Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Brisket Carbonnade

For dinner, I made Brisket a la Carbonnade from the Gourmet cookbook. It's very easy, and turned out great. You end up with a rich brown sauce that's slightly sweet from the onions and beer. Brown the brisket in olive oil on all sides for about 10min, in a large ovenproof pot with a cover. Cook 2lbs of thinly sliced onions in the fat left behind from the browning (I added a touch more oil) until translucent. Leave half the onions in the pot. Put the brisket on top of the onions, and spread the other half of the onions on top. Add a bottle of beer (not dark beer, I used Alaskan Amber because it was in the fridge), a bay leaf, and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. The recipe also calls for a cube of porcini or beef boullion, crushed. I didn't have any, so I soaked a dried morel in boiling water for a few minutes, and added the liquid to the pot. Bring all that to a boil, then cover it and put it in a 350 degree oven for 3 hours. Let it stand a bit (the cookbook recommends 1/2 hour, but we didn't wait that long) when you take it out. Slice crosswise and pour the oniony sauce in the bottom of the pot over the slices.

J'Aime les Crêpes and Sweet Batter

I first wrote about J'Aime les Crêpes one year ago. At that time, the owner, Paul, was planning to open a second branch in the building being completed at Bjune and Madison in Winslow (downtown Bainbridge Island, for my non-local readers). However, he and his wife had another baby, so they decided to slow down their expansion plans and concentrate on the one restaurant. Wonderful for them, but those of us on Bainbridge Island who enjoy their crêpes must continue to make the drive to Kingston.

In the meantime, as I mentioned recently, a crêpe café opened next to the drycleaners on High School Road on Bainbridge Island. I've now been a few times, and I still think the crêpes at J'Aime les Crêpes are better. David's crêpes are a little dry and heavy. Maybe cooks them too long, or doesn't have enough liquid in the batter, I don't know. Opinions on buckwheat crêpe (actually galette) batters differ: some people add oil, some butter, some just milk and water. They're not awful or anything, and I'll probably keep going because it's five minutes from my house. This week we drove out to Kingston, and confirmed that not only do we like Paul's crêpes a lot better, but David's prices about 50% higher.

We found out that Paul had read last year's post, including a comment answering a question where I noted that he only had one batter for both sweet and savory crepes, which spurred him to develop a different batter for sweet crêpes. Dessert crêpes are usually made either with a "regular" (white flour) crêpe batter, or with a dessert batter that has a bit of sugar added. Paul hadn't made a separate dessert batter previously because his restaurant's space is so tiny and he didn't think he had room, but figured it was the right thing to do, since the buckwheat tends to overwhelm sweet ingredients. I am pleased to report that his sweet crêpes are excellent as well.

The view from J'Aime les Crêpes out to the water is still lovely, due to the vacant lot where the Kingston Inn was until it burned down last year. There's a sign up advertising condos to be built on the lot. $1.2million for a 1900sf condo in Kingston? Yow!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mushroomy morning

There were lots of mushrooms out this morning.
These ones look like they're covered with honey.
These ones are growing out from a clump of ornamental grass.
I think this one got kicked over.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Solo and Carbonara

Debbie picked up Joyce Goldstein's cookbook, Solo, which contains recipes scaled for a single person. We had intended to give it to my mom as a present, but somehow never quite got it in the mail. (Sorry, Mom!) In the meantime, I tried Goldstein's recipe for Spaghetti Carbonara, since she claims to have talked to people all over Rome until she got it right. It is the best version I've made--just like what you get in Rome. It scales up to more than one person just fine. I was fortunate to have guanciale from Salumi on hand, which I sliced into bacon-thick slices, and then into 1/4" pieces. The guanciale is then cooked in what seems like a lot of butter and olive oil (like 1 or 2 tablespoons of each) until it's cooked but not crispy. The spaghetti is cooked and then dumped into a mixture of eggs, egg yolks, grated parmesan, and ground black pepper. I think I used 4 eggs and 1 yolk for about 12oz of pasta, and maybe 1/2 cup of cheese. The pasta is tossed quickly to cook the eggs a bit but not dry them out. Then add the guanciale and some of the cooking liquid, and toss until it's creamy and the guanciale is well distributed.

