Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Three delicious days in Seattle

Travel Eats documents my food adventures outside of Chicago.

Salmon omakase, Shiro's Sushi

Nigiri of salmon three ways during omakase at the Shiro’s Sushi counter

As someone who adores all forms of seafood but has always lived in a land-locked state, I’ve long wanted to check out Seattle’s dining scene. I visited last week and packed three sunny (!!!) days with oysters, coffee, and everything else I’d heard were Seattle specialties. Before I proceed any further, I am happy to report that I ate the best sushi of my life on this trip. My local dining companion put Shiro’s Sushi at the top of our must-eat list; Shiro was a “disciple” of Jiro, as in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and had built something of an institution. We arrived before it opened and stood in line. Two hours and 40 minutes later, we were finally seated at the counter and settled in for omakase, or “chef’s choice.” On it went: red snapper, three cuts of salmon, four cuts of tuna, geoduck (my first time eating it!), king crab leg, octopus, eel that I can only describe as ethereal…and more. The fish was impossibly fresh and masterfully prepared, and the whole experience felt personal and special.

Grilled sardines, the Walrus and the Carpenter

Grilled sardines from the Walrus and the Carpenter

Hama Hama and Blue Pool oysters, the Walrus and the Carpenter

Hama Hama and Blue Pool oysters from the Walrus and the Carpenter

Our other spectacular meal also required a nearly two-hour wait, but as with Shiro’s, it was undoubtedly worth it. The Walrus and the Carpenter is run by Renee Erickson, whose cookbook I received as a Christmas gift from my roommate in anticipation of our trip. Her elegant, contemporary dishes were the ideal way to celebrate the fruits of the sea that are so plentiful in that area. The oysters I tried were exceptional, as were all the other small plates, but the standout sea creatures for me were the grilled sardines. The sardines’ texture was completely incredible, and I couldn’t get over how well the walnut-parsley-shallot topping married with the fish.

Another memorable stop was at Toulouse Petit, a New Orleans-inspired Cajun restaurant that claims to have the “best happy hour menu in the nation.” Both the barbecued shrimp New Orleans and the crawfish beignets with hot pepper jelly were delicious, and just the kind of food to pair with Big Easy-style cocktails. And of course, I couldn’t leave Seattle without a visit to Pike Place Market, whose size and spectacle was even more overwhelming than I expected. After tastes at a few of the fish vendors, I settled on a sizable strip of smoked salmon that was conveniently threaded onto a stick. I savored it as long as possible.

Crawfish beignets and barbecued New Orleans shrimp,  Toulouse Petit

Crawfish beignets and barbecued New Orleans shrimp from Toulouse Petit’s happy hour

Smoked salmon stick, City Fish Co. at Pike Place Market

Smoked salmon on a stick from City Fish Co. at Pike Place Market

Brunch gets its own section, because both the morning meals I had were noteworthy in entirely different ways. I absolutely loved the format at Joule: not only was there a standard menu of creative, Korean-influenced dishes, but the meal also included unlimited trips to an upscale buffet at the front of the restaurant whose theme rotated on a monthly basis – February was Cajun, in honor of Mardi Gras. My favorite bite at Joule was also the most indulgent: a sesame waffle with chicken fried steak (everyone else should take note of this excellent variation on chicken and waffles) and smoked maple syrup. In contrast, the best parts of brunch at Tallulah’s were on the lighter side. My bowl of red quinoa, smoked salmon, avocado, pickled vegetables, greens, and a soft-poached egg was the kind of fresh, energizing breakfast I could eat every day, and the blood orange marmalade on nutty Macrina wheat toast was also lovely in its simplicity.

