Food from around the Puget Sound. It is about good sources, great eating and unusual foods.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Eltana Wood-Fired Cafe

Much thanks goes to Keren the FranticFoodie for organizing a great show and tell at Eltana for a whole lot of  Seattle's food bloggers. Only months old on Capital Hill, the shiny, airy and open cafe is the work of  partners Stephen Brown and Daniel Levin.  Both were on hand to show us what their Wood-Fired Bagel Cafe was all about.  Inspired when Stephen was attending McGill University and eating Montreal-style bagels 25 years ago. They felt that the this style of bagel needed a larger audience and knew that it was different enough from NYC bagels to be a real hit. Fitting well with the NW's love for local artisan foods this cafe was packed with a lunch time crowd, stacked from the counter to the door, we were lucky to have the large table reserved for our group for a tour and tasting.
Daniel discussing their bagel
Not only is the taste quite different then it's cousin to the south, but how it is formed and cooked makes this northern version speak a different language. Breaking us up into two groups, Daniel took us back to the kitchen which is easily seen from anywhere in the cafe. We saw the process from start to finish getting a detailed explanation from ingredients to technique and the differences that contribute to the Montreal-style. 

Hand Formed
One at a time
Notice the Honeyed water bath at the far end

Making two basic doughs, a whole wheat and regular flour, they use a fresh yeast and nothing else besides salt. It is mixed and then hand formed after being stretched and rolled. It was fascinating to watch the baker form the bagels by hand and get such a consistant product. Then the bagels are boiled in a honeyed water bath and then dipped in the different seeded mixtures. The big difference here is you get a bagel the has no bottom and you have your seeds around the whole bagel not just on the top. 

Seeding the bagels
Getting a long paddle ready for bagels
The bagels are then placed on this very long pine paddle and placed into the oven, which is gas fueled on one side and wood burning on the other. It wasn't long before the 450 degree oven finished the bagels to a golden brown then pulled and sorted. 
Two planks in the oven
From there we got to try first hand the whole selection of bagels and some new flavors. The Cafe theme is based on an Eastern Mediterranean street food, which goes wonderful with the bagels and flat breads that they bake. 
Date walnut, Eggplant pomegranate, Red pepper and walnut, Fava bean mint 

Roasted cauliflower tahini and Crispy chickpea and leek salads
Sitting us down to a table of selected spreads, sweet and savory. I especially liked the Date walnut cream cheese, red pepper and walnut and the eggplant pomegranate spread.  They also surprised us with a beautiful roasted cauliflower tahini salad as well as a crispy chickpea and leek selection. They also had some herbed olives to round off the whole taste experience. 

Thanks again to Keren, Stephen and Daniel introducing all of us to such wonderfully new foods and a fun cafe. Make sure you check it out when you're in the neighborhood. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just got back from Terry Ave. Preview

Tom Douglas had his Cuoco restaurant preview tonight, the first of three for his new restaurants on Terry Avenue in the midst of the Amazon Campus. It was fun, irreverent and informative. If the restaurants are  half as much fun and tasty it will help bring traffic down to SLU. Those of you that don't know the area, it is the new home of Amazon and the vison of Paul Allen, at the South end of Lake Union, hence SLU. It is the up and coming turf for new and motivated restauranteurs, Tom mentioned the adjustments and timing as well as the risks involved with bring his brand to the neighborhood.

Already there with Serious Pie 2 and Dahlia Workshop Biscuit Bar, Tom has created a venue that fits the neighborhood. Giving not just his take on good food but drawing people in to ask the questions and seek the answers. The tables at SP2 are above the workshop/bakery and it is all to bare, a great view of all the wonderful things being baked for all of the restaurants in the group.  

Enough of that, tonight was about the new restaurant Cuoco, Italian and evolving. The head chef is Stuart Lane, who cut his teeth at Juanita's and also brings his experiences from an immersion in Italy's small kitchens. He is the first "outsider" to lead a Tom Douglas kitchen in the last 5 expansions. And from the chatter it is going to be fun and wonderful. 

Also on the program tonight was a small glimpse of the two other restaurants the will be previewed the next week on Friday and Saturday. Unfortunately it is sold out. So it is Cuoco on the first floor and the The Brave Horse Tavern on the second, with the Tibetan "Ting Momo" in the back of the building, I can't wait to see the build out. They hope to see it opening in the first of April with an abbreviated schedule for all the restaurants. 

We started with a wonderfully tasty proseco that came in a box, everything tonight was about disclosure and analytics. For a "jug" wine it had great potential and as the staff pointed out the only thing lacking was a need for more carbonation. We then started down the list of the preview dishes with explanations of not just the dish, but how it was conceived, evolved and how we the previews would like it changed.

So here it is in a straight forward line up, all comments are mine, because I got to eat the food. 

24 hour rosemary cured beef: not enough seasoning, too smoky/burnt and the beef to bread was too small a taste for the bread.

bombolini, tuna: two choices, one with a stuffed tuna puree and the other with the tuna puree on the outside. They both did have some taste success but I think if you stuffed it and provided a puree to dress it you would have the bang it needed. 

grilled duck gizzard spiedini radicchio and green garlic bagna cauda on rhubarb bruschetta: again not enough seasoning on the gizzard, could have used some of the the fat they cut away and should have brought back some of the taste profile with it to caramelize the gizzard. The greens were competing but I can see an argument to lean either way, spring with the radicchio or green garlic to keep it more savory. The rhubarb on the bruschetta was inspiring.  The will be working on this one and I am sure they will get it right.

agnoltti dal plin: this too was a face off between the old and the new. I have to say I like Stuarts better, earthy, savory and more direct in its taste profile. The "older" version was more, which many liked, but lacked the finess that the new Cuoco version has.

tagliata of cotechino sausage with bob's re mill polenta: one of the top dishes tonight if not the top! The polenta was toothy, rich, creamy but not heavy. They explained how they got it and it was truly a revelation. The sauage, in house made, was perfect. Unlike many sausages, with mixtures that are too finely ground, this one was even but course, small grained so you could taste the different meats and seasoned perfectly. Truly a potential star if it stays on the menu. 

Lastly, the desert was two versions of a vanilla rice pudding, one cold and the other warm: unfortunately I did not enjoy either one, I am not a rice pudding kind of guy, but I can appreciate a good desert. This was not one for me and I hope they consider taking it off the menu.

This said, tonight was about the dialog, Tom wanted feed back and the 60 of us were more that willing to enjoy and share our thoughts on some good food and wonderful company. It is so nice to see, learn and hear about how much work and passion goes into creating a restaurant. Now we know why we love going to Tom's, they work hard to get there and they keep working even harder to improve the experience for us the diner.