This is short review about a tiny place - Bathtub Gin & Co. – a great little watering hole tucked away in a Seattle Belltown alley.

The lower level of Bathtub Gin & Co.

The lower level of Bathtub Gin & Co.

The bar has the feel of a prohibition-era speak-easy – minimalist décor, dark (but not gloomy) interior, shelves full (and I mean brimming) with beautiful bottles of various booze, and a few tables and chairs set up throughout its two tiny floors.  Even the exterior is discrete and you have to keep your eyes peeled for the tiny sign to the right of the nondescript door leading to this lair (located in a street between 1rst and 2nd Avenue).

Unlike a prohibition-era speak-easy, however, you are certainly not drinking moonshine.  The bartender would certainly not stand for it.

Cocktail and the bar's namesake.

Cocktail and the bar’s namesake.

Instead, he has a number of craft cocktails on offer, and if you’re feeling adventurous he’ll ad lib a drink to suit your mood.  And it is this feature that really sets Bathtub Gin & Co. apart from your average bar – the way that the set up and bar staff work together to create a feeling of intimacy and conviviality.

The drinks are all delicious, and there is something for everyone.  Cocktails are about $10 each, but (this being Seattle) there’s a happy hour menu of $7 cocktails.

If you’re in Belltown and in the mood for a special and original experience, look not further than Bathtub Gin & Co.  Just be sure to look hard, or you might miss it.

 

Bathtub Gin & Co. on Urbanspoon

A delicious baguette sandwich is a beautiful thing – especially when it’s done right.  I was consequently glad to come across Baguette Box in Seattle’s Capitol Hill area, because they do it right and then some.

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The delicious drunken chicken sandwich.

Baguette Box is a no frills, feel-good sandwich place with style.  We arrived right at opening on a lazy Sunday and were greeted by the friendly counter staff who made two great selections – drunken chicken (to foreshadow the next 2 days…?) and a veggie eggplant sandwich. Both were delicious.

The eggplant sandwich was well seasoned and did not have greasiness to it.  The texture was nice, too – smooth and creamy which contrasted with the bread’s crunchy crust.

The drunken chicken sandwich was similarly well executed.  It was spicy but not too spicy.  I appreciated that they didn’t go overboard with the sauce to make the sandwich soggy.  In fact, despite the depth of flavour, the sandwich had a lightness to it.  This was no doubt the result of the fresh ingredients.

In terms of value, Baguette Box is actually pretty good.  A filling sandwich (or rice bowl) rings in just under $8.  Oh…and did I mention that they serve beer?  I would definitely recommend this place for a pit stop on your way to Capitol Hill from Seattle downtown – a great spot to recharge, or load up on picnic goodies for a sunny summer day.

Baguette Box on Urbanspoon

Every time I come to Seattle, I come to Japonessa, a sleek and cheerful downtown sushi restaurant with a twist.  I am never disappointed, as Japonessa does a lot of things right.

Eel Cucumber Sushi and Salad

Eel Cucumber Sushi and Salad

No matter how busy the restaurant gets – and it gets plenty busy so be sure to make a reservation – I’ve always been greeted promptly and in a friendly way, and seated quickly.  I’ve never waited long to be asked if I’d like to get things started off with a drink, and a follow-up food order follows soon thereafter.  Which leads us to the food…

The food is an interesting mix of traditional Japanese sushi, sashimi, and some izakaya dishes (karaage, for example), as well as some dishes with a Mexican twist (thus, presumably, the restaurant’s full name: “Japonessa Sushi Cocina”).  Unlike some restaurants’ Franken-hybrids, the savvy cooks at Japonessa have found a nice balance between the kick and boldness of Mexican and other Central/South American cuisine, and more traditional Japanese cuisine.

One successful Japa-Mex marriage was the ginger chicken with a crown of tortilla chips.  There was the power of the ginger, the softness of the chicken, the smoothness of the sauce, and the crunchiness of the chips.  The eel cucumber sushi was also lovely, offering a bold and initial jolt of flavour which melted away into a clean after-taste.