Chicken fried steak and waffles,  Joule

Chicken fried steak and waffles from brunch at Joule

Macrina toast with blood orange marmalade from brunch at Tallulah's

Macrina toast with blood orange marmalade from brunch at Tallulah’s

Red quinoa bowl, Tallulah's

Red quinoa and smoked salmon bowl from brunch at Tallulah’s

I was just as impressed by Seattle’s beverages, caffeinated and alcoholic alike. The one I was most eager to try was the Dark & Stormy at Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and once I found out you could add vanilla soft serve to make it a float, I was basically in ginger-laced heaven. At local brewery Fremont Brewing, I was more than content with my Dark Star imperial oatmeal stout (and the fact that it was warm enough to drink it outside). Barnacle, adjacent to the Walrus and the Carpenter, was where we spent most of our time waiting for our table, and I loved that a seat at the sleek copper bar also earned you a bowl of Lay’s Classic potato chips to snack on. I’ve been on a black walnut kick lately, so Barnacle’s nocino old fashioned with calvados, walnut liqueur, and nocino amaro was just the kind of strong, silky cocktail I wanted. At Joule, my Sweet Freedom brunch cocktail held a citrusy mix of lime, blood orange and elderflower liqueurs, and makoli – the same fermented Korean rice wine I enjoyed so much at Parachute last fall. I also drank my fair share of coffee and espresso, and it was all top-notch.

Dark & stormy float from Rachel's Ginger Beer

Dark & stormy float from Rachel’s Ginger Beer

Dark Star imperial oatmeal stout, Fremont Brewing

Dark Star imperial oatmeal stout from Fremont Brewing

Nocino old fashioned, Barnacle

Nocino old fashioned from Barnacle

Sweet Freedom cocktail, Joule

Sweet Freedom cocktail from brunch at Joule

Sumatra pourover coffee, Victrola Coffee

Sumatra pourover from Victrola Coffee

Rose, Starbucks

Couldn’t resist the novelty of a glass of wine at ubiquitous Starbucks

Soy latte with "velvet foam" from Uptown Espresso

Soy latte with “velvet foam” from Uptown Espresso

And below are even more miscellaneous best bites from what was surely one of my most delicious trips ever.

Fudge brownie chunk and earl gray ice cream, Molly Moon's

Fudge brownie chunk ice cream with vanilla bean caramel and earl gray ice cream with lemon curd from Molly Moon’s

Spam slider and Pass-O Guava Nectar Hawaiian Sun drink from Marination Station

Spam slider and Pass-O Guava Nectar Hawaiian Sun drink from Marination Station

Beecher's herbed cheese curds

Herbed cheese curds from Beecher’s at Pike Place Market

Cinnamon sugar donuts, Daily Dozen

Cinnamon sugar donuts from Daily Dozen at Pike Place Market

The details: Shiro’s Sushi, 2401 2nd Ave.; The Walrus and the Carpenter and Barnacle, both 4743 Ballard Ave. NW; Toulouse Petit, 601 Queen Anne Ave. N; City Fish Co. at Pike Place Market, 1535 Pike Pl.; Joule, 3506 Stone Way N; Tallulah’s, 550 19th Ave. E; Rachel’s Ginger Beer at Pike Place Market, 1530 Post Alley; Fremont Brewing, 1050 N 34th St.; Victrola Coffee, 310 E. Pike; Uptown Espresso, 525 Queen Anne Ave. N; Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, 917 E. Pine St.; Marination Station, 1412 Harvard Ave.; Beecher’s Handmade Cheese at Pike Place Market, 1600 Pike Pl.; Daily Dozen Doughnuts at Pike Place Market, 93 Pike St. (all Seattle).

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at TWO

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

TWO

Honey ricotta cheesecake, TWO

Honey ricotta cheesecake with macerated blueberries and chantilly cream

Best Bite: I’ve wanted to try the seasonal American cuisine at TWO during Restaurant Week for years now, so it made a beyond pleasant ending to this year’s dining festivities. A seemingly unassuming cheesecake dessert was the meal’s biggest surprise. The graham cracker crust, honeyed filling, and juicy blueberries brought back vivid memories of the cheesecake bars of my childhood – but just more refined and even more delicious. I also appreciated the complexity of the crouton garnish on the cauliflower bisque, a platform for bacon, mushrooms, and ricotta to stay afloat in the silky soup.

