Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Hi Life

Some friends and I recently went to eat at Hi Life, a restaurant located in the old Ballard firehouse. The ambiance was neat: spacious and rustic but clean, and it was possible to imagine the building's earlier life. It was a little bit classier than we had expected, but the food looked good and there were plenty of vegetarian options, so we stayed.

The menu changes frequently, and I ordered small items to make a meal. I ordered a slice of beet sweet potato tarte, and a plate of broccolini.

The tarte had some wonderful ingredients, but wasn't the most logical preparation. On top of the crust was a layer of mashed sweet potato, and on top of that were slices of beets. The mashed sweet potato atop the crust provided a confusing texture that made it feel like the crust was uncooked. The slice of tart was sitting in a pool of tasty red pepper aioli and a small pile of dressed mixed greens. All of the flavours were good, and the presentation was pleasing, but the situation with the textures was weird enough that I wouldn't order it again.
The plate of broccolini exceeded my expectations in terms of quantity, and it came (perhaps slightly undercooked for so much broccolini stem) seasoned with one of my favorite ways to season broccoli: garlic and red pepper flakes.

The two others eating vegetarian ordered various ravioli. It appear that the Hi Life has a rotating and changing fleet of vegetarian ravioli. The birthday boy ordered a plate of some sort of cheese ravioli that came covered in a light tomato and pumpkin seed sauce. He had no complaints and was particularly surprised and pleased at the pumpkin seeds.
The other vegetarian ordered the fried goat cheese ravioli. She had no problem eating them, but said that give the particular details ("fried" "goat cheese" "ravioli") she was expecting them to be some level of sublime that they just weren't.
Overall I'd say the Hi Life is a good option for a north end fancyish dinner for a combination of omnivores and vegetarians because everybody will find something interesting and satisfying. I didn't find the food to be stellar enough to want to go back by myself, but it is always good to have an arsenal of places that are reasonable for both types of eaters.

They do have a really good looking Happy Hour (5-6:30, M-F, and 10-close every night) with deals like $3 woodfired pizzas. I would definitely be interested in checking this out, especially because the wood fired pizza oven was underutilized by our group on our particular night, but it looks like the sort of oven that would crank out really good pizza.

Thanks J for the pictures, and Happy Birthday C!

Hi Life
(206) 784-7272
5425 Russell Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107

Hi-Life on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Assimba is another of the Ethiopian restaurants on the "Little Ethiopia" stretch on East Cherry Street in the Central District.
Don't be mislead by the window bars: inside the restaurant it is bright and clean and homey

Met some friends who live nearby for dinner, and we started with a vegetarian platter. It came with two types of what first seemed to be lentils/split peas (but were described by the waitress as split garbanzo beans), collard greens, a green salad and a pile of curried cabbage and potatoes. In addition to this, we were served two heaping plates of loosely folded warm injera.
Rollin' up the sleeves!

The food was really good, and was notably not-too-salty. When asked, I couldn't pinpoint either a favorite or a least favorite dish, which means to me that it was all tasty. It was delicious without being too spicy, but there was a shaker of a delectable salty spice on the table that one could shake on to add more salt or heat.

Our first platter wasn't quite enough food to fill us all, so we ordered an entree of garbanzo bean paste, which came out of the kitchen piping hot. The waitress, who was really sweet, ladled it onto the injera and it looked like glossy peanut sauce.

I would definitely go back to Assimba. I am so happy to have found a good Ethiopian restaurant that doesn't overkill with the salt. Even their injera, which was delightfully sour, was reasonably salted.
In honor of one of the ultimate herbivores, one dining companion wore this horse-tooth clip-on man-earring, made by an artist friend from the remains of one of his beloved horses.

As usual with Ethiopian food, it was really easy to eat here as a vegetarian. A large part of the menu is devoted to vegetables and legumes, and it is easy to get a well balanced meal without meat.

