August 26, 2007

In search of small farms in Yakima Valley

While things were chaotic at work, L and our good friend MH took an excursion out to Yakima Valley, where the most of the state's vineyards and family-run farms are located. Here are some of the sights and flavors from their trip (a little reminder of the kinds of things you miss out on when you're working too much):

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August 25, 2007

I dig Portland

One of the striking things about visiting other cities can be when you find a common connection that makes a place feel like home. I'm not talking about the homogenization of American culture, with Walmarts, Chilis, and Cheesecake Factories on every corner. Rather, every so often you visit a place where the collective ethos of the place, while not identical, will share a deep kinship with the communitiy you are used to back at home. Seattle has been that way in many respects for me -- with an awareness of things like food, wine, and the environment -- making the transition from the Bay Area a bit easier.

Portland is another one of those places where I feel at home, even though I know very little fundamentally about it (other than the surprising amount of traffic that can collect at its prime transportation corridors). In a couple of recent visits, we've taken time to hang out at Powell's, enjoyed some pretty delicious moules frites at Everett Street Bistro, and had disturbingly inexpensive but pleasantly delectible sushi and fantastic udon (though the broth was way too salty) at Sushi Land.

On my most recent trip to Portland for work, I wanted to try one of the Pearl District's well-regarded spots, Park Kitchen. PK has been around since 2005, opening at a time when its garage-door entry and cozy copper bar were as much of a statement as the cuisine coming out of the kitchen. For an outsider like me, PK seems to exist as Pearl District anchor, elevating the importance of ingredients and seasonality in a neighborhood still dealing with that delicate, often conflicted balance of innovative/progressive redevelopment and gentrification.

PK is like a a melange of some of my favorite places in the Bay Area. Not having time for a full dinner, I opted for a "snack" of beet and watermelon salad with shaved redmondo, fried green beans and bacon (!) with tarragon aioli, and a fantastic Citadelle martini, straight up. The green beans evoked memories of Bizou (although not as refined or crispy... but man, fried bacon?? they don't mess around in the Northwest), the martini and bar reminded me of Absinthe, and the seasonal salad was very Cesar-esque. Plus Larry (a gent growing corn in his back yard) and Gretchen (a fellow transplant to the Northwest from California) provided ample friendly chatting for this lone traveller until it was time to catch my train back to Seattle.

Simple and satisfying, PK is definitely the kind of place that makes you settle in to a city... and quite comfortably at that. I'll be back again to see how Larry's corn is doing.

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August 19, 2007

Six months in Seattle... already???

I can't believe it. It has already been six months since I packed a suitcase and got on an airplane flight to Seattle--alone--to continue my career, moving from a small law firm to a giant multinational corporation.

So many things about Seattle have been familiar (attitudes in politics, food, the environment... and former East Bay Express food writer Jonathan Kaufman, now with the Seattle Weekly--how awesome is that?), while others have been very different (where are all the minorities? man it rains a lot here...). Likewise, the new job has been a contrast of successes (absolutely fantastic colleagues and a continued deepening of my practice) and challenges (just emerging from an unexpected 6 weeks of crazy workload). We miss our friends and family, and are still in the midst of making new connections and community.

In these past six months, I've also learned and experienced some significant things from a gastronomic perspective, and I thought I'd share them (with whatever readers I still have after a 10-week hiatus since my last post (sorry about that... seriously, work was CRAZY):

1. The coffee here really is better. I've never had so much amazing coffee in my life. On the first floor of our building is Espresso Vivace, whose staff makes espresso drinks with such intense care and artisanal craftsmanship that I'm forever ruined for any coffee drinks back in the Bay Area.

2. The local salmon is also amazing. There is a significantly higher level of awareness of the different salmon varieties, seasonality and sustainability.

3. I had the best torta al pastor of my life in La Jolla, CA about 2 months ago at a nondescript taco shack in the middle of a random strip mall. Ethereally tender al pastor meat, dense with flavor and pork drippings, piled with fresh lettuce, salsa and avocado, and served on a grilled, pillowy-soft bun that soaked up the juices perfectly. All on a styrofoam plate and a red cafeteria tray, to boot. Just another reason to visit Connie and Paul.

4. My absolute meal at a restarant in Seattle was at Sitka & Spruce, where Chef Matt is articulating the best attributes of his ingredients through simple but sophisticated dishes in a way that reminds me of the pinnacle of Bay Area cuisine -- all out of a small space that is a perfect little neighborhood restaurant. I don't think I can call it my favorite restaurant though... it's just too difficult to get in on a whim, because everyone else knows how good it is too.

5. My wife, by far, is the superior salad maker. She is a magician with avocado and sweet corn.

6. While people may still debate whether the Spotted Pig deserved a Michelin star, their burger is a truly magnificent manifestation of juicy, grilled beefy goodness (though entirely overwhelming to the accompanying shoestring fries).

7. While we're on the topic, I haven't eaten so many burgers (and fries) on such a regular basis since J and I were on our quest to find the best burger in the Bay Area. Ironically, since moving to Seattle, I'm also in the best shape of my life. Note: Burgers and fitness should not be construed as related in any way.

8. Picco Pizzeria still holds its place in my heart as the best straight-up neapolitan-style brick oven pizza I've had, but Seattle has a surprizing number of D.O.C. licensed pizzerias (Via Tribunali, Tutta Bella) and the coolest pizza concept ever: the portable 1000 degree brick oven from Veraci Pizza, a roving operation that travels to different outdoor venues around Seattle. We like to catch them on Sundays when they're at the new Olympic Sculpture Park. A friendly family operation making really fantastic pizza.

9. I'm surprised at the number of excellent-to-outstanding french bistros in Seattle. We've got the simple goodness of Le Pichet and Voila, the uber-bistro-esque Cafe Campagne, the intensely decadent Cremant, and the impressive newcomer Cafe Presse, just to name a few. And I think I prefer most of them--just ever so slightly--over my favorites in the Bay Area.

10. With Berkeley Bowl 800 miles away, Uwajimaya serves as a more than suitable surrogate, particularly for the impeccably fresh and pristine fish selection. And Samurai Noodle, in the same building, is soul-satisfyingly good for its toothsome texture, densely rich broth, and utilitarian setting.

Let's hope the blogging frequency gets back to some level of consistency! This really does serve as a good indicator of work-life balance...