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The Worst of the Ballard Restaurant Project 2011

Here we go, the five Ballard restaurants that served us our least favorite meals of the Project. Unless these places step up the quality or change hands, we won’t be eating at these places again.

Neither of us enjoy giving a restaurant a bad review. We tried very hard to go into every place with an unbiased mind. Yes,  we had some negative, preconceived opinions of a few places but as we tried each restaurant, we hoped to be pleasantly surprised. Case in point, Ballard Smoke Shop Restaurant. From the outside, it looks like a seedy, greasy spoon but the great service and good, cheap breakfast changed our minds.

In the end, there were four places over the course of the project that were just not good and only one that was truly horrible. J and I aren’t posting this “Worst of” list with the idea of putting these places out of business … although one has already closed. Honestly, we kind of hope these restaurants read our reviews and try harder. That is really the common denominator of our least favorite Ballard restaurants: it seemed like these places just didn’t care about offering good food.

5. Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ

On this list because Smokin’ Pete’s was the biggest disappointment of the Project. J and I have had perfectly good BBQ at Smokin’ Pete’s before doing our “official” review but that day it seemed like they just didn’t care. Dry, tough meat shot through with gristle. Bland BBQ sauce. Mediocre sides that tasted like they came from the deli at Fred Meyer. Honestly, the BBQ warmed up in a microwave at The Viking was better. Considering the recent influx of quality BBQ available in Ballard (Bitterroot, RoRo BBQ, and The Boar’s Nest), Smokin’ Pete’s needs to step up their quality if they don’t want to be left in the dust.

4. Pho Than Brothers

Neither J nor I were fans of pho when we went to Pho Than Brothers for the Project and it did nothing to change our minds. Flavorless broth. Spongy, bland meat that only bore a passing resemblance to beef. We walked out of Pho Than Brothers not understanding, at all, the fascination with pho and remained that way until we had the outstanding pho at Pho Big Bowl.

3. Any Teriyaki Restaurant in Ballard

The teriyaki choices in Ballard range from okay (Anne’s Teriyaki) to just plain bad (Tony’s Teriyaki and Pho and Sunny Teriyaki). Dry, flavorless meat. Bland or overly sweet sauces. Limp salads. Since there are plenty of other cheap Asian food options in Ballard (Pho Big Bowl, Vietnam Cafe, and Uma Thai), J and I see no reason to ever get teriyaki in Ballard again.

2. Zesto’s

Yes, it is now closed but our meal at Zesto’s was one of the worst of the last year. Flavorless, obviously previously frozen beef patties. Lukewarm French fries. A burger that was barely a step-above McDonald’s. Once upon a time, going to Zesto’s was like taking a step back in time to the burger joints of the 1950’s but ever since they took the car off the roof, the quality disappeared. I have high hopes for RoRo BBQ which will be taking over the building and, supposedly, keeping the old Zesto’s charm.

1. Golden City Chinese Restaurant

Not only the worst meal we had in Ballard last year but the worst meal we’ve had in many years. Where to begin? An egg roll so over-fried that we couldn’t identify the ingredients. Two separate entrees that tasted as if they’d been cooked together. Pork fried rice so horrible that J described it thusly, “It tasted like it had been cooked in an old shoe … a week ago.” Golden City made Louie’s seem like the best Chinese food in Seattle. Unbelievably awful.

In retrospect, we didn’t have too many bad meals over the course of the Project. We’re lucky to live in Ballard where there are far more good to great restaurants than bad ones.

Next up with be our choices for “Best” types of food: burgers, fries, Italian, Long Island Iced Teas, etc.

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Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ – 12/3/11

Website

Location: 1918 NW 65th

Hours:

Tues-Sat: 11am-9pm

Sunday: 11:30am-9pm

Seattle has never been much of a BBQ town. For a long time, there have been just a handful of BBQ joints scattered all over the city. Smokin’ Pete’s, on the corner of 65th and 20th, has been the Ballard BBQ outpost for years. Housed in a bright yellow building, Smokin’ Pete’s is the place I always took my BBQ loving father. It’s a simple place with two glass deli cases flanking the cash register and a few tables. The menu, naturally, consists of BBQ meats, pork, chicken, and beef, along with sides like potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, etc. They offer canned sodas, a couple of ciders, and beer.

The Service:

The guys at the counter were friendly and our orders came out pretty quick.

The Drink:

J and I each had a can of Faygo Root Beer.

