Friday, February 24, 2006

What's the deal with the Thai? Not that I'm complaining...

While I've never been to Thailand, I've certainly had my share of Thai. I've lived in the Fremont neighborhood for nearly 2 years, allowing for frequent visits after having been already well-acquainted with the numerous Thai restaurants at my disposal. Four years ago, there were six Thai restaurants in a small stretch, but now we're down to five. I've rotated through each of those five in phases.

At first, Jai Thai drew me in with a neighborhood-related discount at lunchtime. The food was adequate. They've recently discontinued that discount, but I abandoned frequent visits long ago due to having the poorest service in town. I was tired of hunting down the wait staff in the kitchen to get my bill paid during lunchtime, dinnertime, or during late-night happy hour. For the second time last Fall, between the terrible service and finding a fly in my soup (no kidding), I stated I hoped never to darken their doorstep again...even though that Country-Style Pad Thai isn't half-bad. Neither is the late-night Fisherman's soup, nor the N4 (Guay Tiew Num) Lunch Special with that abundance of Thai basil and cilantro. I miss those dishes, but there are better alternatives.

Before I gave up on Jai Thai, Kwanjai Thai became a weekly pre-soccer habit. The pad thai in the lunch specials provided that extra boost to make it through an entire 90-minute game without needing a break -- necessary for a co-ed team that was chronically short on women. I prefer their panang curry to all others in the neighborhood, although the Garlic Shrimp (on the specials' board for three years) is a winner. The service was a welcome change from Jai Thai. I loved that the sweet ladies in the kitchen remembered me and I could always expect an enthusiastic greeting when I picked up my take-away.

Kwanjai's an extra five minute walk away and is still good when I have time. A combination of a lack of time at lunchbreaks and preference of dining companions resettled my sights on Tawon Thai. The service at Tawon is routinely excellent and the food has improved drastically since it first opened several years ago (I stayed away for months after a gross and greasy first visit). I've tried a number of their dishes; I can't think of a dish that disappointed me. They're also quite accommodating for larger groups -- they handled sprizee's birthday dinner two years ago. In fact, that was my second chance dinner and it turned my opinion around.

The other two restaurants, Kaosamai and Chillies Paste, are a little bit further out from the core -- demonstrating location, location, location importance. Why go further, even only 2 blocks, when my needs were already surpassed? Kwanjai's the farthest I went for a while, since that or Tawon called me back every time. I gave Kaosamai a shot a year ago, while on an uncomfortable second date. I didn't have any objections and I hear they deliver as far as Phinney. But, I've only tried them once. I do remember the kind waitress, but not much else.

The other untried was Chillies Paste, a place I'd put on my "need to try" shortlist list a year ago. The main motivator behind this Fremont Thai overview: I discovered the CP Orange Beef on Superbowl Sunday, right before kickoff. We were joining friends at the George and Dragon for the big game. The place was packed and the logistics needed to order and eat food would have been difficult at best. So, my Official Dining Companion and I headed across the street to the final untested Thai restaurant during the last few minutes of the pre-game commentary.

This turned into one of the most pleasant dining experiences of recent memory. I ordered the my comfort food pad thai. He ordered the special, the Orange Beef -- something I'd usually never pick first since I am not in the red meat habit. The pad thai was noticeably unremarkable, but the flavors in the Orange Beef more than made up for this. The cilantro and citrus were so vibrant and fresh, the beef perfectly cooked, and the sweet-and-sour-sauce tones of the dish have almost made up for my ongoing longing for a well-known Chinese dish with a similar profile (in an area of town where I can't find decent Chinese food). We've since returned to this little house on 36th and the Orange Beef, still listed on the chalkboard, was just as fabulous the second time around.

Monday, November 07, 2005

35th Street Bistro

For the last couple of years, I've walked past 35th Street Bistro, and always said, "One of these days..." Well, last night, en route to yet another Thai meal, my Gentleman Caller and I decided it was High Time. We'd already upgraded to Tawon Thai over Mad Pizza (his favorite), as it would be a warmer meal, so what was another $30? In this case, it turned out to be more like $60, when all was said and done.

