Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Nuts & Bolts

For the month of December we are featuring good old fashioned “Nuts & Bolts” as my Nana used to call it [aka Chex Party Mix] here at the Pacific Grill in our lounge, for the month of December. Nana always used to have us out to her house in the woods near Lake Spanaway, and there in her living room in an overly ornate bowl, on an overly ornate lace doily, was this exotically spiced salty snack that I became instantly addicted to, still to this day.

She always made hers with Wheat Chex cereal and Cheerios, and added lots of salty Worcestershire and of course real butter, and real garlic (no garlic powder in her musty smelling cupboard), but yes to dried oregano, and lots of skinny pretzels and peanuts, and those big brazil nuts that we kids did not like at all (well really does anyone like those bitter nuts?)--but without (most) of those ingredients it just doesn't taste right to me.

My good friend Brock insists one has to have Cheetos in your Party Mix and my sister Gayle loves lots of Rice Chex in her's (I always swapped the extra rice Chex in my handful for the extra Wheat Chex in her's and always thought I got the better end of the deal…our Bartender Paul swears that his recipe is the best and recently he made a batch that had spaghetti sauce and sun-dried tomatoes that I actually thought pretty tasty!

A chef friend of mine, the late great Billy Pflug even used to put Duck cracklin's in his gourmet version. Last year, here at PG we deep fried garbanzo beans and julienne salami & pistachio nuts and dubbed it “Chef’s Mix” to great acclaim.

How about yours? Does your family have a secret heirloom recipe?

What indispensable ingredient has to be in your Party Mix for the Holidays?

By the way, also during this month of celebration we are serving two great Champagnes by the glass: Dom Pérignon & Veuve Clicquot at a great price. So get your Merry on! and get down here for some Nuts & Bolts and a glass of Dom or Veuve and let’s celebrate the season—oh and don’t forget to share your secret ingredients with me for your best Party Mix cause I want your recipe to put on my holiday menu next year!

Happy Holidaze!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oysters Oysters Oysters!


This Fall and Winter we are featuring a new oyster at Pacific Grill that I find particularly delicious. And amazingly when we order them they harvest that very day and deliver them to us a few hours after they pick them up off the beach! You cannot get fresher than that!
Served on the half shell I like them with just a squeeze of fresh lemon. We also make a mignonette sauce (white wine and champagne vinegar) with a little freshly diced horseradish root and fresh cracked pepper. Frenchman’s Point oysters owe their unique flavor to the special surroundings in which they are grown or "terroir", [ tehr-WAHR]. Originally a word used in wine and coffee appreciation, the term is used to denote the special characteristics of geography that bestow individual unique qualities upon the food product.

Scenic Frenchman’s Point is located at the entrance to Quilcene Bay, which is located at the northern end of Hood Canal,WA near Dabob Bay in the shadow of the Olympic Mountains, one of the most undeveloped bays on Hood Canal, and is bottle-necked so that with every tide change the pristine nutrients of the area flush directly over Frenchman’s Point.

The oysters are located far away from waterfront homes or other developments, and are grown on pea gravel & small rocks (not in mud) and you can definitely taste the difference. The flavor of the oysters is somewhat complex; plump and brimming with meat they have a slightly metallic overtone, finishing with sweet cucumber and a sprite brininess.

They taste like barely-held-together ocean…

Besides offering them on the half-shell, we also serve them as “Shooters” in a shot glass with citrus infused Stolichnaya vodka & cilantro.

We also roast them over a bed of rock salt perfumed with spices with our house-made pancetta and buttered crumbs.

Some of our guests prefer them deep-fried in beer batter and panko-- served with house-made tartar sauce and our famous skinny fries, with olive-oil poached garlic cloves & fried herbs.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Crusty" Memories of the Puyallup Fair

Had a great time at the Puyallup Fair on closing day—the weather was perfect, blue skies and sunny—but the food we ate was terrible.

I had only had a Tully’s latte to “eat” before arriving around 3pm, so I was starving. We all agreed our first stop was to get a scone.

The classic Fisher fair scone that I eagerly purchased had a congealed raspberry jam that didn’t –or wouldn’t—melt into the warm biscuit. The butter tasted inferior, and the biscuit itself was broken into pieces inside its nostalgic little waxy bag.

A couple people I was with wanted lunch, and I had heard Ed Murrieta of SouthSoundEats.com rave about the smoked Turkey Legs at the Young Life booth. So three of us tried them. Mine was very hot but awkward to eat—with no real tables nearby. The leg was gristly with all those annoying little bones to deal with, and most disappointingly—it did not even come close to tasting like turkey. It was very salty and not really smoky at all, in fact it tasted like it had been brined which would account for the interior color of the meat being as pink as ham with a similar consistency. After walking through one of the crafts buildings still struggling to eat it (and it really just tasting like salty ham on a stick) I threw it away...

After a few rides we decided to detour into the Beer & Wine Garden to rehydrate after eating the salt bomb posing as a turkey leg. A small beer was $6 and the medium size (20 oz) was $8. Kinda steep we thought...

I tried a $10 glass of the delicious Pepper Bridge Red blend from Hightower Cellars~the grapes come from Red Mountain. Next was a stunning 2007 Cabernet from Saviah Cellars, Walla Walla. This wine received 93 points from Wine Spectator--it had luscious brambleberry fruit with French oak vanilla, a nice undertone of espresso, and a loooong finish. Perfect.

After a few more rides (the Zipper never fails to terrify me) and the obligatory ride up Extreme Scream at sunset, I was ready to end my day with the justly famous onion fair burger. (Last year I got duped into trying the Earthquake Burger and regretted it—huge yes, but not satisfying, in that elemental best-burger-in-memory kind of way, like the Frisco Freeze of your childhood, or insert your own childhood burger memory here. So off we went in search of the perfect fair burger, which can be a little confusing as so many of the burger places tout themselves as having the best burger at the fair.

A couple of friends opted for a “healthy” dinner (from a booth the name of which escapes me) of rice and veggies and pork or chicken on top (at the Fair?? Are you kidding?).

This booth had the ugliest examples of different menu items on petrified display that guaranteed I would hold out to find the childhood fair burger of my dreams. It looked like “sh*t on a shingle” (as my frat brothers’ less than fond name for our fraternity cook Miss Mack’s signature dish). When I asked Jacob how his was he said it was cold. I told him it looked like "puppy got sick in the back seat of a hot car".

And then in the distance, there it was--Hamburger Myers "The Burger That Made the Fair Famous (since 1922)". I was so excited. The woman at the counter asked if I wanted cheese and onions. (Of course I want cheese and onions). The intoxicating smell of griddled onions wafting through the air as you walk the fairgrounds says “fair” to me as much as the smell of cotton candy and warm raspberry scones.

I watched the young teenager assemble my burger. The buns were disappointingly not being griddled, the cheese was put on the meat un-melted, and then a huge glob of cooked onions mounded and smooshed on top of the cheese (I guess they feel the heat of the onions will do the melt-job on the cheese, so why bother actually melting it on the meat?) The lady handed me my burger and explained that I could add mustard and ketchup, which I did.

