Category Archives: Drinks

New Coffee Gear Makes Mornings More Magical

Good grounds from the Baratza Vario-W Grinder
Good grounds from the Baratza Vario-W Grinder

It’s approaching two years since I got my Hario “barista station” set-up, a major upgrade from a haphazard brewing system cobbled together when I finally started drinking coffee about two years prior. Now a true coffee geek aficionado, I was recently looking to enhance the experience, reaching out locally and beyond, eventually acquiring a handful of new products to try. One item was impressive (but not for me), another interesting for occasional use, and two (at very different price points) of major value—one daily, and one somewhat seasonally.

Let’s start with the new product I’m using most: the Baratza Vario-W Grinder. I still have great affection for my Hario Coffee Mill Roman N, and it was a fun part of my morning ritual since the 2012 makeover, but the Vario-W has streamlined the grinding process while providing lots of opportunity for experimentation. And it’s also improved the quality of my coffee flavor.

With the Hario, to get enough grounds for two cups of coffee, I was doing a minimum of 130 full rotations on the hand-grinder, a somewhat exhausting task. Plus, while it was possible to change the grind size, the process was never precise. In contrast, going from the manual Hario to the electric Vario-W speeds up the process and adds great precision. A lever on the right side of the grinder goes from 1 to 10 (fine to course) while a left side lever (I rarely touch it) micro-adjusts from A to W, resulting in a whopping 230 grind settings. Best of all, Baratza (based in Bellevue) made this a weight-based grinder. There are three programmable pre-sets of grind weight output, so I keep ample beans in the hopper and simply press the desired weight and start buttons. The grounds collect in a plastic container; sometimes they stick to the plastic, making the transfer to the pourover dripper more challenging and a bit messy, but that’s just a minor quibble.

The Wear-Ever Popcorn Pumper at my barista station
The Wear-Ever Popcorn Pumper at my barista station

On the subject of beans, I’ve jumped into the home-roasting game as many do: with a popcorn popper. A garage-sale enthusiast (and fellow roaster) gifted me a Wear-Ever Popcorn Pumper, then showed me how to outfit it with a can-turned-chimney. There’s lots of information online about roasting with a popcorn popper (the challenge is finding a suitable popper, as the Popcorn Pumper is no longer made, with used ones selling as coffee roasters on eBay and going for $20 minimum), and it’s fun to experiment with different types of green coffee beans. One drawback of this economical solution is that the popper can only roast limited amounts of beans at a time (I find that 74 grams is ideal, as the output is about 62 grams, which is how much I want to make two rounds of two cups of coffee), but fortunately roasting time is fast. My last session, Ethiopian beans took about 4-1/2 minutes for the first round of light roasting (up to a minute less for subsequent rounds, as the machine was then already hot), while Colombian beans benefited from another minute or two to achieve a medium roast. Consider that roasting could be seasonal, partly because colder weather (you do this outside) isn’t ideal for getting the machine up to a warm temperature, and also because it’s not fun to do it if you’re freezing.

The impressive Impress Coffee Roaster
The impressive Impress coffee brewer

Pourover is my much preferred method of brewing and drinking coffee, but I play with an AeroPress on occasion, particularly when I have darker beans I don’t especially like. I’ve largely given up on French press, as I find the result a little sludgy. That said, during a recent trip to Raleigh, I discovered the new Impress coffee brewer. This one-cup-at-a-time brewer consists of a 2-piece nested press, plus a silicone heat-resistant lid. It’s reminiscent of a French press, providing some of the oil that many people like from the process, but with less of the sludginess. I still much prefer the cleaner result of a pourover, but others will like the Impress for multiple reasons: It’s easy to use, easy to clean, convenient, and perhaps best of all, the double-walled cup keeps the coffee hot for a surprisingly long period of time.

JOCO coffee cup and package
JOCO coffee cup and package

[Speaking of cups, at the recent Specialty Coffee Association of America conference in Seattle, I met the makers of JOCO coffee cups. Based in Australia, their glass cups are colorful and stylish, and ideal for coffee drinkers on the move. The glass holds the heat pretty well, and the various sizes provide versatility. On the downside, there’s an initial silicone smell from the holder and cap that come with the new product, and the drinking slit in the silicone top doesn’t provide as much portion control as I’d like. It also has a little leakage issue. Still, it’s a fun cup, and the green company also offers suggestions on how to use the cup’s package; for example, it’s great for storing coffee beans.]

