Thursday, November 19, 2009

Booze on Parade: Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey

I've been waiting to get my hands on a bottle of Rogue's Dead Guy Whiskey since having the opportunity to sample their gin. Lucky for me the state has set up a temporary liquor store in Pacific Place Mall for the holidays which is carrying a respectable selection of local spirits. So off to the races, shall we?

The first thing you notice is that the copy on the bottle says that it's "Ocean Aged in Oak Barrels for 1 Month". This raises the following two questions:

  1. What, pray tell, is "ocean aging"?
  2. Is a single month sufficient to pick up a decent amount of character from the barrel?

As far as I can tell "ocean aging" is a bit of verbiage that Rogue has cooked up. Their distillery in Newport, OR is located on the coast; spirits aged near salt water have a distinctive character (see, for example, Islay scotch) so they're not wholly making shit up. However, the spirit is only aged for a month, so I suspect that any coastal influences will be negligible. Which brings us to question 2, which can only be answered by application of mouth to glass. Here's the rundown:

  • Color: Lighter than most of the aged spirits in my collection and, since Rogue claims that they don't use any additives, is presumably the result of either the base wort or time spent in the barrel. I don't know that color means all that much, at least in this case, because it looks an awful lot like a bottle of Clynelish 14 yr.
  • Boquet: Has that "good whiskey/bourbon" smell with a hint of woody-ness. Maybe a little bit of vanilla, a shade of butterscotch. It smells smooth; there's only a minor undertone of alcohol/heat.
  • Taste: Eh... not so much. A little bit sweet, a little alcohol. There's really not a whole lot of character.

Yeah, I feel bad saying this, but it doesn't taste like much of anything. So there's your answer: 1 month in the barrel isn't enough time for Dead Guy Whiskey to develop. Though, given my previous experience with whiskey's that have known the barrel for but a brief time, it's not surprising. At least it's not bad; at this stage of the game it still pretty close to a neutral spirit. My advice to Rogue is to let it age for awhile longer and see how it develops.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Visit To The Herb Farm

For those of you who might not have heard of it before, The Herb Farm is probably best characterized as Seattle's version of The French Laundry. It's one of the best restaurants in the area, perhaps the best, and specializes in high-end seasonal/regional cuisine. My better half and I went there this weekend for their "Makin' Bacon" dinner and I feel that a pilgrimage to such a culinary temple merits reflection. In gathering my thoughts, however, I've found it difficult to come up with a simple narrative on which to string my observations. An event at The Herb Farm is far more than just a meal; it crystallizes the essence of what it means to be a foodie in the Pacific Northwest at this particular moment in time. That's a lot of ground to cover, so bear with me if the following meanders a little bit.

Let's start off with some administrivia for anyone who might consider making a reservation. The dinner was a multi-course behemoth that lasted for about 4.5 hours. We went on Friday evening, so I was tired from work and not in an optimal mood for dining. I was also the designated driver which meant, que lastima, that I had to take it easy on the paired wines. We're I to attend to another such event I'd a) get a room at The Willows Lodge, the inn across the street and b) go on a Saturday when I'd be less wrung out. On the upside we chose to be seated at a communal table, which worked out very well. I don't know if it was diligence on the part of the restaurant staff or just sheer chance, but we ended up sitting with people who were close to us in age and general social milieu, which made for easy, if not particularly cerebral, conversation. One final note, which should also provide some context for the discussion which follows, is that The Herb Farm isn't cheap. All said and done I think we ended up paying ~$400 for the two of us after taxes and service charges.

Turning to the meal itself, there's immediately a question about the ground rules for evaluation. Under normal circumstances (e.g. a winemaker's dinner at some nice restaurant) I would simply write about the food, wine, and service: was the food good?, was it as good as I expected given the price of the meal?, etc. But these aren't ordinary circumstances; The Herb Farm has a flock of professionally-trained chefs working behind the scenes1. These are not amateur actors stumbling through their lines; you can be assured that every dish which leaves the kitchen is exactly how they intend it to be. So if I find cause to question a particular it's not because they executed it poorly, but rather because I have a disagreement with the house over what constitutes "good food".

