Monday, October 29, 2012

Empire Espresso

It has been years since I first reviewed Empire Espresso, the now thriving Columbia City coffee shop and neighborhood hangout. In that time, I more or less transitioned out of my previous line of work (the work that brought me and my laptop to coffee shops for hours at a time), and I sort of forgot about many of my favorite old haunts, including Empire.

That is, until recently, when some neighborhood friends rented the space (including the outside courtyard) for their absolutely gorgeous wedding reception. And at a point at this reception, late in the evening when the guests were euphoric with good wine and the stars of the late summer night, the ever handsome Tino came through the crowd with his fresh, hot, cornmeal waffles.

I don't usually get excited about standard breakfast foods, but the taste I had the night of the reception inspired a recent Saturday morning return. The waffles are a delightful dimension of the evolution of Empire Espresso. Now, in addition to doughnuts and freshly pressed paninis, Empire cranks out slightly sweet, slightly salty, cornmeal waffles all day long. On the weekdays, they have a standard menu with both sweet and savory toppings. On the weekends, diners dress the waffles themselves from a high quality topping bar (butter, strawberries, syrup, cinnamon and sugar, shredded coconut, bananas, etc).

Empire Espresso also continues to make one of my favorite coffee drinks, the cayenne mocha. It is made with good chocolate and includes just enough heat to create a slowly building warmth.

How wonderful!

Empire Espresso on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 22, 2012


There is a new fine dining option on Vashon Island: Nirvana (recently revamped with new decor and a new global menu to replace its previous Indian menu). I had the recent pleasure of dining out here with two lovely family members who live on the island. We began with drinks. The two ordered white wine and I ordered a rose mojito, which was a beautiful shade of pink and had the not-too-sweet flavor of a cocktail made with fresh lime juice and real mint. Also on the table was this unusual appetizer of hard bread sticks in a small stemmed glass of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

True to my standard tendency, I ordered contrary to every instinct I had and ultimately chose poorly. The reason for this poor choice was that, while there were many tasty sounding vegetarian dishes on the menu (pasta with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella, curries, veggie burger, tabbouleh, salads), the vegan, gluten-free, roasted vegetable tamale with homemade mole just sounded like the vegetarian pièce de résistance. And even though I wasn't in the mood, and I often don't like restaurant mole, and every ounce of my being protested, I ordered it.

And it was not so great. Unfortunately, the tamale itself was a rather large and dense role of polenta that, rather than encasing a delicious interior filling, was simply speckled with small bits of what I presume to have been the roasted vegetables. The mole itself spared itself my usual complaint of "too sweet," and had a rich and relatively balanced flavor (though a bit heavy on the salt). The salsa on top was tasty, but the avocado promised on the menu was absent.  For the price of this meal ($14), I would have really appreciated a small pile of beans (also for a little added protein), and maybe some sauteed greens or veggies or something to break up the monotony of the polenta log.

All that said, both of my dining companions ordered the Tandoori chicken, and graciously shared the vegetarian bits (roasted potatoes, broccolini) with me and they were deliciously roasted and spiced. I suffered felt meal envy throughout the entire meal, and suspect that the rest of the menu at Nirvana is actually quite delicious.

The new decor was classy, and the entire staff was beautiful and entirely friendly. I am excited for new and varied dining options on the island, and I hope that these guys work out the kinks and thrive!

Nirvana on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Samurai Noodles

I have rediscovered Samurai Noodles near Uwajimaya. Last time I reviewed it, I was pleased with the presence of a vegetarian option (Tounyu), but turned off at the intensely seaweed-y, ocean-y flavor of the broth. I recently gave it another try, and was delighted to taste that the presence of seaweed has been knocked down to a couple of benign strips of dried nori. 

I also discovered that the key here to a *really* tasty bowl of ramen is to order a side of Samurai's homemade roasted chili sauce and stir that into the broth. My order of choice is now Tounyu with a side of chili sauce, and a ton of bright pink ginger slices added at the table.

As before, the restaurant itself is tiny and totally appropriate for a solo diner or a date, but probably not good for a big crowd.

Samurai Noodle on Urbanspoon