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Posts Tagged ‘Special Occasion’

Ballard Restaurant News – Febuary (First Half)

The beginning of February has been pretty slow on the Ballard Restaurant news front. The few places that are in the works (Benito’s Chicago Eatery and Po Dogs) seem to be in some sort of limbo.

Very soon J an I will start up the real reviews once again with Bitterroot and Belle Clementine at the top of that list.

Nice article about Café Munir, Loyal Heights’ new Lebanese restaurant, in Seattle Met’s, Nosh Pit and Seattle Weekly’s Voracious blog did a review of them as well.

My Ballard has more information on The Amber Den, the wine bar to open next month on the corner of 17th and 56th.

Bastille, Golden Beetle, and Staple & Fancy are all offering special Valentine’s Day dinners. Nosh Pit gives the details.

Seattle Met’s Sauced blog has the inside scoop on Hillard’s Beer, Ballard’s newest brewery.

Eater Seattle as the information on what looks to be a new dessert place coming soon to Ballard Ave.

And that’s pretty much it for now. Good eatings to you all.

 

Best of the Ballard Restaurant Project 2011

Here it is. Finally. Our list of the top ten Ballard restaurants of 2011. When asked by friends, family, and strangers, these are the restaurants we consistently said were the best and we’ve had a number of people thank us for our suggestions.

It actually wasn’t that hard narrowing it down to ten from the 82 Ballard restaurants we visited. Our top ten turned out to be a good mix of cuisines and price points. They spanned the course of this project, which makes me think we spread out the good ones fairly well.

10. Tie

J’s Choice: Flying Squirrel Pizza

For J, Flying Squirrel Pizza has the best pizza in Seattle. Fabulous crust. Fresh and unique ingredients. Inexpensive for the quality. Quick. He looks forward to going whenever we decide to have pizza in Ballard. I like it, as well, but prefer the wood-fired crust of places like Veraci and Via Tribulani which is why I chose some place else as number 10.

H’s Choice: Bastille

The most beautiful restaurant in Ballard with food and cocktails to match. Delicious cocktails with a French twist. Good, solid French cuisine made with ingredients so fresh that some of them are grown on the roof. A great place to go for a special occasion. Our dinner there, for our first anniversary, was one of the more memorable of this project.

9. Copper Gate

In the top ten on the deliciousness of the Gravlax and Swedish Meatballs alone. J counts the gravlax, mustard, and pumpernickel bread as one of the best bites of food he’s had in his life. I liked the food, cocktails, and the fun décor mix of rustic Scandinavian furniture with old porn. A great nod to Ballard’s heritage.

8. The Boar’s Nest

Good, relatively inexpensive, hole-in-the-wall BBQ. Tender. Flavorful. Friendly staff. We loved how they provided different regional BBQ sauces on the table.  We have looked forward to going back ever since our first trip.

7.Pasta Bella

Do you want eat hearty, traditional Italian food and feel like you’re on the set of The Godfather? Then Pasta Bella is the place for you. A huge menu of fresh Italian dishes at reasonable prices plus a pretty fine wine list. Sure there are “nicer” Italian restaurants out there but they just don’t have the atmosphere of Pasta Bella.

6. Thai Thani

The best Thai food in Ballard and some of the best in Seattle. We’ve been back multiple times since our initial visit. The menu consists of the usual Thai favorites along with an extensive list of unique items. Huge portions and a fun cocktail menu round out a great place. Sure, it doesn’t have the ambiance of Thaiku but the food is way better.

5. The Sexton

Other than a plating misstep … that they subsequently changed after reading our review … our visit to The Sexton, on their opening weekend, was great. Rustic, comfortable space. Friendly servers. Fabulous, creative cocktails. Amazing hush puppies. Southern down-home cooking with a contemporary twist and quality ingredients. A great addition to Ballard’s mid-range, high quality dining establishments.

4. Ocho

We love Ocho, one of the first of Ballard’s creative, high quality restaurants. Awesome tapas. The bacon wrapped dates (La Carolina) continue to be one of our favorite single bites of food. The tapas are so delicious that it’s hard not to order everything available. J calls it “Spanish sushi”.

3. La Carte de Oaxaca

Best and most authentic Mexican food in Seattle. Fabulous cocktails. Small plates of amazing food made with the freshest of ingredients. Fresh tortillas that will spoil you forever more. Totally and completely worth the wait you will invariably have..

