It's Summer and that means that it's time for the BBQ cravings to intensify. Believe it or not, when I lived in Texas I didn't obsess over BBQ. It was just there for the taking whenever I wanted it. In fact, I didn't really eat it all that often. But, moving away from home can do strange things to the palate. And, of course, we always want what we can't have.
Just before the long July 4th weekend, I texted my husband .....
Not one to be dissuaded from doing something because of appearing weird, I planned my strategy. I decided to try Jeff's Texas BBQ again. I've been there twice already, but they've been out of ribs (my fave) every time. Jeff's is the place that Food & Wine Magazine rated the best in Washington. I checked Yelp to see if Jeff's ratings were still holding up. Check. All good. That search led me to discover another highly rated place called J&L BBQ that's a few miles south of Jeff's. I decided that the best way to compare would be to order the exact same thing at both places: a small order of pork ribs and a side of baked beans.
On the 45 minute drive to Jeff's, I thought about what I look for in a good BBQ place. It all boils down to smoke. Lots of smoke. I want the smell to hit me before I even open the door to the place. And, if I've been inside for more than 15 minutes, that smoke smell should be clinging to my clothes when I leave. I want simple decor, a dry rub, some Shiner Bock and normal, ungentrified sides.
When I pulled into Jeff's, I worried that they'd be out of ribs again. They weren't. The line was short. And, when I got to the counter, I ordered quickly. The woman taking my order must not be used to such decisiveness because she said, "the lady knows what she wants." Yes, indeed, the lady does! There's a familiar protocol at these kinds of BBQ joints. So, I don't need to analyze and ponder and take forever to decide (I'm talking to you hubby). The second place was only a 10 minute drive from Jeff's. The restaurant was empty, but the smell and decor seemed right. I put the food in the trunk of my car, but there was no smell wafting inside the car as I was making my way back home. Not a good sign.
So, here are my thoughts. Jeff's ribs are good. They're not excellent, but they're good. They're tender enough to slide off the bone, but not so tender that they don't have any bite to them. The baked beans are fine. They have some bits of brisket in them, which is nice. But, they had a few too many fat bits for my taste. What I discovered while picking out a piece of fat is that it wasn't fat at all. It was pineapple. PINEAPPLE IN THE BAKED BEANS. For some reason, this upset me greatly.
Moving on to J&L, the style and flavor profile were very similar to Jeff's. Both places use a simple salt and pepper dry rub, but J&L's was tastier. Maybe it's the wood or amount of time in the smoker. but I enjoyed J&L's more. The baked beans didn't have anything strange in them except for the use of three kinds of beans which is only slightly odd in this context, but not worthy of gentrification demerits. The ribs aren't A+, OMG, stop the presses good. But, they're respectable and I would definitely eat there again. I just wish that they were a bit smokier. I think that my Texas peeps would agree that these are some good looking ribs. I ate one before I remembered to take a photo. LOL!
J&L is officially my new favorite BBQ spot in the Seattle area. But, that doesn't mean that I won't keep looking. I do have another story to tell about a recent BBQ trip that didn't go so well. But, I'll save that one for another day.
Side note: At work today, a coworker asked me what I did over the July 4th weekend. I told him that I tried some BBQ places around town. He said, "have you tried Dixie's? They have the spicy sauce." I'm triggered, y'all! If you have no idea what I'm talking about, see paragraph four here.
I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for 16 years, yet I still feel compelled to say that I'm not *from* here. I don't know when one assimilates to the point of no longer making the distinction. But, apparently for me, it hasn't happened yet. My husband and I are both expats. He's from Germany, and I'm from Texas. And, we share a longing for foods from home. For him, it's bread. That man will drive to the ends of the Earth to get a good pretzel. But, for me, it's Southern food. And, more specifically, it's BBQ. While technically speaking, I'm not an actual expat. I certainly feel like one whenever I get a craving for some good BBQ.
