30 April, 2010

El Gaucho - Happy Hour


Good gravy, El Gaucho in Bellevue is hard to find, hard to park, and expensive as all get out. But the happy hour prices were half off, and once we got there, both the food and the drinks were phenomenal. Once we sat down in the beautifully padded banquette (both of us sat on the same side; it was THAT cozy) and took the first sips (more like mini-gulps) of our cocktails, all was right with the world.


We decided to do what any self-respecting food blogger would do: inquire about which foods were the tastiest AND the prettiest. It was honestly tasty all the way through, save for the Ahi Tartare which was interesting and flavorful, but it just didn't have the right flavors to punch us in the gut.

Here are some highlights from our three-hour happy hour.

Sun was shining through the bar right on us. Good times.

She had a lemon drop and I had a Pear Argudo, arguably one
of the best cocktails I've ever had. Very smooth.



The waitress suggested the Tenderloin Diablo and it was 
absolutely fantastic. And it was quite a lot, even for the two 
of us with our voracious after-work appetites.

The Fire-Roasted Pepper Flatbread - it was as tasty
as it looked. Again, quite a large portion!

This is the Mac 'n' Coastal Cheddar Cheese dish. Gourmet
Mac 'n' Cheese never tasted so good. Absolutely delicious.

I really wish I would have fallen in love with this dish.
See how beautiful it is? Mixed together, it just lacked
something important. And my friend thought the capers
overtook the flavor of the dish. I have to sadly concur. 

Creme Brulee is a favorite of my friend, so we had to get that
for dessert. The brulee was good, but my friend wasn't 
keen on the fact that it had a citrus overtone and that was never 
mentioned on the menu description. I liked the flavor myself, 
but it did indeed taste of citrus.

The Chocolate Bourbon Cake was so moist, 
it was almost a mousse. 

We honestly expected chocolate lava to pour out from inside. 
It did not, but we weren't the least bit disappointed.
It was probably the best part of the meal. The candied 
pecans, the caramel, the chocolate, the vanilla ice 
cream -- then the warm and the cold... it all 
went together.

(Which is why we photographed the heck out of it!)




Gorgeous AND tasty!

Another fabulous night out -- this time in Bellevue!

27 April, 2010

Honoré Artisan Bakery : Seattle

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A friend's birthday was coming up and she enjoys good sweets, so I went on a citywide search for a place that made macarons in Seattle. I put out the APB on Twitter and someone suggested Honore Artisan Bakery in Ballard. I'm really glad they did. I would have had no idea that this little hole-in-the-wall spot in a little neighborhood existed. It's totally tucked away from the main shops of Ballard, on a residential side street.


I went there strictly for the macarons and boy, did they not disappoint. There were many flavors to choose from. I just grabbed a box of various flavors, intent on trying them all. (And giving my friend the same pleasure.) They were a really good consistency and each had a good flavor and the perfect amount of cream in the middle.

My favorites were the lavendar ones with a spice-buttercream filling, and the chocolate ones with chocolate ganache in the middle. I'm not even a huge chocolate fan (I don't go out of my way for chocolate, like I would a good pastry or cake), but I would definitely go out of my way for these chocolate macarons. Fine, fine cookies to be sure.


While I have yet to try other places in Seattle that sell macarons (I heard Bakery Nouveau does), this is a sure bet for a fine macaron. They are a little larger than the standard macaron and cost $1.90 per cookie. They also have a cute little courtyard in back, and are a full-service coffee shop, as well as bakery.

22 April, 2010

The Broken Lens Project

Last weekend, one of my camera lenses broke. It just stopped focusing altogether. Before I sent it back to Canon, however, I decided to do what everyone should do when life gives you lemons. Make art!

I went out and took photos of pretty things through a broken lens. Who says broken lenses are useless?

Wine bar.

Shutters.

Chandelier.


Pots and pans.

Piano.

House.

Sky.

Traffic in tunnel.

The light at the end of the tunnel.

Cookbooks.

Lemons.

Yellow.

Mountain.

El gato.

Self-portrait.

Forest for the trees.

21 April, 2010

Lemon Risotto (with Tuscan-Style Tuna Steaks)

Risotto al limone
from the Risotto cookbook
by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman


I had a bowl of lemons on my counter and was contemplating what to make with them. One of my all-time favorite lemon recipes is not a dessert recipe, rather a savory dish -- lemon risotto. I'd made it many times before, but this time, I actually used the Risotto al limone recipe from the aforementioned cookbook. To my surprise, it was a notch above the usual. I'm guessing it's the brandy and cream that did it. (I usually use white wine and tons of parmesan, while this one was a bit reserved on the cheese, opting instead for cream.) Wow.

Photos were done on the fly; my apologies for not taking better "after" shots of the risotto itself (I kind of focused on the tuna), but we were in a hurry to eat!

Note: I did not have peas for this recipes, so I substituted baby spinach for the greens in the risotto.

Ingredients.

  • 5 cups broth (I used chicken)
  • 2 TB butter (I used salted)
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio (or pearl) rice
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about two lemons)
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 cup fresh peas (I used baby spinach)
  • 1/4 cup light cream
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
Instructions.