2. The Walrus and the Carpenter

If you think the nation has overhyped The Walrus and the Carpenter, you’d be wrong. It IS as good as everyone says. The only reason it is not tied for number one on this list is because it is so blasted hard to get a seat. Fresh, creative cocktails. Delicious, regional oysters. The salmon tartare is one of the best dishes we’ve eaten. Ever. Worth any sort of wait to get a seat. If you enjoy good food, you owe it to yourself to try The Walrus and the Carpenter, the best of the new flock of small-plate eateries in Seattle.

1. Plaka Estiatorio

We ate our review meal at Plaka Estiatorio way back in April and it has been at the top of our Best of Ballard list ever since. We have never had a bad meal here, lunch or dinner. Everyone is super friendly. The meze are fantastic with the best hummus we’ve ever had topping the list. The ingredients are either local or brought in from Greece giving every dish a fresh, authentic taste. Their lunch gyros … omg, the gyros are phenomenal. Anything you order will be cooked perfectly. Seafood. Lamb. Beef. And the avgolemono soup is a delight. Go to Plaka Estiatorio. Really. Don’t wait. You will not be sorry.

Next week I’ll post the Honorable Mentions. The ten restaurants that didn’t make the top ten but we want to highlight them. After that … the worst of Ballard restaurants.

Volterra – 12/31/11

Website

Location: 5411 Ballard Ave NW

Hours:

Bar:

Mon-Thurs: 4:30pm-12am

Fri: 4:30pm-1am

Saturday: 9am-11pm

Sunday: 9am-9pm

Brunch:

Sat-Sun: 9am-2pm

Dinner:

Mon-Thurs: 5pm-10pm

Fri-Sat: 5pm-11pm

Sunday: 5pm-9pm

From the inception of this project, partaking of New Year’s Eve dinner at Volterra was planned. It seemed like a fitting end to dine at one of Ballard’s more famous fine dining establishments.

Volterra is a smallish place with a bar, a square dining room, a patio of outdoor dining in nice weather, and a separate drawing room for special, private parties. SIFF often uses Volterra for Dinner and a Movie nights and, just last month, they had a special dinner with Gary Oldman there.

Volterra’s specialty is Tuscan-inspired cuisine made with local ingredients. Their menu leans heavily toward pasta and hearty Italian fare made with a variety of meats and seafood. Veal. Wild boar. Duck. Dungeness crab. With their highly praised wine list, it’s the type of place you save for a special occasion … unless you know about their weekend brunch. J and I have had dinner at Volterra once before but go for their surprisingly affordable brunch at least once every couple of months.

The Service:

Our server was personable and quite helpful when asked for wine pairings. The restaurant also comped our wine selections and gave us two jars of their fennel salt so they get extra points for that.

The Drinks:

Before our meal began, we each ordered a specialty cocktail. I had the Tuscan Limoncello Rosemary Drop, housemade limoncello, vodka, rosemary, and lemon sour in a rosemary sugar rimmed glass. A very lemony, summery drink with a nice contrast between sweet and herbaceous.

J ordered the Pomegranate Sidecar, brandy, pomegranate, and lemon juice. A sweet, girly cocktail that had no liquor taste at all.

With my meal, I chose a Supertuscan red wine that our server suggested would pair well with my entrée. A delicious, bold red.

J had a glass of Altesino Alte D’ Altesi Toscana, another Supertuscan. His wine was slightly lighter than mine but so flavorful that he plans on seeking out Supertuscans from now on.

The Food:

For New Year’s Eve, Volterra offered a five course, prix fixe menu.

Dinner began with an Antipasti Platter which included two types of salumi, unpasteurized buffalo mozzarella, sautéed portabella mushrooms, lentil salad, pickled onions, asparagus with pancetta, cannellini bean salad, and white anchovies. Almost everything was delicious. The mozzarella was divine, creamy, cheesy, and like no other mozzarella we’ve ever had. Even though I’m not usually a fan of lentils or beans, both salads were delicious. The only off note were the surprisingly nasty tasting pickled onions.

For my primi course selection, I chose the Lamb Sausage and Pepper served on a bed of carnaroli rice. The rice was creamy without being mushy and contrasted nicely with the acidic tomato and pepper sauce. Personally, I would have preferred the lamb sausage to be stronger in flavor but it was tasty none the less. On a whole, the whole dish seemed a bit heavy for a primi course. I ended up not finishing it because I didn’t want to get full when there were still three courses to go.

