Last week, I headed west for the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle. While the conference was my primary purpose for making the journey, I had my mind set on doing some big eating and on spending some quality time at Pike Place Market. So, the moment I arrived at my hotel after twelve hours of travel, I threw my bags in the room, and walked as fast as my tired legs could carry me, down the hill to see the sun setting over Elliot Bay. It was magical.
As the sun melted away, I strolled over to the market. Most of the shops and vendors were closed, and the place felt peaceful, like the calm before a massive storm. I savored every moment of this trip, the first of seven I made to the market during my three-and-a-half-day stay.
At the recommendation of a friend (and former Seattleite), I dined at the Pink Door, in the Post Alley near the market. Even with the restaurant name and address in hand, I was confused when I finally stumbled upon this simple, nondescript door in the subtlest of pink hues. No sign to confirm your destination, no windows or lights to verify the place was open for business.
I timidly pushed on the door, and found that behind the facade the restaurant buzzed with the energy of chatting diners, fast-moving servers, and live music. My friend raved about the Pink Door’s bechamel lasagna, but for my first meal in the city I was set on some Seattle-sourced seafood. At the bartender’s recommendation, I ordered the Cioppino: prawns, mussels, clams and calamari in a spicy tomato and white wine broth. As I sat at the bar, a solo traveler on the prelude of her first-ever cross-country expedition, sipping wine and dunking the crusty house bread into that delicate broth, I felt immensely satisfied both with the meal and with my first night in Seattle.
I’d been warned of the hills in Seattle, but their presence didn’t register with me until I made the trek from the Pink Door up to the hotel. My calf muscles were on fire, and I couldn’t catch my breath at the top. I wonder how often drunk people trip and fall and wind up tumbling head over heels all four blocks down to the water. They really should install some sort of a safety net system at each intersection. Letter to the mayor, perhaps? Or just a cheesy selfie as proof that I made it back to room unscathed.
Early the next morning, I took a run along the waterfront. It was sunny in Seattle that day, as it was for most of the trip, and I could not take my eyes off the hills on the opposite side of the bay. I wondered if this bank looked as beautiful to them as theirs did to me, and if their hills were as steep as those downtown, and I hoped, for the sake of their drunks, that they had some sidewalk safety nets installed.
After my run, I walked my sweaty self over to the market, just as the shops were opening.
The market was full of energy and movement: vendors unpacking, employees offering free samples of their produce, and shoppers hoping to witness a legendary monger fish toss.
Of all the food I ate in Seattle (and there was an abundance of eating), Piroshky, Piroshky, a Russian Bakery located at the market, was a hot contender for my favorite. A piroshky is a handheld pie of sorts, with either sweet or savory filling, and a delicious soft yeasty dough. I went there twice, emerging both times with a piroshky in each hand. My top picks were the potato and cheese, rhubarb, and the marzipan (with almond paste).
After eating my weight in piroshky, I spent a lot of time walking around the market area, which, just like the buttery crumpet I had at the Crumpet Shop, is full of delightful nooks and crannies.
I wasn’t happy about it, but I snapped a few shots of the legendary gum wall. My stomach clenched as I thought of all the dried saliva just inches from my face. I gagged as I snapped photos and my mind attempted to quantify the number of dislodged food particles stuck in those colorful gobs of gum.
Seattle is known for its coffee, and I drank my fair share while there, including a tall Pike from the original Starbucks, which somehow tasted smoother and less bitter than any I’d drank before, and a foamy cappuccino from the swanky, soon-to-be opened Storyville Coffee.
Saturday night, Urbanspoon hosted a dinner for all 300+ IFBC bloggers, which were divided into groups and sent to mystery dinner locations. There was quite the build up! Where would you go? Who would you dine with? What would you eat??
My group traveled to Bellevue, a city that sits next to Seattle, for a five-course dinner at John Howie Steak.
It was an extensive meal, my favorites of which were the scallops with pickled chanterelles (I’d never eaten pickled mushrooms before!) and the lobster mashed potatoes… and dessert, of course.
The next day, I went to Fremont with a few friends to try Paseo’s a small shop I’d heard had legendary Cuban sandwiches. When we arrived, the place was CLOSED, and I nearly cried. Luckily my foodie friends Suki, Ryan, and Johnny, rallied and we set off on a mini tasting of Fremont, including ice cream, dumplings, burgers, and booze.
