Seared Albacore Tuna with Feta, Olives, and Tomato

July 31, 2011

Seared Albacore Tuna with Feta, Olives, and Tomato

Varietal: Pinot Noir

Serves 4

This recipe comes from the culinary department at King Estate Winery in southern Oregon. It makes use of one of the Northwest’s best summertime catches—albacore tuna—in a Mediterranean-leaning sauce redolent with salty/tangy feta cheese, Roma tomatoes, kalamata olives, and fresh oregano. Pair it with the earthy/smoky/spicy flavors of your favorite Oregon Pinot Noir.

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 (6- to 7-ounce) albacore tuna steaks, rinsed, drained, and patted dry

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 tablespoon minced shallots

1/2 pound fresh spinach leaves

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

8 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped

1 cup (about 6 ounces) kalamata olives, pitted and halved lengthwise

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Greek, crumbled

6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the tuna steaks lightly on both sides with salt and pepper.

2. When the oil just begins to smoke, place the fish in the skillet without crowding and cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Place the tuna in the oven and cook 4 to 5 minutes (for medium rare), or to desired doneness.

3. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and shallots and cook, stirring often, until the shallots are translucent but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spinach a handful or two at a time, turning with kitchen tongs and adding more spinach as it cooks down, until all the spinach is lightly wilted. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and the lemon juice.

4. Divide the spinach among 4 warmed dinner plates. Remove the fish from the oven and arrange 1 tuna steak over each bed of spinach.

5. Working quickly, return the hot tuna skillet to the stove over medium-high heat and cook the plum tomatoes, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes begin to break down, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the olives, white wine, and oregano and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the feta. Spoon the sauce around the tuna and serve immediately.

The Hogue Cellars Goes 100% Screwcap

July 29, 2011

Late last month, The Hogue Cellars, Washington’s fourth largest winery, stunned industry insiders when it announced it had decided to move 100% of its production to screwcap closures.

On June 23, the company announced the results of groundbreaking research conducted between 2005 and 2010 that confirmed Saranex**-lined screwcaps as the ideal closure for preserving and aging The Hogue Cellars wines.

According to a press release, “Saranex liners comprise layered polyethylene which is slightly permeable to oxygen, meaning a desirable ratio of oxygen comes in contact with the wine to allow slow, steady development while maintaining freshness. These screwcap closures were proven to hold fruit flavors and aromas without significant reductive character compared to natural cork.”

Jordan Ferrier, Research Winemaker for Constellation Wines U.S., presented the winery’s extensive study results at the 62nd annual American Society of Enology and Viticulture (ASEV) Conference in Monterey, California.

The study is the first conducted at a large-scale winery that compares multiple closure types sealed on a commercial bottling line under controlled conditions with findings shared publically.

“Until now, acceptable wine-aging standards have been defined by the cork closure,” said Conan Dinn, The Hogue Cellars director of winemaking. “However, this study shows that wines aged under the right screwcap closure over five years were better preserved, aged well, and were deemed the highest quality.”

The study was conducted in two parts, the first focused on analyzing the impact of closure type on The Hogue Cellars 2004 Sauvignon (Fume) Blanc – an oxygen-sensitive white wine.

The second section was dedicated to understanding the effects of screwcap closures on the long-term age-ability of a 2004 Hogue Merlot and 2003 Genesis Merlot.

Ten closure types were evaluated for the Sauvignon (Fume) Blanc and nine closure types for each of the two Merlots, with white samples evaluated at four-month intervals for three years and red wines evaluated at 12-month intervals for five years.

In total, more than 3,200 samples were tasted over the five-year span. And overall, the panel preferred closures that allowed slower oxygen ingress and therefore, held proper levels of free sulfur dioxide (a common preservative) in the bottle.

A team of seven trained winemaking and production experts at The Hogue Cellars blind-tasted and assessed each of the wines, with specific insights as follows:

— Wines under aluminum and tin-lined screwcap closures showed reductive wine qualities or flinty characters, a smoky, gunpowder smell or taste.