Who am I to be questioning what they deign to put in front of me? I should just shut up and be grateful that I'm in the presence of genius, right? Well... no. I eat out an awful lot, low-brow to high-brow, and if the conversation at my table was representative then the same is true for the rest of the attendees. This is what I mean when I say that The Herb Farm captures the zeitgeist of the moment. The people who go there are foodies, people for whom eating is serious business, and doubtless the staff is well aware of this. At this level dinner is a performance and the staff are no more immune from criticism than any other group of performers; surely no one would balk at opera-goers critiquing a new performance of Der Ring des Nibelungen merely because the director is very talented? The same principle holds true here. The ground rules are clear then: the food must not only be good, but it must be interesting as well; superior execution is taken for granted.

Now that we have an understanding I'll proceed with the food porn and analysis thereof. The menu was impressive, even a little bit daunting: 9 pig-themed courses with paired wines. I certainly wondered whether, come course 8 or 9, I would really be able to appreciate what I was being served. Which brings me to my first observation: if you're going to do 9 courses you better make all of them memorable. As will become clear I believe they fell down in that regard to some degree; a few of the courses felt pretty perfunctory.

Clockwise from top left: croque madam, chawan mushi, pork consommé jelly

They got the meal off to a fine start with a first course consisting of three amuse-bouche. The croque madam was tasty and featured a quail egg and some kind of pork product (ham I believe). The consommé, presented with wasabi cream and smoked salmon roe, was also good; serving it cold as a jelly was a creative presentation. The most interesting of the trio was the chawan mushi, which Chef de Cuisine Lisa Nakamura described as a "creamless custard". This was flavored with Mangalitsa cracklings and topped with roe and crispy pig skin. All of the above were both good and interesting.

Prosciutto bone soup and crostini

The second course was uneven. The soup was utterly unremarkable; some chard and beans in a mild, pork-flavored broth, definitely nothing to get excited about. The crostini, on the other hand, was excellent, spread with pork lardo (essentially whipped pig lard) and topped with some salt, a few brandy-soaked currants, and shreds of cooked pork. Whipped lard sounds kind of disgusting at first blush, but most closely resembles salty, pork-y butter. Pork-flavored butter... how can you possibly argue with that?

Head-and-leek terrine

Things really started to pick up during the third course. I had gone into the meal expecting some kind of charcuterie; you could hardly have a pig dinner without it. But rather than do paté or a sausage, either of which would have been classic presentations, they decided to get adventuresome. Yes, that's a slab of homemade head cheese and yes, it was good. If you've never had head cheese before it's really just braised pork in aspic. While I was tucking into this course I wondered why one would make head cheese to begin with rather than paté; the Wikipedia entry suggests to me that the form probably originated as a convenient way to deal with the flesh on the skull of the pig.

The Herb Farm's rendition was garnished with a slice of kohlrabi and a couple of pickled chantrelles; pickled mushrooms don't sound all that appealing, but they were actually pretty good. The dish could have done without the horseradish-mustard velouté; the sauce wasn't that interesting and was pretty much the same as the wasabi cream that had been used during the first course. But all in all this is an example of the type of food that I think The Herb Farm should be serving; it's something that you simply won't see anywhere else.

Hampshire pork belly

Compare with the course that followed, Hampshire pork belly served on a a bed of saffron-infused mussels and clams. This dish was disappointing for a number of reasons. You can do wonderful things with pork belly; I recently had some at Lark that was fork tender with a wonderfully unctuous layer of fat that dissolved in your mouth. None of that here; it was a little on the tough side. And really, what were they thinking to serve it with clams and mussels? Clams and mussels? Good. Clams and mussels with saffron? Even better. Served as a garnish for pork... huh? It could have been worse; at least the seafood didn't clash with the pork. But there wasn't any synergy either; it was like eating two separate entrees.

Mangalitsa Pig Loin

Moving on... course number 5. This was the highlight of the dinner, a lovely piece of woolly pig loin with spaetzle and roast veg in a red cabbage sauce. Mangalitsa is substantively different from typical pork. The flavor is much more pronounced, much more pork-y, and the flesh is marbled with fat. Mmmm... fat marbling... there's really something to be said for heritage breeds. And, to gild the lily, they finished it off with a few black truffle shavings.

Ham and cheese crêpe

And then the menu just lost steam.

A cheese course followed the pork loin which, like the pork belly, didn't quite work. They stuffed a couple of different kinds of ripened cheese into a crêpe with bits of pork and biscotti crumbs, resulting in a taste that was... odd. One of the people at my table remarked that it was strongly reminiscent of baked beans, which I think was a fair assessment. This course wasn't particularly inspired and certainly didn't showcase any of the ingredients well. So why'd they do it? Did they feel compelled to do something avant garde with cheese because all fancy meals have cheese courses?

