Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cupcake Royale (West Seattle)

Cupcake Royale

Picture it: Christmas 2005, and we are driving around Seattle with my dear grandfather behind the wheel, headed to the Cupcake Royale in Ballard. I have never been to the sweet spot but as a cupcake fan, I'm already convinced that I will love it. Grandpa has taken several wrong turns (though we would never point this out) and we are winding around a residential neighborhood near Northgate mall. (Which if you know Seattle then you know is nowhere near Ballard.) To make a long story short, a driver in what we think was a stolen car (he was also talking on his cell phone, maybe calling his probation officer) suddenly came at us, driving the WRONG way on our side of the road, and with no intention of stopping. We watched in horror as his front bumper neared ours, before he hopped the curb, slid between our car and a stop sign, and kept going. No one was much in the mood for cupcakes after that.

This year J and I took matters into our own hands, renting a nice sedan upon our arrival at SeaTac. In the year's time Cupcake Royale has established a new location in West Seattle, an area we know and love. We made a beeline for the California Avenue location near Easy Street Records, where all my sweet dreams about the bakery finally came true.

Cupcake Display

Coconut Bunny
My personal favorite: the Coconut Bunny - $2

Vanilla frosting topped with coconut. Available in chocolate or vanilla cake. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

Lavender Cupcake
Lavender - $2

A little sweet, even for me. But J was a good sport and ate it.

Cache of Cupcakes
A dozen cupcakes for the road - A cool $22

After the car experience in 2005, the least we could do was take some cupcakes to my grandparents.

- K

Cupcake Royale (West Seattle location)
4556 California Avenue SW
Seattle, WA 98116

Friday, December 29, 2006

Zoë Restaurant & Bar

Zoe at the W Hotel New Orleans

After a morning of beignets and strolling around the French Quarter, we were ready for a little lunch and a glass of wine. Always appreciative of the clean lines and hip vibe of W Hotels, we headed to one of the two W's operating in New Orleans. The W New Orleans (the other property is called the W French Quarter) re-opened in June to the public. We're told that in the months following Katrina the property was home to many hotel staff and insurance representatives in the area to assess damage.

A few guests mingled in the vast lobby and Christmas garland looped the stairwells and framed doorways, suggesting that after a difficult 16 months, the W New Orleans has much to celebrate.

Zoë Restaurant & Bar is located on the second floor of the swanky hotel, and during busier times is probably fairly happening. We also think that the W New Orleans may be more of a business traveler's property (and thus busier during the week), whereas the French Quarter location may appeal to more of the pleasure and weekend travelers. On this particular Saturday, we were unfortunately the only people dining at Zoë. A stark contrast to the night before at Restaurant August, located a mere block away.

Zoe Interior

The Dining Room has pretty green chairs and kalamata colored walls that warm up the sleek chocolate accents.

It Was a Caprese Salad
It was a Caprese Salad with house made mozzarella

J thought the mozzarella was soft and creamy but unfortunately the tomatoes were out of season. Note to self: ordering anything with tomatoes post autumn can be risky.

Beef Carpaccio
Beef Carpaccio with Mixed Greens and Shaved Parmessan

If you've read some of our other blogs then you know I've never met a carpaccio I didn't like. The meat was a little overwhelmed by the greens, but I still managed to clean my plate.

Crab Cakes
Crab Cakes with Caviar and Wasabi Aioli

These little packages of flaky crab were delightful. J liked the nice little "pop" provided by the caviar.

Butternut Squash Puree with White Truffle Foam

Like a dish of sweet candy, only better. This puree was fresh and tasty, though the "foam" wasn't so foamy; more of a cream. Still, the earthiness of the truffle really completmented the nutty flavor of the squash.

Blue Cheese Burger
Kobe Beef Burger with Blue Cheese

It was supposed to be medium. Disappointing because it was so dried out. At least the blue cheese provided a nice dipping sauce for J's fries.

The service was friendly and attentive, and the decor was right up our alley. The food just needs a little work.

Zoë Restaurant & Bar
at the W New Orleans

333 Poydras Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

Adventures in Foam Part I

After a short, but intense trip to Seattle to spend Christmas with family, I really needed a therapeutic cooking session. Cooking is one of the best ways to let your mind forget about everything else and just concentrate on the task at hand.

So I went to our local fish market Aquarius and picked up some Sea Bass in hopes of recreating a wonderful dish we had at Fleur de Sel in New York. It was Hake on cauliflower and truffle puree with a mushroom foam. Absolutely devine and airy. How hard could it be, right?

