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Another round of sparkling Parent Teacher conferences regarding my three angels dragged my ass from Seattle to Bellevue. It’s not a trip I like to make… ever. But near the school a small steamy joint with a sign that said “Dumpling House” got my attention. I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs when it comes to dumplings. We gave it a shot. Two dudes in there when we arrived. One running the show who spoke no English, and one guy stuffing meat into dough (not a euphemism). He spoke even less English than the first guy. We got there just in time before a swarm of folks arrived. We ordered the steamed dumplings and the pork dumplings. They’re all steamed despite the sign that advertises “fried dumplings”.
Holy crap. They were unbelievably delicious. Delicate, soft, steamy, the meat inside is a generous portion that’s perfectly balanced ratio-wise with the dough around it. The meat itself is flavorful but not over the top. It’s a clear savory note. These are no frills dumplings. Nothing to hide behind if they get it wrong. Just perfect texture, balance, and flavor served with little plastic cups of soy and vinegar for you to adjust based on your personal saucing preferences. I’m not a fan of heading out to Bellevue, but if you’ve got to go to the eastside, definitely move into Yang’s Dumpling House — you will NOT regret it.
Located in an industrial section of south Seattle, Elo’s Philly Grill is basically a hole-in-the-wall. A faux-woodgrained, worn-linoleum, hole-in-a-wall that is covered in positively awful art. I was taught to not judge a book by its cover. I also don’t judge by an angry owner who doesn’t want me to take pictures and won’t tell me her name. But here’s what matters to me… far from being a fan of the Philly cheesesteak which I’ve generally found to have a gritty texture, I am a fan of the Boston cheesesteak that I grew up with. Usually made in Italian pizza shops all over the Boston area, it’s a perfectly balanced steak and cheese sub, filled with freshness and flavor. I have search high and low in Seattle, and Elo’s Philly Grill is the only place that approximates what I miss from home. I can’t speak for ANY of the other food on the menu other than this: I order a Steak, Cheese and Mushroom sub with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and raw onions. Then before the proprietor wraps it in foil, i give it a good shake of salt and pepper. A little olive oil would be nice too to approximate home, but that’s not to be had at Elo’s. The sandwich needs to be eaten quickly. It only has a shelf life of 3-5 minutes, so I wouldn’t do take out. It’s balanced, it’s flavorful, it’s warm, it’s hearty, it’s a steak sandwich like they still make back in Brookline, Massachusetts where I grew up. And it’s delicious. (Feel free to get cooked onions, remove the mayo, add peppers if you must, but stay close to my formula for the best results.)
There are lots of places to explore that are driving distance from Seattle. Spokane has always enticed me with its turn of the century architecture and access to local agriculture. I’m head over heels in love with the Davenport hotel which is a wonderful example of the former; we decided to try Santé for dinner to experience the latter. Known for house cured charcuterie, the duck prosciutto plate and the bucket of warm bacon bits served with the spinach salad didn’t disappoint. Our parade of small plates made it clear that the kitchen had breadth as well as depth. Buttery mushroom gnocchi could have used slightly more pan frying for a little textural diversity but were extra buttery and flavorful. Often restaurants trying to make great food in smaller towns show their geographical insecurity by overreaching, as well as over architecting and over doing each dish. Santé is comfortable in its own skin. The dishes are creative but focused and well executed. I hope Spokane realizes how lucky it is to have Santé.
Thanks to a commenter on my first ever Minneapolis post for a recommendation for my second dinner while visiting. I’m at Dakota, Jazz Club and Restaurant. Unfortunately the live music is happening later tonight but the food is still a reason to come. They’re clearly proud of the food as equally important to the music as a reason to come. I think they’re right. Also… Lobster Rolls are on the menu. So yeah. The roll btw is the best lobster roll I’ve ever eaten. Evah. Buttery warm perfection. The bread and lobster were like a gradient of smooth warm flavors. On the side was the most intense lobster bisque I’ve ever tasted. It was EXTREME!!!
I’ll admit my expectations were low. I’m in the dead downtown area at night. I went to the front desk of my hotel and told them I was hungry. The lady asked me what I wanted to eat. I told her, “something not depressing.” She asked me if I wanted to stay in the hotel to eat, while she pointed at the ultra-depressing sports bar behind me. I looked at it and them turned back to her with a look on my face that said “you’re joking of course as we can both see that the place is sad with a capital K for Kevorkian.” She looked back at me as if I was insane. I promptly ignored her advice on the nearby places with good atmosphere and cabbed over to Solera.
I was worried as it looked a little overly concerned with decor and was situated across from the aptly named Rock Bottom Brewery chainbaremporium. But shockingly, the food is stand out delicious. Solid, creative, restrained. Scallops seared to perfection and the lentils with soft boiled egg are standouts. The Brussels sprouts were great too.
I am declaring the long drought over. It’s been 160 years since the Denny Party arrived and founded Seattle in 1851. And the Duwamish were here long before that. And just as 2011 dawned, Stephen Brown and Daniel Levin decided it was (finally) time to bring world class bagels to the Emerald City. They’ve positioned their new bagelry – Eltana – well (both literally and figuratively) for the self-conscious Seattle trendsters, but more on that in a bit. First let’s establish my own personal baseline for bagel quality. (Cue insecure Seattleites to point out what an asshole I am for having an opinion.)