Summertime is when I miss it the most. Every Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day, I search through my list of restaurants with the hope that I'll find a place that can satisfy the craving. In Texas, there was always someone in our circle of family and friends who made excellent BBQ. Just before holidays, we'd take raw slabs of ribs or brisket or whatever is our favorite to the pitmaster's home. And, when we'd receive a text message letting us know that it's ready, we'd grab our keys to go pick up the goodies and drive home with that smoky smell wafting in from the trunk of our car. If the pitmaster wasn't cooking that holiday, we'd order takeout at our go to BBQ joints to make sure that our summer holidays were complete.
There are four main regional styles of BBQ: Memphis, The Carolinas, Kansas City, and of course, Texas. I'm partial to a dry rub with the sauce on the side, as opposed to the saucy Kansas City style. I recently learned that in Chicago, they serve their BBQ on top of french fries and covered in sauce. This is completely unacceptable, y'all. I'm going to Chicago in September and I will definitely not be trying this.
Whenever I talk about how much I miss it, I inevitably receive unsolicited recommendations from well meaning Seattleites who've never sunk their teeth into a properly smoked piece of meat. A restaurant called Dixie's has come up repeatedly. And, I've had folks excitedly tell me about the ridiculously spicy sauce that Dixie's is known for. It doesn't dawn on them that if conquering a spicy sauce is the only reason to go there, then maybe the actual food is not up to snuff.
At first, I would heed the advice and go to these restaurants. But now, I don't even bother unless the person making the recommendation passes this test.
I've recently heard about a place called Jeff's Texas Style BBQ that's about 40 miles from our house. We've tried to eat there twice. Both times, we walked through the door and inhaled that glorious smell. And, both times, they were COMPLETELY SOLD OUT. You've never seen a sadder face than that of a Texas expat who has just driven for almost an hour to get a fix only to find out that the ribs are gone.
I know that I'll never stop trying to find that perfect BBQ that reminds me of home. And, I also know that when I tell my husband that we're making a road trip to try to find it, he'll understand completely.
When I heard about Witness, a "Southern inspired craft cocktail bar" on Capitol Hill, I was intrigued. First of all, what exactly is a "Southern bar?" Is this the type of place where you drink mint juleps and spiked sweet tea? I went to their website and enjoyed reading the creative cocktail names and ingredients. And, then I realized that they had a full brunch and dinner menu, as well. It didn't dawn on me that that would be the case since they call themselves a cocktail bar.
The menu didn't really wow me until I saw shrimp and grits. Let me digress here for a second. I've always thought that grits are not something that I would want to eat. The name sounds so unappetizing. Besides, we were a Cream of Wheat family. And, a grit did not pass my lips until 2013-ish on a visit to New Orleans. I got peer pressured into tasting them and let me tell you something. I feel like a straight up dumb ass for not trying them sooner. Now you can't keep me away from the things! I've even tried my hand at making smoked gouda grits and they were amazing. Thank you, Kitchenista. I don't fancy myself a grit connoisseur, and I certainly don't dare hop into the sweet or savory grit debate. But I'm definitely on team savory. And, Witness actually had two savory grits dishes on the menu, one of which was oxtails and grits. I would have a tough choice ahead of me, since both sounded great.
So, I called up a fellow Texan (ok texted, whatever) and made a date to check out the place. The cocktails were very nice. And, it's my understanding that they make syrups and potions and create seasonal cocktails. I stuck with something simple, a "Soul Tonic" (gin, tonic, homemade aromatic lime cordial). I have no idea what lime cordial is, but it gave a fantastically smooth and citrusy punch to balance out the gin.
We started looking over the food menu and noticed that it was different than what was posted online. And, guess what? No grits! I asked the waitress about this and she said that grits were a seasonal item and that po' boys replace grits in the summer. She smiled and walked away. Sorry that I didn't get the memo that one does not partake of grits in the summertime. I tried to find something on the revised menu that looked inspiring. But, it just wasn't happening. The menu included poutine, an appetizer dish that featured cheese wiz (nope), pork sliders, mussels, and chicken and waffles. Growing up, I never even knew about chicken and waffles until I started hearing pre-internet pop culture references to the beloved, celebrity cult favorite restaurant, Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in L.A. I don't understand how this dish has become associated with the South. But, many Southerners would agree that this is not a Southern dish. Here's a wikipedia reference to its alleged origins. However, if you spend more then five seconds looking into this, you'll quickly see that there's an intense debate about the dishes origins that's just as heated as the sugar in the grits situation.
