Monday, August 31, 2009

Hot Mama's Pizza

Hot Mama's Pizza, which is open late, is located a few blocks west of Broadway on Pine and is thus especially well suited to satisfy late night, drunken hunger.

The shop is small, and after you order your slices (about $2.25 each), you can either take them on a paper plate out into the action of the street or stand inside at a crowded standing-only bar. The ambiance isn't really the point.

The pizza is pretty good in the sense that it tends to be thin, hot and cheesy with a nice crisp crust. They tend to have many vegetarian pizzas going earlier in the evening (mixed veggie, pesto, etc), but my experience has been that plain cheese dominates in the later hours. Far as I can tell, there is nothing suitable for a vegan.

I wouldn't go so far as to say it is the best pizza in the city, or even Capital Hill, and the quality of the slice varies pretty significantly depending upon whether it has been sitting or is fresh from the oven, BUT it has many of the qualities I like in pizza: a thin crust that is crisp but not crackery, plentyful but not oozing or overwhelming amounts of bubbled lightly browned cheese, and interesting toppings (hot peppers, fresh basil, etc). Hot Mama's manages to squarely hit the "after dinner" hunger and a couple of slices is a mighty fine nightcap.

Thanks K for yet another outstanding job as phone photographer.

Hot Mama's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 28, 2009

Long Provincial

I recently went to Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant and Jelly Bar, the sister venture of the Tamarind Tree folks. Upon first entrance, it was very clear that the location was meant to be somewhat hip and upscale. The restaurant was dark and ornate and had modern fire pits and an aquarium wall full of jellyfish that divided the bar from the restaurant.

We had a large party and got a reasonable sampling of the menu (most were meat eaters). I think the general consensus was that the food was similar to, exactly the same as, or a little bit less good than Tamarind Tree. And similar to the Tamarind Tree, the huge menu seemed to contain quite a few vegetarian/vegan options (considerately marked with a symbol for easy locating.)

The table started with a couple of orders of the vegetarian spring rolls, and they were really delicious. I tend to really like it when spring rolls include a little bit of something crunchy and deep fried in the roll, and these were a great execution of that. I also really really appreciate a vegan dipping sauce that is savory instead of sweet, and that detail was also well done.
I ordered the Lemongrass Tofu noodle bowl, and it was fine. The fresh tofu had a good grilled flavor, but could have used some time in a marinade given the quantity of tofu (lots). It definitely required more sauce (which was, in a similar way to Tamarind Tree, vegan and really really tasty) than what initially came with it, but the waitress anticipated this and offered before I could ask.
The other vegetarian also ordered a noodle bowl, but he ordered the first class version that included shitake mushrooms, okra, fake shrimp, eggrolls, etc piled on top of the noodles and vegetables. He said the mushrooms were especially delicious, but that the shrimp weren't all that interesting. I wonder if the growing popularity of the somewhat weird but beautiful realistically painted fake shrimp is reinforcing itself based upon flashy restaurant ego rather than on actual deliciousness or customer enjoyment.
Overall, I'd say that the food didn't especially stand out, but it certainly wasn't bad. The meat eaters did comment that their beef dish was really delicious, and I did appreciate the plentiful vegetarian options. The atmosphere was definitely "downtown," which might be a useful attribute in certain company.

Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant & Jelly Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tom Yum Koong

I was recently in West Seattle looking for a Thai restaurant open past 9pm, and came upon Tom Yum Koong on California Ave.

The waitress was friendly and patiently went through the menu with me, interfacing with the kitchen, trying to find something vegetarian (or vegan, as I tend to eat in Asian restaurants). Unfortunately (but not uncommonly), many of the dishes (curries, anything with peanut sauce, soups, etc) already had some sort of non-veggie item included. We ended up with what appeared to be the three dishes that can be vegan: Phad Kee Mao with tofu, Green Beans with tofu, and Tofu salad. Two of these were relative duds, and the third was a great shining star.

The Phad Kee Mao was edible but not spectacular. Probably would have been significantly enhanced by the presence of some non-vegan flavoring.

The green beans, unfortunately, were definitely of the fishy persuasion and I didn't eat them. (Meat eating dining companions didn't complain).

The surprise of the evening was the spectacular Tofu Salad. It came in a huge iceberg lettuce bowl and contained crunchy chopped iceberg, fresh herbs, onion, and tiny rectangles of deep fried tofu that exploded in the the most exquisite bursts of intense salty lime flavor. I had never had anything quite like this before and it was so incredibly delicious.

Some restaurants, like the fantastic Tawan Thai in Fremont, are really set up for vegan cooking, and know how to include and enhance the flavors of Thai cooking without using meat products, but most Thai restaurants simply omit the meat flavors at a vegan request and the result is an oily bland blah. Tom Yum Koong just isn't set up for the vegan/vegetarian crowd, can't really fault them for that.

One small thing I can fault them for is giving us the much dreaded table side spice assessment. We ordered 3 out of 4 stars, and the food came without any detectable spice at all. I'd imagine the kitchen played it safe because of all of my vegan requests. Fortunately they had the standard (I get a warm and loving feeling thinking about it) spice trays with ground dried chili, chili paste, and jalapenos soaked in fish sauce, and the meal was salvaged with these.

Tom Yum Koong on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Pink Door

I have been waiting for years to go to The Pink Door at Pike Place Market, but hadn't gotten around to it until finally recently, when the added impetus of hearing the gypsy jazz/swing band Trio À Propos inspired the actualization.

