Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pants in France III: Alsace

We wound our way to Alsace along the twisting, mountainous Route des Vins. Nikos (Mr. Pants' father) drove. I maintained composure by digging my fingernails firmly into the vinyl of the backseat and stared wide-eyed at the views of the steep drop-off and tiny, church-steepled villages with names that sounded like Snuffleheim and Fluffernutten.   

We stayed overnight in the home of the stinkiest cheese (Munster) and had a room across from the church where storks were nesting amidst the turrets.  We ate like portly kings.  Alsace is all cream, white wine, dumplings, meat, and decadent goodness. We shaved years off our lives dining on cheese dumplings in a cream sauce WITH bacon, below.

We made it to Strasbourg, and its impressive, rosy-stoned cathedral.  Winding streets spiral out from the cathedral, from whose heights you can see copper-topped roofs of other churches, and steep-slanted roofs of houses with tiny windows.

Sadly, this picture is blurry (blame it on the Cremant D'Alsace) but I'm showing it anyway. This large copper pot was completely misshapen, beat up, and well worn. We had no idea the portions would be so large. OH well. 

Highlights:  Strasbourg's gorgeous cathedral, stinky cheese and insanely cute villages in Alsace. Also, storks! 

Disappointments: In Alsace: If you can have too much cream, then I guess, that MIGHT be a disappointment to some. We didn't stay quite long enough to explore more of the region.

Mr. Pants: Digging greedy spoonfuls of jam out of the tourist jam store samples, stomping around saying "I want Kugelhopf"(an Alsatian cake) in a mock Alsatian manner and enjoying the ridiculously quaint buildings and the cheesy dumplings. With bacon. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011


We zoomed south from Paris on the TGV to a sun-and-wine-soaked tour of languid Provence, (Avignon, Arles, Vaison la Romaine) where we ate yet more ice cream.  Strawberry, raspberry, cassis and lavender were popular flavors.  

Mr Pants' little sister— born and raised in France, tagged along. She's in her revolutionary phase. I admit I'd zone out when they'd start arguing in French about Marxism. But hey, I didn't mind when I could enjoy this crispy-skinned, tender cod with asparagus mousse, because I'm just so bourgeois.

In Vaison la Romaine, our hotel was the wonderfully creaky Hostellerie Beffroi, full of wood beams and tile floors. This was one relaxed, remarkable town full of Roman ruins, a Roman bridge built in the 1st century AD, and beautiful winding stone streets. This was the view from our window.  The old bell tower still works. Even at 6 am.  

I found here, that Patricia Wells recommended some local restaurants such as Brin D'Olivier,  and La Baguette, (for vietnamese, right next to the roman ruins), and these were (not surprisingly) excellent choices. 

This was an "appetizer" of Mediterranean delights, at the tiny restaurant Le Bonheur Suit Son Cour, including mozzarella, tomatoes three ways, roasted peppers and hummus with nutty bread.  The mozzarella, served in small cups, was somewhere between a dense mozzarella ball and a foam, and called "clouds" by our waiter.  

Cheese! (waving my fists in an excited little dance). 

And nougat! Which makes Mr. Pants' voice go all high and girly like a six-year-old who REALLY wants some nougat. 

Provencal towns have ancient main squares, where locals take their evening stroll, children chase each other, people sit and drink Pastis (anise-flavored liqueur) at dusk and the men watch the women walk by and the women watch the men watching them. 

Highlights:  The whole town of Vaison la Romaine; The history- the Roman ruins and arenas scattered throughout Provence. Ice cream. 

Disappointments:  Not staying longer, like 6 months to a year.  

Mr. Pants: "This is awesome!" and "I'm SO relaxed" except when arguing with his sister.   

Friday, November 4, 2011

Me and Mr Pants- in France!

I had prepared for the Paris I remembered. Scowling pedestrians, autumn rainstorms, loud scooters, gruff waiters, and angry drivers.

Instead, the skies were pink each evening, confections were in many a shop window, and green chestnut trees fluttered amidst the greys and creams of Paris.  Scooters seemed muted as they zoomed past while we walked on bridges over the Seine. The waiters were jovial and patient with my (very) bad French. And hardly anyone was scowling. Hard to scowl when you are eating ice cream. And it seemed like everyone was eating ice cream.  We did too.