At any rate, I noticed that lots of people were ordering it and the waitress confirmed that this is their most popular dish. Feeling defeated, I ordered it even though it's not really my thing. Given the other options, this was going to be the best that I could do. My friend had what can only be described as a weird bean salad. It was sort of like a succotash with pinto and green beans instead of lima beans. It was .... edible. I'll withhold judgment on my dish because, again, not my thing.
Had I gone to Witness just for the cocktails, I would've left happy. But, the food was disappointing, so I left disappointed. Capitol Hill is bursting with new restaurants to explore. Go to Witness for the cocktails and eat somewhere else.
I've been hearing a lot of buzz about the new restaurants in Lincoln Square South in Bellevue. One of them is The Lakehouse, where a friend had a negative experience shortly after it opened. I crossed it off my list due to the bad recommendation and didn't think much of it until the end of year "Best of 2017" lists started rolling in and The Lakehouse kept popping up. I decided to give it a try for lunch to mitigate my financial risk if it turned out to be as disappointing as my friend said that it was. I enlisted (ok more like begged) her to join me and we made the short jaunt on our lunch break.
As we walked, she told me that when she went there for dinner, it felt like a place to be seen, with lots of people taking selfies and women teetering around on too high heels. Fortunately for us, this was not the case at lunch. But I can definitely see how it would have that vibe at night.
Right away, she noticed that the very disappointing short rib special that both she and her husband ordered was not listed on the menu. So far, so good. I wasn't in the mood for a heavy entree, so I decided to order two small plates.
I was told that the carrots are a specialty of the house and that they can change your life. I wanted my life changed, so I ordered them. And I have to say that they did. Vibe be damned, those carrots are everything. They were beautifully presented and tasted as good as they looked. They had a tiny bit of heat from red chiles, they had crunch from a sprinkling of almonds, they had tang from greek yogurt smeared on the bottom of the plate. Let's just say that I "may" have been back a second time to try them again. Ahem. I can confirm that the restaurant is consistent. I also tried the grilled octopus with green chickpeas and chorizo aioli, lamb pappardelle, and albacore tuna. All excellent. Highly recommended.
I've been to Cactus several times and have nothing against it. It's perfectly ok Mexican food. But, if you've eaten true Tex-Mex or proper Mexican food *in* Mexico, then Cactus would not be your first choice.
Today, I had a wild hair and was tired of my usual lunch spots, so I decided to walk over to Cactus. Now that I've wasted $18 bucks and an hour of my time (and I'm still hungry by the way), I have some thoughts.
My first mistake was to order a salad at a Mexican restaurant. I know, I know. But, I've been on a salad kick lately. And, the description sounded really good, so I went for it. Visually, it looked like someone opened a bag of romaine lettuce, dumped it on a plate and sprinkled some anemic tomatoes on top. I was turned off by it when I first laid my eyes on it. I had to dig around for the "smoked chicken" which didn't have even a hint of smoky flavor from a grill or spices. And, there wasn't enough of that bland chicken to fill me up. Couldn't they at least let it touch a hot grill pan to give it some color? Is that too much to ask?
I'm not writing Cactus off completely. I just should've ordered tacos or something else. I've had some good food there. But, lesson learned - stay away from the salad.
This year we decided to spare ourselves from cooking on Thanksgiving. So, we settled on brunch at Eques at the Bellevue Hyatt. The menu had a nice variety of traditional and non-traditional dishes that would suit many palettes. However, the ambiance left much to be desired.
How to explain .... in order to serve as many people as possible, tables had been set up in the foyer just outside of the restaurant. As we waited to be seated, I thought, please don't let us get seated at one of those tables. In spite of having a reservation, that's exactly where we were seated. It felt awkward, as if we were in a food court at the mall. And, it distracted me from fully enjoying the food.