Creme fraîche and coriander sorbet

The same holds true for the "Barbeque Intermezzo", a creme fraîche and coriander sorbet with smoked tomato chutney and smoked bourbon-caramel pig tails. Some questions for The Herb Farm staff:

  • Why include an intermezzo to being with?
  • Why make it so heavy? Palette cleanser my ass.
  • Has anyone ever told you that sorbet is, by definition, non dairy?
Really, as I was eating this course the thought that went through my head was that the smoked tomato chutney would have served as a dandy garnish for a bona fide cheese course.

Clockwise from the top: bacon-oatmeal ice cream, quince tarte tatin, house quince paste on zucchini bread, wild chanterelle tapioca pudding

At least the desserts weren't a flop. The bacon-oatmeal ice cream was genuinely interesting in its own right and was garnished with a wafer-thin piece of crispy, delicious bacon. "Bacon" was all over the menu, but it wasn't until dessert that it actually appeared in a recognizable form. I don't think it would have been at all out of place to feature it in one of the entrees... bacon, a little phylo, some ripe cheese... much better than that crêpe concoction.

I'm not at all fond of tapioca but found their version to be very good, though I couldn't for the life of me detect even a hint of wild chanterelle. The various quince confections, housemade membrillo and tarte tatin, were fine but undistinguished. Nothing made me jump out of my chair and say "Oh my god I've died and gone to heaven!". I consider that a lapse on their part; a place like The Herb Farm could certainly produce a superlative dessert were they to turn their minds to it.

left to right: bacon-pumpkin seed toffee, chocolate-pork-cherry cordials, pig's ears, pear jellies, shiso truffles

The plate of sweets that were served as the final course was much the same, a couple of interesting items but nothing extraordinary. The bacon-pumpkin toffee was good as was, in my opinion, the shiso truffles, though some of my dining companions didn't much care for the latter. I'm a sucker for herbs and chocolate, what can I say?

So that's the blow-by-blow as seen through the "Is this good?" lens. However, this was a theme dinner, so it's a worthwhile exercise to stop and consider how well they lived up to their promises in that regard. Specifically:

Makin' Bacon

Go whole hog! Join us as we explore the pig as he once was: proud, marbled, and flavorful. You’ll forget "the other white meat," as you taste a range of pork, both fresh and cured, from hand-tended Heritage breeds including the legendary Mangalitsa, or "Woolly Pig," which we raise on our own farm. Makin’ Bacon is a delightful nose to tail experience.

Given that description I expect that the pig, in some form or another, will be the centerpiece of each course. I don't want each dish to be a whopping great slab of pork, but they should highlight some preparation or aspect of the noble beast. The Herb Farm failed to live up to my expectations in this regard. It seems to me that they approached the dinner as though it were an episode of "Iron Chef" and their job was to work some pig into each dish one way or another.

Seen from this perspective the first five courses were a success and the final four were just pointless. Each member of the former let me sample and really appreciate the heritage pig; even the pork belly, while a little tough, had good flavor. As for the latter the use of pork was perfunctory and sometimes couldn't even be detected.

There's a natural division that falls out of the application of these two criteria, "Is it good?" and "Is it pig?", to the dinner as a whole. The first five courses met both of these goals for the most part while the final four courses didn't fare as well. Why that was the case, who knows? Maybe its an artifact of the way that they divided up the planning and execution amongst the kitchen staff. But I gladly would have traded the final four courses for one or two with better execution.

At this point I've said enough, and perhaps even too much, about the food... let's talk about the paired wines for a little bit. One of the reasons that The Herb Farm has achieved the fame it has is due to its epic wine cellar. I felt that they did a fine job with the wine, especially since this wasn't a wine-centric dinner. Here are the pairings:

  • First Course: Capitello Oregon Brut with flavor shot.
  • Second Course: 2007 Pacific Rim Riesling, Wallua Vineyard, Columbia Valley, Washington.
  • Third Course: 2008 Barnard-Griffin Rosé of Sangiovese, Yakima Valley, Washington.
  • Fourth Course: 2006 Boedecker Cellars Pinot Noir, Stewart, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
  • Fifth Course: 2006 Gramercy Cellars Tempranillo, Walla Walla, Washington.
  • Ninth Course: 2008 RoxyAnn "Night Harvest" Viognier, Rogue Valley, Oregon.

