Category Archives: Restaurant

Getting a Garlicky Grin at Girin

Girin sign 7574

After long lamenting the lack of quality Korean food in Seattle (you’ve had to drive north toward Shoreline and beyond, or south to at least Federal Way, for the good stuff), there’s recent activity in the game of gochujang and garlic in the heart of the city. Chan opened in Pike Place Market several years ago, a restaurant I describe as “a cute little place with little, little dishes.” Just last year, Trove opened in Capitol Hill, giving carnivores a place to “get their grill on.”

And now comes news that Girin is opening on Saturday, rising in rapidly developing Pioneer Square, specifically in the Stadium Place project in the North Lot Development, on the city side of CenturyLink Field. It’s a gorgeous space reminiscent of Momiji in Capitol Hill (not surprising, since it’s the same owner), and here’s the good news: the food at Girin, while modern, is far more aligned with authentic Korean cuisine than Momiji’s was—at least at opening—with authentic Japanese cuisine. Credit Brandon Kirksey (ex-chef at flour + water in San Francisco and Tavolata in Seattle) for quickly learning Korean flavors. I will be curious to see how his cooking develops over time. (This noodle lover will also look forward to trying the kalguksu: Girin’s version featuring hand-cut noodles in kombu broth with clams and cuttlefish.)

Maybe the best news is that unlike Chan and Trove, Girin offers banchan for free. [Edit: It now appears that banchan is free only for ssam plates, and not for noodles, tteokboki, etc.] That said, menu prices run on the high side; I wonder what impact pricing and location will play in Girin’s long-term success. The Pioneer Square renaissance should help, as will the opening of a hotel across the street from the restaurant. While budget-minded Korean food lovers will likely continue to drive far for their fix, I suspect that the young, monied crowd (not a bad target audience, as that’s what Seattle’s becoming) will Uber its way to the stylish Girin to swig makgeolli out of metal bowls and devour plates of meats that run from raw to grilled.

On that note, here’s a look at some sampling I did at last night’s media preview dinner at Girin.

Girin banchan 7458

Banchan assortment included the pictured kimchi (nicely flavored), nettles with doenjang and pine nuts (a seasonal offering), and sesame-crusted tofu (delicious!), along with grilled eggplant and dried anchovies with toasted almonds.

Girin yukhoe 7450

Yukhoe (Girin spells it yukhwe): raw beef, pear, pine nuts, and egg yolk. From my experience, yukhoe is usually made from beef strips or chopped/ground beef, and is typically more seasoned, but this was still fantastic.

Girin haemul pajeon 7478

Haemul pajeon: green onion pancake with seafood. While the outside could have been crispier, the pancake had great interior texture with its slight chewiness.

Girin tteokbokki 7488

Gung jung tteokbokki: crispy rice cakes with roasted mushrooms (king trumpet, maitake, and pioppini) and soy glaze. In contrast to the spicy red tteokboki that I found on the streets of Seoul, this “royal court” tteokbokki is more refined, meant to be a lighter dish. It usually comes with beef, but even without the dish was satisfying, as it was full of earthy flavor. I only wish the rice cakes were cooked slightly more; instead of an undercooked chewy texture, they should have a soft, mochi-like chewy texture.

Girin ssam skirt steak 7518

Ssamjang marinated skirt steak was perfectly cooked and full of flavor. This plate (with the leaves and all) runs $28, whereas an upgrade to rib-eye would cost about three times the price.

Girin ginger sausage 7537

Charred scallion and ginger sausage was bursting with ginger. The sausage starts to approach soondae texture (a little soft), but without the earthy delights that soondae typically offers.

Girin persimmon sorbet 7560

Persimmon sorbet: This was the most talked-about dish at my table, as it had a slightly satoimo-like, slimy texture that was a little disconcerting to most.

Girin interior 7570Revelry at Girin.

Testing and Tasting Some Ethically Credible, Happily Edible Eggs

Prosciutto and eggs upon arrival to Stoneburner
Prosciutto and eggs upon arrival to Stoneburner

I’ve been playing a lot with eggs recently.

