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Archive for January, 2012

Ballard Restaurant News – January

It’s been an exciting week for us. We’ve had two blogs pick up the story of this project and our Top Ten list.

Ballard Restaurant Project picks their top 10 of 2011 from My Ballard.

Couple eats their way through Ballard; reveals Top 10 restaurants in Ballard from The Ballard News Tribune.

A few Facebook pages linked to our Best of and Honorable Mentions lists as well: Tuesdays In Ballard, Cafe Mox, Sexton Seattle (#5 on our Best of list), The Twisted Geeks Postcast, and Card Kingdom.

Thank you to everyone who has spread the word about our project. We really appreciate it.

Zesto’s, one of our choices for worst meals of the project (post coming soon), closed and will reopen as a  RoRo BBQ.

The Amber Den, a comfortable wine bar, will open soon just off the east end of Market Street.

A nice article from the Seattle Weekly that gives a more in depth idea of what innovations Belle Clementine is bringing to Ballard’s restaurant scene. Plus, the owner, David Sanford, offers a recipe for Brussels Sprouts and Apple Salad with Caraway Vinaigrette.

To warm up those cold, grey days, Bastille now offers a tropical cocktail menu.

A nice review of one of our favorites, The Monkey Bridge.

Kangaroo & Kiwi Pub will take Carnegie’s space that has been empty for a year.Once they open,  cuisines from all the continents except for Antarctica will be represented in the Ballard.

Bitterroot BBQ now open on Ballard Ave and making the street smell like smoking meat. Our review will be coming soon.

Urban Family Public House opens next door to The Sexton.

Yozen, a self-serve frozen yogurt store, opens on Market St.

Our number 10 restaurant, Flying Squirrel Pizza, now offers a delicious looking meatball pizza.I know where we’re eating this weekend.

A nice little piece about Jay Kuehner, bartender at Sambar. Yes, Le Gourmand and Sambar are on the short list of Ballard restaurants outside the Project’s original boundaries that we will review in the coming year.

Another from the Seattle Weekly, a short profile of our number 5 favorite restaurant, The Sexton.

There you go. I’ll try to make this post a weekly thing since Ballard’s restaurant scene is changing daily it seems.

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Categories: Restaurants Tags: , ,

Honorable Mentions of the Ballard Restaurant Project 2011

This list of our next ten favorite restaurants is far more personal than the top ten. The top ten served us our favorite single meals of the project. The Honorable Mentions are a mix of nostalgic favorites, new-to-us restaurants that totally surprised us, and our go-to restaurants.

People’s Pub

We love People’s Pub partially out of nostalgia … it was the site of our first date … and partially because it serves good, hearty German inspired food. The sausage plate is one of the most affordable and tasty Happy Hour options in Ballard and the crème brulee is divine.

Café Mox

A nifty idea for a café where you can sit and play any sort of game. Great atmosphere.  Creative sandwiches and appetizers made with quality ingredients and one of the best Caesar salads in Ballard.

Shiku

Our favorite sushi restaurant in Ballard. Fresh fish. Really good gyoza. The best Long Island Iced Tea in Ballard. And the best women’s restroom in town.

King’s Hardware

Ballard’s best hamburger. A creative list of toppings for a patty that tastes like it actually came from a cow. The sweet potato fries are delicious and every Monday they offer an awesome deal on their tasty buffalo chicken wings.

Root Table

Tasty, Asian-fusion small plates served with good cocktails.

The Bal-Mar

Great cocktails and bistro fare. The twice-fried French fries with white truffle aioli is divine.

Shelter Lounge

A big surprise. Interesting appetizers … who would have thought that PB & J jalepeno poppers would be good. Really good sandwiches and entrees. Tied for the best Long Island Iced Tea in Ballard.

Ballard Loft

Another surprise. Delicious, fancy hot dogs with really good fries.  A fabulous jalapeno margarita.

India Bistro

Very good Indian food. I put it on this list because I really like India Bistro whenever a craving for na’an and Chicken Tika Masala hits.

Bad Albert’s

Bad Albert’s came back from the grave with an updated interior but most of the old favorites. Great breakfasts with a really good fried egg and bacon sandwich and outstanding huevos rancheros. Lunch and dinner are pretty good as well.

Other Honorable Mentions:

Portalis. The Hi-Life. The Market Arms. The Monkey Bridge. Pho Big Bowl . Uma Thai Cuisine. Staple & Fancy.

Next up: The five worst restaurants.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , ,

Best of the Ballard Restaurant Project 2011

Here it is. Finally. Our list of the top ten Ballard restaurants of 2011. When asked by friends, family, and strangers, these are the restaurants we consistently said were the best and we’ve had a number of people thank us for our suggestions.