— Wines sealed with synthetic corks oxidized more rapidly than other samples in the set.

— Wine sealed with an experimental alternative polymer liner exhibited dried fruit or oxidative characters.

— Wines sealed under a screwcap with a Saranex liner held bright fruit tastes and aromas, showed steady, consistent oxygen exchange and preservation of free sulfur dioxide.

— High quality natural cork showed signs of fruit preservation and steady oxygen ingress, but with great bottle to bottle variation and inconsistency.

In summary, wines aged under Saranex-lined screwcaps tasted better and offered better results than aluminum or tin-lined screwcaps or synthetic closures, and eliminated any risk of TCA or taint that can occur using traditional cork means.

This is the second screwcap study conducted by The Hogue Cellars. The findings of the winery’s first study released in 2004 compared natural cork, synthetic closures, and screwcaps, and found that wines bottled under screwcap were cleanest and best retained fruit flavors.

As a result of those findings, The Hogue Cellars moved 70 percent of its production under screwcap closures.

The latest findings released today expand on the initial study by measuring the effects of each closure’s age-ability over time based on the level and rate of oxygen ingress.

As a result of this second study, The Hogue Cellars will move 100 percent of its production–which includes its premium-tier Genesis and Reserve wines–to screwcap closures with Saranex liners.

By the 2009 vintage, all wines in The Hogue Cellars portfolio will be under this closure type.

“It all comes down to quality. We want consumers to know that when they purchase a bottle of The Hogue Cellars wine, whether it’s to enjoy that night or in five years, the wine in the bottle will be fresh because it’s been sealed with the best closure currently on the market,” said Dinn. “Our studies prove that high quality white and red wines can be sealed and preserved with screwcaps and we believe that our extensive research and proven results will help to positively shift the perception of screwcap closures with consumers.”

** SARANEX(TM) barrier films are coextruded multilayered films containing a layer of SARAN(TM) resin integrally sandwiched between outer layers of polyolefins. SARANEX films offer a balance of barrier properties, toughness, chemical resistance, softness, flexibility, attractive appearance, and good economics in a single film structure. SARANEX(TM) is part of Dow Specialty Packaging & Films.

A Sad Sign of the Times in Belltown

July 26, 2011

Very sad to see two more businesses in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle shut down. Here are workers taking debris out of Twist Restaurant and Lounge. . .

And Ventana Restaurant a few doors down already cleared out.

Both establishments are right across the street from La Taberna del Alabardero, which called it quits a few months ago.

Truth to tell, Spencer and I try to avoid this stretch of downtown after nightfall as it seems to have fallen into the hands of heavy party-goers and club aficionados.

Cafe Lago Announces Summer Cooking Class Schedule

July 22, 2011

A couple of weekends ago, during Seattle’s all-too-brief week or two of summer, we wanted to try a restaurant we hadn’t experienced in a long time, so drove over to a long-time favorite: the Montlake-neighborhood Italian restaurant, Cafe Lago.

Here’s the gorgeous, handmade Beet Pasta I enjoyed as my main. It was as light and lovely as the sunshine outside.

But the star of the show that evening was Cafe Lago’s Roasted Half Chicken–truly divine–with a very crispy and spicy skin (thanks to roasting in a charcoal Josper oven), tender meat and loads of flavor. Also a VERY generous portion. When we go back, I’ll urge Spencer to share with me (probably NOT gonna happen!) or simply order my own and take half of it home for later enjoyment.

Good news is, that Cafe Lago is currently offering a series of classes on various aspects of Italian food and culture.

Even better news is that each class (for up to 20 people) is free with dinner!

Upcoming Wednesday-evening lesson topics include, Why Seattle’s Best Gelato Comes from Ballard, Opera and Drink, and Italian Bombshells.

