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Posts Tagged ‘Greek’

The Amber Den – 2/25/2012

Website

Location: 1556 NW 56th St

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 2pm-10pm

Happy Hour:

Mon-Sat: 4pm-7pm

Sunday: All day

Open only three weeks, The Amber Den has used its small space well, making it a much needed spot to relax and enjoy a drink at the east end of Market Street. On the corner of 56th and 17th, in a space that has seen a couple of coffee shops come and go, The Amber Den is the type of place to go for a glass of wine and a few small bites before seeing a movie at the Majestic Bay.

The comfortable space has a mixture of tall bar stools and tables and groupings of couches and chairs that invite hanging out. There is an extra loft space that overlooks the main space with a few more tables, chairs, a couch and a bookcase with an eclectic array of donated books. With free wi-fi available, The Amber Den is an interesting alternative to the typical coffee shop, inviting you to stay a while.

Their small menu consists of a variety of small bites that range from meat and cheese plates to stuffed mushrooms to harissa spiced meatballs. They serve local beer and wine along with various non-alcoholic options. The most interesting thing about their wine list is the four choices of Washington State wines on tap.

The Service:

Our server was very friendly and full of suggestions about the best wines and food. When J’s choice of wine came from a nearly tapped out keg, she brought a glass with the last bit, gratis, before bringing a glass of wine from the new keg.

The Drink:

J chose the Proletariat Bordeaux Blend. He found the flavor difference between the end of one keg and the new keg very interesting. The end of the keg wine was stronger with more tannin while the first glass of the new keg tasted far milder.

I had the Hard Row to Hoe Pinot Noir, a fresh and bright red with a bitey finish.

The Food:

We ended up ordering nearly their entire menu. First was the Crostini Trio, a small plate of three homemade pestos (basil, tomato and chimichurri) and bread. The plating was very clever, offering three pestos and six thin slices of baguette. We both felt that the baguette slices needed to be toasted just a bit more. It was a little soft for crostini. The basil pesto was bright with a strong basil/olive oil flavor. The chimichurri was a little too grassy tasting for us. It needed a hit of citrus and/or salt to counteract the green flavor. The best of the three pestos was the tomato, with its rich, caramelized taste.

Next we decided to try the Den Fries, lightly seasoned potato pieces served with chipotle catsup and an avocado aioli. The potatoes could have been a bit crispier and done with some more seasoning … perhaps salt or lemon. The nearly flavorless avocado aioli could have done with the same extra hit of seasoning as the potatoes. The winner of this small plate was the perfectly spiced chipotle catsup. J remarked that they should bottle and sell it since it was so good.

The Albondigas, beef and lamb meatballs in a homemade honey-harissa glaze, were awesome. The little, slightly charred meatballs tasted unlike any meatball either of us had ever eaten. Perfectly cooked with a sweet-spicy sauce. Delicious. We would go back to The Amber Den again just for these meatballs alone.

Then came the Blue Cheese ‘n Bacon Mushrooms, mushroom caps stuffed with a blue cheese, bacon, and date filling. So tasty. The addition of the date to the filling helped to cut the sharpness of the high quality blue cheese. We could have eaten two or three more plates.

Our final small plate was the perfectly Garlic Shrimp tossed with garlic and chorizo. The addition of the hard, salty chorizo gave this dish a spiciness that uplifted what could have been a bland dish. The only issue I had was the odd, floral aftertaste of the garlic and J thought the portion was a little small. Otherwise it was quite good.

The Price:

Proletariat Bordeaux Blend: 8.00 (7.00 Happy Hour)

Hard Row to Hoe Pinot Noir: 6.00 (5.00 Happy Hour)

Crostini Trio: 5.00 (4.00 Happy Hour)

Den Fries: 4.00 (3.00 Happy Hour)

Albondigas: 7.00 (6.00 Happy Hour)

Blue Cheese ‘n Bacon Mushrooms: 7.00 (6.00 Happy Hour)

Garlic Shrimp: 7.00 (6.00 Happy Hour)

The Verdict:

The Amber Den was a neat, little place with a creative menu, good wine, and nice Happy Hour deals. The friendly staff and inviting atmosphere encourage lingering over a glass of wine and the tasty small plates. I can imagine J and I going back before seeing a movie or a show in Ballard and if they were open later, it would be the perfect place for a nightcap. We’ll be returning for the stuffed mushrooms and meatballs at the very least.

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Golden Beetle – 9/16/11

Website

Location: 1744 NW Market St

Hours:

Sun-Thurs: 5pm-11pm (Kitchen closes at 10)

Fri-Sat: 5pm-12am (Kitchen closes at 10:30)

Brunch:

Sat-Sun: 10am-2pm

Happy Hour:

5-6

For our monthly “nice” dinner, J decided we should try Golden Beetle, one of the newest high end restaurants in Ballard. Located in a space that has been home to at least 2 or 3 restaurants before being vacant for a couple of years, Golden Beetle is the second restaurant of local chef, Maria Hines. Her first restaurant, Wallingford’s Tilth, has earned national acclaim for its organic and locally sourced menu. Hines has garnered a James Beard award and is one of the few challengers to have won on “Iron Chef America”.

Golden Beetle reflects Hines’ interest in the cuisine of the Mid-East and Mediterranean. Ingredients and spices like goat, lamb, sumac, harissa, and preserved lemon are cooked using indigenous methods. The full bar uses house made infused alcohol and bitters. They also offer a weekend brunch with some interesting options you don’t see everyday.

A word to the wise, Golden Beetle is, as J puts it, “the new hotness” in Ballard so getting a table without a reservation may take some patience. J and I waited 15 minutes before we were seated in the bar section. We were told that on busy nights, such as the Friday we visited, only a few tables in the bar area are saved for walk-ins. It’s a relatively small space with a subdued Mediterranean themed décor and packed with tables.

The Service:

As I said, we had to wait to be seated, which was to be expected on a Friday evening. J eventually had to ask someone how long the wait would be since he hadn’t been told when he gave the hostess his name. Once we were seated, our server was friendly if a little distracted. Considering how packed the place was, our food came out rather quickly.

The Drink:

Golden Beetle offers an interesting array of specialty cocktails so J and I ordered from the cocktail menu rather than having wine.

I chose the Kirsch Sour, Bulliet bourbon, kirschwasser and cherry. A perfectly mixed cocktail, in which I could taste each ingredient. The sweetness of the bourbon complimented the tart cherry. I’m contemplating making my own version at home since it was so good.

J ordered the Swashbuckling Sangree, Flor de Cana aged rum, simple syrup, lemon, Golden Beetle spiced bitters, and port. He declared it “the best cocktail I’ve had during the project so far”. All the flavors melded perfectly so it tasted like true sangria.

The Food:

We chose three appetizers to get a sense of Golden Beetle’s small bites.

First, the Muhammara Dip, walnut, pomegranate molasses, and extra virgin olive oil. An interesting mélange of flavors. It was almost like a walnut butter with a strong punch of pomegranate and just a hint of spiciness. Interesting but, as is usually the case, they didn’t offer enough pita for dipping.

I chose the next appetizer, the Grilled Halloumi Cheese, halloumi cheese, padron peppers, sea salt and peppermint. I liked this better than J, who was put off by the squeaky texture of the cheese. Even though the grilled halloumi was a bit over-burnt in places, I still liked the salty flavor and the hint of peppermint. The bland padron peppers were  improved when dipped in a little sea salt.

The final appetizer was the best. Kibbeh, ground lamb, date sauce, and eggplant relish. Awesome. We easily could’ve have eaten a full plate of these and gone home happy. These lamb stuffed falafels were delicious. Moist lamb. Crunchy exterior without being tough. The date sauce added a perfect note of sweetness. I’m not usually a fan of eggplant but the relish went really well with the meatballs.

For an entrée I ordered the Chicken Bisteeya, braised chicken, carrots, and potatoes in phyllo, topped with mushrooms. The chicken in the phyllo was quite good on its own. Flakey phyllo. Moist chicken with just a hint of Mid-eastern spice. The cinnamon sprinkled around the edge of the plate mixed with the chicken quite nicely. However, the mushrooms threw the entire dish off with their overwhelming vinegar flavor. I ended up pushing them to the side, uneaten. I would have loved this dish if not for the mushrooms.

J had the Goat Tagine, a goat stew with apricot, couscous, and walnut. Although he felt the portion was rather small, he really liked this dish. Except for one large piece, the goat was cooked perfectly. Moist. Rich. All the component parts harmonized when eaten together. The sweetness of the apricot worked well with the onion and the slightly gamey goat. He commented, while eating, that he could easily imagine having a similar dish at someone’s home in the mid-east.

The Price:

Kirsch Sour: 10.00

Swashbuckling Sangree: 10.00

Muhammara Dip: 3.00

Grilled Halloumi: 8.00

Lamb Meatballs/Kibbeh: 11.00

Chicken Bisteeya: 20.00

Goat Tagine: 24.00

The Verdict:

Golden Beetle was good but should have been better for the price. The drinks, kibbeh, and J’s entrée were great but J felt the portion sizes left something to be desired. We’ve been to a good number of high-end restaurants in Seattle and elsewhere in the US and, for the same price, have had better and larger meals.

I felt the quality was uneven. A few good items, a couple so-so ones, and my disappointing entrée. I would expect the quality to be more consistent now that they’ve been open for over six months … especially for the price.

Having said that, J and I will most likely return to Golden Beetle for happy hour or brunch. The cocktails were outstanding. I’d like to try some of the other small bites and the weekend brunch menu includes some intriguing items … especially the spiced donuts.

Mr. Gyros – 6/4/11

No Website.

Location: 5522 20th Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Thurs: 11:30am-8:30pm (closed from 4-5)

Fri: 11:30am-2:30am (closed from 4-5)

Sat: 11:30am-3pm

J and I were in the mood for something fast and cheap on Saturday afternoon so we chose one of the newer restaurants in Ballard, Mr. Gyros. Located just off Market Street in a storefront that used to house a print shop, Mr. Gyros is a quick service, Mediterranean/Middle Eastern place with a no-nonsense décor of faded travel posters, wonky bar stools and an open kitchen. Honestly, this place looks like it was put together via garage sales and Goodwill. Luckily the sad décor isn’t reflected in the food. Mr. Gyros serves a fine mix of well made Mediterranean food and fast, friendly service.

The Service:

When you walk in, you find a chalkboard menu and a friendly guy who will take your order before you walk around the corner of the counter to pay the equally friendly cashier. They brought our order to us very quickly and a man I’m assuming was the owner came by a few minutes later to ask how our meal was. All in all very nice service.

The Drink:

J grabbed a Coke from the cooler and I had a glass of water. Normally I would have tried their hot Arabic Mint Tea but Saturday was one of the few hot days we’ve had this spring.

The Food:

I ordered the Lamb Plate, which came with rice, tzatziki, a Greek salad and hummus. Covered in the incredibly fresh tzatziki, the tender lamb had a lovely, almost spicy seasoning, which was probably more Middle Eastern influenced. Although there were a few hunks of inedible gristle, I still finished off all the meat. For “fast food” the hummus, served with a little pool of olive oil and a couple of olives, was obviously homemade and delicious. The Greek salad, made from fresh lettuce, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, was tasty as well.

J chose the Gyro Plate with rice, tzatziki, Greek salad and hummus. He thought it was “Awesome”, especially the tzatziki and hummus. He felt that, for the money, it was a great, tasty value.

The Price:

Coke: 1.00

Lamb Plate: 9.95

Gyro Plate: 8.95

The Verdict:

All in all, Mr. Gyros offers very good, “fast” Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food for great prices. If you’re craving a quick gyro made with fresh produce and homemade ingredients, there isn’t a better place to go in Ballard. Plus it’s open until 2:30am on Fridays to cut that late, late night food craving. I know we’ll go back to Mr. Gyros once this project is done, if not before.

Granted if you have the time for a sit down lunch, I would suggest going to Plaka Estiatorio instead since their amazing gyro plate is only a buck more but Mr. Gyros is a perfectly acceptable, alternate choice.

Plaka Estiatorio-4/14/11

Website

Location: 5407 20th Ave NW

Hours:

Lunch:

Tues-Fri: 11:30-3

Sat: 12-4

Dinner:

Tues-Thurs: 5-9

Fri: 5-10

Sat: 4-10

Sun: 4-9

The first date J and I had was on January 14. Best first date ever. A few months after that, we started a tradition of going out for a nice meal on the 14th of every month. This is a chance for us to celebrate that great first date and try new and interesting restaurants at the same time.

To celebrate the 14th, we chose the nice Greek restaurant in Ballard, Plaka Estiatario. Tucked just off Market Street, the exterior looks like any Ballard restaurant, big windows and rather plain on the outside. When you walk inside, you are transported to the Greek Isles. Wide open with rustic wood tables, cream painted walls covered with family photos. The open kitchen lines one wall with a small bar at which one can watch the food being prepared. After spending some time there and especially after trying the food, I wouldn’t have been surprised to look out the window to see colorful Greek boats bobbing along a cove of startlingly blue water. Plaka Estiatario feels authentically Greek without the kitchiness of other Greek restaurants (Costa Opa in Fremont comes readily to mind).

