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Posts Tagged ‘Margaritas’

La Carta de Oaxaca-11/14/11

Website

Location: 5413 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Lunch:

Tues-Sat: 11:30am-3pm

Dinner:

Mon-Thurs: 5pm-11pm

Fri-Sat: 5pm-12am

La Carte de Oaxaca is one of Ballard’s most well known restaurants. Most of the time, when I’ve told someone about this project, the first thing they ask is “Have you been to la Carte de Oaxaca yet?” After 6:30 on any given night (except Sundays), rain, snow, or shine, you will see people standing outside Oaxaca, waiting for a table. Its small space is packed with as many tables as they can safely get in there. There’s one long communal table, about a dozen two person tables, and a short counter that overlooks the open kitchen. A tiny bar sits at the back of the dining area. The bright white walls are covered with beautiful photos of Oaxaca, Mexico.

J and I arrived at 5:30 on Monday night to find Oaxaca already a quarter full. By the time we left, about an hour later, seating was down to a few seats at the communal table. The clientele varied from young hipsters to couples out for a night out to two construction guys sitting at the counter. If you go to Oaxaca after 6:30, or anytime on the weekend, expect a wait.

Compared to the typical Mexican restaurant, Oaxaca’s menu is small, mostly a selection of dishes unique to the Oaxaca region of Mexico. Meat is a main ingredient, as are peppers. If you don’t like spicy food, Oaxaca is not the place for you, Everything from the salsas at the complimentary salsa bar to the guacamole to the beans and entrees have a heightened level of spiciness. Their drink menu includes a list of mezcal, tequila, and specialty cocktails.

The Service:

The guy who waited on us was friendly and helpful and the food came out pretty quick.

The Drinks:

I ordered the Teq-Caliente, a shot of pepper infused tequila. It was a good tequila with an extra spicy kick. The drink was very spicy but not in an undrinkable way like the cocktail I had a Paratii. The initial burn faded quite nicely.

J chose the Chimayo, Sauza tequila, crème de cassis, and apple juice. Great. Sweetness complimented by the sharpness of the tequila. An unexpectedly tasty combination.

The Food:

We started with an order of Guacamole and chips. Delicious, creamy avocado paired with light, salty tortilla chips.

To go with the guacamole, we got an order of Tacos Carne Asada, beef in fresh, homemade tortillas topped with cilantro, onion, and hot sauce. The carne asada had a distinctive, smoky flavor. J said they were the best tacos he’s ever had. The tortillas were incredibly light and fresh. A squeeze from the lime wedge nicely enhanced the flavors.

I had the Lamb Birria, stewed leg of lamb served with beans, rice, pico de gallo, and tortillas. The lamb was tender and pleasantly spicy. The black beans, cooked in a variation of a mole sauce, were the best Mexican style beans I’ve ever had. The rich, spicy sauce was rounded out by a touch of crema Mexicana. The rice was the only item in our meal that was merely okay. Lightly spiced and well cooked but nothing special.

As an entrée, J ordered the Entomatadas, grilled, thin sliced beef with homemade tortillas in a tomatillo sauce with Oaxaqueno cheese, onion, and crema Mexicana. The meat was so deeply flavored that J found himself sucking the juices from the meat before chewing it. Nothing extra, like salsa or quacamole, needed to be added because the mixture of meat, crema Mexicana, and tortilla was  perfect.

The Price:

Chimayo: 8.00

Teq-Caliente: 6.00

Guacamole: 5.00

Tacos Carne Asada: 6.00

Entomatadas: 11.00

Lamb Birra: 9.00

The Verdict:

La Carte de Oaxaca really deserves the accolades. It elevates Mexican food to the level of some of the best restaurants in Seattle. The depth of flavor. The freshness of the ingredients. The variety in the menu all make it the best Mexican restaurant in Ballard and one of the best in the city. There’s a reason why people are willing to wait out in the pouring rain for a table. We will go back, no doubt about that.

One thing to keep in mind, though,  when you do go to la Carta de Oaxaca, is that this is not your typical Mexican restaurant. The huge platters of cheese laden food are replaced with small plates of authentic Mexican food with hardly any cheese. Going to Oaxaca has more in common with going to a higher end Seattle restaurant, like Poppy or Staple & Fancy, than, say, Azteca.

