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Archive for December, 2011

Ravioli Station – 12/27/11 – Closed

No Website

Location: 4620 Leary Way NW

Hours:

Lunch:

Tues-Fri: 11:30am-2pm

Dinner:

Tues-Fri: 5pm-9:30pm

Sat: 5pm-10pm

Sunday: 5pm-9pm

Happy Hour:

Mon-Sat: 5-7pm

Sunday: All Day

Ever since moving back to Ballard, we’ve been curious about the Ravioli Station. Housed in a wedge shaped building that looks like an auto shop, it’s located in the industrial no-man’s land between Ballard and Fremont. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve gone by the Ravioli Station in the evening, looking in at an interior empty except for a couple of people sitting at the bar.

The night we went, the Ravioli Station was exactly that, empty but for one guy at the bar. It’s a small place, cheerfully painted and homey. J liked their choice of punk music immediately, spending most of our time there singing along. There are about a dozen tables and a bar with cool bar stools made from large pistons.

Their menu consists of salads, appetizers, and various pasta dishes. The specialty is ravioli, naturally, which comes in various flavors with four choices of sauces. There’s a full bar with draft beer and wine as well.

The Service:

Other than the guy at the bar, we were the only patrons. Our perky, friendly server readily answered any questions we had.

The Drinks:

I had the House Red wine, a generic, nameless peppery wine that was actually quite good.

J ordered a Rum and Coke, which was happily strong on the rum side.

The Food:

As a starter, the server brought a plate of lightly toasted foccacia bread and bowl of herbed oil. The foccacia bread was fine but the oil was delicious. Herby. Oily. So salty. I wish I could’ve taken a jar of it home with me.

I ordered a side sized Medin’s Mixed Green salad, carrots, cabbage, gorgonzola, toasted pecans, tomatoes, and olives tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. A large portion with an interesting combination of flavors. Fresh, crisp vegetables mixed with the spicy, roasted pecans and the strong gorgonzola cheese. The balsamic vinaigrette was just a bit too sweet but otherwise, on the whole,  it was quite good.

My entrée was Medin’s Pasta, spaghetti, prawns, olives, scallions, anchovies, and garlic with marinara sauce. A huge bowl of pasta with a pile of shredded parmesan on top. The spaghetti was a little past al dente. The marinara sauce tasted of sweet, caramelized tomatoes and salty anchovies. A very fishy sauce. The prawns were rather small but numerous. Each entrée came with a large, fried, cheese ravioli which was a little greasy, to be honest. All in all a pretty good dish.

J chose the Ravioli Sampler, one each of their raviolis (cheese, spinach, grilled sirloin, butternut squash, and chicken) with a sample of their four sauces (marinara, alfredo, tomato cream, and roasted red pepper). He thought it was neat that he didn’t have to choose just one ravioli and sauce to try. The beef was shredded rather than ground. The chicken had an interesting flavor that we couldn’t put out finger on. Some of the sauces were tasty but a little too rich. He liked the fried ravioli more than I did.

The Price:

House Wine: 8.00

Rum & Coke: 3.00

Side Medin’s Mixed Greens: 3.50

Medin’s Pasta: 14.95

Ravioli Sampler: 14.95

The Verdict:

The Ravioli Station was a nice, little place with a good atmosphere and friendly service. It felt like a bar trying to be a restaurant. The herbed oil and salad were delicious and the rest of the meal was good. The only issue we had was with the price. It seemed a bit pricey for food that was merely good rather than outstanding. We’ve had far better meals during the course of this project for equal if not less money. For instance, the amazing gnocchi J had at Pasta Bella was less expensive.

Since the Ravioli Station is a bit out of the way, we probably won’t go back any time soon. In some ways we hate to give this place a nominally “meh” review. The service was friendly and the atmosphere was great. If the price went down by just a bit, it might be worth the trip but as it is, we would rather go back to Pasta Bella when we’re in the mood for Italian food.

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The Sexton – 12/18/11

Website

Location: 5327 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Tues-Sun: 5pm-2am

Closed Monday

Happy Hour:

Tues-Sun: 5-7pm

The Sexton opened in Madame K’s old space last weekend. For months I’ve walked by the space wondering when they were going to open and curious to see what had been done to the place. Gone are the dark red walls and bordello chic, replaced with a  white washed walls and Southern rustic décor. The silverware doesn’t match. Some of the drinks come in tall jam jars. There’s even a trio of Mason jar chandeliers in the back seating area. The layout is still similar. Small bar in the front, open kitchen in the middle and a patio out back. The whole place is very airy with high ceilings. The Sexton has a certain style that is becoming more common in Ballard. The best way I can think of to describe it is … The Sexton is the type of restaurant I would expect to find on Capitol Hill. Simple. Stylish. A bit pretentious but not in a bad way.