We drank silky espresso out of tiny cups, ate buttery croissants, followed a couple hours later by red wine and stinky cheese. 

We ate with celebrities, even! Gail Simmons from Top Chef sat right behind us at Le Verre Vole, where we had this lime-fragrant ceviche.

There was a late, dizzying lunch at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, where this generous and luscious hunk of foie just about made me swoon and had to be (reluctantly) shared with Mom and Mr. Pants.

We followed that up with a crunchy-tender sea bass with artichoke hearts and clams. 

And the famous Robuchon potatoes, or, would-you-like-some-potatoes-with-your-butter. I understand why they are famous. 

And finally this gorgeous passion fruit souffle with exotic fruit sorbet. 

At Le Baratin, we were glared at by the front-of-house man, then mollified by the unforgettable and simple food the woman in the kitchen created. Like this plate of artichoke hearts, beans and anchovy.

And this crispy, buttery skate. 

Mom and I made it to the venerable Brasserie Balzar, where the surprisingly genial waiters brought a massive bowl of chanterelles with garlic and butter, a beet salad and roasted chicken with frites, followed by post-lunch expresso. 

Then it was off to Provence, Alsace, Normandy and Brittany, so stay tuned for our next post! 

Highlights:  All of the above. Being with the remarkably insouciant Mr. Pants on his home turf. 

Disappointments:  Not having more time there. 

Mr. Pants:  Happy to be home and seeing his Dad and sister. Elegantly flouncing along with his fancy scarf, tied the french way, of course. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

RN74: Downtown Swank.

I was early.
Mr. Pants wasn't set to get here for 45 minutes, so I thought I'd have a drink at the bar and soak up some of that swanky ambiance. The hostess seated me at the bar next to a cool, european-looking man. Thank you, hostess.

He has a row of drinks in front of him.  SIX of them. All different.

"Rough day?" I ask.

He laughs and says no, he works there, and oversees the cocktail list and the bartenders.

Thinking of my job shuffling paper, I think damn, how does one get in on this gig?

I'm glumly contemplating this as my Old Fashioned comes and Carlo (ciao, Carlo!) sips at all six of his drinks and takes tiny notes in a tiny notebook while we discuss cocktails.

The Old Fashioned was wonderful, with trendy square ice cubes, perfect (subtle) amount of sweet, and fragrant orange peel swimming in the caramel colored Woodford Reserve bourbon. Always nice when they ask your preference, though I should never expect anything less.

The clubby bar and lounge area just teems with the high-heeled and well-heeled. Candlelit low tables encourage elegant slouching into the leather upholstered booths. It has a whiff of a corporate feel, though, and feels the slightest bit stilted, as it is part of a restaurant group.  I was prepared to dislike the food.

We split the duck confit arancini to start, with pistachios, cherries, and foie gras sauce. A small portion in a large white bowl, these were starchy, crunchy balls of meaty goodness that went perfectly with our  reasonably-priced French pinot noir.

I tore into the Painted Hills Boeuf Bourgignon It was a long rectangle of braised meat, with sauce and some of the tiniest veggies (carrots, potatoes) I've seen.  Pureed celery root lay under the veggies, everything was beautifully plated, and beautifully cooked.

Mr Pants got the other thing I wanted on the menu that night (no not Carlo!)  The grilled Idaho rainbow trout, with cool perfect cubes (again with the geometry) of a smokey, bacony glazed pork belly with  lentils and green beans. Again, everything was cooked to absolute perfection, green beans, firm, slightly crunchy, the fresh, crispy trout melted in the mouth.

My dessert was just decent, a sort of Opera torte- with espresso curd, but Mr. Pants got an intriguing mix of fruit and almond ice-milk, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries, with fragrant basil meringues. That's right, basil meringues.

Highlights: Cocktails, main dishes like Boeuf Bourgignon, Trout, ambiance.

Disappointments: Prices are pretty high, though you can find drinkable wines for less than you might think. Corporate feel.

Mr. Pants:  Happy and well-fed.  The cool wine board, (that alerted everyone to the most recent bottle of wine ordered) was reminiscent of the old train station flip-boards and reminded him of his youth in France.