After a little research online, I found a recipe for something similar that involved a whipped creamer and CO2. My other option was to use gelatin and an immersion blender. I figured the whipped creamer method would work best.

So, I sautéed the mushrooms (shitake, porcini, and black trumpet) with shallots, garlic, rosemary and thyme; deglazed with white wine and reduced; added cream and vegetable stock and reduced again; and finally, blended and placed in the whipper and loaded the CO2. All good, so I thought.

After pan searing the Sea Bass and preparing the cauliflower puree I was ready to plate the dish and add the foam. I thought it might be a good idea to first try out the foam on an empty plate. I turned the whipper upside down and pulled the trigger. Whoah, foam everywhere! It shot foam all the way into the living room, all over the back splash, all over the cabinets...EVERYWHERE! Myself included. Lucky for me, K is in charge of laundry at our house.
Foam Fight

I quickly changed course and decided to unleash the fury of the foam within a mixing bowl placed deep in our sink, and simply spoon the foam onto the plate. So, here's how the dish turned out:

Sea Bass with Foam 1

I definitely need to work on my presentation. Maybe put the foam on top of the puree and place the fish on top. I was hoping the foam would be bubbly and light, but it turned out more like a mousse. Perhaps I should have omitted the cream, or maybe I put too much CO2 in the whipper. I don't know, so if anyone has any tips please let me know. I might also try the immersion blender technique next and see how that turns out. The dish certainly tasted great-- unfortunately it just looked odd.

After all was said and done, any linguring stress from the Christmas adventure was long gone.

- J

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Restaurant August

Restaurant August

Upon receiving an invitation to attend a Christmas party in Baton Rouge, we decided to make a mini-vacation out of it and spend some time in New Orleans as well. The once lively city of New Orleans has been positively devastated by Katrina, and close to a year and a half later the Big Easy is still struggling in ways that are no longer "breaking news." A drive through the lower ninth ward, where block-upon-block of homes remain abandoned suggests how many broken hearts are still in need of mending--and how many lives have been forever changed.

Quite honestly, I was a little saddened by the bargain room rate we received at luxurious boutique hotel International House ($99/night) because I cannot imagine how much businesses in New Orleans must be writing off as loss. We encourage you to visit this cultural and historic city and help bring some life--and revenue--back to the businesses that chose to reopen after the hurricane; when it would have been so much easier for them to just walk away.

We performed a little reasearch online and found Restaurant August which is located in the warehouse district. The restaurant is housed in an historic four-story Creole-French building with exposed brick walls and charming wood work. Chandeliers glitter from the ceiling, dark hardwood floors gleam their reflection, and attractive host staff scoot around in ballet flats and black tulle.

The place was packed and thriving. It was hard to believe the hopping restaurant exists in the same city as the empty high-rise buildings we'd strolled past earlier. Things started off well with our server introducing himself and his colleague, who would both be waiting on us for the evening. We ordered our choices a la carte, and sat back to enjoy a glass of bubbly.

It soon became apparent though that while we'd booked our dinner for 8:30, the staff at Restaurant August were still planning to turn our table over again before night's end. Case in point: the amuse bouche.

Truffle Sabayonne
Amuse Bouche - Truffle Sabayonne with Caviar

I had taken a few bites of this richly beautiful dish, and was sitting with spoon in mid-air, preparing to take another, when a man from the kitchen showed up with our first course and quickly grabbed the amuse bouche right out from in front of me. I'm not kidding. No "can I move this aside for you," or "where would you like me to put your salad." He just scooped that amuse bouche right up and walked away with it. I was speechless.

Greens with Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Organic Greens with Pumpkin Seed Brittle, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, and Pumpkin Seed Oil Vinagarette - $8

This was delicious. The sweetness of the brittle complemented the pungent cheese. Like sneaking dessert before your dinner. I sort of wolfed it down in fear that it would be taken from me before I was finished.

Foie Gras
Foie Gras Prepared Three Ways - $16

Foie Gras Fried with Ginger and Caviar
Tangine with German Pastry and Champagne Gelee
Foie Gras with Beef Tongue

J's favorite of the three preparations was the Foie Gras with Beef Tongue. He really enjoyed the bold flavors of the dueling meats. The fried foie gras was quite delcious as well, mostly due to the contrast in textures between the silky foie and the crunchy breaded outside (oh, and the caviar did not dissapoint). The Tangine with German Pastry was enjoyable, but whenever you have three options one must always finish last, even though it might still be amazing. He did have to admit that the Champagne gelee was a very nice touch. It was somewhere between Champagne diamonds and good ol' Jell-O shots.