Class participants are asked to arrive at 6:30 p.m, pick a spot, and get to know their neighbors over complementary Prosecco and antipasti. Dinner orders are then taken and the class begins at 7 p.m. Dinner is served during the class and the nights’ lessons wrap up around 8:00.

Those interested in attending are encouraged to make reservations, although walk-ins are accommodated as space is available. To make a reservation, call 206-329-8005.

Here’s the schedule of upcoming classes:

· Wednesday, July 27, 7 p.m. – Why is Ballard a Hotbed for Gelato? w/ Marco D’Ambrosio, owner of D’Ambrosio Gelato in Ballard

If gelato is the royalty among ice creams, then D’Ambrosio Gelato in Ballard is the King. But what makes this creamy treat so special? It could be the cute little plastic shovels, but we’re sure there’s more to it than that. Fresh off the plane from his most recent trip to Italy, Marco will teach us how to make fantastic gelato, how it differs from ice cream, and some delectable gelato cocktails.

· Wednesday, August 3, 7 p.m. – TBD

· Wednesday, August 17, 7 p.m. – Romance, Scandal & Drinking at La Scala

When it comes to Italian opera, passion, revelry and mischief usually take center stage. And more often than not, a plentiful supply of tasty beverages moves the plot along—from the insatiable thirst of Sir John Falstaff, to the ode to drinking sung in La Traviata, to the mere illusion of inebriation in The Barber of Seville.

· Wednesday, August 31, 7 p.m. – Italian Mamas and their Power w/ Cecilia Strettoi, Associate Professor of Italian at the University of Washington

According to an Italian proverb, behind every great man is an even greater woman. A rare combination of strength, beauty, and nurture, Italian women range from the matriarch to the bomb shell; they are the multi-faceted jewels of Italian culture. Cecilia will entertain and educate diners on the nuances of true Italian women.

Help Save the Honey Bees at The Pink Door!

July 18, 2011

Our long-time friend and colleague, Jackie Roberts, owner of the venerable Pink Door restaurant in the Pike Place Market, and her chef, Steve Smrstik, have recently become avid beekeepers.

In an effort to raise awareness about the peril of the honeybee, Roberts and Smrstik will present the documentary,  “The Vanishing of  The Honeybees,” followed by conversation led by local “Beeks” (beekeepers)  from Seattle’s Urban Bee on Sunday, August 7, at 6 p.m.

“Our food chain is in peril as the honeybees are perishing,” Roberts told me. “We started this past spring with one hive in our backyard. The colony multiplied very rapidly and formed a ‘swarm,’ and right before our eyes 6,000 bees flew onto a branch 30-feet-high in our neighbor’s  back yard. It was quite thrilling!

“Our hope in showing this documentary is to help educate and raise awareness about the dire situation of the honeybee and what we can all do about it as urban dwellers. Many people do not realize that without the honeybee we would not be able to enjoy many of the foods we eat. Our front-yard vegetable garden is lushly thriving thanks in great part to our phenomenal friends, the honeybees.”

Attendees are asked to donate $5.00 to attend the viewing and join the conversation. The Pink Door will be serving complimentary antipasti.

So mark your calendars now for Sunday evening, August 7. Local honeybees, beekeepers, and the entire food chain will thank you!

Welcome to Trattoria Cioppino in Green Lake

July 15, 2011

Interior shot of Trattoria Cioppino

A couple of weekends ago, when Seattle’s summertime weather was still an iffy proposition and sunny days were still very much in the minority, we seized the day (so to speak) to trek the approximately three-mile circuit around Green Lake.

Just before starting, we walked by a small retail complex across the street from the lake that houses a BluWater Bistro, pizza joint, health club, and a new entry–Trattoria Cioppino. As we passed by, we recognized a familiar face–Erik Brisbane–long-time general manager at Barolo Ristorante in downtown Seattle and most recently employed by Cafe Campagne.

