Lunch at Kalbi Grill Express


A good review in the Seattle Times early this year was enough for three of us to drop in on Kalbi Grill Express for lunch in the Greenwood neighborhood. Could we get good Korean food closer to Seattle than Lynnwood? We were surprised that we were the only lunchtime patrons until a lone customer came in later. Although its name suggests an emphasis on Korean BBQ, the menu said otherwise. Two of us decided on beef soon dubu, another on beef bibimbop, which the Times praised.

Let’s start off with the banchan, the appetizers that every Korean restaurant serves. No other cuisine that I can think of pays this much attention to making little side dishes to accompany a meal, doubtless taking time and effort to make. I’ve often only wanted banchan and rice. Which leads up to Kalbi Grill’s unorthodox approach to offering it, namely, with certain dishes you select only three appetizers, all displayed behind a glass counter, per individual order. Oddly, the bibimbop didn’t qualify. For variety, the obvious strategy was for the rest of us to pick three different ones. Whether these were refillable as at any Korean restaurant, we never determined, though there was no reason to suspect otherwise.

Banchan

Banchan

The beef soon dubu (☆☆½) was adequate, though the broth was overly salty and lacked the depth of flavor I enjoy at Seoul Hot Pot. The beef was cut into little pieces, more tender than I would have expected in a stew that arrived at the table bubbling (literally) hot. Also in the broth were zucchini, enoki and regular mushrooms and green onions. The silken tofu, rather than cut into chunks, were cylindrical in shape, as if cut with a tube. In summary, the stew was adequate but not likely to make me forget Seoul Hot Pot’s.

Beef soon dubu

Beef soon dubu

An oversight when we received the bibimbop (☆☆) was not having been provided with the kochuchang sauce. We had to ask for it, whereupon the owner apologized and agreed that bibimbop would not be bibimbop without it. Innocent enough mistake. But, even when served with beef, zucchini, bean sprouts, spinach, shredded carrots, cucumber, eggplant, shiitake mushrooms and an over-easy egg, the rice bowl failed to generate much excitement, bland and inadequately seasoned. Adding sauce did little to liven up flavor. What’s more, as reported in the Times review, rather than being served in an earthenware bowl that when heated up characteristically crusts up the rice at the bottom, it was some sort of heavy plastic material (which would never be subjected to high heat), making us wonder whether the reviewer and we ordered the same thing, or if the management has cut corners.

Beef bibimbop

Beef bibimbop

We’re not likely to return. For now, our favorite Korean restaurant reasonably close to home remains Seoul Hot Pot in Redmond.

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Kalbi Grill Express
8202 Greenwood Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
206.457.5930

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Burgers at Li’l Woody’s (Seattle, WA)


Li’l Woody’s has been a celebrity of sorts. It appeared on the Travel Network’s Feed the Beast show, which highlights America’s best late-night grub. The burger and shake restaurant opened its first operation in Capitol Hill in 2011. Its popularity was great enough that it opened a second location in Ballard two months ago. More to follow? All their meat is sourced from Painted Hills Natural Beef in Oregon. Is there room for yet another burger joint? I guess that’s like asking if we need more pizza places, pretty much an irrelevant question when we’re talking about an American food obsession.

A new burger restaurant has to have at least one unique offering, a signature sandwich that distinguishes it from one down the street. Li’l Woody’s has seven on its menu, including a popular one called The Fig and the Pig, made up of pickled figs, bacon, mayo and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. There is also The New Mexican that uses genuine Hatch chiles, dressed with its own proprietary cheese (queso) sauce. These are worth trying if you want to evaluate how successfully a restaurant can come up with an interesting and tasty creation, because otherwise all that’s left is a burger that would have to stand on its own: ground beef, bun and a few condiments. Which is the way I prefer it when I order a burger, essentially unadorned except for a sliced raw onion, cheese, lettuce and maybe tomato. No sauce. No catsup. When you can taste the beef in all its glory—or defects. I recall with great fondness the ground sirloin sandwich that was served by Petrelli’s in Culver City (California) many blue moons ago that majestically stood on its own with only bun, burger and onion.

