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Posts from the ‘American’ Category

The Post-Millennium Chain Restaurants of Middlesex County: Kona Grill

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I’m not going to tell you how long ago I ate at Kona Grill because it’s kind of embarrassing in its negligence (not for the mere fact that I ate there). But the documentarian completist in me can’t let it go unmentioned. Plus, I took NJ Transit to get there on a weekend so it was kind of an effort (combined with a visit to friends nearby–I don’t generally do chains solo unless in other countries–where we also did Bonefish Grill brunch). I’ve never been attracted to Kona Grill, kind of because it has a conflicting brand identity. The name would imply meats with some tropical edge, though in reality sushi is prominent. It’s not a part of some major restaurant group (though it’s based in Scottsdale, AZ like P.F. Chang’s) and there are only roughly 30 locations in the US. And also it’s in the parking lot of the Renaissance Hotel, near no other restaurants, unlike the usual suburban clusters, but most importantly it’s across the highway from Bonefish Grill, my old favorite chain, so if I was going to go to Woodbridge (technically Iselin), NJ I would have a hard time giving up a plate of Bang Bang Shrimp for the unknown.

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So, Kona Grill is glitzier than it projects from a speeding car zooming down Route 1. There is a main dining room, with a sushi bar as its focus, all glowing blue like a Vegas (or NJ) lounge. We sat in a windowed side room near a fire pit, illuminated by TV screens, and shared a bunch of small plates (crab cakes, dumplings, avocado egg-rolls with honey-cilantro sauce, and portobello & goat cheese flatbread). Entrees remind you of the Grill part of the restaurant’s name and read busy a la miso-saké sea bass shrimp & pork fried rice, pan-asian ratatouille, yet there are also cajun dishes, cuban sandwiches, greek salads, and clam chowder. The menu could stand to be shaved by one-third.

kona grill drinksYou can have sake flights in addition to the Strawberry Basil Lemonades made with Bacardi Dragon Berry Rum. Yes, I’m the freak who always orders a martini with a cheese-stuffed novelty. I think the chain does a substantial happy hour business (I recall reading that in some earnings call transcript), which I will probably never witness first-hand.

Kona Grill * 511 US Hwy 1 south, Iselin, NJ

Chains of Love: Denny’s Jackson Heights

Though it seemed like it appeared overnight, anyone following Queens chain news knew that this Denny’s has been promised for years. The first rumblings were in spring of 2013, a year and a half before I moved down the street. I assumed upon unpacking I would have Super Birds at my disposal 24 hours a day.

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The most surprising thing about the new Jackson Heights’ Denny’s, nestled into the fresh, picture-window building also housing a Chipotle and Dunkin’ Donuts wasn’t that they don’t serve craft cocktails like NYC’s first Denny’s (they don’t serve alcohol at all) or that the host automatically sent my arriving party to the table where I was already seated (guess there’s a dearth of childless, middle-age white ladies in the neighborhood) or that it was nothing like the Denny’s in Japan. No, I was extremely tickled that the check was automatically divvied into three. I’m pretty sure I’ve never encountered that at a restaurant in NYC–or any other Denny’s.

denny's receipt

I did not take any photos of the interior. The restaurant is quite bright and large (the waiting area is the size of most cafes in the area) with lots of burgundy booths, diner seating, and totally nondescript décor. I kept getting distracted by blown-up photos on the wall depicting what looked like a Waffle House, but with Denny’s name on the signs.

The menu is heavy on Grand Slams, skillets, and burgers, as it always was. It’s also pretty trend-averse. There are no flatbreads or kale salads. Jalapeño bacon and salted caramel are about as daring as it gets.

denny's pot roast

Bacon cheddar tots were a new addition, and regular old fries could be upgraded to the little blobs, more fritter than tot, for $1.29, so that had to be done. They would probably be better if they cheese had melted rather than stayed shredded. I had no complaints about the level of American cheese oozing on my pot roast melt, though. With the addition of sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions, held together by toasted 7-grain bread, this was not a bad sandwich. There was an unplanned double pot roast order at my table.

denny's duo

I love leftovers (I always freak when dining with people who leave 25% of their food destined for the trash) so I brought them to work the next day. I reflexively hid my plastic bag from view on the subway, but remembered this was the 7 train, not the F where my Olive Garden remnants elicited scowls.