We struck up a conversation with our friend, picked up a menu, and snapped a couple of shots of the inviting interior of what used to be a World Wrapps!

Below are further details from a press release that Erik sent out yesterday announcing a new menu and other tweaks to this newcomer upon the Seattle restaurant scene.

Welcome to Erik and Chef Riccardo Simeone. Long may you reign in Green Lake!

<<Seattle’s newest Italian dining destination, opened their doors for business at the beginning of June. Chef and co-owner Riccardo Simeone (sim-ee-oh-knee) spent the month of June perfecting his timing and recipes and released a new menu the second week of July.

“I was finally able to source some good organic flour and perfect my recipes,” Simeone says. “The soft opening allowed me to experiment with my pastas and try out new techniques.”

Located at the north end of Green Lake in a former World Wrapps storefront, Simeone and co-owner Silvia McDowell have transformed a drab space into a casual dining spot with elegant and affordable food.

By its very definition, a trattoria is an informal dining establishment akin to a bistro or café. The fantastic, quick to prepare food is perfect for a full lunch or dinner, an afternoon snack with a glass of wine, or a perfectly crafted dessert with an espresso.

Hailing from Gaeta, Italy (located midway between Rome and Naples in the province of Lazio) Chef Simeone spent his youth working in kitchens throughout Italy. Upon arriving in the States in 1993, he perfected his kitchen skills in Las Vegas and Seattle, including stints with Cucina Cucina and Barolo. Most recently Chef Simeone ventured to the Washington D.C. environs to open the Buddha Bar there. After surviving an East Coast winter, he concluded that appeal of Seattle was too great and that he must head home to open his own place.

His business partner (and pantry cook) Silvia McDowell found the North Green Lake location and with a bit of imagination, paint, and marble they transformed the fast food restaurant into a casual 40-seat dining destination.

“Green Lake is wonderful,” says McDowell. “It’s close to where I live in Greenwood and the neighborhood itself is so dynamic and friendly. We’ve heard from our neighbors that there was a real need for a new place, so our timing is perfect.”

Though Chef Simeone’s birthplace is near the center of Rome, his culinary influences explore all of Italy, embracing Tuscany, Sicily, Sardinia, as well as his homeland of Lazio.

Homemade and inventive pastas are a passion for the chef. He constantly strives to find new combinations of flavors that marry well on the dish. He makes Cavatelli, multiple flavors of gnocchi, as well as raviolis on a marble-topped workspace in his kitchen. He is working with a local craftsman in designing a new table where he can make pastas in the dining room during the daytime. In the near future, he will sell pre-packaged pastas that he has created for people to take home and cook themselves. Along with his signature marinara sauce, one will have the option of enjoying dinner at Trattoria Cioppino or taking Trattoria Cioppino home with them.

The vast menu includes both the familiar and inventive. Trattoria Cioppino features the same menu (with few changes) both for lunch and dinner.

For appetizers, one can enjoy Crispy Calamari with Prawns, Zucchini, and Granny Smith Apples; Lemon-Butter Prawns; as well as a delightful Prosciutto and Marinated Fig Crostini or a Portobello Mushroom and Crab Patty.

Lunchtime selections include a Watermelon Salad with Aged Ricotta and a Raspberry Dressing as well as a Portobello Mushroom Sandwich with Spicy Strawberry Jam and Goat Cheese.

Pasta highlights include a section devoted exclusively to pastas made in house including a variety of raviolis, Spinach Gnocchi with Prawns and Bottarga, and a Duck Ragu Cavatelli.

Living up to the restaurant’s namesake, a Rich and Robust Cioppino is offered to fulfill any seafood lover’s desires. With Manila Clams, Penn Cove Mussels, calamari, and so much more in the chef’s tomato broth, the seafood “stew” is a crowd-pleaser. Chef Simeone includes Free-Range Chicken, Natural Angus Beef Tenderloin (with a Garlic-Rosemary Truffle Butter,) as well as Veal Porcini, and Chicken Marsala.

