cuisine") and Beecher's pig-faced Airstream (promising "the best pulled-pork sandwich you've ever had"). Meanwhile, up north in my hometown, there's another street-side sensation making the rounds. Last Saturday, while strolling past Tully's on my way to the Edmonds farmers market, it caught me eye.



Here and There, parked on Fifth Avenue in downtown Edmonds on Saturday

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May 27, 2009 2:14 PM

Tikes take toques at Suncadia and say "Gimme S'more!"

Posted by Nancy Leson

When the top toques at Suncadia decided to revamp the children's menu at their signature restaurant, Portals, they called in the troops -- and used fresh ingredients and recipes that would appeal to the 10-and-under set. In their search for hungry kidlets they didn't have to look far. A clutch of tikes from Cle Elum and other points east showed up on a recent Saturday to weigh-in on whether or not this family-friendly resort's stuff was up to snuff.



On top of spaghettiiiiiii, all covered with cheese. . .

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May 26, 2009 1:00 PM

Best burgers? Is something missing here?

Posted by Nancy Leson

A crew of burger-lovers from Seattle Metropolitan magazine hit the streets in search of "The 13 yummy, juicy, downright awesome burgers that will change your life--or at least induce a moment of culinary ecstasy." Somehow, the magazine's cover story managed to leave off my beloved burger joint, that saucy skillet-meister Scotty Simpson's Lunchbox Laboratory. Perhaps they've been hearing rumors of movement afoot there, and coupled with the chef's history of opening and closing great restaurants, feared the place wouldn't be around before the magazine went to press (more on that as it unfolds).



Lunch at the lab. For scientific purposes only, make mine a single.

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May 22, 2009 8:24 AM

Restaurants with a view: Where would you go?

Posted by Nancy Leson

I'm sitting at my computer with my coffee cup at my elbow looking out at the view: several not-yet-blooming rose bushes interspersed with lavender, and the neighboring Douglas Firs bracketing the bluest skies I've ever seen. OK, that's an exaggeration. I've seen bluer skies -- and I hope to see more of them this Memorial Day weekend. Which has me thinking: If you were going to head out to a restaurant today and wanted to eat some good food while taking in a great view, where would you go -- besides Folklife?

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May 21, 2009 1:23 PM

Corson Building: brunch, Wednesday night dinners -- yes!

Posted by Nancy Leson

The good news just in: The Corson Building is adding a la carte Wednesday night dinners and a Sunday brunch to its delicious dance-card, making it easier and more affordable for us to enjoy a meal there -- and dishes like these:


At the Corson Building, fresh ripe figs need -- and get -- no embellishment

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May 20, 2009 9:57 AM

Mangia Mangalitsa at Monsoon and Spring Hill event-kickoff

Posted by Nancy Leson

I've already told you about the famous Wooly Pigs -- prized for fat so luscious it's known to cause those who've tasted it to burst out in song. Wanna taste some? Check this out: sibling-chef team Eric and Sophie Banh along with Monsoon's Johnny Zhu, and Food & Wine's 2009 "Best New Chef" Mark Fuller of West Seattle's Spring Hill are hosting the first of a series of monthly themed dinners. Those multi-course meals commence at Monsoon East on Capitol Hill May 27. The theme for their kickoff event? Mangalitsa pig.



We serve no swine before it's time: the "before" shot (photo: Wooly Pigs)

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May 19, 2009 11:45 AM

Pink-slipped and hungry: where to go for your last lunch?

Posted by Nancy Leson

"Pink-slipped in Seattle" wrote with this compelling question:

I am one of those unfortunate souls facing a layoff in a few weeks and suddenly feeling like I have to make sure I have one last lunch at my favorite haunts downtown. On the list are JR Sprints Cafe (turkey sandwich) Wild Ginger and Salumi. What else should I hit before the paychecks stop flowing in?

I thought I'd throw the question out to my Eatership, so help me here, please: Where would you go for your last lunch(es) if the bad news came your way?

If I were in pink-slip's shoes -- and that's certainly a possibility for many of us -- I'd hightail it over to Matt's in the Market for pretty-much anything on the menu, along with a Bloody Mary (as I mentioned in yesterday's post). And then, just to guild the lily, I'd walk right over to Place Pigalle afterward -- also a great last-lunch option -- for a classic pot de creme:



I'm sweet on this sweet, and I'm not even a "chocolate person"

And you already know I'd make an immediate beeline for Saito's for sushi, where I'd let Yutaka-san set me up with whatever he deems worthy.

