Thursday, May 31, 2012

Out and About: Vovito Cafe & Gelato, Bellevue WA

When I can find a local, independent cafe that serves a decent cup of coffee, you'll find me there.  Vovito Cafe & Gelato, located in The Shops at The Bravern in Bellevue, this cafe is great for those afternoon pick-me-ups or even a casual business meeting.  I have been many many times, and I've experienced this cafe evolve into something worth going to.

Parking at the Bravern is free with validation.  Take either the red or blue elevators up to the 2nd floor and you are there!

You'll find your assortment of espresso beverages using their own single origin bean made deliciously on the famous and very expensive Slayer machines.  Don't drink coffee?  Vovito has a wide array of non-caffeinated beverages including sodas, teas, juices and alcohol.

The food assortment is your typical coffee shop pasty items taken to the next level.  With a nice offering of sweet and savory, you'll be able to enjoy a bite to eat.  My favorite is their soup de jour and chocolate chip cookies.  Just recently they revamped their menu, which is evident in the quality and selection of their food offerings.

For those looking for a frozen treat, look no further.  Vovito offers a variety of gelato flavors delicious at any time of the year.  Can't decide?  Get their sampler which you choose 6 flavors to enjoy.  Vovito also offers made to order cakes for your special occasion.

Tip:  service is slow, so expect to wait if ordering a beverage.  It's relatively warm and the air can be stuffy, probably due to the panini presses.  Although there is ample seating, it's usually full with your MSFT employees taking over the seating area.

Vovito Caffe & Gelato on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dining Out: Spinasse, Seattle WA (Capitol Hill)

There are a few restaurants in Seattle that really leave their mark on your culinary palate.  On Capitol Hill, Spinasse does just that!

Seattle Magazine declares Spinasse one of seven restaurants that define Seattle dining.  I agree.  Spinasse has also received several accolades, including a recent feature on Cooking Channel's Unique Eats.
Spinasse is perfect for a romantic meal.  It's where you'll hear the clinking of wine glasses, the chatter of Seattle-ites and the aroma of goodness that awaits to be served at your table.  I've been here several times, and my 12 year old son loves this restaurant.

Dinner reservations are a must - unless you're willing to take your chances and sit at the counter.  If you're looking for a show, sit at the counter as you'll have perfect sites of the kitchen - where the culinary magic takes place.  There is also outdoor seating, so on a beautiful summer evening opt for the patio.

A nice amuse bouche of toasted bread, buttered and topped with anchovy was fantastic.  I wish it was on the menu.

I was left in charge of ordering so by my doing, we ate:
Antipasto misto della casa - basically one of each of every antipasto.  We especially enjoyed the Sardine in carpione, Sardines fried and marinated with vinegar with mint and fresh chickpeas.
Tajarin al burro e salvia - fine egg pasta with butter and sage.  This is their signature dish and what has put Spinasse on the culinary map.  This is a must dish to order if you go.
Salmone con olive e panzanella - Pan seared salmon on a bed of bread salad.  Salmon prepared medium rare.  It was like butter and melted so easily.  I felt the leeks and, I believe fennel or celery really took over the dish.
Capunet di vitello e fegato grosso - Our most favorite dish of the evening, stuffed cabbage rolls.  These were fantastic and the caramelized honey sauce just put it over the top.

My family and I love Spinasse.  Of course we'll go again, and we hope to see you there!

Cascina Spinasse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dining Out: Lynn's Bistro

Dining Out:  Lynn's Bistro, Kirkland WA

l-r (top) Chocolate Mousse Cake, Rib Eye w/ Brandy Peppercorn Sauce, Wild Salmon w/ Soy Citrus Sauce
l-r (bottom) Goat Cheese Salad, French Onion Soup
Descriptions of each dish can be found on the restaurants website

A Snapshot:  Wow!  The menu is like having Seattle Restaurant Week (or Dine Around Seattle) all year long.  With a prix fixe (pronounced prefix) menu this restaurant offers a great value any day of the year.  A small, intimate and humble space that has transformed into a french bistro.  Limited seating and small staff (I counted four on a Friday evening) make for a cozy dining experience.  By the way, parking sucks but there are cheap lots around the area as well as free street parking.  Reservations are a must unless you want to wait.

The Meal:  A delicious meal worthy of the budget friendly three course offerings.  The salad had a bitter dressing, but when paired with the goat cheese was delicious.  I found my salmon and potato (galette looking) a bit overcooked but well seasoned.  The chocolate mousse cake had a delicious raspberry coulis which topped off a wonderful meal.