Behold the Nespresso VertuoLine
Behold the Nespresso VertuoLine

Last on the list is the new Nespresso VertuoLine. I’ve long been pessimistic about these single-serve machines, despite knowing friends who tout their convenience (I’d miss the ritual) and the variety of flavors (which is of little interest to me). But the VertuoLine, which makes both espresso and coffee, intrigued me, especially its claim to produce crema when making coffee. Amazingly, it does. It must be something related to the centrifugal technology that spins each individual capsule 7,000 rotations per minute. That said, the flavor isn’t quite the quality I seek from my coffee. (Even if the grounds in those capsules were high quality, they’re not going to be as fresh as buying newly roasted beans—or roasting beans yourself.) And in addition to the large footprint that would consume much-coveted counter space, I’m still concerned about the environmental impact (and cost) of the single-serve capsules.

Meet Terra Cole, Purveyor of Meat and More in West Seattle

Terra Cole board
Terra Cole customer interaction
Terra Cole butchering
Terra Cole rib eye
Terra Cole sausage
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Terra Cole bacon
Terra Cole pickles
Terra Cole olives
Terra Cole condiments
Terra Cole smoker
Terra Cole sandwich making
Terra Cole BBQ pork sandwich
Terra Cole pastrami sandwich

Take note of what's happening in Terra Cole on the big board.

Guest butcher Michael LaRoche (of Piggyback Deli) interacting with a customer.

LaRoche, in action.

Terra Cole sources some of the finest meats in the area.

Sausage selection includes hot Italian, chicken & chanterelle, and these: lamb merguez and chorizo.

These smoked marrow bones (from Long Valley Ranch) look pretty irresistible.

Mmm...bacon.

Terra Cole takes pride in its pickling.

There's also a variety of olives. If you've not had them, perhaps try the red cerignola olives.

The cool case is full of mustards and other condiments to take home. There are also sauces, if you don't want to take time to make your own.

Trace Wilson pulling pork shoulder out of the smoker.

And here's that shoulder in the pulled pork sandwich Wilson is preparing.

The "Pulled South Carolina barbecue pork" sandwich is delicious. The mustard-based sauce (Carolina Gold) makes it slightly tangy. The cole slaw (with beets instead of carrots) is a nice counterpoint, as are the pickled red onions.

Terra Cole's traditional pastrami is thin-sliced and served warm with some sharp whole grain mustard (excellent, and again made in-house) on rye bread.

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I’m convinced that every neighborhood needs a Terra Cole, which dubs itself a place for “Butchery & Fine Foods.” Open two months this week, this West Seattle store provides customers with a wide variety of high-quality meat, ideas of how to prepare the meat, products to help make that meat dish happen, and meat to eat on-site (or to go) in the form of a sandwich.

Most obvious upon entry is the butchery side of Terra Cole. The showcase glistens with gorgeous rib-eye steaks, smoked turkey wings, and veal bratwursts plus other housemade sausages. (So much of what’s sold at Terra Cole, like the sauces, marinades, and condiments, is made in house.) Approach the counter, and you’ll likely get asked if you’re looking for something for dinner or suggestions of how to prepare a particular piece of meat.

But what you’ll also quickly notice in the industrial setting is a scattering of tables up front, and some seating toward the back. This should clue you in to the deli side of Terra Cole, less obvious since its base is the side counter, not the front. There are a half-dozen sandwiches on the regular menu, ranging from smoked pork loin on peasant levain to lamb merguez sausage on hobui flatbread. It’s here that you’ll find the cold case of sides sold by the pound, including an assortment of pickled vegetables, olives, and a number of salads (such as smoked potato, black bean, and cole slaw).

You can round out your meal with one of the unique sodas from the cooler in the front corner of the store. The Green River Soda, which unlike most of the other things at Terra Cole is not local, comes from Chicago and is not often found outside that area. Co-owner Tim Mitchell will tell you that the soda is an homage to his Midwest childhood.

Prices are reasonable and the quality is quite good, with the deli menu under the command of chef (and culinary director) Trace Wilson. I especially enjoyed my pulled South Carolina barbecue pork sandwich, served on a potato bun (with cole slaw and pickled red onions) for just $6.50. It’s definitely one of the best pulled pork sandwiches I’ve had in the Seattle area.

A final aspect of Terra Cole is what you don’t see. The workers will enthusiastically tell you that if you don’t see something, just ask for it. They’re more than willing to cut meats to your specifications, and to special order anything you don’t find in the showcase, from offal to more “exotic” animals like buffalo, crocodile, and kangaroo. While there’s already plenty of pickling and smoking already happening, look in the future for more forms of preparation/preservation, including expansion of the charcuterie program.

Terra Cole seems to have all the ingredients to meet Mitchell’s mission of “giving people a restaurant quality experience that they have at home at their kitchen table.” Those who venture past the front counter will find the makings of a fine culinary experience to be had while seated right in the butcher shop.

