Friday, October 19, 2012

When in Portlandia...

You must brunch! Portland has a huge brunch culture. With a recommendation from Aaron's friend, we went to brunch at Urban Farmer Restaurant. Believe me, I was a little skeptical about brunch at a hotel restaurant, but that concern was quickly put to rest. We took the elevator up to the modern lobby, where the restaurant was situated in the well lit atrium. You would've never guessed that it was a gray, overcast day given all the natural light.

In recent years, I've come to recognize the importance of eating seasonally and locally for political, environmental, and culinary reasons. Like one of my Chicago favorites, Perennial Virant, I loved the display of canned jars that were incorporated into the decor. It's a sign that we'll be eating well.

While in the Pacific Northwest, I highly recommend eating as much Dungeness crab as possible. Given the crab omelet that I enjoyed in Anchorage, I wanted to try a different take on it. I'll have to give the nod to Anchorage for their crab omelet. Urban Farmer's version was a little rich for my taste, with an herbed hollandaise that overpowered the crab. The potato on the side was nicely crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside.

Another thing that sets Portland apart from Seattle and Vancouver is its love for meat. The cheddar bacon biscuit was quite thorough in covering multiple meat groups: a fluffy biscuit is studded with bacon and baked with cheddar on top. It is split in half and filled with a crispy chicken leg, greens, pickled red onions and a fried egg. For the final touch of decadence: the sandwich sits atop sausage gravy.

We somehow rolled out of the restaurant after our rich brunch and squeezed in some quick tax-free shopping before returning to Seattle. Even though we were only in Portland for less than 24 hours, we liked what we saw and vowed to return for a longer weekend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Biwa: Late night dining

After a long day of driving along the Oregon Coast, we finally settled into our hotel for the evening. Portland is known for its foodie scene, and I had a difficult time choosing our dinner option for the night. Since the clock was ticking away, we opted to check out Biwa. We lucked out with a couple of front row seats at the bar providing a great view into the kitchen. The menu was quite expansive, and furthermore, since it was later into the evening, we could also order off the late night menu.

For regular readers of this blog, you probably will have noticed the lack of alcoholic drinks being profiled in my writing. I have an allergy to alcohol, which makes me get really hot and uncomfortable. Truthfully, it's quite annoying to explain this in social situations. I end being a cheap date for Aaron on most occasions, but sometimes a restaurant's non-alcoholic drinks will pique my interest. While in Portland, I often came across drinking vinegars for seltzer water. At Biwa, I went with the ume based on our server's recommendation. It's a pickling brine made from umeboshi plums. We munched on an amuse buche of spiced popcorn while we waited for our food to arrive.

We started with an order of gyoza since the wrapper was handmade, and we often forfeit our share to the kids at family gatherings. The wrapper was uniformly thin and crisply fried around the savory pork filling.
For our mains, we enjoyed the udon and ramen from the late night menu. Aaron has always been a fan of the more toothsome udon variety, especially when it is swimming in a rich spicy broth. For me, I've always had a soft spot for ramen, and no, not the ten cent Maruchan variety from your big box grocer!

 We wended the meal with miso butterscotch gelato from a local gelateria.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Voodoo Doughnut

Depending on who you ask, many might speculate that doughnuts have replaced cupcakes as the hottest bakery trend.A trip to Portland could not be complete without a trip to Voodoo Doughnut.

I tried to keep our order under control by keeping it to four doughnuts (clockwise):

mango tango: a yeast raised doughnut with a vibrant mango jelly filling, vanilla frosting, and a citrusy dusting of tang; verdict: a pleasant surprise

maple bacon long john: a yeast raised doughnut, strong maple presence in the frosting, overly crispy bacon; verdict: not as good as Dynamo Donut in SF

apple fritter: large and in charge, this apple studded fritter was well spiced with cinnamon, tender dough; verdict: solid

chocolate covered buttermilk: a standard doughnut for comparison between doughnut purveyors, not especially memorable

Monday, September 24, 2012

Vancouver: Guu Izakaya

With its geographic location on the West coast of North America, Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities that come to mind. This lends itself well to being rich in culinary delights. With the large population of Japanese, izakaya establishments are commonplace. There are a few major players in Vancouver, and some have multiple locations with slightly different personalities: Guu, Hapa, Zakkushi, and Kingyo. As you can imagine, it was not easy narrowing it down to just one, so we went to the Original Guu on Thurlow since it was withing walking distance of our hotel.