Denny’s * 8710 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights, NY

Un-American Activities: KFC and Domino’s Japan

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I was blessed to be in Japan in December because I got to witness first-hand the phenomenon that is KFC at Christmas. However, I wasn’t able to partake in it because all those displays and set menus plastered on the wall (Sparkling cider with the Colonel’s face on it! Chicken cordon bleu! A $50 whole turkey with its own tote!) are for pre-ordering only. I had no idea.

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So, I settled for a four-piece meal with biscuits, no finger sheaths provided. I love how even at fast food restaurants (well, at least KFC and MOS Burger) if you order iced coffee you receive a little plastic container of simple syrup and the creamer comes in an even tinier plastic container (even though I take it black).

 

Twitter knows me far too well, as evidenced by Pizza Hut’s enticement of online ordering (no human interaction!) in English (bonus!). But after a solid 20 minutes on their site and being surprised that pizzas cost $30+, I kept getting a garbled message after inputting what I thought was my postal code, which I took to mean I was out of their delivery zone even though I was in a centrally located neighborhood. I was not going to give up ordering pizza to my Airbnb even though it had a wonky address that confused multiple cab drivers.

Plan B. Domino’s, similar oddball flavor combinations (roasted pork with demi-glace and mustard sauce,  crab gratin and something called Mayo Jaga with potato, corn, sausage, and mayonnaise obvs) also offering online orders in English, and no less expensive. I, no joke, spent a half hour trying to type my address into a form so the system would recognize it.

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I thought with near 80% certainty that I would be charged, and then like an hour later would receive an angry call in Japanese and I would have no way to direct the driver. I clearly have been living in in NYC too long because in Tokyo you could track your pizza every step of the way. I registered for the service (and received a 1000 yen coupon for another order) about ten minutes into waiting and was shocked to see the pizza was 9 minutes away, marked with a cartoon reindeer (despite Domino’s shelving reindeer delivery in Hokkaido) and moving fast. I could also read about the driver’s favorite pizza, music, and sports team, except that I couldn’t read them.

dominos-duoI made my boyfriend put on pants and run down to the street from our second floor (first floor in everyone else in the world’s parlance) to intercept a potentially lost driver, still not convinced we were actually going to receive our pizza. No worries, two friendly guys on mopeds showed up and the box was handed off (I love no tipping culture even if it results in a $33 pizza).

I was the proud owner of Cheese ‘n’ Roll Quattro Delight. That meant a surprise cheese-stuffed crust, and one quarter each of Margherita, deluxe, special seafood, and garlic master. I kind of was the Garlic Master. Japan can thwart visitors in so many ways–procedural, cultural–so I felt a strange sense of accomplishment for having conjured a pizza to my door without speaking the language. Also, I wonder how long my coupon is good for?

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Oregon, Better Late Than Never

 

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Mae. I was reluctant to eat at a Southern food pop-up in Portland. Who needs it? (I would be more interested in a Pacific Northwest pop-up on the South except that there isn’t a distinct cuisine to speak of.) But it was one of the highlights of my trip; very vegetable-focused, light when it needed to be (chilled zucchini & buttermilk soup with sweet pepper relish, cherry tomato, and sumac-toasted pecans and lingerie beans, flame nectarine, pickled chantrelles, purslane with brown butter vinaigrette) hefty when it was required (chicken fried in three fats–no idea which). And I will never again underestimate the power of biscuits slathered with Duke’s mayonnaise and topped with nothing more than heirloom tomatoes and bourbon barrel-smoked salt. At $65 (suggested donation) for ten courses (was too busy eating to take photos of them all) and BYOB I would consider it a great bargain, though in Portland that means you’ll be sharing a table with some wealthy middle-aged Bergen County transplants and siblings from Eastern Oregon of mysterious means (and a dubious relationship) one whose child with a septum piercing will be going to Harvard in the fall. I was the only teenager-free diner at the table (even my boyfriend has a daughter going to the cool downtown public high school, which everyone approved of) and when the sister from Pendleton made everyone state their favorite movie, and wouldn’t let up after I demurred, I was like maybe I’m a poor conversationalist? No matter, when there’s pickled ramp pimento cheese to be eaten.

