Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Squid and Ink

1128 S. Albro St
Seattle, WA 98108
(206) 763-2696

Squid and Ink is a vegan restaurant a little bit out of the 9lb through Georgetown Liquor company Georgetown stretch, but is close by and well worth a trip. The decor of the place is kind of artsy punk, with cushy vinyl booths and slightly sticky tables. The art on the wall was of the spraypaint/stencil variety when I was there but probably changes. The waiter was a friendly guy and explained to the lady sitting behind us that no matter what it says on the menu (cheez, chick'n, fish, etc) absolutely everything that they serve is indeed vegan.

The menu was full of really interesting dishes, many of which I'd always coveted and wished I could try in the meat world. Amongst these was poutine, the Canadian comfort food of fries covered with cheese curds and gravy, which I very much wanted to try but wasn't quite hungry enough to order as an appetizer, and not quite drunk enough to order as dinner.

I ended up ordering a version of Chicken Fried Steak that was made of a lightly fried seitan steak covered with gloppy but good vegetarian gravy, and came served with a pile of exquisitely browned thick cut seasoned french fries (a deep brown/orange color on the outside, but still soft and potato-y inside), and some well seasoned pan-fried vegis. The whole meal came on a large flat plate and the ample quantity was beautifully presented. I was pleased that the food wasn't overly salted... I was part-way expecting the usually-with-meat recipes to coax me into loving them with extra salt, but it didn't seem that they needed to employ that trick.

My dining partner ordered something and only after the meal did we realize that he was served and had eaten the wrong dish altogether. No bother, what he had was good too. I don't know what it would have been called, but consisted of a bed of tomato-y Mexican rice with some fake chicken triangles on top drizzled with what seemed like chipotle sour cream (or course, not really cream), a pile of the pan fried vegis, and a little spinach salad dressed with the same creamy sauce. It too was all beautifully presented and completely filling.

An appealing detail inside the restaurant is a condiment table loaded with the usual ketchup and Tabasco, but also an impressive selection of other hot sauces to take back to your table and use.

Dinner was filling and satisfying, and we decided to try to keep the good times going with dessert. The two choices were a big slice of chocolate cake, or a slice of peanut butter chocolate cheesecake with a hint of banana. Unfortunately I went into the mode that my sister describes as "always making the grossest choice available", and ordered the cheesecake. As could be expected, it left something to be desired... I am a serious cheesecake (genuine, with cream cheese and cream) lover to the degree that I don't even like to have it adulterated with strawberries, and had unrealistic expectations for this slice. In reality it seemed to be made along the lines of mashed tofu bound with peanut butter and banana and drizzled with a thin and sweet and fruity (not in a good way) chocolate sauce, and I shouldn't have expected anything similar to the real deal. I bet the chocolate cake was good though, a real vegan chocolate cake is plausible and their slice was tall and frosted high.

I've heard people complain about the service... that it takes too long to get their food and that the service was inattentive. I found the service to be plenty friendly and attentive, and the wait for the food felt like what I'd expect for a fresh cooked meal. It the restaurant was busier, I could indeed see the wait possibly getting long, but so what... just go in there prepared to relax, drink a tallboy PBR, and remember that there is probably a small kitchen and that the wait for a delicious and unusual vegan meal is worth it.

The Squid and Ink breakfast menu looks awesome... good looking tofu scrambles and french toast and all of the wonderful breakfast treats. I look forward to trying it out sometime.

It sounds like they have live music shows some evenings... mostly punk bands but that they are experimenting with other types of music too.
Squid & Ink in Seattle

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fana's Cuisine

3621 33rd Ave. S.
Suites C5 and C6
Seattle, WA 98144
Phone: 206-708-7417

Just north of the Rainier Court Safeway complex on Rainier ave is a huge new apartment complex with retail space on the bottom. One day I saw a banner for a restaurant called "Fana's Cuisine" that advertised "spicy spaghetti" strung out to face Rainier. I wasn't sure what this meant, but it reminded me of the spectacular spicy sauced spaghetti I'd eaten in the Caribbean (nothing at all like the Italian version...), and I was totally intrigued. Took a while to remember to actually go there though... it is more or less out of view while driving down Rainier (it is located on the S. Side of the Courtland Place at Rainier Court apartments), and I tend to be reminded too late when I catch a glimpse of a sign.

But I went today, and had a wonderful experience even considering I didn't really eat. The restaurant is roomy and clean with natural light streaming into big plate glass windows. It was empty aside from one man at the counter ordering food to go, and I was greeted sweetly by the girl at the cash register in her beautiful rolling accent. A quick glance through the menu showed some interesting dishes... some delicious looking Ethiopian/Eritrean standards, but also a sort of out-of-place section of pizzas and Italian style pasta. It turned out that the sign I'd seen was advertising two separate items... Spicy food, and Spaghetti. I asked the girl behind the counter what she'd recommend for a vegetarian, and thus began the really remarkable part of the encounter: She was really friendly and kind and asked me whether I was a strict vegetarian (IE, no chicken broth) and proceeded to tell me that just about all of their "vegetarian" dishes currently contain chicken stock BUT that they want to go truly vegetarian and are in the process of experimenting with various vegetarian broths and stocks to find one that they feel meets their expectations for taste in the various dishes. She says that they should have a variety of truly vegetarian specialties in a week or two.

As we talked I came to understand a little bit about who was who... the woman in the kitchen was actually Fana (Isn't it wonderful when the namesake of a restaurant actually exists and cooks there?), and the girl at the counter her daughter. The man ordering food to go was Fana's husband.

The place smelled delicious, and as I stood there Fana put forth a tray of steaming hot pastries filled with some sort of savory filling.