Naturally, Oaxaca is our favorite Mexican restaurant in Ballard followed by Senor Moose, more for their breakfasts than dinner. Technically, that puts Malena’s Tacos next but going outside the project guidelines, I would say I like the taco truck, El Camion, better than Malena’s.

Shelter Lounge – 9/30/11

Website

Location: 4910 Leary Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Fri: 4pm-2am

Sat-Sun: 11am-2am

Happy Hour:

Mon-Sat: 4pm-6pm

Sunday: All Day

Shelter Lounge is located on the south end of Leary, near the Ballard Bridge, in a building that once housed a garage before being converted into a small bar called The Station, for a short time. When The Station went under, the building went through an extensive renovation, adding a large, glass enclosed seating area to the previously small building. The wood and stone lined interior features a cozy row of booths at one side, the bright enclosed patio on the other side with a huge circular bar separating the two. They serve beer, wine, and a full bar with a creative specialty cocktail menu. The food menu is rather small, with a few interesting appetizers, sandwiches, and just three entrees.

J and I had never gotten around to visiting Shelter Lounge. It’s in a weird spot, off the main drag of Ballard’s food scene with only the 2 Bit Saloon, across the street, to keep it company. It always seemed the sort of place where douche bags and frat-boys would hang out, which added to the reasons we avoided going there. According to one of the servers we spoke to, our assessment is correct at least on Friday and Saturday nights when the place becomes something akin to a club.

We decided to go early on Friday night, expecting it to be crowded. Instead, we found a comfortable, friendly place that, much like the Bal-Mar and Ballard Loft, turned out to be a huge surprise. So surprising, in fact, that we took a couple of friends back to Shelter Lounge on Sunday afternoon to try the food and watch the end of the Seahawk game. For the first time in this project, we’ll be reviewing two visits to the same place in one post.

The Service:

On Friday, we arrived just before a second server came on shift, so service was a little erratic but friendly. On Sunday the place was nearly empty so service was quick and the server was friendly and chatty.

The Drinks:

On both visits J, as usual, ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. In his opinion, Shelter’s is now tied with Shiku’s WMD for the best Long Island in Ballard. Both times it was mixed perfectly.

There were a number of interesting selections on their specialty cocktail menu, so I tried a different drink each time. On Friday, I chose the Ballard 75, Aviation gin, fresh lemon, agave nectar, shaken, and topped with champagne. It was cool and refreshing with a nice contrast between the piney gin and the crisp, dry champagne.

On Sunday, I decided to try the Jalapeno and Cucumber Margarita, Hornitos tequila, lime, chopped jalapeno peppers and cucumbers topped with Sprite. The spiciness of the jalapeno and the coolness of the cucumber played off each other quite well. Unlike some pepper infused drinks, the jalapeno did not overwhelm the other flavors.

The Food:

Appetizers:

On Friday night, out of sheer “WTF???” curiosity, we ordered the Avocado Fries appetizer, slices of avocado breaded with panko, deep fried, and served with chipotle aioli. Surprisingly delicious. The texture contrast between the crunchy panko and the creamy avocado floored us. The spicy aioli gave the fries a flavor punch that melded well. I will admit that I’m a fan of People’s Pub’s deep fried pickles but I would choose these avocado fries over them any day of the week. These were so good, we ordered them again on Sunday in order to share the wonder with our friends.

On Sunday, J ordered the PB&J Jalapeno Poppers, panko breaded jalapeno peppers, deep fried, stuffed with cream cheese and peanut butter and served with a sweet, spicy jelly. J loved these, especially the above-average peanut butter used. I’m not usually a fan of peanut butter but I soon found the flavor combination oddly addictive, especially the sweet jelly that gave them a spicy, fruity kick.

Entrees & Sandwiches:

On Friday, J ordered the Carne Asada entrée, marinated steak with pico de gallo, corn on the cob, and mashers. When it arrived, he said the loaded plated looked like something you’d get at someone’s home. The carne asada was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, tender and flavorful. The marinade gave just a hint of spiciness while the well cooked side of corn on the cob, dusted with cayenne pepper, added another note of spice. J loved the mashers. Perfectly mashed potatoes that were neither lumpy nor pasty. The huge portion tasted extremely creamy from either the addition of tons of butter or, perhaps, a cheese or some sort. Even though he was full, he forced himself to finish the mashers because they were so good.