J ordered the Three Cheese Tortellini in Brodo, ricotta, reggiano, and pecorino filled tortellini in mushroom consume with Italian vegetables. He’s never had tortellini served like this before. He called it an Italian wonton soup. Huge tortellini in a light, flavorful broth. The cheese mixture in the tortellini was exceptionally good.

The insalata course came next. My selection was the Apple and Goat Cheese Salad, balsamic apples and cherries, mixed greens, pine nuts, and goat cheese with a fig-honey vinaigrette. A good salad but rather forgettable. The vinaigrette had very little flavor and the apples were a little overcooked. Since I really like goat cheese, I felt like there wasn’t enough even if it was very creamy. I did like the addition of the tart, dried cherries though.

J’s salad course was the Wild Mushroom Salad, foraged wild mushrooms, sautéed with balsamic vinaigrette served over arugula. Great but a bit heavy. A mushroom and arugula punch in the face, as he put it. He especially enjoyed how the mushrooms had been caramelized to the point of crispiness.

My main course was the Wild Boar Tenderloin in gorgonzola-mustard sauce with crispy Yukon Gold, rosemary potatoes and seasonal vegetables that turned out to be kale and parsnips. Perfectly cooked, medium rare wild boar. Melt in your mouth tender. The strong, gamey flavor stood up well to the rich, creamy mustard sauce. The sauce was so, so good, sharp and creamy. The sides were merely okay. The bland kale and parsnip side could have used a bit more seasoning. Some garlic or salt or lemon. Something. The equally bland potatoes tasted like they had been left on the stove too long. Dry. Tough. Even the amazing mustard sauce couldn’t make them palatable.

As his entrée, J chose the Beef Medallions with truffle-scented wild mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and asparagus with a fontina fonduta, scallions, and fried prosciutto sauce. He asked for the beef to be cooked medium-rare but it came out noticeably closer to medium. The truffle sauce did help to counter the overcooked beef. The asparagus was cooked perfectly. Much like my entrée, his sides felt like an afterthought. The mashed potatoes were okay but he’s had far better ones at cheaper restaurants. In all, slightly disappointing.

Our dessert was a Chocolate Sour Cream Cake, covered in chocolate ganache with a dollop of chocolate mousse, a chocolate wafer, espresso crème fraiche, and chocolate covered espresso beans. Very chocolaty yet rather dry. The ganache was rich and delicious and the chocolate wafer was amazing but J and I both felt like something was missing. The cake needed something tart, like a raspberry sauce, to counteract the overwhelming flavor of chocolate.

The Price:

Limoncello Rosemary Lemon Drop: 8.00

Pomegrante Sidecar: 9.00

Prix Fixe New Year’s Eve Dinner: 2 @ 75.00

The Verdict:

We did feel like we got our money’s worth at Volterra. Many elements were quite good. J’s tortellini. My wild boar. The wines and cocktails. But it wasn’t entirely the outstanding meal we were looking forward to. Maybe it was the prix fixe nature of the meal. Rather than fixing items for each patron, it may have been more like an assembly line. Considering some not so good aspects to our meal, it seems like more care could have been taken with parts of dinner.

Perhaps it didn’t help that on Christmas day, J and I had a prix fixe dinner that was outstanding. At the Heathman Hotel in Portland, there were far more people seated yet every single aspect of that meal was amazing and memorable. For instance, I am not a fan of Brussel sprouts, yet I had a side dish of them with my entrée at the Heathman that made me rethink my dislike. Volterra’s dinner paled in comparison.

Will we go back to Volterra? Sure. We’ve had very good meals there, especially their weekend brunch. And they did give us a memorable meal, even if some aspects weren’t the type of “memorable” they would have preferred. I guess it’s just that Volterra turned out to be a rather anti-climatic end to the project.

Next week we’ll compile our best and worst of Ballard lists along with the best of various types of food … like best burger or best Long Island Iced Tea. And I’ll let you all know where we go from here now that the official project is finished. Thank you for reading.

