Jianbing at Sustainable Ballard


Today, Sustainable Ballard, in its tenth year of operation, is an all-day (11am-6pm) festival in the Ballard Commons Park extolling the virtues of living sustainably and responsibly in a world ever more consumptive and wasteful. As you can imagine, the booths (canopies, actually) promote everything from energy efficiency, solar power, alternative medicine, local farming, sustainable agriculture, water conservation and alternative forms of transportation. Entertainment is being provided throughout the day. Even Mayor McGinn made an appearance to wish the festival a happy birthday.

And, of course, there are the food booths. And beer, which may be a form of sustainable energy or alternative form of transportation (pardon the cheekiness).

One food cart here was Bing of Fire which specializes in making a northern Chinese breakfast street food, jianbing. Its popularity derives from being intriguingly sweet, salty, spicy, savory and crispy. BOF’s version (☆☆½) is a giant crepe, topped with a raw egg then smeared, chile sauce, savory brown sauce and green onions, then folded over a rectangle of fried crispy cracker (baocui) and a frankfurter. The last item, of course, is a stand-in for a Chinese sausage that is not readily available here. I couldn’t quite separate its ball-park flavor from the otherwise Chinese ones, but for a sausage that might’ve been better grilled, it was a good and different food item. The crèpe was quite large, hard to hold and eat at the same time, which is the reason it was served in a paper sandwich bag.

Bing of Fire food cart is currently at Westlake Park on Mondays and Wednesdays.

bing of fire

Jianbing on the griddle

Jianbing

Jianbing

Pizza at Ballard Pizza Company (Seattle)


My wife and I have been dog-sitting for our daughter this weekend. Rather than having her dog over to our house, we thought it would be best if we did the sitting where she would be most comfortable, at home, especially since this would be the first time my daughter would be away for a few days. This is the reason there has lately been a flurry of reviews of places to eat in the Ballard neighborhood, one of Seattle’s hot spots for dining.

Ethan Stowell already has a presence in Ballard with Staple & Fancy Mercantile. We dined there a year ago and had the fixed-price meal, which turned out to be not only delicious but far too much food than we could comfortably stuff in our stomachs, rather unusual for this kind of menu option.

To give customers value for their money, Stowell has decided to try a different concept—”natural fast food.” Think burgers, fish & chips and fried chicken. While “upscale” may not be the right descriptor, maybe “redefined?” Ballard Pizza Company is the first of this kind of venture, located only blocks away from Staple on Ballard Ave.

You can order a whole pie or a slice of pizza. But what a slice. Called a “fat” slice, it is one-sixth of a pie for $4. You can see what’s available along the kitchen-assembly line as you walk toward the cashier at the rear. Add a pint of one of several beers on tap, the combo should be enough to satisfy most modest appetites and eaten at one of the butcher block tables in front. Sit-down tables are reserved for whole-pie customers. For variety, there are several kinds of salad and pasta.

Our two choices were sun-dried tomato-Kalamata olive, and roasted garlic-rapini (both ☆☆½). The crust is New York-style, meaning that it is thin. The underside is baked a deep brown, crispy enough to lift without too much drooping. In fact, the tomato-olive pizza crust was over-toasted, almost crackery, while the garlic pizza was just fine. The topping was tasty with the olives providing the saltiness that the crust was spare on. On the other slice, roasted garlic provided a nice sweetness that was not balanced by adequate saltiness, from my point-of-view, and I scarcely consider myself a salt fiend. Bottom line: nice crusts but hardly stellar toppings.

Sun-dried tomato & olives; rapini & roasted garlic

Sun-dried tomato & olives; rapini & roasted garlic

We also shared an arugula salad (☆☆☆½). A generous mound of arugula leaves were served on top of wonderfully flavorful, thinly sliced prosciutto and drizzled with EVOO and lemon juice. High-quality Parmesan added extra savoriness.

Arugula salad (prosciutto, EVOO, lemon juice, Parmesan)

Arugula salad (prosciutto, EVOO, lemon juice, Parmesan)

BPC employs an old-fashioned pizza dough maker, one who tosses it into the air. The process involves massaging the dough with all fingers, flattening with palms, throwing the dough back-and-forth between left and right hands, then tossing the dough into the air, catching it with the backs of the closed hands, stretching (again with reverse fists) and repeating until the desired diameter is achieved. The crust maker, or I should say “master,” was able to finish one pie crust in 35 seconds, more if he had to repair tears.