The restaurant itself is lovely- there is a huge outdoor patio and the inside is at once romantic and lively. Soon after being seated, we were given a half loaf of fresh rustic bread, and (a detail that impressed me), some high quality olive oil for dipping with a handful of green olives luxuriating in the pool.

The Pink Door isn't exactly a vegetarian mecca. The vegetarian main choices on the menu are pretty scant; in addition to salads and veggie sides (roasted potatoes, grilled veggies, etc), there are just a tiny handful of vegetarian dishes, including a lasagna and a polenta.

We started with the beet salad, which came with roasted beets, arugula, walnuts, and Gorgonzola (for which I substituted fresh mozzarella). It was a tasty and satisfying combination. It was definitely at "fancy salad" prices, but that goes with the territory I suppose.

For a main dish, I ordered the vegetarian lasagna, which was strongly recommended by one of my dining companions, who had formed an obsessive memory of it after eating it years ago and falling in gustatory love.

And it really was that good. Part of the beauty of it was its simplicity- there were no slimy vegetable chunks to contend with. Instead, there were layers of velvety, toothy fresh spinach noodles, a heavenly creamy bechamel sauce, and then on top, a perfectly savory tomato sauce. Again, it was relatively expensive (I think $17 for a single portion), but my goodness, it was delicious.

For dessert we ordered some sort of salted caramel chocolate tarte, which, though thoroughly consumed, wasn't particularly noteworthy.

It was an evening of good music, good food, good company and good ambiance. I am so glad to have finally checked it out!

Pink Door on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Empire Espresso

Empire Espresso in Columbia City is now open in earnest and I recently spent the first of what I hope to be many afternoons working away on my computer while Tino, the friendly coffeeshop visionary and barrista served me up delicious food and drinks.

Tino has three paninis on the menu (and a seasonal variety to be announced), including a very satisfying vegetarian sandwich layered with roasted red peppers, a thick pack of fresh spinach, salty feta with the option of horseradish on delicious rosemary bread from Macrina bakery. In addition to the veggie sandwich, he has one with turkey, one with salami, and a $3 breakfast panini with eggs and Havarti. He also has vegan donuts from Mighty-O, and some tasty looking chewy sesame seed pastries that I look forward to tasting next time around, and the rumor of both sweet and savory scones coming soon from Macrina.

Warm, crisp toasty panini with plenty of tasty fillings

On this particular day of record breaking temperatures, I decided to go the route of people in hot climates all over the world and beat the heat with more heat in the form of a cayenne mocha. Let me say: I love heat, both on my tongue and on my body… and this drink was the perfect blend of shaved bittersweet chocolate and just enough cayenne to fill my insides with a delightful swell of warmth.

Cayenne mocha, made, to my great pleasure, without the common touch Cinnamon

Tino is highly conscious of the relationships he builds with both his customers and other local merchants and really strives to do everything the best way he can. He gets his coffee from Seattle Coffee Works, his teas from Teahouse Kuan Yin, the chocolate for his mochas and hot chocolate from Chocolati, his baked goods from Macrina and Mighty-O, etc. The result is a well thought out, delicious menu that feels both socially responsible and well connected to the community. Tino's vision includes keeping his prices low, and once he becomes established, donating a percentage of his profits to local charities.

Delectable slivers of melty Chocolati chocolate in the final most coveted (and saddest) sip

I know there has been some discussion about whether this part of the city needs more coffeeshops, and I'd argue that we are actually lacking in dedicated coffeeshops and that this place is a welcome and needed addition in that way. I really appreciate having another local spot (other than Cafe Vita, which I also very much appreciate) with an environment conducive to normal coffeeshop style staying- staying to sip, staying to chat, and in my case, staying a couple of hours to compute (there are plenty of outlets, and a dedicated WIFI connection).

I am thrilled about the emergence of Empire Espresso, and sure hope it succeeds!

Empire Espresso
(206) 659-0588
Columbia City
3829 S Edmunds St
Seattle, WA 98118

Empire Espresso on Urbanspoon

Written 7/16/09

It was with great pleasure that I discovered the emergence of a new coffee shop in Columbia City: Empire Espresso in the old Villa Victoria space.

It isn't quite fully opened yet (the grand opening is set to be Monday July 27, 2009), but they generously and temporarily opened their doors today with free iced coffees as part of the Light Rail celebrations.

I am really excited about this place! For starters, the space is going to be lovely. Today, with the grand opening still over a week away, wood was still unfinished and the walls still bare, but the bones were clean, light, modern and with the chic industrial flavor of a coffee shop owned by somebody with architects in the family (as is the case here). A cool detail is that the long narrow space opens via a giant windowed garage door at the back end to a quiet, off street courtyard with outside tables and chairs.

Still in the finishing stages of construction, but mighty promising!

The consumables hold just as much promise: the coffee is roasted by Seattle Coffee Works, donuts will be from the delicious (and vegan!) Mighty-O, and there is a heavy duty panini press waiting to be brought into service. Tino, the friendly and engaging owner is still ironing out the details of his menu, and is open to talking to customers about what they want to see.

I'll write again once these guys open their doors for real, but wanted to post a heads up in the meantime. I just love seeing good and inspired people following their dreams in the world of independant food and drinking establishments, and have high hopes for this one!

The sweet friendly face of Tino, the owner, barista, coffee aficionado and passionate mastermind of a great neighborhood hangout. Go say hello!

Empire Espresso
(206) 659-0588
Columbia City
3829 S Edmunds St
Seattle, WA 98118
(blog documenting the progress of the cafe, real website to come later)

Empire Espresso on Urbanspoon