Potato Gnocchi
Handmade Potato Gnocchi tossed with Blue Crab and White Truffle - $20

The gnocchi was soft and velvety, and the portion was just the right size for the rich crab and white truffle.

Chestnut Agnolotti
Joe Dobi's Chestnut Agnolotti with Sage, Brown Butter and Country Ham - $10

Wow, what a perfect Autumn dish. J loved the subtle Chestnut filling within the pillowy-light agnolotti. The Country Ham provided a nice crisp contrast to the delicate pasta.

Louisiana Red Fish
Louisiana Redfish with Cauliflower, Crabmeat and Caviar -$29

This was J's favorite dish. The fish was light and moist and worked perfectly with the airy cauliflower foam. The crab and caviar were simply the icing on the cake!

Pompano with Cauliflower Puree and Artichoke - $32

While the food was very good, the courses came out far too quick, and the delivery just lacked any suggested passion for the food. By the time we were done with our fish we realized we'd been there less than an hour. After a rushed meal we just weren't in the mood for dessert. We vacated our table to allow for the next diners, and headed elsewhere in search of something sweet.

I'm not sure if the service at Restaurant August is due in part to poor service (because with a drastically reduced population good help is hard to find), or if management is trying to get people in-and-out as quickly as possible to maximize profit. We can certainly understand the restaurant's desire to increase revenue during hard times, but when you are spending close to $300 on a meal the service should feel different than a fast food joint. Even if they don't want you camping at your table for the evening, the suggestion should be that you are welcome to do so. While turning the tables over quickly may be profitable, it does not leave diners with the kind of unforgettable experience that will last long after the credit card bill arrives.

Bottom line: Great food...Fast.

Restaurant August

301 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


With green tea colored chairs, long and lean windows overlooking a Japanese garden and slender wood elements, Yamazato has a lovely Sukyia-style interior. Located on the ground floor of Amsterdam's upscale Hotel Okura, the Japanese restaurant first received a Michelin star in 2002 and is still the only traditional Japanese restaurant in Europe with a Michelin star.

The service at Yamazato was impeccable. From the time we sat down and ordered water to the moment we signed the check, we were treated like royalty, even though we must have looked like haggard tourists in need of hydration--and some good sushi. The good sushi we found;as for the hydration, I think it was cancelled out by the Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Champagne, but isn't that what vacation is all about?

Seasonal Alliance Lunch - 45 euros per person

Grilled Fillet of Beef with Dengaku Miso
Simmered Blue-fin Tuna and Daikon Radish with Ginger
Mackerel Salad with Sake Lees and Kelp

J felt the beef was tasty, but nothing to write home about. He would have preferred to have the blue-fin tuna sashimi style. Seemed like such a waste to cook such a delicate piece of fish. The mackerel was kind of like a refined and polished version of good old American tuna salad.

Sashimi of Seared Salmon, Thinly Slices Sea Bass and Pink Shrimp

This was the most delicate fish and crustacean I've ever had. We both heart sashimi, and this dish did not dissapoint.

Sansho Yaki
Grilled Duck with Sansho Pepper Sauce

After the amazing duck at both De Kas and Christophe, J felt this dish fell short. The soy sauce just overwhelmed it.

Nishiki Yaki
Grilled Miso Marinade Cod and Salmon Teriyaki with Green Asparagus

The cod was a wee bit bland, but the salmon had a nice crispy finish, and the presentation was interesting.

Sake Ikura Gohan
Salmon Flake and Salmon Roe on Rice

J thought it was a bit bland. I liked the texture contrast between the roe and the egg.

Red Miso Soup with Nameko Mushrooms

The mushrooms were a nice addition, but the broth was a little salty.

Japanese Pancake with Green Tea Ice Cream

I felt the red bean paste tucked inside was a little dry, but the pancake was nice and fluffy, and the ice cream was refreshingly light. J says the dessert was his favorite part of the meal, thanks to the cool, intriguing flavor of the ice cream. It was certainly his kind of dessert: not too sweet.

We got out of Yamazato for what we would have easily spent at one of the local sushi places back home, but the meal was certainly more unique. J's not sure it warrants a Michelin star, but we still had a great time together and enjoyed the ambience and top-notch service.


Hotel Okura Amsterdam
Ferdinand Bolstraat 333, 1072 LH
Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ciel Bleu

Typically we are skeptical of restaurants located at the top of high-rise buildings. Sometimes when the emphasis is placed on the view, it takes focus away from the food. We had come across Ciel Bleu’s web site prior to our trip to Amsterdam but had hesitated, given its proclamation of having a stunning view from the 23rd floor of the sophisticated Hotel Okura. When we arrived in the city and realized our options for a Sunday night meal would be few and far between, we decided to give Ciel Bleu a try. Thank God.