The Sexton specializes in small-plates of Southern style food. Pork ribs. Hush puppies. Collard greens. Served along with their homestyle food is an extensive bourbon list and some creative cocktails.

We showed up at 5 on a Sunday night a couple of days after they opened with our friend, AJ. By the time we left an hour or so later, the place was nearing capacity. Considering The Sexton is, as J puts it, “the new hotness”, don’t be surprised if it’s crowded.

The Service:

Our server was really nice and friendly. Attentive without being intrusive. She was really apologetic when the first two bourbons AJ ordered off the list were not available. As we left, AJ stopped to compliment the chef and received a fist bump in return.

I think the only issue we had were the flimsy paper napkins. Considering a lot of the food on their menu is finger food, the napkins fell apart pretty quickly and there were not near enough of them. Yeah, nitpicky I know. Ask for extra napkins right off the bat.

The Drinks:

Since we were hanging out with AJ, J and I ended up each ordering a drink from their specialty cocktail menu both before and after our meal.

I started with Daisy’s Last Stand, Serrano-infused tequila, lime, grenadine, ginger, and soda. A very crisp, summery drink with a nice tequila burn. The heat from the Serrano was very subtle and combined unexpectedly well with the ginger.

My after dinner drink was The Phoenix Stakes, bourbon, plum syrup, lemon, and cardamom bitters. The opposite of my first drink. Rich, thick, and sweet with just a hint of autmny spice. It was almost like drinking dessert.

J’s first drink was Widsith’s Revenge, aged rum, lime, falernum, Aquavit, and Italian vermouth. Another summer drink. Light but not, as he put it, “foofy”. Not super sweet. He was impressed that he could taste each of the components yet it was still mixed quite well.

His second cocktail was the Lash and Steel, rye, dubonnet, amaro nonino, and absinthe. It wasn’t so much a cocktail as a mixed shot. An old-fashioned style cocktail with liquor and not much else. Mixed well with no one element overpowering the others.

The Food:

We each ordered a side dish and a main entrée style small plate.

I chose Hush Puppies with red pepper aioli as my side. So light and fluffy on the inside and delightfully crispy on the outside. The corn meal flavor was strong and there were chunks of corn kernels in the batter. Not greasy or heavy. The red pepper aioli could’ve been a bit stronger but it was tasty none the less.

J started with the Sexton Mac, bacon roux, five cheeses, arugula, and balsamic redux. A rich, perfectly cooked mac and cheese. He commented on how well seasoned it was, when other mac and cheese he’s had invariably need a little salt and pepper. The bacon roux gave it a faint hint of porky flavor. The addition of the arugula surprised J and really added a nice, peppery note to the dish. One of the best mac and cheese he’s had for quite a while.

My entrée was the Herb and Honey Twice Roasted Chicken with cider jus. Moist and tender with crispy edges. It was nearly half a chicken with a wing, thigh, and part of a breast. The au jus was honey sweet with an underlying herb flavor. It was so good that I took to dipping the hush puppies in the jus.

For his entrée, J ordered the Sage and Cider Braised Ribs with coleslaw. So good. The chef wasn’t afraid to give the edges of the pork a bit of char. The meat was so tender that it could be cut with the handle end of his fork. Moist all the way through. The au jus was delicious. He liked how nothing like flour or cornstarch has been added to the jus as a thickener. His only complaint was the plating of the coleslaw under the pork. The au jus made it soggy and the flavors didn’t mix that well. J wished they’d just served it on the side.

The Price:

Daisy’s Last Stand: 8.00/6.00 Happy Hour Price

The Phoenix Stakes: 9.00/7.00 Happy Hour Price

Widsith’s Revenge: 10.00/8.00 Happy Hour Price

Lash and Steel: 10.00/8.00 Happy Hour Price

Hush Puppies: 6.00/5.00 Happy Hour Price

Herb and Honey Twice Roasted Chicken: 11.00/10.00 Happy Hour Price

Sexton Mac: 8.00/7.00 Happy Hour Price

Sage and Cider Braised Ribs: 13.00/12.00 Happy Hour Price

The Verdict:

The Sexton was very good for a place that had, literally, opened two days before. The service was great. The cocktails interesting and tasty. The food was delicious and full of flavor. The braised rib was crazy good. Yes, it’s a bit pricy but worth it. Honestly, one of our favorite meals of the project. We will go back no doubt about it.