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May 4, 2009 7:40 AM

Siam on Broadway closes, Capitol Hill weeps peanut sauce

Posted by Nancy Leson

Siam on Broadway, the first of several Seattle-area Siams -- and the one closest to the hearts and stomachs of many longtime patrons on Capitol Hill -- closed late last week after more than two decades in business. Back before I threw the place over for other tempting Thai joints, I often made myself comfortable at the crowded counter where woks blazed, take-out orders were dispatched and a line of hungry characters eyed my barstool -- and my tom kah gai. It's been 15 years since I recounted this scenery in a Seattle Weekly review:

At busy Siam, four women move with utmost grace in a space the size of an apartment kitchen. Faces expressionless, they exchange amazingly few words while dipping into salty potions, portioning meats and vegetables onto metal trays. Adeptly working the wok and grill, they look for all the world like they'd rather be on the beach in Phuket. But then, so would we. Meanwhile, the counter at Siam will have to do, and the scents of garlic, ginger, galangal and lemongrass wafting in the air makes you forget that you're in Seattle -- at least for the time it takes to finish your phad Thai.

Today, customers calling Broadway for phad Thai will be disappointed to find a phone message-farewell from owner Lynda Siriwatnarong, thanking them for their patronage and noting, "You will all be missed."

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May 1, 2009 6:45 AM

Mexican restaurants -- Greater Seattle's greatest hits: yours, mine

Posted by Nancy Leson

And now for some happy news out of Mexico: we're loco about their food. When I set out to eat my fill in and around town a few weeks back as research for today's Mexican restaurant roundup in Ticket, I was thinking in terms of a certain May celebration, knowing that despite all the hard-core drinking and nacho-eating that goes on during Cinco de Mayo, eating Mexican food is a most American occupation. That year-round sport takes place at taquerias, taco trucks, fast-food joints and sit-down restaurants everywhere. Yeah, yeah. We're not San Diego. And we don't have a Mission District. But things are definitely looking up lately, don't you think?

Remember when I asked you to tell me about your favorite Thai restaurant and scores of Eaters responded with scores of different eateries? My guess is you'll feel the same way about the Mexican places you frequent -- everybody's got a different "favorite." Meanwhile, back at the ranchero, here's my gallery of gotta-goes. I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say about yours:


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April 27, 2009 12:24 PM

Rancho Bravo: Wallingford, Capitol Hill, Greenwood and more!

Posted by Nancy Leson

Freddy Rivas is totally jazzed about his first -- and so-far only -- "bricks and mortar" version of Rancho Bravo Tacos, open just over a month in a former KFC on Capitol Hill. It's a spin-off of his popular trailer-and-tent set-up, tucked away in the parking lot off 45th Street in Wallingford adjacent to Winchell's Donut House:



Unlike the single picnic bench at Winchell's, Rancho Bravo's new location at 10th and Pine has plenty of seats for patrons looking for an actual roof and four walls to protect them from the elements -- while they're knocking back the same great tacos and tortas they've been lining up for the past two years in Wallingford:

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April 23, 2009 10:18 AM

How many chefs does it take to . . . promote a restaurant

Posted by Nancy Leson

Don't let them tell you "too many cooks spoil the broth." Not true. Here's how I know:



That's me on the right last week at Harvest Vine, where I waited tables in cramped quarters, something I'm all-too-familiar with having done it elsewhere for half my working life. It's a job I sorely miss, and sore is the operative word to describe my out-of-shape middle-aged body -- after I ran it up and down the restaurant's stairs at least a hundred times. Oh well, that's what happens when you do as I've done: traded my former occupation for the sit-on-your-tush-and-write-about-it version.

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April 15, 2009 5:11 PM

Ballard's Madame K gets Lazy in Carnation

Posted by Nancy Leson

At Kirsten Burt's adults-only pizza bistro Madame K's, girls will be girls and the madame insists you have a Chocolate Chip Orgasm after finishing off your Barbie's Badass BBQ Chick Pie. That Orgasm is "the climax to a great night of food and passion," according to Madame, and I'm not here to argue. But after word got out that Madame K's was closing after a decade in business (bar the door, boys!), several Eaters wrote to ask if that was so. And if it's true, why? Here's your first clue:



photo by Stu Lisk


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April 10, 2009 8:14 AM

Cafe Flora: the re-do, done

Posted by Nancy Leson

Now that's what I call the farm-to-table movement! Remember a few weeks ago when I told you about Cafe Flora's upcoming remodel, in which I described their plan for a quick cosmetic makeover? Well, the nice folks at Flora flipped me some photos, courtesy of designer Cassandra Compton. And as they say (whoever they are), a picture paints a thousand words -- using recycled paint, of course:


