Oct
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

The great Canlis - head to the lounge for jazz and Scotch with a view

The great Canlis – head to the lounge for jazz and Scotch with a view

Where to Drink in SEATTLE

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Overlooking Canlis lounge & dining room from the stairwell leading to private dining rooms upstairs

Overlooking Canlis lounge & dining room from the stairwell leading to private dining rooms upstairs – but be aware: the cocktails run around $18

Though I’ve visited a number of times over the past 15 years, it’s 3 visits to Seattle within a 7 month period that had me up-to-date on restaurant and cocktail/bar newcomers as well as caught up on some classics I always meant to visit (hello, Canlis!)

Though many visits later, I don’t find myself having that “soul connection” I can feel so intensely with my favorite places around the world, I have dear friends who live here and have, over time, experienced more of the gems in many neighborhoods of the city. Last time, I covered Seattle food — now it’s favorite cocktails and bars.

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Artusi aperitifs

Artusi aperitifs

Being required to serve food at all bars, most bars are restaurants and some great cocktails can be found at restaurants (like a couple I covered last issue, Barnacle and The Whale Wins). I’ve also had good cocktails, if not as noteworthy at my top choices outlined below, at Artusi, an Italian aperitivo bar and restaurant where an off-menu request resulted in a delightfully bitter-refreshing cocktail of Amaro Sibilla, Broker’s Gin, lemon, soda and Nardini’s Aqua di Cedro citrus liqueur with Italian bites.

Spur cocktails can be hit-and-miss with some, like an ambitious combination of tomato, honeydew, strawberry syrup, Rhum J.M., lemon and house dandelion tincture, sounding more interesting than it tasted. Still, there is a well-curated, smaller spirits collection at the intimate bar.

Clever Bottle

Clever Bottle

Odd (and high) fellow patrons rather ruined the vibe at Clever Bottle late night (which seems a general problem in Belltown), but the staff and cocktails are otherwise pleasing, particularly a house dark fruit peppercorn shrub ($9), bracing with rye whiskey, rosemary and peppercorn. Early hours might bring a better vibe?

Triumph Bar's Big Ciao

Triumph Bar’s Big Ciao

A place that still felt like it was finding itself when I visited in April (it is now one year old) is the restaurant Triumph Bar, in the shadow of the Space Needle. Heavy on Italian wines, charcuterie and cheeses and gastropub fare, Triumph’s cocktails show promise, with subtle culinary and molecular touches, as with Big Ciao ($11), mixing gin, Green Chartreuse and lemon, garnished with poached apple and washed with olive oil. I’ve had some brilliant olive oil-washed cocktails, like Alligator Alley on Trick Dog’s menu when it first opened, that were better integrated where there was a welcome, creamy texture from the olive oil. This one was not quite there — but it was close. Other drinks that showed promise were Runoff ($12), a bracing mix of mezcal, Cynar, beer syrup, egg white and lemon, and a gratifying Rye Witch ($12) of rye whiskey, Strega and carbonated sherry (love that aspect!)

Radiator's striking barrel bar

Radiator’s striking barrel bar

Radiator Whiskey is my top Pike Place Market bar choice — and they also serve strong food (playful offal dishes like cornflake-crusted chicken livers). Their strength is a robust whisk(e)y collection alongside good cocktails like a Renegade ($10), a blend of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, Yellow Chartreuse, Angostura and orange bitters. I loved a cocktail special, a tart, subtly bitter Aperol Rhubarb Smash ($10) of Buffalo Trace bourbon, mint, Aperol, lemon, rhubarb bitters.

Gorgeous: Bastille

Gorgeous: Bastille

A notable Ballard duo? Bastille charms, hidden in the back of popular Stoneburner. It’s a massive, romantic, brick-walled space, made even more romantic with live jazz sets (Django-esque, gypsy jazz on my recent visit) under sparkling chandeliers. The drinks aren’t amazing but they are well-crafted, like a Skiff Club ($10), combining gin, grapefruit cordial, rhubarb amaro, lemon, ginger and truffle salt — I wish the rhubarb and salt would have been apparent.

The Gerald

The Gerald

The Gerald is memorable for its mid-century, 1960’s look and blonde wood walls. Cocktails are ambitious and utilize small batch spirits, even if they don’t always quite work, as with a Draper Point ($10), imitating elements of Pennsylvania’s Root, a root beer/sarsaparilla liquor: bourbon, black tea, sweet vermouth, Root, apricot liqueur, Angostura bitters, orange peel and nutmeg. The drink neither tasted like Root or root beer, lacking had a distinct flavor profile. Still, I appreciate the vision behind it. A stronger cocktail was Don’t Stop the Bete ($11), using Sidetrack Distillery’s excellent Bete liquor (an earthy beet liquor I wrote about months back), mixing it with Krogstad Aquavit, simple syrup, lime, cucumber and dill for a still somewhat muddled but ultimately vegetal, bright drink.

Sun Liquor's beautiful bar at the distillery (see below)

Sun Liquor’s beautiful bar at the distillery (see below)

My Top 12

LIBERTY BAR, Capitol Hill

Liberty's back bar

Liberty’s back bar

I’ll just say it: Liberty Bar is the bar I’d rather be at any day than Canon (see below). The vibe is chill, there’s sushi and a rock star-esque hidden back room (like a green room), and the spirits collection is in the hundreds with one of the most extensive selections of Japanese whisky, American whiskey and mezcal you’ll find in Washington, thanks to owner Andrew Friedman.

Point of No Return cocktail

Point of No Return cocktail

Most importantly, one won’t find attitude in this laid back spot for excellent spirits and wonderfully affordable cocktails. On occasion, cocktails can wow, as with Keith Waldbauer’s Point Of No Return ($9). Gin, Chartreuse, absinthe and lime juice are poured over a mini-rosemary wreath in a glass and set on fire, releasing rosemary aromatics. The drink is herbaceous, almost alive with fresh, green life. Friedman’s Seattle Sour ($10) is a playful duo of bourbon, lemon juice, Stumptown Coffee Liqueur, and egg white, topped with beer foam and served with a shot of beer. It goes down all too easy.

ROCCO’S, Belltown

Rocco's

Rocco’s

Don’t let the casual vibe with (quite good) pizza by the slice under a pressed tin ceiling fool you. Rocco’s serves some seriously great cocktails, thanks to bar manager Leroy Thomas, who knows his regulars and gives everyone a hearty welcome. Visiting bars around the world, I find Thomas one of the great Seattle bartenders: he knows his spirits and cocktails, runs his bar without pretension, setting a fun tone for his customers.

Build

Build-your-own-cocktail

Rocco’s spirits and beer selection are top notch and Thomas’ cocktails ($9-12) shine, often with classic, 3-4 ingredient simplicity and perfection, like a mix of Underberg, Buffalo Trace bourbon, Cardamaro and Zucca aperitif. I particularly like Thomas’ build-your-own cocktail ($12), exquisitely served on a silver tray with shrub, spirit and soda to mix to your preference. House shrubs are bracing (thank you, vinegar) and delicious. Combinations might include a strawberry shrub with blanco tequila or a cherry coffee shrub with Courvoisier Cognac.

ESSEX, Phinney Ridge

Cocktailing at Essex

Cocktailing at Essex

Tucked away on a quiet, suburban-like street next door to pizza favorite Delancey is its sister bar, Essex, a real respite of a cocktail haven with soothing setting, friendly bartenders, a ’90s hip hip soundtrack some late nights and a mix of creative cocktails (generally $10) that aren’t fussy and often shine on the bitter side.

Cozy Essex

Cozy Essex

Bar manager Niah Bystrom serves beauties like Pink Drink 0n tap mixing Lillet, Cocchi Rosso, Dolin Blanc vermouth, spiced brine and — a pleasing surprise — a splash of Gruner Veltliner wine. Beer cocktails are also well done, like Little Rascal, mixing Espolon blanco, Burg’s Extra-Special Orange (a house citrus liqueur – read about it here), Campari, lemon and Avery White Rascal beer.

In the “off menu test,” which I often try after sampling a range from the menu, Bystrom did not disappoint — and won points with the Cash song reference — in Boy Named Suze, a bracing blend of bourbon, Cocchi Rosa, barrel-aged gin and Suze. Another standout was Dennis the Menace, a mix of rye whiskey, Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, lime and soft touch of watermelon puree, balanced by an IPA beer reduction.

Back Door at Roxy's (see below)

Back Door at Roxy’s (see below)

ZIG ZAG CAFE, Downtown

The great Zig Zag

The great Zig Zag

The great Zig Zag. Though legendary Seattle bartender Murray Stenson may no longer tend there (now at The Elysian Bar), the low key bar with a touch of jazz era elegance has no shortage of great bartenders and an impeccable spirits collection.

