Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Gastronomic delights @Gastropod

It's been open for a year, made it to Seattle Eater's Essential 38 six months ago, and yet, it has eluded me. Finally, it was time. Gastropod - chef Travis Kukull's tiny 25-seater eatery wowed me with its easy-going atmosphere, it's innovative beers, and its impeccable food.                                                                 
Statutory warning: Everything here is in the superlative. It just could not be helped.     

Gastropod is related to Epic Ales in more ways than one, so it is but obvious that their beers will inspire poetry. Unfortunately, I only had space for one - so Salty Ghosts it was! Sour wheat ale brewed with Coriander and Sea-salt. Savory and with a hint of sweet, it is an instant crowd pleaser. Other beers that I desperately wanted to drink but didn't - Flowers from the farm (Farmhouse wheat brewed withh orange blossoms), Driftwood (Oak aged wild ale brewed with oysters).

What did I eat:

Peach, cucumber gazpacho with Fresno chili and red onions. There are gazpachos and there are gazpachos. This one happened to be fresh, new, and fabulous. I had never before eaten one with peach in it. The wisps of pickled chilli and red onion floating in the soup added just the right kick.
Sambal beans with Romano yogurt. This wasn't the Sambal that you usually eat. This was a Burmese-Indonesian sambal with tamarind, garlic, brown sugar, and chillies. Part tart, part sweet, part savory, it was the perfect complement to the crunchy beans and the yogurt whisked with a Malawi curry powder. Asia and Africa combined to do a little perfect tango on your tongue.

Albacore Tuna Rillete. A no-fat rillette (unheard of!). Spiced just right (hard to achieve). Tuna belly, olives, and browned shishito peppers (unique combination!) exploding in your mouth. This could only be good. and that's exactly what it was. The rillete reminded me of a recipe from back home in Kolkata - the ubiquitous "Machh Sheddo". Steamed fish with spices folded in, served with chilis and red onions, served with steamed rice. Here, little crostinis lined up the plate, ready to be slathered with fish and consumed.

The Okonomiyaki. This has already achieved cult status in Seattle. So it was no surprise when a pancake with cabbage, carrots, toasted cashews, three types of cauliflower, and an outpouring of sesame looked teasingly up from the plate. Needless to say, the cult status is well deserved. Tip: We couldn't finish the pancake as we were full, and while wrapping it up in a box, our waitress suggested that a fried egg added to this in the AM would make a perfect breakfast. What a prime idea!

Very rarely does one chance upon a restaurant that has creative food and yet, is completely unpretentious. The chefs cook in front of you in an easy, un-rushed manner. The waiters exude warmth. Chef Travis, on hearing that the waiters were being quizzed by us on the various spices, appeared before us with jars of homemade spices that we smelled and felt elated about. And he spoke easily and passionately about his food. A little eatery with big food - Gastrpod exemplifies Seattle!

Million $ question. Would I go back here? Well, yes. Let's say, maybe, later this week!

In summary, it is essential that you eat at Gastropod. Very essential.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A wistful Calcutta eater reminisces

This list is dated. And it’s skewed.
It’s dated because I’ve been away from Calcutta these last 10 years (I haven’t yet warmed up to the name Kolkata – may be in a couple more decades). And many of these establishments have gone out of business or lost their former glory (though i definitely hope not). And the list is skewed towards what I call the more “affordable” places – when I was in Calcutta, I could afford very little and I ate what I could afford (and it was so darn good that I never craved the “up-scale”). Also, I didn't spend a lifetime in Calcutta. So my food list isn't all consuming. And finally, this is not a restaurant list (that’s content for another list) nor is this a list reflecting the stupendous Bengali cuisinescape.

So, here’s my list of favorite Calcutta foods – those that I miss the most from a city I love so well – in no particular order.
(c) Timescrest