The 35th Street Bistro is hands-down, the most expensive establishment in Fremont. It is also one of the nicest. The cost is somewhat justified.

We started with the Bistro Salad, described as: "frisee, radicchio and iceburg lettuce, tomatoes, pancetta and creamy blue cheese dressing -- with fried onion strings and hard-boiled egg." The pancetta was really bacon, and the iceburg wedge was the most notable part of this salad, architecturally-speaking. Accompanying this, we started our dinner with the house bread with their onion relish (bueno!!) and tapenade, along with a glass of Chianti (Classico, Coltibuono Roberto Stucchi Toscana 00) for him, and Pinot Gris (King Estate Domaine, Willamette Valley 03) for me. Since I didn't take great notes about the wines, we'll pass on the descriptions for now.

For our main course, he had the Osso Bucco and I had the Seared Ahi Tuna. The Osso Bucco came with a tasty, buttery polenta and the dish was hearty and perfect for the cold evening. I had the fennel-encrusted seared ahi tuna and I loved it. My dish was served with greens and chanterelle mushrooms, in a tomato-based sauce. The spiciness was just about perfect--not overpowering, and just hot enough.

Bonus points awarded for the later-night service. They were open until 11 PM on a Sunday night, most likely in competition with new late-night service at Jai Thai and Chiso within a block's radius.

Before the tip, our bill came to $73 for the two entrees, the salad, and wine (the wine portion was under $25). I can't say I'd pick this place for a special occasion, and it's too expensive for a weekly outing. The service was great, so it pains me that I can't recommend it without reservations. I'd have to give this restaurant 3 out of 5 umbrellas, and one umbrella is for the service alone.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bizzarro Italian Cafe

Lately, I've focused on trying all of the restaurants in my neck of the woods in Seattle. Bizzarro Italian Cafe had been lauded over the past year by a few of my Rollergirl pals, and during one of the first cold Winter nights this year, I remembered it as I craved some heavy pasta.

I think I've found my favorite Italian restaurant. There may be others that are superior or even more authentic, but the eclecticism, taste, service, and experience sent it to the top of the heap. Our bill came to $68 with a 20% tip, and at least 3 glasses of wine to accompany our two entrees and one appetizer.

Our menu:
The House Red (Meritage)
Bruschetta: Fig, Gorgonzola, and Red-Wine Reduction

The bruschetta was the best appetizer I've ever had. Both of our entrees were preceded by a perfect House Salad. The Puttanesca was tasty enough that I wanted the leftovers for breakfast on Monday morning. And the Stroganoff has to be the perfect winter dish with the spicy italian sausage, and the delectable brown gravy. Our waiter, who I loved from the moment I saw the "Dumb Waiter" nametag, provided us with the best tasting house red I've had: a Monte Volpe 2001 Meritage. The bruschetta was not on the menu and the Stroganoff was a special for the night. All of these factors lead me to honor the BIC with 4.5 outta 5 little umbrellas.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Free Advice

Here's a tip:

Do you want to know where the best tiramisu in the city is?

Via Tribunali, on Capitol Hill

Try it, after the caprese salad, focaccia, and salame pizza.

Monday, August 22, 2005


On Fremont Ave, there's a cute, smart, and relatively new little restaurant that I'd highly recommend for Sunday morning brunch. In fact, for a while, I think they only did breakfast and lunch, but when I visited, they were promoting dinner from Wednesday to Sunday nights.

Recently, my regular partner in crime and I met up with four other friends on the spur of the moment on a Sunday morning. At first, I dreaded the wait, but they seated us quickly for a party of six without reservations. The atmosphere was charming to the point that I also underestimated how my brunch would turn out. I can be a bit skeptical since my first several years in Seattle seemed to reiterate that restaurants were more about style over substance. I'm happy I was wrong!