Considering the difficulty in serving hundreds of people a hot buffet meal, I thought that the execution was good. In the future, will I crave any of the dishes that were served? Probably not. Well, maybe the brussel sprouts because they were bomb. But, the decor both inside the restaurant and outside in the foyer was basic AF. Next year, I think that we'll be cooking.
When my husband and I got a hankering for some tapas on a Saturday night, we decided to find something other than our go to spot, Tango on Capitol Hill in Seattle.
I set to googling and came up with The Harvest Vine, which has excellent reviews and has been around for 20 years. Unfortunately, they had no available reservations for that evening, but I was determined to get one. Their reservations are powered by Resy, which has a "notify me" feature that contacts you if a space opens up for your desired date. At about 4pm, I set the notify for the same day, and an hour later I received an email indicating that a 9pm reservation was free. So, I took it.
The restaurant has been expanded from a tiny spot to a multi-level beauty with 74 seats. The decor is warm, cozy, and inviting. The waitress recommended that we order two to three tapas per person. And, she brought out a pintxo of marinated mushrooms with a splash of salsa verde while we debated which things to order on the extensive menu. I knew that we were in for a treat when I tasted those mushrooms, which made the choice that much more difficult. But, we finally settled on five tapas, an order of bread, and a crisp bottle of Spanish white.
The standout dish was the grilled venison with oyster mushrooms and licorice root sauce. There is nothing about this description that speaks to me. As, I am not a fan of venison or licorice. However, my husband was pining for it, so we ordered it. I was fully prepared to hate the dish, but when he took his first bite, he was convinced that I was going to love it. In fact, he insisted that I halt whatever I was doing, clear my palate, and take a bite. I did ...hesitantly, and boy was I surprised. It was fantastically grilled, tender, not gamey and not licoricey. I told the waitress how much I loved it and she said that the description sometimes scares people, but they generally love it if they try it. And, I'm so glad that we did.
The only dish that I didn't care for was the caramelized chickpeas with tomato-cumin sauce. It didn't have the complexity and depth as did our other tapas. And, it tasted like, well, tomato and cumin, like literally. Its flavor profile leaned more towards the Indian spectrum and it seemed to clash with our other tapas.
We didn't leave room for dessert, but if the other dishes are any indication, I'm sure that it's amazing. I love this place and am going back with friends in a couple of weeks. And, I haven't stopped singing its praises to anyone who will listen. Since it's been around for 20 years, I'm sure that it's not going anywhere and I can return again and again.
Salare claims to pay homage to several cuisines, including African / Southern / Caribbean. I found the menu (changes seasonally) to be somewhat pretentious and many of the ingredients listed were illusive and unfamiliar. The attempt at fusion landed flat and could more accurately be described as confusion. While reading the menu, I spent time googling things trying to figure out what they were. There was nothing on the menu that even remotely reminded me of Africa, the American South or the Caribbean. However, since my visit there in the Summer of 2017, the menu has changed and there are more obvious winks towards those areas.
The portion size for the two pasta dishes that we ordered was small, although the waiter encouraged sharing. They were plated on a salad plate. I would have expected them to be twice that size. They were actually quite good, but the meager portions made it difficult to really dig into them for fear of everyone not getting enough.
The grilled octopus that I ordered was dry, chewy, and borderline inedible. The accompanying puttanesca sauce was very tasty and the broccolini had a nice crunch and acidic note. Octopus misstep aside, the dish didn’t come together and the flavors seemed sort of random.
We also had a glazed carrot side dish that was DELICIOUS – sweet, savory, and herbaceous. I’m not a dessert person, but my friends loved the rhubarb something or other that they had.
In summary, we all agreed that my octopus dish was the dud of the bunch. The vast majority of the online reviews are very positive. And, the owner / chef, Edouardo Jordan, just opened a second restaurant (JuneBaby). So, obviously, he’s doing quite well. Although I didn't enjoy the experience, I'd give it another shot as I really wanted to love this place.