The brut was mostly just a stunt; I had mine with the "bourbon bacon" shot, but had a hard time detecting even a hint of bacon about it. Again, I think this speaks to the "Iron Chef" syndrome I mentioned earlier; there's little sense adding pork to something if it really doesn't contribute to the final product. The Riesling was fine, but doesn't really stand out in my mind as being particularly meritorious. I like the rosé; I'm not much of a rosé drinker but this one was nice and tart, not overly sweet, and had a sufficient does of "red" character to appeal to me. The Pinot was good, and the Tempranillo even better, though I don't think the latter merited the $99/bottle they were charging. Note that they didn't bother with wines for courses six through eight; I think this bolsters my thesis that these courses were something of an afterthought.

The real gem of the evening was the Viognier. It had all of the salutary characteristics that I would expect from what was essentially an ice wine without being the least bit syrupy. It may be the best dessert wine I've ever had; during the dinner I tried to recall where I might have had better and came up empty handed. The story they gave us is that it hasn't been released to the general public yet; they sampled it pre-relase during a tasting visit to RoxyAnn and like it so much that they pestered the vintner until ey relented and shipped them a couple of cases.

Before we leave the world of wine I'd like to meditate for a moment on one of the wines they were promoting for purchase during the meal. They have a small number of bottles of 1795 Madeira, available for the low, low price of $150 for a third of an ounce. Though, if you wanted to be cost conscious, they'd sell you a 5 oz. carafe for only $1795. Before dinner I had the chance to ask Ron Zimmerman how much such a bottle would cost and what it would taste like. The answers to those questions were, respectively, $10,000 and so good that people have been known to cry over the experience.

You wonder how much the crying is due to the quality of the wine and how much of it is just because of the mystique. I have to admit that I was torn during dinner; I was almost ready to pony up $150 for my taste. Not because I expected it to be a transcendent experience, mind you, but mostly just because I wanted to be able to say that I've had a 200-year-old wine.

Which leads me to reflect, finally, on the overall significance of The Herb Farm. What does it mean that this place exists, that people will shell out $200 a head (or more) to eat dinner there, and that they find it worthwhile to advertise wines that go for $450/oz.? The bulk of the conversation at our table revolved around food in one way or another: eating in Seattle, destination restaurants we've visited, the meal itself. I think its safe to assume our group was typical, representative of a class for whom the pursuit of eating experiences has become a central source of... not entertainment exactly, but something a little deeper than that. Perhaps "meaning", but that seems both overly dramatic and a little bit worn. Let's just say that it's important to them.

Where do you go to get your next fix after you've eaten at The Herb Farm? The Fat Duck? El Bulli? On some level the entire project seems a little bit dissolute. The constant search for novelty, for ever-more-refined fare, is symptomatic of something. Too much money, perhaps, coupled with too much free time and nothing more important to do with it. Maybe I'm being too hard, but in the end I came away feeling vaguely disappointed. Unless I make it to Europe it may be the best restaurant I'll ever eat it, but it wasn't the transcendent experience I'd hoped for.

1 Really, the amount of talent they had executing the dinner was remarkable. The proprietor, Ron Zimmerman, introduced them all briefly after the first course. The most junior staff member was an intern from the CIA; most of the kitchen staff had graduated from one or another of the well-known cooking schools. IIRC Ron said that Lisa Nakamura, the Chef de Cuisine, had spent a decade at either Chez Panisse or The French Laundry. These guys absolutely know what they're doing.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Booze On Parade: "G" Sake

Some number of days ago I got into a discussion with an acquaintance of mine about Waji's practice of keeping all the good sake under lock and key that went something like this:

"Most of what they have out in the open is domestic. It's too much effort to track down one of their sales people and have them open up the cabinet and so on." he says.

"Yeah... you know", I counter, "I found a really good domestic there the other day. Wish I could remember what it was called. It was in this squared-off, black ceramic bottle".

"Oh yeah... "G" or something like that. It's Momokawa too."

"Orly? I felt like kind of a douche buying it... the bottle screams `I'm so hip I can't see my feet'."

"Yeah. But it really is pretty good."


