Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do you return Bad Produce?

I came across an interesting post on the Cheap, Healthy, Good blog about what people should do if they get produce items that are rotten on the inside or happen to spoil prematurely. This is somewhat of a frequent occurrence at my house and is often a point of contention between my wife and I. She avoids returning anything at the store, unless it is very obvious like bad meat or chicken. I think that if the store is selling a product, no matter what it is, it is their responsibility to ensure it is of the highest quality. If the product is not, they should be willing to provide a refund.

We have found lately that this is a recurring issue with produce we get from Trader Joe's. Believe you me, I LOVE TJ's and think it is the greatest place since the bakery that first sliced that bread, but it is a known fact amongst those in the know that Trader Joe's produce is often hit-or-miss. Just this past Tuesday night, we were getting ready to roast some asparagus (that was purchased on Sunday) only to find that it was rotten despite looking good beneath its strink wrap (which is an entirely different issue, that could be discussed at length). Although the new TJ's in Redmond is just down the hill and around the corner to our house, we decided to chuck it and just cook something else. The situation can get even stickier (hopefully not literally!) if you purchase organic produce that usually degrades faster than conventional produce that is grown without pesticides or preservatives.

Where do you draw the line with your funky produce?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Interesting Discussions on Casual Kitchen Blog!

Since beginning to write my own blog, I have started to read alot of other really interesting, well-written food blogs. One of my recent favorites is the Casual Kitchen blog, which is a food blog focused on food philosophy, money-saving ideas and easy and inexpensive recipes. They provide helpful tips, strategies, recipes and advice to people who want to make cooking at home a bigger and better part of their lives.

They have had some pretty interesting posts lately. One that comes to mind is a set of Guidelines for Using Food and Wine Jargon without coming off like a jackass. Certainly, rules that every responsible foodie should follow! Another was a great discussion of What Defines "Great" Service at a Restaurant. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Exciting Eastside NYE Dining Options

Have you made your plans for New Years Eve yet ?

The best restaurants typically book up early, but in this economy there is sure to be more people staying home meaning more openings still available. This might be good news for you procrastinators out there who are late to consider your options.

Of the many special dinners and events going on for the holiday, here are some of the most interesting and enticing options on the Eastside:

Stir Martini & Raw Bar in Bellevue at the Hyatt Regency hotel is hosting a a New Years party that will include a red carpet, dance floor, fiery favors and drink specials to celebrate each time zones' midnight. Sounds pretty fun!

Also of note if you are concerned about staying off the roads, the Hyatt Regency is offering a special $99 nightly rate for guests of Stir. Pretty good deal if you are looking to make a little more out of the night. You can make reservations at (425) 462-1234 and be sure to mention the STIR New Year’s special.

The Pomegranate Bistro in Redmond, will be offering a 5-course feast for $65 ($100 with wines) that will include Maine lobster in Sauterne, stuffed quail, and braised lamb shank. Sounds like a pretty decent meal at a decent price, especially compared to some of the exorbitant prices for some of the other local restaurants.

Finally and also in Redmond, the Stone House will be offering what looks like a stupendous New Year's Eve dinner for $52 per person including a champagne toast. Here is the menu:

First Course (choice of):
Cider Braised Pork Belly, Creamed Kale, Hedgehog Mushrooms
Kumamoto Oysters
on the half shell with champagne-Meyer Lemon Ice
Buckwheat Crepes, Wild Mushrooms, Braised Spinach, Leek Cream Sauce

Second Course (choice of):
Truffled Potato and Sun Choke Soup, Micro Arugula, Meyer Lemon Oil
Pear and Persimmon Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Goat Cheese and Pepitas
Golden Beets, Spinach, Rogue River Blue Cheese

Blood Orange Gelato

Entrée (choice of):
Grilled King Salmon with Dungeness Crab-Potato Soufflé
Chili Crusted Filet, Cheddar Mashed Potatoes, Broccolini, Red Pepper Coulis
Seared Sea Scallops, Meyer Lemon Jam, Yam Puree, Bacon-brussel sprout, parsnip Hash

Dessert (choice of):
Chocolate Soufflé Cake Crème Brulee Banana Foster Bread Pudding

If I were staying in town, you would find me at the Stone House cozying up to my wife and that King Salmon with Crab-Potatoe Souffle. Sounds like a perfect, elegant New Year's Eve close to home!

Happy New Year Everyone!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bellevue's Barrio Reviewed on Cornichon Blog

There is a review of Bellevue's Barrio on the great, Seattle food blog Cornichon, written by my colleague Ronald Holden at the Seattlest. Ronald always finds an interesting way to talk food.

