Friday, August 31, 2012

Take a Ride!

The Seattle Great Wheel is open and you should go!






You can buy and print your tickets online & then use them whenever you are down on the waterfront, bypassing the ticket line.

The views are amazing!

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Bon Appetite (& Santé!) Paris, Part Une

Last year was the first time I ever visited Paris in August. It's really a completely different city during this month. With most residents out of town on vacances the city is calmly quiet, the streets have barely a car on them, the metros are all but empty.

And the Parisians who are still in town flock to the many gardens and terraces around the city. I followed their lead one afternoon and spent a very relaxing day at the Jardin du Luxembourg, where I hadn't been since 2001, watching children push little sailboats with poles around in the pond while I caught up on my reading.

The only downfall to the peace and tranquility of August in Paris is that many of the city's best chefs also leave town. Forest and I had our work cut out for us as we looked to make reservations for the week. But even with a lot of the kitchens shuttered we had some really wonderful meals and fantastic cocktails that I would highly recommend.

Eating...

Up in the 18th you'll find many bistros, cafes and restaurants. Many are touristy, grabbing the visitors coming and going from Sacré Coeur. But tucked a bit out of the way is a neighborhood favorite, Le Square Marcadet. The restaurant not only has an extremely well priced menu but you can get a table outside on the terrace in the back.

Another nice find in the 18th is Le Chamarre, which also has a covered outside terrace. The food here is very pretty with little touches that give it that wow factor, but (at least as four of us ladies were on the patio) it didn't feel like a big, dressy restaurant.

If you are looking for lunch while sightseeing in the 18th then grab a table like the locals do and dine on HUGE salads at the Relais du Gasçon. If you're thinking "Salad? Yawn!" you should think again as these seemingly bottomless bowls are filed with an assortment of delicious ingredients (my choice was lardon and chèvre) and then topped with a heaping pile of house made garlic potato chips. Hell yes! Note- I am only recommending the salads here, just pick one and ignore the other menu options. Really.



If you are looking for a bargain (& who isn't) then get yourself over to the 11th (1bis passage de Saint-Sebastien, 75011) and have a wonderful, casual lunch at Au Passage (not to be confused with Passage 53). For 11€ you get a 2 course "farmers market" menu. I had a wonderful cod with heirloom tomatoes, radishes and purslane and then a chèvre panna cotta with a variety of beautiful berries. Wine by the pichet or demi is also very inexpensive. In the evening they specialize in a tapas style menu.

Paris always has a handful of "darlings" at any given moment. Spurred on by bloggers, magazines and newspaper articles these restaurants are sometimes impossible to get into, expensive and often they over deliver in attitude while under delivering in cuisine.

One of these darlings is Septime also in the 11th. Mel, Forest and I were hot to try the "carte blanche" testing menu at 55€ while Thibault opted for just an entree and plat (don't try this at home, generally tasting menus are only for the whole table but as Thibault is native French he has powers us mere mortals do not). The service was superb and the food...well lets just say that every plate was cleaned. I've recommended it to others and would happily go again. Anyone else with a recent experience here?

Another darling is Le Chateaubriand and since it was closed for the month a few of us went to his next door tapas style restaurant Le Dauphine. This is a great spot if you are interested in Spanish cuisine done with a bit of French style. The space itself is loud and bustling, perfect for a fun night out.

Sometimes it is a gloriously sunny day and you feel like not only sitting on a terrace but you also want to be surrounded by all the treasures that Paris has to offer. And that was exactly the scenario when Jodie and I decided to have lunch at Le Saut du Loup which is right in the Tuilleries, awarding us with views of the Louvre, Concorde and Eiffel Tower. We dined elegantly on sautéed artichoke hearts served with a soft boiled egg, plates of almost transparent carpaccio and chilled rosé. A table here, surrounded by so much eye candy, isn't cheap but it is a nice little treat for when you've been good, or if you are just being bad.

(Additionally you can work off your lunch by doing a bit of window licking on Rue St Honore as we did afterwards.)

One of my favorite meals in Paris over the last few years was at Agape Substance. At lunch, the carte Blanche menu was already 65€ but by the time we ordered champagne and wine pairings it turned into a bit of an extravagant splurge. And oh so worth it. The food is haute cuisine with a Japanese influence (& flair), the space is outfitted with modern glass, wood and stainless steel. And after you've had all that wine there is an incredible small and over the top, high tech bathroom complete with Japanese toilet. I really can't say enough except I'd love to go back for an even more over the top dinner.


Drinking...

La Conserverie, in the 2nd, impressed me so much we went twice. They make in-house tinctures, infusions, jams, etc. and create really gorgeous cocktails. The bartenders were friendly, enthusiastic and easy on the eyes. The space has multiple sets of couches and chairs around small tables, perfect for groups, and also has a very comfortable bar to perch at. Additionally they have a small menu of conserved (potted) dishes like rillettes and cured meats for snacking. I just loved this bar.