So there you have it... two out of two individuals polled in our extremely scientific lunchtime survey agreed that:

  • Tracking down Waji's staff is a pain in the butt.
  • It sucks that you can't find shochu anywhere convenient in downtown Seattle.
  • "G" is pretty good, but buying it makes you look like a dick.

"G" sake (aka Joy) is pretty fricking awesome; I'd go so far as to say it's the best domestic genshu I've had to date. It has a complex flavor that's way ahead of what other domestic breweries (Gekkeikan comes to mind) are offering these days. And, at 18% ABV, it's got a nice kick to it without being too crazy. That said, just look at their marketing and tell me that you wouldn't feel a little dirty buying a bottle.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I'm Going To Leave My Wife For A Bar(tender)

Those of you who read my various blogs have probably got the sense that I'm a guy who likes booze. I'd go so far as to say that I'm an Insufferable Alcohol Snob; I take great pleasure in the esoteric minutia of the mixologists' craft and cry into my 25 year old sherry wood aged scotch when I contemplate the damage that Applebee's has inflicted to the American palate. Last night, however, I met a man next to whom I'm a mere poseur.

That man is Chris Langston, and he runs 1022 South (formerly the Monsoon Room). The man has a liquor collection like I've never seen. When I go out I'm usually happy to find a gin or bourbon on the menu that I've never had the opportunity to sample, but the offerings at 1022 go well beyond that. Chris has a tremendous number of liqueurs that I've never even heard of, much less tasted. Even his mixers are unusual... "falernum", what's that? When I saw that on the menu my first thought was that it was somehow related to falernian, an archaic type of wine once produced in Rome. But no, turns out that falernum is a type of sugar syrup. All good all around.

But having interesting ingredients is only half the battle... you've got to do something cool with them as well. 1022 has a cocktail menu far beyond the boundaries of what is found in your typical bar. There's a whole stable of champagne-and-something drinks under the heading "Salutary Companions"; I'm particularly fond of the absinthe and champagne ("Death in the Afternoon" IIRC). The menu also has a sense of humor; the "Desultory Companions" section features beer-and-shot combos such as "Hilltop Uber Alles" (Rainer w/ a shot of well whiskey).

So yeah, coolest bar I've been to in awhile.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Unbearable Lameness of Regional Fairs

We were looking for something to do this weekend, so on a whim my wife and I decided to visit the First Annual Pacific Northwest Mushroom Festival. Oh boy was it was lame. Lame lame lame lame lame. The had an antique fair, and an educational pavilion, and a bounce house and kettle korn and... hey... wait a minute... where's the mushrooms?

The mushrooms were almost an afterthought. They had a stage with a (lame) cooking demonstration, a place where you could buy (oh so exotic crimini and shitake) mushrooms, and a couple of booths in the educational pavilion dealing with mushrooms. And oh yeah... "The Humungous Mushroom Feast"... five booths serving up tastes of (ok to mediocre) mushroom-themed food. If you looked at a map of the grounds the actual mushroom-related space amounted to a small fraction of the whole. They keep that sort of quality up and they're not going to have a Second Annual fair.

Unfortunately, that's about what I've come to expect from regional fairs. When we were living in Rochester they had the Lilac Festival and the Park Ave. Festival and so on, all of which were primarily excuses to sell people gutter guards and magnetic bracelets. The ostensible reason for the fair is generally nowhere to be seen, which is just sad if the fair is free, and somewhat irritating if you have to pay for admission (as was the case with the mushroom festival).

Monday, June 29, 2009

Andaluca Winemaker Dinner Featuring McCrea Cellars

Sorry that posting has been basically non-existent recently. I've been graduating, writing for my other blogs and, to my dismay, not doing a whole lot of anything interesting foodwise. S'alright... the wife and I went to a wine dinner on Friday that merits the telling of the tale.

The dinner was held at Andaluca, a really good, Basque(-ish) restaurant in downtown Seattle. If you find yourself in the area or, heaven forbid, live in there area and haven't ever been, I recommend that you hie yourself there at the earliest opportunity. Wayne Johnson, Andaluca's executive chef, really went all out for this event, serving four (yes, that's right, four) entrees plus a dessert. The meal was accompanied by the generally excellent wine of McCrea Cellars, a winery specializing in Rhone varietals. For whatever reason I generally think of white wines when I think of the Rhone region, but McCrea does very respectable reds as well. Here's the menu:

  • King Salmon Salad, 2005 Sirocco, 2007 Sirocco Blanc

    Chef Johnson set the salmon salad up as a test of which pairing works best with fish, white wine or red wine? The wifey and I agreed that the Sirocco Blanc went better with the fish but the Sirocco, though it clashed with the fish, was a better wine overall.

