Posts Tagged ‘Inexpensive’

The Amber Den – 2/25/2012


Location: 1556 NW 56th St


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.


The Other Coast Café – 12/4/11


Location: 5315 Ballard Ave NW


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.

The Boar’s Nest-10/23/11


Location: 2008 NW 56th St


Mon-Sun: 11am-9pm

Right after our terrible dinner at Golden City on Saturday night, we noticed that whatever had taken over the space next to Malena’s Tacos had opened. We investigated and discovered a BBQ joint called The Boar’s Nest. The delicious smells wafting out into the street made us decide to go back the next day to try it out.

The name, The Boar’s Nest, apparently comes from the name of Boss Hogg’s watering hole in the Dukes of Hazzard. It’s a tiny place with a distinctly southern flavor to the décor and three TVs playing sports. On one wall is a long chalkboard with the simple menu of various BBQ meats and sides and next to the order counter is a tall cooler filled with odd bottled sodas and beer. At each of the tables are five squeeze bottles of house-made, regional BBQ sauces.

The Service:

The guys at the order counter were friendly and knowledgeable about their menu and the sauces available.

The Drink:

J was pleasantly surprised to find Dad’s Root Beer in the cooler and I had a bottle of Shiner Bock, a nice, light beer.

The Food:

I chose the Smoked Beef Brisket Plate with fried pickles, baked beans, and cornbread on the side. The slabs of a little more than room temperature brisket had a pink smoke ring around the edges, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a BBQ joint in Seattle. The fork tender beef had a lovely, smoky flavor. Very good.

The Fried Pickles were really good, better than any others I’ve had in Ballard. The breading was just the right consistency, being neither too thick nor too tough. The pickles were a little limp when bit into but that was evened out by the nice, vinegar flavor that went well with the spicy aioli that accompanied them. The Baked Beans reminded me of my mother’s with a little added heat. They were good but could have been improved with a dash of BBQ sauce. The Cornbread had a nice density, holding up well when sliced in half. It came with a honey butter that contrasted well with the corn flavor.

J ordered the Half-Rack of Pork Ribs with coleslaw and fried mac and cheese. The meat on the ribs was so moist that it literally fell off the bone. J said he could have easily eaten the ribs without sauce, they were so delicious. The coleslaw looked like it was homemade with nice, big chunks of red and green cabbage. He also mentioned the fact that the fried mac and cheese was the best he’d ever had, the filling being neither dry nor soupy.

Considering the selection of sauces available, I should mention our favorites. After trying all but the mayo based Alabama sauce, we agreed that our favorites were the Kansas City, which is the most traditional of the sauces, the Kentucky Bourbon for it’s sweet, whisky flavor, and the Memphis, a spicy sauce with a cumin aftertaste.

The Price:

Dad’s Root Beer: 2.50

Shiner Bock: 4.00

Smoked Beef Brisket Plate: 12.00

Half-Slab of Pork Ribs: 15.00

The Verdict:

The Boar’s nest is a fine addition to Ballard’s growing array of BBQ Joints. Better than the Lock & Keel and The Viking. The guys running it were friendly. Its location, interesting sides, different sauces, and moist, flavorful meats will have us returning to try more. I hope this place sticks around.

Ballard Mandarin Chinese Restaurant – 8/5/11


Location: 5500 8th Ave NW


Mon-Thurs: 11:30-9

Fri: 11:30-10

Sat: 12-10

Sun: 4-9

After watching a “Foodography” program about Chinese food, J and I decided it was time to try one of Ballard’s other Chinese restaurants, Ballard Mandarin. Located on the corner of 8th and Market, it’s hard to miss Ballard Mandarin’s rather large, yellow building. Oddly, when you enter, it seems smaller. We were seated in the dining area directly inside the door. Off to the right seemed to be another dining area but we couldn’t tell since the lights were out.

Their extensive menu consists of the usual Chinese fare and flavors, chow mein, fried rice, Mongolian beef, General Tao’s Chicken, with a number of dishes I hadn’t seen before. Snow White chicken. Palace beef. Yu Hsiang pork. They also have a couple of dinner combos that give you a choice of soup, entrée and a couple egg rolls. Their prices are on par with other Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood.

The Service:

Our server was a friendly, older Chinese woman who asked after us during each stage of the meal. When we started to order egg rolls and two entrees, she quickly suggested we order the Citron Dinner combo for a better deal. We were even able to use the entrée J wanted, which wasn’t included in the choice of entrée, as part of the combo.

At the end of the meal, she insisted on boxing everything left for us to take home. Even the items we really didn’t want. She had such a grandmotherly manner in the style of “If you don’t clear your plates, you WILL take what is left home” that neither of us could refuse.

The Drink:

Water and a huge pot of molten Green Tea.

The Food:

Our meal stared with an enormous bowl of Hot and Sour Soup. The soup was quite spicy, more warm than burning, with a tangy, vinegar after flavor. A great number of firm tofu pieces floated in the broth with scallions, peas and little bits of corn. Pretty good but way too much for just the two of us.

Next came two very hot Egg Rolls with an orange based dipping sauce. Since I have sensitivity to oranges, I dipped my egg roll in soy sauce. It was pretty good. Crisp on the outside without being greasy. Lighter than many egg rolls I’ve had. The vegetables inside did taste a bit flat, though.

For my entrée I chose the Salted Pepper Chicken with green pepper, onion, garlic and no sauce. The batter-fried chunks of chicken were flavorful and surprisingly moist considering the crunchiness of the exterior. I’ve had other entrees cooked in a similar style that were dry yet pretty greasy. I can easily imagine how well this style of chicken would hold up to a sweet and sour or General Tao’s sauce. The peppers and onions, wok fried in a savory and delicious mix of garlic and pepper, held onto their natural crispness without getting mushy. All in all, a really good entrée.

J ordered the Braised Tofu with Beef, pea pods, corn, cabbage and carrots. The braised tofu had a nice springy texture with just a touch of pan-fried flavor. Otherwise this entrée was not as good as my chicken. The chewy beef and mushy vegetables were drenched in a bland sauce that needed something … garlic, pepper, salt, or some sort of spice … to give it definition.

The Price:

2 Citron Dinner Combos: 12.35 ea

The Verdict:

I’m finding Ballard Mandarin hard to review. On the one hand, the food was mostly good other than the need for a bit more flavor in J’s entrée. The salted pepper chicken was exceptional. Frankly, it was far less greasy than the Chinese food we’ve gotten at Louie’s. J, who is originally from Pittsburgh, described Ballard Mandarin as reminiscent of an East coast Chinese restaurant with less grease and MSG.

On the other hand, the restaurant itself was off putting. The dining room was plain, a bit worn and kind of dirty. Worn benches. Greasy windows. It was sort of off putting to be honest. If we go back, we’ll get our meal to go.

I have a feeling that, while the food is better at Ballard Mandarin, the convenience of Louie’s to our apartment will cause us to skip going back anytime soon. It may be one of those places we go back to every once in a while, whenever the memory of the salted pepper chicken brings it to mind.

Zak’s – 7/30/11


Location: 2040 NW Market St


Mon-Thurs: 11am-9pm

Fri-Sat: 11am-10pm

Sun: 11am-8pm

Saturday night J and I wanted something quick and cheap for dinner. We decided to cross another of Ballard’s burger joints off our list by visiting Zak’s.

Zak’s sits in a storefront next to the Majestic Bay Theatres. It’s décor could be described as “USA Roadtrip” with a myriad of old signs with funny sayings, movie posters and license plates from all over decorating the walls. They seem to be trying for a roadside burger shack feel with picnic tables for seating rather than traditional tables and chairs. The night was surprisingly warm so J and I elected to sit outside at one of the café tables rather than in the stuffy, warm interior.

Zak’s offers a specialized menu of burgers, some sandwiches and milkshakes. They also have local beer and wine.

The Service:

After snagging menus from the old fashioned bathtub just inside the door, J and I were worried that it might take a while for someone to notice us seated outside. No worry needed. A server came out very quickly and took our order. She was very nice. Our food also arrived surprisingly quickly.

The Drinks:

J had a Mr. Pibb and I, a Strongbow Cider.

I was tempted to order one of Zak’s milkshakes but felt I wouldn’t be able to finish it. Too bad they don’t offer a mini-shake like Scooter’s.

The Food:

I ordered a single Bacon Cheeseburger served with mayo, mustard, onion, ketchup, pickle, tomato, and iceberg lettuce. Zak’s burgers come on a nice, Kaiser bun that’s neither too soft nor too hard. The burger itself was okay. I found that the flavor of the condiments, especially the ketchup, mayo, and iceberg lettuce, overwhelmed the beef patty, rendering it pretty flavorless. My other problem was that halfway through eating my burger, the condiments and wet iceberg lettuce turned it into a soggy, unappetizing mess.

J chose the Blue Cheese Bacon Burger with a side of crispy seasoned fries. He said the bacon and blue cheese were great but agreed that the beef patty lacked flavor. Zak’s offers a higher quality Oregon natural beef patty for a buck more and J wished he’d made the upgrade.

The crispy, seasoned fries, which we shared, were kind of meh. The fries were neither “crispy” nor “seasoned”. Just pretty tasteless.

The Price:

Mr. Pibb: 1.90

Strongbow Cider: 4.25

Bacon Cheeseburger: 7.95

Blue Cheese Bacon Burger: 8.25

Crispy, Seasoned French Fries: 1.95

The Verdict:

A few days after eating at Zak’s, I had what I consider to be the best burger in Seattle at Norm’s in Fremont. I judge all other burgers by the Norm’s standard. After eating their Bacon Cheddar Avocado burger, I finally pinpointed the primary thing that makes a truly great burger. If the flavor of the meat can be tasted no matter what toppings come on the burger … blue cheese, peppers, onions, guacamole, etc … that is a great burger.

By this standard, Zak’s burgers failed. No matter how good the service or the price, if it’s a burger joint and the burgers are flavorless, it just isn’t that good. In my burger, the patty might as well have not even been there.

I doubt J and I will return to Zak’s unless we need something quick to eat before a movie at the Majestic Bay. So far, if I want a quick, cheap burger, I would rather go to Scooter’s where, at least, I can also get a mini-milkshake.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , ,

Thai Thani Kitchen – 7/29/11

No Website

Location: 2021 NW Market St


Mon-Thurs: 11am-9pm

Fri: 11am-10:30pm

Sat: 12pm-10:30pm

Sun: 12pm-9:30pm

Thai Thani Kitchen is the newest Thai restaurant in Ballard, bringing the total to five. Located on the corner of Leary and Market across from the Majestic Bay Theatres, the Subway franchise that used to be there is barely recognizable in the chic, almost minimalist interior. The décor has traded the usual Thai kitsch for dark wood paneling with metallic accents. The only nods to the ethnicity of the restaurant are a few faded photos and the pedicab that sits out front. Thai Thani boasts a large kitchen that runs along the eastern wall, open to the dining area.

When looking at their menu the first thing both J and I noticed was the surprising variety of dishes offered. Rather than merely having the usual suspects of a Thai restaurant, phad Thai, phad see iew, phad kee mao, and various curries, Thai Thani also presents a startling array of dishes neither of us have ever seen on a Thai menu. Ranging from the relatively inexpensive Eggplant Jay and Golden Cashew Nut to the moderate, and odd, Spaghetti Kee Mao and Curry and Roti to the rather pricy Red Curry Duck and Garlic Lamb, the variety of choices already put it a step above the other Thai restaurants in Ballard.

The Service:

Our server was polite and a bit soft spoken. The drinks and food arrived in a fairly timely fashion. It did take a hint longer than I’m used to for Thai food but that was most likely due to the three or four different couples in the restaurant all ordering around the same time. One more note, when we asked for boxes for our leftovers, our server boxed them up herself.

The Drinks:

Thai Thani offers Thai iced tea, soda, beer, wine and, surprisingly, a full bar. J and I craved something cool and refreshing so we both chose Blackberry Margaritas from their list of specialty cocktails. I found my margarita light and refreshing but just a tad sweet for my taste. J, on the other hand, liked its sweetness.

The Food:

As usual, we ordered the Crab Wontons for an appetizer. We were brought eight of the little fried wonton pockets filled with imitation crab, cream cheese and scallion with a side of sweet chili sauce. The wontons were not quite as light as I’ve come to expect and the filling was a bit flavorless, to be honest. The sweet chili sauce was delicious, which made the wontons taste a lot better.

J chose the Thai Thani Noodle, stir fried wide rice noodles, with tofu, onion, bell pepper, bamboo shoots, zucchini, mushrooms and basil in a hot chili paste, for his main course. He mainly chose it because it was an interesting variation on the usual Thai noodle dishes. While he did find it unexpectedly spicy, he loved it. Especially the tofu which was cooked perfectly.

For my entrée, I ordered the Basil Ground Chicken, sautéed ground chicken with onion, bell pepper, mushrooms and basil in a chili sauce with a side of brown rice. Frankly, this dish was delicious. The ground chicken was moist in a sauce that perfectly merged the spicy chili with a fresh basil flavor. The vegetables retained that bit of crispness I love. My dish did not seem as spicy as J’s even though we both requested a 2 on Thai Thani’s 0-4 scale.

One of the best things of my meal was the brown rice. Instead of flavorless brown rice that looks like someone dyed regular white rice tan, Thai Thani’s brown rice is true brown rice. Slightly purple in color with bits of the outer layer of bran remaining. The flavor was lovely. A little sweet. A little nutty. J, who has been to loads of Asian restaurants in his 15+ years of living in Seattle, said he has never been to a relatively inexpensive Thai restaurant that served brown rice like that.

One note about Thai Thani’s spice scale. It runs from 0-4. We both ordered our food to a 2, which turned out fine for me but was a bit spicy for J. He called his a “hard 2”. In reality, on the typical 1-5 scale, I suppose what we chose was a 3 so anyone who goes should keep this difference in mind.

The Price:

Blackberry Margarita: 8.00 (2)

Crab Wonton: 7.95

Thai Thani Noodle: 9.95

Basil Ground Chicken: 9.95

Brown Rice: 2.00

The Verdict:

Barring the crab wonton, Thai Thani served up great Thai food. Better than what we’ve had in Ballard thus far … and that’s including Thaiku. I don’t want to declare it the best Thai food in Ballard yet. I’d like to go back a couple more times before stating that unequivocally but our entrees were very, very good. The ingredients were fresh and flavorful. The brown rice was amazing. The service was great. And their menu includes many interesting choices that J and I both want to try.

We will go back the Thai Thani well before the end of this project. Probably next month to be honest.

Café Mox – 6/12/11

Facebook Page.

Location: 5105 Leary Ave.


Sun-Thurs: 10am – 10pm

Fri-Sat: 10am – 12am

Café Mox opened a couple of month’s ago in conjunction with Card Kingdom, Ballard’s new and only game store. Card Kingdom stocks every manner of game from role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, to card games to board games to puzzles. In Café Mox, the coffee/beer/wine bar attached to the main store, you’re allowed, if not outright encouraged, to have a seat, order a beer and play a game. In fact, Card Kingdom has a library of games for you to try out before purchasing. Café Mox is that rare type of bar where you’re far more likely to find Ghostbusters or The Fellowship of the Ring playing on the TV than some random sports event. Since their opening, during the evening the place is packed with people playing games to the point where they had to extend their hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

Since J not only works for a game company but also loves play various types of games, Café Mox has naturally become a regular haunt. I think we’ve gone at least one night a week since they opened. It’s basically become the Cheers for the gamer set in Ballard. They offer local microbrews, wine, cider and espresso drinks along with a small menu of appetizers, salads and sandwiches.

Lately on Sundays while I’m at the Ballard Farmer’s Market J goes down to Café Mox since he dislikes farmer’s markets in general. When I met him last Sunday, we had a couple of sandwiches while playing the World of Warcraft trading card game.

The Service:

Since Café Mox has only 10 or 11 tables, the servers act as baristas, bartenders as well as servers. At busy times this means the service might be a little slow. On the Sunday we were there, it was fairly slow so the service was pretty quick. Everyone who works there is very friendly.

The Drinks:

Normally I’ve been ordering Odin Brewing Company’s Freya’s Gold Kolsch, a nice light beer but on Sunday both J and I chose the Ace Cider Company’s Joker hard apple cider, a crisp dry cider.

The Food:

J chose the Tuna Melt, tuna with cucumber, roasted red peppers, olives, tomatoes and red onion topped with spinach and gruyere cheese. Instead of being a traditional sandwich, the tuna melt came as two sliders on herbed buns. He said it was very good.

I ordered their special sandwich, the Garibaldi (I like to think it’s named for Babylon 5’s chief of security, Michael Garibaldi), which has Genoa salami, pepperoni, prosciutto, roma tomatoes, banana peppers and pepper jack cheese on fresh foccacia bread. Delicious. The meats used were obviously of high quality with a greater depth of flavor than store bought deli meats. The banana peppers, a favorite of mine, added an unusual spicy compliment to the rest of the ingredients and the foccacia bread was far softer than most foccacia bread I’ve had. A great sandwich.

The Price:

Ace Cider: 2 @ 12.00

Tuna Melt: 5.50

Garibaldi: 6.50

The Verdict:

J made an interesting observation about Café Mox. When playing at home, most gamers do not eat and drink well. Mountain Dew, Cheetos and fast food are the usual choices. The owners of Café Mox know this. They’re gamers themselves. Yet they chose to offer a higher quality of food and beverages. The use quality ingredients like breads from the great local bakery, Macrina. The microbrews on tap rotate frequently. Even the items offered are more creative than typical gamer fare, including an appetizer of pineapple and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon. Café Mox could’ve gone the easy route with their menu but chose not to and they’re not afraid to change things if they’re not working out.

Café Mox is a neat little place. It’s a friendly, comfortable café where it’s easy to lose track of time. You can sit and nurse a drink while reading a fantasy novel or playing Magic with friends or while making fun of the cult movie on the TV or you can just sit there and hang out with your friends. You can even rent a private room to game while being able to order drinks and food from the Café.

Would we order food again? Yes, the food is pretty good and well priced. I’m curious to try some of the other items on the menu. Yeah, some of the beers can be a bit pricy but you just make those choices accordingly. For every slightly over-priced beer, there’s a reasonably priced alternative.

Will we go back to Café Mox? Of course we’ll go back. In fact, you’ll probably see us there.