I took my first bite and I cannot adequately convey my disappointment.

The hamburger is one of America’s greatest achievements. This burger was tepid, the buns cold, the onions scalding hot, and tasted like mushy sweet onions and since the onions had no color or caramelization from the griddle--they just seemed steamed, and lacked flavor.

And no meat flavor at all.

The side of (frozen) crinkle fries were lukewarm and toughened from sitting under a heat lamp too long. If I wasn’t so hungry and tired I would have asked for my money back. And believe me-- I should have asked for my money back...

A couple others in the group went for the venerable Sales Family Krusty Pup (since 1923).

The batter was hot, but the dog inside was cold, and they complained the dog was very salty—indicative of low quality. I used to love the “corn dogs” at the fair as a child. I cannot recall when they became “krusty”, but I have to ask at these inflated fair prices --can’t we all try a little harder?

My group of 8 friends and I spent around $800.

And all of us left the Puyallup fairgrounds with disappointing memories, and dreams of fairs past when people cared about better food and made an effort.

How sad.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Steak & Eggs

Recently we were featured in a nice article in the Weekly Volcano newspaper that I wanted to share:

"Pacific Grill serves an amazing happy hour.

In fact, the Best in Tacoma as voted by Weekly Volcano readers. And, it's one of the few restaurants in downtown Tacoma that offers free wi-fi. My plan yesterday: dart into Pacific Grill, partake in their excellent happy hour, blog quickly and head back into the night.

So there I sat. At Pacific Grill's corner window table. Pecking away at my laptop. Diners in slacks, suits and ties dined, by candlelight, around me. Sharing anniversary kisses. Toasting birthdays. Soaking in Pacific Grill's elegance. Me? In jeans, with my laptop open, adding a blue, annoying glow to PG's refine atmosphere. Nice, huh?

The thing is owner Gordon Naccarato and his crew made me feel welcomed. And the happy hour food held a tight grip on me.

Whether you're out with the gang bar-hopping or looking for a rendezvous with that significant someone, the kitchen's sophisticated, creative bar menu is sure to impress. The decor is stunning — 17-foot high exposed beam ceilings, glowing sealifeartforms and intimate lighting — but what truly sets Pacific Grill apart as happy hour destination is the food. Anyone can attempt to create a hip atmosphere, and serve discounted beer and wine, but they'd be crazy to try to offer 50 percent off such bar menu items items as Asian baby back ribs, barbecued oysters, Vietnamese bahn mi, Kob hot dog sliders, Cuban sandwich, meat candy and more.

My favorite is not discounted for happy hour. The steak and eggs ($19.95) — grilled petite beef tenderloin, tender enough to cut with the edge of a fork, topped with raw American Sevruga caviar (eggs — get it?), chives and crème fraiche.

On the side, arugula and crispy potato shreds dressed with a Worcestershire vinaigrette. The care that was given the center of the plate carried over to its side, so that nothing was wasted, ignored or forgotten."

Ron Swarner--The Weekly Volcano

I've been doing that dish since the early 90's and glad it still is relevant. Bob Evans the Hollywood Mogul/Producer used to order it at the Monkey Bar where I was chef in Hollywood--and then send it back every time "cause there wasn't enough caviar on it!"

Jack Nicholson his friend was one of the owners so of course we didn't question Bob about the caviar--but he easily got double what he paid for.

Happy hour: Monday-Friday 2-6 p.m., Saturday 5-6 p.m., Monday-Thursday 9-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 9-11 p.m.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pouring Salt in my Wound

Occasionally we get complaints or comments on why we do not automatically put salt & pepper shakers on our tables at Pacific Grill restaurant.

The answer is very simple. I (like a lot of other chefs I know) want my guests to taste their food first. This is not a health issue--it is a taste issue.

I have a close friend named Charlene who always—almost unconsciously—salts her food the minute it is placed in front of her and she hasn’t even tasted it yet.

At dinner she would talk on and on relentlessly salting whatever dish it was, until I almost lunged across the table and shouted out to her to stop! This habitual, knee-jerk reaction is rude to the chefs that have toiled so long and hard to make a perfect dish. And especially rude to me since she was dining in my home.

When a dish leaves my kitchen it has been seasoned. It has salt and pepper, or soy sauce—or Thai fish sauce or some other seasoning particular to the dish and very carefully chosen. And hopefully it leaves the kitchen well-seasoned.

The only thing worse than over-seasoned food is UNDER-seasoned food!

Granted we sometimes make mistakes and under or over-season a dish, but please try the dish first, then if you would like additional salt please ask.

Many times when we garnish dishes, just before delivering them to the dining room, we add a final grind of a special exotic peppercorn blend, or we use an expensive finishing sea salt over juicy heirloom tomatoes, for example—if you then add table salt on top of the sea salt, you are most likely not going to like the flavor.

I had this happen to me many times where a guest returned a dish as being “too salty” with the waiter later explaining to me that they saw the guest flailing away with the salt before tasting it. A few restaurants ago I decided that I would remove the salt shakers from the dining room.

The worst example was once upon a time I had served a potato pancake with an ounce of expensive Beluga caviar on top. The guest told the waiter that it was too salty --when the waiter returned the dish he explained that the guest was seen salting the CAVIAR!!! (And the wholesale cost of caviar at the time was about $50/oz).

After that, the decision to remove the salt shakers from my dining room was very easy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

DaVita stays in Tacoma!

Great News for Tacoma!

Tacoma leaders toast DaVita’s new lease


Tacoma and Pierce County political and business leaders raised a glass Monday night to celebrate DaVita’s decision to keep its business offices in Tacoma.

In a cocktail gathering at the Pacific Grill Events Center, DaVita Vice President Jim Hilger accepted on behalf of the company the thanks of Tacoma’s mayor – as well as a proclamation declaring Aug. 10, 2009, “DaVita Day” in Tacoma.

Mayor Bill Baarsma presented the framed proclamation, then surprised Hilger with a key to the city – a gift Baarsma asked Hilger to deliver to corporate headquarters in Denver.
DaVita, which operates a network of 1,400 kidney treatment centers nationwide, announced in May that it would sign a new lease on the former Schoenfeld Furniture Store at South 15th Street and Pacific Avenue, and lease three floors of the nearby Columbia Bank Building to house its accounting and billing staff.

The company now employs some 900 workers in Tacoma, and it expects to add more over the next decade. Its decision to stay in the city has been celebrated in downtown circles and almost always is mentioned in the same breath as the forthcoming headquarters decision for Russell Investments.

The gathering Monday was put on by the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, and the Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma. Among those attending were U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who Hilger has said called him on his cell phone while DaVita was making a decision.

When asked if he had Russell CEO Andrew Doman’s cell phone number handy, Dicks said with a smile, “I’m sure I have it in my files.”

