Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Joy of Octopus and Memories of Pudding at the Bastille

Bastille Cafe and Bar
5307 Ballard Avenue NW
phone: 206.453.5014

I didn't actually sassy anyone at Bastille. I almost did. The timing wasn't right. I didn't want a bite of the neighbor table's food.

I just didn't.  I was perfectly happy with my octopus.

Grilled octopus with argan oil marinated chickpeas, preserved lemon and harissa
Having sampled a mere three dishes at Bastille, I have no place giving an overall assessment of the food, but I can say unequivocally, the grilled octopus is incredible.  My little companion is more adventurous than most.  Here she is...examining and enjoying an octopus.

A Nod to Jewish and Muslim Foodways in Paris
Interestingly, and, in a rather ethnically inclusive gesture, this menu includes Parisian specialties that are not necessarily "French" in origin. Included are foods that have become native to Paris via Jewish and Muslim immigrant populations. For example, the Jewish section of the Marais in Paris is famous for its falafel and this is reflected in Bastille's tempting falafel with goat's milk yogurt (which I'd like to try on my next visit).

And we see a generous nod to Moroccan cuisine in the dish I am still dreaming about, the grilled octopus. Argan oil is produced in small batches, as far as I know, only in the southwest of Morocco. Of course, chickpeas, preserved lemon and harissa are ubiquitous in Moroccan cuisine.

Argan Oil Goats
I have personally seen the goats climbing argan trees just outside of Tafroute, Morocco. I never would have believed that goats climb trees unless I had seen it with my own eyes. Kitty Morse has a nice article in Saudi Aramco World that includes photos of argan trees and the goats that climb them, here. Traditional argan nut collection methods are rather shocking: precious nuts are collected from the goat-expelled waste on the ground (yes!). But apparently, such traditional methods have since been replaced by direct-from-tree picking rather than from the goat waste. A bit of a relief for those of you who want to RUN to Bastille for a bite of the amazing grilled octopus.

The Atmosphere at Bastille
Yes, as so many reviews say, Bastille is cacophonous, but it is also bustling. It's alive! The owners envisioned a neighborhood hang-out, Parisian style, and have succeeded. Adorning this beautiful space are fixtures and  objets d'arte gathered locally and from France. The bar was packed. The tables in the dining section were almost all occupied on a brisk autumn Wednesday evening.  Indeed, this was a neighborhood nexus of activity.

The non-Sassy
I did strike up a lovely discussion the neighboring table.  We discussed my food. We discussed their food. They took our pictures with my camera. We also discussed non-food related topics, such as public and private education in Seattle, and we even found friends we had in common.

The mother's silver sequins tank top hung seductively off her shoulders as she fingering her pink phone. I couldn't tell of those were false eyelashes or just really effective mascara. The father was wearing a nice suit, and looked neat, lithe and smart. They ordered a sweet bread stew and a flat iron steak with marrow butter. Reports all good. I just didn't feel like sampling their food.

Duck and Greens
We also tried the Duck leg confit with French lentils, bacon and Jerez sherry vinegar. It was rich and hearty. The sauteed greens with garlic (kale, chard, and mustard greens) was intensely lemony. It was good but overpowering. I prefer a taste bitter along side sour, in my greens.

My little companion wanted to try a dessert. We ordered a house-made ice cream and the special of the day: chocolate cognac trifle (chocolate cognac cake layered between whipped cream in a glass).

Both were pretty wonderful, but the trifle brought back a flood of childhood memories. I hate to admit it (and I mean no disrespect to the trifle or its creator), but its flavor was reminiscent of a jello chocolate pudding and whipped cream trifle that my mom used to make back in the 1970's. She layered whipped cream and chocolate jello pudding in tall wine glasses, then stocked them in the fridge.  I used to savor every little bite while watching cartoons. The Bastille trifle threw me right back to age four. 

Instant Jello Pudding Trifle
I couldn't stop thinking of this sensory bliss, so I had to make some jello pudding trifle at home.

First I whipped the whipping cream and added a little vanilla and sugar.

I wasn't sure if I should use the super instant Jell-O pudding (just add cold milk), or the Cook & Serve Jell-O (just boil a little with milk) variety, so I tried both.

The instant Jell-O flavor was what I remembered. It was much more chocolate-y. Both are a little too sweet, and not nearly as rich and delicious as Bastille's rendition.

I ditched the Cook & Serve version (I burned the bottom anyway) and layered the cold instant pudding alternately with the whipped cream. I used glass drinking glasses because I have only two pretty wine glasses and one of them was in use.