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An Evening With Stumptown Coffee (and Cocktails, and Wine)

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Stumptown provides a unique setting for dinner.

Two of the three tables, set and awaiting guests.

Reception in the Stumptown store before the start of the sit-down dinner.

Alex Negranza, producer of "An Evening With," welcomes guests.

Coffee and alcohol at the ready.

Staff checking out the food and drink pairings.

Part of the evening's fireworks.

More cocktail-making.

Drinks. Plenty of drinks.

Coffee scales and timers, ready for action.

Chemex preparation.

The Aeropress builds muscle tone.

The McCracken-Tough team prepares the first course.

First course, plated and ready to serve.

First course: Chevre custard, persimmon, sherry reduction, nasturtium. (Coffee pairing: Ethiopia Mordecofe Reserva)

Second course: Smoked salmon roe, confit duck gizzard, black garlic, pickled apple. (Coffee pairing: Kenya Gaturiri)

Third course: Smoked sweet potato agnolotti, treviso, pine nuts, smoked idiazabal, brown butter. (Coffee pairing: Guatemala Finca El Injerto-La Cima)

Fourth course: Coffee-rubbed venison loin, chanterelles, sunchoke, pluot, chrysanthemum bitterroot. (Coffee pairing: Honduras Finca El Puente)

Fifth course: Fernet ice cream, candied fennel, blood orange segments, lavender mint, saffron olive oil cake with a chocolate shell. (Coffee pairing: El Salvador Kilimanjaro Aida's Grande Reserve)

Through the looking glass.

Liquidation?

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Stumptown Coffee Roasters may not have been roasting green beans in Seattle last Sunday night, but its equipment made for a magnificent backdrop at a special pop-up dinner in the roasting facility—the first of its kind at the site. Despite the lack of roasting, there was plenty of coffee being produced in the basement of the 12th Avenue location that evening as An Evening With Stumptown Coffee Roasters meant a five-course dinner with coffee pairings and plenty of other libations.

With a particular interest in coffee, I was invited to attend, and I was mighty curious. Just how would they pair coffee with food? How much coffee could there possibly be, and how much would I dare consume? Will there be spit buckets? How late would a caffeine-heavy evening keep me awake?

Turns out I’d be drinking coffee until after 11pm, which is the time I left Stumptown (the event started at 6pm) with the party still going.

The setting at Stumptown was beautiful, with the space amazingly transformed. Three large tables, gorgeous lighting, fabulous ambient music loud enough to enjoy but quiet enough for comfortable conversation. (Restaurant owners, take note.) For his first production, “An Evening With” producer Alex Negranza got the pop-up setting as perfect as one could hope. Negranza (who has quickly accumulated extensive barista and bartending experience at places like Milstead & Co., Liberty, and Spur) is a motivator with boundless energy; his infectious exuberance was on display, spilling into friendly and efficient service from the teams of chefs, servers, sommeliers, baristas, and bartenders on hand for the evening.

Prepared by chefs from the McCracken-Tough team, the food was sure to be a winner, despite the inherent limitations of the Stumptown space. From the first (colorful) course of chèvre custard to the final lick of a spoon with Fernet ice cream, the food was fun and flavorful.

As for the coffee pairings? Unfortunately, a little unfocused. Coffee typically came too far ahead of the accompanying dish (on two occasions, servers picked up cups before the food even arrived), with small pours that quickly got cold and couldn’t be fairly “judged” against the paired food. I enjoyed sampling the varieties of coffee and watching the various preparation techniques (Chemex, Aeropress, etc.), but I didn’t become convinced that coffee could really pair well with the savory dishes served. For example, I found coffee to be jarring with the brininess of the salmon roe plated with confit duck gizzard. (The dish was initially envisioned with sea urchin, which might have been better with coffee.) And when dessert arrived, instead of the chance to drink coffee to counter the sweetness of the chocolate-covered olive oil cake, we were given a cupping experience. I watched as my tablemates took a slurp or two, and then quickly put their spoons down.

Part of the problem, I believe, was that the ambitious undertaking resulted in an overwhelming number of beverages. Each course came with coffee, a cocktail, and wine. (At one point, I remarked that beer might have been the best pairing for a particular course, inspiring some interesting discussion and debate.) As if there were not enough liquids, there was also consommé with a potential pairing of espresso (or punch) as an amuse-bouche, spruce granita with juniper berry DRY Soda as an intermezzo, and a Stumptown Gesha coffee as a going-away drink.