The cocktails are solid but that’s not so much the point here. At Zig Zag it’s the vibe, the classy, warm welcome and the spirits knowledge of the bartenders that draws me back.

BA BAR, Central District

Ba Bar

Ba Bar

Ba Bar‘s cool, modern Vietnamese vibe and artwork glows late into night (the bar is open until 2 or 4 am, depending on the night), a laid back yet hip backdrop to creative cocktails sometimes with Asian touches. Try the beautiful Cherry Rose & Apple Blossom ($10), a tart-refreshing combination of Tieton Cherry Apple Cider, Aperol, BroVo Spirits Rose Geranium Liqueur, lime and egg white.

SUN LIQUOR, Capitol Hill

Grain sourced for distilling at Sun

Organic wheat sourced for distilling at Sun

Sun Liquor has two bars, the lounge and the bar and distillery. I’m all about their mid-century decor and design aesthetic. And having the distillery in-house is a huge win at the Pike Street location.

Sun Liquor's copper pot still

Sun Liquor’s copper pot still

I spent a lovely afternoon with Head Distiller Erik Chapman walking through his distilling process and future plans for the expanding Sun Liquor businesses. While Sun is known around WA for their gin, I much prefer their rum, which has an unexpected rhum agricole funk and liveliness with a dry sherry finish from sherry casks. Their barrel-aged rum uses 100% cane juice, fermented for ten days before being distilled twice in their lovely copper pot still, then aged in American oak and French oak sherry casks for 2 years.

Hand-cranked cardamom goes into orange bitters

Hand-cranked cardamom goes into orange bitters

Another surprise is Chapman’s aromatic orange bitters. With an unmalted, non GMO organic wheat base, the bitters taste intensely of orange blossom, fresh and bright, with a touch of juniper, coriander, cardamom.

At the bar, drinks are simple but well done, like The Artemisia ($9), an ideal aperitif of Dolin Genepy des Alpes, Salers Aperitif, lemon peel, Sun’s aromatic orange bitters and a splash of Zardetto champagne.

RUMBA, Capitol Hill

Rumba

Rumba

When it comes to rum, blessedly colorful Rumba bar and dining room (though I found the food mediocre) is Seattle’s rum bar of choice, featuring over 250 rums available in themed flights ($13-21) from my beloved rhum agricole to “spice”.

Cocktails stick to classic, 3-4 ingredient perfection (never too sweet), using impeccable ingredients, as in the case of Scarr Power ($10), featuring the great Smith & Cross rum simply mixed with nutmeg syrup and lime. Daiquiri du Bresil ($10) is another pleaser with great Banks 5 rum, Gifford’s Creme de Banana liqueur and lime. As an agricole girl, I go straight for a classic Ti Punch ($9-11) mixing a choice of agricole rhum with cane syrup and lime. Each transports to a tropical island.

NEEDLE & THREAD, Capitol Hill

Needle & Thread

Intimate Needle & Thread

Upstairs from the ever popular Tavern Law, I find less attitude than downstairs, despite the exclusivity at the sexy den known as Needle & Thread. Bartenders custom craft cocktails that are sometimes from the downstairs menu. One visit, I was particularly impressed with cocktails from bartender Tim Nguyen, including a drink he won an Averna cocktail competition with, A Whole New World (yes, an Aladdin song reference): Averna, lemon, jasmine-infused Old Overholt Rye Whiskey and honey simple syrup.

N&T's romantic setting

N&T’s romantic setting

Another standout drink of Nguyen’s from the Tavern Law menu was All Bets Are Off ($13), an herbaceous-bitter-sweet mix of rye whiskey, Genepy, Cocchi Americano, Cynar artichoke liqueur and peach bitters. Likewise, I enjoyed bartender Amanda Reed’s Honey Badger ($12), a bourbon-based drink subtly sweet with Giffard’s banana liqueur, spiced with Becherovka, balanced by dry vermouth and lemon.

Leon Baham’s Dusky Hummingbird ($15) also delighted, a bright-meets-smoke blend of mezcal, lychee liqueur and lime with an absinthe rinse. An off-menu bartender’s choice standout? A pink-dry-herbaceous blend of Genepy, Campari and lime made effervescent with Prosecco.

ROB ROY, Belltown

Rob Roy cocktails & animal foot lamp

Rob Roy cocktails & animal foot lamp

Though Rob Roy was one of the early bars on the cocktail renaissance map in Seattle, thanks to the talented Anu Apte, my recommendation comes with a caveat. Visiting on different nights during various times of year, the crowd — namely on a Friday night — can be downright creepy (think girls laughing about date rape that they audibly claim happens after encounters at this bar). Such a crowd almost turned me off forever to this bar and I only returned with industry friends from other cities who felt they had to go. On a mellow weeknight it was a different vibe entirely.

Rob Roy has consistently crafted some of Seattle’s best creative cocktails and the staff are quite friendly and knowledgeable, ready to chat when not mobbed by an absolutely awful Belltown party/pick-up crowd. Classic Rob Roy/Apte drinks like a Saffron Sandalwood Sour ($12), a soft but distinctive mix of gin, lemon, lime, saffron sharbat, Angostura bitters and egg whites, put this bar on the map.

WITNESS, Capitol Hill

A twist on a Toronto cocktail

A twist on a Toronto cocktail

I was there on Witness‘ opening night last year and back again this year. With its old country church decor — including quotes from historic preachers like Jonathan Edwards lining the back hall leading to the bathroom — immediately charmed me about this place. Serving the likes of Dixie Poutine ($8) laden with bacon gravy and pimento cheese, or savory-sweet cherry onion fritters ($6), I was hooked since opening night.

Witness church-themed decor

Witness church-themed decor

Cocktails are likewise a good time, whether dreamy dessert Root Down ($9), mixing Fernet Branca, iced chicory coffee and condensed milk, or simple drinks using local spirits, like Soul Tonic ($8) featuring Seattle’s Big or Sun Liquor (see above) gin with tonic and house aromatic lime cordial. The Jonathan Edwards ($12) tributes the preacher with a listed ingredient as “Wrath!” (referring to his legendary “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon). The drink combines Angostura bitters, Cognac, Cointreau, lemon, sugar and egg whites. An off menu pleaser from my last visit one mellow afternoon was a Divine Intervention (aka bartenders choice – $8-12), a twist on a Toronto cocktail: bourbon, lemon, Cherry Heering, spritz of Pacifique absinthe.

BARRIO, Capitol Hill

Emerald City Daiquiri at Barrio

Emerald City Daiquiri at Barrio

Multiple visits and Barrio has done me right on the tequila and mezcal front each time I drop in and sit at its huge, wrap-around bar. Though in Washington one typically does not find the vast range of agave spirits California bars have long had access to (due to liquor law differences and, of course, California’s long-dominant Mexican population and proximity to Mexico), Barrio is one of the strongest agave spirits selections I’ve found in Seattle — with plenty of whiskey besides.

Friendly staff bring out bowls of guacamole and pour housed aged spirits like a woody and warm Aha Toro Anejo aged in Woodinville rye barrels for 6 months. I like the hint of heat behind Death in the Rio Grande ($10), which comes from a ghost chile-infused reposado tequila, lime, grapefruit, Campari and agave nectar. Though it’s not a rum bar, I love their Emerald City Daiquiri ($11), showcasing neighboring Sun Liquor’s (above) silver rum, Genepy, sugar and lime.

HAZELWOOD, Ballard

Hazelwood

Hazelwood

With two floors oozing intimate quirk and romance, Hazelwood is my kind of hangout. There are merely four stools at the tiny bar, while upstairs couches are the other seating options under crystal chandelier and mounted animal skulls and horns.

Bartenders tend to be friendly, able to craft something interesting from the small but thoughtful spirits collection.

The striking bar at Back Door at Roxy's

The striking bar at Back Door at Roxy’s

Dives & Quirky Spots

Hattie's Hat

Hattie’s Hat

In the Fremont district of Seattle, Back Door at Roxy’s has drawn me back a couple of times, not so much for the solid (if at times slightly too boozy-sweet) drinks, but for the unique atmosphere. The exterior belies a flashy interior that borders on gaudy kitsch and retro elegance simultaneously. It exemplifies a sort of Rat Pack Vegas swagger though entirely laid back.

On the dive bar front, Hattie’s Hat is a heartwarming kind of dive — certainly not for high quality drinks (think kitschy, like a smoked salmon Mary using smoked salmon vodka), but for its atmosphere, musty with vintage paintings and hearty platters of fried chicken and egg scrambles. The tunes (which can often be ’80s pop and rock classics) are just right and the booths spacious, ideal with a group of friends.

