Archive for July, 2011

Bastille Café & Bar – 7/14/11


Location: 5307 Ballard Ave NW


Sunday Brunch: 10-3

Dinner: Sun-Thurs: 5:30-10

Fri-Sat: 5:30-11

Happy Hour:

Mon-Sun: 4:30-6

Sun-Thurs: 10pm-2am

Bar Hours:

Sun-Thurs: 4:30-12

Fri-Sat: 4:30-2

I remember when the building Bastille inhabits was a wood and metal workshop where there was a glowing eyeball on top of a giant metal spider in the window. Part of me wishes they had kept the spider for Bastille. Perhaps guarding the rooftop garden.

Bastille is the loveliest restaurant in Ballard. The main dining room, decorated in white tile and black iron work, feels like a French bistro. Large windows light the huge dining area where a bar and circular fire pit sit on one side and traditional booths on the other. French films play on the TV above the bar. Through glass French doors on the left is additional seating in a conservatory patio area. Add to this an intimate back bar and a beer garden on nice days and Bastille is hands down the largest restaurant in Ballard.

Frankly, from the beginning of this project, I had it in my head to visit Bastille for our first wedding anniversary. How could we resist going to a restaurant called Bastille on Bastille Day? Since I knew we would not be the only ones with this idea, I made dinner reservations two weeks in advance.

The Service:

Bastille was packed when arrived a little after 7pm. Even though our reservations were for 7:15, we were seated immediately at a booth. One of the few drawbacks of Bastille is the acoustics. The huge, open space can get very noisy when full.

Our server was great. Friendly. Helpful. She gets major points for bringing us complimentary champagne after J mentioned it was our first anniversary. Even though there were people waiting to be seated the entire time we were there, we never felt rushed. Our server’s attentiveness was one of the things that made our evening delightful.

The Drinks:

The Champagne was great. Crisp and cold.

We also ordered from their specialty cocktail menu. I chose the French 75 (gin, champagne, lemon and sugar) to keep with the champagne theme. It was quite refreshing. Like lemonade with just a touch of sharpness.

J ordered the Monk’s Habit, calvados, aquavit, Benedictine and antica formula. He thought it was very interesting and really good.

The Food:

We started our meal with half a dozen Penn Cove Oysters. These large, meaty oysters had an amazing, salty ocean flavor. The mignonette that accompanied it was tart but mild enough that it never overwhelmed the oyster’s distinct sea taste.

Next came a lovely, crunchy Baguette with sea salt butter. At each table is a small bottle of Dijon mustard so I added that to my slice of baguette to give it an extra sharpness.

Along with the baguette came three slices of Tete de Cochon, a terrine of pig’s head with semi-hard boiled eggs and mustard greens. The eggs were less cooked than I’m used to but delicious none the less. The mustard greens had a saltyness that complemented the creamy, fattiness of the Tete de Cochon. The chunks in the terrine gave an intense, smoky ham flavor. J was a bit wary of something made of pig’s head but found it as delicious as I did.

For a main course, I ordered the traditional Steak Frites, a grilled flat iron steak in red wine sauce and mushroom confit with French fries and garlic aioli. My stead was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. Juicy and tender with a peppery coating. The red wine sauce had a slightly bitter aftertaste and was just a bit too salty though. The mushroom confit was nicely cooked without being mushy.

The frites came in a paper cone and were twice cooked to perfection. Crunchy on the outside, creamy inside and lightly salted. The garlic aioli was good but a bit too mild for my taste.

J chose the Confit de Canard, crispy duck leg with sweet corn, mustard greens and smoked oyster mushroom jus. J declared it the best duck leg he’d ever had. The skin was really crispy. It was very tender and not at all greasy like previous duck he’s ordered elsewhere. The duck flavor nicely merged with all the other components of the dish. The only issue was that he felt the dish was a little too salty.

As a shared side, I ordered the Tomates a La Provencale, baked tomatoes, herbed bread crumbs and goat cheese. The main reason I ordered this dish was because I have a recipe for tomates a la Provencale and wanted to see what it tasted like. The best part of this side was the tomatoes. They must either grown their own tomatoes in a hothouse on the rooftop or buy them from a grower. These were the freshest, best tasting tomatoes I’ve had for a long time. An intense tomato flavor. While I would have preferred the goat cheese to be a bit stronger, this dish was delicious.

Since neither of us could resist, we ordered the Butterscotch Crème Brulee with black cardamom shortbread for dessert. Hands down the best crème brulee in Ballard. The serving is more than big enough for two to share. The sugar crust was perfectly torched to a crispy, glass-like texture. The savory, spiciness of the cardamom shortbread complimented the rich, butterscotch custard.

The Price:

French 75: 9.00

Monk’s Habit: 10.00

Oysters: 15.00

Baguette: 3.00

Tete du Cochon: 12.00

Steak Frites: 24.00

Confit du Canard: 24.00

Butterscotch Crème Brulee: 8.00

The Verdict:

We had an awesome meal. The drinks. The food. The service, especially, made our first wedding anniversary a night to cherish. Bastille is a great place to celebrate a special occasion. Sure the main courses are a bit pricey and ours were a little over salted but the great experience we had more than made up for those minor issues. Barring being elsewhere during our future anniversaries, I could picture making this a yearly thing.