Later that evening, I headed to dinner at Delancey, which is owned Molly Wizenberg (of the Orangette blog) and her husband. Molly is also one half of the Spilled Milk Podcast, which I love (LOVE!). I’ve heard Molly talk about Delancey on the podcast so many times, it was sort of surreal to dine there. My favorite item was the super simple tomato toast with anchovy aioli. Get this: the tomato actually tasted like a tomato!
Stay tuned for a post about the IFBC conference sessions!
I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC! Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates.
On a whim, a whole eleven months ago, I bought a ticket to attend the 2013 International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle. The proofs right there, in black, size 10 Arial, in my 2012 budget spreadsheet, and when I look at that entry, sandwiched between an outrageous dry cleaning bill and a weekend trip to Trader Joe’s, I’m awestruck that I had the balls to buy the ticket. Somehow in that moment, I knew the coming year would kick me so hard in the keister that I’d need a cross-country escapade, and now all that stands between me and the Emerald City is a couple of days and a mere 2,800 miles. (Actually, it’s more like 5,000 miles, courtesy of my cheap plane ticket’s Texan layover… 12 hours of travel, totally worth it.)
Seattle has topped my travel wishlist since college, and not because of the sappy romance flicks filmed there—it’s deeper than that. It’s in my bones and my gut. It’s cosmic. And it’s why I’m making this voyage alone. Just me, a bag of snacks, a couple of books, and my big girl pants. Much has been written about the personal discovery one experiences when traveling solo, and for a gal whose been running on E since April, I’m aching for it. Maybe it’s just undiagnosed-ADD, but I have this insatiable craving for adventure. I’m constantly seeking opportunities to grow and learn and see and do, and in this vein, here’s what I’m hoping will come of my trip:
Grow. The first, and most personal, of my hopes is to enjoy this uninhibited opportunity to experience a new city, new people, and new food without feeling the need to fill my time with productivity and networking.
Learn. My creative brainwaves are desperate for stimulation, and of all the awesome seminars offered at the IFBC, I’m especially excited for those geared towards writing and photography. The agenda includes sessions on increasing blog traffic and readership, but that’s not where my head or heart are right now. Instead, I’ll be hanging out with Andrew Scrivani (photographer and food stylist for the New York Times) and listening to Dorie Greenspan speak (yes, that Dorie).
See. Aimless, unscripted meandering will be my primary pastime.
Do. In this context, “DO” loosely translates to “EAT.” It wouldn’t be a food blogger conference without an exorbitant amount of food, not to mention the awesome Seattle restaurant scene I’ve read so much about. My goal is to try new foods, especially those local and/or special to Seattle, and to eat my face off without eating myself sick… and maybe squeeze in a run or two.
I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC! Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates. For those attending the IFBC, be sure to check out the Truly Good Foods goodies in the gift suite!
I thought about doing it for months. It’s just one of those things — a kitchen right of passage of sorts — that everyone has to do (at least once). Of course, I didn’t want to do it just to do it–I wanted it to be the juiciest most flavorful chicken EVER. So, I researched. To truss or not to truss? Butter on the skin or under? Which herbs? Breast side up or breast side down? I had this feeling in my gut that I was on the road to cosmic alignment—that somehow I’d channel the kitchen gods and miraculously stumble upon the “secret” to the perfect bird that I could then share with my friends and family and all those other folks on the interweb.
In actuality, the fact that I’d mustered the courage to even attempt roasting a whole chicken was somewhat of a miracle. Of all the meat phobias I’ve fostered over the years, chicken is the one animal that consistently causes me to question being a carnivore. Just the words “chicken skin” make my upper lip curl. So when I picked up the whole bird at Whole Foods, one handed, like I was palming a basketball, and felt the bird’s ribs, solid under a squishy layer of skin and flesh, I nearly gave up on the whole idea. I nearly gave up on eating meat, for that matter. Yes, my resolve was tested at the meat case and again, later that day, when it was time to give the bird its last bath. I used tongs to discard the white bag of parts-that-shall-not-be-named, but I had no kitchen contraption large enough to hold the carcass under the cold running water, that is, of course, except for my hands. As I rinsed the cavity out, I waited for the water to fill the bird to the tippy top, like a drinking glass does when you’re washing it, and it took me a minute or two to realize that because of the GIANT HOLE in the other end where the animal’s head and neck once were, there’d be no filling of the bird.