1. Phuchka (is there anything more glorious on planet earth?) – With complete disregard for all manner of debate over multiple Calcutta schools of Phuchka, here are my personal favorites: New Market (the old man with the famous mustache), Victoria, Russell Street (right in front of Ananda). Just for the record, I have had Gol Gappa/ Pani Puri (whatever other name you may call it by) across India (and the rest of the world), and no one, I repeat, no one can compete against the pristine phuchka that Calcutta owns and loves.
2. Salt and Pepper Crab legs at Tung Fong. Apparently they don’t make them regularly any more (I wasn't so lucky the last time I visited) – a pity!!
3. Hot Kathi rolls on Park Street (the original Nizam and Badshah rolls are good too – though they used to be better). I once met the guy who had helped launched the famous Chicken Roll at Badshah. He told me that when ordering a roll one should always ask for a very dry paratha and fried chicken kebabs (paratha dry; kebab fry). Well, I’m asking now – is anyone listening? Well then, if you are in Calcutta and are in the mood for some joie de vivre head over to Hot Katthi Rolls.
4. Black Forest cake at Upper Crust on Russell Street. This establishment has ceased to exist – the last time i visited, a new pool parlor (or something akin to that) had cropped up in its stead). Long evenings with a special someone, spent drooling over a majestic piece of black forest cake are never to return again. I shall shed a silent tear here.
5. The succulent Chicken Reshmi Kebabs at Amber and the melt in your mouth Chicken Bharta. Ignore the fading curtains and the ripped chair seats. This is vintage Mughlai food and the only place to have it is Amber.
The Chelo Kebab from Peter Cat
(c) Yummraj

6. The Chelo Kebab at Peter Cat. This dish is a venerable Calcutta institution – there can be no debate around this. It’s like the Taj Mahal – it’s just there. Seekh kebabs, chicken reshmi kebab, a fried egg, and buttered rice.
7. Biryani at Shiraz. This is the real thing. All the new (and old) “me too” places are passé. North Calcuttans can drool over Royal, I still prefer my Shiraz
8. The fish fry at Shehnaz. Not many know about this. It’s a spicy batter hiding flaky layers of fish that can make a rainy evening very memorable.
9. Seekh kebabs at Astor. The juicy dry kind – however oxymoron-ish that might sound.
10. Those awesome Pepper Devilled Crabs at Mocambo – crab meat served in its own shell.  Not sure if I’ve recalled the name right, but the taste still haunts!!
11. Sweet corn soup at the Waldorf of yore. Actually there were very many things about the Waldorf of yore that I adored.
12. Roshogolla at Sen Mahashoy. There are many that make a mean Roshogolla in this city - this is the meanest of them all.
13. Steaming hot idlis and dosas at Jyoti Vihar on Harrington Street. I doubt if any place in Calcutta could compete with them then – Ma says it’s lost its glory now. Wonder why it was so hard to sustain…
14. The Peda Prasad at Dakshineshwar Mandir – have often wondered why it tastes so divine? OK, I will confess. As a young girl I would often wish for my parents to visit Dakshineshwar – just so I could eat the Pedas. Forgive me God, for I haven’t changed much over the years :(

Golap Sandesh from Nakur
(c) Banglalive
15. Golap Sandesh from Nakur - flavors of milk and rose melting in your mouth. I don’t have a sweet tooth at all – and I could consider killing for this!!
16. The lobsters at Red Hot Chilli Pepper. Don’t exactly remember the name of the dish. But they were the biggest lobsters that I’d ever seen in India (the US, of course, changes your perspectives on size). We took a couple of hours to finish them off.
17. The Chhena cake at Nahoum’s in New Market. I believe they also have a fancy name for the cake – but the folks there love it if you call it the Chhena cake – that’s their way of telling old money from the nouveau riche
18. Tandoori Chicken at Azad Hind Dhaaba . No one on planet earth makes this better. And do not forget to get some masala coke in large kulhars to wash it down with
19. Bhelpuri at Belur Matth. It’s spicy and sweet. And it’s just what you need after a long walk along the river.
20. And finally, the Zaranji Raan at Zaranj – there simply isn’t a food more richly exquisite than this. Goat crumbles in the

Many wonderful restaurants remain unnamed (simply because this is a food list). And there are some foods that do not have an owner to their name – Alu Kabli, Chur mur, Alur Chop, Shingara, Jhaal Muri, Baadam Makha, Mochar Chop, Egg Roll….

I could go on. Someday, maybe, I will return to own it all again.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Gone marketing...

Ethan Stowell's Greenwood eatery Mkt had been bellowing to us for a while and we finally found a slow Sunday evening to make the much anticipated trip. Found a reservation for three at about two hours' notice (I wouldn't extrapolate that data to the future since we were sailing in on the tail of a long weekend; reserve early enough whenever you decide to visit since it has limited seating).

Mkt has a varied share-able menu. Which immediately resulted in the awesomeness of three of us ordering nine things! So here goes my list of loves, likes, and spites!
We started with zuchinni and yellow squash fritters, roated pork loin, and hamachi ceviche.

