Friday, February 15, 2008

Eating Seattle: A Tom Douglas restaurant crawl

I made my parents take me to Palace Kitchen 12 years ago to celebrate my 21st birthday. It'd just opened, and I was just beginning to follow the restaurant scene around town. I'd caught the bug, the thrill of the news that a restaurant would be opening, the research of where the chef had cooked before...I love all of it, and I guess I was just starting that love affair back then.

Anyways, SCORE! My parents were footing the bill (birthday and all), so I chose Palace. It was, to me, a fancy place. I mean, it was DOWN TOWN. Parking was NOT EASY. It was a thrill to be in that room. I loved the horseshoe-shaped bar (still do, actually). It was a great meal. I had a pumpkin risotto. It was amazing.

Fast-forward to last Tuesday night. Ed and I had been given a gift certificate to all of Tom Douglas's restaurants for Christmas, and since most of our dining out is now focused on whichever (usually new) restaurant I'm covering for Seattle Magazine, we thought we'd use the GC to enjoy a night out that I wasn't going to have to write about later. And it just happened to be our anniversary. Ed hadn't been to most of Tom Douglas's restaurants (and I usually just hit Palace for a drink once a year or so), so we decided on a Tom D restaurant crawl.

We started the night at Dahlia Lounge, sat at the bar and ordered a raw bar sampler, plus a martini for him and a glass of Prosecco for moi. We were excited, in a celebratory mood, so the fact that the bartender was a complete and utter dud (who clearly had a boner for a chick at the bar, because he pretty much ignored everybody else) was a major bummer.

The food, though, was really good. We loved the kanpachi, which had a little shiso and crisp pear; the smoked salmon, which was fantastic!; and the sesame tuna. The only exception was a squid-potato salad--the potatoes were very undercooked, so the whole thing had a terrible raw-potato texture. Unfortunately, our bartender was busy making googly eyes at the chick; when he finally checked in with us and I told him about the potatoes, he just kind of shrugged and said, "oh, sorry." Ugh. We left.

Off to Etta's, which hasn't really been my favorite throughout the years. Maybe it's because I worked at Pike Place Market for so many years, and everyone in the market is always telling every tourist they talk to to go to Etta's for seafood. But Ed had never been, and I felt like I needed to give it a chance. So, to Etta's.

Again, we copped a squat at the bar at Etta's. The bartender there was great--he's worked there for 12 years (seriously!) and I remember saying to Ed that he had a friendly ease about him. Like, "this job is easy and fun," you know, cause really, it kind of is if you like being a bartender. He poured me two wines to taste (so nice when they just do that without making it a big deal).

So we ordered the mini crabcakes, which come with a little dish of tomatillo salsa. Yum. Ed said these were the best crab cakes he'd ever had (and, bonus: I found the recipe so now I can make them at home). The room is dated, but it's also comfortable. We had a good time at Etta's.

Back up that steep hill to Lola. Again, we sat at the bar, debated whether we should order the goat tagine (entree) or the lamb kabobs (appetizer), and decided on the lamb (hey, we still had Palace Kitchen to go, so we had to keep it quick and relatively light). We also ordered skordalia (a garlicky dip) and feta with fresh pita. The kabobs arrived on a hot platter, all savory and lamby. This was delicious. It made me want to go back and get the "big dinner" which is like a greatest-hits 5-course feast.

Off to Palace Kitchen. After eating three dishes at three restaurants (and, uh, more than a little vino), we were moving a leetle beet slower, but remember: I'm a professional!

We'd asked the bartender at Lola for his faves at Palace, and he told us he always gets the wings. Wings? Really? Well, we went for it, and these wings were fan-f*cking-tastic. First off, they're real wings, not those grody fat globules fried in day-glo chili sauce. These were, you know, chicken wings like the ones you see when you look at a roast chicken. I asked one of the cooks what they put in the marinade, and he said it's a long list, including soy sauce, Worcestershire, garlic, and so on. I'm telling you. Order these.

Then we shared the hamburger. Locals know that the Palace hamburger has a cult following. But honestly? While the burger was good, the fries kicked the burger's ass. These were fantastic fries, left to get nice and dark in the fryer. I'm not even a fry person, really, and I loved these. Anyhow, didn't the burger used to be served on a 2-tiered thingy? It wasn't, and I was somewhat disappointed. It was a good, respectable burger, but really, those wings and those fries...yum.

Oh, and a little shout-out to Sandy, the bartender who was charming and sweet. He's been at Palace for a dozen years (which means he was working there when I came in for my birthday). That's--count 'em---two bartenders out of four who've been working for Tom D for over a decade. They both made our night. We had a great time--thanks S & P!

Dahlia Dahlia Lounge in Seattle
Etta's Etta's Seafood in Seattle
Lola Lola in Seattle
Palace Palace Kitchen in Seattle

[where: 98101]


Leslie said...

Yum - sounds like fun! I too once got a TD gift certif and it's a great idea to spread it out like that.

Did you have the cornbread pudding at Etta's? I really loved it and then once again, TD appears to have been generous to share the recipe. I made for Thanksgiving a couple years back and it was a hit.

Also - a great starter at Lola's is the pita and spread sampler (includes the skordalia). I have gotten a couple of times and a) I am a sucker for multiple-versions-of-the-same-thing I just love dishes like that and b) each time, the different folks in the party all felt passionately that a different spread was the best, which is always a good sign for share-able food.

Jodi Losek said...

I loved all four of these Tom Douglas restaurants as well! The only bad experience I had was eating the goat at Lola's. The texture and the taste was horrible. Sounds like you two had a great night!

jkandjc said...

i'm happy to have found this blog! i love food :D

Peabody said...

I do love Douglas' crab cakes...though I own his cookbook and tend to make them more at home.