Pupu Platters and Bongo Bongo Soup Redux

August 15, 2008

Enjoy the South Seas ambience at the Tiki Bar at Trader Vic\'s in Bellevue, Washington.

Every now and then, Spencer and I make the pilgrimage across the bridge to Bellevue, Washington, to see a movie, make a wine run at Pete’s, or do some serious shopping at Bellevue Square. The luxurious Lincoln Square Theater offers the most comfortable seats and some of the best screens in the Seattle area, so a coupla Saturdays ago, we fled Seattle to go see “Brideshead Revisited,” eat lunch at Trader Vic’s, and restock the wine cellar at Pete’s. 

Whole strolling to our luncheon destination, we noticed that Manzana Rotisserie Grill, where we’d enjoyed a perfectly prepared Asian Chicken Salad during our most recent Bellevue adventure, had morphed into Palomino, part of the nationwide chain whose other outpost is in downtown Seattle in City Centre (U.S. Bank Center). As the tables turn. . .

Once seated at Trader Vic’s in the Tiki Bar, we felt as though we’d been washed ashore on a South Seas Island as we sipped Tropical Fruit Iced Tea and shoveled into salads composed of Blackened Ahi Tuna, Cucumber, Sugar-Snap Pea, Crispy Won Tons, and Sesame-Soy Dressing for me and Crab Cakes, Spinach, Avocado, Papaya, Oranges, Red Onion, and Chili Mango Dressing for Spencer.  

If we’d been hungrier, we might have opted for Trader Vic’s famous Bongo Bongo Soup (cream of spinach soup with oysters) or the Cosmo Tidbits for two (barbecue pork spareribs, crab rangoons, crispy Gulf prawns, and cha siu pork). In our younger days, we used to call this the Pupu Platter. 

If we’d have been thirstier (and not driving), we would definitely have tried the Taste of the Islands Sampler, which includes tastes of four Mai Tais–Original, Vodka, Lillikoi, and Mandarin, a veritable bargain at just 12 bucks. Mahalo! 

Braiden Answers Andrew Zimmern’s Five Questions

August 14, 2008

The ever irreverent Andrew Zimmern, he of bug- and grub-eating fame on the Travel Channel, liked my latest book, Pacific Northwest Wining & Dining so much, he asked me to weigh in on five questions (actually 11 when you count all the sub-questions) about my latest  wining and dining experiences. I’m excited to say that, now through next Wednesday, you can find my answers by going to his Home Page, then clicking on the big link you’ll find there. After that, the question and answers will be archived for posterity.

Among other interesting topics, we cover my favorite Seattle restaurants of the moment, how I ended up in the Pacific Northwest, and five places every traveler (or lucky local) should visit in our very special corner of the world.


Careers in Wine

August 13, 2008

Braiden Rex-Johnson was one of the speakers at the Second Annual Careers in Wine Symposium held at South Seattle Community College.

In May, I was honored to be one of the speakers at the second-annual Careers in Wine Symposium hosted by the Wine and Spirit Archive. According to the Web site: “The WSA offers wine, spirit and cocktail courses ranging from introductory level classes for beginners and enthusiasts to professional certification courses for the beverage professional or those seeking to enter that industry, as well as the serious connoisseur. Our recreational classes dispense with the myths and intimidations surrounding the world of wine and spirits and give you the tools, vocabulary and tasting skills necessary to explore and enjoy these beverages.” We’ve taken the Intermediate level course of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and highly recommend it to serious wine enthusiasts, career professionals, and those seeking to get into the wine business. 

Oysters in August!

August 12, 2008

A half dozen freshly shucked oysters went down easy at Steelhead Diner in the Pike Place Market.

Some people have a fear of eating fresh oysters on the half shell in months that don’t contain an “r,” but we put that myth to rest over a recent lunch/brunch at Steelhead Diner in the Pike Place Market. Here are a half dozen pristine Barron Inlet oysters with a frozen mignonette ice. A glass of Di Stefano 2006 Sauv Blanc from Washington’s Columbia Valley made the perfect pairing. 