Not So Much

Quirky-elegant Back Door at Roxy's

Quirky-elegant Back Door at Roxy’s

I won’t win any friends giving anything other than glowing praise for Canon, considered by Seattle-ites and many “in the industry” a temple to spirits and cocktails, winning numerous awards and on “best bar” lists everywhere.

The most notable aspect is its famed 1000+ spirits collection, which is excellent… but honesty compels me. It’s not the spirits collection, listed on an iPad (as is common for wine lists at fine dining restaurants in many cities). The spirits selection (and the fantastic whiskies in the bathroom!) is a delight for any spirits aficionado. Nor is it the cocktails, which, though overpriced, can be memorable, like Milk ‘n Cookies ($16), which when I first tried it in February before it was on the menu was a mix of Bols Genever, dark chocolate, Averna, black tea and egg cream with a mint rinse. Returning to Canon in April, I noticed it was on the menu combining Cognac, Ardbeg, chocolate, milk and Angostura bitters with a Fernet Branca rinse.

Canon's impressive spirits selection

Canon’s impressive spirits selection

The detractor each visit is the service. Unlike some of the great cocktail and spirits temples around the globe, the attitude here feels more about the “look at me, I work here” variety with a bit of disdain towards the customer rather than a warm, unpretentious air that makes bars with impeccable knowledge and collections truly great.

Oddly enough, each time I’ve been in (and I have not wanted to return but every industry visitor to Seattle feels they must check it out), it has been with key drink industry figures — master distillers, bar managers, spirits writers and the like, from around the world — and yet service has still been cautiously friendly at best, generally aloof and “too cool” for its patrons, no matter how knowledgeable they are, as a rule.

There are many places to find well-crafted drinks and solid spirits selections in this city alone — and globally there are countless bars with profound spirits collections and truly warm service. Frankly, though you will doubtless hear the opposite from everyone else, there are many better bars in Seattle and I would recommend saving your time (and money) and going elsewhere.

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Oct
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Seattle view out to the mountains

Seattle hotel view out to the mountains

Where to Eat in SEATTLE

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Mamnoon's dining room (see below)

Mamnoon’s dining room (see below)

Though I’ve visited a number of times over the past 15 years, 3 visits to Seattle within a recent 7 month period has me up-to-date on restaurant and cocktail/bar newcomers as well as caught up on some classics I always meant to visit (hello, Canlis!)

Though many visits later, I don’t find myself having that “soul connection” I can feel so intensely with my favorite places around the world, I have dear friends who live here and have, over time, experienced more of the gems in many neighborhoods of the city.

This time around, we’ll talk food, next time, cocktails and bars.

Seattle Favorites

BARNACLE, Ballard

Intimate Barnacle - one bar with one table in the back

Intimate Barnacle – one bar with one table in the back

In my many visits to Seattle, there have been countless restaurants that have been disappointing. Many are overrated or some are just not memorable in the scheme of restaurants nationally and internationally.

But there is a quartet of restaurants from Renee Erickson that have been consistently amazing, three of them taking up my top Seattle recommends (the fourth is Boat Street Cafe). I visited each of Erickson’s restaurants with low expectations and every time have come away impressed and delighted, finding each to be “quintessential Pacific Northwest cuisine,” or what one hopes that term would exemplify. Wherever you live, I highly recommend Erickson’s just released (on 9/30) book, A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus, a striking tome to the seasons and the style of cooking his restaurants showcase.

Barnacle amaro cocktails

Barnacle amaro cocktails

None more so than Barnacle, the newest of his restaurants which had just opened during my February visit. Sitting at one long counter in an intimate space hidden upstairs across the hall from the Walrus and the Carpenter (see below), Barnacle is an intimate seafood lover’s treasure serving a short chalkboard menu of daily changing small plates, all seafood focused, and ideak parings of Italian amaro in simple but well-executed cocktails.

Sardines in Calabrian chiles & slivers of butter

Sardines in Calabrian chiles & slivers of butter

Think the likes of whisper-thin octopus terrine ($10), drizzled in luxurious Ligurian olive oil and lemon, or spanking-fresh sardines ($8), perked up by Calabrian chiles and thick slivers of butter (shockingly fantastic when mixed together), served with Saltine crackers.

Pair these with a bracingly bitter-refreshing Chinato cocktail ($10), mixing one of my favorites, the ultra-bitter Amaro Sibilla with Italian Chinotto soda. End the night with a Calabrian cafe ($10), an Amaro CioCiaro-based coffee cocktail laden with cream and chocolate bitters.

THE WHALE WINS, Fremont

The Whale Wins

The Whale Wins

The airy, white space of Whale Wins calls out to me at lunch, and an idyllic lunch it makes, when it’s easier to get a table due to no reservations. A big hit from Renee Erickson, it’s another restaurant where seafood shines — like plump Matiz sardines on toast ($10), slathered with curried tomato paste, shaved fennel and olive oil. But  vegetables likewise star. Possibly my favorite dish here? A decadent toasted broccoli ($12) — yes, decadent. Doused in pine nut dressing, ricotta salata and olive oil, the greens are redolent of orange, what broccoli might taste like if it were dessert.

Cocktails at Whale Wins

Cocktails at Whale Wins

Cocktails ($10) are also strong here, with balanced beauties like the Resucitador, a blend of mezcal, orgeat, Cocchi Americano, lemon and Pernod for an absinthe perk, or a Normandy Old Fashioned showing off Calvados apple brandy with black tea syrup and Old Fashioned bitters. Happily, crisp Austrian and French wines dominate on the wine list.

WALRUS & THE CARPENTER, Ballard

Walrus & the Carpenter chandelier

Walrus & the Carpenter chandelier

Opening before the other two aforementioned Erickson restaurants, Walrus and the Carpenter has been a destination Seattle restaurant for years. And with good reason. Though the no reservations policy is maddening anywhere (many of us who care the most don’t have hours to wait for a seat anywhere, especially, when marathon-ing multiple meals a day), a seat at the wrap-around counter at Walrus is another pleasure of a journey through Pacific Northwest seafood, with plenty of oysters  — I tried Flapjack Point oysters from Eld Inlet, Boomstick & Sea Cow from Hammersly Inlet.

Grilled sardines ($12) walnuts, parsley, shallot

Grilled sardines ($12) walnuts, parsley, shallot

Perfect white anchovies ($10) taste brighter with beets and orange, while giant Weathervane scallops are luxurious raw as tartare ($14), vivid with grapefruit puree, vanilla oil and basil.

Cocktails didn’t exactly wow but they were solid and work with the food, a better option of the 6 I tasted being The Scottish Breakfast ($10), a blend of Scotch, Caol Ila marmalade, Nardini and cider.

Il Corvo's

Il Corvo’s almond green pesto percatelli

IL CORVO, Pioneer Square

Tables marked with the restaurant name

Tables marked with the restaurant name

Lines form early for this small, weekday lunch-only Seattle favorite, Il Corvo, where the offerings are three daily changing pastas (generally around $9) and some antipasti options as well as vermouths on ice. Word has long been out about this classic which nails what it does with simple perfection. I wondered if the spot would be worth the lines and got there just before opening at 11am. It is one of Seattle’s unique gems that doesn’t mimic greats in another cities but stands alone as a destination pasta stop. Pictured above is a dreamy almond green pesto percatelli pasta.

RESTAURANT ROUX, Fremont

Shrimp and grits with grilled bread

Shrimp and grits with grilled bread

Restaurant Roux is one of my Seattle favorites not so much because it transports me to New Orleans (it doesn’t) but its New Orleans-influenced, West Coast cooking has heart and it comforts, while the bustling, ever-packed space engages, particularly around a giant, square bar that surrounds the center kitchen and bar.

I savored frog legs ($12) and fried chicken gizzards ($5), crispy pig ear in Buffalo sauce ($6) and shrimp and grits ($16). In addition, cocktails are also a draw, thanks to Ian Cargill (formerly of Canon). Think Nola tributes like Battle of New Orleans ($10), mixing bourbon, anisette, orange bitters, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe.

KEDAI MAKAN, Capitol Hill

Kedai Makan

Kedai Makan

Hipster, it is, but there are more than a few things about the walk-up window and bright red sidewalk stools at Kedai Makan that remind me of my months traveling around Southeast Asia. Apparently that was the inspiration from owners Kevin Burzell and Alysson Wilson who opened the place in 2012 after traveling around Malaysia.

Think Malay-style peanuts roasted with crispy anchovy, kaffir lime leaf and chilis, or murtabak, Malaysian roti filled with mint and spice-laced lamb with spicy dhal curry for dipping. It’s all fresh, alive with flavor and affordable, with little over $10.