Kathleen Cooper, The News Tribune

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pacific Grill's 4 Year Anniversary & Julia Child's Birthday

I am inviting our readers to join Pacific Grill on August 15th as we celebrate our 4 Year Anniversary and Julia Child's Birthday! We will be featuring a special 3 course Prix Fixe menu featuring great recipes from Julia Child including: Potato & Leek Vichyssoises, Beef Bourguignon, Lobster Thermidor a la Julia Child and Julia's Perfect Chocolate Mousse.

You can make reservations online on our website or by calling 253.627.3535 .

My personal remembrance of Julia Child:

My first professional kitchen job at Michael's in Santa Monica CA, was in the Fall of 1979. I remember standing at my station one night and looking up-I saw the imposing figure of Julia Child being given a kitchen tour-and making a beeline for me!

Towering above me, in her distinctive melodiously cheery voice, she asked what I was doing: "Boning quail," I answered, my voice hesitating.

"Oh wonderful" she exclaimed. "I just adore quail! -but-- be careful of those little bones," chuckling as she warned me, twinkling mischief in her eyes.

Then, as she turned to leave. a final "Carry on!" full of encouragement.

And with that she was off to the garden with husband Paul to finish dessert.

I will never forget how genuinely enthused Julia seemed to be in me- when I was doing something as mundane as boning quail. But that is, after all, the whole point. Her innate curiosity, her generosity of spirit, her talent and humor inspired me and gave an entire new generation of American chefs the confidence to pick up their whisks and follow her into the kitchen.

Happy Birthday Julia.

Carry on!

Julia Child Prix Fixe Online Menu (pdf)

(the normal Dinner Menu will still be available)

I am so grateful that customers like you have made Pacific Grill Tacoma's premier dining destination for the past 4 years. We look forward to many more years of serving you the best dining experience Tacoma has to offer.

See you on Saturday!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pacific Grill's happy hour menu includes grilled oysters with pancetta, left, meat candy, top, and cheeseburger sliders with garlic fries.
Photo by Janet Jensen/The News Tribune.

Sue Kidd the food writer for The Tacoma News Tribune recently wrote an article about Happy Hour in local restaurants. In case you missed the article, here it is:

Pacific Grill
Where: 1502 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma;
253-627-3535; www.pacificgrilltacoma.com
Happy hour: 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 9 p.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5 p.m-6 p.m. Saturdays; 9 p.m.-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Of all the restaurants sampled for this report, Pacific Grill was the one that made me want to return – repeatedly.

Four pages of menu choices – all but three of the 20-something menu items are half off – and a longer daily offering from 2 p.m.-6 p.m. makes this the tiara for every happy hour diva.

Classic grilled cheese, $6: Cave-aged gruyere sang sweet and nutty against the melody of mildly pungent vintage white cheddar. The cheese duo oozed from between two crusty pieces of grilled country sourdough. The apple (correction: tomato) chutney on the side nudged the sandwich to sublime with just the right amount of sweetness to coax alive the sharp, cheesy flavor. Crispy housemade potato chips were light and airy, leaving me wondering if they were not so much fried as they were air crisped.

How do they do that?

Barbecued oysters, $6.50: Six oysters, barbecued and served in their shells atop an attractive display of rock salt, were loaded with a smoky dose of chewy, delicious pancetta; so much so that the pancetta overpowered the brininess of the oysters. Oyster purists: Skip the pancetta.

Cheeseburger sliders, $5.50: Two juicy, sirloin burgers came perfectly grilled medium as requested. The burgers got cheesy-sweet treatment from tangy Russian dressing and pungent aged white cheddar. Nestled between two nosh-worthy fluffy dinner rolls, the diminutive sliders are small, but decadent. And they come paired with the best fries in town: thinly sliced shoestring potatoes fried crispy with whole garlic cloves and crispy-crunchy sprigs of fried rosemary and sage leaves.

Mussels and fries, $6.50: Sweet, rich and smoky comes with wide appeal. A big plate of sweet, meaty mussels swam nicely with huge chunks of applewood-smoked bacon in a garlic- and basil-scented wine bath. And it comes paired with those amazing garlic fries.
Meat candy, $3: By no means will the five pieces of meat candy fill you up, but it will leave you drooling Homer Simpson-style. I don’t know what I like better about meat candy – the chewy, sticky texture or the sweet-smoky flavor of the creamy roasted sweet dates wrapped up snug and happy inside a thick, chewy jacket of apple-smoked bacon.

Let's end our week a little more happy, shall we?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Papaya, Mango & Avocado Salad

Just in time for your 4th of July barbecue--this delicious melon salad is super refreshing and easy to make.

Find some ripe melons at your grocery store or local Farmer's Market. Papaya is particularly delicious in this tropical Thai-inspired salad.

The other day I chopped some crisp juicy watermelon into large cubes, added some cantaloupe and ripe orange-fleshed honeydew melon. Then I added some halved grape tomatoes, and avocado. The tomato is really delicious with the melons.

For a little spice I chopped a jalapeño --including seeds--and added some peeled and minced fresh gingerroot, chopped green onion, fresh spearmint and cilantro to the fruits. Next I carefully tossed the fruits with a good amount of a good quality fruity vinegar. Raspberry vinegar is good, or white balsamic. Add a little salt to taste and squeeze some fresh lime juice. If you want to play up the tropical inspiration find and add some chopped kaffir lime leaf to the salad.

You can turn the salad into more of a main course with the addition of some salad shrimp if you like.

Refrigerate for a little while to allow the flavors to blend, and serve well-chilled. Delicious and beautiful it will be the hit of your next summer barbecue.

Cherry Love

I get excited when Bing cherries come into season heralding the start of summer.

My Great Grandmother Cassidy lived in a beautiful antebellum-style home near the state capitol in Olympia. The front yard was dominated by a gigantic Bing cherry tree. As children we used to go visit Grandma Cassidy and I couldn't wait to climb the stairs to the grand second level porch, and reach out and pick some juicy black-red cherries. My brothers and I would try and see who could spit the pits the farthest off the balcony towards the street below. Sadly, after Grandma sold the property to the state, her beautiful mansion was torn down--along with that huge Bing cherry tree, to make room for more state government buildings.

Several years ago when I was chef of this beautiful restaurant Rix in Santa Monica CA, we came up with a great summer-y salad using Bing cherries--and we named it "Cherry Love".

The salad is on our menu now, and is very popular with our guests. It consists of baby spinach leaves, feta cheese, sweet Walla Walla onions, roasted pistachio nuts, and a vinaigrette that we make from the cherries.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


When the Circus Came to Town

I love the restaurant business. I hate the restaurant business.

Why am I putting the emphasis on the business part of that statement? During these perilous economic times, everyone is trying to manage their business as efficiently as possible. Did you know that in fine-dining or “white tablecloth” restaurants--average profit is just around 4%? Some restaurants sales are down 10-20% from a year ago. The Sea Grill restaurant located just across the street from my restaurant, Pacific Grill, closed for good 2 weeks ago. Even Quiznos and Starbucks in our downtown neighborhood closed recently.