Roasted cauliflower bisque, TWO

Roasted cauliflower bisque with homemade bacon, cured mushrooms, and ricotta crouton

Other notes: The diamond-marked pork chop came in two thick, generous slices, and pairing it with roasted potatoes and mustard-pepper sauce felt thoroughly Midwestern (in a good way, of course). We also enjoyed a bottle of wine with our meal, an 2010 Italian white blend from Luna del Feldi that was specially discounted as part of the Restaurant Week menu. There was something about the natural-hued interior that made the room feel warm and familiar.

Pork kalbi loin chop, TWO

Berkshire pork kalbi loin chop with roasted Yukon gold potatoes and black pepper mustard sauce

The details: TWO, 1132 W. Grand Ave., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at Tanta

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Tanta Dinner

Cebiche clasico, Tanta

Cebiche clasico with mahi mahi, red onions, cilantro, habenero, and natural leche de tigre

Best Bite: Between this meal and my previous visit, I’ve really fallen in love with Tanta’s take on Peruvian cuisine. An eclectic set of culinary influences – Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, French – make for an irresistible mix of flavors and ingredients. The classic mahi mahi cebiche was bright and balanced with additional unique texture from the hominy. The alfajor dessert also might have been the best I ate during Restaurant Week this year. I couldn’t get enough of the dulce de leche and hot chocolate sauce together.

Alfajor, Tanta

Alfajor with shortbread cookies, lucuma dulce de leche, hot chocolate sauce, and vanilla bean ice cream

Other notes: Many of Tanta’s cocktails involve pisco, the national spirit of Peru, and they are not to be missed. This pisco punch exploded with cinnamon and lime, and I was immediately transported to warmer climates. The basket of plantain chips was also a great bread basket substitute.

Pisco punch and plantain chips, Tanta

Pisco punch with porton mosto verde pisco, zucca,
lime, cinnamon, and cusquena beer, plus a basket of plantain chips

The details: Tanta, 118 W. Grand Ave., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at Fig & Olive

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Fig & Olive Dinner

Octopus a la gallega, Fig & Olive

Octopus a la gallega with thinly sliced braised octopus, marinated bell pepper, heirloom potato, black olive, basil, arugula, and pimenton lemon dressing

Best Bite: I couldn’t pick a favorite between my first and second courses, both seafood-focused. The first was a gorgeous mosaic of thinly sliced octopus and other colorful, zingy accompaniments. The second was a paella del mar that was absolutely packed with oceanic ingredients nestled into creamy saffron rice.

Paella del mar, Fig & Olive

Paella del mar with black tiger shrimp, sea scallop, calamari, mussels, saffron rice, chicken, green pea, red bell pepper, artichoke, saffron aioli, pimenton, and oregano

Other notes: Pot de crème is a classic dessert from Fig & Olive – I first had it when I visited the New York location, and it still captures chocolate and vanilla at their finest. The interior was quintessential Gold Coast chic, and our upper-level table overlooked the stately live olive trees sprouting from behind the bar.

Chocolate pot de crème, Fig & Olive

Chocolate pot de crème with crunchy praline financiers and vanilla cream

The details: Fig & Olive, 104 E. Oak St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at Big Jones

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Big Jones Dinner

Alligator and andouille sauce piquant, Big Jones

Alligator and andouille sauce piquant with Louisiana gator tail and house-made andouille simmered in a piquant red sauce, served with popcorn rice

Best Bite: I went into this Louisiana Mardi Gras–themed menu knowing I wanted to order the gator tail as my main course, and it exceeded my expectations. Tender pieces of alligator and andouille sausage swam in a fiery red sauce, right at that heat level where you’re acutely aware of the intensity of the spices, but aren’t slowed down or overwhelmed by them.