Still, a fun experience, and a building block for future “An Evening With” events. Given Negranza’s energy and enthusiasm, I expect future events to be equally exciting and even more polished. While there’s nothing solid on the schedule (you can follow “An Evening With” on Facebook), Negranza noted, with witty word choice, that he has a few ideas “brewing.”

 

Brunch at RockCreek and a Tip on Vif

rockcreek-hash-640-9573 I’ve never been a big brunch-goer. Some might argue that I’m anti-social, but the big issue is that I don’t like to wait in line for batter-based dishes that I can easily make at home.

So the first thing that makes the new RockCreek restaurant pretty rock solid is the current lack of wait-time for brunch. Quick seating may be due to newness or location or both, but who’s complaining? During a recent Sunday prime hour, my group got a table immediately, and the dining room only got emptier as the brunch hours wore on. This will likely change as the word gets out.

I also recommend RockCreek for the quality of the brunch dishes. Eric Donnelly departed Toulouse Petit to open a restaurant that features global, sustainable seafood. The current dinner menu includes dishes with the likes of razor clams, sand dabs, and sardines. The brunch menu isn’t quite as diverse as I’d like—there are mostly egg dishes on offer, along with oyster stew and shrimp and grits in the “also” section (the other two “also” items are like sides, and could move to starters), and pancakes that seem out of place in the “starter” section. But there are a fair number of seafood dishes that suit the restaurant’s “seafood & spirits” slogan, and I was pleased with the plates I tried.

Root vegetable and beet hash, with poached hen eggs and broken beet vinaigrette (pictured above) was perhaps my favorite dish. It’s an unconventional choice for me, as it doesn’t contain any meat, but the earthy flavors were fine and I enjoyed the beet-flavored vinaigrette that pulled the dish together.

rockcreek-relleno-640-9554I also enjoyed the Dungeness crab chili relleno with bright tomatillo salsa, cool radish, herb salad, and soft scrambled egg. The relleno has the right level of heat, enough to challenge a chili pepper novice, and there is a decent amount of Dungeness crab. At the highest price point on the brunch menu ($18), the dish was a fulfilling fusion of northwest and southwest.

rockcreek-bennie-640-9562Also from the seafood department came the bacon and oyster benedict with brioche and fingerling potatoes. The oysters are deep fried and delicious. Bacon adds its fatty goodness, and the brioche soaks up all the creamy Hollandaise sauce.

rockcreek-beignet-640-9536For dessert, you can’t go wrong with an order of caramelized apple and ricotta beignets with vanilla bean anglaise and caramel. Dusted with powdered sugar, it a perfect plate to share. Then again, this is listed as a starter, so your dilemma might be whether to wait on this for dessert, or to order as a sweet start to your meal.

RockCreek’s location makes for an opportunity to linger longer in Fremont. Across the street is Vif, situated in the former Herfy’s space. The cafe is a bit fishbowl-like with its glass walls, but that means it’s bright and airy inside. Your decision-making here is coffee or wine; depending on the time of day (or your mood), you can enjoy either, or, hey, stay for both. (You can also buy bottled wine to go.) Start with a pour-over from Olympia Coffee Roasting Company, done right in a Kalita Wave cone, or try the house-made chai, with an option of almond milk and a little date sweetener. Then move on to one of the carefully curated wines. Should you still be hungry, there are baked goods, including an apricot rugelach based on a recipe from the baker’s mother.

Rock Creek is open everyday at 4, except for Saturday and Sunday brunch when brunch starts at 9.

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What to Know Before Ordering at: Henry & Oscar’s

A "must have cocktail" according to Entertainment Weekly, The Bogart. Tanqueray with lime, Cointreau, and sage. Don't be shocked when you find you have a hole in your mouth.
A “must-have cocktail” according to Entertainment Weekly, The Bogart is Tanqueray with lime, Cointreau, and sage. Don’t be shocked when you find you have a hole in your mouth.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, I walk into Henry and Oscar’s. Although the 4th Ave. and Vine bar is more of an immersive lounge than it is a typical gin joint. Think fur-coated booths, engraved personalized glassware for regulars, and four walls of plasma screens for those lucky enough to be in the back room. It’s exactly what you’re thinking — dinner and a movie. Henry and Oscar’s is owned by the people behind Big Picture, and after drinking the Bogart, it’s one of my new favorite haunts.

It’s always nice having a friend on the inside give you the scoop, and I’ve always wanted to be that friend. So here are five things to know before ordering at Henry and Oscar’s: 

1. The bar feels made for the customer. In the front of the house, there are literally fireside couches. Forget the bar stool — why can’t I drink cocktails on couches more often? Mohair lines the high-backs for total cush, you’ll find privacy and expensive attention to detail at nearly any angle, and the cocktails are classic adaptations, stiff, and rarely exceed $10. It feels like, for once, the bar had the drinker in mind.