REVEL, Fremont

Revel's carrot pancake

Revel’s carrot pancake

One of the hip Asian fusion spots we’ve known for years on the West Coast, Revel stands out in Seattle for its fresh, fun food and on my visit, a rousing ’90s hip hop soundtrack, especially appealing on a sunny day on the back deck.

A cumin-heavy carrot pancake is studded with pecans and roasted lemon yogurt ($10), while dumplings get creative in forms filled with pork and coconut ($9) in green curry. Larger plates also work, like Dungeness crab over seaweed noodles ($16) in a spicy red curry cooled by creme fraiche.

FUJI BAKERY, International District

Fuji Bakery pastries

Fuji Bakery pastries

Though Fuji Bakery is a bakery and thus should belong in my bakery section below, I include it here because it is one of my favorite Seattle stops (with another location in the Bellevue area of Seattle).

This humble shop is a gem of a bakery serving Asian-inspired pastries done in French (read: buttery) style. There are savory curry buns, classic French croissants and matcha azuki, which is sweet matcha dough filled with red bean paste, drizzled in sesame seeds and Italian salt.

MAMNOON, Capitol Hill

Mamnoon beet tahini dip

Mamnoon beet tahini dip

Mamnoon is a chic, Middle Eastern restaurant on Capitol Hill that doesn’t so much wow as consistently please, particularly on the small plates and on the lunch front with dips like shamndar bi tahini ($7), a vivid pink-purple dip of grated beets, yogurt, garlic and tahini paste (pictured right).  

It’s hard to resist cilantro and aleppo chili-dusted harra frites ($7) dipped in house ketchup and za’atar-spiced mayonnaise with a refreshing mint lemonade ($4). I like Mamnoon best as a stop for snacks and shared small plates rather than on the entree side.

MOMIJI, Capitol Hill

Momiji maki

Momiji maki

Dining at Momiji with food/drink industry friends from Japan certainly made it a better experience. I wouldn’t put it close to a favorite sushi meal among my global favorites but it was all-around a gratifying meal with Japanese whiskies and sake to savor alongside monkfish liver (ankimo, $10) dotted with citrus ponzu and cilantro aioli and yellowtail hamachi sashimi ($13) in garlic, jalapeno and yuzu ponzu.

View from my hotel room at the Sheraton Seattle

View from my hotel room at the Sheraton Seattle

Cheap Eats

Bahn Mi Unwrapped

Bahn Mi Unwrapped

The U-District’s (University District) Bahn Mi Unwrapped was one of my under-the-radar Seattle gems awhile back, especially as someone who spent a month in Vietnam and is surrounded by countless spots for authentic bahn mi in SF.

For $4 or less, their bahn mi is hefty and pleasing in classic pork pate and duck forms, but my top choice is their delicious catfish bahn mi with a Vietnamese iced coffee — it drew me back multiple times.

Beth's Cafe

Beth’s Cafe

Greasy spoon it is, but Beth’s Cafe, a greasy diner in Phinney Ridge since 1954, famous for their ridiculous 12-egg omelette, is a memorable stop for 3am cravings of scrambles and hash browns.

La Cocina Oaxaquena

La Cocina Oaxaquena

La Cocina Oaxaquena does not even come close to scratching the itch one has for real Oaxacan food after traveling in Oaxaca (instead, try Agave Mexican in Healdsburg, CA, La Oaxaquena in SF, or Moles La Tia in East LA), but its warm, familial welcome and affordable dishes give it some cheap eats appeal, even if the mole negro is a bit flat or essentially not as multi-dimensional as the great moles of Oaxaca are.

Although the mole negro still didn’t wow, I prefer Mezcaleria Oaxaca (I visited the quirky Queen Anne location) both for its mezcal selection and its more authentic nods to Oaxaca in its straightforward dishes.

Taylor's Shellfish oysters & more

Taylor’s Shellfish oysters & more

Though there wasn’t a standout dish during my two visits two Taylor’s Shellfish Farms, I love its plethora of fresh oysters, geoduck, clams, crab and seafood swimming in tanks, fresh for the picking all day long on Capitol Hill, best savored with a crisp rose or white wine.

Kisaku

Kisaku

In the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, Kisaku is pretty nondescript when it comes to sushi. You won’t experience anything here you haven’t had before as a sushi lover, but its lunchtime deals work (even sashimi combos are no more than $11.95), its dated atmosphere mellow and its fish fresh. Wild sockeye salmon sashimi (pictured left) is a silky, local highlight.

Tsukushinbo

Tsukushinbo sashimi platter

Also on the affordable sushi front, I like Tsukushinbo in the International District, though the fish offerings are basic.

You won’t find any surprises here, just hunks of raw fish in a tiny, crowded space (there are often lines so go early for lunch or right when they open, as lines are not worth it). The sweet staff make the whole experience better.

Breakfast & Bakeries

Morsel

Morsel

Biscuits ($3.25-6.50) in the morning at Morsel in the U-District are a pleasure. From friendly staff in a tiny storefront with long lines, order buttery biscuits under the names Gravy, Cheesy (roasted garlic butter, local Beecher’s cheese curds, roasted tomato jam) or Spanish Fly (proscuitto, fried egg, manchego, arugula, mama lil’s pepper aioli). They’re all delightful and Morsel serves top notch coffee to boot.

For a bit of Parisian charm in downtown Seattle, I like Belle Epicurean. Coffee (espresso, etc.) veers old school Italian-style, while I love tarts like the Walla Walla feuillette ($6.95), which plays like a classic Alsatian tart but with local, sweet Walla Walla onions, layered with bacon, Gruyere cheese and fresh herbs.

Chaco Canyon on a snowy February day

Chaco Canyon on a snowy February day

Up Capitol Hill way, go off hours to avoid lines at grab-and-go bakery, Crumble & Flake, a gourmand’s favorite, with daily changing offerings like chocolate lavender or True North Coffee & Irish whiskey macarons. On the savory side, there might be the likes of smoked paprika cheddar croissants.

Hippie, it may be, but when in the U-District (plus two other locations), Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe offers vegetable juices and the likes of avocado toast on dense bread for breakfast, a welcome, healthy antidote when I’ve been judging/tasting spirits for days nearby.

Mighty-O Donuts — they’re organic but still gratifying sans lard. I like flavors like grasshopper, peanut butter chocolate or a tart lemon poppy seed.

Coffee

Victrola Coffee

Victrola Coffee

Thanks to my Seattle friend Rocky Yeh for numerous reliable Seattle recommendations, including Belle Epicurean and nearby, classic Seattle, top notch coffee at Cafe Fonte, one of my favorite stops for coffee in the city.

Though coffee in Seattle is a whole other subject that could call for a more in-depth exploration (as many have done before), I’m going to stick to food here. A couple other regulars for me as I stayed in various parts of the city in my last 3 trips: a Capitol Hill mainstay for over a decade is Victrola (which I much prefer to Caffe Vita up the street). Try Analog if you love espresso and cold brew.

A Mixed Bag

 — Places I Can’t Quite Recommend

La Bete

La Bete

I wanted to love La Bete. Atmosphere-wise, I do. It charms with a quirky-chic (yet relaxed) setting, cocktails in vintage glassware and friendly service. The dishes likewise sounded like an easy win but whether a plump merguez sausage or a mole verde braised beef shortrib, I found myself recalling more interesting versions in other parts of the country (same with the ok-but-not-great cocktails). The one dish that did jump out was a starter of piquillos rellenos ($12) stuffed with albacore tuna and squid ink rice in lively tomato pepper sauce.

Seafood appetizer at Miller's Guild

Salmon appetizer at Miller’s Guild

Miller’s Guild follows (a couple years later) the open fire cooking approach of places like Saison and TBD here in SF (my take on the trend in the London Times in Feb. 2014), but without the delicate, creative vision. It’s more straightforward grilling here. I wanted to love Miller’s Guild with its urban vibe that feels like a bigger city — as do the high prices for solid but not amazing food.

Miller's Guild steak

Miller’s Guild steak

Pricy steaks — whether Niman Ranch bone-in ribeye (service for two is a whopping $135), bavette, Okanagan beef, Snake River Farms Kurobuta pork chop ($32) or shell-on, wild Alaskan coon-striped prawns ($18), it doesn’t feel worth the hefty price tag. This extends to elegant-sounding cocktails ($8-13) that don’t quite sing, including what sounded fantastic but was a bit nondescript, a Remolacha ($13): Dos Armadillos Silver Tequila, Rossbacher herbal liqueur, red beet juice, lime, agave and golden beet foam. Surprisingly, house Turkish coffee ice cream ($8) to finish is the gritty (with grounds, like proper Turkish coffee), sweet standout.

