Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Eating Seattle: Poppy

I've got a theory about Poppy which I'm hoping you can either confirm or deny. The theory goes something like this: Men hate/dislike/roll their eyes at the place, and women love it/like it/are intrigued by it/find it fun.

Now, I'm already about to throw a wrench into my own simplistic assumption by telling you that I do not love Poppy, and I am a woman. But then again it's entirely possible, and maybe even probable, that I like to eat more like your typical man than your typical woman. I don't know if this is true (more studies must be done, surely), but it's possible.

Anyhoo, my review of Poppy is up on the Seattle Mag website now, and I hope you'll read it to get a more rounded, broad idea of what I think of the place.

But if I were forced to sum up my reason for not loving it, it'd come down to this: I like to get lost in a dish I enjoy. I like for there to be enough of something warm, stewy, meaty, savory and so on for me to actually feel satisfied after eating it. I love a big bowl of pho, a hearty cauldron of ramen, but size isn't all that matters--we can all get our fill of a rich, hearty chili or an intensely clammy chowder in a thick cup of the stuff. I just like to take my time, taste it a bunch of times, really get to know my food.

At Poppy I was frustrated by all the little dishes that neither added real value nor enhanced the other dishes. But mostly I was frustrated by the tiny portions at the heart of the thalis, because, when they were good, I just wanted to get lost in them, and I couldn't. Have you ever been to a mediocre (or even worse) restaurant, eaten a full meal, but left feeling like you just didn't scratch the itch? You're belly was full but you were far from satisfied?

So Poppy doesn't curl my toes. What about you?

[where: 98115]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top Chef: Why the Chefs Should Be Older

Last night's episode of Top Chef really chopped my hyde.

The "chefs" were gifted a trip to the gorgeous (I've been, and trust me, it's amazing) Stone Barns, where they were literally tripping over lush vegetation and fantastic produce, and what did they do? They bitched about not being able to go to Whole Foods. I'm sorry, but did we just time-travel back to 1994? Are all of these "chefs" really so unfamiliar with the not-exactly-cutting-edge farm-to-table movement, aka a walk through a farmers market as inspiration for a meal, that this kind of thing throws them off their game? Is this for real? Or are all the chefs just way too young?

During the episode, they, collectively, removed all the fat from a pork loin (and didn't, you know, render it and use it), they took the tender, lovely meat of a baby lamb off the bone and pounded it out like it was a tough piece of crappy grocery store flank steak, and they made CUTLETS (Jesus, 1983 much?) out of the farm-raised whole chickens. Is this for real?

Now, since the oldest contestant got kicked off last night (Ariane), it might seem illogical for me to argue that the reason all of these chefs f'ed up so badly is that they're too young. But I can't figure out another reason for their cluelessness. As Tom Colicchio kept saying (last week with the whole-fried fish, this week with all the meats): respect the protein. Maybe it sounds precious, but seriously: Respect the life of the animal that died for your meal.

When I worked in kitchens, it was always the young chefs who over-worked and over-thought things. Their attemtps to impress were never the "let the ingredients speak for themselves" variety. They were the "let me show you my skilz" variety. Sadly, up til now, those "skilz" are what the Top Chef judges have been asking to see.

But last night the "chefs" were cooking on a farm for the farmers who grew the food they were preparing. They were cooking for people who already know how incredibly sweet that corn is, and (I'm just guessing) want to see that the chefs recognize it too. Can you imagine spending all summer working the soil, weeding, waiting for your tomatoes to ripen, and then having some dufus come in, pick all your ripe summer tomatoes and make a tomato frickin' jam out of them? Tomato jam is what you eat in WINTER because you preserved summer tomatoes. Come on now. Is this food 101 or what?

Anyhoo, Ariane went home for literally butchering that poor baby lamb. But it could've been any one of them. Stupid Jeff and his fat-free pork, stupid Leah and her not-doing-anything when she knew how to tie the lamb. Maybe next year they'll actually get some older, wiser, more experienced, less desperately unsure-of-themselves "chefs" for the show. But probably not.

[where: 98118]

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Eating Seattle: A look back at 1986

It's pretty incredible to think of how much has changed in restaurants (and in dining at home, too) in the last 20 years or so. How we've slowly been turning away from the box and back to the farm, away from the machine and back to the hand, away from "convenience at any cost" and toward the hard-earned and appreciated.

I feel like my generation is returning to the joy of the long, shared meal. I have friends (and a husband!) whose idea of a wonderful, perfectly fulfilling night is just eating dinner together, at home or out, and it still amazes me that I've found others like myself. Because of these friends, I feel like less of a weirdo for being completely obsessed with cooking big family meals, and enjoying dinners out more than pretty much any other activity. You can keep your Saturday matinees; I'm going to dim sum.

You might be wondering where all this rambling is coming from. Well, here. It's an article written back in 1986 recapping the dining scene of that year. In it we find out that
Seattle chefs are doing imaginative things with seafood, using techniques that no one attempted in the years of the almighty cow.

They're sauteing, poaching, broiling and serving seafood raw. They're turning it into splendid mousses. They're devising sauces made from ingredients such as tamarind, macadamia nuts and jalapenos.

Of course it's tempting to be all smug and "ha ha, aren't we so superior" about this type of thing (I mean, honestly, jalapenos?), but then you can probably read through any of the recent missives written about the "best tastes of 2008" and pick out the "jalapeno" of this year. I'm as guilty as the next gal at declaring things new and revolutionary, with awe in my voice.

Still, it's a pretty fun read. Take a look.