Mike’s Chili Parlor – 12/17/11

Website

Location: 1447 NW Ballard Way

Hours:

Mon-Thurs: 11am-11pm

Friday: 11am-12am

Saturday: 12pm-8pm

Cash Only

Mike’s Chili Parlor is a 72 year old Ballard institution. The distinctive Art Deco building has stared down modernity and continues to survive in new Ballard. A dive bar/diner that specializes in chili for decades to the point that even the Food Network has recognized their longevity in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Mike’s is a tiny, one room bar with an old school diner counter running along one wall with a view of the huge pot of chili simmering on the stove. Along the opposite wall are booths with sagging red vinyl benches and in between are a couple of tall tables. Also crammed in to the small space is a pool table. How anyone can play pool without hitting everyone nearby, I do not know.

Their specialty is chili. Meat chili served over beans in bowls. Scooped over pasta, fries, hot dogs, and burgers. Sure you can order a plain burger or hot dog but why would you go to a place called Mike’s chili and not order chili? This is East Coast chili, with a Greek pedigree.  Not a vegetarian/vegan friendly place. They have a full bar, draft beer, and wine as well.

The Service:

Probably the fastest service we’ve had over the course of this project. We had barely sat down before the server came over to ask for our drink order. Friendly, too.

The Drinks:

I had a Manny’s Pale Ale, my default beer when there’s nothing else on draft that I’d like to try.

J ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. The quintessential, dive bar Long Island. Neither terrific nor horrible. Perfectly serviceable with just a hint of tequila.

The Food:

I chose the traditional Bowl of Chili, served over beans with cheese and onion. The first thing I noticed was how dark red it was. They must add a hefty portion of paprika to the spice blend. After a couple of bites, I found it to been very spicy, a little greasy, and way too salty. So salty, in fact, that I ended up drinking a couple of glasses of water afterwards because I was so thirsty. I did like the texture of the finely ground beef though. It made me nostalgic for taco salads. I liked the fact that they pour it over the beans so they stayed firm rather than turning to mush. I think I would have enjoyed the depth of spicy flavor of the chili more had it not been so salty.

J ordered an East Coast/Midwest favorite, Chili Pasta with cheese and onion. He loved his chili so much so that he lamented the fact that he’d ordered a small rather than a large. The pasta apparently helped cut the spiciness and saltiness of his chili because he didn’t have any complaints. He liked how finely diced the onions were so they ended up being a condiment rather than a feature of the chili. All in all, he thought it hit the spot.

The Price:

Manny’s Pale Ale: 4.25

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Bowl of Chili: 5.50

Sm. Chili Pasta: 6.75

The Verdict:

J and I are kind of split on Mike’s Chili Parlor. He loved his chili pasta, partially out of nostalgia, I think. There aren’t many places in Seattle that serve chili over pasta. I thought my chili was way too salty. I would be willing to give Mike’s another chance to see if it was just a freak, salty batch of chili since I did like the texture of the meat.  Perhaps on some cold winter night, we’ll go back.

Ristorante Picolinos – 12/14/11

Website

Location: 6415 32nd Ave NW

Hours:

Deli:

Mon-Sun: 10am-7pm

Café:

Mon-Sun: 6:30am-8pm

Restaurant:

Tues-Sat: 4:30pm-10pm

Sun-Mon: 4:30pm-9pm

Happy Hour:

Sun-Thurs: 4:30pm-6:30pm

For our last 14th dinner of this year, we chose Ristorante Picolinos, an Italian restaurant located on the corner of 32nd and 65th. It’s a sprawling complex that includes a deli, a café, a bakery, a bar, and the large main restaurant which includes a large outdoor patio. They offer everything from an early morning espresso to Panini to pizza to traditional Italian cuisine.

Picolinos is a higher end Italian restaurant of the sort that is appropriate for various special occasions. It’s the sort of place you take visiting relatives for a nice meal or where you go to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, or birthdays. They can readily accommodate large groups in the three large dining areas. In fact, the night we went, there were at least four such groups arriving.

Their menu tends toward traditional Italian pasta dishes with a modern twist. Pastas like linguine, gnocchi, and rigatoni are paired with salmon, clams, and wild boar. They also offer pizza both traditional Italian style and a small menu with gourmet ingredients. Picolinos includes a full bar, beer, and a small, but well thought out wine list.