I chose the Rum Marinated Chicken entrée, chicken breast rubbed with cumin then marinated in Sailor Jerry’s rum, served with pico de gallo, corn on the cob, and mashers. The chicken was moist, its flavor a lovely mix between spicy cumin and caramel sweet rum. I took half home since the portion was so big. My corn was just a touch tough but that was barely noticeable through the spicy cayenne pepper and cilantro flavor. The delicious mashers went surprisingly well with the spoonful of fresh pico de gallo included on the plate.

On Sunday, J and I shared a Spicy Grilled Cheese Sandwich, pepper jack cheese, avocado, red onions, and chipotle aioli on grilled sourdough bread and served with shoestring French fries. The sourdough was perfectly toasted, retaining just a bit of softness. The avocado added a cooling note to the creamy, peppery cheese and the spicy aioli. The fries were awesome as well, staying crispy and hot the entire time.

The Price:

Friday:

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Ballard 75: 8.00

Avocado Fries: 6.00

Carne Asada: 15.00

Rum Marinated Chicken: 14.00

Sunday:

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Jalapeno & Cucumber Margarita: 9.00

Avocado Fries: 4.00 (Happy Hour price)

PB&J Jalapeno Poppers: 3.00 (Happy Hour price)

Spicy Grilled Cheese: 5.00 (Happy Hour price)

The Verdict:

Considering J and I went back on Sunday, with friends in tow, our opinion of Shelter Lounge is overwhelmingly positive. Over the course of this project, we have had few meals that were, across the board, as good as both of the meals we had here. The drinks are great and well priced, including a Long Island Ice Tea that is one of the best in Ballard. The menu may be small but the quality and portion size is worth every reasonably priced penny. Creative touches, like the avocado fries, are deliciously well executed. Though it sounds like weekend evenings are hopping, the atmosphere during the day and early evening is genial and relaxed.

Shelter Lounge has been added to the list of our Ballard haunts. No question. We have been singing its praises to everyone who asks how the project is going. I will not be surprised if it ends up on the project’s top ten list at the end of the year.

Ocho – 8/14/11

Website

Location: 2325 NW Market St.

Hours:

Mon-Fri: 4pm-2am

Sat-Sun: 12pm-2am

Happy Hour:

Mon-Fri: 4-6

Sat-Sun: 12-6

J suggested Ocho for our monthly “nice” meal because it had been over a year since we’d eaten there. Since neither of us knew what Ocho’s hours were on the weekend, I checked online and was pleasantly surprised to find they opened at noon and offered Happy Hour from noon to six on the weekends. We head out around 1:30 on a rather nice Sunday, not sure whether it would be crowded.

Ocho is located in a tiny space on the corner of 24th and Market Street. Once upon a time, Matt’s Hot Dogs occupied the space until a cop car made it into a drive-thru during a car chase a few years back. Now it’s a romantic little spot offering Spanish style tapas and specialty cocktails. There is limited seating both inside and out so Ocho tends to fill up very quickly. If it hadn’t been a nice enough day for outdoor seating, J and I would have been out of luck. As it was, there was a small table free indoors, along the wall across from the bar.

The Service:

Considering our server was acting as both bartender and server and was the only server working in the very busy restaurant, our service was pretty good. We didn’t feel rushed and she was quite friendly and knowledgeable about the menu.

The Drinks:

J chose a Death in the Afternoon, a concoction of La Hora Verde, Ocho’s housemade absinthe, and Cava Rose. He found it interesting with a strong, traditional absinthe flavor only slightly cut by the crispness of the sparkling wine.

Ocho is known for their $10 Margarita made with El Tesoro Anejo tequila so I chose that for my beverage. I am a fan of margaritas, especially when they tend toward limey sour rather than sweet. This margarita, however, was way too bitter, even for me, to the point where I could barely taste the tequila. I’m not sure if the limes used were bad or if, in the rush, the server forgot an ingredient but this was not a very good margarita. Certainly not a $10 … well, $8 happy hour price … margarita.