The Food:

J ordered a small plate of Singin’ Man Pork Ribs, Memphis dry rubbed pork ribs with a piece of cornbread and mac and cheese. He found the meat dry and tough enough that it needed the thin, too sweet BBQ sauce to make it palatable. The cornbread was equally dry and rather flavorless. The mac and cheese tasted like the stuff they sell in the deli at Fred Meyer. Not quality BBQ.

I chose the Working Man’s Lunch, a slow smoked beef brisket sandwich with hush puppies. The beef was moist and had good flavor but had large, gelatinous chunks of fat running through it . The sauce was too sweet for my taste. The baguette, that the brisket was served on, was oddly greasy. The whole sandwich felt kind of thrown together. The hush puppies had the consistency of a white cake and was just as bland. I expect hush puppies to have a distinct corn flavor and some heft to them. These didn’t.

The Price:

Singin’ Man Pork Ribs: 13.75

The Working Man’s Lunch: 8.00

The Verdict:

We were disappointed by Smokin’ Pete’s. The sauce was mediocre. The meat was either too dry or too fatty. The sides were so generic that they might as well have come from a grocery store. We’ve eaten at Smokin’ Pete’s before and thought it was okay. Now, not so much. It seems like they got too used to being the only BBQ game in Ballard. They haven’t had any competition for years so it’s like they slacked off on quality. Now that not one, but two BBQ places have (The Boar’s Nest) or will (Bitterroot) open in Ballard, Smokin’ Pete’s needs to step up their game because, frankly, The Boar’s Nest blew them out of the water on all fronts.

Paratii Craft Bar – 10/1/11 – Closed

Website

Location: 5463 Leary Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Sat: 5pm-2am

Sunday: 5pm-10pm

Happy Hour:

Mon-Sat: 5pm-7pm

Sunday: All Day

Paratii Craft Bar is a Brazilian themed restaurant located on Leary in what used to be Mr. Spot’s Chai House. It’s a wide-open space with large windows, space for a band in one corner, a relatively small selection of tables and chairs and a tall bar lining the far wall. Décor tends toward a nautical theme with miniature and life-sized boats hanging from the ceiling.

Paratii boasts a large selection of alcohol with an array of creative cocktails. The food, naturally, has a Brazilian bent, leaning heavily toward peppers, coconut, and seafood. The night we were there, around 7pm on a Saturday night, it was rather empty.

The Service:

Our server was friendly and the food came out quickly but once we had finished our meal, it took a long time to get our check. Way too long, since we were the only ones in the restaurant by that time.

The Drinks:

J was in a piratical mood so he ordered the Captain’s Blood, bourbon, cherry brandy, and lemon. He liked it, saying it tasted like a Jolly Rancher.

I chose the London Sunrise, cumari pepper infused gin, lime juice, and tonic water. The cumari pepper flavor overwhelmed the entire drink and added an intense spiciness that prevented me from finishing it.

The Food:

We ordered two appetizers. First, Mango and Gorgonzola Crostini, slices of mango and melted gorgonzola on a goat-buttered baked crostini. We found these little bites very interesting, with a lovely contrast between the sweetness of the mango and the sharp, stinky cheese flavor of the gorgonzola. I would have never thought of putting these elements together and plan on attempting my own version at home.

Our other appetizer was the Scheherazade Steak, seared bites of urfa biber pepper marinated beef with onion and served with crostini. The steak was tender with an odd, pleasing peppery spice. The only problem was the presentation. The bites of steak were far too big for the too few pieces of crostini provided.

J ordered the Crab and Shrimp Sandwich, crab meat, bay shrimp, green onion, cilantro, and parsley mixed with coconut mayo, topped with napa cabbage on a French baguette. He felt the crab and shrimp flavors were lost in the coconut mayo. The filling was too light and too sparse for the heavy baguette. It would have been better served in a pita. Overall, he thought the portions were too small for the price.

I chose the Misto Quente, a Chicago ham and Dubliner cheese sandwich on a Macrina brioche roll with herb tomato relish and served with sweet potato fries. The roll was quite good, giving a sweetness that complimented the salty, prosciutto flavored ham. The flavor of Dubliner cheese, which I usually enjoy, was lost in the overly large roll. The tomato relish did add a nice punch of vinegar. The sweet potato fries were really good. Crisp, sweet, and salty. I’d say these were some of the best sweet potato fries in Ballard.