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April 6, 2009 5:01 PM

Another Heavy hitter added to the mix: Mike Davis of 26brix

Posted by Nancy Leson

As mentioned in my previous post about the moving and shaking going on at Kirkland's Carillon Point, Heavy Restaurant Group announced last week the ascension of former bin vivant wine director Dawn Smith, recently named wine manager for their trio of as-yet-unopened Bellevue restaurants.

Smith will be in good company when Heavy's Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, Barrio and Bliss open in the Bellevue Towers mid-summer: turns out chef Mike Davis, late of 26brix in Walla Walla, will be overseeing the action in those kitchens.



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April 2, 2009 7:28 PM

Yarrow Bay Grill to close, "bin" moves in, Beach Cafe remains

Posted by Nancy Leson

There's been a lot going on at Kirkland's Carillon Point, where a game of restaurant musical chairs, well underway over the last several months, has reached critical mass. After nearly 20 years in business, the Yarrow Bay Grill closes April 30 to make room for a new tenant: bin on the lake (their lowercase, not mine). If that name sounds familiar, it's because we're talking about bin vivant -- the wine-centric restaurant that made its debut in Carillon Point's Woodmark Hotel only eight months ago.



Seattle Times photo/Ken Lambert

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April 1, 2009 4:45 PM

Food & Wine's 2009 Best New Chef: Mark Fuller of Spring Hill

Posted by Nancy Leson

"So far, so good," said Mark Fuller late last summer, when I asked how things were going at his new West Seattle restaurant and bar, Spring Hill. And things were going pretty great last last week when the Star Chef took a break from feeding his signature wood-grilled spot prawns with creamy grits to a crowd during Seattle's "Rising Star Chefs Revue" at McCaw Hall. But today Fuller's in NYC -- where he was anointed one of Food & Wine Magazine's 2009 Best New Chefs in America -- an honor that will win him a trip to the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and cover-boy status in July.

"It's just been amazing," said Fuller, speaking by phone today while standing in the cold outside Mary's Fish Camp, where he'd just eaten a razor clam roll, before attending the 21st annual awards gala at City Winery. "It hasn't quite hit me yet," he said -- despite the fact that he's known about the honor for a month.

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March 26, 2009 8:28 PM

"Chef Search": the Hunt Club Edition (and my dream team)

Posted by Nancy Leson

The bugles sounded the call this week: the landmark Sorrento Hotel is hunting for a new executive chef. And move over Craigslist! -- hotel management is seizing the opportunity to turn the search into competitive sport. The baby heirloom-carrot on the end of the stick? Top toque-status at the Hunt Club, the 52-seat restaurant and bar adjacent the elegant boutique hotel's inviting Fireside Room. So, who calls the winner? Management -- along with a panel of "culinary luminaries" (I was invited to partake), plus diners attending benefit dinners showcasing the work of the chef-finalists.

"I'll judge that contest!" said former Hunt Club chef-exec Brian Scheehser, who stopped by for a chat yesterday while I was dining at Kirkland restaurant, Trellis, in the Heathman Hotel. Now we're talking: There's a chef-search panelist I'd like to sit next to!

I explained to Scheehser that the Hunt Club's contest is open to any chef with previous experience managing a full-service restaurant (find all the details here). They're looking for a chef who has "a philosophy that success in the kitchen is driven by education and creativity" -- to quote the press-release. After 13 years at the Hunt Club, what do you wanna bet Scheehser could pick a solid winner. These days he's hitting it out of the park at the Heathman, overseeing a menu starring organic produce, much of it grown in his 5-acre kitchen garden:



Brian Scheehser's field of dreams


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March 24, 2009 7:00 AM

Snoose Junction Part Dieu now open in Greenwood

Posted by Nancy Leson

Ballard's Snoose Junction now has a Greenwood sibling: Snoose Junction Part Dieu. The new pizzeria and lounge got a rousing thumbs-up from Eater Nancy Bryant, who wrote cautioning, "Please don't review it until I've had time to take some friends there!" (Don't worry, Nance: this isn't a review, it's an intro, and an impromptu one at that.) You see, the other day I was driving past the familiar junction where Greenwood Avenue meets Holman Road when an Un Pho Gettable sign caught my eye:


