Spring Dining Roundup

Madison Park Conservatory - Deviled Eggs with Dungeness Crab

Madison Park Conservatory – Deviled Eggs with Dungeness Crab

With summer finally here I thought I’d give a shout out to some of my favorite dining experiences of the past few months that didn’t get a dedicated post. If you haven’t been to these six restaurants, put them on your summer to-eat list. My birthday was in May and a group of my girlfriends let me pick where I wanted to go to celebrate. I’d been wanting to try Cormac Mahoney’s Madison Park Conservatory. Voted one of Food and Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2012, Mahoney’s tag line is “delicious plants and animals,” and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to see what all the buzz was about. Because this group of food and cocktail-loving ladies rarely go out for a proper meal we arrived right at the start of their one-hour long happy hour with the intention of following our usual plan to order as many things as we can off of any and all menus placed in front of us, share it all, pick our favorites, and always, always, order dessert.

Upstairs in their cozy bar with enticing views of Lake Washington we started with deviled eggs with dungeness crab. I love old-school deviled eggs, but add fresh crab and I could have eaten these all night long. At $3 a pop for half an egg, though, I would have racked up a pretty hefty bill. We moved on to oysters with a pink peppercorn mignonette. We’re lucky to live in the Northwest where we have access to an abundance of fresh seafood and the oysters here were another thing I could have eaten all night. The grilled beef tongue was next. I’ve never been a big fan of tongue before but this is their signature dish so we had to try it. I thought it was better than other tongue I’ve had with its nice, crispy grilled edges but we were all a little underwhelmed, although we were completely taken with the pickled grapes that accompanied it on the side. After adding on a Caesar salad with just the right amount of anchovy in the dressing we were still hungry but had run out of small shareable plates, so we ordered a couple of burgers with fries to share and I think their burger is a definite contender for one of the best in town.

We topped all this off with an affogato to share for dessert but we should have each ordered our own. The cocktails were well-crafted, with my only complaint being that I ordered a lovely vodka and cucumber concoction which was just too summery for the day’s weather. They did have a bourbon drink with maple syrup that sounded like my beloved Canadian Old Fashioned I discovered in Vancouver BC, and that will certainly be the perfect drink to order come Autumn.

On another day a couple of other girlfriends and I headed to Revel in Fremont for a Saturday brunch. This contemporary, minimalist restaurant describes itself as “urban-style Korean comfort food,” and indeed it was. I had the short rib rice bowl with cilantro, chimichurri, and egg, and even though I was stuffed halfway through I couldn’t stop eating. Both of my dining companions had the porridge and seemed equally smitten. I really want to get back here soon for brunch again and start off with an order of bacon, hazelnut, and pickled Asian pear donuts, as well as try their dinner menu with tempting items such as pork, green curry and coconut dumplings, and roasted duck with smoked tea noodle, pickled raisins and duck cracklings.

Ma'ono Fried Chicken - Fried Chicken

Ma’ono Fried Chicken – Fried Chicken

Asian food is always a theme in the Pacific Northwest and now we head to Ma’ono Fried Chicken and Whisky, formerly Spring Hill Restaurant, in West Seattle. With my hubby and our friend Stacy we had reservations and ordered our bird in advance, which is the only way to guarantee you’ll get to splurge on their amazing fried chicken. And that’s what you should go there for. We ordered a couple of sides as well to sample a range of food and while they were all fine – I did really enjoy the pork cracklings even the next day – it’s the chicken that stood out and will be long-remembered and craved.

Speaking of chicken, the highly-anticipated Bar Sajor opened in Pioneer Square this past spring. It’s the beginning of what appears to be a renaissance for this beautiful but neglected part of town rife with Seattle history. Leading the way is Chef Matt Dillion, Food and Wine’s Best New Chef in 2007 and a 2012 James Beard Award winner. The restaurant is a bright, airy space on Occidental Avenue and is one of those places where as soon as you step through the door you feel like you’re somewhere else, and that in itself is worth a visit. Like Ma’Ono, Bar Sajor sells a limited number of chickens each night. Completely different in style, my friends and I split half a chicken amongst several other items just to try it out. It was tasty as were the other dishes we ordered, including pickled vegetables, kale, carrots, and smelt with avocado. But the winner for me, and the reason I’d come back in addition to the beautiful space, is the chicken liver pate served with rye crackers and pickled mountain huckleberries. The pate paired with a fabulous, bubbly house cocktail (which is no longer on the menu and I sadly can’t remember its name) was an incredible duo and I’m anxious to go back on a sunny day to have just that.