So it was with great interest that I attended an egg event for food writers last month. Vital Farms was in town to show off their Alfresco Eggs, with Jason Stoneburner serving them up for Saturday brunch at his namesake restaurant. I was curious to learn more about what Vital calls humanely, pasture-raised eggs, newly pushed in the Pacific Northwest with availability at QFC and Fred Meyer.

Breakfast festivities began with a video look, a la Portlandia, at the “girls” gone wild: hens from Vital’s 50+ farms around the country that are released from their coops each morning to run free on 108 square feet of pasture per bird. The “moving chicken spas” mean the hens essentially “engineer their own crop rotation,” in the words of Dan Brooks, Vital’s director of marketing & communications. This results in brightly colored (deep orange) yolks that come from the xanthophylls in the grass. But be forewarned: Other eggs can have such color (from marigold feed, etc.), so it’s not the tell-tale sign of a true pasture-raised egg.

I’m not convinced that Alfresco Eggs actually tasted better than the eggs more commonly available at the grocery store, but as Brooks inferred, consumers might simply find the pasture-raised eggs to be more (ethically) palatable. These eggs are free from use of herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones. Plus there’s the promise that the hens’ “salad-based diet” and exercise yield eggs with 25% less saturated fat, up to 50% less cholesterol, more Omega-3s, and significantly higher amount of vitamins A, D, and E.

It was great to finally get to Stoneburner for the first time, and the nice brunch treatment means a desire to return for more. Some of the egg dishes:

Meatballs with eggs
Meatballs with eggs
Pizza with eggs
Pizza with eggs
Omelette with mushrooms
Omelette with mushrooms
Perhaps the best way to eat fresh eggs: poached
Perhaps the best way to eat fresh eggs: poached

Meanwhile, I picked up some eggs at the store to try out on a few Asian dishes I like to cook at home. Here’s a look:

Miso ramen with ajitama: seasoned soft egg
Miso ramen with ajitama: seasoned soft egg
Fried rice with egg
Fried rice with egg
Biang-biang noodles with side of seasoned soft egg topped with XO sauce
Biang-biang noodles with side of seasoned soft egg topped with XO sauce
Mul naengmyeon with hard-boiled egg (perhaps the "worst" way to prepare fresh eggs)
Mul naengmyeon with hard-boiled egg (perhaps the “worst” way to prepare fresh eggs)

Seattle Lamb Jam (and an Oyster New Year “Appetizer”) Coming in November

Lamb Jam TourThe first weekend in November will be a fun one for food lovers, as the Seattle Lamb Jam takes place here for the fifth time. This is one of my favorite food events of the year, as (along with Cochon 555, which skipped Seattle this year) a single ingredient cooked in competition seems to bring the best out of the participating chefs.

Look for more ethnic influences this year than in the past, and be ready to judge your favorite dishes, as the event will again allow you to vote for the “People’s Choice” title. (I’ll be sequestered in the “professional” judging room!) There’s an exciting lineup of chefs, including Sarah Lorenzen of Andaluca—last year’s Best in Show winner for her fresh lamb sausage in socca (a chickpea flour crepe) with pomegranate tomato jam.

Lamb Jam takes place on Sunday, November 2, with general admission at 2:30pm. Tickets are $60, which gives you a chance to sample 16 globally inspired lamb dishes, taste Washington’s best brews and wine, mingle with local shepherds, and visit the DIY spice rub station to mix a take-home tin of lamb rub.

If you’re game, you can instead ante up $75 (in advance) to attend a “Curriculamb VIP Pre-Jam.” This entitles you to early entry, with an opportunity to spend time with Northwest shepherd Reed Anderson of Anderson Ranches and chef Holly Smith of Café Juanita as they offer a butchery demo, prepare American lamb appetizers, and provide home cooking tips and wine pairing recommendations.

Organized by the American Lamb Board, a portion of the ticket sales will benefit the University District Food Bank. Seattle Lamb Jam takes place on the waterfront at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center at Pier 66.