Pizza crust maker

Pizza crust maker

Ballard Pizza Company
5107 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA
206.659.6033

Kimchi House (Seattle, WA)


For all the restaurants that Ballard boasts having, none has been Korean. Until now, that is. What used to be a sushi restaurant on 24th Avenue only a few weeks ago is now Kimchi House. There was no change in ownership, just a change in the chef and menu. After the father retired, the rest of the family decided it was time to introduce the neighborhood to Korean food.

The interior is very small, like the menu, displayed on what looks like two LCD monitors suspended above the counter. You order what you want and take a seat. The food will be served to you. Though the menu will expand in the coming weeks, what’s offered now is confined to bulgogi, kalbi, bibimbop, pretty much standard Korean fare. But then, there is the house sandwich with your choice of pork belly, beef or tofu; kimchi fries, made with kimchi, cheddar, sour cream and house sauce; and kimchi fried rice. I’m assuming that, like today, there will be specials posted on a whiteboard on the counter.

Another difference from standard Korean restaurants is that banchan (☆☆☆½) is served on a plate with your order, side dishes American-style. Today’s consisted of red potatoes simmered in a sweet sauce (gamja jorim), shredded radish kimchi and what the restaurant calls white kimchi, pickled napa cabbage, similar to what Japanese call hakusai no shiozuke. This was so good, gingery and sour that I had to purchase a tub of it, which with other condiments, is available for purchase in a refrigerator up front. The potatoes were excellent.

Pork belly is Kimchi House’s specialty, which meant I was going to go for it. There were nice grill marks on the marinated belly pieces. Tasted by itself, it was good (☆☆☆), equally so when dipped in the sweet kochujang sauce available in a squeeze bottle at every table.

Pork belly

Pork belly

My wife’s mushroom soon dubu (☆☆☆), a special of the day, was also good. Though the tofu pieces were rather small, the broth was better than most with mushroom and shrimp shell flavors. Slices of shiitake, onions, green onions and shrimp rounded out the ingredients.

Mushroom soon dubu

Mushroom soon dubu

With food this well prepared, Kimchi House should have no problems getting locals to make Korean food a part of their regular restaurant rotation.

Kimchi House
5809 24th Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107
206.784.5322

Café Besalu (Seattle)


There seems to be general agreement that Café Besalu in the Ballard neighborhood is the best croissant bakery in town. James Miller consistently has been a semi-finalist for the James Beard Award for outstanding pastry chef. There have also been some claims that Besalu ranks right up there with France’s finest. I’m not in a position to take sides on that last opinion. If you don’t get there early (7am-3pm, W-Su only), lines frequently form pretty quickly, often out the door. Later in the day, croissants can run out though in the morning the kitchen does churn out popular ones as fast as it can make them. My daughter swoons over the almond croissant. With over 400 reviews on Yelp, the average score is astonishingly high.

I was here at 8:20am, more than an hour after Besalu opens. Fortunately, there were only three customers ahead of me. As I’ve said before, I prefer savory over sweet breakfasts, so my choice this morning was the ham and cheese croissant (☆☆☆). I’ll say this, the croissant itself is perfect—buttery, flaky, light and chewy in the middle. As for the filling itself, it is definitely savory but falls a little short of being top-notch, or enough of a distraction to consider driving over here over the one I can get at Belle Pastry in Bellevue.

Ham and cheese croissant

Ham and cheese croissant

As for the other pastries, maybe tomorrow would be a good opportunity—or later today? Nah.

9-28-13: It was a day later than when I thought I’d return, but return I did. Blustery and wet weather may have had something to do with the usual line of customers, but I was able to walk right up and order a couple of pastries. The cardamom pretzel (☆☆☆½) was more of a twisted croissant, denser but still flaky with a nice chew and a hint of cardamom on the finish. The plum danish (☆☆☆☆), actually a frangipane, was a masterpiece. Sweet-and-tart plum was beautifully complemented by an almond-flavored crème filling.

Plum danish

Plum danish

Cardamom pretzel

Cardamom pretzel

Café Besalu
5909 24th Avenue Northwest
Seattle, Washington 98107
206.789.1463

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

Back to Pestle Rock


I pondered whether to submit yet another review of Pestle Rock, the outstanding Isan Thai restaurant in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, but a couple of unusual dishes (unusual for us who live thousands of miles from Thailand) tipped the balance in favor of it. The original post was a lunchtime meal; the other a post about their noodle soups. I’ll just get down to the two dishes, both of which were listed as specials on the blackboards.