Comments From My Dining Companions:  I did not have the french onion soup but Tokuro and Mike said it was good in flavor, well seasoned by over the top with bread and cheese.  It was more of a meal than a soup starter.

The Verdict:  Would I return - sure (said with light enthusiasm).  This restaurant probably wouldn't be my first choice if I'm in Kirkland.  Now, I hear they have a wonderful weekend brunch...stay tuned.

Lynn's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 25, 2012

Read My Mind: Ted Allen's "In My Kitchen"

Ok, Ted isn't in my kitchen but he has a fabulous new book titled In My Kitchen.  The book details his favorite recipes focusing on whole food ingredients as the basis for a delicious and real food meal.  There are "100 recipes for food lovers, passionate cooks, and enthusiastic eaters" as stated on the cover.  Some recipes require a little effort, as any good meal should.  But for the most part the book is filled with the potential for your next meal to be the talk of your dinner table.

A quick glance of the book and I find a Chocolate-Sour Cream Cake recipe (page 211) calling me to make them into cupcake form.  I'm always looking for THE best mac and cheese, and his recipe (page 94) includes aged gouda and cheddar and might be worth the calorie splurge.  My son is interested in the Twice-Baked Potatoes (page 46) because it includes bacon and he requested a finishing of truffle salt.

Who is Ted Allen? Mr. Allen is the host of the Food Network series, "Chopped". Both Chopped and Mr. Allen are James Beard Award recipients for their incredible work.  Chopped is a reality/TV game show that features baskets with random ingredients that chefs must thoughtfully prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert with the possibility of being eliminated after each round.   Prior to Chopped, Mr. Allen was one of the Fab Five on the Bravo series, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" serving as the food and wine specialist. An accomplished writer, TV personality and philanthropist Mr. Allen has made his mark in the culinary and entertainment world.

I was fortunate enough to attend an intimate cooking demonstration led by Mr. Allen at Williams-Sonoma in Bellevue Square.  There was a small group gathered around the indoor kitchen grill, enjoying his company and his take on grilling skirt steak.  He answered many questions from the audience, mostly about the inside happenings of his television show, Chopped.

I was brave enough to ask him, "If you were to entertain your out of town guests, what restaurant in Manhattan would you take them to?"  After explaining that he would love to cook for them in his kitchen, he mentioned a restaurant that he hasn't quite made it to....Eleven Madison Park.  Oh my goodness!  I have totally been there and just wrote a blog entry last week.

Of course I was star struck!  Mr. Allen has an elbow that any foodie would love to rub.  I enjoyed the afternoon of humor, talks of his food colleagues and left with a signed copy of his book.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Dining Out: La Bete, Seattle WA (Capitol Hill)

Ever make dinner reservations with no clue as to what to expect?  Enter La Bete (pronounced "bet" and I do not have the technical skills to add the ^ above the first "e") located in the trendy neighborhood of Capitol Hill in Seattle on Bellevue Avenue.

Seattle Met Magazine regarded this restaurant as one of the top 25 in Seattle 2011.

Street parking is not available (I really hate trying to park on Capitol Hill) so allow time to find space.  If you've ever been to the side streets of Capitol Hill, you'll find yourself on a residential street with a business establishment oddly placed.  La Bete isn't quite so recluse, but boarders the thought.

When you walk in you are immediately in the restaurant.  They wasted no space in this old world, meets new world meets eclectic.  A dark space with dark furniture and unrefined flooring, yet so refined with a beautiful ceiling above the kitchen and counter top at the bar.  A large wall of art that would entertain an acid-trip, decor of raw bones and fall gourds and food served on china perhaps taken from the Queen's afternoon tea party serves for an interesting first impression.

Their always changing menu is humble, and is meant to be served family style. The menu, top to bottom begins with small bites and ends with hearty entrees.  The lower on the menu you order, the more food you're going to get.  In today's economy bread service is not free, a meager $2 for five slices of french baguette and olive oil.  Ouch!

On a lovely spring evening, we enjoyed the following:

Spring Salad: Delicious and was more of a vegetable pot pourri than a salad.
Calamari: My son was quick to order this (assuming fried crispy goodness) but I cautioned him of their Mediterranean interpretation - grilled, presented in a bowl shared with a lemon/tomato sauce, muscles, chorizo sausage, potatoes and lots of other goodness.  This was fantastic.
Painted Hills Burger - A toasted sesame topped brioche bun and perfectly prepared beef patty that was delicious (my kid gobbled it up).  The accompanying fries were "heavily seasoned".
Mad Hatcher Chicken - I haven't had chicken prepared this well in a long time.  The peas, mushrooms, shallots, kohlrabi were an excellent addition to this dish.  The sauce was worthy of some nice crusty bread.