The Price:

Captain’s Blood: 8.00

London Sunrise: 9.00

Mango & Gorgonzola Crostini: 4.00

Scheherazade Steak: 5.00

Crab and Shrimp Sandwich: 12.00

Misto Quente: 11.00

The Verdict:

Paratii Craft Bar was disappointing. It’s a neat space, in what should be a good spot but other than the mango/gorgonzola crostini and the sweet potato fries, everything was not that great. The admittedly interesting flavors overwhelmed my drink and J’s sandwich. The portions were rather small for the price, feeling more like lunch rather than dinner items. The service was uneven and, at times, unreasonably slow.

Neither of us expects to return to Paratii, which is too bad. The space is great and there was such potential for something unexpected and interesting being added to Ballard’s array of restaurants. To be honest, considering there was hardly anyone in there on a Saturday night, I don’t expect Paratii to last long.

Tony’s Teriyaki and Pho -9/24/11

No Website

Location: 6315 15th Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Fri: 11am-8pm

Saturday: 11am-7pm

As we enter the last few months of this project, J and I are forced to visit the, shall we say, sketchier restaurants in Ballard. Places we wouldn’t normally go to unless a friend claimed the food was amazing. We try to keep an open mind about these places with the hope that we’ll be pleasantly surprised. We had this in mind when we went to Tony’s Teriyaki on Saturday.

Tony’s Teriyaki is located on 15th, near Zesto’s. The building looks like it used to be diner or coffee shop. Square with a weird overhanging roof. The interior is just as plain. A few tables and chairs. A big cooler with canned soda. The menu of teriyaki, pho and other combos hangs above the order counter, written in faded, dry erase pen.

Although the place looked clean, neither J nor I felt like eating at there so we got our food to go.

The Service:

The woman at the order counter was friendly and our food came out relatively quick.

The Drinks:

J had a can of Coke while I finished off a bottle of red wine from Wednesday’s dinner at home.

The Food:

I chose a special combo, Beef Short-Ribs and Chicken Teriyaki with rice and a salad. This particular salad was tiny, too warm, made up of limp lettuce and carrots, and the dressing was flavorless, much like every other salad I’ve had in a teriyaki joint. Why do teriyaki joints need to add a salad to their entrees? The some of the portions for the rest of my combo were huge. Two big scoops of white rice and a ton of serviceable chicken teriyaki. The chicken pieces weren’t dry and were even slightly caramelized on the edges. The teriyaki sauce was okay as well. Not too sweet. The portion of beef short ribs was rather small and what was there was flavorless and tough.

J ordered the #18 Combo, Chicken Teriyaki with rice, salad, and 4 gyoza. The gyoza were overcooked bricks that barely finished two because they were so awful. He said he’s had better frozen gyoza. He didn’t particularly like the chicken teriyaki either, saying it was too dry. Not to mince words, “It sucked”.

The Price:

Beef Short-Ribs and Chicken Teriyaki: 8.25

Chicken Teriyaki and Gyoza: 7.50

The Verdict:

Frankly, Tony’s Teriyaki turned out to be exactly what we had assumed it would be when we first saw the place. Sub-par teriyaki. From the awful gyoza to the bland short-ribs and limp salad, nearly everything was either bad or terrible. For me, the only saving grace was the serviceable chicken teriyaki.

Needless to say, J and I won’t be returning to Tony’s Teriyaki … but at least one of the sketchier places has been crossed off the list.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , , , ,

Wingmasters Sports Bar & Grill – 9/23/11

No Website

Location: 5811 24th Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Fri: 11:30am-2am

Sat-Sun: 10am-2pm

Wingmasters Sports Bar & Grill felt like an old school sports bar. The type found all over the United States where the only things to tell you what city/state you’re in are the posters on the wall, the games on the TV, and the theme of the menu. Dark wood paneling. Worn and torn vinyl booths. A couple of pools tables. A big elk shooting game in one corner. Pull tabs at the bar and peanuts by the handful for a quarter from a defunct gumball machine. It’s the type of place that has a bunch of regulars who hang out at the bar, watching ball games. The night we visited, a college football game, a Mariner’s game, and a soccer game were showing on the multitude of TVs.

Wingmasters, as one can guess from the name, specializes in chicken wings, offered with a choice of sauces. The menu also includes the usual array of bar food, salads, burgers, and fish and chips along with beer and a full bar.