  • Pork Medallion with Bacon Wrap, 2007 NV Rose, Ciel du Cheval Vineyards

    The pork was especially well-executed. Any time I try to do bacon-wrapped anything the bacon ends up soggy, but the bacon around the filet was nicely crispy. It was also dressed inventively using rehydrated craisins (gotta remember that for home) and cranberry gastrique1. Unfortunately, the accompanying rose was just plain boring.

  • Duck Confit, 2007 Grenache, Red Mountain

    The presentation of the duck was interesting. Any time I've had confit in the past it's been served on the bone, but Chef Johnson pulled his confit off the bone and shredded it. To his credit the confit was not overly greasy and went well with the Grenache, but the accompanying potatoes were a little bit underdone.

  • Lamb Chops with Creamy Morel Sauce, 2005 Syrah, Ciel du Cheval Vineyard

    There's not much to say about the lamb chops other than they were fine and morels are overrated. The syrah, on the other hand, was definitely a keeper.

  • Liquid Chocolate Cake, 2007 Roussanne

    This was the only disappointing part of the meal. Chef Johnson had talked up the cake and the accompanying pear compote when he was making his pre-dinner round, but I wasn't terribly impressed. The pears were fine, but they weren't anything special; I've made better at home. The chocolate cake was mediocre; there wasn't much to distinguish it from other incarnations of the same I've had at various restaurants. The Roussanne didn't work well either; it was sweeter than the other wines we had during dinner, but really didn't seem appropriate for dessert.

If I were to make an overall critique of the dinner it would be that it was a little like drinking from a firehose. Four entree-sized portions plus a dessert, even over the space of three hours, bordered on overwhelming. And it was just meat... meat meat meat meat meat... there's nothing wrong with meat per se, but there's plenty of other things to eat as well. The dinner could have been improved by mixing things up a little, maybe tossing in a cheese plate or some amuse bouche instead of one of the entrees.

Also, I feel like the McCrea Cellars crew present at the dinner really missed a sales opportunity. My wife and I wanted to snag bottles of the 2005 Sirocco and the 2005 Syrah, but there wasn't any wine for sale. What's up with that? Did someone decree that selling wine at a wine dinner is declasse?

1 I had to look up "gastrique" in my copy of Larousse after the fact; it's a hot sauce made from a reduction of sugar and vineagar seasoned as appropriate for the subject matter.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gari Of Sushi: Tacoma's Best Sushi Joint

Tell me, where do you go when you want

  1. High-quality, interesting sushi
  2. Decent booze
  3. A hip(-ish) atmosphere
  4. Somewhere family friendly
Were you to have asked me a couple of days ago I would have told you that such a thing doesn't exist or that, if it did, it was in some crunchy, hippy nirvana like Eugene. Well, it turns out that such a place exists, and in Tacoma, no less.

The wifey and I had heard good things about Gari Of Sushi by word of mouth, but didn't know exactly what to expect. Thinking that a sushi restaurant on 38th couldn't be all that formal1 we packaged up the wee one and went out to investigate. The parking lot was full when we got there, and with good reason. The sushi was superlative, the atmosphere was great, and they had a pretty good (though somewhat overpriced) booze selection.

Unless they want to continue being a "word of mouth" place these guys need to work on their exterior; you'd hardly have any idea of what's going on inside to look at the place. It looks like your basic, dumpy, not-too-interesting suchi/teriyaki restaurant. They also need a website with some pictures, but I'll try to do justice to the inside. It was bright, but not painfully so, and had lots of random glass art panels hanging on the walls. The booths are large, like they're used to accomodating groups of people out to have a good time, and when we were there they had the TVs tuned to some kind of Japanse obstacle course game show. Comfortable and interesting, but not formal; people hardly even noticed we had a kid with us

But the most important things about a sushi restaurant is, obviously, the food. The had some nice looking bento boxes and the people across the aisle from us got some pretty good looking tonkatsu; so even if you've got non-raw-fish type people with you there's a wide variety of items for them to choose from. I myself stuck with the sushi because they've got one of the most exciting selections I've seen in who knows how long.