[photo: food orders unspooling onto the floor from the Printer]

4 % is a pretty slim margin. You are trying to hold onto just 4 cents for every dollar that comes through your front door! The single biggest cost in a restaurant is labor.
You might wonder what it takes to run a restaurant like Pacific Grill where we employ over 70 full and part time employees. I am happy to say we haven’t (yet) had to lay-off a single person.

How can you help us restaurateurs survive?

The other night we started with just 27 reservations on the book. It felt like it was going to be a slow Thursday night. Our manager made some decisions to run with a leaner crew that night. He didn’t call in a second Host for the front door. He scheduled two fewer waiters for the dining room, and we went with just one bartender. The extra dishwasher was sent home, the extra line cook wasn’t scheduled and so on. ….

Then all hell broke loose.

We were mobbed with early diners headed to the Britney Spears “Circus” concert at the Tacoma Dome. We ended up doing 240 dinners that night.

I have talked about this before in an effort to get the word out, but it would sure be nice if a bigger proportion of those 240 diners would call ahead and make reservations.

How does that help me as a restaurant-owner?

I have no desire to give bad service. I want there to be an appropriate amount of staff to take care of our clients. If you have too many waiters on the floor, and it is a slow night—the waiters don’t make enough money in tips. When a crush of people arrive, a server can be inundated with 4 tables seated all at once. It takes time to talk about the menu, get cocktails ordered, explain what wine might be best with the entrées ordered. Then all those orders have to be entered into the computer so the kitchen can get started cooking. The computer was spitting out so many orders so fast I could barely keep up.

Meanwhile the 3 other neglected tables are glaring at the Server. The Bartender is slammed with so many cocktails to make at once that she cannot get drinks made fast enough. The kitchen gets buried. The tables say “we are on our way to the concert, and please rush our meal”. But they ordered the chicken (which is raw and hasn’t been cooked yet) and will take at least a half-hour to prepare. After the meals the dishwasher is buried with too many plates and silverware to wash, that we don’t have china to plate a salad or there aren’t enough cocktail forks ready…and the dominoes continue to fall.

Now don’t get me wrong-- I love it when people drop in for Happy Hour and dine with us spur-of-the-moment.

But think about it this way—do you ever drop in on your friends for dinner without calling first? Or what if you invite 8 friends for dinner, you shop and prepare, set a beautiful table, and then 10 times the number you invited—80 people—show up! Would that put a little stress on you the Host or Hostess? Would you have enough food to feed 72 extra people? Would you have enough china on which to serve the food? Would it take the same amount of time to clean up after? I would venture a guess that your party would be a disaster.

What if you were throwing a wedding at a hotel and 27 people RSVP’d—but 270 showed up? The hotel would not have scheduled enough banquet servers, the room would not be big enough to hold the guests, and there would not be enough food to feed your group.

I have learned in my time here as a restaurant owner to usually quadruple the amount of reservations to guesstimate the number of diners that will actually show up for dinner.

We have to order fish the night before it is delivered. So after work Wednesday night, we call the fish purveyor and tell them how much fish to deliver for Thursday’s business.

It is a crap-shoot.

Hmmmm we only have 27 reservations so maybe we will do around 120 people”. If you over-order too much wild King salmon, expensive Maine Lobster, Alaskan scallops, live oysters, clams & mussels—and they spoil, it is going to negatively affect your Food Cost and eat into that narrow 4% margin, and you are not going to be in business very long.

So we tend to order conservatively.

We want to efficiently schedule waiters so they can make a decent living. I cannot afford to over-staff a dining room just hoping customers will show-up. I cannot afford to have 2 dishwashers with nothing to do, or extra line cooks waiting to sauté that expensive first-of-the-season fresh halibut.

We depend on our reservations to forecast how busy we will be. But it is like gazing into a crystal ball.

That 27 turned into 240 when the circus came to town.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Crudo of Scallops

A really popular dish that you are seeing popping up all over the United States on menus right now is crudo.

Italian for raw—crudo is a fusion dish —similar to Japanese sashimi, but with Italian/Mediterranean flavors instead of Japanese.

Recently I showed you a crudo of raw ahi tuna with Summer black truffles.

Today we are featuring a crudo of thinly sliced raw scallops with extra-virgin olive oil, lime juice, cracked pepper, slivered mint & cilantro—and sprinkled with vanilla salt. [Sea salt that has been infused with a scraped Tahitian vanilla pod].

The unusual combination of flavors against the buttery richness of the raw scallops is delicious.

Like our flatbreads, the crudo changes frequently, so this particular version may not be on the menu the next time you visit Pacific Grill.

Flatbread with Lamb Meatballs

A particularly delicious flatbread we have been featuring this week at Pacific Grill is our house-made lamb meatballs, creamy goat cheese, blistered grape tomatoes, fresh herbs, and red onion.

It is a great starter, and the fluted tart pan in which they are served makes for a great presentation. And is easy to throw together—and a great attention getter—at your next party.

Our flatbread dough is similar to pizza dough, but we don't knead the dough--we just throw it together and stir it until it forms a sticky mass. We then retard it over night in the walk-in to develop the flavor, then assemble the tarts the next day, before baking them off to order.

HINT: You don't want to put too much flour in this dough or it will make the crust tough and not crispy.

Put whatever toppings you want onto the dough just like you would a pizza. And bake it in a blazing hot oven for around 10 minutes or until the top of the crust is brown around the edges and the cheese is bubbly and browning.

After you finish baking the flatbread push the removable bottom out of the pan and cut the pizza right on the pan into about 8 equal sized pieces. Then drop the pre-cut flatbread back into the tart pan, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped Italian parsley just before serving. If the flatbread needs it you can stick it back into the oven a minute or two or under the broiler to give the cheese more color—but watch it like a hawk cause it will burn fast!

Oh and by the way—our flatbreads sell-out quickly and change every few days—so don't expect this particular flatbread on your next visit to Pacific Grill.

Tomato Confit

A new dish we have been featuring is Chef Ian's Tomato "Confit".

As you may know confit is a French word meaning "preserved" and usually is used to describe a slow cooking technique whereby a tough cut of fowl such as a duck leg or goose was cooked slowly in its own fat, and then sealed in this fat to protect it from decomposing, and could be cellared before refrigeration was invented, for many months without spoiling.

Confit can also be seen in the word confiture which tranlates as a preserve in the sense of a jam or jelly is preserved with extra sugar added to protect it also from spoilage.

Ian takes Roma tomatoes and cuts them in half and tosses them in olive oil, herbs and chopped garlic. Then he puts them in the oven over-night with just the pilot light left on. This allows the tomato to be cooked for ten or more hours, slowly enhancing the tomatoes sugars and making the tomato even more tomatoey.
The he takes some fresh Dungeness crabmeat and stuffs the preserved tomato, serving it on a frilly bed of spring greens, and surrounding the plate with a spring vinagrette made from extra-virgin olive oil and cooked rhubarb with citrus, and a little shaved reggiano over the top.

Red Flame Salad

A while back I wanted to come up with a salad that would work with wine.

As most of you know--salads and vinaigrettes can be a real wine buster--the residual vinegar remaining in your mouth and tongue ruins the wine's balance, and making the wine seem overly acidic and undrinkable.