Grilled fish at Staple & Fancy

Grilled fish at Staple & Fancy

In theory, Staple & Fancy, one of Ethan Stowell’s popular restaurants (housed in the same building as Walrus & the Carpenter – see above) is a notable Italian spot serving house made pastas, sardine appetizers and killer fried oysters, whole grilled fish. It is solid but far from superlative (other than those fried oysters) many dishes later. Since this rustic-gourmet Italian format has long been popular in many cities (including my own) and with my frequent travels to Italy, it fails to entice when many others work in the same category to more memorable effect.

Tanglewood's rutabaga apple beginets

Tanglewood’s rutabaga apple beginets

Tanglewood Supreme, in the removed, residential neighborhood of Magnolia, is described as a “fisherman to table” experience. I valued the warm service in the cozy space and the inventiveness of the dish concepts. Not everything worked, including rather imbalanced cocktails, but the $45 seven-course tasting menu is a steal and when it works, it works, as in the case of cinnamon-laced rutabaga apple beginets ($6) with baby kale and cranberry aioli.

Sitka & Spruce

Sitka & Spruce

The famed Sitka & Spruce has made so many top restaurant lists over the years and has been a pioneer of Pacific Northwest cuisine in Seattle for some time.

That is why I was even more disappointed in having its clean, fresh, highly seasonal food (a concept that has been a Bay Area standard longer than I’ve been alive) to find every single dish I tried, from marinated summer squash ($9/15), to wild chamomile cured salmon ($16) was surprisingly bland, understated to the point of irrelevant and not one dish was memorable.

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Sep
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

“It [Italy] must be inhaled wholly, with the yielding of the whole heart… It is really something transcendent, both spirit and body.”
Margaret Fuller by Megan Marshall

Amarene (cherry) tart at Atti & Figli in Bologna

Amarene (cherry) tart at Atti & Figli in Bologna

9 Places To Eat And Drink Incredibly Well
In And Around Bologna, Italy

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller [This article was published in Food Republic on September 3, 2014]

Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto, balsamic vinegar — these staples of Italian cuisine all hail from the flat Emilia-Romagna region, a place often recognized as the best area for food in a country where the cuisine is fantastic everywhere. In our recent explorations through the region, the food and drink (including Europe’s best Tiki bar!) is superlative. Bologna, a city of roughly one million, dates back to at least 1000 BC. Famed for being home to the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088, the city retains a rich academic culture and an impressive architectural landscape that includes medieval prison towers and endless porticoes. Arguably, Italy’s greatest food markets are here. Within those walls of ancient Bologna and in the surrounding countryside and neighboring towns of Parma and Modena, you can find many unforgettable places to eat and drink. Here are nine of our favorites:

Truffle and mushroom season at Da Cesari

Truffle and mushroom season at Da Cesari

1. Da Cesari, Bologna
Stroll down a narrow street off Piazza Maggiore to find this cozy, intimate restaurant serving traditional Bolognese dishes in a dark, shelf-lined room filled with dusty wine bottles. The Cesari family has run the place since 1955, with Paolino Cesari charming customers while his wife, Irene, brings out fantastic Bolognesi dishes, including her divine pumpkin ravioli melting in butter and shaved Parmesan. In the fall and winter, truffles and mushrooms are piled in baskets and featured in numerous dishes. Many ingredients, wine and even pigs (the rare mora romagnola pig) hail from their family “Umberto Cesari” farm. Via de’ Carbonesi 8, Bologna, 40124, +39 051-237710da-cesari.it

2. Nu Bar, Bologna
Nu Bar is a shocker — and not just because it is a Tiki bar in Italy. But also because it is an excellent one, thanks to Bologna native Daniele Dalla Pola, whose passion for Tiki stems from his time in Miami. Tucked away in the medieval city centre of Bologna, there’s an outdoor patio with pizzas and pastas to dine on. But, really, it’s all about the cocktails. Don the Beachcomber Tiki classics abound, set to a funky painting of Elvis, a chic lounge and an impressive collection of vintage Tiki mugs. Dalla Pola offers a choice of sugars from varying islands and different rums from which to craft your cocktail. In the mix with the classics, his creative creations stand out, like a rum, chamomile and matcha green tea drink made with sugar from Guadalupe, lime and a house pimento dram. Or, the Smoked & Spiced Colada, set alight with house cinnamon and cloves. You won’t find another bar with this unexpected congruence of cultures anywhere in the world. Via Dè Musei, 6, 40124 Bologna, +39 051 222532, nuloungebar.com

Nu Bar, an unexpected Tiki and rum haven in Bologna's medieval city centre

Nu Bar, an unexpected Tiki and rum haven in Bologna’s medieval city centre

3. Osteria Francescana, Modena
We would easily call this one of the best meals of our lives. Yes, it’s one of the world’s top-rated restaurants, boasting three coveted Michelin stars — and, for good reason. Here, amid the intimate five-table dining room, Chef Massimo Bottura cranks out works of art that are also sigh-inducing delicious. His playful personality shows in his avant-garde, modern menu, as well as more traditional offerings. He may start with oyster and anchovy macarons, serve lush cuts of rare culatello and assign whimsical names to courses. Consider: “How to Burn a Sardine in 3 Days,” and the popular “Oops we dropped the lemon tart!” dessert on a plate made to look as if it cracked into many pieces. The wine list is stellar. Try flights of the region’s famed Lambrusco in a wide range of a varietals, which are too often sorely misrepresented. Prepare for chef Bottura’s stories: an eel course represents the river Po with elements of salt water. Meanwhile, “snails in the vineyard” is a delightful combination of snails in balsamico, white truffles, beetroot and chlorophyll sauce. For food lovers seeking to push the boundaries, Francescana is worth the great expense. Via Stella, 22, 41121 Modena, +39 059 223912, osteriafrancescana.it

4. Ristorante Badessa, Reggio
In the countryside, between the towns of Reggio and Modena, sits a striking, multi-roomed building from the 1600s that once housed a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese dairy. The multi-room structure moves from the elegant, vaulted ceilings of the center room to the comfort of humble back rooms where salt crystals are crusted on the walls from centuries past. It’s a family affair: gracious Alberto Ruozzi runs the place with his grandmother, mother and sisters rolling tortelli in the back as he and his cousin bring out rounds of fantastic dishes. It’s hard not to sigh over the sublime goodness of risotto cooked in mountain butter and leeks or stunningly fresh pumpkin ravioli, while they open up a treasure chest and pour their own house balsamico, dubbed “black gold” by locals. Post-dinner, order a pour of house nocino (walnut liqueur) in unorthodox flavors like mint. Via Case Secchia 2/a 42013 San Donnino di Liguria, Casalgrande, +39 0522 989138, ristorantebadessa.it

Sardines and squid ink - artful and delicious at Osteria Francescana

Sardines and squid ink – artful and delicious at Osteria Francescana

5. Trattoria Gigina, Bologna
More than 50 years old, Trattoria Gigina owes its legacy to Gigina herself whose recipes are still the focus of this cozy spot outside the medieval city centre of Bologna. Here you can try signature dishes of Bologna, like the rustic, hearty tortellini in brodo (broth) best doused in fresh-grated Parmesan. Lasagna Bolognese and a signature rabbit entree are other standouts. This old world respite is an ideal space in which to linger over a glass of amaro after dinner. Via Henri Beyle Stendhal, 1, 40128 Bologna,  +39 051 322300, trattoriagigina.it

6. Cremeria Funivia, Bologna
Gelato is one of the greatest pleasures of Italy and is excellent in countless places. But Bologna’s Cremeria Funivia is one of the best we’ve had anywhere in the country. The texture is of creamy silk. And, in the bright white shop, flavors range from tart limone or amarena (made from the Emilia-Romagna’s famed cherries) to boozy chocolate rum or “Alice,” mascarpone ice cream over melted chocolate in a cone or cup. Note: they even list nut sources for their fabulous nutty flavors from buttery pistachio to toasted pine nut. Via Porrettana, 158, 40135 Bologna, +39 051 614 5062, cremeriafunivia.com

7. Emilia Cremeria, Parma
In keeping with the superb gelato of the region, Emilia Cremeria is one of the great edible moments in the city of Parma and anywhere in Italy. Made from organic milk and finely sourced ingredients, the luxuriously creamy gelato is displayed in a charming, white shop with whimsical drawings of ingredients. All scoops are served in house-made, gluten-free waffle and sugar cones filled with fresh, dripping warm chocolate. Via Emilia Santo Stefano, 21, Parma, +39 0522 430532, cremeriaemilia.com