When all was said and done, the chicken turned out ok. Not miraculous, but glistening brown and cooked all the way through. And I realized, as I was eating it, that perhaps the reason I’d never roasted a whole chicken wasn’t because of my kitchen inferiority complex; I just don’t like chicken.Read More
I don’t believe I’ve ever fantasized about mussels like I have George’s. They’ve been on my mind and in my dreams, succulent and meaty and begging to be eaten, for weeks. Of course we’re talking mussels here, not muscles, of which George’s Brasserie offers five different varieties. The fiery style, with a delicate spicy cream sauce, was so good, I’m not sure I’ll ever find the courage to order any of the others. It was love at first dunk of their fresh French bread into that spicy sauce. This overwhelming delight was a somewhat unexpected reaction, given that French food has never really excited me (a distaste I blame on a few bad experiences I had on a trip to Paris back in college, and an overall dislike of game and heavy sauces). In contrast, Executive Chef Andrew “Drew” Dodd puts a contemporary spin on the cuisine, while still offering many signature French dishes, including bouillabaisse, cassoulet, beef bourguignon, and charcuterie. A handful of the entrees are sourced locally, including the North Carolina trout armandine, the Spring Mountain Farms chicken served with black garlic beurre blanc, and a few varieties of their large oyster selection.
Like the food, the restaurant itself is upscale yet inviting. There are cozy round booths bordering smaller bistro style tables complete with Parisian-style rattan chairs. Small touches, like the aluminum bread pails brought to each table, keep the restaurant grounded and the atmosphere friendly.
One of my favorite hors d’oeuvres is the 48-hour pork belly, which is cooked sous-vide and served with jalapeno infused water melon. Unlike other pork belly I’ve tried, George’s has a crispy skin and no jiggly bits; you can literally sink your teeth into it. Other standout dishes are the supple pan-seared scallops, served with sweet corn and saffron puree, fava beans, smoked tomato, and thyme beurre blanc and the NY Strip Au Poivre with brandy peppercorn sauce, served with a petite ceramic pot of truffle pommes frites. I’ve also heard great things about the goat cheese and caramelized onion tart, but I’ve yet to try it (next time!).
George’s is a place where Francophiles and Francophobes alike will be satisfied, not only with the exceptional food but also the extensive wine list and the attentive and impressively knowledgeable servers. And for those fiery mussels, of course.
People often think that as a food blogger and eager eater I must be an awesome cook. Truth is my cooking adventures seem to flop as often as succeed; I’m more kitchen klutz than Master Chef. I burn things (pots, proteins, and appendages, included), get nauseated at the sight (or smell) of raw meat, and I scrambled the shit out of my spaghetti carbonara last week. Things just don’t always go according to plan when I’m in the kitchen, and that’s exactly what draws me in. With cooking, there’s risk and reward, and the opportunity to create something with my own hands titillates my brain (and my belly). So despite the burnt carnitas, undercooked scallops, or, in this case, mussels of questionable edibility, I keep on trying to learn.
My ultimate desire is to possess the ability to cook freely, without the aid of a recipe. I want to look at ingredients and understand them and innately know how to bring out the best of their flavors. I want freedom from recipe paralysis, a condition that has occurred, in my opinion, due to over saturation of recipes in the media. They are everywhere we look, and we’re all constantly bookmarking and tagging and pinning things to try later. Problem is, when later comes, we’ve got a bushelful of recipes and an empty tank of know-how. So, tonight, it’s grilled cheese for dinner, AGAIN. Not that I don’t love grilled cheese six nights in a row.
Cooking, just like life, is a learning process. We natural-born perfectionists often try to conceal our mishaps, sweep the crumbs under the rug, if you will. I know I do. For many of us, cooking is so much more than a chore or an obligation–it’s our time for creativity and spirituality and personal growth–and personal “success” in the kitchen should not (and cannot) be judged rigidly. Hiding our food faux pas is a repressive practice. This is not living. In the wise words of Anne Lamott, these “mistakes” are simply shitty first drafts. They can be tweaked, streamlined, or gussied up later. All that matters in this moment is that you showed up in the kitchen and gave it a shot.