The Service:

Our server was friendly, helpful, and very Italian. The service was exceptional.

The Drink:

J ordered a glass of Nebbiolo, a lighter red wine. He really liked how it went well with everything he ordered. It was the type of mild wine he would suggest to someone who does not normally like red wine.

I chose a glass of Super Tuscan, a rich red wine blend that was great on a winter day. For a weighty wine, it was surprisingly tangy and not at all bitter. Just a lovely wine with cheery notes.

The Food:

Our meal started with a basket of bread and a small bowl of pesto. The pest was bright and fresh, tasting strongly of garlic and Italian parsley. The bread was a little weird though. Instead of a baguette or slices of rustic Italian bread, it was a wheat bread that didn’t really pair with the pesto all that well.

For the appetizer/insalata course, J chose the Bresaola Limone e Capperi, thinly sliced, dry aged filet mignon, arugula, shaved Parmesan, and olive oil. The best meat salad he’s every had. The salty, rich filet mignon was meltingly tender. The peppery arugula complimented the meat and Parmesan. A bite comprised of each component tasted amazing and it was surprisingly light for a meat based salad.

I ordered the Insalata di Arugula, fresh arugula, pears, roasted hazelnuts, and gorgonzola with a balsamic vinaigrette. A huge heap of arugula accented with perfectly ripe pear slices. The gorgonzola was crumbled into small pieces so the ripe, salty flavor didn’t overwhelm. Everything was set off well by the light vinaigrette.

For his entrée, J had the Pasta del Giorno, gnocchi with braised short ribs in a tomato sauce. The short ribs were delicious, tender, and flavorful. J loves gnocchi so he was a little disappointed to find these were a bit overcooked and gummy, although he did like their sweet potato flavor. He also thought the tomato sauce was a little too sweet. It needed a punch of citrus to cut it. All in all, his meal tasted good but not as good as he expected.

I ordered the Rigatoni alla Salsiccia, pasta sautéed with wild boar sausage in a tomato sauce. The pipe-like rigatoni were cooked to a perfect al dente. The dense, almost caramelized tomato sauce had just a touch of heat. At first, the boar sausage tasted like your typical Italian sausage but eventually its inherent gaminess came though. Overall, a lovely entrée with a delicious, non traditional meat.

For dessert we shared the Crème Brulee. While the sugared top wasn’t quite as crisp as we prefer, it was still quite good. The custard had a distinctive anise flavor and was topped by three delicious brandied cherries.

The Price:

Nebiolo Damila: 10.00

Super Tuscan: 11.00

Bresaola Limone e Capperi: 12.00

Insalata di Arugula: 11.00

Pasta del Giorno: 19.00

Rigatoni alla Salsiccia: 17.00

Crème Brulee: 7.00

Coffee: 2 @ 2.00 ea.

The Verdict:

Other than J’s entrée, the meal we had at Ristorante Picolinos was quite good with J’s appetizer and my entrée standing out as exceptional. Their interesting takes on traditional Italian fare, fabulous wine choices, and romantic atmosphere really should make it a destination restaurant for special occasions when the fact that it’s one of the few places in Ballard that can handle large groups is added to the equation. I wouldn’t mind trying one of their pizzas some day, so I’m sure well be back.

Considering there are two similar Italian restaurants in Ballard, Pasta Bella and Picolinos, how do they stack up against one another? Honestly, as much as we did like Picolinos, both J and I prefer the homey atmosphere of Pasta Bella and their much larger menu of traditional Italian dishes. In the end, I think it comes down to location. If we lived nearer to Picolinos, we’d probably choose to go their more than once every couple of years but since we live three blocks away from Pasta Bella, I think we will go there far more often. Frankly, both are worth trying once.

Ballard Restaurant News November & December

There’s been a flurry of activity in the Ballard restaurant scene in the last few weeks. A couple of places are about to open and one Ballard institution is closing after 10 years.

Thaiku is closing on December 23 after 10 years.

Bad Albert’s opens … finally.

Belle Clementine, a family style, subscription restaurant to open this week.

Golden Beetle starts serving family style dinners.

The Sexton to open in Madame K’s old space this week.

Reuben’s Brews, a micro brewery and taproom, to open in Ballard.

Urban Family Public House to open in Sutter Home & Hearth old space.