Elliott's PMS ILLUSTRATOR13If you’re lucky, you’ll also be at Bell Harbor the night before for the 22nd annual Elliott’s Oyster New Year. This popular event (moved this year due to the massive seawall project) is sold out, but perhaps keep your eye on Craigslist and elsewhere for tickets.

Elliott’s Oyster New Year features 30+ varieties of local oysters shucked to order at a 150-foot oyster bar, along with the famous oyster luge and a fresh seafood buffet. Over 75 wineries will be present, as well as a lot of local microbrews. Live music adds to the festivities, and proceeds benefit the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Patxi’s Packs a One-Two Pizza Punch

Pizza, fresh from the oven
Pizza, fresh from the oven

Pizza lovers can now find unique pleasure in going to Patxi’s—the small, California-based chain that’s opened three restaurants in Denver and now one in Seattle. The opportunity: Start the meal with one type of pizza and end with another.

14" thin-crust pie with prosciutto and arugula
14″ thin-crust pie with prosciutto and arugula

Place your drink order and pick a thin-crust pizza, and both will come to your table in mere minutes. Patxi’s thin-crust pies spin in a special rotating oven, and then speed their way to your table. The thin-crust pie at Delancey is better if you’re in Ballard, but the pie at Patxi’s is quite satisfactory, and you don’t have to worry about waiting in line. The thin crust allows the high-quality toppings to shine, and I enjoyed mine with Zoe’s aged prosciutto and fresh arugula. (Next time, I’m tempted to try one with the Creminelli prosciutto cotto.)

Half-order of Brussels sprouts with pancetta
Half-order of Brussels sprouts with pancetta

While waiting for your deep-dish pizza (which takes about 30 minutes to bake after time to construct), some sides are well worth a try. I especially enjoyed warm Brussels sprouts with pancetta. Just be sure to toss things together to integate the sherry vinaigrette. This is a labor-intensive dish; instead of cooking halved or quartered sprouts, Patxi’s pulls the individual leaves. They don’t cook to a char like other preparations, which makes this dish more like a refreshing salad, with green apples adding tartness and red grape halves adding sweetness.

Padron peppers
Padron peppers

Also good are the padron peppers, oven roasted and served with a sprinkling of sea salt and a side of spicy tomato sauce. Seems the night I went shishitos substituted for the padrones—still a fine choice, though smaller and less spicy than I prefer.

Deep-dish delight
Deep-dish delight

As for the deep-dish pizza, like the thin-crust, you can order from the chef recommendations or build your own pie. I did a hybrid, spotting a promising Smoky Diablo pie on the specials sheet but wanting pork instead of chicken breast—which is not my favorite pizza topping. No chicken also meant eliminating the house-roasted corn, so I asked the server to have the chefs surprise me with the substitution. They did well in choosing Zoe’s hot coppa to go with the Diablo’s intended smoked chipotles, jalapenos, and cilantro.

Inside Patxi's
Inside Patxi’s

The deep-dish pizza is a man-made wonder. It’s hefty, which means knife-and-fork food. The deep-dish features a “double dough.” First, there’s a thick layer of dough pressed into a pan, with toppings done in reverse starting with meat, then cheese, and then tomato sauce (simple but good)—placed on top to allow caramelizing for stronger flavor. But if you look carefully, you’ll also notice a very thin second layer of dough, with holes poked through to allow steam out. The crust is biscuit-like, a little crunchier than I expected, but enjoyable. Kids especially like eating the crust with a little local honey (purposely placed on the table) drizzled on. This is in lieu of having a dessert menu, simplifying matters though maybe not appealing to those with a real sweet tooth. Then again, I’m not sure how many people would want dessert after devouring both thin-crust and deep-dish pizzas.

