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Shiros Sushi - 2014-12-18

by Foodbitch 18. December 2014 21:30

Genius is part nature and part nurture. No matter what they’ll tell you, the accident of birth: the raw material is only refined into perfection with the proper effort. But no matter how much effort one puts forth, excellence at the level of the world-class can only be achieved with the proper gifts of nature. And in that respect, Chicago sushi will always be Salieri to the West Coast’s Mozart.

There was a line in Good Will Hunting where the professor says to Will: “There is but a handful of people in the world who can tell the difference between you and me…but I’m one of them.” I don’t presume to be an authority on sushi preparation but when it comes to consumption, I believe my excess to be widely known. I don’t believe it unfair to say that a judge of quality is one who has experienced a fair amount of quantity.

Until one has had uncured king salmon sashimi, I don’t believe that one can profess to have had salmon sashimi at all. In Chicago, the extra day of travel forces most providers to bathe their stock in some form of salt preservative. And here was I thinking sashimi needed to be fresh. I happen to love salt. But I sure know its taste. The salmon in Seattle is truly fresh. Even the cheap places serve it. 

What about the octopus? If I ever am permitted in Korea or Japan, I would love to sample some raw, Oldboy style. But until then, I must consign myself to the undercooked sashimi that Seattle offers. I’ve had raw octopus (but not live) once in my life and that was at an LA place that closed 3 months after opening. Made me wonder what else they served.

I also tried the geoduck sashimi. If you know your clams, you will know that this phallic-looking thing that is indigenous only to the west coast of Canada and the Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest. Panopea generosa is extremely long-lived and individuals approaching the century-marker are not uncommon. They have few natural predators with humans, of course, being the worst. China has almost as ravenous an appetite for ‘duck as it does for pig. I have pulled them from the ground while laying on my belly and reaching 3 feet down into muddy, 50-degree water. Because of this, the dismal laws of supply and demand dictate that Geoduck can approach US$150/pound. But this is not a bio-econ-lesson. It is a testimonial that Geoduck sashimi was NOT palatable for me. Before this, there were 2 pieces I didn’t care for much: Uni (sea urchin) and Saba (mackerel). Now there is a third.


And now for the statement that will rule out most wannabes: the rolls were meh. At Shiro’s they are a grudging concession to the hipsters that just LOVE sushi but “…don’t eat any of that raw stuff” (unless, of course, it swims in spicy mayonnaise.) Every roll we had was made with haste and sans imagination. Knowing that this is what makes up most Americans’ idea of sushi, if it purely makes up yours, then you will be disappointed.  Shiro’s effort is put into sashimi, where it belongs. And oh, how amazing the result.

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Wild Ginger 2013-12-27

by Foodbitch 27. December 2013 01:47

“Every earthly thing has a beginning and an end.” Wrote a three-star General in a book on winning warfare. Planning for the end gets one ahead he said. He referred to wars, countries and relations. Not silly, civilian things like restaurants. And yet, given our relatively short time on a very long-lived planet, pets and restaurants are the few things that we outlive routinely. I ate at Wild Ginger in Seattle and was overcome by having outlived so many of my favorites.

It’s hard to quote pop-culture because of its increasing bankruptcy. But there was a scene in The Walking Dead where a character known as “The Governor” (played with repellent brilliance by David Morrissey) performs a monologue about his departed wife. She called him before the apocalypse and he didn’t answer. She didn’t leave a voice mail. “What did she call about?” he muses. If he had known that that was his last chance to speak with her, would he have found the time? What if I knew that on May 2nd, 2009, I would eat at Vong for the last time? Would I have ordered more? Would I have tipped better? I don’t know. 12/16/2010 was my last meal at Opera and 12/30/2010 at Red Light. Any dinner in the West Loop neighborhood usually began with a Mango Martini and tuna appetizer at Red Light. I miss it greatly.