Le Forvm is a classic spot right in the pretty 8th and perfect for a well made martini. This is a tried and true, always reliable, place for a great drink and great service. I love grabbing a nightcap here.

Over in the 11th is the bar Barbershop, another fun stop when you need to hydrate. The menu has both classics as well as quirky originals, it is well priced and had no problem accommodating our group of 7.

On the pedestrian only Rue Montorgueil is the premier craft cocktail bar in Paris, Experimental Cocktail Club. I've been before but if I'm in this area I'm always up for a revisit. A few blocks away you can also find very good drinks at Why Bar, complete with a small sidewalk seating section.

If you are looking for a nice glass of vin vs a cocktail you should check out O Chateau, just down the street. It's a bit hip and trendy but they have a fantastic 3€ a glass happy hour and also some interesting wine flights so you can explore wines from the different regions of France.


By the way, if you'd rather shop for booze to mix on your own, make your way to La Maison du Whiskey for an amazing selection of liquors from around the world.

Someplace for both...

Obviously many places are going to be good for food and drinks. But I'm a bit fussy about both and these two stuck out as being good if you really want dinner (vs just some bar food) and something nice in your glass.

On Rue du Nil, a few blocks off Rue Montorgueil, is the 1 year old Frenchie Wine Bar. It's tiny and packed but but if you can time it right and squeeze in, the wine selection is excellent and the small plates of food are delicious. And it is right across from Frenchie (in case you are trying to get in on a cancellation).

Grazie in the 3rd is an Italian pizzeria with some really well made cocktails in an industrial and chic atmosphere. Forest and I had a few rounds of icy cold libations one evening while on a small crawl. Dayne and his colleagues stopped in on our suggestion later in the week and also had the wood fired pizzas which he proclaimed delicious.

All photos here

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Location:Paris, France

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Delta Comfort Class

Last year when I flew to Paris I used miles on Iceland Air's Sega Class. This year I purchased a Delta Economy Comfort seat on the non stop Seattle to Paris flight that use to be operated by Air France.

Economy Comfort states that you get 50% more recline, I can't tell for sure but it does seem a bit more roomy. One thing I can tell you is that there are no in-seat entertainment centers. I heard rumors of this, so my iPad is loaded with books and movies, but I have to say that if you are paying more for "comfort" you should get more than the old style crappy overhead video screens. If you've flown this did you have your own seat back video? My section has just 13 sets of seats in a 2-3-2 config so it feels much more spacious than in the back of the bus. And if you are an Alaska MVP you can get these seats at a discounted rate. You also get to board in zone 1.

Besides that, the food is the same. Not the best I've had on a flight but certainly not the worst. And Delta gives blankets and pillows which are seldom seen any more.

All in all, an easy flight, but it ain't no Sega or Business Class. Also just a tip, CDG has free wi-fi for when you land, but you have to sign up for 15 minute segments.



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Location:Flight 615 Seattle to Paris

Friday, August 17, 2012

First Harvest Dinner, Willows Inn

Last year Dayne and I had a wonderful overnight and dinner at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island, so when the restaurant invited us to their first ever Harvest Dinner we jumped at the offer. This year we stayed in the Honeysuckle Room which was adorable and housed in one of the inn's original buildings.




Having watched the Anthony Bourdain episode of Cook it Raw in Japan with Chef Wetzel's former boss from Noma, forage and create with some of the world's best chefs, we were overly excited for this special meal. chef Wetzel told us, upon asking about the Japanese event, that he had helped to put on that first friendly competition, which made us even more intrigued. Even as we arrived to check in, there was a lot of prep going on for the evening's activities.




The premise was to invite 6 young, innovative chefs, including host Blaine Wetzel, have them fish and forage the island, and then come up with dishes to serve geeky diners over a leisurely 3 to 4 hour evening, with wine pairings by the resident sommelier. As we joined the other diners on the front porch for cocktail hour, the chefs and wait staff discussed the game plan.




The dinner started with a series of appetizers, most brought out and served by the chefs themselves.
Rhubarb and lovage, by north Belgium chef Kobe Desramaulis, was simple, tart and palate cleansing.




Wetzel presented kale leaf with truffles and rye, which was a stand out of the night. Just the aroma of this one bite wonder was heavenly.




Jerusalem artichokes with flax seed and purslane from San Francisco's Jason Fox was next up, another one bite piece of art.




And the final appetizer, from Sean Brock of South Carolina, was a smoked beet with chocolate, balsamic and woodruff. Most of you know that beets and I are not buddies, but I tried it and it was very interesting. Some may have thought it was delicious.




With the pretty little one bite's out of the way, the chefs started to bring out their protein centered foraged and found. I have to say that as each chef presented each table with his creation (where were the ladies?) they were informative, humble and appreciative of the enthusiasm.
John B. Sheilds from Philly presented us with his Shigoku Oyster with egg yolk, sea water and coastal plants. I wanted to love this as it was gorgeous but the kelp was a bit too slimy for me and the green ocean plants had a real muddy taste. Others disagreed and plates were cleaned.