I think this is another restaurant suffering from a difficult location... it's hard to notice from the street, and probably doesn't see many walk in visitors (hopefully people from the apartments above know about it...). It sounds like they will soon be starting live music on certain days, in hopes of bringing in more of a crowd.

The owners and their daughter are the sort of people you just want to succeed... they were so kind and engaging and seem really passionate about their food. They sent me on my way with a symbolic sampling of the true vegetarian things they have right now: a green salad with small cut Romain, tomatoes, onion, some kind of really pleasing and extremely mild white cheese, and a tasty vinaigrette, a pile of buttery yellow rice, and a pile of seasoned Bulgar wheat, and I left them with an eager promise to come back hungry in a couple of weeks.

This review is premature, I know... I haven't really tasted much of what they have to offer, but I left the restaurant feeling so good... refreshed on the goodness of people in general that I wanted to write about it. I am really excited about re-visting again in a little while and being able to put tongue to the fantastic smelling dishes cooking away in the kitchen.

(to be cont.)
Fana's Cuisine in Seattle

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cafe Vita, Seward Park

5028 Wilson Ave. S
Seattle, WA 98118
(206) 721-0111

I was really surprised to be really pleased with the food at Cafe Vita. Instead of the more common vegetarian option of the caprese-family greasy panini I've come to associate with an afternoon at a coffeeshop (tasty, but ugh, eaten in conjunction with sitting in front of my computer for hours makes me feel like I need some exercise), the Seward Park Cafe Vita (maybe the others too, I don't know yet...) has employed a refrigerated case next to the pastries that holds a wonderful assortment of healthy vegetarian goodies. There are a bunch of sandwiches that are along the lines of tuna/egg salad when I checked, but more interesting are the pre-prepared meals of dishes like sesame noodles with tofu, and steamed broccoli and various greens with chunks of stirfried tofu (this is the one that I had) . Also in the case is a selection of the extremely delicious (but certainly not low-fat) Greek God yogurt in flavours like fig and honey. It felt so good to have a reasonable meal in a setting like this. I felt full and healthy and happy after eating.

So healthy and happy, in fact, that I felt downright good about the next phase of sustenance, the vegan brownie. Many of the Cafe Vita pastries are vegan, and they always look wonderfully tempting and I've purchased the frosted brownie on multiple occasions always hoping that perhaps *this time* it will be as good as it looks. Unfortunately, it has never fully satisfied... I've certainly eaten some tasty vegan baked goods, so can't necessarily blame the blah on the missing butter. But there is something missing, and I think I've learned my lesson in that department for a while.

It's probably better anyway to focus on the real food, because it is a real treat. Thank you Cafe Vita!

Caffe Vita Coffee Roasting Company in Seattle

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Vegan Garden

1228 S Jackson St
Seattle, WA 98144
(206) 726-8669

The lit-sign for the Vegan Garden beckons from the intersection of Jackson and Rainier at the east end of the International district. I notice it every time I pass by, but never fully believed that its promise would be true, and part of me even wondered whether there was even a restaurant associated with the sign. Found out this evening, and was delightfully surprised to turn into the parking lot sandwiched between two buildings, and find not only a real restaurant but some easy off street parking.

The feel inside the restaurant was large, open and clean. It looked like it tapered a bit towards the back, so there was possibly some cozier seating back there. We ordered our food to go, and the waiter was really friendly and offered water and tea while we waited.

The menu is huge, vegan, leans towards but not entirely to the Vietnamese end of the asian food spectrum, and includes all sorts of fake meats. I tend to shy away from most of the fake meats in these circumstances... not so much for reasons of principle as I just prefere the taste and texture of tofu. We ordered the Shredded tofu rolls and Mongolian Tofu. The Mongolian Tofu comes standard with deep fried tofu, but a substitution for soft tofu was no problem. There was the choice of white or brown rice.

The shredded tofu rolls were exceptionally tasty... full of thin tofu strip fried in some sort of delicious way so that they had a wonderful crunch and rich nuttyness, and a large bunch of dark green lettuce that poofed out one end like a fanciful tubeworm. They came with a sweet pineapple dipping sauce that had a bit of a smoky taste, as if some fake ham had been stewed in it. It was sweeter than what I generally like in a sauce like this, and I ended up just dipping the rolls into a little soy sauce, which was delicious.

The Mongolian tofu was unfortunatly a bit of a dissapointment. I know that anytime I request soft tofu in a dish that usually comes fried, I am sacrificeing some deliciousness and loosing some of the intent of the dish, so I should allow a little bit of softness in my assessment. Regardless, the tofu itself was actually my favorite kind... really soft and silky, almost the texture of firm jello (as opposed to the pourous, slightly spongy stuff you buy in the tub at the grocery store), so I appreciated that. In addition to the tofu were a few red bellpepper slices, and a bed of little whitish-clear fried noodles. The sauce was the unfortunate part... it fell into the sweet and oily category instead of my preference, the salty and spicy category. I initially look a dip into the sauce with my finger, and it came out with a coating of what tasted like pure canola oil. After I mixed it all together, I added some sriracha and a little bit of soy sauce (not the best of circumstances when the excessive sweetness begs excessive saltyness....), and it was edible, but not something I'd order again.

In retrospect, I probably should have ordered something different. I am a sucker for good soft tofu cooked in a spicy sauce, and often look past other intrigueing options to attempt to satisfy this. Some of the other menu options I look forward to ordering sometime are: lotus root salad, tofu congee, tofu curry, spicy tofu noodle soup, and the tofu pho.

While I was not thrilled with my main dish, I'm not ready to write this place off yet. Going to have to go back...
Vegan Garden in Seattle