Be forewarned, the chocolate pudding contains red dye. After a day in the fridge, the whipped cream was tinged red.  But it all tasted wonderful, nonetheless.  Now, go to Bastille and have some octopus and trifle.

Bastille Café & Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sassy Polish Gnocchi and Sri Lankan Martinis

Last night I sassied Carolina!  This, on the fork above, is her last gnocchi. She wouldn't take no for an answer. She was more generous with her food and drink than any other stranger I have sassied. She offered to share everything with me - her wine, her very very last gnocchi, and even her chair.

 Carolina and her husband invited me to join them at Polish house that weekend for drinks and sausage. I never made it to Polish House, but I hope to run into these two on another occasion. Maybe at Art again!?

Later that evening, at Long (same ownership as Seattle's iconic Tamarind Tree),  A Sri Lankan gentleman with dyed pink hair and his partner offered me pork in coconut milk, bites of banana dessert and sips of a Manhattan cocktail. We chatted about restaurants, photography, iPhone apps, the Droid, and of course, food.

The waitress looked a little like younger and healthier Lara Flynn Boyle. She was very patient and accommodating as we swapped food with our neighbors. I gave her my card (below). It looks as if she isn't sure whether to tear it up and give it back to me, or keep politely considering it....

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Egg Whites in My Cocktails

In the past few weeks I've sampled cocktails at three trendy and rather lovely Seattle lounges: ART at the Four Seasons, Vessel and Tavern Law. Each offers an interesting assortment of cocktails (some classic recipes and others "signature," innovative concoctions).  Call me a cocktail newbie, but the frothy egg whites gave me a huge thrill. Here's what I discovered (with a few minor sassy's along the way too).

 ART (At the Four Seasons)

99 Union St, Seattle 206-749-7000
ART (Four Seasons) on Urbanspoon

I discovered the Pisco Sour at ART, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.  You can see the bitters being very precisely inserted and swirled atop egg whites by the expert mixologist. I was in good hands.

The classic recipe for a pisco sour consists of pisco (a brandy produced in Chile and Peru from distilled muscat grapes) lime juice, simple syrup, egg white and bitters. I ask a ridiculous number of questions, but the mixologist (I'm having a hard time knowing whether to say bartender or mixologist...this venue and type of cocktail seems to call for a mixologist) at ART graciously took the time to explain everything he was doing as he was preparing the cocktails.

Here I am enjoying the snacks as I contemplated the next round being mixologized. 
ART has nice snacks.  Nice presentation of snacks too. Very important.
There was an opportunity to sassy the mini burgers from the two men next to me at the bar, but I opted out. I did chat with them about the food, and in their opinion the mini-burger trio was pretty good. Here we have a nice view of the last half eaten mini-burger.  As you can see, I am not an indiscriminate sassy-er. Many people have questioned me about I'm showing my process here.  Had I begun my interaction with this gentleman when the trio of burgers first arrived, I might have considered asking to try one. It is nearly impossible for me to consider sampling a fully picked-over dish, however. And yes, I always test the waters first, and assess the situation before diving in.

I did try some food off of the regular menu (rather than the bar menu or anyone's plate). The gnocchi with truffles, Parmesan and Italian parsley was absolutely lovely. I enjoy classic potato gnocchi (much nicer in texture than the semolina version). This was a luxurious, rich, almost smoky, smooth and decadent dish.

The veal schnitzel with white anchovies, capers, and duck egg was nice too - especially the anchovy-caper tapenade, for a little Mediterranean flair. After doing a little schnitzel research at home, it looks like Scandinavian countries traditionally serve their veal schnitzel with anchovies and capers.  I also discovered what is known as the Holstein Schnitzel, which is served as above, with a fried egg, anchovies and capers. You can find the Emeril Legasse recipe here if you're inspired.  I may not have been hungry enough, or maybe I just can't seem to enjoy breaded food as much as I once did, but this dish didn't do a whole lot for me. Interestingly, I couldn't detect a difference between the duck egg and standard fried free range chicken eggs. Perhaps my palate is not well trained in the various egg categories yet.

So, then, back to the egg whites in my cocktails...

1312 5th Ave, Seattle, WA 98101 (206) 652-0521
Vessel on Urbanspoon

Vessel is an urban, sophisticated bar. Patrons looked like professionals and for the most part, it was a thirty to early fifty something crowd. It isn't a warm fuzzy overstuffed couch kind of place, but rather a glass and iron, cool, dim, and trendy kind of place. In celebration of their third birthday, Vessel invited a line up of local celebrity mixologists who designed a special cocktail menu.