So, yes we will go back to Bastille. In fact, I’d like to go back before the project ends. They offer a weekend brunch I’d like to try as well as, during the summer, a tour of their rooftop garden. And their happy hour menu looks delicious and much cheaper than their regular fare.


Sam’s Sushi – 7/12/11


Location: 5506 22nd Ave NW


Mon  – Fri: 10am-3pm, 4:30pm-10pm

Saturday: 12pm-3pm, 4:30pm-10pm

Sunday: 4:30pm-9pm

On Tuesday, due to my need to read “A Dance with Dragons”, J indulged my request to go out for dinner. That’s how we ended up at Sam’s Sushi.

Sam’s Sushi was Ballard’s only sushi restaurant for years. This unassuming place just north of the Market/22nd/Leary intersection is the only sushi place open for lunch. It has no nonsense decorating with comfortable booths and tables match the affordable menu. They offer the usual array of Japanese food: sushi, udon, yakitori, sake, Sapporo and bento boxes without the hipster, upscale atmosphere of some of the other sushi places in Ballard. No fancy cocktails or industrial decoration here. Just a simple sushi joint.

The Service:

Great service. Once J arrived, our order was taken and arrived with amazing speed.

The Drink:

J and I shared a large carafe of cold Nigori Sake. This creamy, unfiltered sake was much sweeter than J expected but I liked its cool texture.

The Food:

We started with our usual appetizers. The Edamame, while piping hot and well salted, were just too overcooked for my taste. I like a “snap” to my edamame and the ones at Sam’s Sushi were mushy.

Our second appetizer was the Gyoza, wonton wrappers filled with pork. These arrived just slightly pan-fried. Virtually all other gyoza I’ve had, the exterior was fried to the point of crunchiness so these were an interesting change. J loved them.

We chose two specialty rolls from their menu. First, simply for the name, the Spider Man Roll, soft-shelled crab, mixed greens, avocado and cilantro topped with crabmeat, spicy mayo, and tobiko. This roll was huge. Twice the size of any other sushi roll I’ve ever had. Not only was it huge but also the majority of the roll was filled with ingredients other than rice. Only a small ring of rice surrounded the delicious, crunchy, fried crab bits, fresh avocado and mixed greens. Each piece took two or three bites to finish.

Our second, equally huge specialty roll was a Lobster Roll with fresh lobster, mixed greens, cucumber and cilantro. Large hunks of lobster filled this roll with just a hint of bite from the cilantro. Flavorful and tasty as well.

The Price:

Large Nigori Sake: 7.50

Edamame: 4.50

Gyoza: 6.50

Spider Man Roll: 8.95

Lobster Roll: 11.50

The Verdict:

J and I agreed that Sam’s Sushi is a really good, cheap sushi alternative to the other, hipster-ish sushi joints in Ballard. Surprisingly good and huge rolls. Great prices. Quiet atmosphere. If you wanted a non-threatening sushi restaurant to take a newbie to, Sam’s Sushi would be the place. Their rolls aren’t too weird and if you don’t want sushi, there’s a nice menu of non-sushi options.

Is it the best sushi place in Ballard? No, but for the price it’s pretty good.

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Portalis – 7/10/11


Location: 5295 Ballard Ave NW


Tues-Thurs: 4pm – 11pm

Friday: 4pm-12am

Saturday: 12pm-12am

Sunday: 12am – 10pm

Monday: Closed

J and I wanted to go somewhere quiet for dinner on Sunday while Ballard Seafood Fest was happening. When we walked by Portalis earlier in the day, J asked if it was on the list, suggesting dinner there after I had answered, “Yes”.

Portalis is a small, intimate wine bar located within a wine shop about halfway down Ballard Ave. One side of the rather rustic interior is given over to racks of wine bottles. The wine shop gives regular wine tastings throughout the week. In fact, I’ve visited their Sunday market tastings after shopping the Ballard Farmer’s Market. The people who run the tastings are always knowledgeable and friendly.

Along the other side of the shop runs a long bar as well as a handful of tables nearer to the front which can be open up during nice weather. The weather on Sunday was quite nice so J and I sat near the front and people watched.

Portalis’ small menu consists of a few appetizers, entrees, and desserts, all made from local ingredients. Many items on the menu change according to what’s in season so check out the menu online before going. Also, on Saturdays, they offer a price fixe menu of three courses.

The Service:

Our server was prompt, polite, and friendly.

I suppose this might be the best place to mention that Portalis has suggested wine pairings to go with each entrée on the menu. Their suggestions for what we eventually ordered were absolutely spot on and, at least with J’s entrée, unexpected.