The zucchini-squash fritters (bottom left) were my least favorite thing on the menu. They lacked the weight of either zucchini or squash.  They could have been any other plant, flower, or herb for all you cared!
The rabbit (bottom right), however, jolted me out of my Sunday evening reverie. I suddenly felt that I was eating a very good chicken! ☺️ Rabbit usually tastes like rabbit to me (ha!) so while the chicken-y taste was a surprise, must say that the thyme, juniper/celery puree along with treviso-bacon salad took it a notch (or many) beyond any grilled rabbit that I have ever tasted. However, my favorite food of the evening was the hamachi ceviche (top venter). Tender pieces of hamachi complimented perfectly by a citrus cucumber ice and the tart sharpness of pickled onions made for a kickass and wonderfully different cevice.

Next up spice crusted lamb, quail, and salmon belly.

The lamb roasted with horseradish and fried quail with rhubarb sauce were both very good without being outstanding. But as they say, everything in life is relative. And in this case the poor lamb and quail were competing with the formidable smoked sockeye salmon belly with dill creme fraiche.

And if this wasn't enough, three gorgeous desserts made their way to the table. Dinah's cheese plate, chocolate malt budino, and a blackberry-blueberry tart.

Dinah's cheese has never been my thing, unfortunately. However the pumpernickel bread served with the cheese had a raw sweet grubbiness to it that stayed with me. 
Budinos are always difficult since every chef seems to have her (his?) own interpretation of it. This one was light and fluffy yet rich to the core - the sort that I love from the core of my heart! I definitely want to see a dark chocolate version of it! The blaclberry-blueberry came chaperoned by some marscarpone gelato and shaved almonds and was a heady mix of warm, cold, sweet, and tart that is best described through the rapture of sensory nerves on the tongue. Order it. Always.

I couldn't end this post without a special mention of the fantastic service. Our waitress was a dream. Unfortunately her name escapes me now, but suffice to say, I left with a hug!

Now for the big question. Will I return to Mkt? I loved their food. A lot! And I will highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't been. And I will return to taste again whenever they change their menu (while desperately praying that the salmon belly, the ceviche, and the desserts have attained immortality on the menu).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Comfort, as I know it

The interpretation of 'comfort food' varies by person and before I immerse into an extollation of 'aloo, dim sheddo bhaat' (that most divine of all Bengali comfort foods) let me stop and talk about an unpretentious Seattle eatery and the comfort that it brings to my soul.
Seven Star Pepper was discovered by my husband some years ago while casually looking through yelp. We wanted spicy Chinese and this seemed like a place that would satisfy the immediate craving. We walked in that afternoon and haven't stopped  walking in ever since!
First off, I could not describe most things on the menu at Seven Star because I haven't tried them at all. Primarily because I keep eating the same things every time I visit - I love them so well! So here is my run down of what I eat at Seven Star
1. Noodles with pork in hot oil
My favorite Chinese food in the city. Enough said.
Well, maybe not. ☺️ Noodles swimming in spicy ground pork and bubbling red oil that find the right taste buds to tingle when consumed. There then, 'nuf said.

2. Chicken hot pot

A unique creation of bone-in chicken with chillies. While the overwhelming presence of chillies could rock a faint heart, I assure you that the chicken is utterly delectable (and actually, not that spicy). I have a curious use of this food. I usually always get this home and next day toss-fry this with some rice. It makes a phenomenal fried rice.
3. Cumin Lamb

The cumin lamb here is as good as any. Only there is more cumin and more lamb than in most places! Me ain't complaining!

4. Dry chicken with chillies
Chillies, chicken, yumminess. 

We have variously tried other things here. The bamboo shoot appetizer...not a fan. And some other things that I no longer remember. Service is strictly functional. No extra warmth, no rudeness, just Chinese efficiency at its best. Did you expect any less?

However, what's most important is that Seven star pepper never fails to put me in a happy place. And if you like spice, oil, Chinese, and some overdose of chilli, you will love seven star too!
 (Note: I ask for a higher scale of spice in everything; I am sure they can tone it down for others)

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Inspired by a friend who insisted that my food adventures warrant a blog for the universe at large to savor, here is an attempt to curate all my flirtations with food. I have many friends who cook awe-inspiring food and write about their culinary expeditions. I, however, just live to eat. And when I cook, it is to satisfy the primal urge of my own palate. So, this blog is dedicated to that most fantastic of urges (and not to the skill with the skillet). And I invite you to accompany me in this sublime art of eating. Let the festivities begin!