The tuna tatakke at Red Light. The vegetable curry pizza at Vong’s Thai Kitchen. The multi-prepared Duck at Opera. The Chao Tom (shrimp over sugarcane) at Le Colonial. Save for the Rush-street located yet inexpensive Vietnamese, not a single restaurant remains. This is a travesty. In 2009, Elizabeth Gilbert gave a TED talk in which she said that she realizes that her greatest accomplishment may very well be behind her. There is great insight in that statement because it’s so often true with many things and many people. The pop culture name is “one-hit-wonder.” It would be a great shame if Chicago’s best accomplishments in Asian cooking are getting more distant in the rearview.

Anyway, Wild Ginger: there is not a single dish I’ve had here that wasn’t stellar. But the duck is in a category alone. It’s far superior to any I’ve had before or since and I would not be surprised to discover that they sprinkle it with dopamine reuptake inhibitors. If you like the Shrimp/Sugarcane at Le Colonial, you’ll love the lettuce cup here with sea bass. The price, though, you may not. I thought that about the prawns but given how many showed up on the plate, I suppose the average price per prawn was fair. If you recall Red Light and the Mango Martinis…the Mango Daquiri at Wild Ginger is required. I ended up wolfing down so much that I could barely move. This happens every time and can result in an abbreviated evening as we just go home and fall asleep in our clothes since we’re too full to bend over and untie shoes. I do this routinely at steak houses and a place in South Beach called Barton G but this is the only Asian place capable of hitting me in the belt. Trust me, this is saying something.

Seattle is not known for its excellence of service. Although not as bad as LA, Seattle is still West Coast when it comes to energy and speed. Wild Ginger (and Toulouse Petit, Toulouse Petit review) is a shining beacon of exception. I cannot recommend Wild Ginger to you more strongly. Eating there will expose you to flavors you may have forgotten existed. You will receive service so exemplary that it alone pulls up Seattle’s dismal average. You will be reminded of a class of Asian restaurant that has all but left Chicago. Perhaps you, like I, will sprinkle your epicurean evening with a few flakes of nostalgia. And, if you had the privilege to know them, great memories of dear departed friends. 

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Book Bindery 2011-08-16

by foodbitch 16. August 2011 18:49

Having written a dim prospectus on Seattle in the past, I find myself increasingly humbled by its progress. At least in dining terms. The Book Bindery excels in both service and in food. If you can’t make it to Toulouse Petite, go here.

How does one spot a Chicagoan walking through an airport? He’s the guy with jean shorts and a Bears jersey busting under an expansive belly. How does one spot the LA wannabe? He/she is the one wearing canvas shoes and sunglasses indoors. A Seattleite? The woman who shaves her head rather than her armpits. What’s my point? That all cities have a stereotype and crappy service in Seattle is a very honest one. Walk into a coffee shop with 2 baristas engaged in conversation and they will very likely finish the conversation until anyone asks to help you. Could be 5 minutes. Could be longer. And the people are so laid back that they accept it. Imagine the same behavior in a Chicago Loop coffee house. If the staff were not standing at attention the patron might get on the phone to the district manager. In New York there would be 10 types of screaming. But Seattle? The attitude that life’s too short to work in service still prevails. Which is why it’s a delicious pleasure to find another restaurant where staff doesn’t treat their customers as interruptions.

The Book Bindery was exceptional in every way and with every dish. And by the evening’s end we were treated yet again by a relative pittance of a bill. If not for the booze of which we partake freely, the bill would have come to $60 per person. The portions were decent but not obnoxious. The appetizers were actually appetizing in the sense that they didn’t overfill you but they could see a little price reduction. When one charges $12 for gazpacho, even though it’s REALLY good gazpacho, people will instead opt for the steak tartar ($14) which was a very generous portion for the price. However, while the gazpacho is probably pure profit, the steak is a thin-margin commodity. Dear Restaurateurs, make it easy for your diners to choose the bulk-rate and they will. It may not seem rational that you’d lose money by overpricing soup, of all things, but you can and probably will.