The view from the sidewalk
The view from the sidewalk

Pictures and Post-Event Thoughts: Feast Portland 2014

sandwich Kachka
sandwich Broder
sandwich Salt & Straw
Feast Portland sandwich invitational celebs
Departure shumai
Departure shrimp toast
Departure pastrami
Departure dessert
Bounty scene
Bounty Fran Bigelow of Fran's Chocolates
Bounty shooters
Night Market entry
Night Market Joule chefs
Night Market Joule
Night Market Brad Farmerie Public pork blood popsicle
Night Market Biwa dumplings
Night Market Nong
Night Market Annisa
Night Market Animal food
Night Market fire dancer
Coffee at Feast
Bend scallop
Ethan Stowell with Branden Karow
Bounty Stumptown cold brew
High Comfort Gorham picadors
High Comfort Gorham olives
High Comfort St. Jack
Comfort Imperial fried chicken
High Comfort Qui
High Comfort Maurice
Black Seed Bagel
Butcher & Bee lamb and grits
Eggslut kimchi fried rice
Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue
Franklin Barbecue taco

Judges' winner of the Sandwich Invitational was a good one: Kachka's smoked sprats, egg, smetana butter fried toasts. (Kachka is a fairly new Russian restaurant in Portland that is high on my wish-list.)

The Sandwich Invitational featured plenty of pork (and other meat), as usual, but it was refreshing to see some seafood, including Broder's gravlax, Skyr, pickled cucumber, crispy chicken skin, rye bread. (I also liked the "mini-battle" between Hugh Acheson/5 & 10's pimento cheese sandwich and Matt McCallister/FT33's version which added bologna.)

Salt & Straw was the People's winner at the Sandwich Invitational with this PB&J.

Chris Cosentino of the soon-to-open Cockscomb chats up Ruth Reichl while serving a sandwich he called Cicciolina (Google her for the fascinating story).

From the Feast Dinner Series event at Departure (featuring chefs Gregory Gourdet, Anita Lo, and Pichet Ong), chicken and mushroom shu mai with carrot vinegar.

One of my favorite dishes of the Departure dinner: shrimp toast with black pepper caramel and grilled pineapple.

I actually thought there were more misses than hits at the Departure dinner. This five spice pastrami with Valrhona dark chocolate, ginger, and chili was too intense in its "mole" like sauce, with an absence of Asian flavor for me. Coming at the end of an 8-course dinner, it was also too heavy. I did like the turnips, though.

My favorite course of the Departure dinner was actually the dessert: 3 shades of chocolate with peach, sesame, white miso semifreddo, and Jacobsen's sea salt.

The scene at the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting, featuring lots of food and drink, plus chef demonstrations.

A pleasant surprise at the Friday Grand Tasting: Fran Bigelow of Fran's Chocolates.

Best bite of Friday's Grand Tasting: Face Rock Creamery's Bloody Mary shooters, featuring peppadew peppers stuffed with Vampire Slayer garlic cheese curds.

The festive entry to Friday's Night Market.

At Night Market, a treat to see Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi of the newly opened Trove (and Joule and Revel).

Yang and Chirchi's spicy shrimp cakes.

Best bite of the Night Market came from Brad Farmerie of Public and Saxon + Parole in New York City: pork blood popsicles with chili jam and peanut powder, served with a side of crab salad laksa.

Gabe Rosen of Portland's Biwa dished out pork and shrimp water dumplings and also dished out plans to open Noraneko, a non-tonkotsu ramen restaurant the likes of which we don't have in Seattle.

Nong's Khao Man Gai always draws huge lines, though Portlanders can get the chicken and rice dish all the time.

Better than her Departure dinner dishes: Anita Lo of Annisa served grilled quail with celeriac and Szechuan pepper at the Night Market.

Jon Shook (of Animal and Son of a Gun) served salmon with jerk spice, grapes, palm sugar vinaigrette, and habanero. This dish comprised half of perhaps the evening’s most popular pairing, as it went well with 10 Barrel Brewing Company’s Cucumber Crush.

Night Market festivities included this fire dancer.

Liam Kenna of Stumptown Coffee Roasters demonstrates pour-over brewing technique at a hands-on class.

Best bite at Saturday's Grand Tasting: scallop sashimi and braised pork belly w/uni emulsion from Bend's 5 Fusion and Sushi Bar.

