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.

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. 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. 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!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Peanut Butter/ Salmonella

With all the talk in the media about the recent outbreak of Salmonella from contaminated products that use peanut butter, I came across an interesting article while reading the informative online newsletter .

Everyone knows the benefits of a diet rich in fiber. It helps lower cholesterol, helps stave off hunger-pangs when dieting and so on. But did you also know that it may protect against diseases too?

"In a lab study, researchers exposed a variety of foods to several strains of E. coli and Salmonella. The results? The bacteria adhered to fibrous foods -- like pumpkin, artichoke, and flax. A good thing, because if the bacteria latches on to intestinal tissues instead, it might have some gut-churning consequences."

There was also an interesting aside about the protective benefits that cilantro has also in protecting from diseases.

"Cilantro contains antibacterial compounds that may help poisoning. The best safeguards against food-borne illness are still frequent hand washing and safe food handling practices. However, serving meals with a side of cilantro-seasoned salsa may be both a nutritious and protective bonus."

More good reasons to make sure you get plenty of fiber in your diet--and another excuse to eat chips and salsa [with lots of cilantro!]