I came up with a roasted grape salad, using the grape's own juices collected after roasting and making a mild grape vinaigrette and scraping a vanilla pod also into the vinaigrette for added richness and buttery-ness to try and mimic a flavor profile found in wine.

The acid in the grapes after roasting were tamed and enriched, and the grape flavor enhanced, but still had enough acid to make the vinaigrette not too cloying.

For a crouton I love grilled bread. I took a variety of cheeses and blended them with a bit of white wine and garlic and pureed it in the food processor, then thickly slavered the cheese onto the grilled bread and toasted the cheese in the oven until gooey and caramelized.

This combination of flavors was delicious with the wine--and curiously--with either a red or a white.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pacific Grill Events Center

Pacific Grill adds a jewel to its empire

Gordon Naccarato, owner of Pacific Grill restaurant in downtown Tacoma, recently opened an event center on Pacific Avenue inside the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. This meeting room in the complex offers a view of iconic downtown buildings like Union Station.

Lui Kit Wong The News Tribune

Gordon Naccarato’s downtown neighbors continue to drop like flies drowning in hot soup. But the hometown chef continues to cook up one success after another.

His latest hit? Tacoma’s newest and classiest event space: Pacific Grill Events Center, a $2 million build out of the ground floor inside the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel.

Meanwhile, across South 15th Street in the Rainier Pacific Bank Building, Mackay Restaurant Group closed its highly touted Sea Grill Restaurant on Sunday.

Last week, Quiznos shuttered its sandwich shop in the former Schoenfeld’s furniture building across Pacific Avenue. Last month, the UPS Brown Store closed its branch inside the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center. And Starbucks abandoned its space next to Sea Grill last October.

The neighborhood surrounding the Greater Tacoma Convention & Trade Center hasn’t progressed according to plan.

You can blame it on the economy. Or you can blame it on the City of Tacoma’s $85 million convention center’s failure to attract enough out-of-town events to spin out dollars into the pockets of nearby merchants.

Among the 24 events booked there this month, you’ll find 17 local events, including three weddings and two church services.

But you won’t hear Naccarato complaining. Much. His team, headed by general manager Chip Venzone, has booked more than 75 events in their new center in less than a month.

“Everyone’s feeling (the bad economy) a bit, but we haven’t seemed to suffer as much as some others,” Naccarato said during an interview in the largest of his new event spaces. The Pacific Ballroom, with its molded cream glass chandeliers and dark paneling, can host groups up to 250 – or divide into two smaller rooms.

Across a grand entrance hallway that features a wall-size gas fireplace, you can also book the quainter Commerce Room with its big-screen TV for groups up to 56.

When I broke the news in January 2005 about Naccarato’s plans for this block of Pacific Avenue, he had a different idea for the same space. In addition to Pacific Grill, Naccarato planned to open a second restaurant, Mariel, named after his adult daughter. The urban bistro would have served small plates, intended for sharing, complete with an upscale wine bar featuring a Cruvinet to dispense wine by the glass.

It never happened.
Colliers International shopped the vacant space for the Hollander Hotel Group, which owns the Marriott, but could never find a taker. Then came the 2007 Christmas season. Naccarato recorded roughly $100,000 in business lost from groups he turned away due to lack of space.

“I’m glad I didn’t do Mariel,” he said. “In retrospect, with the economy going the way it went, it wouldn’t have worked.”

But Pacific Grill has worked enough that the spin-off into event space – where groups can order many of the same menu items – makes economic sense now. How has Naccarato done it while others have failed?

He credits multiple revenue streams – regular restaurant patrons, hotel guests who drop in for a meal, room service to hotel guests, a new boxed-meal catering service, a new contract to provide boxed food for area Forza Coffee Co. shops and, now, the event space.

Kitchen Staff preparing Box Lunches LUI KIT WONG/THE NEWS TRIBUNE

He also founded Pacific Grill with 30 mostly local investors who help draw friends and family.
Or, maybe, Naccarato simply has a golden touch. He’s the son of Stan “Mr. Tacoma” Naccarato – the influential, longstanding fan of Destiny City sports, business and community spirit.

When Gordon Naccarato left for law school in Los Angeles, he eventually dropped torts for tarts.

Food & Wine magazine named him one of the 10 Best New Chefs in the United States in 1988.

Here’s another clue, a Gordon Naccarato quote three months before Pacific Grill opened: “Lots of restaurants define the city they’re in. That’s what I want this to be. Like the city’s been distilled into what the restaurant is.”

Dan Voelpel: 253-597-8785

Friday, March 27, 2009

French Fry Nirvana

We had a nice mention in the News Tribune today Friday, March 27 in an article about great burgers in the area--our Cheeseburger Sliders were mentioned.

The article went on to compliment our french fries also:

"Pacific Grill’s cheeseburger sliders ($5.50) ... Two small rolls are stuffed with juicy sirloin patties, aged white cheddar and a smear of house sauce similar in flavor to a tangy-sweet Russian dressing.

While the sliders skew small, you’ll forget about that because of the perfect accompaniment that comes with them – Pacific Grill’s garlic herb fries. If french fry nirvana can be achieved, these are it: thinly cut, crispy fried potatoes served in a tasty, salty pile with whole cloves of golden-brown, fried garlic and sage and rosemary leaves that become crispy, crunchy and delicious in the fryer. (Priced $11 on the regular menu)."

The full article can be read here:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sip Wine Bar Opens in Gig Harbor

I got invited to the friends & family try-out for one of the best restaurants in the entire Tacoma area--the new Sip Wine Bar & Restaurant located in the Uptown Gig Harbor shopping complex.
The first Sip opened a few years ago in Issaquah. It was a big hit and several Sips are planned--with two more to open in the Seattle area. Sip serves around 70 wines by-the-glass, and has a cellar of over 300 different wines.
My Pacific Grill sous-chef Cody Reaves was their first Executive Chef and developed their delicious menu.
Opening night for friends & family is an opportunity for the kitchen to practice the dishes. It is always a rocky start getting the choreography down. I expected lapses, faltering service, and the food to have some problems--it goes with the territory. I have opened many restaurants and it has always been a nightmare...

The Gig Harbor Sip is handsome with a stunning wall of wine surrounding a fireplace, and an oval shaped bar for great people-watching. The bathrooms are sexy with a shared vanity area.

And to make sure you don't miss any bar action while you are away from your table--2 large TV's are playing by the sinks spying on the bar!

Our waiter Ben Hollander was fantastic, talking us expertly through the interesting menu full of tantalizing sounding small plates like Black Truffle Popcorn with Hawaiian Black Sea Salt [$5]; Vietnamese Caramel Beef [$12]; Tapas [$11] and so on.

Ben chose a delicious red wine blend for us, and immediately a napkined bowl arrived with some of the intriguing truffled popcorn. (Unfortunately the popcorn had a little too much Hawaiian salt for us to really enjoy the snack, but the wine was delicious.)