A shot. That’s exactly what I did with these mussels: I gave them a shot. Though I’ve eaten my fair share of mussels, I’d never made them before. Of course I did my research: cleaning, debearding, sorting. I got it all down before I hit the grocery store. Perhaps, I should have changed my game plan when the man at the Harris Teeter meat counter proceeded to set aside expired bag after expired bag of mussels before settling on one that was “still good” (insert forced smile here). I made a shitty, but spicy, first draft of tomato sauce, plopped my clean, beard-free mussels on top, covered with a lid, and waited for the mussels to open. After ten minutes or so, about a quarter of the mussels were fully open, half were partially open, and the rest were pursed closed tighter than my grimacing lips. Maybe it was first-timer jitters or maybe something really was wrong with these mussels, but after eating a couple of the fully opened ones (while silently battling visions of self-inflected food poisoning), I called it quits.
I call this meal my shitty first draft of mussels with a spicy tomato sauce, and I choose to embrace it, and all its shittyness, at home and here on the ole blog.Read More
Fervent Foodie is a contributing writer for the official Urbanspoon blog.
Make no bones about it: Americans are passionate about their barbecue. Much like grandma’s potato salad and dad’s lasagna, regional barbecue triggers feelings of nostalgia and deep-rooted hometown pride. The word barbecue here is used as a noun, not a verb. It’s not a casual backyard get-together or hot dogs and hamburgers grilled in the driveway over a propane flame. Barbecue in this context is meat cooked low and slow, usually over wood chips, in hand-built smokers and converted oil drums, till it’s fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth tender.Read More
Paco’s Tacos & Tequila is one of Frank Scibelli’s four major restaurants in Charlotte, along with my beloved Mama Ricotta’s, Midwood Smokehouse, and Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar. Paco’s (Spanish for Frank’s, get it?) features Tex-Mex cuisine with a large chunk of the menu dedicated to TACOS. There are ten types to choose from, including brisket, calamari, chicken fried steak, crispy shrimp, gringo beef, and whitefish. The flour and wheat tortillas are made in-house (or you can opt for low carb or corn tortillas), and you can add a stuffed jalapeno to your taco for a buck fifty. Fajitas, enchiladas, and quesadillas also make an appearance on the menu, as well as a handful of Tex-Mex inspired entrees, and over eighty-five tequilas. Taking a cue (as in barbecue) from its sister restaurant Midwood Smokehouse, Paco’s recently added a smoker to their kitchen artillery. Currently, the pitmaster will smoke one featured entrée each night. On my last visit, I tried the smoked brisket taco, and as the Midwood Smokehouse self-declared number one fan, I feel confident giving Paco’s smoked brisket the Fervent Foodie stamp of approval. It is my favorite Paco’s Taco to date. Other menu favorites include the chopped salad with cojita cheese and chipotle ranch, gringo nachos, potato mushroom & cheese flautas, and “The Margarita with No Name,” featuring El Jimador Blanco, 100% blue agave tequila, and house made sour. Of course, you can’t go wrong with any of the tacos. Paco’s also makes the desserts in-house, and I strongly recommend both the Tres Leches and Chocolate PB Pie.
Local Loaf: Located uptown in the 7th Street Public Market, Local Loaf is the new home to Chef Adam Spears (previously with Heist Brewery). Local Loaf offers freshly baked Artisan Breads daily, including their hand-rolled baguettes, brioche, ciabatta, fruit and nut loaves, 9 grain, and biscuits. In addition to the bread, Local Loaf also offers breakfast and lunch. The “brunchwiches” are served all day, and include a fried chicken and poached egg biscuit with chipotle Cheerwine glaze, a steak and egg baguette, and a monte cristo served on a brioche liege waffle. The lunch menu includes eight sandwiches. My favorites so far are the ham and brie (topped with local Lucky Leaf microgreens and mango chutney) and the Local Dip (think French dip with red wine braised sirloin and caramelized onions). Other enticing options are the Veggie with creamed corn and fried green tomatoes on jalapeno focaccia and the Cuban with pickled cucumbers and fried pork rinds. Soup options will change daily, but keep an eye out for the tomato bisque–it is AWESOME. If the tasty sandwiches aren’t enough to make you love Local Loaf, the heavy emphasis on local sourcing will surely tug on those ole’ heartstrings. Locally sourced goods include meat from Meat & Fish Co., produce and dairy from Homeland Dairy Farms and Greeneman Farms, and coffee grounds from Not Just Coffee.Read More