Which brings up another way you can order at Li’l Woody’s—customizing your own—by starting with a ⅓-lb charbroiled beef patty and building the sandwich with your choice of an array of ingredients (including peanut butter!!!) at extra cost. Mine? Tomato, American cheese, chopped onions and mayo on the side.

The patty had very good beef flavor. Even though the beef is 80-20, it was a tad overcooked, which probably has more to do with a restaurant’s grilling the meat nowadays beyond medium to avoid e coli problems as well as how thin the patty is. The bun was big, like a towering dome, and also a little dry, too large for the meat in between. The American cheese brought its gooeyness and a touch of sweetness to add interest. Overall, it was a good burger (☆☆☆).

Custom burger: American cheese, tomato, onions

Custom burger: American cheese, tomato, onions

The fries were thinly cut, a tad greasy and a little sparing of salt, but good (☆☆½). An option is one called Crack. Yep, Crack, fries served with milk shake dip. And, not any milk shake, but one made with Molly Moon ice cream, that purveyor of arguably Seattle’s best, sporting a butterfat content of 19%. You can also purchase ice cream here, by the way.

Li’l Woody’s
2040 NW Market St
Seattle, WA 98107
206.257.5259

View to the West (Sun Mountain Lodge, Winthrop, WA)


Part of the scenery in and around the Methow Valley is the spectacular arrangement of mountains and valleys. Looking westward from Sun Mountain Lodge, you can see the steepest peaks in the distance, eroded hillsides in the middle and glacial valleys in the foreground. Millions of years ago, volcanic eruptions covered this entire region with lava and ash. The westernmost area of the North Cascades were lifted higher and over time, water erosion, landslides and glacial action removed the volcanic layers to the south and southeast, leaving behind the smoothed hillsides we see near Winthrop today.

Dinner at Wolf Creek Bar & Grill (Sun Mountain Lodge, Winthrop, WA)


Sharing the same kitchen as the excellent dining room at Sun Mountain Lodge would seem to bode well for Wolf Creek Bar & Grill. But the chef who oversees the fine restaurant likely has nothing to do with the bar & grill. While the food we had here was not terrible, it was pretty much standard tavern fare.

To its credit, there were half a dozen beers on tap, including the fine Icicle Dirtyface Amber and the middling High 5 Hefeweizen.

The Mediterranean Plate (☆☆) was poorly executed, the components gathered together like an afterthought. It doesn’t take much to cut carrot and celery sticks, scoop out a few Kalamata olives from a jar and slice up some pita bread. The stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) were filled with mushy, bland rice. And the hummus was so thick, you could stick a spoon in it without the utensil falling over. That wasn’t all. The hummus had no detectable tahini paste or much lemon juice. I guarantee this would not pass muster on the dining room side.

Mediterranean plate

Mediterranean plate

The Caesar salad (☆☆½) fared better. The dressing only suffered from a light hand with the lemon juice. Otherwise, nice garlic croutons and restrained garlic and anchovy flavors were present.

Caesar salad

Caesar salad

Crispy chicken wings (☆☆☆½) were clearly the best thing we ordered—a crunchy batter, balanced sweet and savory barbecue sauce, and a tasty cilantro ranch dressing.

Crispy chicken wings

Crispy chicken wings

We did overhear another waitress informing her customer that the chicken curry soup was a lodge specialty and has been served for over 20 years. Next time.

Our experience and that of many other reviewers seem to indicate that an upgrade in the menu items is in order to equal the rest of the lodge experience. The wait staff, as is true of the entire Sun Mountain Lodge personnel, is very friendly.

Humane Execution


While enjoying margaritas and chips & salsa at Carlos 1800 Mexican Grill in Winthrop, we noticed what looked like pine needles sitting in containers of soapy water. Surely the restaurant wasn’t using them for botanical decoration, was it? Our waiter informed us that it was their way of safely controlling the wasp population that had been getting out of hand, going so far as stinging customers. Rather than having harmful chemicals lying about or using bug zappers, they soak these bundles of needles in a solution of 7-Up and detergent. The sweet liquid gets absorbed by the needles and pine pollen. It’s all a wasp can do to avoid eating the pollen to which it is attracted. The deadly solution attacks the nervous system, so the waiter said. The bug either drops into the liquid on the spot and drowns or dies elsewhere if it flies away. Simple and natural. Anyone else here of this?

