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:
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:
The 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.
If 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The ramen boom continues in the Pacific Northwest, with tonkotsu the prevailing fan favorite. While I hold out hope that someone will open a restaurant locally that specializes in a more “sappari” shoyu ramen, I remain engaged in the pork broth craze. Following my recent trip to Fukuoka, Japan’s home of tonkotsu ramen, I was especially interested in trying three brand new places in Seattle (well, Tukwila), Richmond (BC), and Vancouver (BC) with Japanese chefs who are putting out their versions of porky noodle soup.
Yah Yah Ya Ramen brings Yokohama-style iekei ramen to Richmond. “Iekei” means house-style, though there’s a play on words of sorts with the kanji of “ie” also being “ya”—which also means house (used in a different manner). The repeated sound of “ya” in the restaurant name, with the shortened version at the end, adds a sense of excitement of playfulness.
Unfortunately, my excitement about Yah Yah Ya’s ramen abated quickly upon receiving the bowl. The chashu pork, while generous in portion, was pale gray in color, and lacked flavor. It was also too lean, even though we ordered the pork with fat, as compared to the “without fat” option. You can also customize your noodles to be soft, normal, or hard. I had no qualms about either the normal texture of my noodles, or the firmer texture of the noodles in the miso ramen I also sampled. (All bowls come with half of a flavored egg. In the miso ramen, wakame replaces the nori that’s found in the shoyu bowl, with bean sprouts added and spinach removed.) Other ordering options involve oil level (less oil, normal, or oily) and taste (light, normal, or thick).
As flat as the chashu flavor was, the broth was even blander—perhaps the blandest bowl of ramen I’ve had in some time. The broth is said to be made with both pork and chicken bones, along with konbu and vegetables, and cooked for at least 12 hours—then flavored with soy sauce, green onions, garlic, and chicken oil. But it simply lacked complexity and depth. For $9.50 per bowl, this was a disappointing experience.
Next up was Taishoken Ramen in Vancouver. Taishoken is a legendary ramen restaurant in Japan, and as I’ve yet to have opportunity to try it there, I was thrilled to learn of its arrival in Vancouver. The restaurant has photos of the original location in Tokyo, and the chef apparently worked hard to replicate flavors and presentation in Vancouver. But, the tonkotsu ramen ($9.75) was slightly disappointing. I liked the choice of lean or fatty pork, but those choices proved to be extreme in both directions, with the shoulder too dry and the belly far too fatty. The added egg was cooked longer than I prefer (no runny yolk), and the broth (made with pork and chicken bones) was a little too light. The option of a stronger broth helped to some degree, but a little more pork flavor and salt might have helped.
Better for two dollars more was the tsukemen, as the broth was more concentrated and therefore richer in flavor. The noodles, boiled and then rinsed, are thicker and have a firmer texture that makes for a more enjoyable meal. (There’s also a tomato ramen available, which I had little desire to try.)
Given its proximity to Southcenter, I was skeptical about quality at Arashi Ramen. Whereas Santouka screams Japanese, I got a Chinese feeling from Arashi—partly because my Chinese-speaking server was confused when I asked questions about ramen options, and partly because Arashi overcompensates by touting its masterchef as the Japanese “Daisuke Ueda.” There’s a prominent chalkboard boasting that the broth simmers for over 16 hours, reminiscent of Santouka’s claim.
Taking me by surprise, the kitchen delivered with a milky, porky broth that was quite good. It could stand to be a bit more meaty and perhaps even more oily, but the flavor was pleasingly creamy and still porky. My tonkotsu shio bowl came with traditional thin noodles that were a little soft (I believe this is the local trend in catering to Chinese and even Western preference), but those in the know can now request firm (katamen) or extra firm (barikata)—and maybe even get thicker, wavy noodles.
At $8.95, the bowl was relatively inexpensive albeit simple, with half an egg (nicely runny), green onions, bean sprouts (which I personally would omit next time, as I find them distracting and ultimately diluting, due to water content), and red pickled ginger. As with the other places, you can add toppings at extra cost. Note that all of Arashi’s ramen is tonkotsu-based, even if bowls like black garlic don’t specify. For the driving distance, I’d still go to Santouka, but Arashi is a good choice if you’re south of Seattle—and is hopefully a sign of raising the bar for ramen around here.