The Food:

Ocho specializes in tapas, small, flavor packed plates. We ordered seven items from both the Happy Hour and regular menus.

Our first choice was the Tostada de queso y pimentos, toast spread with herbed goat cheese and topped with roasted peppers. This morsel perfectly combined the sweetness of the peppers, the tang of the goat cheese and an overall saltiness to a wonderful effect.

At the same time, we were brought two toothpicks of Chorizo Merguez, spicy lamb sausage with potatoes and saffron aioli. Each component complimented the other. The spiciness of the chorizo, which sat just at the back of the throat without being too strong, was tempered by the starchiness of the potatoes and when dipped in the saffron aioli, melded into a creamy, spicy bite. Nothing overwhelmed. Lovely.

Our next set of tapas started with Huevo del Diablo, two amazing deviled eggs filled with a mild aioli, sprinkled with tomato dust and topped with pickled onion, salmon roe, fried capers and dill. Delicious. Awesome. Nearly indescribable. A flavor bomb that floored both of us. The firmness of the egg melted in the mouth in a creamy mix of flavors. A hint of tomato. A touch of dill. Then the punch of the salmon roe. Each salmon egg seems to hold the flavor of a whole salmon steak. J described them as “the Cadbury Egg of deviled eggs. You want to eat a dozen but it’s so rich that you can’t.”

The closest thing to an entrée we ordered was the Carne Lengua, beef tongue and sautéed onions with green beans, potatoes and walnuts in a pimenton sauce. We chose this since neither J nor I have ever had beef tongue. It turned out to be a very delicious surprise. The tongue, with its strong beef flavor, was sliced super thin in order to make it meltingly tender. J called it a high-end Steak-Um and waxed poetic about having a Philly cheesesteak sandwich made from tongue and gruyere.

The warmth of the tongue and onions contrasted nicely with the cold green bean and potato salad with the walnuts adding an interesting textural counterpoint.

Along with the Carne Lengua came Pa amb tomaquet, a piece of toast covered in house made tomato jam and melted manchengo cheese. Like eating a really good cheese pizza in one bite. Salty. Cheesy. Tomatoey.

For our dessert, we had our favorite tapas at Ocho, La Carolina, dates stuffed with bleu cheese, wrapped in bacon and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Heaven on a toothpick. A perfect bite of sweet, salty and tangy. The cooking process makes the date taste like caramel candy and the tangy balsamic reduction adds just the right note of sweet and sour. I have tried to duplicate these bites at home yet have never gotten them quite right. Delicious almost beyond words.

Our final tapas was a Queso plate, three cheeses with toast and a date sauce. First was the Drunken Goat, a creamy goat cheese soaked in Doble Pasta wine. Then the Leonora, a soft goat cheese with a tangy flavor that went perfectly with the sweet date sauce. Last was the dry, strong Manchengo, a sheep’s milk cheese with a buttery, salty flavor. A nice ending to a lovely meal.

The Price:

Death in the Afternoon: 8.00 (6.00 Happy Hour price)

$10 Margarita: 10.00 (8.00 Happy Hour price)

Tostada de queso y pimentos: 2.00 (Happy Hour price)

Chorizo Merquez: 2.00 ea. (Happy Hour price)

Huevo del Diablo: 2.50 ea.

Pa am tomaquet: 2.00 (Happy Hour price)

Carne Lengua: 8.00

La Carolina: 5.00

Queso: 3.50 per oz

The Verdict:

I’ll be honest, Ocho is one of our favorite restaurants in Ballard. It’s been over a year since we last visited and the quality has not diminished at all. Yes, it can be hard to find a seat, especially when the weather is not so nice, making outdoor seating not feasible. Yes, the service can be a bit slow. Yes, all those small plates can add up. But it’s worth it. Totally worth it.

The food packs layer upon layer of flavor, no matter how small the serving. The creativity of the offerings and the small sizes make it easy to try new things like we did with the beef tongue. Other than my margarita, everything we had was amazing.

We will return to Ocho, no doubt about that … especially now that we know about the weekend Happy Hour. For something a bit different in Ballard, try Ocho. You won’t be disappointed.

