Monday, September 21, 2009

why isn't there a southern disneyland?

i've passed by crawfish king more times that i can remember, but never thought of actually going there because i hadn't read any reviews, nor was my curiosity great enough to convert me. however, after telling one of my friends about it, he absolutely HAD to get fist deep in crawfish boil.

this place is like a cajun disneyland: zydeco music, plastic shellfish and rope fishing nets on the wall, dock pillars, buoys hanging from the wall. it was a little bit much for me. all this artifice, but how's the food??

the menu is pretty simple. fish and chips. po'boys. "cajun platters."

the real deal is the boils. you can order shellfish and other assorted seafood from the fresh board by he pound to create your optimal mix of seasoned, steamed goodies. supposedly there's one piece of corn per person and quartered potatoes aplenty (lies!), but we only got 4 measly chunks of potato. too bad, too, because they were the best vehicle to soak up the insane garlic and spices.

i think we got one pound of prawns and three pounds of crawfish. the server advised that 1 lb per person would be plenty. i don't know about that, sir.

the condiment six pack included ketchup, mayo, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and, of course, some "special sauce." as you can see, the table setting is trying to be "authentically" low-brow with a butcher paper table cover, roll of paper towels at every table, all disposable cutlery, and paper boats for any crawfish boil detritus. i was also displeased to see the "boil" arrive in a plastic bag that was ceremoniously cut tableside.

now, i wouldn't say i'm obsessive-compulsive about environmental soundness, but all this waste seemed irresponsible. everything can be thrown away. why? in such a conscious city as seattle where even our takeout is monitored, how can this wastefulness fly? c'mon, crawfish king.

the boil. we ordered it as spicy as possible, and the heat level did not disappoint. i quite enjoyed it, and as it mingled with the butter and seafood juices, the burn developed more and more as i continued to eat. you have the choice of "rajun cajun (original)" or "the big easy (the house sauce)" flavors. these really make no sense, but when pressed, our server said that the main difference is that "the big easy" has garlic. needless to say, we got pretty easy.

although the crawfish were challenging to eat, the flavor was amazing. it might be a little on the salty side for the sodium-sensitive, but i thought it was perfectly intense; rife with old bay, file, chile, black pepper, garlic, and thyme. mmm.

thanks for the cajun adventure, crawfish king!

Crawfish King on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The 1st Annual Great Ballard Chili Cook Off

Cook Off Co-Founders CB and Kevin....and Me!

A few months ago CB asked me if I was available to be a judge for a chili cook off. Me? A judge? I guess since I love food and am part of this kick-ass food blog that is all the qualifications required. I was honored to participate. Now, the story goes something like this, two friends got to talking about how they both made some good chili and somehow it turned into what will be now known as the 1st Annual Great Ballard Chili Cook Off aka a friendly competition between chili chefs voted on by their friends and families.

I arrived at 1pm with my mom at the Sunset Hill Community Club house which is located in West Ballard. This is a great space, check it out.

Upon walking in, I was welcomed with a stylish and personalized judge's apron and a robust introduction from Chili Emcee Chas. Seated in front with the other 4 judges and four ballots, we patiently waited for the unveiling of the 4 chili's entered in the competition.

Each chili was brought out in a white paper cup and all were assigned a specific number. The first chili I sampled was the one below, this was contestant #4. The first thing that came to mind when tasting this was that all the ingredients were fresh and high quality. This was a top notch, choice chili. With two kinds of andouille sausage and bites of flavorful chicken the textures in this chili were my favorite. The ratio of meat to beans was tasty and the growing heat really made this a great chili. Let me also point out that cheese on anything wins.

The second chili I tasted was the green chili from contestant #2. The chili was thin more like soup but the taste alone made up for the consistency. Immediately touching my tongue this chili had an immediate bite. The pork was soft and the rich and spicy blend of chilies like poblano and jalapenos along with the red beans made a fabulous tasting chili. The layers of ingredients were evident when looking closely at the bright color and textures in this chili. Served with a slice of tortilla this chili had the heat that I absolutely love about chili. Superb.