A note about the project itself and a couple of restaurant openings. We added The Sexton to the list with the hope that we can get there before the end of the year/project but, after looking at the information for Belle Clementine, we’re keeping it off the current list. It will only be open 5 nights before the end of the year and appears to be more akin to a supper club/subscription restaurant. Granted, once the official project is done, we are going to continue to visit and review new Ballard restaurants as they open so we will get to Belle Clementine eventually.

I’ll post more about our plans once this project officially ends before the end of the year.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: ,

Pho Big Bowl – 12/11/11

No Website

Location: 2248 NW Market St

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 10am-10pm

Sunday was cold and damp so we decided it was the perfect weather for a bowl of pho. Pho Big Bowl sits at the west end of Market Street, near La Isla and Anne’s Teriyaki. It’s another restaurant on that block that would be perfectly at home in a strip mall. A simple interior of formica tables and the type of chairs I’m beginning to identify with cheap Asian restaurants. Other than a few spring rolls, the menu consists entirely of pho in bowls of varying sizes.

The Service:

The pho came out super quick and the staff was friendly.

The Drink:

Every bowl of pho comes with a can of soda so J had a Sprite. I was kind of chilled so I opted for Green Tea which was pretty bland.

The Food:

J ordered the Pho Tai Chin, noodle soup with medium rare eye round and brisket. Surprisingly good. The meat was flavorful, cooked to a perfect medium rare that continued to cook in the hot broth. Unlike the pho at Pho Than Bros, this meat looked and tasted like beef which gave the already good broth an extra punch of flavor. The small size was the perfect amount.

I chose the Pho Ga, noodle soup with shredded chicken. The chicken was moist and tender. The broth was good on its own but adding Thai basil, lime, and a little Sriracha gave it an even richer flavor. The noodles weren’t mushy. Overall quite tasty.

The Price:

Pho Tai Chin: 4.85

Pho Ga: 4.85

Green Tea: 1.00

The Verdict:

Pho Big Bowl totally surprised us. After our visit to Pho Than Bros, neither of us was particularly looking forward to another pho restaurant. The fresh ingredients and flavorful meat completely changed our minds about pho. I can understand why a bowl of piping hot pho would be lovely on a cold, winter day. I know I’d like to try the vegetable pho for it variety of veggies so we will be back.

If you have the choice between Pho Than Bros and Pho Big Bowl, choose Pho Big Bowl. You won’t be sorry.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , , ,

The Other Coast Café – 12/4/11

Website

Location: 5315 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Sat: 10:30am-7pm

Sunday: 10:30pm-6pm

Cash Only

The Other Coast Café was one of the first places to open up on the block of Ballard Ave that now includes places like Bastille, Shiku, and The Nobel Fir. It’s a hole in the wall, narrow place with a handful of tables, a long counter lining one wall, and a huge glass deli case. If there’s more than a couple of people in line, the place feels packed.

The menu of salads, sides, and hot and cold sandwiches, hangs above the small prep area. They also offer chips, canned soda, bottled juice, and a small selection of beer.

The Service:

Friendly if a bit frazzled. This was to be expected considering we chose to go on a Sunday afternoon while the Ballard Farmer’s Market was in full swing right outside the door.

The Drinks:

J was pleasantly surprised to find RC Cola in the cooler. I chose a bottle of Thomas Kemper Black Cherry soda.

The Food:

J ordered a Meatball Sub (spiced, homemade meatballs topped with marinara and provolone served in a baguette) out of nostalgia. It was a traditional meatball sub that reminded him of the ones he had as a kid back in Pennsylvania. It tasted good and was made with fresh ingredients. His only problem with it was the fact that he had to eat it with a fork. He actually wished the meatballs had been smaller so he could have picked it up to eat. A weird issue but that one problem broke the aura of nostalgia for him.

I chose the Reuben, pastrami, swiss, sauerkraut, and mustard on rye bread. The pastrami was flavorful and moist but lacked the thick black pepper crust I like. There was way too much sauerkraut on the sandwich. So much that it overwhelmed the other flavors. The rye bread was toasted a bit too long, making it dry and crumbly. Okay over allbut nothing special.

The Price:

Meatball Sub: 8.35

Reuben: 8.55

The Verdict:

The Other Coast Café had good sandwiches, made with quality, fresh ingredients but I doubt we’ll return any time soon. It just wasn’t anything special about their sandwiches. I could make a pastrami sandwich at home for less money. If we want a sandwich, we tend to go for something different and interesting, like the selection at Café Mox or The Shelter.