Ristorante Picolinos – 12/14/11

Website

Location: 6415 32nd Ave NW

Hours:

Deli:

Mon-Sun: 10am-7pm

Café:

Mon-Sun: 6:30am-8pm

Restaurant:

Tues-Sat: 4:30pm-10pm

Sun-Mon: 4:30pm-9pm

Happy Hour:

Sun-Thurs: 4:30pm-6:30pm

For our last 14th dinner of this year, we chose Ristorante Picolinos, an Italian restaurant located on the corner of 32nd and 65th. It’s a sprawling complex that includes a deli, a café, a bakery, a bar, and the large main restaurant which includes a large outdoor patio. They offer everything from an early morning espresso to Panini to pizza to traditional Italian cuisine.

Picolinos is a higher end Italian restaurant of the sort that is appropriate for various special occasions. It’s the sort of place you take visiting relatives for a nice meal or where you go to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, or birthdays. They can readily accommodate large groups in the three large dining areas. In fact, the night we went, there were at least four such groups arriving.

Their menu tends toward traditional Italian pasta dishes with a modern twist. Pastas like linguine, gnocchi, and rigatoni are paired with salmon, clams, and wild boar. They also offer pizza both traditional Italian style and a small menu with gourmet ingredients. Picolinos includes a full bar, beer, and a small, but well thought out wine list.

The Service:

Our server was friendly, helpful, and very Italian. The service was exceptional.

The Drink:

J ordered a glass of Nebbiolo, a lighter red wine. He really liked how it went well with everything he ordered. It was the type of mild wine he would suggest to someone who does not normally like red wine.

I chose a glass of Super Tuscan, a rich red wine blend that was great on a winter day. For a weighty wine, it was surprisingly tangy and not at all bitter. Just a lovely wine with cheery notes.

The Food:

Our meal started with a basket of bread and a small bowl of pesto. The pest was bright and fresh, tasting strongly of garlic and Italian parsley. The bread was a little weird though. Instead of a baguette or slices of rustic Italian bread, it was a wheat bread that didn’t really pair with the pesto all that well.

For the appetizer/insalata course, J chose the Bresaola Limone e Capperi, thinly sliced, dry aged filet mignon, arugula, shaved Parmesan, and olive oil. The best meat salad he’s every had. The salty, rich filet mignon was meltingly tender. The peppery arugula complimented the meat and Parmesan. A bite comprised of each component tasted amazing and it was surprisingly light for a meat based salad.

I ordered the Insalata di Arugula, fresh arugula, pears, roasted hazelnuts, and gorgonzola with a balsamic vinaigrette. A huge heap of arugula accented with perfectly ripe pear slices. The gorgonzola was crumbled into small pieces so the ripe, salty flavor didn’t overwhelm. Everything was set off well by the light vinaigrette.

For his entrée, J had the Pasta del Giorno, gnocchi with braised short ribs in a tomato sauce. The short ribs were delicious, tender, and flavorful. J loves gnocchi so he was a little disappointed to find these were a bit overcooked and gummy, although he did like their sweet potato flavor. He also thought the tomato sauce was a little too sweet. It needed a punch of citrus to cut it. All in all, his meal tasted good but not as good as he expected.

I ordered the Rigatoni alla Salsiccia, pasta sautéed with wild boar sausage in a tomato sauce. The pipe-like rigatoni were cooked to a perfect al dente. The dense, almost caramelized tomato sauce had just a touch of heat. At first, the boar sausage tasted like your typical Italian sausage but eventually its inherent gaminess came though. Overall, a lovely entrée with a delicious, non traditional meat.

For dessert we shared the Crème Brulee. While the sugared top wasn’t quite as crisp as we prefer, it was still quite good. The custard had a distinctive anise flavor and was topped by three delicious brandied cherries.

The Price:

Nebiolo Damila: 10.00

Super Tuscan: 11.00

Bresaola Limone e Capperi: 12.00

Insalata di Arugula: 11.00

Pasta del Giorno: 19.00

Rigatoni alla Salsiccia: 17.00

Crème Brulee: 7.00

Coffee: 2 @ 2.00 ea.

The Verdict:

Other than J’s entrée, the meal we had at Ristorante Picolinos was quite good with J’s appetizer and my entrée standing out as exceptional. Their interesting takes on traditional Italian fare, fabulous wine choices, and romantic atmosphere really should make it a destination restaurant for special occasions when the fact that it’s one of the few places in Ballard that can handle large groups is added to the equation. I wouldn’t mind trying one of their pizzas some day, so I’m sure well be back.