Ciel Bleu enforces a dress code: jackets for the men and “something nice” for the women, as J was told by the hotel staffer making our reservations. Despite our fatigue from a long day wandering around we did it up, and arrived at Ciel Bleu ready for a drink.

Within minutes of our arrival we were sipping on champagne and trying to decide between 4, 5 and 6 course menus. With a promise of a cheese plate and some lavender foam on the 5-course we made our selection and sat back for what would be four unforgettable hours. That's right, four hours!

Ciel Bleu has proudly held a Michelin star since 2005, and our experience there clearly demonstrated why this amazing restaurant has been bestowed with this prestigious rating. The staff members were polite and attentive but not overbearing. They graciously described each course in English, including the fabulous surprises thrown in along the way.

The evening began with three interesting and delicious little treats to get our tastebuds warmed up and ready for what was to follow.

Amuse Bouche
Amuse Bouche - Banana Crisps with some type of savory cream, Salami and crisp cheese

Amuse Bouche
Amuse Bouche - Cheese Crisp

Old Amsterdam Cheese
Amuse Bouche - Old Amsterdam Cheese

This cheese was so tangy and full of flavor. Cheese and crispy texture was the apparent theme throughout the three amuse bouches.

Red Beet Gelee with Bacon
Red Beet Gelee with Whipped Bacon Cream

The bacon cream got salty just at the point when the red beet gelee kicked in and provided refreshment like sprinklers on a hot summer day.

Grilled Langoustines
Grilled Langoustines with Ginger and Vanilla, Coulis of Roasted Sweet Red Peppers and Thinly Sliced Pata Negra Ham

J absolutely adored the whisper-thin ham and langoustines.

Pike Perch with Beet
Pike Perch Fried on the Skin with Beetroot, Black Truffle and Frothy Sauce of Potatoes and Leek

J loved that the skin was nice and crispy against the delicate fish. I loved that beets could look so beautiful. This was edible art at its best.

Partridge and Foie Gras
Roast Redlegged Partridge with Melted Foie Gras, Cep Crostini and Jus of Roasted Chestnuts

Comfort food meets decadence. Seriously, look at this lineup: the thinly sliced cep crostini, wickedly delicious foie gras, and delectable chestnut jus. This is the kind of course you should eat by a roaring fire, with snowflakes falling in the moonlight.

Cheese Platter
Cheese Platter

Once again, by the time we made it to the cheese plate, we were foggy from the bottle of wine we just devoured and therefore we forgot the details of the line-up. Regardless, we kept it going by ordering a glass of Sauternes and a glass of Port to pair with this amazing plate of cheese.

Ice Tea Meringue and Lime Rum Popsicle
Ice Tea Meringue with Blueberry, Lime and Rum Popsicle with Exploding Sugar.

The Popsicles were like Pop Rocks in our mouths. If the duck represented winter, then this little extra was like the Fourth of July: lemonade and fireworks.

The meringues didn't do anything for J, but I found them to be a lovely little juxtaposition of sweet, crunchy meringue and tart berry.

Pastachio Parfait 2
Soft Biscuit of Pistachio with White Chocolate and Parfait of White Chocolate, Marinated Clemintines and Lavender Froth

Wow. Typically we can do without white chocolate, but this dessert was positively charming. The marinated clemintines and lavender froth kept the chocolate from being too sweet, and the pistachio gave it a nice firm body.

At the end of the evening we were one of the last tables in the restaurant, and we'd successfully had one of those meals that changes your relationship with food. There are meals you can plunk a lot of money down for and sort of feel cheated at the end, and then there are meals like this one that are worth every penny (or euro) because you know how much heart and soul went into it. Meals like this are about so much more than just eating. There is eating dinner, and then there is a culinary experience that makes you feel like you have a personal relationship with the person (or people) preparing your food.

Ciel Bleu
Hotel Okura Amsterdam
Ferdinand Bolstraat 333
1072 LH Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Bubbles & Wines

Bubbles and Wines Exterior

Bubbles & Wines is a great example of why it is so valuable to research a city online before visiting. Tucked away in a little alley, we would have never happened upon this swanky Amsterdam hangout had we not read online about someone else's visit there.

We’re always up for a little bubbly, and Bubbles & Wines had everything we could want in a champagne bar: a good selection, cool vibe and tasty nibbles.