Next we tried the Sip Caesar Salad [$10] that arrived looking like a giant squid. It was wrapped in a cold parmesan & chive crêpe, drizzled with dressing and miniature precisely diced croutons that were delicious. Apart from the tasteless crêpe that had no discernible flavor of parmesan, the salad was delicious.
I chose the Loch Duart Salmon [$27] as my main course. It is described as being all-natural Scottish salmon, with a red miso glaze, ginger scented sushi rice cake, and Szechwan pea vines. Although I ordered the salmon medium rare it arrived well-done. Salmon with its high fat content can stand being overcooked better than most fish, and with its miso glaze was still tasty. The pea greens were cooked a little too long for my taste and I couldn't taste the strangely numbing flavor of the Szechwan pepper.
My dining companion Kevin Still ordered the Meyers Angus Teras Major [$27] all-natural shoulder tenderloin with slow-cooked fingerlings & wilted spring greens. The steak arrived beautifully charred and perfectly medium-rare as ordered. The greens were cooked with smoky bacon, but could have benefited from a touch more vinegar to bring out their flavor. The fingerlings Kevin noted, seemed a tad overcooked and were served lukewarm.
The Dessert Trio came with a mini berry crème brûlée, a tiny brownie with Olympic Mt. ice cream, and a chocolate port truffle. The brownie was dry and off the mark, but the truffle was luxurious.

Lastly we sampled Warm Bread Pudding [$8] with Chardonnay Candied Pecans, rich with the flavor of cinnamon ice cream.

I was impressed with the great service from our waiter Ben. The four courses were well paced--no big wait times. That there were a couple of issues with the seasonings or an item overcooked--again is par for the course. As far as I'm concerned it was a miracle we got anything to eat from what I have seen during my long career!

So kudos to the staff of Sip, one of the best restaurants in the Tacoma area!

The Menu has so many wonderful things on it that I am looking forward to try on my next visit, and the visit after that. Also Sip has half-priced wine Wednesdays--which just happens to be my night off.
Sip Wine Bar & Restaurant
4793 Point Fosdick Dr. NW
Suite 400
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Phone (253) 853-3020

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Chef Pacific Grill

Jessica Armstrong, Ross Lewis, Eric Gray, Ian Thompson, Mike Hempel
After our previous chef, Aaron Valimont, moved to Marysville we began to search for a new chef to replace him. Recently we hired Ian Thompson. He has already started wowing our dining room with interesting new specials like his Scallops “Crudo” ~ thinly sliced raw sea scallops, ginger, mint & vanilla salt; Crispy Salmon Fritters with cucumber, apple, ginger, cilantro & black pepper tartar sauce; and Mahi Mahi with cannellini beans, pancetta, arugula, broccolini & lemon butter.
Here is some background on Ian in his own words:
I was born and raised in Gig Harbor, Washington. My restaurant career began at the age of 15 washing dishes at Gig Harbor Spiro's. Soon after I became a cook and started slinging out pizzas and pasta.
It did not take me long to fall in love with the chaos of kitchens.
I began culinary school at the age of 18 at South Seattle Community College.. While attending school I was a member of the SSCC hot foods competition team under Chef and mentor Stephen Sparks.
Also during this time I floated around through various line cook positions in different restaurants including Coastal Kitchen and Primo Grill. I then joined the opening crew at El Gaucho Tacoma under Executive Chef Sean Quinn. There I worked as line lead and in banquettes.
Quinn sent me out to their Sumner location, The Garden Cafe at Windmill Gardens to be their wedding caterer. I then became Sean's Sous Chef at the Garden Cafe and ran both the catering and restaurant.
Quinn was the opening Executive Chef of Asado Restaurant and brought me on as his opening Sous Chef. I became Chef of Asado upon the opening of their Masa location across the street. I worked as Chef of Asado until September of 2007 when I got an opportunity to go back to school. I went back to SSCC to attend their new hospitality management program, which I am set to graduate this June.
While in school I have learned all aspects of restaurant management, while at the same time working on my cooking skills for Chef Vicky McCaffrey at Yarrow Bay Grill. I was only member of Vicky's team for about 6 months, due to an opportunity to study overseas.
I have spent the last 6 months working on my degree in Copenhagen, Denmark. Now I am back and happy to be on board at Pacific Grill.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Secret of Great Chicken Soup

When I was a little boy my grandparents owned a restaurant called the Little Ritz on Pacific Avenue near Parkland and just before Spanaway. (Many years later the first restaurant I ever owned in Aspen, Colorado, was coincidentally called The Ritz before I purchased it--renaming it Gordon’s.)

A humble café, I loved hanging out in the kitchen with my grandparents (we called them “Nana and Papa”), and helping make french fries by placing peeled Russets into the french fry cutter, lifting the weighty cast-iron handle and pushing the potatoes through—and watching as hundreds of perfectly cut french fries fell miraculously into the bowl.

My Italian grandfather Frank Naccarato (Papa) was a great cook, and was famous for his soup. I remember sitting in the restaurant watching homeless people wander in off the street (“bums” Papa called them). But he never refused to serve them—even if they had no money. Papa always had a nourishing bowl of minestrone to give, and more than once I saw him slip them a little money as they walked out the door.

When my mom and dad would take us to eat at the Little Ritz, sometimes Papa had just finished making a huge pot of minestrone, and after dinner before we left he would take a one-gallon glass jar and fill it with soup for us to take home, screwing the metal lid tightly.

I loved watching Papa make soup. I would stand next to him and watch as he stirred the vegetables in some olive oil until they were softened, then adding homemade chicken stock, chicken meat and herbs to the large pot simmering on the stove. I don’t have the recipe but I remember how delicious it smelled and tasted.

Then one day many years ago, when I was at The Monkey Bar in Hollywood, California, the owner, Alan Finkelstein, walked into the kitchen and seeing that I was making chicken soup, commented that his Jewish Mother’s secret ingredient was to add some diced parsnips to the vegetables (along with carrots, onion and celery.)

So I took his suggestion and added the parsnips. His Mom also put egg noodles into her soup, so I made it that way for Alan. I roughly chopped the noodles so they would fit onto a soup spoon—I hate to have clients spill onto their expensive clothing with noodles that are too slippery and long to easily eat. I also had to add fresh chopped Italian parsley, dried oregano—and on a whim I threw in some fresh chopped rosemary.

When I tasted the soup I was instantly transported back. It was as if I was standing in Papa’s café in Parkland tasting my childhood again. I stared into the stockpot brimming with jewel-like vegetables tasting the rosemary and the sweet perfume the parsnips lent the broth—I was once-again standing in Papa’s kitchen watching him tend his soup.

Papa died of cancer when I was just eight years old—just before President Kennedy was assassinated and just after Marilyn Monroe died. I can still hear his raspy laugh and feel his rough beard against my face when he would hug and kiss us kids.

I never got his recipe for minestrone.

But I know the secret to great chicken soup.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crab "Puppies"

When I had my restaurant in Aspen many years ago, I worked with a wonderful chef, Susan Sinnicks, who was from Charlotte, N. Carolina. She was talented, and being from the south, of course—very polite.