Thai Thani Kitchen – 7/29/11

No Website

Location: 2021 NW Market St

Hours:

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.

Ballard Loft – 6/11/11

Website

Location: 5105 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 11:30am-2am

Happy Hour:

Mon-Fri: 4pm-6pm, 10pm-12am

For two weeks J has been craving a hot dog. Not a bratwurst. Not a sausage. A good, old fashioned hot dog. I did some research to find someplace in Ballard that served regular hot dogs and came upon the Ballard Loft.

The Ballard Loft sits at the dark, once unpopular end of Ballard Ave. Bad Albert’s was the only restaurant down there until the Ballard Loft moved in across the street a few years ago. The restaurant sits back from the street behind one of the largest outdoor seating areas in Ballard. The lower level of the restaurant proper is rather small with a few booths and pub tables. Up a flight of stairs is a loft with a few more tables, a pool table and a shuffleboard table along one wall.

To be honest J and I have avoided the Ballard Loft since it’s technically a sports bar. During soccer games in particular the place tends to be packed with loud, boisterous fans watching the game on the multitude of flat screen TVs. We’re not sports fans. The closest we get is watching random Pittsburgh Steeler games and the Kentucky Derby once a year. The night we went there was a Seattle Sounders game on so we were not sure whether there would be seating available. The lower level was pretty packed but we found a table upstairs in the quieter loft.

The Service:

At first neither of us were sure if anyone had seen us go up the stairs but after a couple of minutes a guy, who may have been the owner, came up to see if we’d been waited on. He then took our drink order and within a minute a server arrived to take our food order. Once the order was in, the service was very quick and friendly. They also had no problem with my request to exclude the orange liquor in my specialty house cocktail.

The Drinks:

J, of course, ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, which was “Very tasty”.

I chose the Jalapeño Margarita from their specialty drink menu. Most Jalapeno Margaritas I’ve had were far too spicy. The Loft’s margarita was perfect. Instead of the spiciness and flavor of jalapeno overwhelming the tequila, it came through as a distinct aftertaste that melded with the lime and tequila perfectly. Very, very good and something I would not mind ordering again.

The Food:

As an appetizer, I decided to try their Bavarian Pretzel Stix with honey Dijon dip. These buttery, yeasty pretzels were tasty, especially when paired with the sweet, tangy dip. The only element missing was a sprinkling of coarse salt to compliment the butteriness of the pretzel.

J ordered Jimmy D’s BBQ Hot Dog, an all beef frank with mayo, melted Colby cheese and spicy BBQ sauce, topped with chopped bacon, red onion and jalapenos with a side of beer battered French fries. His reaction to it was “Great. Simply great. A little messy but not too spicy. Definitely not something I could eat everyday but great.” The fries were good as well but not amazing. He was totally blown away by this hot dog.

I have a confession to make. When J and I went to Chicago for our honeymoon, I failed to try a Chicago style hot dog. My only excuse is that I chose a wild boar sausage at Hot Doug’s over the typical Chicago Dog.

Anyway, the Ballard Loft offers their version of a Chicago Style Hot Dog, an all beef hot dog topped with diced onions, fresh tomatoes, a kosher pickle spear, sport peppers, celery salt, yellow mustard and neon green relish. The only thing they didn’t get right was that the dog did not come on a poppy seed bun. It was a good dog although it was missing the “snap” of a well-cooked hot dog. The mixture of condiments, while a bit messy and unwieldy, combined well with the sweetness of the relish evening out the more savory elements. Although the sport peppers were a bit too hot for my taste.

For a side, I chose a Caesar salad which turned out to be one of the better Caesars I’ve had in Ballard. Perfect amount of slightly salty dressing to fresh romaine.

The Price:

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Jalapeno Margarita: 9.50

Bavarian Pretzel Stix: 7.50

Jimmy D’s BBQ Dog: 9.00

Chicago Dog: 9.00

The Verdict:

The Ballard Loft turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Ever since it opened, J and I had it pegged as a douchey sports bar to be avoided at all costs. Instead we found a place with a great atmosphere, especially up in the loft area, really good drinks and an interesting menu. I wouldn’t mind going back to try some of their other specialty hot dogs and sausages. It did seem a bit pricy but that really is the only negative I can come up with for the Ballard Loft. We’ll go back whenever J craves a good old hot dog.