Skillet cheddar cornbread, Big Jones

Skillet cheddar cornbread with Hook’s cheddar, jalapeños, and scallions

Other notes: The second-course skillets of golden cornbread were a hit with the whole group, irresistibly augmented by cheddar, scallions, jalapeños, and plenty of butter. It was fun to have a classic Mardi Gras king cake as dessert, too – colored sugar and all. Our party of seven was seated at a table right in the window, which made it feel like an extra-special feast.

The details: Big Jones, 5347 N. Clark St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at The Bedford

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

The Bedford Dinner

Burrata & squash, The Bedford

Burrata & squash with apple butter, pumpkin seed granola, and basil

Best Bite: If there’s burrata on a menu, there’s a very good chance I’ll order it, but the way The Bedford paired the ultra-creamy cheese with squash was especially unique. A swipe of apple butter and crumbles of pumpkin seed granola made it almost like a sweet-leaning breakfast dish, and crispy basil added balance. I actually doubled up on squash with my main course, and am glad I did, because the nutty, cheesy, brown butter-soaked agnolotti was the height of comfort.

Roasted squash agnolotti, The Bedford

Roasted squash agnolotti with brown butter, cipollini onions, pecorino, and pistachio

Other notes: The other pasta option was also exceptional. A more toothsome noodle matched the hearty ragu, which smartly combined fennel and mint with the lamb. And the atmosphere is certainly worth noting: the restaurant is a converted bank vault, so it was fun to take in all the dramatic details.

Lamb ragu, The Bedford

Lamb ragu with paccheri pasta, fennel pollen, pecorino, and torn mint

The details: The Bedford, 1612 W. Division St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at Coppervine

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Coppervine Dinner

Bourbon-poached Asian pears, Coppervine

Bourbon-poached Asian pears with pie crust, brown butter custard, dark chocolate crumb, bourbon ice cream, and anise hyssop blooms | pairing: Portuguese madeira

Best Bite: Coppervine’s dessert was the most memorable for me. Asian pears, possibly my favorite fruit, were poached in bourbon to become the focal point of a deconstructed pie. All the flavors worked, from crust to crumb to ice cream – although really, how could you go wrong with bourbon ice cream? And because Coppervine also focuses on beverage pairings for each of its dishes (the Restaurant Week menu was no exception), the dessert was nicely paired with a caramel-toned madeira from Portugal.

Trout sashimi, Coppervine

Trout sashimi with young coconut rice pudding, thai basil oil, pineapple, and wonton | pairing: cocktail with cachaça, ginger root, citrus, and orgeat

Other notes: My favorite pairing of the meal was the cocktail that came with the first course. Citrusy cachaça and spicy ginger were a perfect match for the pineapple, red chiles, and Thai basil oil that accompanied the trout sashimi. The first course also earned points for creativity from the coconut rice pudding underneath the trout, meant as a clever spin on the typical sushi rice used for nigiri. I was surprised by how well its sweetness harmonized with the other flavors. I liked the aesthetic of the dining area, too, especially the literal copper vine of silvery leaves overhead.

Coppervine’s last service is February 14, 2015.

The details: Coppervine, 1962 N. Halsted St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at Michael Jordan’s Steak House

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Michael Jordan’s Steak House Dinner

Garlic bread, Michael Jordan's

Garlic bread with Wisconsin blue cheese fondue

Best Bite: Ever since my first visit a few years ago, Michael Jordan’s has been synonymous with garlic bread for me. Specifically, theirs is the best I’ve ever tasted, and was the subject of one of my very first blog posts (thankfully, I finally have a better photo). The blue cheese fondue poured over the top was just as luscious this time around, and made a wonderful start to our meal. Fittingly, dinner ended with cheese as well: the mascarpone cheesecake had an enchantingly airy texture, with two kinds of sunny orange to cut the sweetness and a little extra punch from the fresh mint.