Ristorante Badessa in a 1600s former Parmigiano-Reggiano dairy

Ristorante Badessa, in a 1600s former Parmigiano-Reggiano dairy

8. Atti & Figli, Bologna
Dating back to 1880, family-run Paolo Atti & Figli is a quintessential Emilia-Romagna bakery, a prime stop for an intro to regional baked goods. Original furnishing and décor make it feel as if you’ve stepped into a 19th-century movie set. Look for traditional panettone, meringue shells filled with whipped cream, preserved fruits or chocolate, loaves of bread and rare local pastries like tortine Bolognese con le tagliatelle, an almond-based tart covered in crispy tagliatelle noodles. Our favorite is the amarene tartine, a tart loaded with juicy, sour cherries of the region. Via Caprarie, 7, 40124 Bologna, +39 051 220425, paoloatti.com

9. Zanarini, Bologna
Where Atti & Figli is classic and full of old-world charm, Zanarini is chic and modern, despite its 1928 origin. Look for brightly colored macarons (some better than others – try cioccolato arancia/chocolate orange), creative chocolate truffles and elaborate cakes in the windows created to look like everything from piano keys to owls. This bakery institution evokes the grand cafes of Italy, complete with seating in the square, ideal for an afternoon aperitif or espresso. Piazza Galvani, 1, 40124 Bologna, +39 051 275 0041

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Sep
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos, in all its magical color

New York: My 8 Top NY Cocktails of 2014

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Golden Caddilac

Golden Cadillac

Working on a video project this Spring for Tastemade, I was asked to hand-select food and drink destinations to include in a Top 100 round-up of NY spots. This meant I was able to return to a number of my older favorites, like Amor y Amargo (my favorite amaro bar where, this time around, I enjoyed their iced coffee weekend brunch cocktail menu), Raines Law Room, Mayahuel, Cienfuegos, Brandy Library, Saxon + Parole and The Daily (the latter two of which I get into further below). Fine cocktails and spirits were had at each of these locations. Of course, I packed in some newer spots, too.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos

Sadly, the Golden Cadillac closed after my visit, though it hadn’t been open long. I appreciated the cheeky fun of the bar’s improved 70s cocktails, like a Golden Cadillac mixing Galliano, coconut cream, creme de cacao and orange bitters, or a Disco Daiquiri using almond milk instead of coconut milk (not to mention seeing great bartenders behind the bar, like Mathew Resler formerly of Empellon and Lulu Martinez, formerly of also-closed Painkiller. The East Village space will reopen as Boilermaker next month, involving none other than SF’s Erick Castro, who opened Rickhouse and the highly-lauded Polite Provisions in San Diego.

In the meantime, here are my 8 best cocktails in NYC this year (past years here), plus commentary on a couple newer cocktails bars.

ZZ Clam Bar's gorgeous vintage glassware

ZZ Clam Bar’s gorgeous vintage glassware

1. SAXON + PAROLE, NoHo

Masa Urushido

Masa Urushido

Saxon + Parole has been one of my favorite NY bars for years since Naren Young used to oversee the program. It remains a favorite in its current days under the able hands of Masa Urushido, a gracious bar manager who came from some of Tokyo’s top bars to NYC in 2008.

Raisin & Rum

Rum & Raisin

His seasonal cocktails can be stunners. This spring, I was wowed by a Spring Daiquiri ($14) combining Cana Brava rum, sugar snap peas, a house lemon-thyme cordial, lemon and tarragon salt. Topped with fresh pea pods, it tastes blissfully of crisp peas, backed with rum’s spice and sweetness, perked up with thyme and lemon. Another standout on the creamy end of the spectrum is Rum & Raisin ($14), a blend of Appleton Reserve rum, Greek yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon and Perrier to cut the lushness with a bit of effervescence.

Spring Daiquiri

Spring Daiquiri

The Daily-Virginia Miller

“Nacho” Jimenez

2. THE DAILY, Nolita

One of the great bar managers from the couple hundred NYC cocktail bars I’ve been to over the years is Ignacio “Nacho” Jimenez, at The Daily, who crafts well-balanced drinks in a seductive, mellow urban respite of a space featuring straightforward, daily changing cocktails and bites.

There’s one cocktail daily in each category, like bottled, “on the rocks” and aperitif. Returning this visit, a standout was a bottled La Perla for two ($26), served in a Daily flask (pictured below), a tequila, pear, sherry recipe from SF local, Jacques Bezuidenhout.

3. MOTHER’S RUIN, Nolita

Mother's Ruin's carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin’s carrot gin slushie

Mother’s Ruin is a bartender/industry favorite and one of New York’s good-time hangouts where you’re greeted with a smile, elevated slushie and beer cocktails, and particularly during the day, a laid back, restorative vibe. Recently, Rabbit Done Died was the bracing slushie churning in their slushie machine, a combination of gin, carrot, lemon, cucumber and bitters, reminiscent of a Pimm’s Cup but icier and bolder. Fun was also had with a tequila and Cholula hot sauce cocktail partnered with a can of Tecate beer.

The Daily's bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

The Daily’s bottled cocktails for two, La Perla

4. ZZ CLAM BAR, Greenwich Village

Produce lining ZZ's bar

Produce lining ZZ’s bar

ZZ Clam Bar, a 12-seat, reservations-only seafood and cocktail bar is an intimate oasis in The Village that sings of island breezes and upscale Tiki culture circa 1940s with its romantic setting, soundtrack of lounge, exotica and other musical treats. Sounds like my dream spot, right? In many ways it is. Opened Summer 2013 by Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of neighboring Carbone, it is, like that red sauce Italian haven, vastly overpriced. It can easily cost a few hundred dollars here for dinner and cocktails, the latter of which are $20 each (more on the food here).

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

ZZ’s sole bartender didn’t seem interested in engaging or explaining the cocktails we tried, despite the fact that we have many friends in common as he came from SF and The Alembic (where he used to work and where I bartended for a few months – I did not present any of this information but should not have had to to receive quality service). Even a bit of genuine engagement would have made the difference between a mediocre and a fantastic experience commensurate with merely 12 diners and the fine dining price tag. Thankfully, service was warm from our waiter, which should be a given from all staff.

It’s hard to say $300+ is worth it for a non-fine dining experience where portions are tiny, although in making reservations, one could request a couple seats against the wall and go just for drinks and a bite or two. At the same time, ZZ is such a one-of-a-kind spot that imparts romance in its size and decor, worth experiencing if you can afford it and desire something different, as those of us do who dine and drink at hundreds of places annually around the world. While we’ve seen seafood crudo and raw fish menus before, ZZ’s interpretations are imaginative and the cocktails maintain tropical flair, each visually striking in gorgeous vintage glassware.

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

A ZZ cocktail of pear, white rum, Fino sherry and green tea

I tasted six cocktails, intrigued by combinations like Plymouth gin, creamy with pistachio and honey, tart with kumquat, or a reposado tequila-based concoction mixed with squash, thyme and allspice. I crave this type of creative, culinary experimentation in cocktails. While some combinations worked better than others, I truly appreciate drinks with a vision beyond the usual. Kudos also for an anejo tequila cocktail implementing butter, pineapple and ras al hanout spices, and another with crème de menthe, apple brandy, mandarin orange and mole bitters.

5. BETONY, Midtown West

Betony's lush interior

Betony’s lush interior

Betony is an upscale Midtown restaurant that comes with a price tag as high as its gorgeously chic décor would suggest. Cocktails run $15-17 but are elegantly made with the type of sophistication one might expect from an Eleven Madison Park alum, namely GM Eamon Rockey. Betony is known for their lovely, regularly changing Milk Punch ($17 – read more about this in Robert Simonson’s NY Times article published around the time of my visit).

Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel

Their Milk Punch during my visit had a Del Maguey Vida Mezcal base, combined with a Moroccan spearmint, cocoa nib tea and lemon. Another impressive drink was Coco Chanel, inspired by Chanel No. 5 perfume and made in collaboration with a master perfumer across the street. Though the drink seems to have evolved (note this earlier iteration in Town & Country), when I tried it, Rockey combined Cocchi Americano, lemon oleo saccharum, a dry French rosé wine and a spritz of rose water. The aforementioned master perfumier created a mixture including bergamot, roses, jasmine and citrus, which was rubbed on the garnish of mint leaves for enhanced aromatics.