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Nodoguru. $125 ticketed omakase that sells out in minutes. It was all right. Something about it felt off for Portland, not that I’m critiquing quality or creativity.  I just couldn’t get excited because I’m a jaded monster.

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Pizza Vendor. Totally the break-out hit of this trip. With its straighforward name and no reason to go unless you happen to already be in Scappoose identity, it suited my needs just fine. It’s the childhood pizza of your dreams, half-and-half if you please, lots of cheese, thin, chewy, and puffy cornmeal-dusted crust, except that now you can get pitchers of beer instead of root beer and I still can’t figure out how what seemed like six-pints worth of some local IPA was only $6.99. Bon Appetit had recently declared Pizza Jerk, a take on East Coast pizzerias, one of America’s Best New Restaurants despite it being closed due to a fire. Magically, it reopened two days before I was to head back to NYC. I had planned to hit it on the way to the airport but went back to Pizza Vendor instead.

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Hat Yai. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Portland Thai food. There are all sorts of interesting niches being filled despite the Thai population being practically nonexistent. The shtick is Southern Thai in a fast-casual format with cute branding. Fried chicken, lightly battered in seasoned rice flour encrusted with fried shallots and sweet chile sauce is featured and I tried a combo with a big buttery roti and chicken curry, not exactly a light lunch. I kind of love that there are six straight liquors for $6, soda an extra $1.50 (though I’m sure that’s considered overpriced since a majority of cocktails in Portland are still sub-$10) as I’ve been on a tequila and soda kick (so I can pretend I’m not a lame as a vodka soda-drinker). Sometimes I think I will move back to Portland and then I see middle-aged foodie dudes with goatees setting up elaborate photo shoots (was under the impression this was a blogger of some consequence) who pronounce prix fixe, pree fixay, and I’m all nope, I would just be too mean for this town.

urdaneta-duo

Urdaneta. Stopped in for a snack because I was wandering around the area and recognized the name as something newish and ended up ruining my appetite for the $5 Little Bird happy hour double brie burger I had planned on later. Complimentary pimenton-spiked chickpeas and a sweetbread-topped pintxo would’ve suited my needs fine. The tortilla was substantial, gilded with Idiazabal and sherry aioli, and I couldn’t stop eating it.

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Pine State Biscuits. I’ve been before. It was close to my Airbnb.

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Giant Drive-In. There’s a shingled A-frame practically in the backyard of the apartment complex my mom and stepdude are now managing. No, it’s not a destination but I would recommend the big, fun (Hawaiian!) burgers and homemade shakes even if you lived a little more than walking distance.

chinook-winds-trio

 

 

Cedar Plank Buffet. We gathered 10 family members for a Sunday brunch buffet at Spirit Mountain Casino because nothing is too good for my mom’s 66th birthday. Fried oysters, smoked salmon, biscuits and gravy, lemon meringue pie, french toast, and bacon is just all a part of the deal.
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Mountain View Sports Bar. Oh, and a late night sports reuben that I carted around from my mom’s to Scappoose because I’m gross and can’t toss food. I can’t remember if this was before or after the mushrooms and Keno (my sister is a hippie) but it was ok because we stayed overnight, no driving.

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Coyote Joe’s. Weird that I would encounter biscuits three times in two days because biscuits aren’t particularly Northwesty.

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San Dune Pub. An oyster po’ boy with local Willapa Bay oysters. See? New Orleans appropriation.

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Little Big Burger. I completely forgot I ate this.