Revision regarding vegan food: I just received a comment from The Gastrognome, and she points out something that I didn't know about Ethiopian food, which is that it is often made with nitter kibe, a clarified butter. She also mentions that Saba will cook vegetarian items with olive oil if you request that they do so. Good info!

Assimba Ethiopian Cuisine
(206) 322-1019
2722 E Cherry St
Seattle, WA 98122

Assimba Ethiopian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Il Fornaio

I recently found myself downtown alone and hungry late at night, and I decided to venture into Il Fornaio, a restaurant open later than most, for a fancy solo dinner.

The menu had many vegetarian choices, including salads, pasta, gnocchi, and risottos (an apparent specialty). I was seated in sort of a strange place: right next to a couple who were the only other people in the west region of the restaurant. The woman was nestled inches from me on a bench seat, and I felt like her Siamese twin, stuck off kilter to her side, trying to behave and make myself scarce while she/we was on a date.

The meal started with a large plate of salty, soft focaccia and a plate of odd tasting olive oil. The olive oil had a rotten sort of flavour, and I tried to convince myself that it was just very green, but I'm not sure I totally believed it.
All for me??

I ordered the Doroto risotto. I am not technically qualified to judge risotto, but I know what I like: fat, succulent, distinct grains of rice in a silky, creamy sauce. The risotto here didn't quite meet these standards. I found the rice to be slightly undercooked, more undercooked than what I'd consider reasonable, even under the pretense of sophistication. I suppose this shouldn't have come as much of a shock considering the relatively short wait before my meal was brought to the table.
Spied this half eaten and abandoned cake at another table. Be classy girlfriend, don't even think about it!

The risotto did have may interesting vegetables in it, including asparagus, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, onion, roasted garlic, and zucchini, and the bites that included any of these were entertaining and tasty. But bites without these were on the plain side, and forced my imagination to stay sharp in order to prevent me from slipping into the buyers remorse that could be expected from eating a big pile of expensive, plain, undercooked rice.
One thing that I was exceptionally pleased over, however, was that the risottos made without meat were made with vegetable stock (rather than chicken stock). This was a surprising and excellent detail that I really appreciated.

For dessert, perhaps in celebration/mourning for the fresh loss of my twin and my new status as complete loner in the west side of the restaurant, I decided to have an after dinner drink. I landed upon Lemoncello: sweet, tongue numbing lemoncello. It was lemony and strong but without a hint of pithy bitterness.
There were a few things that I noted as I ate:
1. Free hors d'oeuvres are served during their nightly happy hour. This is exciting, and a detail and was probably hibernating someplace in my brain.
2. The restaurant seemed to have many out of town guests cashing in on hotel meal vouchers
and, upon leaving...
3. Doh! This was a big faux-fancy restaurant chain! I somehow missed the listing of alternate locations when I entered. Saw it when I exited. Now I know.

I think I might be interested in visiting again for happy hour, but was not exactly dazzled enough to go back full price.

Il Fornaio
(206) 264-0994
600 Pine St
Seattle, WA 98101

Il Fornaio on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kidd Valley

Kidd Valley provides the opportunity for vegetarians to partake in the world of fast food, which can be fun sometimes, like on a summer day at Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton. This park really is amazing... lots to see and do, including an appealing network of docks and floating decks to walk/hangout on/eat on, and a huge lifeguarded swim area that provides a very long protected area for beginner open water swimmers to get used to the deep water.

The vegetarian can order a veggie burger. They usually use Garden Burger brand, the cashier explained, but are currently using Boca because there is some sort of Garden Burger shortage. She was sure to warn me because a Boca burger can look like meat to the unsuspecting.

Also had a basket of garlic fries, which had the kind of yucky flavour of old oil, but eh, have to admit I ate them anyway. Blame it on the sunshine and the distractingly nice day.
Although I didn't partake on this particular day, Kidd Valley also provides a couple of my favorite milkshake flavours: banana, and vanilla malt. The vanilla malt actually has little crunchy malty bits in it and is delicious.