Coconut Doughnuts - made to order and I was excited!  Then not.  I felt the dough was gummy - but the vanilla sauce that accompanied with was fantastic.  My kid finished up the dish.
Salted Caramel Tart - This would be good to share with many people, as it included many items that left my culinary mind overstimulated.  There was too much on the dish and we left the table, most of it still in tact.

Final verdict:  Yes! Delicious! Fabulous Meal!  Skip the sweets.

Tip:  This restaurant (as of the blog post) does not take American Express (it happens to be the only card in my wallet).

La BĂȘte on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Out and About: Mitsuwa Marketplace, Edgewater NJ

For those of you that live in Seattle, think Uwajimaya....bigger and better.  With tour buses that haul eager shoppers from all over the area, you know this place is a worthy destination.

Mitsuwa Marketplace is an incredible Asian shopping experience.  They are probably THE largest Japanese supermarket in the United States.  With locations in Illinois, California (north and south) and New Jersey they are slowly making their mark.  I visited Mitsuwa on my most two recent trips to the east coast - and my east coast correspondent, Miranda Xsavier was kind enough to snap some photos for me.

Their supermarket selections are probably on par as if you were actually in Tokyo.  Specialty cut meats, pantry items, snacks...all reminiscent of my countless trips to markets in Japan.  I actually enjoy their deli and ready to eat food selections.  The vast assortment of rice balls (little rice "sandwiches" stuffed with a variety of ingredients and wrapped in a sheet of nori, aka seaweed) was impressive.  In addition, there are small household items that are so typical of Japan.  It just seems novel to be using imported toilet paper...from Japan of course.

However, the spotlight is their food court.  I'm not talking just any food court but eateries that transform you to Tokyo.  In many department stores, there are rows of small, tiny store fronts with big window displays of wax models of their offering.  No menus, just look at what's good and point to what you want.  It's so Japanese.  Each one offering a specific food speciality.  I've been on a weekend (crowded to the max) and weeknight (better, but still too many people for my taste).

These photos include a recent meal by Miranda and her trusted foodie sidekick and husband Bryce.  They enjoyed an udon soup bowl and a bento combination that included tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet), prawns tempura, cabbage salad, miso soup and of course, steamed rice.  I personally have enjoyed crab fried rice and a few bento boxes with a variety of traditional Japanese goodness.

If you have a chance to visit any of Mitsuwa's locations, I would highly recommend stopping by and looking around.  It's probably as close to Japan as you're going to get without a plane ticket.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dining Out: Nishino, Seattle WA (Madison Park)

Just because my last name is Japanese doesn't mean I'm an authority on Japanese cuisine.  I really enjoy Japnese food and I have my husband to thank for introducing me to a wonderful culture.  Japanese food is very very artful.  Sure, it tastes good, but presentation is what makes Japanese dining such an incredible overall culinary experience.  On this beautiful spring evening my family and I headed to Madison Park for dinner.

Nishino is located in a very small strip of shops and offices.  Parking is horrible, and if you drive too fast you could miss it.

Decor is simple and clean.  I love the windows which brought in some natural light.  Service is prompt and never was my water glass ever half full.

I was very impressed with my Toro Tartare with Caviar.  Toro is tuna belly fat.  It's rich in flavor and lighter in color than the more common maguro sushi.  It was presented in a bowl within an ice bowl.  Very fitting for a cavair dish.  The specks of 24k gold flakes was such a nice touch to this heavily priced starter.  The toro was delicious and fresh and the wasabi dressing really added an additional dimension to the overall flavor profile.  With that, the cavair was a little lost in the dish - but I didn't care.  I enjoyed the toro too much to worry about little ol' fish eggs.

Other dishes that we ate included vegetable tempura (husband said it was ok with a slightly heavy batter), popcorn shrimp tempura (my son loved it), snow crab and asparagus tempura roll (it was pretty tasty), cold tofu with sesame dressing (good, but hard to eat with chopsticks) and a variety of sushi rolls and nigiri.

Nishino is a great place to have great "yuppie" Japanese food.

Nishino on Urbanspoon