Despite this, she earned the nickname “salad bitch”—a name she wore proudly on a button she had made for her chef jacket. I also called her Miz Susan to tease her charming drawl.

One day Susan brought into work the “White Trash Cookbook”, a hilarious satire filled with recipes like “Cooter Pie.” First you take a live cooter [turtle] and wait for him to stick his head out from under his shell. When he does, you grab it …. and “Mock Cooter Pie”; and “Our Lord’s Scripture Cake”, and so on.

So I had to create a dish to honor Susan which became “Miz Susan’s White Trash Salad”. It had cornmeal breaded fried chicken on it and instead of croutons we added small crispy hushpuppies.

The salad was a huge hit! I had never made hushpuppies before—indeed at the time I didn’t even know what they were. So Susan made a batch, and wrote down a recipe right then out of her head that was perfect, addictive, and delicious.

Hushpuppies, as you may already know, are a southern side-dish commonly served with fish. They supposedly got their name when fishermen tossed pieces of fried batter to their hungry dogs (instead of the fried catfish) & said: “now--hush puppies”! I don’t know if that story is true, but it is a good story.

Later when I was working in Hollywood CA, as chef of the infamous Monkey Bar restaurant, I came up with an appetizer that was a cross between a hushpuppy and a crabcake that we named Crab “Puppies”.

This appetizer became one of the most popular on my menu. In fact one record producer used to drive up to the door and phone the front desk before he valeted his car, to make sure that we hadn’t yet sold out.

I used Miz Susan’s basic hushpuppy recipe, although I used a bit less black pepper and crushed red chilies, and I also added some cilantro, and of course Dungeness crabmeat. We served the Crab Puppies with a homemade Black Pepper Tartar Sauce, and a squeeze of lemon.

The other day I decided it was time to bring the appetizer back to my menu here at Pacific Grill. It has become a hit again, all these years later.

I love the way the sweet molasses and cornmeal play against the rich crab, cut by the heat of the chilies and pepper, brightened by a squeeze of lemon. The rich tartar sauce helps quench the tingling heat on your tongue, and you can’t help wanting to take another bite…

Tasting them again after all these years sure reminds me of Susan, her talent in the kitchen, generous smile and laugh, southern charm, and great hugs.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Tuna Melt

A nice articled appeared today in the Weekly Volcano's Blog "SPEW"
reprinted by permission
photo by Ron Swarner

Genius: Pacific Grill's tuna melt


Yeah, we already know he’s a culinary genius, but Tacoma's award-winning chef Gordon Naccarato knocked me off his Pacific Grill chair with his tuna melt. The open faced grilled ahi tuna sandwich off his Pacific Grill's lunch menu deserves to be bronzed. I know it’s one of his favorites, too. He tried to take it off his lunch menu once, but people cried in the streets. It’s back on, thank goodness.

I caught up with Naccarato for the scoop behind this dish.

WEEKLY VOLCANO: Who came up with this creation?

GORDON NACCARATO: Many years ago when I had my restaurant in Aspen, I was looking for a modern update on the classic tuna melt for my lunch menu. I think back then I used a New York white cheddar and served it without the bread (back before there was any decent bread in the U.S.) and used an opal basil butter … but I loved the white cheddar with the fish. When we were kicking ideas around for another sandwich for PG I remembered the dish from Aspen and how delicious it was. I wanted the sandwich served open-face on top of grilled La Brea Bakery bread. I love grilled bread. Everything tastes better with grilled bread — just like everything tastes better with bacon!

VOLCANO: Why do you think it works well?

NACCARATO: The combination of the vintage cheddar cheese with the soft, rare flesh of the tuna is very satisfying. The charred warm exterior of the flesh contrasts with the cool rare center. It all plays well against the contrasting texture of the grilled rustic bread. The charred rosemary mayonnaise is another layer of lusciousness. Charring the rosemary provides a slight natural smokiness. The grilled onions provide a sweet note against the rich cheese, and the tomatoes provide an acidic note of punctuation. I love watching people take a first bite of this dish; it always elicits a satisfying smile.

VOLCANO: What kind of beverage goes best with it?

NACCARATO: I would think either a refreshing wine, or beer. A Washington Pinot Gris would be good. It has medium body, and hints of apple and pear that would taste great with the cheddar, and it has enough acidity to cleanly cut through the rich dish — or a Belgian golden ale called Duvel, that we have right now, would be nice — as it is light bodied and has notes of citrus that would be refreshing against the rich fish.

VOLCANO: What sandwich did your mom always put in your lunch box for school?

NACCARATO: A tuna fish sandwich on Wonder Bread, made with mayo (never Miracle Whip — YUCK) and pickles and iceberg lettuce.

VOLCANO: Plain, super heroes, or sports figures — what was your favorite lunch box?

NACCARATO: My favorite Lunch Box was a brown bag … except for the time I set it on the ground and ran back inside my house to get a book I forgot, and when I came back outside the neighbor's dog had peed all over my brown bag lunch!

VOLCANO: Nice. Do you have anything in the works to grace your lunch menu soon?

NACCARATO: I am planning our spring menus right now, and I am always thinking about new sandwiches — like when I put our version of a sloppy joe on the menu with roast pork shoulder in tomato sauce over grilled bread with shaved reggiano. I love tweaking classic sandwiches. Maybe I should do a patty melt on grilled rye, gruyère cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut — but a REALLY good version — or why bother?

Pacific Grill, lunch served 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday
1502 Pacific Ave
Tacoma WA

Article Reprinted by permission



Monday, February 23, 2009

Tillicum Place Cafe

Had a wonderful meal in a charming little restaurant in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle the other night with my friends Kevin Mackay, Maria Semple and George Meyer. Maria & George recently moved to Seattle from Los Angeles where they both worked for many years writing for television—she for shows like The Ellen Show, and Mad About You; and George for David Letterman, and many years with The Simpsons.

I have known Maria since my restaurant days in Aspen, Colorado. Her parents Joyce and Lorenzo Semple Jr. were fixtures in Aspen’s social scene—Joyce always working on the Aspen Film Festival, and her husband himself an accomplished writer and screenwriter [Three Days of the Condor; one of my favorite thrillers The Parallax View; the King Kong that started Jessica Lange’s movie career--and the campy Batman series from the 60’s].

They were great customers and supporters of mine, and their son Lo worked in my kitchen as the “french fry guy”. Whenever we get together Maria and I pretty much talk non-stop reminiscing about Aspen and catching up on gossip. She just published her first novel, “This One Is Mine to great acclaim. http://www.mariasemple.com/

She is currently working on her second novel set in Aspen.

We walked from their Belltown condo around the corner to Tillicum Place Café, and immediately Maria wanted to know what I, as a chef, consider when I come into a new restaurant?

Well of course it is important what the restaurant looks like—how does the décor inform the food? What expectations give rise? How is the lighting? Does the place feel authentic? The smells coming from the kitchen were wonderful.

I answered that I usually can tell if the meal is going to be good just by reading the menu. (At least you can see if there is thinking going-on in the kitchen). The Menu was simple and sparely written. I noticed white anchovies from Spain and Brandade. A Pork Rillette. Duck confit. The menu leans French bistro, uncomplicated. Not fussy.