Next up Jason Fox presented my favorite dish of the entire evening. Sockeye salmon as a tartare with fennel, frozen huckleberries, horseradish tapioca and sea beans. I want this again. And again.




These next dishes all came with a complimentary "side" created by one of the other chefs. Out came Chef Wetzel's smoked salmon I'd seen go in earlier in the day. We've all had smoked salmon. But this was amazing, like candy, with even the skin being crispy and flavorful. Served with only a warm, wet hand towel, it was to be eaten and enjoyed with the hands. And it was.




Next up Blaine served summer cabbage with gooseberries and coriander. Not sure what it was about this but it wasn't really my speed. Again, others disagreed.




The accompanying dish by Kobe Desramaults was a big hit however. Grilled onion with Nasturtium, goat cheese and rye.




Chef Desramaults had come around earlier to show each of us part of his next dish. He had taken the oyster shells, from the soon to be presented oysters poached in whey, and pulverized them, mixing them with salt to make a crust in which to roast potatoes in. He was sweet and excited, when he showed us the before shot.




And the resulting dish was both inventive and delicious, with the oyster being firm and the potato being soft yet having a slight briny flavor.




Nasturtium wrapped prawns with green garlic and a "head" emulsion by Chef Fox accompanied. It was nice but didn't make my top list.




It was at this time also that the customers decided on a "sunset break". If you've never seen the sunset from the inn, and even if you have before, it's a spectacular site. On this night there was an interesting cloud seeming to sink into the sea with the sun.




I'm really assuming the next dish was not truly foraged, although there seem to be an abundance of deer on the island... Chef Sean Brock served grilled venison heart (my first encounter with it) along with rhubarb, kohlrabi and shiitake. The sliver of grilled ofal was delicious and very tender




Huge "crackers" of crispy Halibut skin with razor clam was served by Wetzel as the follow up. Very interesting texture and a great flavor. Who would think of serving a shellfish on a finfish skin?




Another favorite of mine was Desramaults kerre melk stampers with spot prawns which I believe he described as a goat's milk ravioli. Whatever it all was I cleaned my plate.




Chef Shields followed with beer bread with pinenut butter and mushroom powder. Just your run of the mill bread course...Served on a log...




The final savory dish was courtesy of Kyle Connaughton. His kamado-San consisted of Kani gohan, charred leeks and seven grain, dungeness osumashi and crispy rice, sea lettuce tsukemono. I was disappointed to be so full at this point as I really wanted to eat all of this!




Desramaults presented a palate cleanser of sorrel and cucumber which even being full got cleaned from my plate.




And the. John B. Shields presented what was the most interesting dessert I've ever had. Preserved carrot with hazelnut praline, spruce and white chocolate. It rocked.




I felt that the dinner was a huge success and introduced me, yet again, to favors and products that I hadn't experienced before. This time those ingredients came with chefs who are really happy to experiment t with new flavors too. Sometimes this type of the meal can be a bit hokey but in my opinion Chef Wetzel and the Willows Inn are really doing a fantastic job. I can't wait till my next meal there!




Total dish count: 18, paired with wine. And this is why there is an inn to sleep over at.
All photos are here.
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Zen Island

We just wrapped up a wonderful weekend on San Juan Island. We came up with some friends to hang out, visit and cook/eat with another friend who lives there, a bit of a repeat of last year. I hope this tradition continues as it is a little slice of heaven for sure.

This year we stayed at the Dragonfly Inn which is about 6 miles from Friday Harbor. The gentleman who built the inn back in the 70's had lived in Japan and created a space that reminded him of his time there. Upon entering, the current owner Linda will ask you to remove your shoes as is the custom in Japan. She'll hand you a pair of slippers and show you around the four-room bed and breakfast.

The common living room is perfect for a small group with a comfortable sectional, huge selection of magazines and DVDs, zen garden and virtual fish tank. There is a small patio where you can sit and watch the hummingbirds and dragonflies. In the morning Linda serves breakfast at the communal table, the house special is a hash brown pancake with a poached egg, lox and wasabi creme fraiche.

The four rooms are all identical except for a different color kimono hanging above each headboard. They have small private patios, low beds, and beautiful bathrooms with soaking tubs that fill from the ceiling.

The grounds also have a very Japanese garden look with bonsai inspired plants, ceramic lanterns and small fountains.

I loved our stay at the Dragonfly Inn, it really reminded me both of our ryokan in Hakone and one of our apartments in Kyoto. It's a little spendy but if you're looking for a nice getaway I highly recommend it.

While on San Juan for the weekend, we also had a wonderful picnic at the American Camp, made a repeat visit to the lovely San Juan Distillery and shopped around Friday Harbor. All photos are here


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