The special noodles were Mee Ka Ti (☆☆☆), a very popular lunchtime meal in Thailand. It gets thickened by a combination of coconut milk, green onions and palm sugar. Tamarind added its unique tartness, earthiness and slightly smoky taste. Despite its “one-chile” rating, these savory-sweet noodles were surprisingly spicy, which wasn’t derived from any visible chiles. The noodles tended to clump together, but this is the nature of vermicelli-thin rice noodles bathed in a thick sauce. Bean sprouts and shreds of egg and chicken rounded out the flavors and textures.

Mee Ka Ti

Mee Ka Ti

More a salad than entrée, Mu Kham Wan (☆☆½) featured grilled pork, cut into small pieces and dressed with a vinaigrette of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and chiles, mixed with minced cilantro and mint and slivered red onions. Accompanying the salad were crudités of raw carrot and cucumber. Though the pork was flavorful, it was well past tender, the only defect in an otherwise delicious dish.

Muu Kham Wan

Muu Kham Wan

The menu item was one we enjoyed before, Khao Phad Phu (☆☆☆½), (described in the first post), one of the best fried rices anywhere, bar none. It also happens to star Dungeness crabmeat, a favorite among seafood lovers on the West Coast.

Khao Phad Phu

Khao Phad Phu

Pestle Rock
2305 NW Market Street
Seattle, WA 98107
206.466.6671
Lunch menuentrée menu
 

Pizza Magic at Stoneburner


The recently opened Stoneburner has two meanings, our waiter informed us. Not only does it refer to the stone hearth oven in the kitchen but also to the namesake chef, Jason Stoneburner, who is also the executive chef at Bastille, only a block away in Ballard. The waiter added that the menu is Italian-inspired, much as Bastille’s is French. And like Bastille, the interior was designed to evoke a certain European ambience, including the actual interior of an Argentine Italian embassy which decorates the back portion of the restaurant. There a doorway connects to the Hotel Ballard, giving the impression that Stoneburner is a hotel dining room. One wonders if this was done in exchange for the customers’ use of the hotel restrooms. Just kidding.

The restaurant’s specialties are pizza and pasta, both of which are made from scratch. Small plates and seasonal vegetables are also prominent on the menu, as well as cocktails, local beers and wines, the latter in abundant supply along the southeast wall. The dinner menu offers proteins of various sorts, including an immense 60-oz steak that can (should) be shared by 4-5 people.

Three of us shared various items at lunchtime.

A nice beverage was the watermelon and mint shrub (☆☆☆), a seltzer acidulated with lime, but tasted unexpectedly of Chinese dried plum (li hing mui), complete with some saltiness.

Beef crudo (☆☆½), even when sprinkled with fried garlic chips, lacked distinction. Though the slices of raw beef were very fresh, the standard way of dressing carpaccio with lemon juice, olive oil and Parmesan cheese is my preferred preparation.

Grass-fed beef crudo with salt & pepper garlic chips

Grass-fed beef crudo with salt & pepper garlic chips

Categorized as a vegetable, Marinated Zucchini (☆☆☆) was more like a salad. Thinly shaved ribbons of zucchini were nicely dressed with lemon juice and sprinkled with mint, Italian parsley and tarragon. Toasted pistachios gave crunch to this tasty side dish.

Marinated zucchini with toasted pistachios, mint, parsley & tarragon

Marinated zucchini with toasted pistachios, mint, parsley & tarragon

Less successful were the Roasted Turnips (☆☆), partly because they aren’t the tastiest of vegetables, partly because the hazelnut accompaniment was unremarkable and partly because of under-seasoning. The larger bulbs were a bit fibrous. The smoked hazelnuts were tossed with a lovage gremolata that needed more inspiration, though they were tasty enough.

Roasted turnips with smoked hazelnuts and lovage gremolata

Roasted turnips with smoked hazelnuts and lovage gremolata

The crowning glory of the meal was unquestionably the pizza special of the day (☆☆☆½). Crumpled slices of mortadella—which is beyond me how they did it—were combined with a wonderful sauce, with potent tomato flavor, and savory cheese, dotted with slices of Castelvetrano olives. With its intense heat sources from above and below, the stone oven crisped up the pizza shell and mortadella nicely. A bit longer of an exposure could turn into a scorched disaster, which some early reviews complained about. Stoneburner pizzas are on the thinner side, though not as thin as Delancey’s, according to my daughter. It was possible to hold  a slice horizontally without the middle sagging down, despite its relative thinness.

Special pizza of the day

Special pizza of the day

Reviews of Stoneburner’s pastas have been positive. That will be on my list of things to try next time.