My favorite quip in this review has to do with the seasoning in one of his dishes;

"Only in Bellevue, one feels, is a ban on salt written into the Municipal Code. Just requesting a salt shaker is akin to asking (aloud, in public) for kiddie porn."

Great stuff Ron, keep up the good work!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Off the Eaten Path: Bamboo Garden in Bellevue

Thousands drive by it everyday, yet few venture inside. Perhaps the jewel in Seattle's Chinese food crown is Bamboo Garden, precipitously located next to a sketchy adult store in the shadows of Bellevue's condo-mania. Specializing in Szechuan cuisine this is the place to go if you can take the heat, although they do a fairly good job with the standards.

The true signs of an authentic Chinese restaurant are an old woman separating pea shoots at a vacant table in the bar and lots of people speaking foreign tongues eating things that most Americans would not recognize. Both can be found at Bamboo Garden, but they take the latter sign of authenticity to heart and provide a “Wild Side” page at the back of their expansive menu. Here you will find the specialties of the house; the Swimming Fire Fish in addition to Sour and Spicy Jelly Fish and the appropriately titled “The Other Parts of the Pig.”

Be sure to try the unctuous Green Onion Pancakes, Stir Fried Prawns in Hot Garlic Sauce with succulent, chunky bamboo shoots and a perfectly balanced sauce that provides just the amount of sweetness to counter the heat. Also not to be missed are the Spareribs Glazed in Tangy Ginger Sauce and Pineapple. These delicious jewels of goodness are popable and messy, but are well worth the cleanup.

The ambiance is adequate with lots of wood and bamboo accents. Service is hit or miss. Frequent communication breakdowns will occur and your food will come out from the kitchen out of order, but the food is ultimately what you are worth it. See for yourself if Bamboo Garden is what many call the missing link in the Chinese food chain between San Francisco and Vancouver. We seem to think so.

Bamboo Garden
202 106th Place Northeast
Bellevue, WA 98004-5723
(425) 688-7991

** This post also runs on the Seattlest blog site as part of the new Off the Eaten Path feature that will cover affordable, independent food businesses that most people don't know about.

Happy Hour Report: Seastar in Bellevue

On a recent chilly evening, my wife, Michelle and I unexpectedly found our commutes home had us crisscrossing near downtown Bellevue. It was the perfect opportunity to check out Happy Hour at Bellevue's famed Seastar Restaurant and Oyster Bar.

Arriving at about 5:20, we had to quickly make our menu selections to get our order in as Happy Hour awkwardly ended at 5:30. Running from 3:30 to 5:30, this has to be one of the most non-customer friendly time frames, not giving most 9to5-ers the opportunity to get there in time to enjoy much of the happiest of hours.

We ordered two glasses of wine, one white and one red (missed the specifics, sorry) which turned out to be barely drinkable. I guess when you get a $3 glass, you can't have overly lofty expectations. For food, we ordered up a Spicy Tuna Roll ($3) for my spicy tuna connoisseur wife, Garlic Grilled Shrimp with Mashed Potatoes ($5), Putaportiwon's Calamari Poppers ($7.50) and the Seared Kal-Bi Pork Medallions ($7) to make it a Surf & Turf affair.

The Spicy Tuna Roll arrived first. As we dug in we were disappointed that the roll was ice cold and gummy, having obviously been pre-made and chilled. The disappointment continued on this menu item as any nuisances and flavor of the tuna were overpowered by red pepper flake and sriracha. Once again, it was only $3 but if you are a high-end seafood restaurant who chooses to serve sushi, you should provide better sushi than QFC.

Luckily, the Garlic Shrimp and Pork Medallions arrived and were much more appealing. The shrimp were cooked perfectly; nice and firm with a nice, subtle garlic flavor. The accompanying potatoes unfortunately were overpowered by the flood of melted butter they were topped with. Sure, who doesn't love a little butter on their mashed potatoes, but this took it a little far. The pork medallions were the highlight of the meal, perfectly cooked and accompanied by a nice, sweet sauce. They were exceptionally tender and had a nice sear. Great Dish!

Considering our meal thus far had been pretty hit-or-miss, the most bizarre dish of the night was by far the Calamari Poppers. Presentation wise the poppers looked like bloated fingers after too much MSG; almost like bloated mini haggises. They were advertised as being "semi-fried," dipped into a watery beer batter and fried. The fried coating only seemed to accentuate the rubbery texture of the calamari and did not add any contrast to the gummy, chewy stuffing. They were oddly accompanied by sliced grapes and a zesty slaw. When our waitress returned we inquired about the dish and she informed us that the stuffing was the same spicy tuna mixture they used in the spicy tuna roll we had earlier. If anything they were consistent, as we didn't enjoy it in the sushi and didn't like it any better stuffed into the calamari.