My take on two newer bars:

2nd FLOOR on CLINTON, Lower East Side

2nd Ave's chilled out space

2nd Ave’s chilled out space

I was immediately smitten with the 2nd Floor on Clinton space for its removed, mellow vibe hidden upstairs in a Lower East Side space filled with mismatched couches and a lived-in, Victorian living room feel. The vibe (not the look) reminds me of the relaxed, non-trendy “speakeasy” days of Angel’s Share back in the 90s or the early days at the original Milk & Honey. One hopes the word doesn’t get out and make the space obnoxious or impossible to get in to.

d

Blessed Thistle cocktail

Too bad the cocktails ($15) don’t quite keep up with the romantic space. Despite how intriguing they sound, the cocktails I tried from listed “mixologists” Ektoras Binikos and Sarah Miller seemed to lack focus coming across “muddled” or confused, with no distinct flavor, like the Mistral (Martin Miller’s gin, Averna, verjus, sage and yuzu), or Blessed Thistle, a combination of Michter’s Sour Mash, Cardamaro, honey liqueur, lemon, Meyer lemon zest, Dutch’s colonial and cardamom bitters.

NITECAP, Lower East Side

Nitecap

Nitecap

David Kaplan and Alex Day are big names in the cocktail world, opening NYC’s Death & Company and more recently Honeycut in Los Angeles. They opened their intimate basement bar, Nitecap, just a couple weeks before I was in NYC in April so I caught it in early weeks. With brick walls and plum leather banquettes, the dim space is seductive and appealing. I just missed head bartender Natasha David, but tasted a few cocktails on their playfully-designed menu. They were pleasant though soft cocktails where the alcohol was barely a whisper (making some drinks feel more for the spirits novice rather than the aficionado). Service was aloof and unengaged, making it less fun than Portland’s Pepe Le Moko, which also opened this spring in Portland with a similar basement vibe and look though it is decidedly more fun. Kudos, however, for Nitecap’s late night, early ‘90s hip hop soundtrack.

Saxon + Parole cocktails

Saxon + Parole cocktails

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Aug
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

Empire State Building from my Ace Hotel room in the morning

Empire State Building from my Ace Hotel room in the morning

Empire State Building from my Ace Hotel room at night

Empire State Building from my Ace Hotel room at night

New York: My 10 Best Meals of 2014

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

Working on a video project this Spring for Tastemade, I returned to my old stomping grounds, a city I’ve long and intimately known, to dig in again, this time staying in the Flatiron district.

Waldorf salad prepared tableside at Eleven Madison Park

Waldorf salad prepared tableside at Eleven Madison Park

I kept fueled on coffee at the delightful Happy Bones in Little Italy/Nolita, shakeratos from Zibetto Espresso Bar, and faced perpetual coffee lines at the Stumptown downstairs from my room at the Ace Hotel. Next time I will share cocktail bar discoveries from this visit, but here are my top 10 restaurants/meals in NYC this year (years of additional recommendations here).

1. ELEVEN MADISON PARK, Flatiron

Eleven Madison's Baked Alaska set alight tableside

Eleven Madison’s Baked Alaska set alight tableside

One of the great fine dining restaurants anywhere in the world, this 3-Michelin star restaurant is as spectacular as the best restaurant visits of my life, like Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. I’d also easily call it my favorite NYC splurge (second place would be the modern classic Gramercy Tavern). Here is my full review and photos from this year’s visit.

2. RUBIROSA, Little Italy

Rubirosa pizza

Rubirosa pizza

At his cozy, low ceiling Little Italy haven, Rubirosa, Angelo (A.J.) Pappalardo serves recipes inspired from his father Giuseppe’s Staten Island restaurant, Joe & Pat’s, since 1960. A.J. opened Rubirosa with his father and chef friend Al Di Meglio. His paper-thin, almost cracker-like pizzas are dreamy, laden with cheese and meat, among my favorite pizza in Manhattan (slices available at lunch only). The family-friendly, rustic space begs for an amaro cocktail and hearty bowl of fantastic “Sunday sauce”, a changing weekly option of pasta and red sauce. Recently I had the choice of spaghetti or rigatoni ($21) in a downright fantastic red sauce, savory from multiple meats: braciole, meatball, braised rib and sausage, topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

3. ZZ CLAM BAR, Greenwich Village

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

Romantic & intimate: ZZ Clam Bar

ZZ Clam Bar, a 12-seat, reservations-only seafood and cocktail bar is an intimate oasis in The Village that sings of island breezes and upscale Tiki culture circa 1940s with its romantic setting, soundtrack of lounge, exotica and other musical treats. Sounds like my dream spot, right? In many ways it is. Opened Summer 2013 by Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of neighboring Carbone, it is, like that red sauce Italian haven, vastly overpriced. It can easily cost a few hundred dollars here for dinner and cocktails, the latter of which are $20 each.

The sole bartender didn’t seem interested in engaging or explaining the cocktails we tried, despite the fact that we have many friends in common as he came from SF and The Alembic (where he used to work and where I bartended for a few months – I did not present any of this information but should not have had to to receive quality service). Even a bit of genuine engagement would have made the difference between a mediocre and a fantastic experience commensurate with the fine dining price tag and merely 12 diners in the place for hours. Thankfully, service was warm from our waiter, which should be imperative from all staff.

s

Shimaji tartare

It’s hard to say $300+ is worth it for a non-fine dining experience where portions are tiny, although in making reservations, one could request a couple seats against the wall and go just for drinks and a bite or two.

At the same time, ZZ is such a one-of-a-kind spot that imparts romance in its size and decor, worth experiencing if you can afford it and desire something different, as those of us do who dine and drink at hundreds of places each year around the world. While we’ve seen seafood crudo and raw fish menus before, ZZ’s interpretation is imaginative and the cocktails maintain tropical flair, each visually striking in gorgeous vintage glassware.

Cherry trout, trout roe, fried leeks crudo ($27)

Cherry trout, trout roe & fried leeks crudo ($27)

Menu highlights included uni toast on pretzel bread ($30) vivaciously accented by apple, mustard, horseradish, and also seared live scallops ($18), silky in brown butter and nutty with Sicilian pistachios. We splurged (big time) on rare shimaji tartare ($98), a square of lovely raw fish, with thick layers of ricotta and caviar. I tasted six cocktails, intrigued by combinations like Plymouth gin, creamy with pistachio and honey, tart with kumquat, or a Reposado Tequila-based concoction mixed with squash, thyme and allspice. I crave this type of creative, culinary experimentation in cocktails. While some worked better than others, I still appreciate drinks with a vision beyond the usual.

4. CAFE KATJA, LES

Cafe Katja's Emmentaler sausage

Cafe Katja’s Emmentaler sausage

Café Katja transports me straight back to Austria, owned by Austrian native Erwin Schrottner and business partner Andrew Chase. Though bustling with a Lower East Side vibe, it’s refreshingly comfortable for Manhattan, with a warmer welcome than at the majority of Manhattan restaurants, enhanced by plenty of woods and a candlelit glow. Most importantly, it’s a source for actual Austrian schnaps, expensive though a pour may be. While I have been bemoaning the lack of importation of real schnaps into the US compared to the amazing producers I tasted in Austria last fall, Katja pours a few of the greats, like Reisetbauer and Golles, albeit at high prices, $25 or more a pour. But there’s nothing better with a mountain of marinated herring ($11) and cucumber potato salad, or plump house sausages like an Emmentaler sausage ($14) – yes, filled with Emmentaler cheese, served with savoy cabbage and quark dumplings. Lovely food, drink and setting make this an ideal neighborhood restaurant.

5. THE SHAKESPEARE, Midtown East

The Shakespeare's burger

The Shakespeare’s burger

The Shakespeare just opened in December 2013 as a multi-room, wood-walled restaurant that evokes the classic pubs of England, Scotland and Ireland, serving all manner of cask ales and English drafts, from Jason Hicks and Yves Jadot who also run Jones Wood Foundry. The best part is that the food is top-notch gastropub fare, thanks to British chef Robert Aikens (from none other than London’s Le Gavroche). Despite the exhaustion of the gastropub category the last couple decades, this is one of the better ones in NY, serving flaky, beer-battered cod fish and chips ($23), and an excellent burger ($19) with a patty of aged NY strip and skirt steak, short rib and chuck, slathered in cheddar, smoked bacon and Brooklyn brine pickles.

6. DESPANA, SoHo

Afternoon tapas at Despana

Afternoon tapas at Despana

One of the great Spanish grocers (a Queens-based importer), Despana is not only killer source for all foods Spain, from cheeses and meets, to cockles and chocolates, it’s a winning tapas stop with changing Spanish wines by the glass and a few communal tables from which to enjoy a quick bite of fresh boquerones (anchovies) or octopus drizzled in silky olive oil.