The Service:

Our server was the only one, other than the bartender, working so service was pretty slow. Once we had finished our meal, J eventually had to stand at the bar for a few minutes before being able to pay our bill since our server never came over to cash us out.

The Drinks:

I had a pint of Widmer Hefeweizen, which turned out to be rather smooth with very little bitterness. Quite nice, actually.

J ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, which packed a punch but had too much tequila.

The Food:

I chose the Buffalo Chicken Strips and Fries. The chicken strips were of uneven quality. Some were moist while others were bone dry. The Buffalo sauce tasted pretty good with a spiciness that crept up on me. I also liked the extra crispy breading that covered the strips. The French fries that weren’t directly under the chicken strips were crispy but as the fries cooled, they turned greasy and limp.

J ordered 12 Chicken Wings in Buffalo Sauce. It should be mentioned that J has been to the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York where Buffalo wings originated, so his bar for chicken wings is set very high. He took issue with how the wings were made. It seemed like they poured the sauce in the bottom of the paper-lined basket, and then placed the wings in it, without tossing the wings in the sauce. He said the wings on top were too dry while the ones in the sauce were merely okay. He was not impressed.

The Price:

Widmer Hefeweizen: 4.25

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Buffalo Chicken Strips and Fries: 7.95

12 Chicken Wings with Buffalo Sauce: 12.95

The Verdict:

There were a number of things about Wingmasters that didn’t impress us. The atmosphere of the place was very insular. J especially felt this when he went up to the bar to pay our tab. It took him a few minutes to get someone’s attention, and when he did he felt like he was intruding on a private club. The wings were really pricey for the quality and quantity. King’s Hardware offers tastier wings for a better price, especially on Mondays when wings are .28 cents apiece. Really the only thing that was good was my beer.

Neither of us sees a reason to go back to Wingmasters. We can get better wings elsewhere and I can get Widmer Hefeweizen at the grocery store.

For those who might be wondering, in J’s opinion Norm’s, in Fremont, offers chicken wings that are the closest to the Anchor Bar’s original Buffalo wings.

O’shan Sushi – 9/3/11

Website

Location: 5809 24th Ave NW

Hours:

Tues-Sat: 4:30pm-9:30pm

Sunday: 4:30pm-9pm

Since it was warmer than usual early Saturday evening, J and I decided we wanted sushi for dinner. I looked at the Ballard restaurant list on our fridge and realized we could finish off the sushi restaurants in Ballard by choosing O’shan Sushi.

O’shan Sushi, located on 24th Avenue, looks like the tiny sushi bars I’ve seen on travel programs. Limited seating. Shoji screens on the walls. Large bottles of sake wrapped in white rice paper lining one part of the bar. Dark wood. Soothing blue walls. It really is an atmospheric, romantic little place.

They offer a surprisingly large menu of Japanese food for such a small space. A long list of appetizers. A few dinner plates like yakisoba and udon. And sushi menu with many unique roll options. Our interest was immediately piqued by the choices.

The Service:

Our server was friendly and fast even though she was the only person working the quickly filling restaurant.

The Drink:

I ordered a small glass of Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai, a crisp, refreshing sake with fruity undertones of melon and berry. Very nice.

J chose the House Cold Sake which he declared was “Passable.”

The Food:

The sushi roll choices at O’shan were so varied and interesting that rather than ordering our usual gyoza appetizer and two rolls, we opted for three sushi rolls.

First, the O’shan Roll, spicy salmon and cucumber topped with albacore, avocado, house ponzu sauce, and scallions. The server had described this roll as being topped with “seared tuna” so we expected the tuna to be obviously seared. Instead it was more like a lit match was held above the roll for a couple of seconds. Just the faintest sear. J found the tuna to be slimy while I just thought it completely lacked flavor. Not the best roll.

Next, the Tuna Poke Roll, tempura fried scallion and cucumber topped with tuna, avocado, and sweet chili sauce. This roll had the same issue as the first. Slimy, flavorless fish.  The weird, tempura fried scallion were too slippery to eat. And until I re-read the description, I honestly thought the sweet chili sauce was a melon sauce. It didn’t have any chili flavor and was far too sweet. Not a good roll either.

Finally, the Salmon Skin Roll, crispy salmon skin, gobo, avocado, kaiware, and cucumber. The best roll of the three. The crunchy texture was fairly tasty change from the limp, sliminess of the previous rolls. The flavors melded well. Another reason for preferring this roll is because it had the least amount of O’shan’s sushi rice.