It actually wasn’t that hard narrowing it down to ten from the 82 Ballard restaurants we visited. Our top ten turned out to be a good mix of cuisines and price points. They spanned the course of this project, which makes me think we spread out the good ones fairly well.

10. Tie

J’s Choice: Flying Squirrel Pizza

For J, Flying Squirrel Pizza has the best pizza in Seattle. Fabulous crust. Fresh and unique ingredients. Inexpensive for the quality. Quick. He looks forward to going whenever we decide to have pizza in Ballard. I like it, as well, but prefer the wood-fired crust of places like Veraci and Via Tribulani which is why I chose some place else as number 10.

H’s Choice: Bastille

The most beautiful restaurant in Ballard with food and cocktails to match. Delicious cocktails with a French twist. Good, solid French cuisine made with ingredients so fresh that some of them are grown on the roof. A great place to go for a special occasion. Our dinner there, for our first anniversary, was one of the more memorable of this project.

9. Copper Gate

In the top ten on the deliciousness of the Gravlax and Swedish Meatballs alone. J counts the gravlax, mustard, and pumpernickel bread as one of the best bites of food he’s had in his life. I liked the food, cocktails, and the fun décor mix of rustic Scandinavian furniture with old porn. A great nod to Ballard’s heritage.

8. The Boar’s Nest

Good, relatively inexpensive, hole-in-the-wall BBQ. Tender. Flavorful. Friendly staff. We loved how they provided different regional BBQ sauces on the table.  We have looked forward to going back ever since our first trip.

7.Pasta Bella

Do you want eat hearty, traditional Italian food and feel like you’re on the set of The Godfather? Then Pasta Bella is the place for you. A huge menu of fresh Italian dishes at reasonable prices plus a pretty fine wine list. Sure there are “nicer” Italian restaurants out there but they just don’t have the atmosphere of Pasta Bella.

6. Thai Thani

The best Thai food in Ballard and some of the best in Seattle. We’ve been back multiple times since our initial visit. The menu consists of the usual Thai favorites along with an extensive list of unique items. Huge portions and a fun cocktail menu round out a great place. Sure, it doesn’t have the ambiance of Thaiku but the food is way better.

5. The Sexton

Other than a plating misstep … that they subsequently changed after reading our review … our visit to The Sexton, on their opening weekend, was great. Rustic, comfortable space. Friendly servers. Fabulous, creative cocktails. Amazing hush puppies. Southern down-home cooking with a contemporary twist and quality ingredients. A great addition to Ballard’s mid-range, high quality dining establishments.

4. Ocho

We love Ocho, one of the first of Ballard’s creative, high quality restaurants. Awesome tapas. The bacon wrapped dates (La Carolina) continue to be one of our favorite single bites of food. The tapas are so delicious that it’s hard not to order everything available. J calls it “Spanish sushi”.

3. La Carte de Oaxaca

Best and most authentic Mexican food in Seattle. Fabulous cocktails. Small plates of amazing food made with the freshest of ingredients. Fresh tortillas that will spoil you forever more. Totally and completely worth the wait you will invariably have..

2. The Walrus and the Carpenter

If you think the nation has overhyped The Walrus and the Carpenter, you’d be wrong. It IS as good as everyone says. The only reason it is not tied for number one on this list is because it is so blasted hard to get a seat. Fresh, creative cocktails. Delicious, regional oysters. The salmon tartare is one of the best dishes we’ve eaten. Ever. Worth any sort of wait to get a seat. If you enjoy good food, you owe it to yourself to try The Walrus and the Carpenter, the best of the new flock of small-plate eateries in Seattle.

1. Plaka Estiatorio

We ate our review meal at Plaka Estiatorio way back in April and it has been at the top of our Best of Ballard list ever since. We have never had a bad meal here, lunch or dinner. Everyone is super friendly. The meze are fantastic with the best hummus we’ve ever had topping the list. The ingredients are either local or brought in from Greece giving every dish a fresh, authentic taste. Their lunch gyros … omg, the gyros are phenomenal. Anything you order will be cooked perfectly. Seafood. Lamb. Beef. And the avgolemono soup is a delight. Go to Plaka Estiatorio. Really. Don’t wait. You will not be sorry.

Next week I’ll post the Honorable Mentions. The ten restaurants that didn’t make the top ten but we want to highlight them. After that … the worst of Ballard restaurants.