Ethan Stowell (with Branden Karow) preparing a 3-course pear menu for USA Pears' "pop-up restaurant" at the Grand Tasting.

Stumptown's cold brew was refreshing and invigorating during the long, hot days of Feast Portland.

John Gorham of Toro Bravo served fun picadors at High Comfort. The three paired bites per skewer included housemade chorizo, fuet, onions, pears, pepper, and anchovies.

Even more fun from Gorham: olive puree spheres he calls "Spanish kisses."

Aaron Barnett of St. Jack served up comfort in the way of braised lamb tongue, bulgher, and bay broth.

Surprising best bite of High Comfort: Imperial/Vitaly Paley's fried chicken (double-fried, so quite crispy!) and spicy watermelon salad with Imperial rooftop honey.

It might not look like much, but second favorite bite at High Comfort was Paul Qui's (of Qui) mushroom dinuguan.

Kristen Murray of Maurice provided a sweet finish to High Comfort with pain perdu with tomato and anise.

Brunch Village was the new event of Feast Portland, serving up plenty of carbs to start Sunday. Just this Black Seed Bagel alone was filling, but worth the stomach space for a New York bagel.

Best bite at Brunch Village: smoked lamb neck with Geechie Boy grits, okra, and harissa jus from Butcher & Bee in Charleston (SC).

Eggslut (Los Angeles) was painstakingly slow in poaching eggs for kimchi fried rice, but Alvin Cailan's shake-your-own-can concoction was fun and tasty.

Also commandeering a long line: Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue in Austin, TX.

Franklin Barbecue's breakfast taco with avocado and charred salsa. Yes, the brisket is delicious!

sandwich Kachka thumbnail
sandwich Broder  thumbnail
sandwich Salt & Straw  thumbnail
Feast Portland sandwich invitational celebs  thumbnail
Departure shumai  thumbnail
Departure shrimp toast  thumbnail
Departure pastrami  thumbnail
Departure dessert  thumbnail
Bounty scene  thumbnail
Bounty Fran Bigelow of Fran's Chocolates thumbnail
Bounty shooters  thumbnail
Night Market entry  thumbnail
Night Market Joule chefs  thumbnail
Night Market Joule  thumbnail
Night Market Brad Farmerie Public pork blood popsicle thumbnail
Night Market Biwa dumplings thumbnail
Night Market Nong  thumbnail
Night Market Annisa  thumbnail
Night Market Animal food  thumbnail
Night Market fire dancer thumbnail
Coffee at Feast  thumbnail
Bend scallop  thumbnail
Ethan Stowell with Branden Karow  thumbnail
Bounty Stumptown cold brew  thumbnail
High Comfort Gorham picadors  thumbnail
High Comfort Gorham olives  thumbnail
High Comfort St. Jack  thumbnail
Comfort Imperial fried chicken  thumbnail
High Comfort Qui  thumbnail
High Comfort Maurice  thumbnail
Black Seed Bagel  thumbnail
Butcher & Bee lamb and grits  thumbnail
Eggslut kimchi fried rice thumbnail
Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue  thumbnail
Franklin Barbecue taco  thumbnail

It’s been a week since Feast Portland put the wraps on another successful food festival, and I’m still savoring the memories and flavors of the event. The formula of daytime tastings, demos, and workshops combined with evening theme events and collaborative dinners continues to shine, with this year bringing an added attraction to finish the feasting.

Each year, I return home to remarks of “Why isn’t Seattle home to a festival like this?” We’ve certainly got the talent, though in the absence of a “Feast Seattle,” at least some of our Seattle-area culinary celebrities travel south to contribute to the Portland event. They’re part of a program that includes famous (and not-so famous) fooderati from around the country, from Food Network stars to local heroes that include chocolatiers, winemakers, farmers, and of course chefs.

Feast Portland is quite the hedonistic event, a feeding frenzy that justifies a juice cleansing afterward. For those feeling guilty about the gluttony, note that Feast Portland continues to benefit the statewide Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, as well as Share Our Strength—a national organization aimed at ending childhood hunger.