RN74 on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 12, 2011


You'd probably think having bacon jam on top of your meat would be overkill, but no. Skillet's burger is proof. Many may know that about Skillet already, if you've sampled "The Burger" at Skillet's mobile truck.  It's a decadent, well-seasoned burger (with bacon jam), and the soft brioche bun and crispy fries just adds to the appeal. 

Skillet sits on the ground floor of the Chloe apartments with that irrationally enraging cutesy dog picture on the side of the building.  But the diner is cool with that color green that is simultaneously retro and modern, and there's a decidedly non-dinerish addition of a full bar, complete with what seems to be a requirement these days; a bartender with a hat. 

But fried chicken with fennel seeds?  Fennel seeds on what should be America's national dish could be a deal breaker for some. I consider myself a fried chicken connoisseur; my Seattle favorites include Steelhead Diner, Blue Acre Seafood, and Ezells.  And I'm not sure this one would be in the same company as those, but you can get it with a slightly sweet cornmeal waffle, so I did.

I was unsure of those fennel seeds at first, there were quite a few of them on the chicken. Darn it, I want my fried chicken to be completely crispy, salty and really bad for me.  I ended up liking it. After a few moments of pointless complaining, I was happily licking my fingers. A well-made Old Fashioned served in jar, paired fantastically with the chicken. Hmmm bourbon, fried chicken, do I need to move south and become a Republican? What the hell is happening to me?

Mr. Pants got chicken pot pie a great version —neither greasy, or heavy, with salad on the side. He stopped talking altogether while polishing that off. Eating is more important.

Went for breakfast the first time, a sublime, pure-tasting rhubarb compote over decent, fluffy griddle cakes, and a pretty-good side of house-made guanciale. 

Lunch on our second visit involved that burger and a great Cobb Salad, the salad for those who don't really want salad. Great proportions, ripe avocado, bright tomatoes, salty bacon, bleu cheese and more. Hard boiled egg not hard boiled, however, and it bled it's yellow yolk all over everything.  Which was overkill for me. Yet it seemed ungracious to complain as I finished the whole thing. 

Highlights: Rhubarb compote, fries, bacon jam on burger, cobb salad, chicken pot pie, agua fresca, Old Fashioned cocktail.

Disappointments: Griddle cakes weren't anything special, burger came cooked medium, not medium rare, cobb salad, while good, had a softer cooked egg than it should have. Should have been hard boiled. Little things.

Mr. Pants: loved his pot pie, salad and french fries. Like me, noted little missteps, carped about them, then forgot them.

Skillet Diner on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 17, 2011

Uneeda Burger! Yes you do.

I needed to get to Uneeda Burger fast. The people behind Restaurant Zoe, and of course, Quinn's (one of our favorite neighborhood haunts) had opened up a self-proclaimed "roadside burger shack." I DID need a burger.

We parked ourselves at an outdoor picnic table in the sun, after ordering at the counter.  Seating is mostly outdoors,  though some tin chairs and small tables are inside.

I got the number 8, a juicy, mushroomy, sophisticated burger with Crimini Mushrooms, Gruyere cheese, carmelized shallot, Porcini mushrooms and black truffle salt.  

Mr Pants got the Philly Smash with charred peppers, onions, Gruyere and a so-called special sauce, suspiciously similar to mayo.  I took a bite out of this bright, summery burger and wanted to hang on to it till it was finished.

I tasted our friend Mark's hand-pulled Empire Ice Cream "black and blueberry"milkshake while he stepped away from the table. (He still doesn't know). Fantastic, fresh, could almost visualize the cows, rolling green hills and blueberry bushes.

Other burgers at the table were a bacon and carmelized onion, with shoestring potato concoction that I got to taste. This burger was generous with the carmelized onions and a smoky, salty bacon.   I don't know why they omitted the words cardiac and arrest in the name of this one.

Skinny cut fries were on our trays too, along with an order of monstrous onion rings, which were good, though heavy on the breading— more like an onion doughnut!

I'm going back to flirt with heart disease and try the quarter pounder classic with cheddar, and the salted caramel shake. 

Highlights:  Burgers, shakes, beer selection.