Dinner at Sun Mountain Lodge (Winthrop, WA)


I don’t know of a place that has a more breathtaking view of the Methow Valley than Sun Mountain Lodge. Half of the rooms face the mountains to the south, the other half overlooks the glacier-carved valley. The best view is reserved for the dining room, which is truly a distraction. On clear evenings, you can literally watch the setting sun pulling its golden light from the enormous fluted hills as the valley gradually sinks into shadow. Tonight during dinner, we caught a glimpse of this spectacular show in between periods of rain and also witnessed low-hanging clouds nestled in gaps between the hillsides one minute, then disappear altogether the next. Like I said, distracting. And awe-inspiring.

We had eaten in the Sun Mountain Lodge dining room over ten years ago and recalled what a fine meal it was. For over 30 years, the AAA has given it a Four Diamond Award for Dining. Tonight, we opted for the price-fixe option, a leisurely three-course meal that easily took two hours to complete.

Things started off with an amuse-bouche of duck confit (☆☆☆) lightly coated with coarse-grain mustard and minced sweet pickles. Three tasty butters were served with the housemade bread—lightly salted, basil and kalamata olive.

Duck confit

Duck confit

Our two starters consisted of Caprese salad and Soup du jour, which my wife and I swapped halfway through. The salad (☆☆☆) was an interesting variation. Rather than the traditional alternating layers of tomatoes and mozzarella, there were overlapping red and yellow heirloom tomatoes. Cheese slices were replaced by tiny mozzarella cubes and mozzarella foam, which I mistook for creme fraiche. Rimming the plate were cherry tomatoes and a lively balsamic vinaigrette, almost like a puree, that tied the flavors together.

Caprese salad

Caprese salad

Our waiter said that the soup du jour was a cucumber soup, but somehow arrived at our table a gazpacho. Not to worry, we said, we’ll take it. Undoubtedly, fresh tomatoes were a starting-off point, puréed with onion, garlic, bread and the perfect amount of vinegar. At the table, the waiter poured the soup over blanched baby carrots, a carrot curl and a mound of cucumber gelée, to make the best gazpacho (☆☆☆☆) I’d ever tasted. Self-consciousness prevented my licking it all off the bowl.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

For the second time in a week, I ordered roasted chicken from a menu, prompted by the note that Crown ‘S’ Ranch Chicken (☆☆☆) was a house specialty. As at The Whale Wins, the bird was small and the skin generously seasoned with salt, intensely tasting of chicken, almost gamey, leaner and more muscular. The leg had the chewy texture of free-range chicken. The slice of breast was more manageable. Soft goat cheese, flavored with lavender and honey, lay underneath. Seasonal vegetables, crisp sautéed, came as a side, as well as a too salty, wilted spinach. What really impressed me were freshly made pasta, garganelli, dark purple from beets and almost leathery in a good, interesting way.

chicken

Crown ‘S’ Ranch chicken

My wife’s Pacific Northwest Salmon (☆☆☆½) was perfectly roasted with nicely seasoned skin still attached, partnered with a terrific ragout of mushroom and cannellini beans. There was a squeeze of saffron vinaigrette on the plate which at first I thought was meant for the fish, but it turned out to be a much better companion for the same seasonal vegetables that came with my chicken.

Pacific Northwest salmon

Pacific Northwest salmon

The third course was dessert. Mine was Apple Pie (☆☆☆☆), one of the kitchen’s signature dishes. Rather than a slice, the pie was constructed like a mini galette, the crust flaky like puff pastry, its flavor intensified by an apple cider reduction, and served warm. The housemade vanilla ice cream was equally delicious.

Apple pie

Apple pie

It had been a long time since my wife had a creme brulée. Tonight’s Creme Brulée Duo was a big hit (☆☆☆☆), the other part of the duo being the finest mocha she can recall ever having had, highlighted by a bold espresso flavor.

Creme brulée duo

The dining room of Sun Mountain Lodge remains one of the best fine restaurants in the state, but be prepared to pay top dollar for the pleasure of eating there.

Sun Mountain Lodge
604 Patterson Lake Rd
Winthrop, WA 98862
509.996.2211