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 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.