Let me introduce you to chili #3, which was a thick, rich and sweet masterpiece. The one word you might to use describe this is succulent. I was waiting for the heat and it was there but subtle. I enjoyed the honey sweetness that lingered in your mouth. With a mix of portuguese sausage and kahlua pork you knew upon eating this how long it took to prepare. Although quite thick and reminiscent of bbq you would put on a bun, this chili created a lane all its own. It was during this taste, I realized that all of the chili we were eating were so different! Served with a soft slice of white bread, the whole package was there to win.

Lastly, I sampled the chili with the best presentation, contestant #1. Coming out with its own corn muffin and a patriotic plate, I loved the extra flare for the judges.This was the veggie chili and it was a first class mix of black beans, sweet corn and squash. I loved how all the veggies were crisp and flavorsome. Served with a white cheese blend on top and a side of lime, the flavors were blended quite well creating a unique, rich, meatless chili . The consistency was great and the blended beans almost created the texture of authentic refried beans which truly held the variety of veggies together. Only thing I would have added to this chili was more heat. This was a very good veggie chili and definitely stood strong among all the meaty competitors.

So now what? All the judges had to circle a number on a small slip of paper between 1-4.

Who is going to win!??!!?

Two awards were given away at the 1st Annual Great Ballard Chili Cook Off, one from the judges and one from the people. Four of Ballard's finest chili cooks waited to see who was going to get the bragging rights for this first annual event.

While we waited we were treated to some soulful songs from Youth Rescue Mission. Check out their myspace to listen to some of their music. Great harmonies for chili eating.

Emcee Chas Roberts was entertaining all afternoon and as he stepped up to the mic to announce the winners we all waited on his news and laughed with him, not at him. I have seen this guy host a few things at Re-Bar, kick-ass.

The judges award was given to the man behind chili #2 and his mamma's recipe, Santos!!!!

The peoples choice was awarded to the man behind chili #3, and chili cook off co-founder, Kevin Sur!!!!

I had a great time and can't wait until next year. I also make a really good classic chili with a few secret ingredients, perhaps I will enter the competition!

ps. i grabbed some photos from Kevin's facebook to supplement my pics. Thanks Kevin!

Doing My Part for the Environment One Salad at a Time

as we transition into fall, i've been reminiscing about nice weather meals. when my office was located in south lake union, portage bay cafe was a nice treat for a special lunch. as a thank you, my coworker took me out to PBC, a former university district favorite for breakfast and lunch, whose slu outpost is brand new, spacious, open, and inviting.

portage bay cafe is all about locally-sourced, sustainable, organic products which deliver optimal flavor in simple preparations. i have to admit, the menu is a bit pricey, but i've never had a bad experience with PBC. it's the type of food i can feel good about eating and supporting.

G ordered the tofu and soba noodle salad which features cold soba, marinated & baked tofu, tomatoes, mushrooms, and field greens in a light ginger vinaigrette. i had a taste, and it was excellent. it was well-dressed with a not-too-overpowering, tangy ginger. the chilled, baked tofu was a nice touch, as it had a more substantial mouth feel.

i ordered the walnut salad and added in-house smoked salmon. it was very simple; just field greens, a significant serving of Rogue River blue, lightly candied and natural walnuts, strawberries, and tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette. with the smoked salmon, the salad was a nice balance of sweet, tangy, herbal (arugula, my fave!), tannic, and smoke. i must admit that i've thought about this salad several times since my visit. it's just difficult to justify the $13 price tag for a lunch on any given weekday.

thanks for the responsible, deliciously simple food, portage bay cafe. it was just what i needed. that you thought about it so i didn't have to was just icing on the salad...err, cake.

NB: PBC is only open for breakfast and lunch until 3pm. just keep that in mind!

Portage Bay Cafe & Catering on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dollar Chinese Food!??!?!

a huge WTF goes out to Wok Inn Wok Out in the beautiful tacoma suburb of lakewood, wa. does this place look good to anyone? i know the economy isn't so sweet right now, but i hear the dollar menu at mcdonald's might be a safer bet.

i don't know about you, but i'm not about to try this hellish looking den of chinese iniquity. however, on urbanspoon, they're sitting steady at a 60% like rating. a huge WTF indeed.

anyone been here?!?