Not to be outdone, the desserts made in house include the familiar (a quite light Tiramisu and a Seasonal Crème Brulée) as well as the “BDCIS,” a secret recipe cheesecake that Chef Simeone guards closely.



7900 East Green Lake Drive North Suite 107

Seattle, WA 98103

Phone: 206-526-7900



Hours of Operation:

Lunch: Tuesday through Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm

Dinner: Tuesday through Sunday from 4 pm to 10 pm

Beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages are available.

Wheelchair accessible.

Kid friendly.

Reservations not required for parties up to four. Parties of six or more are highly recommended to book in advance, as space is limited.

In Search of Seattle’s Best Salmon Burger

July 11, 2011

Every now and again I get a craving for a particular food. Sometimes it’s Oysters on the Half Shell (which I attribute to low iron and magnesium counts). Other times it’s a good Salmon Caesar Salad. Sometimes (hate to admit it), it’s Southern Fried Chicken.

A few weeks ago, craving the city’s best Salmon Burger, I started my quest.

We began our search at the venerable Virginia Inn in the Pike Place Market, which has always been known for their crab cakes. The Inn’s burger,  pictured above, is made of ground salmon, basil-pesto aïoli, and a blanket of Swiss cheese atop. A bit gummy, okay flavor, but nothing to write home about.

We found the next contender at Chinook’s in Fishermen’s Terminal, a restaurant that has been featured previously in our Dish of the Day. This was an actual sockeye salmon fillet, simply grilled, on a plain bun with the fixings shown above. Pretty lackluster and ho-hum, sadly.

Finally, I found my favorite Salmon Burger at Ray’s Boathouse, a place we’ve written about in this blog and in “Pacific Northwest Wining and Dining.”

We enjoyed our salmon upstairs in the casual Ray’s Cafe upstairs. This was a well-seasoned, flavorful, perfectly grilled specimen on a good bun.

The description from the menu reads, “Fresh salmon ground and seasoned at Ray’s, spinach leaves, and tarragon-shallot mayonnaise.” The lovely side salad that I asked for instead of fries enhanced the flavor of the sandwich.

With picture-postcard views of Shilshole Bay outside our window-side seats and a couple of glasses of freshly brewed iced tea, we savored the joys of living in the Pacific Northwest as I enjoyed Seattle’s best Salmon Burger.

Summer Wine Escapes to the Yakima Valley

July 5, 2011

A recent press release from the good folks at Wine Yakima Valley touted their new “Grown to Greatness: Wine and Food Summer Escape.”

This self-paced, eight-week event highlights the four Yakima Valley growing and wine-producing communities in two-week successions throughout July and August: Zillah, Yakima, Red Mountain and Prosser.

Visitors can take part by visiting the tasting rooms for special offers, enjoying two community events, or by taking the bounty home with them in the form of recipe decks.

“Food and wine go hand-in-hand ,” the press release says. “And along with this taste tour comes culinary experiences and take-home recipe cards you won’t find elsewhere.”

Guests can purchase a recipe deck complete with over 30 original recipes paired with featured wines from Wine Yakima Valley wineries. The deck is available for $15 and comes stocked with winery cards detailing features of each wine community, location, wines, hours, etc.

Ambitious wine lovers can visit all of the wineries over the eight-week promotion to taste their featured wines and get their recipe deck stamped.

Those who get at least 15 wineries to stamp their deck from July-August will be entered to win a VIP pass that gains them access to all 2012 events including Red Wine & Chocolate, Spring Barrel Tasting, Wine & Summer Food Escape, and Catch the Crush.

Those who present their recipe deck in hand will also receive special offers from the featured community wineries during their corresponding two weeks, including special reserve tastings, case discounts, or additional food pairings.