Ballard Restaurant News December 2011

Even though the official Ballard Restaurant Project is over, J and I are going to continue to review new Ballard restaurants,  places that were outside our self-proscribed boundry, review some non-Ballard places both in Seattle and elsewhere, and, on a bi-weekly basis, gather all the Ballard restaurant news. Considering how the restaurant scene in Ballard changes even on a weekly basis, I figured gathering info from various sources would be helpful.

According to their Facebook page, Bitterroot BBQ, on Ballard Ave next door to Old Towne Alehouse, is hoping to open by January 17th.

The Ravioli Station was featured on The Stranger’s “Happiest Hour”.

A look at Ballard’s newest and prettiest bar, Macleod’s Pub.

Bastille to start a $1 oyster happy hour on Monday-Wednesday.

Ballard’s Po’ Dog is going to actually be Po’ Dog, a Scandinavian themed restaurant called the Queen of Norway, and a dance club.

Nice article about the awesome, new BBQ joint, The Boar’s Nest.

Starbucks moving to Lombardi’s/5 Corner space on Market and 20th.

Bad Albert’s reopens with a completely refurbished interior and lots of the old favorites. I must say the Huevos Rancheros are amazing.

Volterra – 12/31/11

Website

Location: 5411 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Bar:

Mon-Thurs: 4:30pm-12am

Fri: 4:30pm-1am

Saturday: 9am-11pm

Sunday: 9am-9pm

Brunch:

Sat-Sun: 9am-2pm

Dinner:

Mon-Thurs: 5pm-10pm

Fri-Sat: 5pm-11pm

Sunday: 5pm-9pm

From the inception of this project, partaking of New Year’s Eve dinner at Volterra was planned. It seemed like a fitting end to dine at one of Ballard’s more famous fine dining establishments.

Volterra is a smallish place with a bar, a square dining room, a patio of outdoor dining in nice weather, and a separate drawing room for special, private parties. SIFF often uses Volterra for Dinner and a Movie nights and, just last month, they had a special dinner with Gary Oldman there.

Volterra’s specialty is Tuscan-inspired cuisine made with local ingredients. Their menu leans heavily toward pasta and hearty Italian fare made with a variety of meats and seafood. Veal. Wild boar. Duck. Dungeness crab. With their highly praised wine list, it’s the type of place you save for a special occasion … unless you know about their weekend brunch. J and I have had dinner at Volterra once before but go for their surprisingly affordable brunch at least once every couple of months.

The Service:

Our server was personable and quite helpful when asked for wine pairings. The restaurant also comped our wine selections and gave us two jars of their fennel salt so they get extra points for that.

The Drinks:

Before our meal began, we each ordered a specialty cocktail. I had the Tuscan Limoncello Rosemary Drop, housemade limoncello, vodka, rosemary, and lemon sour in a rosemary sugar rimmed glass. A very lemony, summery drink with a nice contrast between sweet and herbaceous.

J ordered the Pomegranate Sidecar, brandy, pomegranate, and lemon juice. A sweet, girly cocktail that had no liquor taste at all.

With my meal, I chose a Supertuscan red wine that our server suggested would pair well with my entrée. A delicious, bold red.

J had a glass of Altesino Alte D’ Altesi Toscana, another Supertuscan. His wine was slightly lighter than mine but so flavorful that he plans on seeking out Supertuscans from now on.

The Food:

For New Year’s Eve, Volterra offered a five course, prix fixe menu.

Dinner began with an Antipasti Platter which included two types of salumi, unpasteurized buffalo mozzarella, sautéed portabella mushrooms, lentil salad, pickled onions, asparagus with pancetta, cannellini bean salad, and white anchovies. Almost everything was delicious. The mozzarella was divine, creamy, cheesy, and like no other mozzarella we’ve ever had. Even though I’m not usually a fan of lentils or beans, both salads were delicious. The only off note were the surprisingly nasty tasting pickled onions.

For my primi course selection, I chose the Lamb Sausage and Pepper served on a bed of carnaroli rice. The rice was creamy without being mushy and contrasted nicely with the acidic tomato and pepper sauce. Personally, I would have preferred the lamb sausage to be stronger in flavor but it was tasty none the less. On a whole, the whole dish seemed a bit heavy for a primi course. I ended up not finishing it because I didn’t want to get full when there were still three courses to go.

J ordered the Three Cheese Tortellini in Brodo, ricotta, reggiano, and pecorino filled tortellini in mushroom consume with Italian vegetables. He’s never had tortellini served like this before. He called it an Italian wonton soup. Huge tortellini in a light, flavorful broth. The cheese mixture in the tortellini was exceptionally good.