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An Xuyen. Banh mi, only $1.49 more than the ’90s. Best sandwich under $3. The owner/cashier was so damn chatty I thought the line of customers behind me were about to kill us, yet when I looked up no one gave a shit.

pho-van

Pho Van. Part of a mini Vietnamese empire. Solid pho. No, I did not make it to Rose VL Deli.

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Shut Up and Eat. My grandma is into this food truck-turned-brick-and-mortar restaurant and I’m half-convinced it’s simply because of the name. The Italian sandwich contained a little more roughage than I’m accustomed to.

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Ixtapa. The waiter was all, “I put habaneros in your food,” I guess to get a reaction, but I was all “ok…” That’s humor in Scappoose. The combos are crazy cheap and you won’t feel weird for ordering a chimichanga. That’s all you need to know.

sharis-duo

Shari’s. The last two times I’ve been (2x in one year is more than I’d been in two decades) they did not have my first choice or second choice pie. YMMV. They always have tots, however.

 

Shovel Time: Agern

threeshovelTwo-and-a-half hours after taking my seat at the counter, early Friday evening (the only one doing so until a Japanese guy with hint of a man bun arrived later and was seated way on the other side of the open prep space), I was glad I didn’t change my reservation for something cooler. My original instinct.

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Sure, high-end dining is a little weird just a few steps down the 42nd Street ramp into Grand Central. More than a couple under-dressed walk-ins looked at at menu at the host stand before leaving But also, and maybe more so, do we need more Nordic-tinged food in NYC in 2016? I wouldn’t say I get excited about nasturtium leaves or nettles and especially not dill. You know there is going to be pine somewhere and pretty borage petals are going to make an appearance. (Sure enough, was seated facing the woman prepping the lavender flowers.) It keeps persisting. Cooler might’ve meant waiting a few days and trying the new Aska. I still haven’t been to Blanca or Semilla, though. No one is giving-up tables for one at Le Coucou or that would’ve been part of my Solo Birthday Dining week. Honestly, I chose Agern in part because I suspected it was good value for a tasting menu. And it really was. $145, service included, for the land and sea menu. With beverage pairings (surprisingly heavy on New York state wines) you’re right at $230. Pricey, obviously, but not to the degree of more established, possibly more luxurious, tastings in the city. You feel good about the time and money spent at the end of the meal.

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The non-table-seated view of Friday rush hour bustle. I watched someone struggle with rolling their wheelchair up the ramp for far too long. I wasn’t staring, but it was in my line of vision and struggled myself to come up with an apt metaphor. There wasn’t one. Just a non-young lady willingly eating algae alone.

agern snacks

You don’t receive any silverware during the series of snacks involving cucumber, fluke, horseradish, pine, celeriac, dill, oyster, awesome fried potato bread, and sweetbread that tastes like a fancy chicken nugget, and ends with a steaming, soft-centered round of dense sourdough cut into four wedges and served with butter whipped with buttermilk, which took me a few to realize was intentional. Lemon balm and cucumber gets distilled into a broth poured into a vessel the size of a Chinese teacup from a French press. And then you are on your way.

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Points given for full loaves for one. So nice that bread is back.

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Oof, I can’t remember the details other than tomatoes that I thought tasted dangerously close to melon were involved, something creamy, roe too, and that it probably could’ve been one-third smaller and have had more impact. It was the first night they were serving this dish and it’s not currently on the menu.

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Beef heart with green strawberries, tiny rounds of grassy asparagus, and dusted with a nettle powder was a stand-out. This was more vegetable than meat and tasted like the color green.

What’s the vibe? Well, kind of formal. There is a lot of staff. I appreciated that the front of house wasn’t hyper-white. My server had just moved from Puerto Rico to work at Agern and was jazzed about foraging and local ingredients but still happy to talk to me about alcapurrias and morcilla. Not the youngest crowd. A twee version of “Teenage Kicks” started playing in that Nouvelle Vague manner. It probably was Nouvelle Vague. (Yes, I wasn’t sure if they still existed.)

agern beets

Then it’s the salt and ash baked beet. It’s quite a production, cracked and carved and extras plated on the side. It’s a lot of beet for one person. The sweet vegetable, paired with huckleberries, is accompanied by a really great chewy rye bread.