The menu featured a number of french-inspired items. I ordered the gruyere and jambon omelette. Out of the six entrees on the table, it was the best. The Ulli Sausage with Apples was good, but not spicy enough for my taste. I tried the blueberry crepes and those were winners--but would probably not top the crepes down the street at Bouchee, if that's what you're craving. And finally, when ordering your sides, don't be swayed by the Essential Bakery brand name for the bread, the biscuit option was clearly the best...but seriously, get that gruyere-and-jambon omelette. It's perfect and the best I've had while dining at brunch.

4.5 umbrellas out of 5.

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Road to Mandalay

Tuesday night, we sat on the porch at The Mandalay Cafe on 45th in Wallingford. It was a place I'd driven by numerous times over the last 3 years. I'd never made it in--I'd tried two years ago, when my book group was on the hunt for either Indonesian or Dutch food (the book was based in the Netherlands and we aimed for the cuisine of our meetings to match the author or the setting). At the time, we were pretty much stretching for anything that wasn't Thai or Chinese. This place would have fit the bill, but they were temporarily closed back then.

The food could have been categorized as almost-Thai, but Asian fusion is truly the best label for the food here. Several Southeast Asian countries were represented on the menu.

We ordered: Singapore Samosas, Thai Iced Tea, daal soup, Sumatran Roasted Nut Curry, Malaysian Green Banana Curry, and the Thai Basil Cheesecake. Overall, I liked this place, while my gentleman caller didn't so much. I found the use of new flavors and combinations interesting, but he made a great point: the flavors came on strong at first bite, but underneath, everything was bland. There was plenty of heat, but not enough depth on this go-round. (The cook even commented to us that regular patrons don't usually go for the higher levels of spiciness we chose.) The best items ordered were the unique cheesecake and the great samosas.

Three umbrellas outta five.

Friday, July 08, 2005


When I first gathered a list of places to visit in search of great mac 'n cheese, I remembered hearing about Pair, in Ravenna. While everything I'd read sounded great, I delayed heading there for nearly a year. I've been in the neighborhood regularly for the last several months, and last night, I decided it was high time to visit.

We arrived at Pair around 9 PM on a Thursday night. We were seated immediately. Pair has a menu full of various "small-plate" comfort foods, which is noted in almost all reviews of this establisment. Which leads me to note: am I the only person who finds the term "small-plates" disconcerting? I'm not even sure why--maybe it's just too trendy of a term, even though I tend to like places that have "small-plates". Anyhow. The waiter recommended that we order two-and-a-half to three plates per person. Two probably would have been enough, especially if I'd known we were going for dessert after, but we ordered five between the two of us.

We ordered a number of items that I bet I'll be going back to order in the future. We started with Napa Valley Chardonnay (I remember little else but that it was a 2002). Next up, we had the Cambozola Fondue with d'Anjou pears, apples and crostini. The cheese was thinner than I'd anticipated, but with the crostini and apples, it was a very tasty winner. Right before the heartier portions, we had a green salad with butterleaf lettuce, vinaigrette and goat cheese toasts. The salad was standard and goat cheese is always appreciated.

To share, we'd ordered the Halibut in Parchment with asparagus, onions and tomatoes, the Pork Tenderloin with tomatillo relish, and the Macaroni and Cheese. I know that I've enjoyed pork tenderloin often lately, but Pair's was great--my dining compadre agreed. The relish and the seasonings were so, so tasty. While the halibut was mostly unremarkable, the macaroni and cheese is the first I've had in Seattle that's truly given Cafe Venus a run for its money. In fact, I may have to check into options for ordering it to take home some night when I'm needing a little mac 'n cheese boost...

The surprise winner of the night was one that I would not have ordered on my own: Banana Bread Pudding with caramel and vanilla ice cream. Amazing. I'd go there for this dessert alone.

Recommmended: 3.75 out of 5 little umbrellas.