The Drinks:

The suggested wine for J’s entrée was an Italian Sangiovese, Poggio Salvi 2008 Morellino Di Scansano. He found it to be a surprisingly light and mellow wine. Great for a summer day.

My wine was a French Grenache, Chateau des Roques 2007 Vacqueyras. This was was much stronger, as befit my choice of entrée. To me it had a bitey, peppery flavor. Although J described it as “Tawny” when he took a sip. Quite good.

The Food:

J chose the Fettuccine, homemade noodles with peas, prosciutto, crimini mushrooms and shaved grana. He was pleasantly surprised by its lightness. He had expected something far creamier. Like his wine, it was perfect for a warm summer day.

My entrée was the Chuck Eye Steak with peperonata and potato gratin. The steak came to the table nicely charred, covered in onions, red and yellow peppers. The meat was tender with a fresh, beefy flavor, which the sweetness of the peperonata enhanced quite well. Very nice.

The potato gratin turned out to be the winner of my entrée. Basically it was a more sophisticated scalloped potatoes made with goat cheese. The potatoes were not overcooked so they still retained a bit of a crunch. The tangy goat cheese complimented the potatoes and the steak. I am tempted to find a similar recipe to try at home.

The Price:

Poggio Salvi 2008 Morellino Di Scansano: 8.50

Chateau des Roques 2007 Vacqueyras: 9.50

Fettucine: 15.00

Chuck Eye Steak: 17.00

The Verdict:

We both really enjoyed Portalis. The intimacy of the restaurant part was comfortable and nice. Great, creative food made with fresh ingredients. Perfect wine pairings. The price is not at all bad for the quality. In fact, considering how tasty everything was, it might be considered a bit low compared to comparable places in Ballard.

Once the project is over, I’m sure we will go back to Portalis. I’m curious to see what new entrees they come up with over the seasons.

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Marking the Halfway Point

Due to J and myself coming down with summer colds, we haven’t been keeping up with the project for the last week and a half. We figured being ill would not make for an enjoyable eating experience. Instead, since we have hit the halfway point in the Ballard Restaurant Project, I thought I would write some about how it’s going thus far.

General Observations about Eating in Ballard:

~ Surprisingly, in the roughly 1 and a quarter square mile area we chose as the boundary for the project, as of July 1st, there are 79 restaurants. Fast food chains, coffee houses and the handful of bars that serve a very limited menu aren’t counted in this amount. Before the end of the year, this number may rise as high as 83 should the few pending openings (Thai Thani, Red Mill @ Totem House, Bitteroot, and whatever the heck is going into Madam K’s space) actually occur.

~ Since the project started on January 1st, four restaurants have closed; Carnegie’s, 5 Corner Market Bar and Kitchen, Ballard’s Best BBQ, and, sadly, Bad Albert’s.

~ Of the 40 restaurants we have reviewed, 22 were ones we had visited prior to the project. Of those left, half will be places neither of us have ever tried.

~ One of the most surprising discoveries has been that burger joints are to Ballard what Thai restaurants are to Fremont. As of July 1st, there are seven places that specialize in hamburgers (The Counter, Zestos, King’s Hardware, Piada Italia/Seattle Burger Company, Scooter’s, Hamburger Harry’s, and Zak’s), four bars that might as well call themselves burger joints (Hattie’s Hat, Lockspot, The Sloop, and Bad Albert’s) and one place slated to open before the end of the year (Red Mill @ Totem House).

~ Just out of curiosity, I counted the number of 21 and Over establishments in Ballard, some of which are not on our official list since they serve limited menus. Out of the, I would say, roughly 90 bars and restaurants total in Ballard, only twenty- five or so are 21 and over.

Personal Observations:

~ Generally this project has been fun and pretty educational for both of us. Over the time we’ve been together, J and I have become, for lack of a better word, foodies. We slowly began really searching out good food and restaurants both in Seattle and whenever we traveled over the course of four and a half years. This project has caused us to consciously think about what we eat. Within a couple of months, we both find ourselves thinking about what we eat, even when eating outside of Ballard.

~ My mood, good or ill, reflects more on my opinion of the service than on the food. The food stands on its own merits whereas the service is variable.

~ I have tried to be as no nonsense as possible when writing these reviews. I’m not a chef or seasoned food critic or even in the industry, so my reviews tend to be simple. Strike me down should I ever use the word “unctuous”.

~ I haven’t written on a regular basis since I (finally) finished my BA degree back in 2006 so the thought of writing 80+ reviews is rather daunting. It has been a chore at times to get into the rhythm. At first, I attempted to write at the computer but soon fell back into my old habit of handwriting a rough draft then transcribing and rewriting the whole thing in Word. Seems to work well for me.

~ After a couple of months I figured out that publishing reviews from our weekend visits during the week, usually Wednesdays, rather than immediately posting them on weekends leads to more people reading them.

~ J made an interesting observation. We’re doing this project for US. If others want to read our opinions, that’s cool but in the end we’re doing it to get to know our neighborhood better and find new places to eat. So, if you are reading, thank you.

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