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The Gerald – 4/13/12

Website

Location: 5210 Ballard Ave

Hours:

Tues-Sat: 4pm-Close

Sunday: 10am – 2pm

Happy Hour:

4:30-6pm

10:30-Close

The Gerald, located on Ballard Ave across the street from The Tractor, is Ballard’s newest bar/restaurant. It’s a chic place with a 60’s style in keeping with the 50th anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair. Dark, wood paneling. Funky, geometric wallpaper. Nubby upholstery on the cushions of the booths. An European style that is somehow comfortable rather than overblown. Having seen photos of The Gerald on various Seattle restaurant news websites, I thought it would have that overly hipster vibe of some Capitol Hill bars. Instead The Gerald had a comfortable, friendly Ballard feel to it.

They have a great list of classic cocktails with quirky twists. The menu is full of comfort food favorites done through a foodie filter. Veggies chips. Duck deviled eggs. Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Swedish meatball sliders, as a nod to Ballard’s Scandinavian heritage. On Sundays they offer an eclectic brunch menu.

The Service:

Our server was friendly and chatty and interested in how our food and drinks were since she had not yet tried everything on the menu. On top of the friendly service, the manager/head bartender noticed from across the room that the color of J’s drink was wrong, meaning it was missing a key ingredient. So she came over to our table to fix the drink and make sure it tasted better.

The Drinks:

I ordered The Aviation, house infused kaffir lime gin, lemon, luxardo, and maraschino liqueur. I’m not usually a gin fan but his cocktail was quite refreshing with a sharp, almost spicy undertone.

J had a Moscow Mule, ginger and spice infused Fris vodka, lime, and house-made ginger soda. At first J found his cocktail good but a little too gingery and sweet. When the bartender added the missing ingredient, bitters, the cocktail became far more complex and balanced.

The Food:

We started with a couple of appetizers. First, the Deviled Duckies, 4 deviled duck eggs spiked with horseradish. The hard boiled duck eggs were firmer and chewier in texture than regular deviled chicken eggs. The filling had a subtle spiciness that tickled the back of the throat rather than making you sweat. The horseradish complimented rather than overwhelmed the egginess. These deviled eggs were so rich that two each was just enough.

Our other appetizer was the Devils on Horseback, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with asiago cheese. The asiago cheese, instead of the more common blue cheese stuffing, was a nice substitution. Its salty sharpness complimented the sweet, caramelized flavor of the date. The bacon wrapping, which can sometimes be over or under cooked, was broiled to a perfect state between crispy and chewy. We both liked the presentation of the dates on a bed of arugula. While most would ignore the arugula, we found it a perfect palette cleanser.

I ordered the Gourmet BLT, applewood-smoked bacon, arugula, and tomato with Tillamook cheddar, red onions, mayo, and avocado served with veggie chips. I was surprised when the sandwich arrived untoasted. I don’t think I’ve ever had a BLT from a restaurant without the bread being toasted. It was an oddly brilliant idea, the soft bread insuring that the interior ingredients wouldn’t slip out. The bacon was perfectly cooked. The grated Tillamook cheese only slightly melted onto the bacon allowing its sharp flavor to come through clearly. I really liked their use of spicy arugula instead of lettuce which gave what could have been a boring BLT a complexity. All in all a very good BLT.

The side of veggie chips was quite good as well. Especially the salty, fried greens which weren’t greasy or under cooked. Next time we may order a whole bowl of veggie chips for an appetizer.

For his entrée, J chose the Sweet Chorizo Grilled Cheese, smoked gouda with house-made chorizo and sliced tart apples with apple slaw. J described his sandwich as “a deconstructed cheese burger”. They used grated gouda which melted better over the spicy chorizo. Very different than any grilled cheese he’d ever had. Not as greasy or heavy. No big glop of cheese. No ingredient overpowered any other making for a surprisingly balanced sandwich. The apple slaw was hard to figure out since it was so unique. It tasted like slaw but with tart, Granny Smith apples and a hint of Chinese five-spice powder.

The Price:

The Aviation: 10.00

Moscow Mule: 10.00

Deviled Duckies: 6.00

Devils on Horseback: 7.00

Gourmet BLT: 10.00

Sweet Chorizo Grilled Cheese: 10.00

The Verdict:

The Gerald is a welcome addition to Ballard Avenue. Outstanding cocktails. Great service. Good food with a homey menu with a twist. There are definitely a number of other things on the menu that we would like to try. The Swedish meatballs and the chicken and waffles are at the top of the list along with trying out their Sunday brunch. We’ll be back.