We left for an early dinner and took a detour to take in the surroundings of our area. An izakaya is a Japanese pub serving tapas style food. Not only is it about the food, but it's also about the lively, loud atmosphere. You can only imagine our surprised when we saw a dozen or so other people already waiting to enter fifteen minutes prior to the restaurant's opening time!

Once opening time had arrived, people were efficiently seated and servers began arriving at tables to take orders and yell them to the chefs! It is a bit intimidating at first, especially since English was not a strong suit for the staff, so you're left to your own devices.

Thankfully, our ordering skills did not disappoint! Our dishes arrived piping hot and fresh. They were beautifully prepared and tasted as good as they looked.

Saba shio: grilled mackeral with salt

kim chi fried rice

tontoro: grilled pork cheek with yuzu ponzu 

Yaki udon

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vancouver: Meat & Bread

Six months in Seattle would not be completed without a visit from my parents. To make it worthwhile, we planned to drive up to Vancouver for Labor Day weekend so that they could spend a few days during the week with their friends. Crossing the border on a holiday weekend is not a quick and easy process. By the time we reached city center, we were famished. I had already planned to hit Meat & Bread for their popular porchetta sandwich. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. In fact, my mom proclaimed it to be the best sandwich she ever had. The ciabatta was fresh, with a light and chewy crumb. The porchetta was flavorful and had the right amount of fattiness. A squeeze of yellow mustard was served on the side for dipping. We added a meatball sandwich to share, but another porchetta sandwich would've probably been the better way to go.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Onto Seward

After our tram ride, we continued onward to Seward. We decided to take a quick detour to stop in Whittier, what an unusual town! We had to pay $12 for the one lane tunnel into town. The tunnel goes into town on the hour, and leaves town on the half hour. If you don't time it right, you'll have to wait until the next opportunity!

The entire town lives in an old building used for barracks and officers' housing from WWII! Aaron read about some amazing views from the building. We wandered in as if we knew where we were going. I'm sure we stood out like sore thumbs in this small town. Once we arrived at the top floor, it was quite obvious that there was not going to be a viewpoint at all. We scurried out before anyone inquired about our intent.

There's even a couple of documentaries about the "strange town." We met the reindeer lady outside her store as we were walking through the "town center."

Once we finally reach Seward, we spent some time in the Alaska Sealife Center. A portion of the settlement after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was used to build the research and rehabilitation Sealife Center.

After the Sealife Center, we wanted to hit Exit Glacier. En route to the visitor center, there are several markers along the way showing how much the glacier has retreated over the years due to changes in the world climate. Seeing the human impact on nature like this really makes one think twice about our daily habits.
The next day, we had a tour booked through Kenai Fjords tours to take us to Northwestern Glacier, which happens to be named after my alma mater! I'd never been on a whale watching boat tour, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I had always heard that Alaska was teeming with wildlife, but this tour surpassed my wildest expectations. I was a little worried about being bored on a 9 hour tour, but time flew by! We saw orca pods, humpback whales, sea otters (my personal favorite), puffins, seals, seal lions, and more!

After our tour, we grabbed a quick dinner at Chinooks before hitting the road back to Anchorage for the night. The halibut fish and chips were beer battered, which is my favorite for fish.
 On the docks, you can see the fisherman processing the day's catch. It was quite amazing to see the various sizes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Breakfast in Girdwood

We packed rather light for our long weekend in Alaska, so after our jeans got covered in mud from our hike, we decided to do some laundry in town before heading onward. While our clothes were in the washer, we enjoyed breakfast at the Bake Shop. Our timing was perfect because as soon as we sat down, a huge tour bus dropped off 30+ people! 