2. It’s $18 for a personalized, engraved glass of choice. Drink included. You know how only the classiest of places have the throw-back to old world dining with personal liquor cabinets? Well, I like the different angle Henry and Oscar’s took. Instead of a locker to store your booze, you can buy a personalized, engraved glass of your choice, kept in-house, and ready for your favorite drink whenever you dine. Best part? It’s only $18 to do so (I double-checked) and your first drink is included in that price. Glassware options are rocks, wine, or martini — per what you fancy most — and the cabinet is already getting full.

3. Forget the calories. Order the meat. In addition to the typical before and after happy hour times, they also feature a special, fresh-that-day option that unquestionably goes for $3.50. When I went, it was house-rolled lamb meatball sliders, with a fragrant mint jelly glaze and slaw. The offerings are always changing for the extremely happy hour feature, but ohmygod don’t miss the Chicago dog (6.25 during HH) of Vienna beef smoked in Mac & Jack’s beer, with all the Chicago spicy fixings. HH is all day on Sundays and game days.

4. Film screenings in back, bar in the front. The owner is a third generation theater owner, so you know his crew understands an audience and a movie. When there, ask to be seated in back room, where the lights are dim, the screens can be selected, and the bartender can tailor-make your cocktails for whatever is currently showing. The Breaking Bad finale next Sunday 29th? Meth-Tinis. (One can only wonder.) And on Wednesdays — in fact, it kicks off tonight — they host a sci-fi film series, led by science fiction authors.

5. Reserve the “Director’s Chair.” Forget communal dining. Here it’s all about the lounge, and PRIVACY. Especially if you’re fortunate enough to snag the rumored best seat in the house, “The Director’s Table.” And at the “Love Booth,” lovers sit side-by-side, and the high-backs are high enough for no one to bother you (or see what you’re up to). Those are the only two themed seatings, but the lounge is armored with the recipe for a perfect date: dim lighting, the feeling of ultra privacy, and a sprawling, plush sectional in the center.

Henry and Oscar’s is located at 4th Avenue and Vine, and is open every day at 4.

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Will Canon’s Sean Michael Johnson be the Nation’s “Most Imaginative Bartender”?

Sean Michael Johnson
Sean Michael Johnson

A few weeks ago, just before mixologist Sean Michael Johnson was selected as the Seattle finalist for Bombay Sapphire’s Search for the Most Imaginative Bartender, I was in Canon trying to decide what to have besides a Toronto. Nothing jumped to mind, so I punted to the bartender, which happened to be Johnson.

Fernet Branca, meet apple cognac. (Photo: MvB)
Fernet Branca, meet apple cognac. (Photo: MvB)

“What’s a good Fernet drink for someone who likes a Toronto?” I asked. A little while later, Johnson reappeared with a drink containing Fernet Branca, apple cognac, chocolate bitters, and a “little bit of simple.”

A savvy bartender, wary of Fernet Branca’s tendency to overpower a drink, will try to dial it back into balance, or match it with a bearded, barrel-chested alcohol that can go a few rounds.

But Johnson had doubled down on the low notes in the drink with his chocolate bitters, while the apple cognac felt light as a hummingbird in this context. In musical terms, it was a bit like pairing a double bass with a piccolo; my tastebuds were jostling themselves trying to shout out the flavors.

That’s the kind of thing that’ll get you noticed by a jaded U.S. Bartender’s Guild judge, so it’s not surprising that Johnson’s heading to Vegas for a September 8 bid at a national title. The winner gets, among other things, a cover feature in the December 2013 GQ magazine “Men of The Year” issue, and a shot at the Global Finals in 2014.

Here’s the drink Johnson poured that won him his Vegas title shot.

The Julius Henry
The Julius Henry

Julius Henry

1 1/2 ounce Bombay Sapphire Gin

1/2 ounce Aperol

2 dashes lime bitters

Cognac/Coriander Whip Cream Float*

-Combine Bombay, Aperol and lime bitters in a mixing glass, add ice and stir until cold. Strain into a cocktail/couple glass and top with Cognac/Coriander Whip Cream

*Cognac/Coriander Whip Cream

2 cups heavy whipping cream

1/3 cup powered sugar

3 ounces coriander infused cognac*

-Hand whip to desired consistency

*Coriander Infused Cognac

2 ounce (1/4 cup) – whole coriander seeds, lightly crushed

10 ounces cognac

-Let sit together in a mason jar for approximately two days