The cocktails were also lovely, and there is something for every palate and dish selection.

This is a solid restaurant with consistently good service, dishes, cocktails, and products.  It’s also incredible value when you take advantage of their happy hour deals (which I shamelessly do without reservation).  I know I’ll be back.
Japonessa Sushi Cocina on Urbanspoon

My yen for Italian comfort food continues, and brought me to Rione XIII, the lovely restaurant in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle.  The restaurant was recommended to me by a friend, and I’m grateful for it.

Tripe and MargheritaThe atmosphere is chic without being casual, clean but not sterile.  The lighting, like the service, is warm and inviting.  We showed up around 5pm’ish (around happy hour…as luck would have it…) and we proceeded to gorge ourselves on what was on offer.  The stand-out dish was the tripa alla romana, a tripe and bean dish in a lovely, rich tomato sauce.  The tripe was well cooked – firm but not too chewy – and the flavours worked well together.

Next up was the margherita pizza.  The crust was chewy and not too crunch, and the tomato sauce was well seasoned and a nice little sweet and salty balancing act.  For some reason, I found the homemade mozzarella a little “meh”, but then the fried artichokes swooped in and saved the day.  All was washed down with some surprisingly wonderful cocktails:  Spritz (aperol, soda, and prosecco) and Americano (sweet Vermouth, Campari, and soda).

in terms of value, this was a very reasonable restaurant (though we, admittedly, enjoyed the benefits of a happy hour menu) and we both ate well for $50 (including drinks).  If ever you’re in the neighbourhood, I would definitely check out Rione XIII – a restaurant that scores high in terms of ambiance, value, and flavour.

Rione XIII on Urbanspoon

I’ve recently been on a pasta making binge.  It’s weird, but once Sunday rolls around I feel the need to roll out some dough, and eat some comfort food.  This past Sunday, I had some leftover eggs, cream, and bacon, and I though why not revisit an old friend:  Spaghetti alla Carbonara.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara.  It ain't much to look at...and then you taste it.

Some sources trace the etymology of the dish to the coal miners in Italy of days of yore, and that “carbonara” is a derivative of “carbonaro”, or charcoal burner.  This is quite appropriate, because mastering this recipe is all about mastering heat (you don’t want to overcook the eggs at get stuck with clumps of yolk rather than an unctuous sauce).  It has also been linked to an old Roman dish called “cacio e uova”, to which prosciutto was added later in the life of the dish.  A few other possibilities are proposed here.

Whatever its origins, there is something rather special about the creamy sauce and saltiness of the prosciutto (or bacon…though I prefer prosciutto) that hits the spot.  The recipe I’ve found to be a consistent winner is one I’ve adapted from the Chez Piggy Cookbook.  It serves 4.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 6 Tbsp of finely diced onions
  • 150g of prosciutto, diced (or salty bacon if you’re in a jam)
  • 6 Tbsp of 35% cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4-5 egg yolks (ideally organic eggs because they look pretty and taste better)
  • 500-600g of fresh pasta (do yourself a favour and make your own, or buy high quality dried pasta)

INSTRUCTIONS

While you prepare your ingredients, get a big pot of salted water to a rolling boil.  Harold McGee suggests using 10 times the pasta’s weight in water.  I concur.  There is nothing worst than using too little water, and losing that beautiful rolling boil the second your pasta hits it (and absorbs all of the heat).

Sauté the onions in a medium-hot frying pan until the start to soften and become translucent.  Then, add your prosciutto or bacon.

At this point, you should be adding your pasta to the boiling water and cook per the instructions.

Once your prosciutto turns a beautiful coral pink (or once your bacon is just cooked through), add the cheese and cream to the frying pan, and mix until well combined and heated up.  Turn off the heat.

In a separate, large bowl (and this is key because you want enough room to mix the other ingredients in later) add the egg yolks and mix enough to break them up into a nice, even orange paste but don’t mix to vigorously or else they’ll take in too much air.