Wok Inn-Wok Out on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 15, 2009

andiamo agli supermercati!

i love food. that should be pretty obvious, so it follows that one of my favorite parts of traveling is perusing the supermarket, finding similarities and curious products. the best part about roman supermercati is that even large, corp-esque places carry farm-fresh products.

when we first arrived at our apartamento, we went for a short stroll around the block to check out our environs. we needed a fuse because M blew one with his computer by our first evening a roma! it was pretty amazing that we found a lighting/electric shop just around the corner and bought a 10-pack of fuses for .50euro. just across the street from the lighting shop was a small alimentari which i can't seem to remember the name of.

it was around 7 when we went shopping, so they were pretty close to shutting down shop. it was much larger and cavernous than i expected, and we picked up some great items. i decided to make artichoke & ricotta ravioli with a zucchini/tomato/alici (pickled sardines)/olivi/pecorino sauce. not bad. not bad.

as you can see, we also picked up some mirtilli e cereali (blueberry & cereal grains) yogurt, salame, chili flakes, coca liiiiiight, acqua frizzante, and some canned tonno. tuna in italy is the bomb. you can pick up a generic brand like rio mare (equiv to chx of the sea), and it tastes absolutely different in the most amazing way. the fish is brinier, firmer, just amazing. M even emailed the rio mare website after we returned to ask if they distributed to the US, but unfortunately, they DON'T. BAH!!!

standa is a supermarket franchise found all over italy. their website isn't that great (as are most italian sites), but it is convenient for looking up weekly specials and discounts. when i lived in rome, standa was my savior. it was the closest one-stop-shop to my apartment, and an experience all it's own. above standa on viale trastevere is a small clothing store (oviesse) and a profumeria (limoni) which sells cosmetics, perfume, and all sorts of other bath products.

back to the good stuff. a few years ago, birra wasn't as chic in rome. everyone drank wine, especially at home, and only drank beer at english-style pubs and occasionally during lunch on a hot day. now birra is a popular at-home and in-the-streets beverage, so standa stocks more than peroni and moretti. heineken and guinness are quite popular.

now onto the "ethnic foods" aisle. this is hilarious. why doesn't uncle ben just stick to what he knows: rice?!?? salsa? really beezy?

there was actually a whole section of "il tehx-mehx" at standa. tortilla chips were a total shock to me.

we brought back quite a few bags from standa. that package of pachino tomatoes was a real prize. they were perfectly sweet and ripe right out of the store. that's the most annoying thing about buying produce from american supermarkets: you always have to wait a couple days for items to ripen. not in italy. mmm. more tonno, surprise. M got some latte fresco (fresh milk) which is something like 1-2%. they don't really classify their milk by percentage like we do. it's more like fresco, whole (integrale), and cream. there's a little box of latte soia in there, too.

these were winners. little cherry peppers stuffed with tuna, sardines, and giant capers in olive oil. holy crap. we went back a couple days later and they were out. boo.

and my favorite italian beverage, aranciata without added sugars. it's so good and light. mmm. i wish they had it here. the san pellegrino aranciata just isn't the same. it's too sweet and overly-carbonated for my taste.

this item was a curious crap shoot: black olive-flavored tuna paste. it was pretty good on rosemary crackers, but the little bit of grey, separated liquid that squirts out first isn't the most appetizing.

yet another trip to standa....this time we brought home some fizzy grapefruit soda, icky, bland pretzels, bread for breakfast toast, pickled artichoke hearts, fresh burro from campagna, little fresh mozz balls, white chocolate (that was actually quite waxy compared to the cheap, hershey's equivalent galak bar i had the day before), and my obsession, milk/choc-hazelnut spread.

man, there's nothing like fresh, local butter. it was so deliciously creamy and bright. wow. ps, i love butter. M and all of my friends can validate this.

lamberto, the apartment owner's son, in his brief introduction to the neighborhood, told us that just outside the portone (big front door of the building) there was a store full of "strange things for foreigners." he spoke amazing english (his gf's from nyc), but in italian, foreigner = straniero = strange. anyhow, the little store did not disappoint, and in fact, had quite the stock of "strange" items.