At the end of the day, we got alot of food for our $40 and left relatively satisfied. The atmosphere in the bar was nice and we enjoyed the game on TV. Service was adequate, but nothing extraordinary. If happy hour is supposed to entice people to return for dinner, Seastar definitely failed in this endeavor. With all of the new offerings in downtown Bellevue, nothing about this experience begged for another.

Grade: C

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Eastside Extended: Snoqualmie's Zoka Coffee Sold

As reported by Melissa Allison on her blog Coffee City, Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Company has sold its Snoqualmie Ridge location to a local resident who plans on opening up a donut shop, called Steve's Donuts early next year.

Zoka currently does all its roasting out of a facility in Ballard and operates three coffee shops; one in Tangletown, another adjacent to University Village and the newest in downtown Kirkland which opened this past summer.

New owner Steve Pennington, a former Microsoft project manager, plans on keeping the staff intact and will even continue to serve Zoka coffee. He plans to source as much of his ingredients locally and is hoping to produce all natural donuts.

Good Luck Steve! I applaud your passion and wish you much luck in bringing more personality to the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Eastside Beverage Events this Weekend to Make Ted Nugent Proud!

If Ted Nugent was an Eastsider (I'm pretty sure he's not!) what would make him happy this chilly December weekend? My guess would be some rock n'roll, beer, wine and some hunting followed by a wild game feast. Channel your inner Ted and you can experience all of this and more at two excited events this weekend.

Everett's Lazy Boy Brewing and Michael "Whip" Wilton (founder and guitarist for Queensryche) will release their collaboratively brewed beer called "Whip Ale" at Valhalla in Kirkland. The beer is advertised as being “Bold, rich, and aromatic – smooth and well flavored," but it seems to be a pretty aggressive yet well balanced Pale Ale.

As reported by the Washington Beer Blog, "Whip Ale is produced by Lazy Boy Brewing on behalf of, and under the direction of, Michael Wilton of Queensryche. Our conversation with Shawn Loring of Lazy Boy Brewing suggested that Michael played a larger part in shaping the beer than many people might imagine. “He came in with good information and a pretty good idea of how he wanted the beer to taste,” Shawn told us. “We threw some ideas around. I told him what was and was not possible and we came up with this. He did his research, that’s for sure.”

The release party will be held this evening beginning at 7pm. 5 bands are on the bill including Kevin Hoffman, Dirty Hollywood, Guns of Nevada, Midnight Idols, Hairmageddon and there is NO COVER.

8544 122nd Ave NE
Kirkland, WA

If you prefer the grapes and a quieter, more subdued event, head out to Woodinville on Sunday afternoon for a Wild Game & Wine Tasting at Sheridan Vineyards. Chef John Caudill will have three kinds of game meat to pair with wine on Sunday: elk, venison and lamb. The menu for the day is:
  • Elk medallions with a demiglace of wine and blueberries, which will be paired with Sheridan L’Orage, a 2/3 cabernet sauvignon/1/3 cabernet franc aged in new and old French oak.
  • Venison skewers with the pairing TBD
  • Lamb sausages with Moroccan spicing and a rosemary gremolata will meet Sheridan Mystique, a merlot-based red wine with black fruit notes to compliment the lamb’s richness.

The event is 12-5pm at Sheridan's tasting room in Woodinville, and costs $10 per person

Space is limited and reservations are required. Please RSVP with your last name and the number of people attending to 425-401-0167 before 5pm Friday, December 10; or e-mail

Sheridan Vineyards

18564 142nd Ave NE

Woodinville, WA

New Chipotle Mexican Grill Opens Today in Bellevue

A new Chipotle Mexican Grill will be opening today in the Crossroads neighborhood of Bellevue. This will be the 11th Chipotle location in the state, the 4th on the Eastside. Chipotle is a chain that began in Boulder, Colorado in 1993 and has expanded very quickly to over 860 outlets.

They are best known for their burritos, but I think more importantly should be their "Food With Integrity" philosophy. Especially impressive (and important!) for a chain of this size, is the fact that they put so much focus on the sourcing of their ingredients. Here are some interesting facts:
  • Chipotle is the largest restaurant buyer of naturally raised meats in the country with all Washington locations offering naturally raised pork, chicken and beef.
  • Chipotle purchases 25 percent of a single ingredient from a local farm. All Washington locations receive red onions from River Point Farms in Hermiston, OR; green bell peppers from Fewel Farms in Prosser, WA; and herbs from Herbco in Duvall, WA. This makes Chipotle the first and only national restaurant committed to buying local ingredients on a significant scale.
  • All of the dairy products Chipotle uses (cheese and sour cream) are 100 percent rGBH-free.
Considering Chipotle is a publicly owned company that is concerned first and foremost about their bottom line, I think it is great that they are taking responsibility for their sourcing. They are a great example that will hopefully pave the way for other national chains to do the same.