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This is when I started getting full and fuzzy. Monkfish and apple…

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The pork neck was rich but a little tough, at least too tough for a butter knife to saw through, but also very bright and vegetal with pea shoots and green beans, plus seaweed crackers, more specifically made from a dulse called söl. This was just about right for the savories to wind down.

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My worst nightmare of a dessert. Cantaloupe (ugh) and cucumber with frozen skyr, lemon balm, and there’s that boarage. Minus the melon (which I realize is my own personal Kryptonite), this was a perfectly nice and refreshing palate cleanser. And then I got worried that maybe it was the main event and not an interim course.

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Phew. We’re still not talking caramel, chocolate, or nuts, but I can deal with strawberries, kombucha, and rose vinegar. Ok, who am I kidding? That’s not a dessert either.

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Candies are more me, earthy or not. Little Play-doh doses of chocolate (Brooklyn chocolate) with anise hyssop, chamomile caramel, mint dusted with ivy powder (yes, ivy).

agern bread duo

You get sent off with a loaf of bread, more of that delicious butter, a tin of jam, which I want to say was apricot and it’s a shame my fruit palate isn’t fully developed. Not quite peachy. Best Saturday morning breakfast really.

Agern * 89 E. 42nd St., New York, NY 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: A Bender Just Because

When you post lots of food and drink photos (though who doesn’t anymore?) there is an assumption that you’re always out eating and drinking when in my reality there’s a good deal of cheese and crackers, eggs and bacon, yogurt, seltzer, and other mundanities consumed at home.

dallas bbq pina colada

But when visitors are around who think you’re perpetually having fun, you might have to give them the full eight-hour bender experience, day job be damned. This is now your job. What started out as an innocent lunch break across the street at my favorite regional chain Dallas BBQ (one piña colada) resulted in a two-borough excursion that served to blow the mind (and health) of a long-distance old friend-turned-boyfriend who hadn’t drank for the 25 years leading up to our reconnecting in January. I’m a horrible influence, no question.

jimmy's duo

Jimmy’s Corner (one Sam Adams, two Maker’s on the rocks), not just the best boxing bar in Times Square but possibly the best bar in Times Square period (this is a great recent ode) carried me into oyster happy hour territory but Cull & Pistol, where I was lured by a friend, was too crowded and I wasn’t hungry anyway after ribs and fries, so Corner Bistro minus the burger (two McSorley’s dark ales) became stop #3 for a little anti-Dallas BBQ atmosphere.sea wolf duo

Yet oysters (and two $5 frozen Painkillers) ended up happening anyway at Sea Wolf, the newish beachy restaurant off the Jefferson St. L where getting off the train I came face to face with a coworker whose name I don’t know and initially made me panic since I was being a truant but by 6:30pm I was in the clear. A barely perceptible nod of acknowledgement was sufficient. The point of Bushwick was to hit a few vintage stores, something I haven’t done in decades, and fittingly demonstrate what the Portland of NYC looks like (equally young with free-time during the day, better educated and likely to be secretly wealthy, far dirtier and more industrial, less white, duh).

tomo sushi

By this point, rando sushi seemed like a good idea and a sandwich board on the sidewalk worked its magic. Shared rolls (and a Sapporo) at Tomo just opened the floodgates, though, and Dorito ramen (oops, carbonara) at King Noodle, a few doors down, started seemingly like an even better idea, except I forgot that they had tempered the kitsch a while back and now the menu was more straightforward Asian, slightly SE. Oh, but thank god, and thank you, if you made it this far because the whole point of this exercise is this: ma po tofu fries!

king noodle trio

This is my kind of junk food: melted, processed cheese and fried starch and intensely seasoned ground meat. I love salty soy (fish sauce ideally) with melted cheese and a little (a lot really) heat. Ok, the overriding theme was salt in all the dishes, in an extreme way that was too much in the Spam fried rice and Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce (a nod to health). Maybe not the lemongrass wings, which felt a little wan in comparison, probably because I’d lost all taste for subtlety at this point. (Eaten with coconut porter and a second completely unnecessary beer in a style that I don’t remember since it was the eleventh drink of the day.)

me at king noodle

Drink #10, still going strong. There’s no way to make the neon lighting flattering.