We ordered the Sweet Roll to go, so that we could enjoy it during our drive later in the day.  Rather than just a cinnamon sugar filling, these rolls had a fruity swirl and a huge pat of softened butter on the side.

 They have a few egg scrambles and omelets on the menu, but I prefer to order something that I can't easily recreate at home. We each ordered three sourdough pancakes. They were thin and huge with that sourdough tang. If you're looking for a carby start to your day, be sure to check out the Bake Shop.
After finishing our laundry, we returned to our hotel to take the tram up to the mountain top. The views were breath taking.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Dinner in Girdwood

After brunch in Anchorage, we jumped onto the Seward Highway toward Girdwood for our first night's stay. We stayed at the luxurious Hotel Alyeska, which I highly recommend. It's situated "in a lush valley surrounded by mountain peaks, hanging glaciers and spectacular ocean views."

We worked up an appetite after a five mile hike behind the resort to reach the hand tram.

For dinner, we drove to Jack Sprat, where the chef's resume includes such high profile restaurants like the French Laundry.

For starters, we couldn't resist their highly acclaimed yam fries. I couldn't believe the size of each fry! They were as big as a biscotti! The fries had a delicate coating rich in garlicky flavor, which was cut by the jalapeno arugula aioli. 
We added a salad of roasted beets, bruleed goat cheese, and toasted walnuts with orange citronette over mixed greens to make us feel less indulgent about our yam fries. The ratio of ingredients was just right.

Pan seared halibut served over smoked paprika polenta, roasted broccolini, and roasted tomato and oregano vinaigrette.

Aaron opted for the evening special: King Salmon with king crab meat, baby bok choy, roasted potatoes in a lemon grass & crab meat cream sauce. He proclaimed it one of the best things he's ever eaten. I could see why after I stole a few bites off his plate. The sauce was light and flavorful in support of the gorgeously fresh salmon and crab meat.
While in Alaska, you feel compelled to support the local fishing industry, and so the obvious choice for me was the pan roasted halibut with roasted tomato & oregano vinaigrette over smoked paprika polenta and broccolini. 

We were so spoiled with fresh, local seafood, I really don't know how we will ever eat so well when we return to Chicago.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Anchorage Brunch

While planning our time in Seattle, we were determined to take advantage of our close proximity to so many great destinations. At the top of our list was Alaska. While many people travel to Alaska via a cruise, I was hesitant to take too much time off at any given time since I am technically here for work. We decided on a long weekend. This allowed us to pack in a lot of our own interests in a short amount of time without having to waste time cruising on a boat or being constrained by their schedule.

Thankfully, our honeymoon flights to Australia two years ago rewarded up with enough miles for our flights. Delta partners with Alaska Airlines, which naturally has a hub here in Seattle. It was our first experience with Alaska Airlines, which was quite pleasant for us.

Food and activities in Alaska don't come cheaply with their limited tourism season and freight costs for things from the mainland. Fishing is a major source of income, so we both wanted to enjoy seafood at every meal possible. Since we had an early flight, and we gained an hour, it was time for lunch we arrived. We picked out Snow City Cafe, and given the crowd, we knew we made the right choice. I'm so glad I made reservations using Open Table on my phone to avoid the long wait.

We ordered the crabby omelet which was overflowing with fresh, flaky crab meat and melted mozzarella. I loved the rich, creamy avocado slices on top. The hash browns were phenomenal: crisp on the outside,
 smooth and creamy on the inside.
 For the second entree, we went with our server's recommendation for the salmon cakes. Unfortunately, we didn't find that they lived up to her hype, and furthermore, our egg yolks were not as runny as we would have liked. 
Breakfast dishes also come with toast, and I chose sourdough since it's just as legendary as sourdough from San Francisco. Each table has a jar of homemade jam, and we enjoyed the strawberry flavor. I love the homey touches of this popular local eatery.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Raspberry with Chocolate Jam