Check out the slideshow above which shows some Seattle food celebrities, favorite bites from the Grand Tastings and the four main events (Sandwich Invitational, Night Market, High Comfort, and Brunch Village), and a few extras from Feast Portland.

Dough Zone Delights with Noodles, Dumplings, Pancakes, Buns, and More in Bellevue

Dough Zone's juicy pork buns (xiao long bao)
Dough Zone’s juicy pork buns (xiao long bao)

I’ve become so obsessed with food that I now believe flour is more beautiful than flowers.

That’s what I was thinking while working my way through the menu at Dough Zone, a flour-y (!) new restaurant in Bellevue, behind the Crossroads Mall. With the kitchen pumping out baskets of xiao long bao (a.k.a. soup dumplings, or juicy pork buns here), there are inevitable comparisons to Din Tai Fung, with Dough Zone giving it a run for the money, albeit at a little less cost (and usually less wait time) for its customers.

But it’s not just dumplings on the diverse menu of things dough-related. Green onion pancakes? Check. Chinese doughnuts? Fresh-made noodles? Check. Biscuits and “burgers”? Check. There’s even shengjian bao (here called jian buns), making Dough Zone about the only place in the area to find the pan-fried relative of xiao long bao.

So what’s the verdict on quality?

Pretty good, overall. The xiao long bao ($8.50 for 10) are about the cutest I’ve seen—a dollhouse variety that’s small but with a decent amount of broth inside the delicate wrapper. The pork flavor of the meat is good, but while the broth was “clean” tasting, a little more depth of flavor wouldn’t hurt.

Skip, though, the crab meat buns. At $10.50 a basket, it’s the most expensive item on the menu, and not worth the upgrade from the pork version. There’s no discernible crab in the broth, and the crab texture of the meat is somewhat disconcerting.

Shengjian bao, with crisped bottoms
Shengjian bao, with crisped bottoms

Back to pork, the jian buns are good. My understanding, though, is that the dough should be a little thinner and therefore crisper when pan-fried. The thickness of the dough means that most of the broth gets absorbed, so the anticipated juicy explosion goes missing.

Spicy beef pancake rolls
Spicy beef pancake rolls
Pork potstickers
Pork potstickers

From the list of house specials, the spicy beef pancake rolls are worth a try, with lots of green onions to offset the meaty flavor. Our group didn’t try anything from the boiled or steamed dumpling sections of the menu, instead opting for pork potstickers from the pan-fried dumpling section. These are cooked to a nice crispness, but are perhaps too porky—with clumps of meat crying to be countered with something crunchy and vegetal, such as Chinese chives.

Szechuan sauced cold noodles
Szechuan sauced cold noodles
Noodles with onion soy sauce
Noodles with onion soy sauce

The noodles are fun, made fresh in the back kitchen. They come in small bowls, but as with the rest of the menu, at a rather small price ($4.75 for sauced noodles, or $7.75 for soup noodles). If you’re sharing among four, you’ll each get just a couple of bites. The Szechuan sauced noodles are cold and refreshing, made ma la to be both numbing and spicy. Even more impressive are the noodles with (green) onion soy sauce. The relative simplicity of the sauce allows the warm noodles to shine.

Non-dough delights: “mix flaver beef” with sweet and sour cucumbers in the background (well worth $2.50 just to see the spiraling knifework)
Non-dough delights: “mix flaver beef” with sweet and sour cucumbers in the background (well worth $2.50 just to see the spiraling knifework)

Dough Zone’s current popularity might mean a short wait for seats during the busiest of hours, unless you’re willing to sit at the counter—arguably the best seats in the house, as you get to watch the dumpling-making. The servers are young and friendly, but with mixed language skills, so persist if you need someone to explain any of the description-less menu items. At pricing that allows for lots of menu-sampling, Dough Zone is off a great start. With a little more focus on the fillings (and toppings) than the dough itself, I can only imagine it will get even better.

Seating at the counter, watching the dumpling-making
Seating at the counter, watching the dumpling-making