Sensational Sunset Supper

August 11, 2008

One of my favorite annual food-and-wine events about  town takes place again this year on Friday, August 15, from 7:30-11:00 p.m. at the Pike Place Market. During Sunset Supper, you can enjoy delectable food and drinks from dozens of Seattle’s top restaurants, wineries, and breweries while dancing the night away to live music under the stars. Some of this year’s restos include: 94 Stewart, BalMar, Matt’s in the Market, Purple Cafe & Wine Bar, Serafina, Tango Restaurant & Lounge, Tulio, and The Ruins. Precept Wine Brands, Hoodsport Winery, Inc., Pike Brewing Co., SKYY Spirits, DRY Soda Co., Barnes & Watson Fine Teas, and Starbucks will keep the crowds well hydrated. Sweet treats come from Molly Moon’s Handmade Ice Cream, Procopio Gelateria, Rose’s Chocolate Treasures, and The Confectional. For tickets visit the Pike Place Market Web site or call 206.682.7453. 

Mother’s Salmon Hash

August 10, 2008

Mother\'s makes mighty good hash.

During my whirlwind book tour in Portland last fall, when sleep was at a minimum and we craved some good, ol’-fashioned comfort food, we stopped in at Lisa Golden Schroeter’s world-famous Mother’s Bistro and happily devoured her Salmon Hash. We loved the Bistro’s old-world charm, black-and-white tiled floors, dark-wood bar, and friendly ambience. 


California Winery Wows at Yarrow Bay Grill

August 9, 2008

The Ribeye prepared two ways wowed at the Justin winemaker dinner at Yarrow Bay Grill.

In mid-July, a winemaker dinner with Debbie and Justin Baldwin, proprietors of the Paso Robles winery Justin, proved a decadent delight. During Social Hour, Deborah’s 2007 Delight, a sweet, Muscat-based wine, paired perfectly with a Sweet & Spicy Shrimp Bistila (South American spices meet ground shrimp in a light, filo triangle) and Blue Cheese and Quince Paste Squares. A pasta course called, “Peas and Carrots” brought out house-made pappardelle (thickly-cut noodles) with a creamy, bacon-studded sauce brightened by English peas and carrots. A not-too-oaky 2007 Chard met its match in the creamy sauce and veggies. 

“Surf and Turf” was a twist on Tuna Tonnato, a canned-tuna-based sauce usually served over veal. Berkshire Pork subbed for the veal, while I asked for seared tuna, which was an inspired call with The Orphan, 2006. The Orphan is a red blend made of unused lots, but has turned into one of Justin’s most popular wines. 

We were all “Seeing Red” when braised ribeye formed the foundation for grilled rib eye and mixed seasonal vegetables. Isosceles 2004 was the match made in heaven for some (a big, bold wine that will last many more years in bottle) and Isosceles 2005 (a much more floral red wine) rang other’s diners’ bells. Both wines were opened at 4 p.m and served around 8:30! 

Dessert brought a trio of triumphs when paired with the Port-like Obtuse 2006, a dessert wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon (!). Mini Flourless Chocolate Cake with Blackberry Drizzle, Blackberry Panna Cotta with Chocolate Crème Fraîche, and Salted Candied Blackberries sent all of us off to very sweet dreams. 

Quinn’s Gallopin’ Good Gastropub!

August 8, 2008

Piled high and cooked crispy, Quinn\'s Fried Chicken doesn\'t fail to deliver.

On a recent sunny summer evening, the vibes (and parking) were right, and we finally made it over to Quinn’s on Capitol Hill, sister restaurant to one of our downtown faves, Restaurant Zoë. Chef and owner Scott Staples is clicking on all cylinders, from the newly expanded wine list (full bottles are now offered, in addition to a sizeable half-bottle list) to the pub’s zeitgeist (families, the black crowd, and old folks like us in the beautifully restored space) to the well-crafted, something-for-everyone offerings. 

Here’s one of the Large Plates, Buttermilk-Fried Chicken Breast with Rustic Potato Salad, Biscuit, and Foie Gravy. The airline cut of chicken was perfectly crisped and golden brown, the biscuit wasn’t buttermilk but more like an egg-washed scone, the foie-gras gravy speaks for itself, the rustic potato salad was about half composed of thick bacon bits, and the potato salad added a nice crunch. 