Bring the broth to a simmer on the stove. Heat the butter and oil in a casserole or pot over moderate heat. Add the onion and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, until it begins to soften. Don't let it brown.

Add the rice and, using a wooden spoon, stir for one minute making sure all the grains are well-coated.

Set your kitchen timer for 18 minutes. Add the brandy and lemon juice and cook, while stirring, until the liquid is almost completely absorbed. Add in a portion of the broth (1/2 cup at a time) and stir frequently until the rice has absorbed it before adding more, reserving about 1/4 cup for the very end. 

After approximately 18 minutes, when the rice is tender but still firm, add the rest of the broth, the peas, cream, and parmesan. Stir vigorously for about 1 minute and then remove from heat and serve immediately.

Tuna Steaks.

For the tuna steaks, I put two in a glass casserole dish with about a cup of olive oil and the following: the zest of one lemon, 2 TB rosemary, 6 cloves crushed garlic, a good coating of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of dried parsley (fresh would be better). Marinate for two hours, turning the steaks once during that time. Grill or fry in a heavy skillet on high heat for 2 - 5 minutes on each side, depending on how done you like it. (I like it a little bit pink, but I overcooked it with 4 minutes.)

Freshly grated parmesan cheese and superfino arborio rice

Ingredients.

Lots of garlic for the tuna steak marinade.

Tuna steaks marinading.

Coating the rice with oil and then adding liquid a bit at a time.

Tuna steaks are already a bit too done here.

Finished tuna steaks with garlic/herb bits

The finished dish

20 April, 2010

Portlandia


Instead of the obligatory city acronym PDX, I went the opposite route and elongated the name. Much nicer, no? Heh.

The 26 hours I spent in Portland were, as usual, a bit of a whirlwind. This was not a working vacation, rather a pleasure trip to celebrate the birthday of a close friend. Before I met up with her, I also connected with one of my favorite Pacific Northwest photographers, Ali Walker, for lunch at the Everett Street Bistro in downtown Portland. It was incredible to finally meet Ali. I felt like we could have, in all honesty, talked for another couple of hours without taking a breath.


We enjoyed some fancy water, which I don't normally splurge on, but was in the mood for fizzy. And honestly, how could I resist a bottle of "Antipodes"?

At the Everett Street Bistro, I enjoyed the most amazing caramelized onion tart with loads of pepper and blue cheese in it. Unbelievable. And accompanying it was delightful mixed wild greens that had a faint hint of something exotic in the dressing, which I later identified as cinnamon. Yes. Cinnamon. Very good.





And ya gotta love a place that not only has a cheese bar, but you can order charcuterie, as well. Heart be still. Lovely lunch, lovely date, lovely place.



I was off to see Maria after that. After catching up for a couple of hours, we went out and enjoyed a spa treatment, and then headed off to dinner.

I really enjoyed good food this weekend and tried my best to document the edible parts until a) my standard food-shooting lens broke much to my dismay, and b) I simply forgot my camera altogether on Sunday. But on Saturday, I was able to capture my lunch with Ali, and most of my dinner at the place Maria took me to dine -- Noble Rot.


The name gave me an enormous chuckle. "Noble Rot" conjures up images of some sort of barbaric ritual of a decapitated (and rotting) noble's head on a stake on display in the dining room, certainly not of a prestigious wine bar and restaurant. Something much more barbaric that wine.

Unfortunately, it means nothing nearly that gruesome. According to Wikipedia, "Noble rot" is a grey fungus that can potentially ruin wine grapes. Naming your restaurant something that esoteric reminds me of the delicious but bizarrely named "How to Cook a Wolf" in Seattle. (The title to one of MFK Fisher's books on food.) It seems like it's trying to hard.




Nevertheless, the food was actually quite noble. While it was voted Sunset's Best Wine Bar of 2009, I just simply wasn't in the mood for wine. (Strange, I know.) So, I opted for the Belgian beer standby: Chimay (blue). Since I was having beer, I figured I might as well go for a good salt carrier: French fries. Again, I realize this was nothing that one would usually order at such a locale, but let me assure you, these were fantastic frites. Crispy-fried shoestrings, perfect with the Chimay. After that, I enjoyed the grilled lamb and harissa carrots, with a generous side of cumin & yogurt bread pudding topped with tzaziki. Taste buds were all a'flitter.



For dessert, there was a decadent brownie with ice cream and caramel sauce, and a coconut panna cotta with deep-fried pineapple. Both were yum.


Somewhere between the beer and the fries, my lens decided to completely crap out on me, so the rest of that meal was shot with my 100mm macro lens, which makes everything look, well, rather large. I assure you the portions were generous but not super-sized.

The next day, there was a hike somewhere in the Portland area and a breakfast with really fun people at Marcos in Multnomah Village. I honestly haven't laughed quite that much since, oh, last week at least.

A beautiful day for a drive, I returned sated and full of early-summer fever. Which is really the way a good weekend SHOULD end.