Madoka, Jose, and Lunch

Several people have asked me whether I've heard anything about Jose leaving Madoka. I didn't know anything about it until I showed up and he wasn't there. My sources only say "front-of-the-house drama," whatever that means. My other disappointment is that they stopped serving lunch, as it was my favorite lunch spot, and several other people I know have said the same thing.


I haven't blogged in a while--been a little busy. Here's a summary of a few places we've tried in the last few months:

Dahlia Lounge--Tom Douglas's "flagship" restaurant, 4th at Virginia in Seattle. Honestly I think Lola, Palace Kitchen and Etta's are better. I started with a rather strange appetizer: crispy sweetbreads (which were good) paired with very thin slices of guanciale on a bed of what was billed as "carbonara" but which was small pieces of spaghetti in a bland white sauce. For an entree I had pork loin, which consisted of thick slices of pork with a somewhat flavorful crust, on a bed of diced vegetables. It came with deep fried slices of pig ear, which were good. The pork was OK but not great. Coconut creme pie for dessert was good as usual. My dining companions' dinner was also variable. E.'s salmon was good, but the plate itself was so hot that after a couple of minutes on the table, the sauce had separated. R.'s "Peking" duck was tasty. Debbie had crab cakes as a main course, and those were very good. The waitress kept touching E.'s back, as she leaned in to tell us about the many big groups that were delaying our meal. Don't touch the customer! Most people find it intrusive from a stranger.

Union, which is at 1st and Union in Seattle, was a very good meal. We went several weeks ago, so I don't remember everything we had, but the melon soup with crab meat was fantastic. The room is tasteful in a modern style with large windows to the street, and the food is all elegant and well-prepared. I'll go back.

Kabul is an Afghan restaurant in Wallingford. I haven't had decent Afghan food since Kybher Pass in San Diego. We enjoyed it very much. Debbie had aushak, which was good, and I had a kebab special that was good as well. Parking is a bit of a pain because the neighborhood has resident-only permit parking. Next time I'd take the bus.

C'est La Vie Crepes de Paris: Opened last month next to the cleaners in the shopping center on High School Road in Bainbridge Island. Run by a tall, exuberant Parisian named David. The first time we went was right after it opened, it was mobbed, and it took 20 minutes to make our crepes. They were disappointing, a bit too thick and dry. I waited a couple of weeks and went back, and that time the crepes were much better. The batter has a very strong buckwheat flavor. I still like the J'Aime les Crepes in Kingston better, but hopefully over time David will improve his product. One disappointment is that it's only open through lunchtime. I guess David wants to have a life or something, but I want my crepe for dinner! My other complaint is that he uses too many prepackaged ingredients.

BOKA is a flashy, high-concept bar/restaurant in the new "1000" hotel on 1st in Seattle. Plexi panels behind the bar and booths with changing colored lights behind them, large plasma monitors playing videos of impressionist art, lots of steel grills, etc. The bar has fancy cocktails like a lemongrass lemondrop, etc. I had one, and it was fine except for too many ice chips, because the muscle-man behind the bar shakes the hell out of it, occasionally spraying the patrons at the bar. The food is hit or miss. The crab "cupcakes" with creme fraiche "frosting" are cute but cloyingly sweet. The chicken "lollipops" were good. We had a tuna sashimi salad sort of thing that was pretty good, but had this savory-sweet layering thing going on that was a bit odd. Veal cheek risotto was pleasant. I had a lamb dish that was served with couscous, harissa and basil oil. It was oddly flavorless. I think a real splooge of harissa would have done it a lot of good, as opposed to red- and green-colored oils sitting prettily on the plate. If you want a trendy bar that's a block from where the ferry walkway ends, it's a fun place, though the bartenders should really be a little better. Maybe we got the dud; I noticed the other bartender wasn't shaking his cocktails to death.