Overall, the rice at O’shan was not good. Gummy to the point of almost being like glue. Horrible texture. The rice was also way too sweet. So sweet, in fact, that the cloying sweetness interfered with the flavors of the rolls. Even the salmon skin roll, that we actually liked, tasted too sweet. Since rice is the foundation of sushi rolls, if the rice is bad then the roll can’t be saved … unless it has a minimum amount of rice.

The Price:

Kurosawa Kimoto Junmai Sake: 7.00

House Cold Sake: 8.00

O’shan Roll: 10.50

Tuna Poke Roll: 12.00

Salmon Skin Roll: 5.00

The Verdict:

O’shan Sushi turned out to be a real disappointment. We had high hopes when we walked in. The atmosphere is lovely, calm and romantic. The service was good. My sake, at least, was tasty and refreshing. But none of that changes the fact that the sushi did not taste good. Gummy rice. Flavorless, slimy fish. Weird textures. The bad rolls overwhelmed the positive impression we had of O’shan.

Even though we really liked the feel of O’shan, unless someone tells us the food has improved, we won’t be back.

Now that we have eaten at all four of Ballard’s sushi restaurants (Shiku, Moshi Moshi, Sam’s Sushi, and O’shan), J and I feel that we’re ready to declare our favorite sushi restaurant in Ballard.

We agree that our favorite sushi place is Shiku. Great atmosphere. Tasty gyoza. Huge rolls. A rotation of interesting specials. Fresh, flavorful fish. The best Long Island Iced Tea (so far) and the neatest women’s restroom in Ballard.

Moshi Moshi comes in a very close second for their great Happy Hour menu. I would Sam’s Sushi is third for the size of their rolls and the price. O’shan gets fourth place only because their rolls were not good.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , ,

Pho Than Brothers – 8/29/11

Website

Location: 2021 NW Market St

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 11am-9pm

After a hectic weekend spent Downtown at the Penny Arcade Expo (Pax), J and I finally managed to squeeze in a Ballard restaurant. Since we mostly ate heavy food … burgers, Mexican, etc … we opted for pho at Pho Than Brothers for lunch on Monday.

Pho Than Brothers is a local chain located on Market Street, in the same strip mall as Thai Thani. In a spare, bright dining space, they serve only one thing, Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup. Each huge bowl comes with a plate of condiments (bean sprouts, Vietnamese basil, jalapeno peppers, lime) and a cream puff.

Time for a bit of honesty. Both J and I have tried pho and neither of us has ever been that impressed. J prefers the thicker noodles of Japanese udon and, other than Greek avgolemono soup, I’m not much of a soup person but we were willing, for the sake of this project, to give pho another try.

The Service:

Astonishingly fast.

The Drinks:

J ordered a can of Moutain Dew (aka Gamer Fuel), having not had enough at Pax.

I chose the Hot Chrysanthemum Tea that was quite nice with a honey sweet, floral flavor.

The Food:

J had the Pho Bo Vien, rice noodle soup with meatballs and extra noodles. Once he added an array of condiments, including plum and Sriracha sauce, he felt the broth was quite nice. However, the “meatballs” tasted more like slices of vaguely meat-flavored sponges than a traditional meatball. Their texture was very unappetizing.

I ordered the Pho Bo Tai Chin, rice noodle soup with sliced eye-round and brisket. Before adding the same condiments as J, I found the broth to be rather flavorless. It seems like the broth is a canvas for the other flavors to mingle. Once the additions were made, the doctored broth was the best thing about my bowl of pho. At least my choice of meat actually tasted like meat. The brisket was tender but lacked flavor, as did the thin slices of eye-round.

The cream puffs were okay. The sugary cream filling overwhelmed the rather light puff part.

The Price:

Can of Mountain Dew: 1.00

Hot Chrysanthemum Tea: 1/25

Medium Pho Bo Vien with extra noodles: 6.35

Medium Pho Bo Tai Chin: 5.75

The Verdict:

Pho Than Brothers did nothing to change our opinion of pho. The flavorless meat and weird texture of the meatballs overwhelmed the tasty (doctored) broth. Neither of us plans on returning to Pho Than Brothers, especially since pho is the only thing on the menu.

That being said, on some cold, winter night, I may give pho another chance … at Monkey Bridge where I know they use high quality ingredients.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , ,