Our restaurant critic picks the best bites of 2008
Best Bites of the Year: The Seattle Times list of the best Seattle-area restaurants of 2008.
Special to The Seattle Times
I figure I've eaten about 150 restaurant meals this year — and that was just for work. Factor in a few dozen more meals enjoyed on my own time and dime, and that calculates to ... way too many calories.
My feeble math skills estimate my average for 2008 is 3.5 restaurant meals a week. Lucky me, you think? I agree!
I love restaurants and always approach a new one with hope and optimism. My job is a continuing education, and this city and its environs are a culinary university. I get to give out the grades, and while not every restaurant gets an A, I'm always cognizant that hospitality is hard work — and never more so than in uncertain economic times.
Here's a recap of the best bites from my year at the table.
The Egg and I
Eggs of all sorts figured in some memorable plates, both hot and cold.
Mark Fuller's duck egg raviolo shakes up the concept of bacon-and-eggs, scattering nuggets of "duck bacon" around a single pasta pillow plumped with soft-cooked egg. You might call Spring Hill, Fuller's new West Seattle restaurant, an egg-stravaganza. That's where I also fell for wood-grilled prawns gripping a whole poached egg set over creamy grits and morel-studded shrimp gravy — a plate that could be a bayou breakfast by way of Joel Robuchon.
The duck egg that nestled among fresh tagliatelle at the Belltown gastro pub Spur was cooked sous vide; one prick sent rich orange yolk cascading into the arms of Parmesan and oyster mushroom foam.
At Wallingford's Art of the Table, fennel pollen and smoked salt dusted a fluffy poached egg gracing a salad of portobello mushroom and greens tossed with sherry vinaigrette. At Bada Sushi in Shoreline, a quail egg crowned off "Sashimi Bow Rice," a jalapeño-heavy Korean salad of salmon, albacore, surimi and rice in a dauntingly big bow(l).
A poached egg even came with Patatas Bravas at Olivar on Capitol Hill, enhancing both the crisp, vividly seasoned potatoes and the chunks of savory blood sausage.
Other Meaty Moments
The blood sausage at Belltown's Txori is housemade. Soft and fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, it's among the best of their Basque pinxtos. Equally high on my list of tantalizing tube steaks are the robust, cumin-scented lamb sausage at the Hotel Monaco's Sazerac, and the delicate lavender pork sausage at Dulce's Latin Bistro in Madrona.
"Unforgettable" is the word for Scott Simpson's Lunchbox Laboratory in Ballard. His spicy "dork" burger, a blend of pork and duck, is world class. Equally iconic is the brined pork shank at Smith, confited in duck fat, then fried to order. And just when I thought I didn't need another bite of pork belly, or another slider, along comes the magnificent pork belly sliders at Spur to remind me what really creative chefs can do with a cliché.
In a Pickle
Chefs all over town are pickling things. Fresh pickled currants garnished smoked salmon tartare at The Corson Building. Boat Street Café's pickled red onions, raisins, figs and prunes (now available at DeLaurenti, Metropolitan Markets and other retail outlets) are destined for my holiday dinner table. At Joule, Rachel Yang serves up a seasonal assortment in a small jar on a silver tray. I used tiny tongs to retrieve beets, Asian pear, cucumber and peppers.
Pig 'n Whistle's bread-and-butter pickles are worthy of a state-fair blue ribbon, as are the ginger-spiced cucumber pickles that come with Table 219's pot-roast-y sliders.
Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
It's advice not hard to obey when confronted with such wonders as these: Art of the Table's bubbling cauliflower gratin, topped with pine nuts, breadcrumbs and sautéed chanterelles; Sazerac's minty, lemony salad of fava beans and fresh peas studded with goat cheese and ham; a gleaming ruby mosaic of chioggia beets with tart rhubarb, smooth avocado mousse, chopped pistachio and mint at Union.
A late-summer feast at The Corson Building was a parade of remarkable produce. Platters included radicchio salad with bacon, melon and Parmigiano; baby beets, yellow squash and fresh okra in a ginger-walnut dressing; and tomatoes at their juicy peak, paired with nutty sautéed chanterelles, fresh mozzarella and bitter Treviso.
Fruits contributed their share of wow moments, too. At Flo in Bellevue, there was the satin smooth pear-and-leek soup, and for dessert, warm orange-scented beignets with blueberry-ginger sauce. A tiny roasted pear embellished endive and blue cheese salad at Juno, while at Four Swallows on Bainbridge Island, fresh goat cheese joined local strawberries and lettuces in a perfect summer salad.
Tempura Mixto at Sip in Issaquah included lovely tempura-battered orange slices with the artichoke hearts, rock shrimp and fennel. Tangerine segments created sparks in a gorgeous duck-and-beet salad at Queen Anne's How to Cook a Wolf, in much the same way that a Meyer lemon emulsion enhanced crisp-skinned barracuda at Wolf's downtown sibling, Union.
Citrus possibly reached its apotheosis in Rachel Yang's amazing "Joule Box" dessert: cranberry baubles, grapefruit bangles and beads of tapioca spiked with basil and lime. But no fruit dessert was simpler or more seductive than sliced local peaches in August, poached in brown sugar and anise hyssop and presented with a crumble of fried almonds at The Corson Building.
Whole fish is a trend I love. At Spring Hill, it was rainbow trout whose crackling silver skin was gleaming with a sweet brown butter sauce. At Joule, it was a bronzy Daurade served with preserved lemon and almonds.
At Txori, a single sardine came draped over creamy scalloped potatoes, a wedge of salt-crusted lemon on the side. At Union, a pair of sardines met in an elegant version of pasta con sarde — tucked under a blanket of orecchiette in a spicy, green olive and caper-flecked tomato sauce.
Bundles of Joy
Looking back on the year, it seems that more than a few of my favorite things came not in brown paper packages tied up with string but, instead, wrapped in Swiss chard — like the truffled pecorino in brown butter sauce at Enotria; or in pancetta — like the blue-cheese-stuffed dates at Ocho; or tucked into pasta — like the extraordinary agnolotti del plin at Spinasse. Justin Neidermeyer's ragged-edged Piemontese dumplings are plump with meat and cheese, no bigger than the tip of my thumb, and they bob in a chicken broth of stunning intensity.
Fine ingredients plus an artisan's consummate skill: It's the simple equation for many an extraordinary meal.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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