Once you start binging at 1pm, you’ll get tired unless you keep up a steady pace. It may seem dangerous, but the beauty is that you’ll probably make it home by 10pm and get a full eight hours to digest all that sodium, fat, and alcohol and will wake up feeling only sort of like crap (but maybe not at all depending how far from middle-age you might be). To really tempt fate, you can start again the next day but two back-to-back benders is my maximum as a non-young, employed person. Most importantly, I really impressed a now-drinking, self-described Country Mouse (only if you consider Portland’s outskirts country) into boxing, whose going out consists primarily of ramen with his kids, with my fortitude and disregard for work ethics and diet. 

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Seattle Take 2

seven beef trio

Seven Beef Sometimes I go crazy, especially when time is limited, and this was a purely social long-weekend trip, not a food-focused mission. Originally, I reserved at this newish pseudo-steakhouse with a vague Vietnamese undercurrent because it seemed interesting and was walking distance from my Airbnb in a residential neighborhood, but then Bateau, seemingly more serious, also doing in-house butchery and serving lesser known cuts of locally raised beef, started getting buzzy (and Renee Erickson has since won a James Beard for best chef Northwest) so I scrambled to switch, only to get an 8:45pm slot, which would be fine anywhere else but is late-ish by NW standards, but more detrimentally because I’m a sweaty, anxious person, was the fear that only super expensive, non-optimal cuts of meat would be left, plus I already tried attached Bar Mesuline in January so I knew the vibe. So, back to Seven Beef where I didn’t even end up ordering steak but the namesake bò 7 món tasting. Big hunks of meat definitely seem to be the thing here–on a packed Saturday night I didn’t notice any other tables opting out of steak–but something must be done with all of the extra bits, hence lots of sausage (there is also a popular burger, which I totally would do for happy hour if I really lived four blocks away). You start with a beef salad with pickled vegetables and then there’s an onslaught including vinegared beef carpaccio and grilled sausage three-ways (lemongrass-skewered, wrapped in la lot leaves, and laced with five spice) served with fresh herbs, lettuce, and sliced fruit. Congee with meatballs and shrimp chips caps off the meal. It’s totally a deal for $40 per person, especially if you’re into variety and not married to the idea of eating a whole rib-eye. I also ordered fries because it was a birthday dinner and why not?

ian's on the hill pizzas

Ian’s on the Hill If you need any further proof that this was not a food recon trip, I ended up with Hawaiian and taco pizzas, the result of missing my reservation at Vito’s (loved the atmosphere so much last time that I was open to eating lasagna despite being an unabashed Italian-American disliker) the first night due to barfing that started at noon in the car service to JFK and lasted 12 hours, the exact thing that happened when I flew to Seattle three months ago and makes me think I should maybe never go back to Washington or ride in a car. Despite all the Caviars and Ubereats and Postmates that keep on coming and Seattle ostensibly being a tech city, food delivery isn’t much of a thing outside of NYC in my experience. I wanted pizza and this was one of only two options on Seamless. #seamlessinseattle, yes. Oh, I’m just now seeing that this is a Wisconsin-based chain. Even while nauseous yet hungry, I had the right instincts. 

ma'ono trio

Ma’ono Fried Chicken and Whisky I was recently asked what quintessential Seattle food was. “Is there a Primanti Brothers of Seattle?” Uh, no. Dick’s is an icon but that’s just burgers. An argument could be made for teriyaki. Hawaiian food is also relatively big in the Northwest considering the islands take as long to reach by plane as NYC. I just wanted some fried chicken. Here, it’s a thing big enough to reserve birds ahead of time. It just happened that brunch was a meal I had free, so I got the morning version with biscuits and gravy and maple syrup. A half order, so wonderfully crisp and crackly that it held up two days later, is plenty for two. If you want to die, feel free to also start your day with spam masubi and a fancy loco moco (Basil-mint chutney? Wood-grilled ground chuck?). I didn’t realize exactly what sort of place this was until my bloody mary arrived with a pickled sunchoke garnish. Now you know.