Disappointments:  Fries were fine, not great, and needed a bit more time in the fryer.  Seating is what it is. Whaddya want, a tablecloth?

Mr. Pants:  SO happy. 

Uneeda Burger on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


First was Coupole, then there was Joule, and now we can Revel in the latest restaurant from that golden couple of Seattle fusion cuisine: Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang.

At first I walked in thinking it looked a little cold with its modern design, fairly bright lights and a bit of a draft, but the food brought all the comfort the decor lacked. 

You gotta love a place that has a sauce tray that they bring to the table. (Mr. Pants inserts comment here that I'm such a saucy girl). I do love the sauce. 

We ordered the the shrimp, mint and edamame pancake - so many textures, soft and crispy pancake, crunchy, salty pickled carrots, cool mint, sweet shrimp, nutty edamame, it all worked. 

It was cold that night so we felt we had to dumpling-up. We got two kinds of dumplings— a flavor-packed chorizo and Delicata squash dumplings with pecans and Earl Grey ricotta — something I couldn't resist trying.  The Earl Grey ricotta was extremely subtle, but still innovative. Neat stuff. 

I got the short rib rice bowl (all rice bowls come with a silky egg yolk)  sambal daikon, and mustard greens.  Fantastic.  Their rice bowls are everything I could ever want in a bowl.  This is what I want someone to make for me every rainy weeknight. 

Mr. Pants got noodles with Five Spice duck meatballs, lacinato kale, and smoked chili.  We swapped halfway (we always do) and I loved his as much as mine. 
This meal was intriguing and excellent, and it make me want to return to Joule, to compare restaurants. 
Yang and Chirchi are gifted indeed.  Revel, as the name suggests, is a revelatory pleasure. 


Disappointments:  Slightly dimmer lighting would help make the space feel warmer.  Maybe they have done this already since our first visit. 

Mr. Pants: Reveling in the experience. Har Har. No, seriously.

Revel on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vito's: Welcome (back) to the Hood!

I'd always walked by Vito's curious, but afraid. It had this sort of dingy appeal, and I imagined a windowless space with a martini-soaked bar, simultaneously divey and 70's ritzy. I conjured images of older men with large-collared shirts, and shady conversations.  

Hearing they reopened with new management, I decided to venture in. It was exactly how I imagined, but better. 

Loungy and atmospheric, Vito's has a grand piano, mirrored ceilings over the wooden bar, and a fantastic bartender who I recall from The Hideout just up the street. 

I ordered the Tivoli cocktail, a mind-expanding, liver-shriveling mix of bourbon, aquavit, campari and sweet vermouth. Put me in a better mood right quick.

This is still a hangout, rather than a foodie experience, yet Vito's flavors were clean and more or less hit their marks, no overly heavy dishes, as you may expect in an Italian-American joint. 

We liked the gamberoni- perfectly cooked shrimp with garlic, white wine and parsley - a pleasant little dish, and generous too.  

Veal Parmesan was next. Yes, veal. Imagine the cute little veals cavorting in the fields. Then eat this.  It hit a decadent spot dead on, if the veal could have pounded thinner, and the breading a tad crispier, I didn't much care, it was still good. 

A carbonara-like pasta special that night was bucatini, tossed with chili flakes, ham, and a touch of cream. It certainly helped to soak up some of that first cocktail. 

I'm glad I ventured in, it reminded me of my hometown Chicago and all those places with a dash of history and a very diverse crowd and those things make me happy.  

Highlights:  Gamberoni, bucatini pasta special, cocktails, ambiance! 

Disappointments:  Spaghetti marinara on the side of the veal was lackluster, and this is Italian-AMERICAN food, after all.  

Mr. Pants: Addicted to facebook, and posting "Strong drink in one hand, redhead in the other.."  Icky work mood improved by strong drink, strong food and strong redhead!

Vito's on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mexico 2011

Mr Pants and I did something we hardly ever do: went on a beachy vacation! We're not the type to sit and gaze at palm trees.  I don't think I've ever sat and gazed at palm trees on a beach, ever.  So we thought we'd see if we can do it without clawing our eyes out with boredom.  Or killing each other. 