The Service:

Our server was extremely friendly, quick and helpful. He explained the various menus available, the main menu, the menu of specials for that day and the Seattle Restaurant Week menu that was going on for a limited time. The bus boy was also friendly, stopping to talk with us about how good our choices were and what else was good on the menu.

The Drinks:

I ordered the Rapsani Tsantali, a red wine, which was smooth and velvety. J chose the Tsantali Blanc, a white wine, which was, as he put it,  “very good indeed”.

The Food:

We started with the choice of three Voutes (dips), large spoonfuls of Revithosalata or Humus, Roasted Red Pepper and Feta and Melitzanosalata (roasted eggplant, tomatoes and onions). The humus was creamy with just a hint of olive oil. J says it was some of the best humus he’s had in a restaurant. The pepper and feta dip was amazing with a perfect balance of roasted pepper flavor and salty feta. The melitzanosalata turned out to be a great vegetable compliment to the creaminess of the other two dips. We were also served a couple of pieces of a softer, almost cake-like pita they called “angel pita” and a small bowl of inky black Greek olives.

For an entrée, J ordered the Yiouvetsi, a clay ramekin of baked hilopites (egg noodle pasta like orzo) with lamb and a side of greek vegetables. When the dish came out, the top was just the hilopites pasta with small chunks of feta sprinkled on top. J took the first bite, which encompassed all the layers and found the bottom layer was just lamb. Juicy, moist lamb chunks that he says was the best he’s had in any Greek restaurant in Seattle.

I decided to try Plaka Estiatario’s Seattle Restaurant Week menu, a three course price fixe meal. My first course was Avgolemono, a traditional egg and lemon soup with chicken and rice. Delicious. Creamy with the perfect mix of lemon to egg to chicken. Unlike many avgolemono soup I have tried, this one was not bright, fake yellow color, rather a pale, creamy yellow.

My main dish choice was the Kokinisto, braised lamb shank with square shaped hilopites pasta and mixed vegetables. This was probably the most dramatic looking dish I’ve ever had. The lamb shank was left on the bone so it looked like a gigantic, prehistoric leg surrounded by noodles, tomatoes and onions. The pasta was creamy. The tomatoes and onions had a lovely Mediterranean flavor I can only describe as lemony with hints of oregano and thyme. Once I sliced the lamb off the shank, I found the meat moist, flavorful with just a hint of gaminess. The only issue with this fabulous entrée was that, in spots, it seemed a little salty but his may have just been lamb shank juice run-off mixing with the pasta.

For my dessert course, I ordered the Diples, a sheet of dough rolled up, lightly fried and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and walnuts and drizzled with Greek honey. While I wish they had spread the cinnamon sugar over the dough before rolling up it up so it ran through out the huge, rolled up dessert, the honey seeped through, giving what could’ve been plain dough a light, sweet flavor.

J, feeling jealous of my dessert course, ordered Baklava. What came out was the biggest, thickest piece of baklava I’ve ever seen. It could have easily served two or three people. We were told that they use a mix of 5 different nuts in their baklava rather than the usual one or two. Even through it was huge, J ate nearly all of it because it was so good.

The Price:

Rapsani Tsantali: 9.00

Blanc Tsantali: 7.00

Voutes (dips): 3 for 10.00

Yiouvetsi: 18.00

Baklava: 8.00

Three Course Menu: 28.00

The Verdict:

Dinner was a little pricy but considering the quantity and the quality, I’m sure we’ll go back. The portions were so big that we took home enough leftovers to have a full dinner, for both of us, the next night and it tasted just as good. This is some of the best Greek food I’ve had not only in Ballard but also in Seattle.

We’re planning to return at some point for lunch, since their lunch menu, which I’ve tried, is just as good and cheaper. Their gyros are huge, flavorful and made with really fresh ingredients. The Greek salad is huge and delicious.

We will not be surprised, at all, if Plaka Estiatario turns out to be in our top 5 Ballard Restaurants at the end of this project. The authentic, fresh flavors mixed with the lovely atmosphere and friendly staff makes this a restaurant we will happily suggest our friends and family try. Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.