aren't these old el paso kits ridiculous? i love it. good ole betty crocker found her mexican way to italy.

who doesn't love patak's? M and i adore their mango pickles with rice and lentils. it's nice to know that if i ever move to italia, i can get my indian fix at home. there are actually quite a few excellent indian and middle eastern/north african restaurants in the city because of the immigrant population. i love that kind of unexpected diversity.

a few french maionese-based sauces. i should have checked the ingredient list on the americaine...i wonder what kind of crap they think we eat.

okay, i'm totally guilty. i thought this blackface packaging for these nougat candies was ridiculous. it's interesting how afro-italians don't feel the same racist-tinglies an american might seeing this.

i think this pretty much sums up that store for foreigners: american nutty. italians never eat peanut butter. you will absolutely not find it in any supermarket because they eat nutella or butter or jam on toast. this ground peanut confection is completely "strange" to them. why is it such an important part of our cultural identity?

muy bonito

while wandering around in the upper medieval town of sperlonga, i turned a corner and saw this amazing sign. unfortunately, m. wasn't in the mood for a hot dog (too hot, sweaty, and humid), but after looking at the pictures, he wished he did.

talk about suicide food...this guy looks happy as a(n ivar's) clam catching some rays in his bun. i want his sunglasses. very hot right now.
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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

pub 66: snack time!

good lord, i have no excuse for such a lapse in posts!! sometimes life seems overwhelming, but then i realize it's just a food blog. breathe. not that serious. cool? cool.

not surprisingly, there's more from italy.

after 3-4 hours of walking around in the convection inferno lovingly known as "rome," M and i decided to find a shady spot to cool down with a beverage, snack, and good, old-fashioned sitting. we had spent the majority of the morning roaming around the via del corso, which is rome's major shopping district. it's peculiarly long, straight, and wide; tracing a medieval horse racing course and spanning from piazza venezia to piazza del popolo.

long. straight. wide. these all seem like normal characteristics of a road, but not in rome. there are about a million short, serpentine vicoli (small streets) barely wide enough for a moto to pass through.

but enough with the histography lesson, back to snack time! after wandering around the tiny off-shoots of via del corso, we finally chose pub66, a small, unassuming, but popular little...well, pub. we sat al fresco at a small, wooden table covered by a shade-bestowing ombrellone. this little spot was perfectly secluded so that we didn't hear a lot of street noise, but enjoyed watching all the pedestrian activity.

to start: acqua frizzante (naturally lightly fizzy) and a coca liiiiiiiiight. i swear to god, you have to say it that way. it's just how you pronounce "light" in italiano. even M started ordering it that way.

this ridiculous pub had long island iced teas on the menu, so M had to try one out of sheer curiosity. how do they know what goes in a long island in rome? mixed drinks aren't really popular there...except mojitos. M's verdict: gross.

since we weren't that hungry and didn't want to spoil our dinner appetites, we decided to split a foccacia italiana, which was a toasty, chewy, thin bread topped with thick cuts of uncured parma ham, ruchetta (arugula/rocket), mozzarella di bufala, and pachino (small, sweet tomatoes). i just pushed the ham off to M's side and worked on the cheese/tomato/rocket/olive oil. it was pretty good. and damn good for a restaurant in the tourist zone. it's tough to go wrong with all fresh, local ingredients. that's the crux of roman cooking. everything's fresh. everything's locally farmed. on in-season produce is served. damn, i miss that.

M said the meat was kind of gross because it was so thick...and much like eating large cuts of raw flesh. sounds like sushi to me, which we all know is the shit. so what's his problem!??!

pub66 was a nice find in an area full of restaurants and cafes that rely on proximity to popular tourist sites rather than good quality food and service. i'm super picky and was pretty bummed to be caught on the via del corso looking for a place to eat that wouldn't enrage me. thanks for the lunch and couple-hour-coolout, pub66. perhaps we'll meet again.

unfortunately i don't remember the exact street pub66 was on, but it was very near la Galleria Alberto Sordi, the closest thing to a mall rome has. it was basically west across via del corso from G.A.S. on a small vicolo.