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March 23, 2009 12:31 PM

James Beard Award Finalists 2009: the Northwest version

Posted by Nancy Leson

The James Beard Foundation announced finalists for the 2009 James Beard Awards today. Nominees and winners will rub elbows with food fanatics from across the nation at the annual awards ceremony and gala in NYC May 4 when the food and beverage industry's version of the Oscars will take place at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. And now, for the local-finalists lineup:

Among the list of "Big Names" for Outstanding Restaurateur:



Our man Tom Douglas. His competition includes nationally renown restaurateur/entrepreneurs Keith McNally, Richard Melman, Drew Nieporent and Stephen Starr

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March 20, 2009 11:41 AM

Cafe Flora: the more things change, the more they stay the same

Posted by Nancy Leson

As a journalism student at the UW, my graduation requirements included a class where students were required to publish stories in the local press. Way back then, before those of us with writerly aspirations had a blog (and next thing you know a book contract), those "clips" were journalistic currency: a bridge to a career as a wordsmith.

I still remember being scolded by my instructor, "If you don't learn to write faster and do an internship in Olympia, you're going to have a hard time finding work at a newspaper!" (Headline from shortly after graduation when I got my first paid gig at Seattle Weekly: "Neener, neener, neener!") You see, I never wanted to write about politics -- though I sure wish I'd learned to write faster. My passion was food, and I recall the thrill of seeing the first restaurant story that bore my byline -- a profile of an innovative new vegetarian restaurant:


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March 18, 2009 10:43 AM

Jose Andres: From coast to coast, his name is on their lips

Posted by Nancy Leson

Last month L.A. Times restaurant critic Sherry Virbila gave his Beverly Hills hotter-than-hotspot "a rare four-star restaurant review," insisting, "Los Angeles has never seen anything remotely like this exciting restaurant from Spanish chef Jose Andres." Days later the Wall Street Journal profiled his rise to prominence as "the face of Spanish food in America." And today the New York Times kicked-off a series that has critic Frank Bruni hitting the road for a national tour of significant new restaurants. Dateline: Los Angeles. Subject: Jose Andres. But last night, the four-star face of Spanish food in America was doing what everyone does when they come to Seattle: eating Dungeness crab.



Jose, hoisting a crab leg with his wife, Patricia, at Flying Fish


Perhaps you've been to one of his eight restaurants or charmed by his PBS persona on "Made in Spain." And, who knows? Maybe you were sitting behind the chef on the Metro bus yesterday morning as he and wife, Patricia, headed to West Seattle's Bakery Nouveau for breakfast. "I just wanted a cup of coffee and a pastry, but he wants this, and this and this," Patricia says, using her finger to make a visual point.

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March 16, 2009 4:45 PM

Kiss me, I'm . . . open in Bellevue, Paddy Coyne's Irish Pub

Posted by Nancy Leson

Irish eyes weren't smiling on my household this morning. Instead, my husband Mac -- named for the "Mc" in his last name -- uttered a few choice expletives regarding the state of his hard-drive (dead), our Internet service (ditto) and his temper (Irish). But now that the evening's nigh and we've got all the above under control, I'm preparing to kiss my angry boy-o and plan to make one one his favorite dinners for the morrow:


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March 10, 2009 11:06 AM

Collins Pub owner goes Public: next stop, Hudson Public House

Posted by Nancy Leson

Seth Howard's Collins Pub remains a beacon of light in Pioneer Square. And as his stepfather Dany Mitchell prepares to close his own Pioneer Square restaurant -- 32-year-old Trattoria Mitchelli -- he's opening a second pub in Maple Leaf. "I'm dumb enough to grow in a recession," says Howard, who leased the former Anita's Bistro off the busy intersection of 15th Ave N.E. and Lake City Way in late December:



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March 9, 2009 1:10 PM

Trattoria Mitchelli to close: Dany Mitchell says "Ciao" to Pioneer Square

Posted by Nancy Leson

"Papa" Dany Mitchelli (ne Mitchell), the name and the face behind 32-year-old Mitchelli's (ne Trattoria Mitchelli, has had enough. Business in Pioneer Square, long on the skids, is down in the dumps. His restaurant, long on the market, isn't selling. So he's prepared to give up and get out.