Near the back by the bathrooms the owner/chef’s cookbooks are all on display, giving the place a warm and cozy feeling like you are visiting someone’s home. Someone confident enough to let you think she doesn't yet know everything about cooking.
Maria & George are both Vegans. So we navigate the menu and decide on a few dishes we can share

...We started out with a pappardelle pasta to share-- that came with a brown butter sauce, sage & hazelnuts that was simple and delicious.

...next we shared a savory butternut squash tart with caramelized onions & Gruyère cheese [$9]. It was served with a simple mixed green salad & walnut oil vinaigrette.

After cutting into the savory tart you could see the layers of squash, cheese & onions.

...my simple mixed bitter greens was dressed with a warm bacon vinaigrette, dates & oranges [$8]. It was a tad over-dressed but everything is better with bacon right?

Maria reached across the table with her fork to spear some of my salad. "Stop!" I said. "It has bacon in it."
"Oh it's ok--I just want a taste," my Vegan friend replied. [I love vegans who still eat bacon!]

...Kevin ordered Brandade ( a puree of salt cod, olive oil and milk-a specialty of the Languedoc and Provence regions of France.) It was served in a cast iron skillet with stuffed peppers [$7].

...Maria's Romaine salad [$7] with sliced Bartlett pear & pine-nut vinaigrette.

...I ordered Duck confit a dish I can never pass up. It was served fall-off-the-bone tender, and tasted like it had been rubbed with Chinese 5 Spice. On the side was toasted spaetzle with kumquat jus & a few brussels sprouts leaves. It tasted almost like bread salad, and played well against the rich duck--the kumquats a bittersweet foil.

...Kevin & Maria had the house-made Pasta with celery root, goat cheese & walnuts [$16].

...George ordered the side of Baked Beans [$4] that also had some shredded pork or meat of some kind inside. When I pointed this out to him [also a Vegan] he just smiled and kept eating.

I liked the warm spices in the beans with their hint of brown sugar, molasses and maybe a touch of bourbon.

...When it came time to discuss dessert Maria had a plan: "Let's walk to Palace Kitchen and have the Coconut Cream Pie and coffee." Good idea we all agreed.
The walk felt good after the rich meal and we fooled ourselves into thinking the calories expended would allow us to order Tom Douglas' signature dessert without guilt.
Palace Kitchen was still rocking, but we got a table right away. George & Maria ordered de-cafs but I wanted to try the dessert with a Sauterne, which had wonderful flavors of flowers & vanilla--and tasted great with the mile-high pie.
We gossiped and laughed some more on the walk back to Belltown.
And made plans for our next get together at the great little Vietnamese restaurant Tamarind Tree.

Tillicum Place Cafe
407 Cedar Street
Seattle WA 98121

Monday, February 16, 2009

White Tablecloths & Poopy Diapers

I love children. I have a daughter myself. But I do not appreciate children in my dining room running amok while the parents do nothing. I realize this is not the child’s problem but rather a parenting problem—a lack thereof.

A few days ago six women came into Pacific Grill for lunch. As they walked into the dining room one of the women was on her cell phone. Her un-tethered two-year-old little boy sprinted ahead of her. One of the other women said “just let him run” [!!]

After they were seated, the server had difficulty getting a drink order as the woman was still on her cell jabbering away. The squirmy child did not want to sit in the high-chair provided, and was freed to run around the busy dining room—full of business people having lunch.

The thoughtful mother [sarcasm intended] had brought some nourishing Taco Bell into my dining room to feed the two year old. Later she gave him a toy car to play with—on all fours in a heavy traffic area—zooming the car on the dining room floor, right in the way of the busy servers.

When the food arrived the mother noticed the child had wandered off inside our Private Dining Room [PDR] out of sight beneath the sidewalk. A server, in the bar to pick up a cocktail order, was startled by some loud clanging. She walked to the wine room to see what was the matter? The child had dragged hundreds of dollars worth of red wine from the exposed wine rack, clanging the bottles together so loudly you could hear it throughout the dining room. The mother continued eating her cave-aged gruyère panini seemingly oblivious to the commotion.

This is obviously not the child’s fault—the boy is doing what two-year-old’s do. When the exasperated server at wit’s end came and explained to me what was going on, I immediately went to the woman and politely explained that her child had to be kept seated at the table at all times.

“Oh why… did someone complain?” clueless woman asked me.

She followed me into the wine cellar where the child was loudly banging bottles of red wine together. “This is not McDonald’s Playland,” I explained. “Your child must remain seated at all times, and not disturb my guests.” If the child had broken the wine I would have charged for it.

Can you imagine if the bottles had broken and the child had seriously cut himself?

I mean seriously—some people just don’t get it.

I have had children speed-racing up and down the expensively-upholstered banquettes while a mother watched and encouraged the child. I asked this particular mother to not let her child run on our furniture, and she acted like she was blind and did not see what was going on. Several minutes later a server came to get me and said the child was doing it again. I went to the woman and informed her that if she could not keep her child under control she would have to leave.

First time polite. Second time firm. Third time—you’re out!

I have seen and heard children screaming through the course of an entire meal throwing food onto the carpet. Are these parents deaf or have they just learned to tune them out?

One family allowed their child to draw with crayons all over the dining room wall while they ate dinner and said nothing.

Another recent night, a woman changed her child’s poopy diaper on the banquette in full view of other guests dining. How appetizing! Bet you’re thinking about ordering that chocolate mousse for dessert now right?

I am all for families taking their children out to dinner.

I welcome them.

But please don’t ask my busy Hostess or Host to hold your crying baby while you eat your meal, as happened not too long ago…you are…kidding…right?

The vast majority of families who dine with us are extremely well-behaved. But when the few exceptions start to infringe on the dining experience of my other guests, it is time to remove the child from the room... If a child cannot remain seated through the course of a two hour [or longer] meal, they should not be in the dining room. This is not the place to be bringing toys for tots. My dining room is not a race track. It is not a day care center. Does the sign outside say…Chuck E. Cheese?

The average guest at Pacific Grill spends around $50 or more per person. Some of my clients are additionally spending money for a babysitter to have “date night” away from their own children—and most certainly not to be seated next to someone else’s little monsters having tantrums.

I could belabor the point, and probably have, but I could go on and on with examples like the above.

I am sure you have yourself witnessed some pretty bizarre behavior while dining out. But if any of you reading this have misbehaving little ones while dining out—please realize that you just might be ruining many other people’s night out on the town. One they have saved for. Maybe it is their first time to Pacific Grill or a special anniversary. A first date. A celebration…

So if you need to, please excuse yourself from the dining room for a few minutes until your little one stops crying. You would do no less in a crowded movie theatre that costs $9… wouldn’t you?

Well then, why not when out dining?

And for all the wonderful parents out there that bring your well-behaved little ones into Pacific Grill for dinner--I am not speaking to you! Keep bringing them.

I love turning children on to good food while they are young!