Little Uncle - Pad Thai

Little Uncle – Pad Thai

I love Thai food despite the fact I generally find most Thai restaurants to be mediocre. I think it’s the ingredients I love and all the possibilities of the combination of flavors that go into Thai food but that too often get watered down for western palates. I was lucky enough to work with a Thai native a few years ago and he did teach me to order pad thai “Thai style,” which made at least one improvement with my Thai eating experiences. Over a recent weekend in Portland, Oregon, I headed out one afternoon for a long overdue visit with my friend Megumi, where we caught up over lunch at Pok Pok. A Thai restaurant owned by Chef Andy Ricker, who’s influenced primarily by the northern Thai cuisine of Chiang Mai, Pok Pok opened in 2005 and was locally voted Restaurant of the Year in 2007, receiving national press ever since. Most recently, Bon Appetit named Pok Pok one of the 20 most important restaurants in America. With this acclaim, Chef Ricker has been very busy expanding Pok Pok, opening up additional restaurants in Portland as well as in New York.

The first thing you’ll notice when you read over the menu is that there probably isn’t a single dish you’ll recognize from most Thai restaurants. A bit overwhelming with its lengthy descriptions of dishes that all sound delicious but get easily confused if you’re not familiar with the menu, we were finally able to settle on three dishes to share. Unfortunately, I didn’t write their names down as I was trying to balance catching up with a friend and focusing on the food. What I can say is that they were all unique and delicious with an explosion of flavors that confirmed for me what I suspected Thai food can and should be. We shared a green papaya salad with shredded pork called Khao Man Som Tam, in addition to a dish with duck and noodles in a bright red curry broth beautifully served in a bright red bowl, and another dish with eggplant and a variety of other ingredients and flavors, all washed down with curiously refreshing flavored drinking vinegars. But these words do the food a disservice and it really just needs to be experienced. If you get a chance to go to Pok Pok, don’t hesitate. Be prepared for a long wait outside and to taste Thai food that you never knew existed.

Bar Sajor - Smelt with Avocado

Bar Sajor – Smelt with Avocado

Since dining at Pok Pok I’d been longing for something similar here in Seattle when I had the chance to stop by Little Uncle on Capitol Hill. Little Uncle is a take-out window run by PK and Wiley Frank with a very limited menu focusing on Thai street food. They have a few seats on the sidewalk, and since the weather was cooperating I placed my order and enjoyed my meal al fresco. I ordered the pad thai, because it’s one of their three or four regular menu items and I wanted to know what authentic pad thai might taste like. I wasn’t disappointed. Little Uncle does not use a star system for the spiciness level. It’s served one way: chilies, sugar, lime, and peanuts served on the side so you can make it as spicy, sweet, or tangy as you like. The flavors were clean and crisp and refreshing, not heavy and thick like most pad thai I’ve had previously. I also ordered a sala bao neua buay, or steamed bun with beef cheek, not because I needed it to fill me up but simply because I had to try it. A popular street snack in Thailand, it again boasted bright, crisp flavors that highlighted the ingredients instead of drowning or covering them up.

My only disappointment with Little Uncle was that it’s not convenient enough to get to very often, but I soon found out that was about to change. In June, they opened a new location – including indoor seating – in Pioneer Square, contributing to that neighborhood’s recent renaissance. With a slightly different, but still limited, menu I stopped by as soon as I heard it was open and ordered the spicy beef salad. It didn’t look like much more than some greens and some beef, but as I took my first bite I was swept away by the flavors. Spicy, tangy, and sweet with a citrus pop all at the same time. And did I say spicy? I absolutely loved this dish and look forward to going back to have this again and trying the other items on the menu. Right now they are only open for lunch, but their space has a bar and they’ve applied for a beer and wine license, so I suspect they will have expanded hours – and perhaps an expanded menu – soon.

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