Monday, May 30, 2011

Lunch at Dahlia Lounge in Seattle

Before my trip to Seattle earlier this year, I had never heard of Tom Douglas.  I didn't know his name and I had never read about any of his restaurants.  This, of course, is one of the pitfalls of living near DC; there is so much good food in the District, I often forget about all the other great chefs and restaurants in the country.

Tom Douglass was the winner of the 1994 James Beard Award for Best Northwest Chef.  He has a wide range of cooking styles, which are all showcased by his restaurants: Dahlia Lounge, Etta's Seafood, Palace Kitchen, Lola, and Serious Pie (which is actually a pizzeria, not a bakery).  For those who enjoy watching food related TV shows, you may recognize him as one of the chefs who defeated Masaharu Morimoto in Iron Chef America.  But suffice to say, Tom Douglass is highly regarded chef who resides and works in Seattle.  And this summer I had a chance to eat at his restaurant Dahlia Lounge.

Dahlia Lounge is a restaurant that focuses on serving local, sustainable, and organic food.  This means, of course, that their menu is constantly changing.  Thus, some of the dishes that I describe here may not be on the menu anymore, because I've had this post backlogged for a while, but I really thought I ought to share this experience with you.  I ate lunch here with my family in May or June and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

My dad ordered the "Weekly Three" lunch prix fixe menu for $18.  To start, he chose a salad composed of spring greens, grilled asparagus, cucumbers, radishes, mizuna, and lemon.  The greens were nicely marinated, creamy, light, and full of flavor (do I use this phrase too much?).  Given that it was a salad, it had a surprising amount of body and substance.  As my dad said, it was "not just cellulose" (this is how my family talks); it was a little sour and a little spicy.  We gave it an 8 out of 10, which is a very high score given that it was "just a salad."

For his second course (part of the "Weekly Three"), my dad had Merguez sausage, Israeli couscous, and savoy spinach served with pickled peppers and green garlic yogurt.  The couscous had great texture and the entire dish showed an amazing balance of flavors.

For his dessert, my dad ordered the triple coconut cream pie bite (again, part of the "Weekly Three").
I thought it was okay, but I am not partial to cream pies.  My dad, on the other hand, thought it was great and gave it a 9 out of 10.

My sister ordered black bean-chili manila clams with yu choy, lap cheong, Chinese egg noodles, pea shoots, and sesame seeds ($16).  It was an inventive fusion dish, full bodied, with exotic flavors that managed to compliment each other very well.  The lap cheong (which I think is the same as the Vietnamese "lap xuong") was salty, sweet, and smoky.  I wouldn't have thought to combine this with clams, egg noodles, and pea shoots, but it worked brilliantly: we gave this a 9.5 out of 10.

My mom ordered the first of the season halibut served with a sour cream and chive potato, snap peas, charred tomato vinaigrette, and potato crisps ($21).  The potato was creamy, but not heavy and the fish was beautifully cooked so that it had a crispy exterior but was not at all dry.  The dish was a great marriage of flavors.

I ordered the Dungeness crab cake, which we had heard many good things about.  It was served with flageolet beans, grilled asparagus, ham hock, wild ramps, and creole tartar sauce ($18 for a single large crab cake; two crab cakes would be $29).  I'm not generally a bean person, but I loved the texture of the beans.  They were creamy but not mushy, and the wild ramps and grilled asparagus were light and summery in my mouth.  The slightly spicy sauce rounded out the symphony of tastes.  I enjoyed every bite.  It was a perfect lunch - balanced, filling, and not at all heavy.

W enjoyed all of the desserts we ordered.  But what I really want to focus on here were the doughnuts.  They were amazing.  They were airy, light, and absolutely perfect.  A 10 out of 10.  Could not be improved.  Honestly.  We like them so much we ordered a second plate of them.  They come to you piping hot, fresh from the fryer.  They are shaken in a bag of cinnamon sugar, tableside, and then plated.  The accompanying mascarpone cream was to die for and the rhubarb and strawberry compote was delicious.  I'm a chocolate dessert girl, but this is something I would order over and over again.

Dahlia is an example of serious, bold cooking.  There were some very inspired dishes, and Douglass's creativity and presentation were beyond our expectations.  Eating at Dahlia Lounge was a great experience and we almost came back a second time in our 6 days in Seattle just to enjoy the restaurant one more time.

Dahlia Lounge
2001 Fourth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98121
Tel. 206.662.4142
Overall rating for the price: 9 out of 10

Monday, May 23, 2011

Eating in Seattle - Pike Place Chowder

I am still in Seattle and enjoying this city tremendously.  I really want to go on and on about how fabulous the Pike Place Market is because honestly that market is the best I've ever seen in the United States.  The produce is amazingly fresh and they have everything from wild ramps to baby purple artichoke to muscat grapes.  They have incredibly unique and delicious varieties of apples and pears which they are happy to let you try.  They have salmon and halibut and clams and oysters.  They have gorgeous flower arrangements which are much larger and more beautiful than those you can get at a regular grocery store or supermarket, and best of all they are only priced at $5 or $10.  They have art, dreamcatchers (I've always wanted one), jewelry, clothes, honey, jellies, pasta, cheese.  There is more here than you can really see in one day.  We've spent five days exploring the ins and outs of the market and I'm still not tired of it.  But that's not what I want to post about today.  What I want to talk to you about is chowder.

Near the market there is a little corner place where "visitors from all over the world" (according to their website) come to try their chowder, aptly named Pike Place Chowder.  And they have many different varieties of chowder, along with a daily changing specialty.  We've tried the following:
1) the smoked salmon chowder, which featured capers and a light hint of cream cheese.  A very good chowder, with a great salmon flavor.
2) the seared scallop chowder, which has dill and lemon flavors.  We also liked this one.  The scallop flavor really shined.
3) the crab and oyster chowder (which was one of the changing daily chowders).  This one had potatoes and leeks as well, and the oyster flavor was amazing.
4) the Southwestern chicken and corn chowder, which sounds plain, but was very flavorful.  I thought it wasn't as special as the seafood chowders, but it was not at all boring or disappointing.
5) the seafood bisque, which included salmon, Oregon bay shrimp, and calamari in a tomato-based broth.  Also good.

All of their chowders (some of which are pictured above) tasted great and were surprisingly spot on in terms of flavor.  I've always liked chowder, but I never knew there were so many types, or that it could be so flavorful and so much more than just broth and cream.  We ordered so many chowders, we forgot which one was which, and even though we were told several times, the guy who was helping us with our order told us after the third time we asked that we would be able to tell.  I thought he was just saying that to get us off his back, but it was true.  We all had fun figuring out which cup was which chowder.  We ended up coming back again to have some more chowder.

We also tried the Dungeness Crab roll which they say is acclaimed, but we really didn't think it was anything special.  It was a giant sub roll with a lot of chopped lettuce and a little bit of shredded crab meat.  They didn't cook the crab meat in anything special or give any unique sauce or flavoring.  Below average and expensive, at around $14 for something we didn't even bother finishing.

Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend coming here for the chowders.  This place is a great spot for a quick, easy, and fast meal, although as a warning sometimes there is a line.  But it moves fairly quickly.  Pike Place Chowder is not ideal for a date as it is very casual, but it is a perfect place for friends or family.  My only complaint?  The bread.  I'm not a fan of room temperature (and in Seattle that means slightly cool), soft, sourdough bread.  It tasted like something you buy at a grocery store for a very low price.  I would prefer if they had a nice crispy baguette.  This one small issue aside, if you find yourself in Seattle, within walking distance of Pike Place Market, be sure to stop by and get some chowder.  For the best deal, get their chowder sampler and choose 4 different chowders for about $11.

Pike Place Chowder
1530 Post Alley
Seattle, WA 98101
Tel. 206-267-2537
Overall rating for the price: 8.5 out of 10

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Seattle's Pike Place Market

As you can see from the title of this post, I am not in any of the places I call home.  I am currently visiting Seattle, Washington,which my family has already deemed our future home.  Unfortunately, I have no time to post any restaurant reviews, so instead I give you some lovely pictures of produce: mushrooms, broccoli, fish, melon, gorgeous flower arrangements (incredibly affordable and fresh), and avocados.  All of these pictures were taken the Pike Place Market.  That place is enough to make me consider starting my family on the West Coast.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Molten Chocolate Cake

I've been slow about posting lately because life has been so busy, but to make up for it, I have a delicious recipe to share.  One that is fast, easy to make, and delicious.  Did I mention that it's chocolate?  Or more specifically, molten chocolate cake.

That's right.  I know how to apologize properly.  Seriously.  Wait till you taste this.  But since you can't taste it until you finishing reading this and make it for yourself, you can judge how delicious it was by how quickly it was demolished by my family.

This is where I also should tell you that I am the only person in my family who actually likes dark chocolate.  From the speed at which this molten chocolate cake was consumed, I think it was a success.

I have actually had this recipe on my hands for a while now, but I never got around to making it.  For one thing, my place in New Jersey didn't have ramekins.  I briefly considered bringing them up just so that I could make these, but this recipe also requires a scale, and a hand mixer, both of which I was also lacking.  It is difficult to live in such barbaric conditions, but such conditions are what I need to make sure that I stay focused on my studies and stay out of the kitchen and away from the oven.  The apartment that I'm moving into in August will be better supplied with baking equipment, however, since this will be more of a permanent move.  The point I'm getting at though is that I made a mistake in waiting so long.  If you've never made molten chocolate cake before, get started now.  It's not difficult and it's absolutely delicious, even before it's baked.  (Not that I recommending you eat the batter, because there are health issues concerning raw eggs and flour, but should some of this batter accidentally fall into your mouth, it is wonderful.)

The recipe I used was Jean George's recipe, which I sought out after eating his delicious dessert at JoJo's in January.  It is very easy to make, doesn't require any special ingredients, and bakes fairly quickly.  You can also make the batter ahead of time, chill it, and pop it in the oven when you're ready for it, which makes it very convenient, since molten chocolate cakes should be served fairly soon after they are done baking.

This molten chocolate cake is rich and, as expected, very chocolate-y, but I don't think it tips over that thin line of being too rich, or worse yet, being heavy.  It isn't complex in flavor, but it is incredibly satisfying, and a great dessert to whip up if you don't have much time but are feeling a little fancy.

We happened to have one extra molten chocolate cake after the other three were consumed, and I covered that ramekin with plastic wrap and left it in the fridge.  The next day, I ate it cold.  It was still delicious.  It didn't run in that "lava" or "molten" way that the hot cake did, but it had a great texture, like a half-chocolate-cake, half-chocolate-mousse dessert.  And anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy chocolate mousse.  Yum!  The pictures below are the molten chocolate cake on Day 2.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Fire and Ice" Cucumber and Cantaloupe Soup

With the weather getting warmer, it's hard to want to eat hot and heavy meals.

I doubt most people think of spring being a great season for soup, but this soup fits the season perfectly. This recipe was something that I believe I saw in the Washington Post a couple summers ago and quickly made my own.  It's comparable to a gazpacho, if you've ever had the cold Spanish soup, except that the base is not tomato.

This is an elegant and easy way to use up extra cucumber, which we always seem to have in the house, leftover from salads and sandwiches.  It also shows off cantaloupe beautifully.  The "fire and ice" soup gets a nice kick from some hot pepper, but that can be controlled by your own hand,  and the heat is a nice contrast to the mellow sweetness of both the melon and the cucumber.

This recipe is a great one to make if you're serving guests, since it can be made ahead of time, very quickly, and is served chilled.  As usual, I served this in our china tea cups.  Just a little quirk of mine.  Tea cups are a great vessel for serving soups.  Chocolate mousses too.  But that's for another day.

"Fire and Ice" Cucumber and Cantaloupe Soup
1 small cantaloupe (about 1 ½ lbs)
2 cups diced cucumber (about 1/3 the quantity of cantaloupe)
juice and zest from one lime
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp hot pepper (e.g. jalepeno)
½ tsp salt
4 tsp sugar
1 to 2 tsp honey (to taste)
¼ to ½ cup milk (to taste)

Slice the cantaloupe into wedges and remove the flesh from the skin.  Add with the skinned and diced cucumber into a blender.  Add the lime juice and zest (alternatively, you can use a lemon) along with a dash of cold milk.  Blend until relatively smooth.  Add the ground ginger, pepper, salt, and sugar.  Blend till smooth.  Add honey or milk to taste.

Serve cold with cream swirled in and cilantro for garnish (optional).

This yields a very generous portion, probably enough for 8 people as an appetizer.  I usually serve this to my family of four.  The leftovers keep just fine in the fridge for 1-2 days.  Just be sure to stir well before serving.