I just finished making a small batch of Christine Ferber's raspberry with chocolate jam. It was incredibly messy after walking away from the stove for 2 minutes resulting in my biggest kitchen mess ever. Thank goodness this wasn't my own kitchen. Considering the very small yield, itt was also incredibly expensive to get organic raspberries and top notch bittersweet chocolate. In the end, it was so worth it, and I am a jam snob for life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Trophy Cupcakes

On a sunny August day, I found myself near one of Seattle's three Trophy Cupcake locations. The shop was cute as can be and carried a lot of cupcake themed merchandise like cute notepads and various cupcake toppers.

Like many cupcake shops, a few staple flavors are available daily, some flavors are available on a rotating basis, and one flavor is featured for one monthly only. Anything that is available on a limited basis draws me in first. Being that both Aaron and I love blueberries, the blueberry pie was a no-brainer and the first flavor I chose. We also love lemonade, especially strawberry lemonade, so that was next. Since the cupcake box had room for 2 more, I opted for the for chocolate espresso bean. It just doesn't seem right to leave a bakery without something chocolatey, right?

I'm such a sucker for cute packaging, and specialty bakeries never seem to let me down in this department. Stripes, scalloped edges, and one of my favorite color combinations of brown and aqua put a big grin across my face before I even took a bite of its scrumptious contents!

Thankfully, these cupcakes and packaging were not just for show. They fully lived up to their presentation. They were moist, tender, beautifully decorated, and bold in flavor. Biting into the tender vanilla cupcake revealed a fresh blueberry filling. The cupcake was lined with a flaky pie crust. The frosting had just the right amount of sweetness. The strawberry lemonade was the perfect marriage where neither flavor dominated. The chocolate espresso bean was another match made in heaven. I really liked that the frosting on all three cupcakes were light, fluffy, and well balanced.

Later in the week, I found myself near another Trophy Cupcake location. Since it was just an hour before closing, they marked down the cupcakes to buy one get one free! I couldn't resist a deal, so I opted for another blueberry pie, peanut butter and jelly, salted caramel, and samoa. I must have been taking some crazy turns on the drive home because the box flew off the back seat and took a somersault onto the floor. I should've snapped a picture of my disaster just for laughs, but I was too ashamed of my crazy driving. The flavors were great and actually kept until the next day or two without getting dry, crusty, or hard. The only letdown among these four was the peanut butter and jelly. The homemade strawberry jam was too sweet, and there was too much frosting. I also didn't find the peanut butter flavor to be pronounced enough. I would not recommend this flavor.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blueberry corn relish

Using our freshly picked blueberries, I made local Seattleite Chef Tom Douglas' recipe for a blueberry corn relish. I paired it with his signature rub with love on fresh, sockeye salmon. Thanks to my sorority sister, April, for introducing me to this rub. The rub includes brown sugar, which caramelizes nicely as the salmon cooks. I omitted the red bell pepper from the relish, and I don't think it was missed. The relish was sweet, crunchy, and savory all at the same time. I enjoyed the leftover relish with some corn chips, but it was perfectly delicious straight out of the bowl. It was a lovely Pacific Northwest dinner for the late summer evening.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bluberry picking

As I packed up for the road trip cross country, I decided to skip canning in 2012. I quickly regretted that choice after seeing the bountiful produce here in the Pacific Northwest. For my first summer canning project, I decided to go blueberry picking. I've always wanted to go blueberry picking, but the season is short in Midwest, and very, very hot. It's also not very convenient to find a u-pick farm near the city. Imagine my excitement when I learned that I could pick blueberries at a farm just 20 minutes from our West Seattle apartment!

Aaron and I picked blueberries for about an hour, which yielded 4.3 pounds! We used the blueberries for eating, freezing, and canning. For my two canning projects, I made blueberry aigre doux and blueberry jam. I haven't tasted them yet, but I will certainly blog about it when we open the jars.