Set aside about 5-7 Tbsp of the pasta water (this stuff is gold), strain your pasta, and then add the pasta to your bowl of egg yolks.  Coat your pasta with the yolks.  To do so, keep the pasta moving so that the yolks don’t get a chance to set.  You’re goal is a creamy sauce, not bits of hard boiled yolk.

Once coated evenly, add your cream/cheese sauce to the bowl with 2-3 tablespoons of the pasta water you saved (it will thicken the dish slightly) and mix well.  Serve it right away.

Lemonade with Lemon Tart.

Lemonade with Lemon Tart.

For years now, I have been making home-made lemonade.  There is nothing like fresh-pressed lemons, or even the bright smell of lemons on your hands after you’ve squeezed a half-dozen of those bad boys.  I was first inspired to try this by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s excellent River Cottage series.  The recipe he provides, and which I’ve reproduced in my own form below, is genius because it makes great tasting lemonade, and also because one can add his or her own twists to this classic drink.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 organic lemons
  • 3/4 cups of sugar (more if you like your lemonade sweet, or if your lemons are unusually tart)
  • 1 cup of boiling water
  • 3 cups of cold water (or less if you want a more concentrated lemonade)

INSTRUCTIONS

First, wash away the wax on the outside of your lemons.  I like to dampen my hands with water ever so slightly, take a big handful of salt, and then rub/clean the lemons.  The salt is rough enough to remove the wax without damaging the skin of the lemons.

Next, grate away the outside of lemons and put what you get in a big bowl.  After you’re done that, cut your lemons in half, squeeze every bit of juice out of them (with a juicer, or by hand) and put the juice in with the grated lemon skins.

Dump in your sugar and then your cup of hot water.  Mix well to help the sugar dissolve in the liquid.  Let everything steep for about 30 minutes.  Strain the mixture to get rid of any of the rind/skin and skin.  What you will have is a lemonade base.  This is a beautiful thing, and you can do a number of things with it.

You can add the 3 cups of water I mentioned above, to make your garden variety lemonade.  If you want to make your lemonade more fizzy, add some Sprite or 7-Up instead of the water.  If you want it fizzy but less sweet, add some San Peligrino or other carbonated water instead of the water.  You can also add booze (Bourbon, Gin, and Vodka mix happily with the mix), or you can infuse your drink with mint, elder flowers, or other delicious fruits.

The only thing I would really recommend is that before your put in your water/Sprite/carbonated water/booze into the steeped mix, you should put in a little less than you think you’ll need.  The reason is that you’ll likely put in some ice cubes when you serve the drink, and these will melt and dilute your drink.  It’s always easy to add more water, but once it’s in you’re stuck with it.  Then again…you can always add some more of the concentrate.  Enjoy!

“Intimate” and “warm” are two words that spring to mind when I think of my most recent visit to Nook Restaurant on Denman Street in Vancouver.

The food in this Italian eatery is extremely satisfying.  We shared a number of dishes and all were unpretentious comfort dishes.

2014-03-07 19.01.07The appetizers/antipasto were beautiful.  Our burrata and pancetta plate disappeared in the blink of an eye, and I found that the healthy dose of pepper on the burrata cheese was a deft touch.  The true surprise of the night, however, was a chicken liver spread.  The creamy texture of the spread, crunchiness and seasoning of the toasted baguette on which it was served, and the knock-down punch of the big flavour was incredible.

The pizzas (a margherita and an Italian sausage) were fresh from the pizza oven, which ensured chewy loveliness at places and crunchiness in others.  The only downside was that they were slightly over-salted (IMHO) but I didn’t mind because it was an excuse to order a second glass of red wine.

Desert came.  The chocolate and salted caramel budino was a good idea, but (despite being a chocoholic) I much preferred the panna cotta, which was a refreshing way to end the meal.

I would certainly recommend Nook and will definitely return – but I’ll show up at the crack of 5pm to ensure that we’re seated quickly.

Nook on Urbanspoon

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