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.

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.

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.

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.

La Isla – 11/25/11

Website

Location: 2320 NW Market St

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 11:30am-2am

Happy Hour:

Mon-Sat: 3pm-6pm, 10pm-12am

Sunday: 3pm-6pm

La Isla is another unexpected and interesting ethnic restaurant in Ballard. It opened a few years ago just off the corner of Market and 24th, next door to Kitchen and Things. La Isla serves Puerto Rican cuisine in a fairly large space that once housed two retail stores. Someone I know said its location, surrounded by retail spaces as it is, reminded him of a restaurant in a strip mall. The interior is painted with bright colors and decorated with a Caribbean flair. The night we went it was nearly at full capacity.

La Isla’s menu is filled with unique appetizers and entrees that lean heavily towards garlic, meat, and plantains. I wouldn’t say it was really suitable for vegetarians. Many of the offerings probably can’t be found anywhere else in Seattle. The drink menu consists of a number of Caribbean inspired cocktails and an extensive rum selection.

The Service:

Our server was friendly and took our orders quite quickly. Unlike many places we’ve been to, they gave a longer than normal space of time between our appetizers and entrees. This may have just been a product of being rather busy that night but it was quite nice regardless.

The Drinks:

J ordered the Caribbean Crush, dark, coconut, and 151 rum mixed with a splash of Kahlua and fruit juices. Tasty with a strong coconut flavor that completely masked the considerable amount of liquor in the drink.

I had a Mojito, light rum with muddled mint and a splash of soda. It had a different flavor than other mojitos I’ve had. Very minty but it didn’t seem to have a lot of rum in it. I think they must’ve used club soda rather than Sprite for the splash of soda, which gave the drink an odd flavor.

The Food:

Since the menu was so interesting, we decided to order a couple of appetizers along with our entrees.

A friend suggested the Carne Frita, bone-in pork “wings” marinated in adobo, flash fried, and topped with sautéed onions and served with caldo sauce. Very moist and flavorful pork chunks. J said if they’d added a couple more pieces, the Carne Frita would have made a good entrée. The only thing that was a bit off was the caldo sauce. It was far too mild to go up against the meaty flavor of the pork.

We also ordered the Gandules Dip, a blend of onions, garlic, red pepper, green pigeon beans, olive oil, vinegar, and spices served with tostones cups. Interesting, in a good way. The dip had a strong olive oil flavor with hints of vinegar and citrus. A neat little do-it-yourself appetizer. The starchy tostones cups held up nicely to the dip without getting soggy.

For his entrée, J chose the Bisteca Encebollado, an 8 oz cut of churrasco steak, marinated in olive oil, garlic, and vinegar sauce, topped with sautéed onion and served with beans, rice, tostones, and al ajillo sauce. A huge amount of food. After trying a bit of the steak, J wished he’d spent the extra $1 for the spicier option because it was just a little bland. He ended up eating the steak with the super-garlicky al ajillo sauce for the extra flavor boost. He also felt the steak was a bit tough. J loved the beans and rice so much that he left some of the steak in order to finish them. The sides were so good that he wondered if La Isla served the beans and rice on their own on their lunch menu.

I ordered the Chuletas a la Criolla, two 6 oz pork chops, marinated in lemon and adobo, pan sizzled and smothered in red Creole sauce with beans, rice, tostones, and al ajillo sauce. Another portion of food so large, it couldn’t be finished. Oddly, the pork chops were moist and a little tough at the same time. The chops had just a faint hint of lemon to them. The red Creole sauce, made of onions and red peppers, was a little bland and overcooked for my taste. I like a bit more crunch to my veggies. The tostones and bright al ajillo sauce made a nice little side dish to the rest of the meal.

The Price:

Caribbean Crush: 8.50

Mojito: 7.50

Carne Frita: 7.50

Gandules Dip: 7.00

Bisteca Encebollado: 15.50

Chuletas a la Criolla: 15.00

The Verdict:

La Isla serves good food with a very unique flavor profile. The ingredients were fresh, the portions huge, and the super garlicky al ajillo sauce stole the show. I think our only issue was that the food was really heavy. The appetizers alone can fill you up and adding an entrée to that caused us to still feel stuffed the next morning. I would definitely suggest ordering drinks and a few appetizers or drinks and an entree rather than having both. Also if you go in expecting spicy, Latin American style food, you’ll be disappointed. The Puerto Rican cuisine at La Isla has a more sweet and sour taste with large hints of citrus and garlic. We are both intrigued enough about their menu to go back for more.