During their featured weeks each winery will also offer a local Yakima Valley-grown or -produced food item paired with their wines.

Yakima Valley’s extensive local bounty includes some of the best items in the state such as peppers, peaches, cherries, cheeses, and beef.

Food-and-wine pairings include: Peach Habanero Chutney with Riesling at Mercer Estates and Fries Family Apple Cake with Riesling from Desert Wind Winery.

Schedule of Events

July 1-15, Zillah

Named after the daughter of the town founder, Zillah is 18 miles south of Yakima on the north end of the Yakima Valley. This agricultural ‘bread-basket’ has been recognized as a producer of high-value, award-winning wines.

Grown to Greatness event: Zillah’s Chuck Wagon Party. Saturday, July 9, 6:30-9:30 p.m. Mosey over to the Knight Hill Winery barn for a chuck wagon-style dinner from Longhorn Cattle Co. which brings its 1870’s chuck wagon to the party with beef brisket, cowboy beans, salad, sourdough biscuits and wild mountain mixed berry cobbler with crunch top. This highly unique, multi-course, Dutch oven dinner is $90 per person and includes wine pairings from Agate Field Vineyard, Claar Cellars, Cultura Wine, Knight Hill Winery, Severino Cellars, Two Mountain Winery and Wineglass Cellars. After dinner enjoy music and try your hand at line dancing.

July 16-31, Yakima

Most wineries here are small family operations where unpretentious hospitality is the norm. Many are located within a rural countryside with unparalleled beauty. Enjoy a glass of wine while gazing at the beautiful snow capped Mt. Adams or overlook the diverse agricultural abundance of the Yakima Valley.

Grown to Greatness event: Yakima Barrel Cave Dinner. Friday, July 29, 7 p.m. Dinner with Chef Chris Peterson of Kirkland’s Milagro Cantina at the Cave at Gilbert Cellars. This cocktail party and wine pairing dinner at one long communal table in the Cave features Yakima’s own bounty of produce, meat and fish. Each of the five-courses is paired with a different Yakima winery, including AntoLin Cellars, Gilbert Cellars, Kana Winery, Naches Heights Vineyard, Southard Winery, Treveri Sparkling Wines and Wilridge Vineyard. $75 per person.

Concerts: Hey Marseille will perform on July 28 at Gilbert Cellars and Portland-based Blitzen Trapper will perform on July 30 providing additional entertainment during the two-week Yakima promotion.

Aug. 1-14, Red Mountain and Community

Located between Benton City and Richland, the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, a subset of the Yakima Valley AVA, is the smallest in the state. The reputation of the wines produced in this appellation–Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and Syrah–has brought the Red Mountain AVA worldwide acclaim.

Aug. 15-31, Prosser

Prosser offers one of the fastest growing wine villages in the lower Yakima Valley. It boasts many of Washington’s well known labels and has become a destination for wine lovers. It is also one of the more agriculturally diverse areas in the state.

Yakima and Zillah event tickets can be purchased online.

A Mighty Pork Dish-of-the-Day Duo

July 1, 2011

Since I don’t eat pork myself, and don’t cook it at home, my meat-lovin’ better half often orders it when we dine out.

And even though I won’t order it, I will taste it, and these two recent dishes are real finds. . .worthy of winning a joint Dish-of-the-Day award.

Here is Seared Pork Tenderloin with Smoked Yam, Clams, and Pickled Pepper from Tilikum Place Café. It’s very European in style, reminiscent of Portuguese Pork and Clams.

The spices (a dash of chipotle?) were amazing with the sweet, yet smoky, sweet potatoes.

And here is a Large Plate from Olivar’s menu–Duo de Cerdo–Grilled Pork Loin, Braised Pork-Shoulder Lasagne, and Spring Vegetables.

Although both parts of this duet were tasty, Spencer is STILL raving about the lasagne, in particular.

Cheers to Olivar and Tilikum Place Café for creating such original Dishes of the Day!