Photo by Barry Wong [Seattle Times, 2001]

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March 5, 2009 10:29 AM

A boyyyyy went back to Napoli -- and so can you, with Gaspare

Posted by Nancy Leson

OK, so he hails from Ischia -- a ferry ride away from old Napoli -- yet Gaspare Trani, along with his wife (hostess and vocalist extraordinaire) Dianne, are throwing a party at their Phinney Ridge ristorante, Gaspare, to celebrate the chef's 18 years slinging 'pisketti in Seattle, among other Southern Italian-accented eats.

That party gets rolling at 5 p.m. March 25th and the three-course menu (a bargain $22, tax, tip and beverages excluded) offers a choice of minestrone zuppa or insalata with gorgonzola (with Gaspare's excellent foccacia); eggplant parm or Naples-style spaghetti and meatballs (made with pine nuts), plus dessert (sfogliatelle). But wait, there's more!

They'll be live music, too, courtesy of accordionist Murl Allen Sanders -- with Mrs. Trani sittin' in! Make reservations, which are going fast, by calling 206-297-3600. And whatsamatta you? What do you mean you don't like accordion music? Well then, you've obviously never heard Murl:


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March 4, 2009 12:16 PM

It's midnight. Do you know where the fooderati are? Hint: Anchovies. Olives.

Posted by Nancy Leson

Anchovies & Olives, Ethan Stowell's new Italian seafood restaurant finally opened last week at 15th and Pine, so I stopped by late last night to see what was cooking. For a Tuesday they were doin' a business, and I was lucky to cadge the last seat at the bar, where this vision in curls, Sidonie Rodman -- late of Portland, Maine and even later of Nova Scotia -- was pouring on the charm, pouring out the cocktails and lending her expertise by helping the undecided decide among more than a dozen Italian wines by-the-glass ($8-$11):

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March 3, 2009 9:30 AM

No Wei! It's a small world after all -- at Chef Wow

Posted by Nancy Leson

I love my Eaters -- All You Can Eat blog-readers. Yes: I'm talking about you -- the food-savvy folks who do your best to make sure I don't miss a trick, whether it's a restaurant closure or changeover, a YouTube video I shouldn't miss (I'm still dying of laughter over this one) or a don't-miss-it Eater Feeder recommendation -- like the one I just got from Wes Neuenschwander.

Wes read my recent post about Everett's Chef Wow and felt obliged to offer what he called "a little background" -- or, to be more precise, a little more background (I'd already read the bio on the take-out menu procured by Skip Nelson, my Chinese-food-lovin' mailman -- who was onto the place immediately after it opened last month). Wes writes:

Chef Wow is the first restaurant owned and operated by Wei (Charlie) Chen, formerly the frontman for the original Szechuan Beanflower -- back when Chef Huang ran the kitchen and established its reputation as a go-to place for genuine Sichuan. Charlie moved with Huang to Szechuan 99 a couple of years back but was always looking for a place of his own. Chef Huang is still at Szechuan 99, but the place doesn't seem the same without Charlie there to greet and guide the diners (I pretty much always just let Charlie surprise me with something -- either on the menu or a true special). Tonight will be our first time at Chef Wow since it opened a couple of weeks ago. He's promised me some special dishes. Will let you know how it goes.


Wait a minute! -- I wrote back. "Charlie" Chen? From Szechuan 99? You mean this guy? The waiter who always seems impressed when we order "the good stuff"? The one I gave a shout-out to right here on the blog when I wrote about favorite waiters?


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March 2, 2009 3:47 PM

Moxie sold: gets new "Signature"

Posted by Nancy Leson

Moxie, the lower Queen Anne bistro and bar, has been sold and will be reopen later this week as a Vietnamese restaurant. If that's news to you, you're not alone. Last week, Moxie newsletter subscribers received a letter from co-owners Lauri Carter and Peter Morrison, describing a change in ownership and concept, and inviting friends and fans to stop in over the weekend to meet the new owner and enjoy a champagne toast:



Lauri Carter and Peter Morrison (courtesy of Moxie)


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February 26, 2009 1:23 PM

Kaiten: and the sushi goes round and round -- here, there, everywhere

Posted by Nancy Leson

Remember when kaiten sushi was new and exciting? Well these days, plucking sushi from a conveyor belt is booming business. By now, you're likely familiar with companies like Japan-base Marinepolis Sushi Land and locally owned Blue C Sushi. Those two outfits are turning into the sushi-centric equivalent of Than Brothers pho houses and Toshi's Teriyaki. Which is to say if you don't already have one in your neighborhood, don't blink, there's one coming soon:



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February 19, 2009 4:47 PM

Artemis to close Saturday and re-jigger

Posted by Nancy Leson

When a friend called just before noon today with the news that the well-received young Capitol Hill restaurant, Artemis was planning a transformation, I figured I'd make a few phone calls to see what was what. But first I went out to lunch. My source let fly that owners (and former Microsofties) Oscar Velasco-Schmitz and Boris Gorodnitsky were seeking to bring down their payroll substantially, had given layoff notice to staffers and were preparing to re-jigger their bistro as a bar-centric hangout. And whaddaya know? This missive just in, courtesy of Velasco-Schmitz and Gorodnitsky (thanks fellas! you make my job easy!). Here's their story, straight from the horse's mouth:

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February 19, 2009 1:15 PM

Lunch? Thought you'd never ask!

Posted by Nancy Leson

Today I'm taking my boss out to lunch. After reading my French onion soup roundup, he sent an email noting he'd never been to Cafe Presse and asked "Take me?" What could I say? He's the boss. Yet as much as I love Cafe Presse, and my boss (suck up!), I'd rather have lunch at Saito's. Why?

Because Flying Fish recently stopped serving the mid-day meal. Because Yutaka Saito is one of my favorite sushi chefs. Because (Hallelujah! and listen-up Lucy Mohl!) he's finally reopened by day after a long dry spell of dinners-only. And because my standing order at lunch -- and dinner -- always looks as knocked-out gorgeous as this:


"One good thing about it being a bad time for restaurants is that Yutaka's been able to get enough staff to open again for lunch," says his wife and chief motivator, Anita, who still harbors fantasies of opening an intimate little sushi bar somewhere other than Belltown. Saito's is serving lunch Tuesdays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. till 2 p.m. Save some uni for me, would you?

Saito's isn't the only restaurant on my must-go list to announce the advent of lunch service. Beginning March 1, Shea's Lounge (the sexy little adjunct to Chez Shea in Pike Place Market) will start serving lunch every day but Monday from 11:30 a.m. till 2 p.m. Smart move for that intimate dining space. With only seven tables and a teensy bar, the spillover from busy Matt's in the Market alone should warrant a full house.

Now tell me: which dinner-only restaurants would you love to see open for lunch?

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February 18, 2009 4:40 PM

Chef Wow's 'em in Everett

Posted by Nancy Leson

Like me, my mailman, Skip, loves Chinese food. Unlike me, he married into that cultural obsession -- as I've mentioned before . Today, when Skip delivered my daily ration of junk mail, along with a handwritten note from the Dale Turner Family YMCA (where I recently took a tour -- see: "Do these jeans make me look fat?" in my previous post), he brought along a menu from a new Chinese restaurant. Skip and I regularly discuss what's hot and what's not on the Chinese-food scene, and we did so again today:

Me: "Hey! I went to Chiang's Gourmet for takeout last week. Nate loved the orange beef, and I loved the buns they serve with their tea-smoked duck, and their pan-fried housemade Shanghai noodles. But man, when someone walks across the room in there, it feels like we're having an earthquake."

Skip: "We just went to a great new place in Everett, Chef Wow. The orange beef is excellent there, too. And so was the spicy fish stew. And my wife really loved the Sichuan ma la chicken. Check out that menu, and be sure to read the little blurb about how they're giving away food to poor people."

Then he took off in his U.S. Government-issue rig to deliver de-letter da sooner da-better -- leaving me to get back to my blog. Of course, now I can't get this out of my head:


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February 18, 2009 12:37 PM

Shigoku oysters. Hot stuff. Can't get enough

Posted by Nancy Leson

Don't look a gift box in the mouth. That's what some of the city's top chefs have been saying -- once they're lucky enough to get their hands on this:


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February 13, 2009 12:30 PM

2009 James Beard Award restaurant/chef semifinalists announced

Posted by Nancy Leson

The James Beard Foundation today announced a list of semifinalists for the 2009 James Beard Awards in 19 restaurant and chef categories: the first cut before the final five nominees get the public nod March 23. Winners will be feted at the annual awards ceremony May 4 in NYC and baring unforeseen catastrophe, I'll be there as I was last year screaming "Tom Douglas!" during the ceremony at Avery Fisher Hall (No, wait! That's Thierry Rautureau's job):

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February 11, 2009 6:15 AM

Elemental Next Door. It's the living E.N.D.

Posted by Nancy Leson

In my 2005 review of Elemental @ Gasworks, I introduced Times readers to wine-phreak Phred Westfall and his girlfriend Laurie Riedeman by insisting:

Don't go to Elemental@Gasworks. Unless you are smart enough to show up late at night, there won't be room for you. And don't bother calling, either, since they don't take reservations. So what's the point in telling you about it? Because I can't remember the last time I fell so hard for a restaurant. If you can call this offbeat, out-of-the-way haunt in a North Lake Union condo-complex a restaurant. Elemental -- which has no apparent signage and little street presence -- is more like a dynamic dinner party. One where you drink what's poured, the decor screams "Ikea!" and your hosts are a pair of thirtysomethings whose mission in life is slapping your tastebuds around while making you feel right at home.

Well, they're still at it with the slapping. Only now they've got a second venue adjacent to the original: a seductive little wine bar and private party space called Elemental Next Door (E.N.D. for short). I stopped in Saturday night for dinner, and afterward headed over to Elemental No. 1, where, when the clock struck midnight, I had the opportunity to wish Phabulous Phred (no longer a "thirtysomething") a happy 40th birthday. Laurie took a moment to shower her birthday boy with a little affection:



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February 10, 2009 7:15 AM

Mining my Eatership -- for pasty recommendations

Posted by Nancy Leson

Tom Mitchell, late of Butte, Montana, now at home here, misses the comfort food of his childhood: pasties. "Pasty was often eaten for lunch in the mines," he wrote in an email. This would explain the fact that one can still find pasty shops in his home state today, he said, pointing out the presence of Joe's Pasty Shop as a classic example of the genre. Then he described what he was jonesing for: "Pasty is meat, potatoes and onions wrapped completely in a pie crust. Sometimes they put peas and carrots in them. These may be topped with ketchup, butter, gravy or left plain. Is there anywhere in Seattle where you can get a good pasty?"

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February 6, 2009 7:57 AM

French onion soup: at home and abroad -- a February favorite

Posted by Nancy Leson

The popularity of French onion soup can't be denied. It's served everywhere, and today in Ticket I wrote about some of the many great places you (and I) might go for a cheese-laden bowlful:

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February 4, 2009 2:08 PM

Pork. Chop. Why I adore Seattle's food scene

Posted by Nancy Leson

If you're one of those fabulously food-focused foodies who's dying to know what's going on with the Swinery -- Gabe Claycamp's bacon-biz-gone awry -- I urge you to take a look at Rebekah Denn's P.I. blog, where today she dishes the details by doing the journalistic voodoo that she does so well (and where readers have been chiming in on the subject, providing some "interesting" commentary on the chef/owner of Culinary Communion).

This, mind you, is far from the first time Gabe's gotten the business from John Law, nor from interested blog-readers (see: comments on my April post "Gypsy -- Busted by Tramps and Thieves?"). It's downright exhausting trying to keep up with the gang at Culinary Communion. Don't believe me? Then ask Seattle Weekly's Jonathan Kauffman. So, rather than try, allow me to turn the subject over to chef Chet Gerl, seen here yesterday shouldering his responsibilities at Matt's in the Market:


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February 4, 2009 8:41 AM

Reuben-ask: She wants a "great" sandwich. Where to go?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Kathy Thorsen sounds like my kind of Eater. One who posed a question I'd like you to help answer: "I'm controlling kind-of-high blood pressure with low sodium, lots of exercise and `meditation,' and have decided my reward should be an occasional splurge on a great Reuben sandwich -- my choice over Chocolate Decadence any day. Do you have any recommendations?"

I'm with Kathy: I'll take a decadent, well-stacked Reuben over Chocolate Decadence any day of the week. And on any day of the week I can get my hands on a prize that looks exactly like this, made from a hunk of beef "corned" in Brooklyn and sliced before my eyes in Pike Place Market at I Love New York Deli, the kiosk next to Daily Dozen Donuts:


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February 3, 2009 11:45 AM

Love, everlasting -- might "buy" Valentine's dinner at Canlis' coveted Cache

Posted by Nancy Leson

I don't know about you, but every time I visit Canlis (where I had a fabulous birthday dinner last month), I find myself making a visit to the city's most elegant loo. And each time I'm in there powdering my nose, I can't help but recline on the fancy chaise lounge and make like Babs Streisand in "Funny Girl." You know: the part where she's playing Fanny Brice to Omar Sharif's natty Nicky Arnstein, and asks: "Isn't this the height of non-cha-lance: foin-ish-ing a bed in rest-au-rants!"



Well, the always generous Canlis family are foin-ishing some Valentine's Day fun for a special "golden couple" -- compliments of the house. Here's the deal:

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February 3, 2009 8:00 AM

Monsoon East: pho goodness sake!

Posted by Nancy Leson

Yes, the new Monsoon is gorgeous. But there's another reason to check out Monsoon East -- now doing business in the heart of Old Bellevue. This:



That's not your average bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup. Not by a long shot. The broth? Enriched with oxtail. The beef? Wagyu brisket and flank steak. A soup so richly flavored it didn't need even a droplet of hoisin or chili sauce, pretty though the little ramekin may be. At $9, it's only a few bucks more than you'd pay for a bowl of pho at your neighborhood joint. And though it's not served with complimentary cream puffs as an "appetizer" -- as at Than Brothers locations throughout the Sound, you can start with this:


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February 2, 2009 10:12 AM

35th Street Bistro: Yes, there's still life in Fremont

Posted by Nancy Leson

I know, I know: I've been holding out on those of you who've called and written, asking what's going on at 35th Street Bistro -- closed since January 12. The answer is it's been sold, and the deal finally closed on Friday when owner Bob Day handed over his bistro's keys to new owners, Michelle and Mason Citarello.

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January 30, 2009 7:34 AM

At least he'll die happy: Sushi dude gets his just desserts -- at Lunchbox Laboratory

Posted by Nancy Leson

I knew I shouldn't have done it. After turning Matthew Lankford on to Taka Sushi -- and treating him to lunch there -- I suggested the guy-who-ate-sushi-for-30-days-straight try Lunchbox Laboratory: my answer to his "Where's the best burger in town"-question. So, what do I find in my inbox this morning? This:



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January 28, 2009 12:03 AM

C'est cheese: NYC chef Terrance Brennan to bring Artisanal touch to The Bravern

Posted by Nancy Leson

When Wild Ginger and John Howie Steak make their grand debut at The Bravern later this year, those local names will be in exceedingly good company. And no, I'm not talking about Neiman Marcus and Jimmy Choo.

Chef Terrance Brennan -- who's made his mark in Manhattan with his elegant two-Michelin-star restaurant, Picholine, and its fabulous wine- and cheese-besotted sibling, Artisanal -- is expanding his Artisanal brand by bringing it to Bellevue. This will be Brennan's first restaurant venture outside NYC, though not, he said, his last.


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January 26, 2009 12:24 PM

Korean-taco truck? My dream come true! Too bad it's in L.A.

Posted by Nancy Leson

Thanks to my pal Doug Kim for turning me on to an idea whose time has most definitely come. As a fellow Korean-food fan (how can he help it? it's in his blood) Doug knew I'd get a kick out of this video news clip singing the praises of Kogi -- the Korean-taco truck that has all of L.A. a-Twitter.

Sure, here in Seattle we've got great Thai food in a truck, great bistro food in a truck (actually, an Airstream), Middle Eastern-eats in a truck, and lots of terrific Mexican-food trucks (and buses) parked all over Greater Seattle. But what I wouldn't give for a Korean-taco truck like Kogi! If we had one, I can imagine myself tracking it down in the dead of night like these Angelinos did earlier this month, before finding their delicious prey in a hipster 'hood east of Hollywood:



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January 22, 2009 12:42 PM

History in a railcar: My lunch at the old Andy's Diner

Posted by Nancy Leson

Back before Barack Obama took the oath of office, I made a few suggestions about where he might have a meal next time he's in Seattle. But after having lunch with Andy Yurkanin -- longtime owner of that iconic restaurant, Andy's Diner -- at the newly christened restaurant and lounge the Orient Express, I must insist the 44th president of these United States head straight to SODO. Why?

Because he can eat surprisingly good Chinese food and lift a martini (lord knows, he deserves one). But he'll also get a taste of Seattle history and have a chance to bask in the glory of a meal taken in his Depression-era predecessor's personal railcar. That Smithsonian worthy museum-piece, bought for $18,000 about 25 years ago, was the very car that Franklin D. Roosevelt used to make his way across the country, spreading hope and encouragement during a time of war and despair:




"Smithsonian worthy?" you ask? "That absurdly colored relic?" (Note: that's Orient Express, spelled backwards). Damn straight, my friends -- as Obama's former rival might have said. But I'm getting ahead of my story. Let's begin at the beginning:

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Food for Thought | Nancy Leson on KPLU

Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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