I don't eat much fast food, but have noticed the few times I have been to Kidd Valley in the recent years that the quality varies wildly. Sometimes food is fresh and tasty, sometimes just old and greasy. But on a nice day at the beach, the quality mattered less to me than it might have otherwise, and I enjoyed being able to sit with my friends and eat along side them. As always, I appreciate Kidd Valley providing a vegetarian option.

Kidd Valley
Gene Coulon Park 1201 Lake Washington Blvd N
Renton, WA 98056
(425) 277-3324

Kidd Valley on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 8, 2008


Suddenly hungry for sushi, a dining companion and I were recently lured into Kozue in Wallingford by a street sign advertising $1 rolls. The waitress presented us with a paper listing their $1 options, and we were to mark on it how many of each we wanted.

There were quite a few vegetarian options, and we ordered avocado rolls, cucumber rolls, pickled radish rolls, inari, and a tuna roll for my friend. There were no tofu rolls on the $1 menu.

When the sushi came it was impressive looking on a large platter. But it really wasn't all that great: the rice was sort of too wet, and as a result the nori was chewy and tough and gummy.
I appreciated the un-dyed ginger

The avocado rolls were the clear hit because the avocado was the dominant ingredient. The cucumber rolls were overwhelmed by the mouthful of hard-to-chew nori, and the radish rolls were inconsistent: some were just fine, others were filled with very woody textured, hard to chew innards. The inari was so-so, again, I found the rice to be too wet and overall too sweet. My friend had a hard time eating the tuna rolls in the hot sun. It didn't help that I accidentally ordered her 2 rolls, or 12 pieces of this particular type.

Of course the price was right. I wouldn't expect a great pride taken in the $1 rolls, and I appreciated the deal aspect of this place. We both agreed that it would have been an awesome deal and experience had we just stayed with the avocado rolls.

1608 N 45th St
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 547-2008

Kozue Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thai Ginger

Ever since I had some exquisite homemade vegetarian Phad Kee Mao a few years ago, it has been my Thai restaurant staple, and the dish by which I tend to judge a Thai restaurant and their ability to adapt to the very un-Thai vegetarian request of "no fish sauce please."

And for quite some time, I had found my Phad Kee Mao heaven at Thai Ginger in Madison Park. For starters, they are sensitive to what it means to make a dish "vegan*" and know that this includes omitting both eggs and fish sauce. Second, they have nice simple outdoor seating that is set apart from the street, but is close enough to stay interesting.

And third, the Phad Kee Mao was delicious: Fat rice noodles, steamed broccoli, charred tomatoes, stir fried onions and bell peppers, in a smoky, garlicky, limey, spicy, fried basil sauce.

But the last couple of times I've eaten there, the food hasn't been so great.
It looks good, but...

The Phad Kee Mao has morphed into the unfortunate greasy little brother that disappoints from so many other Thai Restaurants in the city, the good flavours all gone and left instead are sloppy oily noodles flavored mostly with soy sauce.

Good news is that they do have a couple little spice trays, and I was able to salvage the meal with some smoky ground red pepper.
That's going to be a hot bite!

We ordered Thai Iced tea on this occasion, and it was deliciously sweet and earthy, but so straw-dyeingly orange that I suspect it came from a powder instead of a leaf.
I used to really love this place, and I guess I'm not ready to completely write it off yet. But my feelings towards it have not been helped by its slow transgression into "fancy" Thai restaurant prices. It is just the price of food/rent increasing? Or are they taking advantage of the fact that they are located in a wealthy neighborhood with just one Thai restaurant?

Whatever they were doing before, I wish they'd do it again!

*I'm not vegan, but I don't usually eat eggs outside of baked goods

Thai Ginger
1841 42nd Ave E
Seattle, WA 98112
(206) 324-6467

Thai Ginger on Urbanspoon