The Agricole Sour (below) was featured on this special menu. Instead of being distilled from molasses, agricole rhum is distilled from fresh sugar cane juice. This recipe consisted of Neisson Agricole Blanc, dark falernum, egg white, lemon juce, lime juice, and bitters.

What is falernum? It's a rum, clove, ginger, nutmeg, all spice, and lime concoction. The cocktail was suprisingly dark and complex in flavor and not at all sweet. The frothy egg whites balanced and brightened this cocktail. Yum. 

At Vessel, the cocktail menu is sometimes perplexing, but always interesting. I had to ask the server (who was extraordinarily patient and willing to explain every detail of every drink to me) all about falernum and agricole.

Since we are focusing now on the egg white category, I'm also going to point out the Marmalade Sour - currently on the regular Vessel cocktail menu, and also made with egg whites. You can check out images and the recipe on superstar mixologist, Jamie Boudreau's Spirits and Cocktails blog here.

The food menu at Vessel is limited to just a few tapas-sized items such as butternut squash tartlets, tuna tartar, and chorizo sausage with mustard. Here is an after-I-sassied-the-truffle-potato-chips-picture of the neighboring table.  The chips were very greasy and strong on the truffle oil. This was a tough sassy. The ladies were OK about letting me try their chips (and even would have let me sample their drinks, I think) but they were not so eager to chat.  I also noticed that they only ate about two chips in the hour I was sitting there. Most of the drinks (I didn't try) at Vessel look amazing. The snow cone in the foreground above is very elegant mint julep. The ladies at the truffle chip table next to us let me borrow it for a moment so I could take this picture.

Well, I hung out at the bar a little (the atmosphere was festive because of all the guest mixologists working in honor of the birthday hoopla) and I asked around about other dishes and did a little opinion survey on the potato chips.  An attractive woman at the bar, with a black leather jacket and a brand new very dark red manicure (see above) suggested that the potato chips that particular evening were unusually oily, but they were normally much tastier. I trust her. Fair enough.

On to the next egg white cocktails at....

Tavern Law
1406 12th Ave
Seattle (206) 322-9734
Tavern Law on Urbanspoon

Tavern Law is a bit gimmicky with its "secret" upstairs - a second hidden bar inspired by the prohibition era speakeasy. Luckily, the drink and food menu compensate for the borderline cheesy theme. The cocktail menu is made up of a litany of classic period drinks from classic restaurants and bars. The revival of the speakeasy aesthetic and mood is a current trend in urban bars (from martinis served in tea cups or ceramic mugs, secret doors and sign-less entrances, to "old" wood and brick interiors). The New York Times even mentions Tavern Law in its recent piece on prohibition drinking and the recent re-birth of the faux speakeasy. In anycase Tavern Law is interesting and offers some unusual cocktails and a knowledgeable and committed staff.

Below is Vessel's rendition of the Clover Club cocktail, first served at the famed New York Waldorf Astoria hotel in 1935. The Clover Club consists of gin, lemon, raspberry syrup and egg whites.

Other pretty cocktails at Vessel and an example of the hand-written food menu (bottom left hand corner):

The cocktail menu is printed, but the food menu changes often and is written only on a blackboard or on a slip of paper by hand.

The service here goes above and beyond. It is outstanding. My uber picky self was bothered by the little shards of ice floating about in my Clover Club cocktail. They were destoying the smooth egg whites and distracting me from the flavor of my drink. But, before I could get too worked up about it, the bartender (this title seems more appropriate at a speakeasy) passed by and asked if everything was OK, and I mentioned that I wasn't enjoying the drink and why, and he immediately brought his straining equipment to the table and took care of business, straining each drink with great care. Then he sat and explained all about egg whites and drinks and the menu and and and...! For the next round,  I asked for a pisco sour (since I was still dreaming of ART), and this lovely man enthusiastically brought me the house Pisco brandy at Tavern Law.

And here is the lovely bartender/mixologist (what did they call bartenders at a speakeasy?), posing with the chalk board menu behind him.  That truffle risotto is pretty good. The beet salad with candied cashews was amazing and much more interesting that the far too common beet salad with goat cheese on every menu these days. The foie gras with angostura jelly was nice too.
I look forward to returning to sample more cocktails at Tavern Law, ART and Vessel...and I especially look forward to another stunning Pisco Sour at ART.