Stoneburner
5214 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA ‎
206.695.2051
 

Brunch at Bastille Café and Bar (Seattle, WA)


This could very well be a rainy day in Paris

This could just as well be a rainy day in Paris

One kind of breakfast I don’t have often is French. In fact, I have to wonder if I ever have. French meals at other times are another story.

You can take bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes and cereal, and all their variations, only so much before they get, well, old. Don’t get me wrong, I love American breakfasts. It’s just that it’s nice to have something different every now and then. Living in Seattle offers many opportunities to do just that.

This morning, we were intending to have a Mexican breakfast at Señor Moose. We even went so far as to add our name to the inevitable waiting list. Normally, that wouldn’t be much of a problem, but it was raining and had been for over a day. Not a hard rain, but steady. Since the waiting area inside is tiny, we’d have to while away our time outside.

After a few minutes, my daughter asked if we wanted to go to Bastille, a French café only a few blocks away. Why not?

Without reservations, there was a wait here too, but we got seated within 10 minutes. It would be more accurate to say we were here for brunch as the menu straddled the line between breakfast and lunch entrées.

The interior has a definite Gallic atmosphere, white tiles against black trim and booths, wooden floor, ceiling fans, the works. Specials of the day are written on all the mirrors that flank the upright posts and are mounted along the walls.

We started off with good cups of coffee, a prerequisite for any self-respecting French restaurant. No Farmer Brothers here.

For starters, we shared a plate of brandade croquettes served with tarragon aioli. These cod-flecked potato fritters were deep-fried in olive oil, crispy, savory, somewhat greasy, and delicious.

Brandade croquettes

Brandade croquettes

The cauliflower soup was quite good, topped with croutons and green onions and hiding a poached egg in the rich, creamy broth.

Cauliflower soup

Cauliflower soup

Eggs en cocotte was another successful dish. Its sexual reference aside, the cocotte was a cast iron vessel filled with a casserole of béchamel sauce, Comté cheese (a higher quality Gruyere), slices of Duroc ham, kale and eggs.

Eggs en Cocotte

Eggs en Cocotte

On the specials list today was a beef shank that was braised to fork-tenderness and shredded on top of mashed potatoes with juliénned carrots, and served with two perfectly poached eggs. Poured over the entire entrée was the wonderful braising liquid.

Braised Beef Flank

Braised Beef Flank

A side of bacon (sniffingly/whimsically listed under Le Porc, which also included sausages) was not bad either, well done (per our instructions) and not smoked a la Américaine.

Bastille is not an inexpensive restaurant, especially for breakfast, but a meal here every once in a while is worth a visit to savor food this well prepared and escape the breakfast rut.

Bastille Café and Bar
5307 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107
206.453.5014
 

Lunch at Pestle Rock (Seattle, WA)


Peek Gai Tod (Fried Chicken Wings)

Peek Gai Tod (Fried Chicken Wings)

We’re fortunate in the Seattle metropolitan area that a large number of Asian restaurants have opened in the last, say, 20 years, one of the definite perks of living in a large city on the West Coast. Among the many ethnic varieties, a new Thai restaurant seems to be opening every week. Just last week, Pestle Rock began business in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. Their specialty is Isan (or Isaan) regional cooking, a cuisine that is distinct from the more well-known food of central and southern Thailand. The northern region’s proximity to Laos and Myanmar (Burma) influences its food more than the rest of Thailand. Its main staple is sticky rice.

Our waiter was good enough to explain some of the differences. He said, for example, that their menu does not include phad thai, a Central Thai staple which diners come to expect at a Thai restaurant and considered a national dish. The cooking also makes very liberal use of chiles, tamarind and herbs. As distinct from regular nam pla, the anchovy-based fish sauce that is ubiquitous in Thai cooking, Isan uses pla ra, a pungent mash of fermented snakefish. I didn’t establish whether Pestle Rock uses it or not. Green papaya salad is also of Isan origin.

Their fried chicken wings (Peek Gai Tod) was one of the best wing preparations I have ever tasted. Continue reading

Lunch at La Carta de Oaxaca (Seattle, WA)


Halibut tacos

Whenever we visit our daughter in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, the subject of where to eat lunch often comes up. This is not a simple proposition. In most places, the decision might come down to the closest restaurant or a family favorite, usually involving driving there. In the case of Ballard, which has seen a restaurant renaissance lately, the choices are almost overwhelming. Since our daughter lives within blocks of the main commercial district, all we have to do is walk there, so distance is irrelevant.

On several occasions, the Mexican food choice has been La Carta de Oaxaca.

When La Carta opened in 2004, it could be said that Seattle’s Mexican restaurant scene shifted. Continue reading