elliot's oysters

Elliott’s Oyster House Touristy doesn’t have to be bad even though there’s a lot of crap on the waterfront. I can’t speak to the rest of the menu or long waits for tables, but sitting at the small bar watching more than 20 varieties of regional oysters being shucked while drinking Oregon pinot gris is not crappy. You might even get a few freebies tossed in with your half-dozen.

charlie's monte cristo

Charlie’s on Broadway Finally got my damn West Coast monte cristo. What makes a monte cristo West Coast, you ask? It can’t be an open-faced abomination served with maple syrup. Raspberry jelly all the way. That’s it. These wedges were so perfectly battered and fried that the layers of turkey, ham, and swiss had nearly melded into one with powder sugar-dusted bread, giving a cake-like impression. It seems like it needs fries as to be less naked on the plate, not out of caloric weakness. Apparently, Charlie’s was recently redone after a closure, yet it still looks like a ‘70s fern bar, i.e. my kind of joint, so there’s that.

aoki chirashi

Aoki serves sushi that is neither fast food nor luxurious nor loungey and sharing a menu from other Asian nations. That’s not a simple ask for a spur of the moment choice in Capitol Hill. I just wanted some solid chirashi and got it.

honey hole sandwiches

Honey Hole I’ll admit I went just because that name? Walking past the nondescript facade a few storefronts down from a Babeland this winter, I automatically assumed it was a gay bar not a sandwich shop. And a good one at that. My dining companion also wanted the Liotta (an Italian sub with quality ham and salami) which warmed my heart to discover we have similar tastes in sandwiches, but I don’t allow parties to order the same dish, so a Corleone (no, the names are not all Italian though there is a Chachi’s Favorite) which sounded like a baguette reuben by description but was so pastrami-forward that it tasted more like a deli sandwich even minus the rye bread. I also consumed a coffee cider (local brewery unknown/unremembered–there is no evidence of this creation existing on either Schilling’s or Seattle Cider Company’s sites) which might be the most Northwest thing ever. I’m still not convinced those two beverages are meant to be one.

cheesecake factory duo

Cheesecake Factory My cross-country rendezvous was with someone who had never been to a Cheesecake Factory and hasn’t drank for the past 25 years, which is to say after 60 hours living my way there was serious malaise the final day in Seattle. And brutally, there was a huge block of time to kill between the Airbnb check out (even at an unusually civilized 1pm) and my 9:50pm flight. Being a near-90 degree day (as I currently sit in gray, damp 50s NYC) we did the only sensible thing and headed to the suburbs, specifically an upscale ghost town mall in Bellevue for good air conditioning. After paying $9 to take a nap in a completely empty movie theater across the escalators from a comedy club/pool hall/ping pong lounge and not sleeping because Boss, the lesser of evils playing at a workable time, ended up being more stupid-funny than expected (I literally LOL’d just because I could in this impromptu private screening) it was time to choose among the chains. P.F. Chang’s almost won out, and  I’m still curious about non-chain Tavern Hall, which has the post-millennium, upwardly mobile young adult trappings–Sazeracs on tap, shuffleboard, brunch–I would normally go nuts for. At Cheesecake Factory, which went from dead to completely filled during our stint, I loaded up on pre-flight fat and dairy with their version of crab rangoon, a bacon date pizza, plus a slice of salted caramel cheesecake. Even eating less than half of all that ended up feeling like a very bad idea. One must go out with a bang. That’s the rule.