Small Plates included a truly inspired Seared Scallops with Butter-Poached Fingerlings, Baby Pea Shoots, Burnt-Caramel Sherry Caramel, and Popcorn (yes, ground popcorn!) dusting the pretty plate. You can see why the Wild Boar Sloppy Joe (with Crispy Sage Leaves, of course!) is a signature dish. . .pulled pork deluxe served on a brioche bun. Even something normally as simple as a Pear Salad grew special thanks to the addition of arugula, blanched green beans, and Stilton. Not to mention that the pears (cut crosswise) were hiding on the bottom of the plate under the greens and beans!

A bottle of McCrea 2006 Sirocco Blanc, an unusual but brilliant blend of Roussanne, Marsanne, and _____ paired perfectly with all the diverse dishes of the evening. 

New Urban Sips Sizzles

August 7, 2008

Teri Citterman, one of my fellow columnists at Wine Press Northwest, has a new blog called Urban Sips.

My friend and fellow wine columnist, the ever-sassy, ever-savvy Teri Citterman, recently launched a fabulously fun new blog with the same name as her Wine Press column, Urban Sips. Check in often for Teri’s unique observations on life and wine. She’s been nicknamed “Teri Bradshaw,” for her similarity to Sarah Jessica Parker’s character on “Sex and the City,” so you know you’re in for a good read every time. 

Union’s $50 Meal Deal

August 6, 2008

Plump baby calamari anchor the bowl amid baby green beans, hearts of palm, mizuna, and a lovely, light aïoli at Union.

After a rousing three hours of tasting through 31 Northwest (and one English) hard ciders for an upcoming article for Pacific Northwest, The Seattle Times’ Sunday magazine, Pike Place Pub owners Charles and Rose Ann Finkel, Spencer, and I popped across the street for dinner at Union.

Our appetites, primed by the dry, apple-y effervescence of the cider, called out for sustenance. And Union more than delivered, not to mention two memorable bottles of wine.

For a mere $50 per person, diners can choose two plates from among the Appetizers, Salads, Soups, and Pastas found on the left side of the menu; one dish from the Fish, Game, and Meat on the right-hand side of the menu; plus dessert.

Spencer and I adored our Baby Calamari with Haricots Verts, Hearts of Palm, Mizuna, and Aïoli (pictured above), while Rose Ann chose her favorite Carne Cruda (a carefully crafted mound of beef tartare) and Charles went for the Chilled Cucumber Soup with Smoked Mackerel, Goat Yogurt, and Radish. A lovely Tomato Terrine with Grilled Ricotta Salata (brilliant!), Fennel, and Taggiasca Olives was our server and friend, Kurt Krause’s, little bit of lagniappe that special evening. 

While I went for the healthy, and generous, portion of Mixed Baby Greens for my second course, other members of the group ooh-ed and aah-ed over the Fregola with Manila Clams, Chilies, and Parsley Pesto. I’ve had the dish before, and can only attest to its simple goodness. Kurt reported that, although already sold out the night we visited, the Potato Gnocchi with Lobster, Bacon, and Rosemary is quickly becoming a signature dish. 

Among mains, we were tempted by all the fish offerings, from Bluenose Bass to Fluke to Ocean Trout, but I decided on the Ahi Tuna with Tomatoes, Artichokes, Fennel, and Black Olives, which was perfectly seared and sauced. Rose Ann’s bass came with cauliflower, sweet pepper, and prawns in a bouillabaisse broth. The meat eaters (boys) in the group raved over Venison with Morel Mushrooms, Carrot Purée, and Blackberries (!) and Beef Strip Loin simply served with new potatoes, spinach, olives, and red-wine sauce. 

Dessert didn’t disappoint. While one could opt for his or her choice among five different cheese plates, the four of us went straight for the sweets. They included a nummy-looking Lemon Cake with Aged Balsamic, Almond Cake with Rhubarb Compote, and Frozen Chocolate Paté with Cherry Soup and Pistachio Brittle, my choice and worth every decadent calorie. 

A pricey, but oh-so-worth-it bottle of French Sauvignon Blanc, and a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, paired perfectly with all the outstanding dishes. It’s easy to see why Union has been hailed as, “One of the Top 103 Restaurants in the U.S.,” by Bon Appetít. 

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