The insalata course came next. My selection was the Apple and Goat Cheese Salad, balsamic apples and cherries, mixed greens, pine nuts, and goat cheese with a fig-honey vinaigrette. A good salad but rather forgettable. The vinaigrette had very little flavor and the apples were a little overcooked. Since I really like goat cheese, I felt like there wasn’t enough even if it was very creamy. I did like the addition of the tart, dried cherries though.

J’s salad course was the Wild Mushroom Salad, foraged wild mushrooms, sautéed with balsamic vinaigrette served over arugula. Great but a bit heavy. A mushroom and arugula punch in the face, as he put it. He especially enjoyed how the mushrooms had been caramelized to the point of crispiness.

My main course was the Wild Boar Tenderloin in gorgonzola-mustard sauce with crispy Yukon Gold, rosemary potatoes and seasonal vegetables that turned out to be kale and parsnips. Perfectly cooked, medium rare wild boar. Melt in your mouth tender. The strong, gamey flavor stood up well to the rich, creamy mustard sauce. The sauce was so, so good, sharp and creamy. The sides were merely okay. The bland kale and parsnip side could have used a bit more seasoning. Some garlic or salt or lemon. Something. The equally bland potatoes tasted like they had been left on the stove too long. Dry. Tough. Even the amazing mustard sauce couldn’t make them palatable.

As his entrée, J chose the Beef Medallions with truffle-scented wild mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and asparagus with a fontina fonduta, scallions, and fried prosciutto sauce. He asked for the beef to be cooked medium-rare but it came out noticeably closer to medium. The truffle sauce did help to counter the overcooked beef. The asparagus was cooked perfectly. Much like my entrée, his sides felt like an afterthought. The mashed potatoes were okay but he’s had far better ones at cheaper restaurants. In all, slightly disappointing.

Our dessert was a Chocolate Sour Cream Cake, covered in chocolate ganache with a dollop of chocolate mousse, a chocolate wafer, espresso crème fraiche, and chocolate covered espresso beans. Very chocolaty yet rather dry. The ganache was rich and delicious and the chocolate wafer was amazing but J and I both felt like something was missing. The cake needed something tart, like a raspberry sauce, to counteract the overwhelming flavor of chocolate.

The Price:

Limoncello Rosemary Lemon Drop: 8.00

Pomegrante Sidecar: 9.00

Prix Fixe New Year’s Eve Dinner: 2 @ 75.00

The Verdict:

We did feel like we got our money’s worth at Volterra. Many elements were quite good. J’s tortellini. My wild boar. The wines and cocktails. But it wasn’t entirely the outstanding meal we were looking forward to. Maybe it was the prix fixe nature of the meal. Rather than fixing items for each patron, it may have been more like an assembly line. Considering some not so good aspects to our meal, it seems like more care could have been taken with parts of dinner.

Perhaps it didn’t help that on Christmas day, J and I had a prix fixe dinner that was outstanding. At the Heathman Hotel in Portland, there were far more people seated yet every single aspect of that meal was amazing and memorable. For instance, I am not a fan of Brussel sprouts, yet I had a side dish of them with my entrée at the Heathman that made me rethink my dislike. Volterra’s dinner paled in comparison.

Will we go back to Volterra? Sure. We’ve had very good meals there, especially their weekend brunch. And they did give us a memorable meal, even if some aspects weren’t the type of “memorable” they would have preferred. I guess it’s just that Volterra turned out to be a rather anti-climatic end to the project.

Next week we’ll compile our best and worst of Ballard lists along with the best of various types of food … like best burger or best Long Island Iced Tea. And I’ll let you all know where we go from here now that the official project is finished. Thank you for reading.

Copper Gate – 12/29/11

Website

Location: 6301 24th Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 5-12

Happy Hour:

Mon-Sun: 5-7pm

For the penultimate restaurant of this project, J and I went to Copper Gate with a couple of friends. We’d heard good things about Ballard’s only (for the moment) Scandinavian bar/restaurant and were looking forward to finally eating there.

Located on the north end of 24th, from the outside Copper Gate looks like a dive bar. A great art deco neon sign hangs over the red front door. The lighting inside and out is low, so at first we weren’t sure they were even open. The interior mixes the sparseness of Scandinavian décor with walls covered with old, pornographic art and photos. The huge Viking ship bar dominates the center of the restaurant, its dark wood contrasting with the white washed walls and furniture. Copper Gate has its own quirky style that makes it one of the neatest bars in Ballard.