Turns out there were no full days of beach dawdling, and not too much lolling about in the sun.  We petted and chased fish while snorkeling, we traipsed around the ruins in Tulum, we walked up and down Tulum Playa road, we taxied into town to replenish our pesos at the ATM, and to check out the town.  

We dove into blue cenotes, and gawked at the stalagmites and stalagtites within the clear water, and saw eerie lights of the divers beneath us.

In Cozumel we stayed at the Hotel Playa Azul, (with stellar fish soup and tacos camarones) and we could walk right out into the ocean in front, don our flippers and goggles and play with the fishes darting in and out of the coral. No underwater camera (stupid stupid stupid!) so you'll have to take my word for it. 

A snorkel tour took us out on the reef (Palancar shallows, I think it was) and while the boat blared Jimmy Buffet, the snorkeling itself was awesome.

Best meals: In San Miguel on Cozumel: a tiny little place called El Foco, where we had poblano and beef tacos and this simple but transcendent guacamole, below. 

In Tulum on the playa road- El Tabana, (grouper in pipian sauce, poblano crepes, caldo de pollo) and at the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve restaurant— after floating in mangrove-lined canals and scoping out large pink birds. They served the best grouper in cilantro sauce, and a fantastic, nutty, pipian (pumpkin seed) dip and tortilla chips. 

Worst meals:  Mr Pants requires constant snacking, like a toddler. I've often thought we should tie a little bag of oats around his neck or something.  He required a mid afternoon meal, and this soup he ordered, in the debris strewn market, had the hide of an unidentified beast still swimming in the bowl. The flavor, was ok, but come on! Unidentified animal hide, with visible fur.  I'm an omnivore, but this did me in. 

An admittedly silly order of Super Nachos along Tulum Playa Road had me seriously enraged.  As if they meant to produce the idea of what trash-eating gringos would eat if they had a can of cheese sauce and a microwave.  (Yes, I said "can" of cheese) Terrible. 

Highlights: Sun! Margaritas! Super fresh fish. Snorkeling. 

Disappointments: Super nachos, animal hide in soup. More touristy area than we usually visit. 

Mr. Pants: Sunburned, docile. Grudgingly conceding that vacations are good things, and that I was right to drag him kicking and screaming to the lovely beaches of Mexico. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Walrus and Carpenter Oyster Picnic!

I had misgivings.  I pictured standing in inclement weather, oyster juice running down into my sleeve as I balance an oyster in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, and try to keep my blowing hair out of my face.  We came armed with our oyster shucker, layered sweaters, and sturdy boots to face the beach on a December night. 

Turns out I needn't have worried, for the Walrus and the Carpenter Oyster picnic was a grand experience.  It even felt downright decadent to be sipping award winning wines out of stemware on the beach under a full (ish) moon, at low tide, with a bonfire and  with other Gortex-clad oyster lovers.  Wasn't cold for long out there, with the wine (Kunde Sauvignon Blanc and the CMS White) and the heat and glow of the fire.  

Oysters were plentiful what with the hot-shot shucking masters out there shucking away for our dining pleasure.  We could shuck our own if we wanted, so Mr. Pants went oyster hunting, searching the dark water's edge for specific types of oysters. Questions were genially answered by host Jon Rowley, our local oyster guru, and by Bill Taylor of Taylor Shellfish Farms.

We slurped a variety of gorgeous oysters, the petite Olympias, sweet, plump Kumamotos, Totten Inlet virginicas, and Pacifics.  I have to say I loved them all, and was unable to tease out a favorite. 

Oyster stew (from Xinh's Clam and Oyster House)  at the end of the night was welcome and warming.  

I fear I'm forever spoiled now, and I'm not sure I can have oysters any other way than on a wintery beach in the dark, drinking wine.  Master shuckers don't hurt to have around either. 

Highlights: Freshest oysters on the planet, white wines. Beachy ambiance. 

Disappointments: Some might balk at the length of the bus ride, (about an hour and a half), but the video they showed help to pass the time, and questions such as "Do oysters have brains?" were fired at our host.  

Mr. Pants: Like a kid in a candy store. Tromping around on the beach in his striped fleece cap, picking up this and that oyster, getting tipsy.