Nothing like a roaring fire in full-on sweat weather

Nothing like a roaring fire in full-on sweat weather

You know you're in the Northwest when there's Dale Chihuly hanging in your mall

You know you’re in the Northwest when there’s Dale Chihuly hanging in your mall

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Portland Barrage, Old-School Mostly

burgerville colassal cheeseburger

I started Portland with Burgerville, partially because I wanted a Colossal Cheeseburger (they aren’t really colossal) for the road, but mostly because I needed to use a bathroom and the Beaverton location is sort of on the way between downtown, where the Bolt Bus dropped me off from Seattle and my mom picked me up, and her place at the coast. I was chided for not getting the seasonal chocolate hazelnut shake and I still regret it. Burgerville spread rules so hard they’ve jarred it.

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Eaten, Barely Blogged: Seattle Side Trip

Almost always if someone outside the West Coast hears you’re from Portland, they assume you know everything about Seattle even though with 175 miles separating the two cites, that’s practically like conflating New York City with Baltimore. (Also, no one in Jackson Heights has ever heard of Oregon or Portland.) Prior to January, I’d only been to Seattle once in 1993 on an art school field trip where I used fudged work study money to buy a pair of John Fluevog flatforms, got my photo taken by tourists, and sipped not even second-wave coffee at some place called Puss-Puss Cafe before being driven back south by a charter bus.

Contemporary Seattle is…I’m not sure exactly. Definitely more mature than Portland, a little bland (seriously sad Tinder), a lot wet and outdoorsy, kind of like if a city could be the municipal embodiment of damp polar fleece. That said, there is also a lot of new, and a lot of it seems to have sprung-up close to where I was staying in Capitol Hill.

Capitol Hill Cider This is where I kicked off my final night of eating and drinking (my first night of three was a bust after barfing into an air sickness bag while waiting on a porch for an Airbnb host) a little before night truly began. At this cider-focused tavern with a Northwest bent, just a glass of Apple Outlaw’s Ginger Bite kind of because the gluten-free menu wasn’t my thing (nothing against bbq or tempura broccoli) but mostly because I had many more pit stops ahead of me.

bar melusine

Bar Melusine I eat a lot of happy hour oysters, often without paying much mind to origin. At Bar Melusine I was excited about two things: trying more than just the familiar kumamotos, and getting an eyeful of that mint green, marble, and brass scheme that’s like visual Xanax. With six oysters on offer, the kumamoto being the only non-Washington bivalve (and raising the question as to why you never encounter Oregon oysters), ordering a dozen was the perfect opportunity to try them all, with an Aquavit-based cocktail like the Fleet Wanderer. Supposedly ranked mildest to strongest (I did not agree): Kumamoto, Treasure Cove, Eld Inlet, Passage, Blue Pool, Hama Hama.

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Shovel Time: Canlis

threeshovelThe only reason I went to Seattle at all was because it was–and is–cheaper to fly to from NYC than Portland where I ultimately ended up taking a Bolt Bus to because I’m all about luxury. Also, I had this minutely contrarian notion that Seattle is a more serious restaurant city than Portland, which I’m not sure is true. All I knew was that if I were going to Seattle with that mindset, I’d need to experience Canlis, a classic spread-out in a low-slung, mid-century building overlooking Lake Union with food that has morphed over a half-century into something highly regional and to be taken seriously, the latest incarnation circa summer 2015 being the work of chef Brady Williams, formerly of Roberta’s, a slightly unexpected shift from the special occasion restaurant with a piano player, and couples stationed side by side to take in the view from banquettes.

I don’t even know if Portland has a Canlis equivalent. I can’t recall ever seeing women dining in sequined sheath dresses, or even tattoo-sleeved youths–this is the Northwest, after all–in appropriately glam frocks, in my hometown

My original plan was to simply go by myself, despite no bar seating (the lounge was closed for renovations, but I’m not sure if it was ever for dining) but after my sister said she would be into coming up to Seattle from Eugene (and thankfully saving me the visit down there) I said I’d take her to dinner as a belated Christmas gift, the first time I’ve ever role-played the wealthy husband role. Even going the $100 four-course pick-and-choose prix-fixe route rather than a tasting menu and sticking to a sub-$100 bottle of wine (a small percentage of the voluminous list), a Walla Walla syrah from a producer I’m blanking on, this was a full-on splurge (those pre-dinner drinks and digestifs will get you).

canlis grid

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