They've got a comprehensive selection of sashimi and nigiri for those of you who are purists, but the real interesting bits are their selection of rolls and "speciality" sushi. For some reason or another what is otherwise a very respectable sushi restaurant has allowed many of their rolls to become infected with avocado; negative points for that. However, despite the avocado infestation, there are still plenty of good rolls to be had that show greater than average thought in terms of composition/flavor selection. Here's my assessment of the ones I tried:

  • Gari-sama Maki: The name literally means "Mr. Gari's Roll" and, given the restaurant's name, could be intended as an homage to a (possibly mythical) proprietor. But, given that this roll features gari, the name could also be taken as an homage to the ingredient itself. It contains gari, shiso, and some sort of a mild fish (I forget the exact type) and is really quite tasty.
  • Scorpion: Jalepeno and fish, well executed. I appreciate that they've this fairly spicy option on the menu.
  • Step Family: This is another worthy flavor combination, spicy tuna and ikura (salmon roe).
  • Volcano: Spicy scallop with mayonaise IIRC. Also good.

But the real prize is the specialty selection. I ordered two of them, one consisting of quail egg and lobster salad and the other with salmon, shiso, and a couple of other ingredients which escape me. Both were pretty tasty, but they totally could have played up the presentation. The specialty pieces are little works of art, but came on the same plate as the rolls and essentially got lost. If I were the gari folks I'd be serving the speciality pieces on their own little plate, before the rolls were presented, and maybe accompanied by a little palette cleanser of some kind.

Overall the meal was very well priced. My wife and I got booze, a bucket of sushi, some tempura and some fried tofu, for $72 or so. Not bad really though, as I alluded to earlier, their booze menu was a little pricey. They wanted $13 IIRC for a 300ml of Sho Chiku Bai; not horribly expensive, but no bargain either. Overall I definintely think its worth (multiple) repeat visits and highly recommend it to anyone who happens to be in the area.

1 For those of you not from around Tacoma 38th isn't exactly a high-rent district. The closest restaurants are a couple of (really good, but grungy) burger places.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Booze On Parade: Rogue Spruce Gin

Rogue has been one of my favorite brewers for about as long as I've been a drinker. Not so long ago the wife and I took a trip down the Oregon coast and ended up at Rogue headquarters in Newport. It was definitely like being a kid in a candy store. A lot of the supermarkets where I lieve carry a decent sammpling of Rogue's product line, but they've got the whole shebang at headquarters, including a bunch that I don't believe I've ever seen anywhere else. Did you know that Rogue makes a malt liquor called Dad's Little Helper? It's quite good.

But the real joy of the visit was finding out that Rogue makes distilled spirits as well. We tasted some of the offerings at the House of Spirits and I have to say that I was quite pleased with the quality of the product. We ended up taking home two bottles, the Hazelnut Spice Rum and the Rogue Spruce Gin.

I'm not much of a rum drinker; I like a good rum, but it doesn't get me excited. The hazelnut rum was really too much on the "dessert-y" side for my taste (a lot like Frangelico actually) but my wife, who is a rum drinker, was quite taken by it. The gin, however... I feel quite secure in saying that Rogue Spruce Gin is one of the best gins that I've ever tasted. So let's compare it to a common baseline; I'll use Bombay Sapphire 'cause that's what I have on hand.

Bombay Sapphire is an archetypal gin. You can definitely taste and smell the juniper, but the overall focus is on creating a crisp spirit that does not linger overlong on the palate. In this regard I tend to think of Bombay as vodka's slightly-more-flavorful cousin.

The crew at Rogue don't appear to have been particularly focused on creating a classic gin along the lines of Sapphire. Rogue gin shares a lot with Bombay in both nose and taste, but the Rogue spirit has a richer, more complex flavor. It evokes (presumably spruce) wood rather than juniper berries, but not in a bad way. The taste also lingers on the palette longer than does Sapphire. It's not a "sipping gin" (if such a thing exists), but it does make a mighty fine gin-and-tonic. Grab a bottle if you happen to be in Oregon, otherwise you can get it online from Booze Bros.


I decided that I'd much rather write about food than concentrate on my stupid waste of an MBA. So here I iz... the grand-unified-theory-of-ingredients may have to wait for awhile, since a lot of my free time is being sucked up by another project (and a new child). In the interim I will post about whatever suits my fancy, same as always.