Considering there are two similar Italian restaurants in Ballard, Pasta Bella and Picolinos, how do they stack up against one another? Honestly, as much as we did like Picolinos, both J and I prefer the homey atmosphere of Pasta Bella and their much larger menu of traditional Italian dishes. In the end, I think it comes down to location. If we lived nearer to Picolinos, we’d probably choose to go their more than once every couple of years but since we live three blocks away from Pasta Bella, I think we will go there far more often. Frankly, both are worth trying once.

La 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.

Pasta Bella Ristorante – 10/14/11

Website

Location: 5909 15th NW

Hours:

Mon-Sat: 4:30pm-10pm

Sunday: 4pm-9pm

Another 14th comes along and it’s time for another trip to one of Ballard’s nicer restaurants. We chose Pasta Bella Ristorante, a smallish Italian restaurant in an old brick building on 15th Ave. With its rich wood paneling and dark green walls, Pasta Bella feels like an old school, almost East coast Italian restaurant. The type of place straight out of The Godfather or Goodfellas.

The menu at Pasta Bella is refreshingly large compared to most of the nicer restaurants we’ve been to lately. They offer virtually any Italian dish you can think of with just about any type of meat. Spaghetti. Ravioli. Gnocchi. Lasagna, as well as a fine selection of Italian wines and desserts.

The Service:

Our server was so Italian, he could have been a bit player in one of the Godfather movies. Very friendly. Very helpful giving recommendations about what was especially good.

The Drink:

I chose a half carafe of Stella Montepulciano, a fruity, red wine that went extremely well with everything we ordered. J liked that it was served at room temperature.

The Food:

For antipasti, we ordered Italian Bruschetta, slices of garlic ciabatta with fresh basil. Tomatoes, onions, capers, and balsamic vinegar. The char-grilled bread was neither soggy nor brick hard as some bruschetta we’ve had over the course of the project. The topping was rich and fresh with strong tomato and slightly sweet balsamic flavors.

J chose a Spinach Starter Salad of spinach, gorgonzola, caramelized roasted walnuts, onions, and red peppers. The spinach was crisp and fresh and the gorgonzola didn’t overwhelm all the other flavors. The dressing added just a hint of sweetness.

For my salad course, I had the Mozarella Caprese, fresh mozzarella served with Roma tomatoes, fresh basil on a bed of spinach with balsamic and extra virgin olive oil dressing. The mozzarella was so incredibly fresh and moist that it nearly melted in my mouth. The tomatoes were a bit pale and unripe but the spinach was very fresh and crisp.

J had the Pesto Gnocchi con Pollo, house-made gnocchi in a pesto-marinara sauce. The gnocchi were incredibly light. The marinara wasn’t sweet, rather very acidic and tart. J really liked the sauce although it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The pesto also had a nice bite to it. The entire dish reminded him of something an Italian grandmother would make for her family.

For my entrée I ordered the Linguine con Gamberi al Diablo, linguine with black tiger prawns, Roma tomatoes, capers, fresh basil, garlic, and hot chili peppers in a light, tomato-lemon-wine sauce. Very good. The prawns tasted briney and like actual prawns rather than bland rubber. The lemon-tomato sauce complimented the briney prawns quite well with a faint tartness and an undercurrent of spice. The tomatoes were well cooked adding a bit of texture to the sauce. It was so good that, although I had eaten all the prawns, I still took the leftover linguine home for lunch the next day.

The Price:

Stella Montepulciano: 14.00

Italian Bruchetta: 6.95

Spinach Starter Salad: 5.50

Mozarella Caprese: 9.00

Pesto Gnocchi con Pollo: 14.50

Linguine con Gamberi al Diablo: 17.95

The Verdict:

We had a very fresh and traditional Italian meal at Pasta Bella. “Fresh” was the adjective both of us kept using through out the meal. The salads were fresh. The sauces were fresh. Even the wine was bright and fruity. A really good meal for a reasonable price in an atmospheric restaurant. Pasta Bella is a neat little joint that would be great for anyone who wants to feel like they’re stepping into a gangster film.

We were so full that we didn’t have a chance to try their desserts but both of us want to go back for dessert and coffee at some point. We’ll more likely than not return to Pasta Bella when we get a craving for traditional Italian food especially since it’s only a few blocks from our apartment.

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.