If this project has done anything so far, it has been to force us to reassess our own judgments about restaurants in Ballard. We totally misjudged this one.

The Matador – 3/14/2011

Website

Location: 2221 NW Market St

Hours:

11am-2am

Happy Hour:

4-6, 10-1

This time around J and I decided to have a real dinner at the Matador. We’ve had their great happy hour food but had never gotten around to eating dinner there. We chose a Monday not just because it’s our tradition to have a “nice” dinner on the 14th … our first date was on January 14th so we celebrate it on the 14th of every month with some fine dining … but weekdays tend to be a whole lot less “douche-tastic” at the Matador.

The Matador is an open, airy place with a long bar and hipster, Spanish-chic décor. Lots of iron, red draperyand bull-fighting posters. Their menu runs toward fancy Tex-Mex, not authentic but tasty with fresh ingredients. They have a huge selection of tequilas from $8 shots to one $100 shot. While their happy hour doesn’t include drink specials, the food is surprisingly delicious for the price ($4 and $5). The atmosphere during Friday and Saturday evenings does tend toward a singles meat market so we always go during the week.

The Service:

Our server was very friendly, knowledgeable and polite. She really liked the octopus ring J always wears so I think she paid special attention to us.

The Drinks:

J ordered the Bartender’s Margarita, Sauza Gold, triple sec, fresh lime juice, a float of cranberry juice and Grand Marnier, which was very good.

I had my usual, a Pomegranate Margarita, Sauza Gold, triple sec, lime juice and pomegranate juice with salt. Their pomegranate margaritas tend to be a bit sweeter than I like but it’s one of the better pomegranate margaritas in town.

The Food:

We ordered our favorite dish at the Matador for an appetizer, the Tex-Mex Spring Rolls, shredded chicken, corn, black beans and herbs wrapped and fried in spring roll wrappers with avocado-sour cream and sweet chile-sesame sauces. The spring rolls were awesome as always. Never greasy always fried perfectly with a great, ever so slightly spice. While I like the avocado-sour cream sauce, the chile-sesame sauce is my favorite with its honey sweetness followed by a spicy afterburn. Even the bed of cabbage, carrots and hot sauce that the spring rolls rest on merits attention for the freshness of the vegetables and the fact that we actually eat it.

For an entrée, J had the Carne Asada Fajitas, sizzling steak, onions and peppers with a side of tortillas, black beans, cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo and guacamole. His opinion was that it was a good, tasty fajita that kept surprisingly warm throughout dinner.

I ordered the Beef Tenderloin Medallions, quick seared beef with blackening spice, port sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, tomato relish and seasonal vegetables. The blackening spice imparted a spicy bite that complimented the port sauce. The tenderloin was seared well with a nice pink center that reminded me of seared tuna but it was a little dry. The port sauce helped but not much. I really liked the garlic mashed potatoes, which were left a bit chunky with the skins mixed in. I could have done with a stronger garlic flavor though.

The seasonal vegetable turned out to be brussel sprouts. I don’t like brussel sprouts but I tried these in the spirit of giving them another chance. J described them best when he took a taste. “What I imagine a sweaty foot tastes like.” Enough said.

Since the Matador is one of the only restaurants I’ve ever seen offer it, as a dessert, we decided to each have a shot of Mezcal, a smokier relative of tequila that neither of us had ever tried. I choose Monte Alban and J ordered El Zacatecano Reposado. J described the El Zacatecano as almost liquor in its heft and smoky flavor. I tried a sip and found it spicy with a stronger taste than I like. My Monte Alban was much lighter with floral, piney flavor. Very different compared to tequila. A weightier taste almost like a good whiskey. I wouldn’t mind trying it again.

The Price:

Bartender’s Margarita: $8.00

Pomegranate Margarita: $8.00

Tex-Mex Spring Rolls: $8.75

Tenderloin Medallions: $17.95

Carne Asada Fajita: $15.95

Monte Alban Mezcal: $7.50

El Zacatecano Reposado Mezcal: $10.00

The Verdict:

The entrees were good if a bit over priced. The drinks and the appetizer were tasty and the mezcal was a neat, special occasion addition. I don’t think either of us is in any hurry to do a full dinner at the Matador again because of the price but we will definitely continue to go there again and again for their happy hour menu. The Tex-Mex Spring Rolls alone will bring us back.