- Seattle Bagels – A motley collection of bad impressions of New York bagels and chain puffery. Meh. I suspect they’re no better than what you can get in Indianapolis. (I’ve only been to Indianapolis once and I never plan on returning so that comparison will have to remain unproven.)
- New York Bagels – Overrated. Classic American confusion – large does http://global.rutgers.edu/docs/?phd=writing-work-essays-writers-guidelines writing work essays writers guidelines not equal good.
- Montreal Bagels – World class, small, almost pretzel-like. Chewy, darker, delicious. Densely flavorful. St. Viateur’s in Montreal is the standard bearer here.
- Toronto Bagels – World class, puffs of airy deliciousness. You can eat two before you even make it to the car from picking them up. Gryfe’s Bagels in Toronto is the standard bearer for this perfect creation. (I personally have a slight preference for Toronto bagels but I will not deny Montreal their due. They produce some kickass bagels as well. And I like that they’re in a different style. Diversity and all that…)
- Israeli Arab ‘Baygelah’ – These aren’t really bagels per se. They’re not boiled. But they are hoops (bigger than bagels) and every piece of surface area is covered in sesame seeds. The flavor is starkly fresh. And when mixed with Zatar spice medley it’s positively heavenly.
OK. Now that we’ve done our survey, Messr. Levin used to work (as an intern) at St. Viateur’s and brought his expertise to Eltana. Yay! He calls his bagels wood-fired and sells them out of his lovely establishment in Capitol Hill appealing to all the locals with a wall sized crossword puzzle that changes regularly. He can call the bagels eco-friendly, organic, hemp bagels for all I care. Whatever keeps Eltana in business with Seattle folk is fine with me, because these are the best bagels in Seattle. And, I suspect, they are the best bagels in the United States. I’d like to hear of challengers for this crown, but until I try something better I’m declaring default judgment in favor of Eltana.
The bagels themselves are small, almost pretzel-like. They’re made by hand and there are no blueberry or asiago versions. Just the basics – sesame, salt, poppy,
pumpernickel (bad blogging memory), wheat, and plain. (Levin tells me he’s working on Zaatar and Cinnamon Raisin as well.) The flavor is clean clean clean. I was reminded not just of St. Viateur’s bagels but of the Israeli baygelah when eating Eltana’s sesame bagel. And that’s a good thing. There’s a density and chewiness to these bagels that reminds you that you’re eating a food of substance.
A competing bagel maker in Seattle once told me he got his recipe from food consultants in Denver. Denver!!!! I’d set aside my snobbiness at their origin if the bagels were any good… which they were decidedly not. Characterless facsimiles of oversized, novelty New York bagels (cranberry anyone?). The only thing I want from food consultants in Denver is a recipe for chips and salsa that goes well with Coors beer and a Bronco’s loss.
Eltana’s creators’ Jewish/Israeli cultural influences show beyond their staple in their spreads and salads. Thankfully absent are the faux Jewish cultural icons of the Noah’s bagel chain. Instead of “shmear” you get Zhoug Egg Salad (Zhoug being an Israeli/Middle Eastern mix of chopped hot peppers), Crispy Chickpeas and Leeks, Tahini with Cauliflower, and of course the Shakshuka – a savory and satisfying tomato pepper and egg stew. (I was too early to sample it but I’ll be back.) Make no mistake about it… Eltana is really an upscale modern Israeli cafe. The bagels are the least Israeli thing on the menu. And all that delicious food is wrapped in a Seattle friendly, non-threatening package. The owners of Eltana may have a brilliant plan or be crazily winging it. Either way, they are bringing fantastic examples of the food of my people to the Pacific Northwest. Let’s hope the Pacific Northwest realizes how lucky they are to have it.
Let me make this short and sweet. I’m not an expert on the street food regulations in Seattle. They may be on the verge of changing. They may not. But here’s where things are at this very moment.
Portland, Oregon is filled with multiple clusters of street food vendors organized in little parks of vans, trucks, trailers, and shacks. Some of the street food is ok, but a non-trivial percentage of it is fantastic. It’s simple, it’s often cheap, it’s focused, and it adds a dimension of choice in eating across Portland that makes it somewhere you want to be. The best trucks are positively magnificent. And from what I’ve read (feel free to disagree in the comments if you’ve got data) the good restaurants in Portland are not going out of business.
On the other hand… Seattle has essentially none of this.
Seattle… you should be ashamed. Vancouver has incredible Asian food. Portland has food carts. And Seattle… has… well… Ivar’s. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Ivar’s.)
I would have hoped Seattle could do better. I still hope it can.
And you thought we were only about restaurants and food photography… TastingMenu just launched it’s first app! Kitchen Toolkit is several tools in one for the home cook. The app includes a kitchen timer (to remind you when your dish needs to come out of the oven), a unit converter (handy for various recipes with different measurement units than you have at home), and two meat charts detailing the cuts of beef and pork. Think of Kitchen Toolkit as the “Swiss army knife” for the home chef.
Kitchen Toolkit – A Cook’s Best Friend, is the first food and cooking related app from TastingMenu and your friends at Jackson Fish Market. It’s available today for Windows Phone 7 Series Devices at the Windows Phone Marketplace for only 99 cents.
Download Kitchen Toolkit (You must have the Zune client software installed on your Mac or PC for this link to work.)