Personally, I do enjoy a Chipotle burrito from time to time, but was very surprised a few months back when I saw this Nutritional Calculator on one of their fan sites and found out that a fully loaded chicken burrito came in at over 1100 calories and 50g of fat. Even though the food is sourced from local farms and their proteins are relatively natural and free of hormones, it still is definitively not "healthy."

Chipotle Mexican Grill
800 156th Ave NE
Bellevue, WA 98008

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dinner & Dom at Grand Cru Wine Bar in Bellevue

Times are obviously tough for everybody, especially small independent businesses. To drum up additional exposure and business restaurants are resorting to all sorts of promotions, but I have not seen one as interesting as the one currently running at the Grand Cru Wine Bar in Downtown Bellevue.

Offered every Wednesday and Saturday night, Grand Cru has a special complimentary "Dinner On Us" menu. No additional purchase is required, but an 18% gratuity will be added to your bill which will include the value of the free meal.

Here is what they are serving tonight (along with the value if you want to figure out what you are on the hook for):

Complimentary Starter Course
Mixed Green Salad balsamic vinaigrette, chevre croutons ($7 Value)
Corn and Red Pepper Chowder ($6 Value)

Complimentary Main Course
Wild Mushroom Bourgogne sauteed wild mushrooms, onion, fresh herbs, red wine, pappardelle pasta ($14 Value)
Baked Prawn Casserole scallions, garlic, mushrooms, white wine butter ($16 Value)
Spicy Pulled Pork slow roasted pulled pork, tomato salsa, served with steamed rice ($14 Value)

Reservations are required and can be obtained by calling (425) 455-4278 or via their online form here.

Also of interest for those who are in a celebratory mood this holiday season, Grand Cru will be popping bottles of 1999 Dom Perignon Champagne which will be available for $25 a glass. Not bad if you can't afford a bottle yourself!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Parking Situation at Bellevue Towers Improves

As reported by the Downtown Bellevue Network, the dreadful evening parking situation at the Bellevue Towers should drastically improve with the addition of two additional parking options. If you have dined (or attempted to dine) at Purple Cafe & Wine Bar or Barrio, you have likely encountered a long line to enter the garage or found that it is full.

In addition to validated parking which will still be available in the Bellevue Towers garage, you can now park at two other lots:

- Key Bank Building Surface Lot (across NE 4th Street) which will be offering complimentary parking every day after 5pm and all day on the weekends with no validated ticket necessary

-Ampco System Parking Surfact Lot (across 106th Avenue NE) which will offer free parking Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights after 5pm with a validated parking ticket.

Hopefully this will make it easier and more convenient for people to visit both of these restaurants.

Masala Bar & Grill Opening Tonight in Bothell

Masala Bar & Grill will be opening its second location in Bothell (first is in Northgate) tonight beginning at 4pm. The Grand Opening Celebration will include a free Dinner Buffet (not including beverages) and live music performed by local, acoustic rock group Woodrush.

The Northgate location looks to have some very favorable reviews on Yelp. Hopefully Masala will pan out to also be a mainstay in Bothell.

If you attend the grand opening or go before we do, let us know what you think?

Masala Bar & Grill
19409 Bothell-Everett Highway
Bothell, WA 98012

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Seattle Magazine's Reader's Choice Poll: Show the Eastside Some Love

The Seattle Magazine has opened up polling for its Readers Choice Awards that will run in the April 2010 Best Restaurants issue.

It is a pretty extensive poll asking readers to contribute their opinions in categories ranging from Best New Restaurant opened in 2009 to Best Wine List to Best Restaurant with a View. This is your chance to show the Eastside some love!

Ballots must be received by Friday, December 18, 2009 and will only be counted if more than half the categories are filled out.

Link to Seattle Magazine's Readers Choice Poll

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Kirkland's Third Floor Fish Cafe to Close

As reported this morning by Seattle Times food Writer Nancy Leson, Kirkland's Third Floor Fish Cafe will be shutting its doors on December 19th. This Kirkland institution has been in business for 15 years and cites the slow economy paired with the owners' desire to remodel as the main factors to close.

Although there are no concrete plans to announce yet, Executive Chef Greg Campbell told Leson that there are discussions taking place between himself and the building's owner, Herb Chaffey about turning the space into a 200-seat "private events facility" (whatever that means, exactly?).

Personally, I only had one lackluster meal here. I loved the view, but thought the space was in dire need for an updating (sounds like the owners agreed). The food was okay, but hardly memorable.

It is sad to see any privately-owned restaurant go out of business, but I can't say that I am surprised as the high-end dining scene on the Eastside has gotten exceedingly more competitive as of late.