Mascarpone cheesecake, Michael Jordan's

Mascarpone cheesecake with blood orange curd, graham crumb, and cara-cara oranges

Other notes: Michael Jordan’s is a steak house, after all, so my sky-high, mid-rare filet was another knockout – though that smoked garlic jus on the plate would even have made a basketball taste good. The salad course was a nice surprise, a healthy wedge of gem lettuce surrounded by heirloom cherry tomatoes, onion straws, and a not-too-thick buttermilk-scallion dressing. The portions were so generous that I took home leftovers, especially because we added sides of parmesan-crusted creamed spinach and fries that were dusted with an addictive sweet BBQ seasoning.

Petite filet mignon, Michael Jordan's

Petite filet mignon with gruyere potato gratin and smoked garlic jus

The details: Michael Jordan’s Steak House, 505 N Michigan Ave., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: “Last Meals” Dinner at Ada Street

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Ada Street “Last Meals” Dinner

Night Moves cocktail, Ada Street

Night Moves cocktail with cold-brewed coffee, Amer Picon, cardamaro, rum, and cream

Best Bite: As I mentioned in my Restaurant Week preview, Ada Street’s menu was inspired by the last meal requests of famous criminals. Of all the creative options, my favorite actually ended up being the fourth course, a silky after-dinner drink based on the simple black cup of coffee that was requested by serial killer Aileen Wuornos. The top of the drink was frothy and cocoa-dusted, and it immediately reminded me of a dark, boozy version of Julius Meinl’s iced mélange, an all-time favorite of mine.

Roasted pork loin, Ada Street

Roasted pork loin with corn pudding and pickled red onion

Other notes: The pork loin entree had great textural contrast, particularly because of the crunchy pickled onions. This dish was based on the last meal of Rainey Bethea (the last person to be publicly executed in the U.S.), whose request included pork chops, mashed potatoes, pickled cucumbers, and cornbread. I also enjoyed the combination of rustic strawberry jam with juicy fried chicken, meant to resemble the bucket of KFC Original Recipe chicken and pound of strawberries that were both part of John Wayne Gacy’s request. And for dessert, Jeni’s dark chocolate ice cream with a micro mint garnish made a fine approximation of the two pints of Ben & Jerry’s mint chocolate chip that were requested by Tim McVeigh.

View last year’s post about Restaurant Week at Ada Street.

The details: Ada Street, 1664 N. Ada St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Brunch at Knife & Tine

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Knife & Tine Brunch

Breakfast sandwich, Knife & Tine

Breakfast sandwich with coffee-cured bacon, fried egg, cheddar, and house mayonnaise with fingerling potatoes

Best Bite: I’m happy to report that my first-ever Restaurant Week brunch was a major success. Knife & Tine’s menu price included an entree, two sides, and a drink, so our group of six ordered strategically in an effort to taste as many different things as possible. I was floored by the sheer variety of rich, creative dishes that eventually hit our table: cheesy grits, smoky pork sausage patties, buttery fingerling potatoes, nutty pumpkin bread, fluffy biscuits with cardamom-scented cara cara orange jam – and those were just the sides! My breakfast sandwich combined many of the best flavors on the table, especially the mingling of fried egg with bacon cured in brown sugar, coffee, and cinnamon.

Salted butterscotch croissant-style donut, Knife & Tine

Salted butterscotch croissant-style donut

Other notes: They weren’t technically on the Restaurant Week menu, but the salted butterscotch croissant-style donuts were fantastic (and helped me understand the cronut craze a little bit better). I also loved the cinnamon biscuit beignets, a plateful of sugary, bite-size rounds with a vanilla bean dipping sauce. As a bonus, our group was fortunate enough to sit at the chef’s table, enclosed by silver-toned wallpaper and a crystal chandelier overhead.

The details: Knife & Tine, 1417 W. Fullerton Ave., Chicago.

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