Our recommendation, go for the happy hour and the margaritas but pass on dinner.

Senor Moose – 01/21/2011

Website

Location: 5242 NW Leary Ave

Hours:

Breakfast: 8-3 7 days a week

Dinner: 5-9 Sun – Thurs   5-10 Fri – Sat

The husband (hereafter known as “J”) and I have had breakfast at Senor Moose a couple of times but never dinner. We decided in keeping with our idea of trying new things at restaurants where we’ve eaten before, we would try their dinner menu.

Senor Moose specializes in Mexican food rather than the Tex-Mex stuff you get at Azteca. Their breakfasts are cut above the usual breakfast fare. Their dinners go along the same theme of food that is relatively unfamiliar to the average gringo.

Senor Moose is a very popular Ballard breakfast joint … if you don’t get there right when they open, expect a good wait … I figured this might also go for their dinners so we arrived about 20 minutes after they opened at 5pm. When we left about an hour later, the dining room was nearly full.

Service:

The waiter was relatively helpful if a bit slow. It seemed like the time between taking our drink order and when we actually ordered food was a bit longer than normal. J, being the nice guy he is, suggested the guy was giving us extra time with the menu filled with unfamiliar items. I felt his timing left a bit to be desired.

Drinks:

We each ordered the Reposado Margaritas. Hands down the best margarita I’ve had in a long time. The mix of tequila to lime to agave was perfect. J agreed with me. It was hard not to drink it fast because the temptation to order another one was strong.

Appetizers:

Since I am a fan of guacamole, we decided to try theirs. The waiter also offered a selection of home-made salsas with the guacamole and chips so we said yes to that as well. The guacamole, which was the freshest I’ve ever had at a restaurant, was both chunky and creamy with a great mix of spices and tomatoes. The chips were lovely as well, light, warm and nicely salty. The salsas came in small cups (a peanut based salsa, salsa fresca, chipotle salsa, and two salsa verde, one cooked and one fresh). They were good and the presentation was cute but in the end … as in when the check came … they weren’t worth the amount we were charged. I’ve had better, fresh salsas at La Carte de Oaxaca for free.

Entrees:

J got the Alambres, a mix of shredded beef, chorizo, bacon, green bell pepper and poblano chile topped with cheese and fresh salsa verde. He loved it. The flavor of the meats melded together yet he could pick out the flavors of each type. It was all seasoned well and was not too spicy. He also felt that the green bell peppers were cooked exactly right as they didn’t overwhelm the dish. He would, given the chance, order it again.

I went with the Mole de Papantla, braised beef covered in mole served with mashed sweet potatoes and a salad of romain lettuce, cabbage and tomatoes. The mashed sweet potatoes were lovely, smooth, slightly buttery and salty. The little bit of salad was crisp and fresh. The beef mole though … The beef was tender enough but something about the flavor of the mole just didn’t sit well with me. There was almost a sweet metallic taste to it that put me off. Being that I’m no expert on the flavor of mole, that sweet aftertaste might have been expected for the type of mole I chose. I can’t really fault the chef for my disliking this dish. It just wasn’t to my taste.

Prices:

Reposado Margaritas – $9.50 each

Guacamole, Salsas and Chips – $9.50

Alambres – $15.95

Mole de Papantla – $14.95

The Verdict:

While both J and I felt the margaritas were worth every cent of the $9.50, the rest of the meal seemed a little over priced for what we received. The salsa sampler, in particular, was way over what I would’ve been willing to pay. J’s felt his entrée, while really good, wasn’t any better than one he could’ve gotten cheaper. The local taco truck down the street has food just as fresh for far cheaper.

Granted, we will go back to Senor Moose for their breakfast, which is creative and more reasonably priced, but I doubt we’ll go back for dinner. Or at least a full dinner. We may occasionally go in for their fabulous margaritas and a side of guacamole. Boy, those margaritas were good.