According to their website, Bubbles & Wines is one of the first wine bars in Holland to use the Enomatic System, which means that upon opening, a bottle is put into the system vacuum. After each pouring, a small amount of nitrogen is introduced into the bottle to keep the wine free from oxygen. This process preserves the integrity of the wine and means that you can safely order from the "by the glass" menu, since nothing is worse than paying ten bucks for wine by the glass only to get something that is oxidized. Okay, maybe it isn't the worst thing, but you get the drift.

Bubbles & Wines

The bar is long and narrow, with low tables in the front and cocktail rounds in the back. From our place at the bar we had a perfect view of the "kitchen": a small refrigerator and microwave.

Champagne flight - 19,50 euro

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, Mareuil-sur-Ay, France
Pommery Wintertime Blanc de Noirs, Reims, France
Veuve Clicquot Rosé , Reims, France

Champagne turns any moment into a celebration, and when I saw my fave, Veuve Cliquout, on the menu, I wanted to toss some confetti in the air. Who needs water when you have a flight like this in front of you? I simply love the Rosé's coppery pink tone and refreshing sparkle.

Pinot Flight
Pinot Noir wine flight - 13,50 euro

Louis Jadot Couvent des Jacobins, Burgundy, France, 2004
Salentein, Mendoza, Argentina, 2003
Walter Schug, Carneros, U.S.A., 2005

J really liked the one from California because it reminded him of Domaine Drouhin from Oregon and had that green, leafy marijuana smell. (After all, we were in Amsterdam, right?)

B-n-W Cheese platter
An assortment of Dutch and foreign cheeses, served with fig, hazelnut and raisin bread - 13,50 euro

With selections from Holland, Switzerland and England, this cheese plate was amazing, especially when coupled with a glass of Kopke Colheita Port (7,50 euro, photo not available--we drank it too fast).

Bikes and Bubbles

Buzzed and giddy, we stumbled out of Bubbles & Wines in the early hours of the morning, when the coffee shop next store was still going strong. As we began our walk back to the hotel, we snagged this photo of the bikes lined up outside. If you have been to Amsterdam yourself then you know how positively gorgeous and supermodel-esque the locals manage to look on these old, rusty cycles. I can imagine that even after a few glasses of bubbly, they still look cool on their way home, whereas we probably looked like stumbling, mumbling idiots.

The charge for Bubbles & Wines just went through our checking account the other day, and though the dollar is so weak, I still can't believe our tab by the end of the night was only $97. It is probably a good thing that we don't have access to Bubbles & Wines on a regular basis: we'd be broke.

Bubbles & Wines

Nes 37
Amsterdam, Netherlands

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Restaurant Bond

Restaurant Bond

Bond is warm and indulgant like an expensive chocolate bar, and retro in a modern way. An interior accent rock wall reminded me instantly of my grandparents wet bar in their late 60's rambler. A sage colored ceiling softened up the mustard and toffee colored velour curtains, and curved bar stools of caramel held fashionable Dutch women in boots chain smoking over lunch.

We arrived at Bond cold and a little out of it from having not slept the entire plane ride to Amsterdam, but still, we were eager to begin the culinary adventure. The server promptly took our coats and put a wine list in front of us, getting us on our way.

Oysters on the Half Shell
Oysters on the half shell with salsa of coriander, tomato and parsley

The salsa had a nice kick to it, but my favorite oysters on the half shell are still the ones at Lucy's Table in Portland, Ore.

Salmon Tartare
Salmon Tartare with Dill Sauce and Wild Greens

J found the salmon to be moist and delicate, and you just can't go wrong with dill.

Mushroom Soup
Wild Mushroom Soup with Mushroom Crostini

The serving of soup was huge! I needed a life preserver. It was lovely though; slightly creamy without being rich. Between this and the wild mushroom crostini riding sidecar, I was full.

Wild Game and Mushroom Ravioli
Wild Game and Mushroom Ravioli

The bird, ravioli and mushrooms were tasty, but J felt the tomato sauce had a bit too much vinegar. Nonetheless he managed to clean his plate.

Ricotta Ravioli
Ricotta and Mint Tortelini with Pecorino and Sage

Wow. This was a very unique and hearty combination; I loved it. I only wish the mushroom soup had left me with more room to enjoy the pillows of cheese.

Restaurant Bond is off the beaten path and seems to be a place where local neighborhood hipsters go for lunch and drinks. We'd be curious to see if the mood changed at night. Unfortunately, with so little time, and so much Amsterdam, we had to bid Restaurant Bond adieu and start thinking about dinner.

Valeriusstraat 128b
1075 GD Amsterdam
Phone 020 676 46 47