Considering its long Scandinavian history, it’s surprising that Copper Gate is the only place in Ballard that serves dishes from Sweden and Norway. They offer small plates of dishes like gravlax, pickled herring, and Swedish meatballs along with a full bar with local draft beers, wine, liquor, and Aquavit.

The Service:

Our servers were friendly and unobtrusive. We ended up staying for a good, long time and they had no problem with us sticking around.

The Drinks:

Since we were there with friends for a few hours, J and I ended up having a couple of cocktails each.

For my first cocktail, I ordered the Stor Agurk, Aalborg aquavit, lemon, sugar, and cucumber. A bright, crisp drink with a flavor that reminded me of Thai food for some odd reason.

J’s first drink was the Epplecider, brandy, Gamel Dansk, curacao, and apple juice. He said it tasted like an alcoholic apple cider without the fizz. Very innovative in his opinion.

My second drink was the Kir Jaral, Heering cherry liquor and Marquis de Perlade sparkling wine. Very good. A nice cherry flavor without being overly sweet. Sparkling and crisp.

At the behest of J’s friend, T, he ordered a shot of Lysholm Linie Aquavit. He quite liked its stinging, strong alcohol taste. It was like Jaegermeister’s kinder, gentler brother.

The Food:

We started with the Pommes Frites with dill and curried ketchup. They had a nice dill flavor but were just not hot enough. We’ve noticed a trend with a few new restaurants lately of serving fries just over lukewarm. Fries should be hot, otherwise they tend to go limp quickly, like these did. The curried ketchup, on the other hand, was awesome with a strong curry flavor. The fries ended up a vehicle for the ketchup.

Our other starter was the Gravlax, cured salmon, pumpernickel, and dill mustard. J doesn’t usually like pumpernickel bread but found the combination of bread, mustard, and gravlax amazing. Every element complimented the other. The strong bread, the sharp-sweet mustard, and the smoky salmon with its hint of sweetness. The salmon was perfectly cured to a point between a soft lox and a firm smoked salmon. J said it was one of the best appetizers he’s ever had and when we go back to Copper Gate it will be ordered again.

For his small entrée, J ordered the Swedish Meatballs with celeriac-potato pure and lingonberry preserve. The combination of each component created a perfect bite. Exactly what a Swedish meatball should taste like rather than merely being an Italian meatball in Swedish style gravy. Our friend, T, says Copper Gate makes some of the best Swedish meatballs in Seattle. The celeriac-potato puree was perfectly creamy. All in all, J loved this entrée.

I chose a couple of small entrees to share with the table. First were the Fish Cakes with lemon zest, tarragon aioli, and parsley salad. Honestly, these chubby fish cakes were rather bland. The interior was the consistency of a sponge cake with a very mild fish flavor. The battered exterior wasn’t fried crispy enough to create the much-needed contrast with the spongy interior. The soft exterior and interior made the whole thing rather unappetizing. The tarragon aioli was nearly as bland and added nothing to the flavor of the fish cake.

My other entrée was the Coriander Honey Pork Skewers with apple salad. These were killer. Tender with just a hint of spice. The huge, porky skewers were seasoned so well that I savored each bite. Delicious. Another item that I will order again. The apples on the side were crisp and tart, contrasting well with the fatty, spicy pork.

Our friend, A, ordered the Mussels in Aquavit-tomato broth with bacon and let us have a bite. Amazing. The mussels were perfectly cooked. The delicious broth wasn’t too acidic and had just a hint of herbaciousness from the Aquavit. A mere taste of this dish convinced J and I to order it whenever we go back to Copper Gate.

For dessert, the four of us shared the Glogg Iskrem, Glogg poached pears and vanilla ice cream. The ice cream held up very well to the slightly warm, mulled wine sauce. The poached pears remained quite crispy in the spiced wine sauce. Very good.

The Price:

Stor Agurk: 9.00

Epplecider: 8.00

Kir Jaral: 9.00

Lysholm Linie Aquavit: 8.00

Pommes Frites: 6.00

Gravlax: 9.00

Swedish Meatballs: 9.00

Fish Cakes: 9.00

Coriander Honey Pork Skewers: 9.00

Glogg Iskrem: 6.00

The Verdict:

Copper Gate has really good food for what is essentially a bar. The atmosphere is creative and comfortable … unless you find photos and paintings of naked women offensive. The specialty cocktails are unique. The food shines with a nod to Ballard’s heritage. The gravlax, alone, is better than some entrees we’ve spent more money on. Sure the fries and fish cakes were misses but Copper Gate’s fresh take on traditional Scandinavian cuisine is well worth the trip. We will go back, no doubt about that.