The entrees were just as lovely. The Halibut was sweet and buttery and the scallops might have tasted like the sea but they were escorted by some delicious sauce that whispered flavor rather than proclaim it. And the pork? Well, what can I say? It was excellent. It seems like everywhere we go these days, someone has an even more delicious pork dish. The truth is that it’s really hard to screw up pork. But you surely can by overcooking it. BB cooks their medium-RARE!!! Which is how it should be. For the love of all that’s kosher, when will the world follow suit? Everything is irradiated anyway people. And even if it weren’t, when did you last hear of a single case of trigonometry? Or is it trachea? I know it starts with a “T.”



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Toulouse Petit 2010-08-22

by foodbitch 21. August 2010 21:04

To those who said Seattle can’t do a perfect meal (like the author) Toulouse Petit gives a big four-fingered shocker. And those who still quote the tired grandpa-ism: “do one thing and do it well” TP knocks into the future by excelling in so many places. One could, and should, eat here for a week.

Who is anyone to say that a restaurant must have a narrow specialty just because most do? It’s rarely a lack of imagination or ability but constraints of the real world. Money, space, time and staff are all limiting factors in a restaurant’s ability to redline the chef’s creative engine. So most run at cruising RPMs. Chefs are artists to the core and will, given time and capital, throw 10 thousand things out on the tables and let their customers decide what soars or sinks. Indeed the biggest source of friction in food service is the push outward from the kitchen against the push inward from accounting. Guess who always wins? But Brian Hutmacher, Toulouse Petit’s owner seems to not shed a single tear for accounting’s sake. Enter an owner who has decided that the quest for quality is a higher cause than turning a dollar into 2. Luck is the story of his chef: Eric Donnelly. Tragic that of his accountant.

Who serves Duck Confit for $14? Huge bowls of soup and salads for less than 10? Who remains in the known universe that offers a quality NY Strip for $25? Even Outback charges more inflicting mortal fright upon the Big Mac crowd on “downtown night.” And so, the evening began with apprehension – apprehension that died a first-bite death. The fried-chicken gumbo and French Onion soup could have been, for their pittance of a price, much worse and still scored well on the value scale. Some claim that French Onion Soup should only be served in little fired crock-pots with overflowing cheese. Some also claim that gumbo should be a thick-as-honey stew. These were neither and yet still delicious. Donnelly has an opinion and it isn’t cliché programming. It’s nice to get a unique perspective.

Main-course consisted of Big Easy Jambalaya and Jumbo Barbied Shrimp. The former promised “unapologetic spice” and but needed no apology. Then again, the author orders 5-stars from Mae Phim and pours Habanero Tabasco on eggs. Point is: it’s easy to hide behind heat and TP has no need. The flavor was as terrific as the portion. The shrimp was similarly tasty but not quite on the level of the Ivy. The grits however, were absolutely divine. Just remember that the Ivy will charge you double for a very small improvement and again we’re back to the whole value thing. No matter what you think of the meal, remember that 2 people will waddle out of the restaurant spending less than a C-note.

TP isn’t perfect. Their online menu’s prices don’t always concur with the receipt. Can you say nit-picking? Its bar is slow-to-notice you but nothing compared to most of Seattle. Also, such an affordable meal should not dunk you headfirst into a $12 price for a martini (at least they overfill it). But with prices and options like these, we can afford a little trial-and-error.

All should hope for Toulouse Petit’s success. I am tired of talent being pigeon-holed. Wouldn’t it be great to see Bayless’ roll on sushi or Trotter’s toss on pizza and still have enough to pay your underwater mortgage? Well, they should all send a spy to get a job with Hutmacher and learn how he keeps the prices low, the menu vast and the CPAs out of the damn kitchen.

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About the author

FB is the CTO of an entertainment company and, these days, writes much more in prose than he ever wrote in code. Which is a good thing. Because people expect quality from code. Meal me:

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