7. LOUIE & CHAN, LES

Louie & Chan's Peking duck calzone

Louie & Chan’s Peking duck calzone

I almost jumped for joy when I heard about the opening of Louie & Chan in late 2013, a China-meets-Italy (due to its perch near both Chinatown and Little Italy) with an upstairs Neapolitan trattoria and a candlelit, downstairs Asian cocktail lounge. It’s the kind of mash-up I’d like to see more often, despite the heavy DJ and dance action in the downstairs bar (with thankfully good cocktails, like the Chinatown Daiquiri, a blend of Appleton’s Reserve rum, lime, ginger and honey syrups, Sriracha sauce and muddled strawberries). But the place still feels like its finding itself. A Louie & Chan calzone ($16) is a brilliant idea: a giant calzone stuffed with buffalo ricotta, mozzarella, tomato sauce, shiitake, bok choy – and, yes, Peking duck. It lacks cohesive unctuousness and the mushrooms are bland but the concept of an Asian-Italian calzone begs to be further explored.

Aperitifs and bites

Aperitifs and bites

The other very smart concept here is the Aperitivo menu, a pairing of aperitif cocktails with a bite, like a Negroni Blanco ($13 for drink and bite) with choice of bites like polpettine al limone (lamb/beef fried meatball in lemon, Parmigiano, herbs) or montanarina (fried dough, pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, Parmigiano). I’d love to see more of this kind of creative clash of cuisines happening everywhere.

8. MAHARLIKA, East Village

Maharlika's Filipino fried chicken and purple ube waffles

Maharlika’s Filipino fried chicken and purple ube waffles

This funky little Filipino spot, Maharlika, breathes life and even hip factor into the cuisine, honoring the authentic and playful (bottles of Jufran banana sauce – a Filipino banana ketchup – and black and white photo artwork of Filipina Miss Universe 1973). Nicole Ponseca, Enzo Lim and Noel Cruz’ intimate restaurant shines at brunch/lunch with traditional dishes like sisig (pig ears, snout, belly) and pancit bihon (rice vermicelli noodles). But it’s the funky, unusual entrees that make it a draw. Case in point: excellent, batterless fried chicken and purple yam waffles ($17). Filipino chicken and waffles are fun enough, but ratchet it up another level by dousing them in anchovy-bagoong (fermented fish/shrimp) butter and caramelized macapuno (a variety of coconut) syrup.

9. SKAL, LES

Skal's salt cod croquettes

Skal’s salt cod croquettes

I’m ever on the hunt for great Scandinavian food in the US. Skal (open since Summer 2013) is one of the better in the category I’ve been to in NY, although over the years, I’ve not found a Nordic menu I like near as well as Aquavit in its older days. Skal is a nod to Iceland (the name means “cheers” in Icelandic) serving the likes of pickled smelts on antique china in a cozy-chic space. The dishes don’t always wow and neither do the cocktails, yet both are consistently gratifying. Recent highlights: salt cod croquettes ($7) with horseradish remoulade, charred broccoli ($11) doused in green garlic and breadcrumbs, sugar snap peas ($12) artfully accented by crushed radishes, whey and Mangalista lardo, and smoked mackerel ($19) contrasted by sour onions, walnuts and shaved, frozen foie gras.

10. THE LIBRARY at the PUBLIC THEATER, NoHo

Inviting: The Library at The Public

Inviting: The Library at The Public

Upstairs above the Public Theater is The Library, a spacious, soothing restaurant lined with vintage theater posters. The place is refreshingly mellow, classy and half empty — until the theater lets out and all the actors and theater crew head upstairs, applauding each other over drinks and bites. While the food didn’t exactly impress, it is still good, and after a particularly hard day, I couldn’t imagine a more soothing setting in these parts of NY – with gracious service to boot. Andrew Carmellini (James Beard Award-winner behind Locanda Verde) and chef Michael Oliver (also of Locanda) keep it simple but comforting in dishes like smoked cauliflower cassoulet ($24) and crispy calamari and shishito peppers ($14) dipped in chipotle sauce, accompanied by decent cocktails.

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Jun
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

Exploring the Willamette Valley from our home base, Abbey Road Farms

Exploring the Willamette Valley from our home base, Abbey Road Farms

SAKÉ in the WILLAMETTE VALLEY

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

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SakéOne’s rice milling machine

In the heart of the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s most lauded wine region, I found myself surrounded by vineyards, rolling hills, farmland… reminding me not a little of home in Northern California. I also found myself immersed in… saké? Yes, my Springtime jaunt not only caught rare, blissful, sunny days breaking out amid a sea of rain, but an education on the quality of sake now being made in the US, thanks to SakéOne.

Studying

Studying saké

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The only cedar Koji room in the US

Founded in 1992 (bottling began in 1998) as an offshoot of Japan’s Momokawa Brewing, SakéOne sought to fill a gap in the US where few sakés were made and most of low quality. Head brewer Greg Lorenz (who has been at SakéOne since 2002) and president Steve Vuylsteke graciously gave us proper schooling on saké, covering styles from gingo to daigingo, and walked us through the brewery for a step-by-step of the brewing process.

As with many spirits and beverages, water source is crucial, and theirs is nearby Hagg Lake, a reservoir filled with fresh coastal rain and mountain water.

SakéOne stores tons of rice, a Japanese strain grown outside Sacramento, California, which is first polished in the rice milling machine (pictured above, left), imported from Japan.

What rice looks like as it ferments

What rice looks like as it ferments

SakéOne is the only saké brewery in the US who mills their own rice. The milling/polishing process strips fats, removes bitter and “undesirable” flavors, getting down to the starch core. As with beer and spirits, there are yeasts involved, but with saké, there is also mold (aka koji), which helps convert starch into sugar over a 2-day period in their cedar-walled Koji room – the only one in the US (pictured right). The room is like a dry sauna, hot with aromas of cedarwood and rice.

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Milled rice

While there are numerous styles of saké, SakéOne focuses only on junmai gingo sakés in their production, which refers to the level the rice is milled or polished down to (60% or more, which gets to the essence of the grain, daigingo is at least 50%, gingo is at least 40%) and in Japan, it also refers the fact that no brewer’s alcohol (aka honjozo) is added (in the US, adding brewer’s alcohol is outlawed entirely). They also import a number of sakés from Japan, allowing the pleasure of comparing the subtle differences between US produced and Japanese sakés.

Studying rice in various stages of sake production

Studying rice in various stages of sake production

They cover the range, starting with entry-level sakés, like fruit-infused Moonstone sakés, or the soft, elegant import SakéMoto, produced in Japan in partnership with Hakutsuru brewery. I am particularly taken with their unpasteurized Nama saké, which is sadly only available in Oregon since it is quite fresh and perishable so quality degrades when shipping. It’s subtly effervescent and crisp, gorgeous with food.

I can’t get enough of Momokawa Organic Nigori, the unfiltered, creamy style of saké that leaves rice solids in for texture. It sings with coconut and pear notes and goes well with all manner of takeout and every day eating. One of their imports I am drawn to is the Kasumi Tsuru Kimoto Extra Dry, which is, yes, dry, but also crisp and earthy, produced by traditional methods from a brewery that goes back to 1725.

Hanging with llamas, sheep and goats at Abbey Road

Hanging with llamas, sheep and goats at Abbey Road

Try not to fall in love - my new friend, a precious, one day old baby sheep

Try not to fall in love – my new found friend, a precious, one day old lamb

Abbey Road Farms silos

Abbey Road Farms silos

Sleeping in Silos on a Farm

Enjoying a lovely charcuterie and cheese platter over dinner in the wine room/event space at Abbey Road

Enjoying a lovely charcuterie and cheese platter over dinner in the wine room/event space at Abbey Road

After one night in Portland, I made the jaunt about an hour outside the city to stay at Abbey Road Farms, an idyllic farm where I was surrounded by sheep (including just-born lambs who won my heart), goats, llamas, all manner of animals, and slept in converted, upscale silos.

The stay was made memorable by husband-wife owners, John and Judi, and their sweet dog, Fuzz, whose soulful calm invades the place, ensuring a visit is rejuvenating and restoring… even a press trip, which is normally about a morning-till-night, nonstop schedule. Over farm-cooked breakfasts and singing around a fire pit at nights under the stars, I left renewed and inspired.

Wandering the farm

Wandering the farm

Dining in a Restored Victorian

The Painted Lady

The Painted Lady

The Painted Lady in the town of Newburg, OR, is a special dining experience in a restored Victorian house (yes, the house is a historic Painted Lady, restored as part of the movement begun in San Francisco), which also doubles as a guest house. Charming and elegant, we ate in the intimate upstairs dining room with excellent service over fine dining, each course thoughtfully paired with saké.

Hazelnut-crusted venison loin, horseradish potatoes, foie gras & chestnut sauce with G Sake Fifty

Hazelnut-crusted venison loin over horseradish potatoes in a foie gras & chestnut sauce infused with G Sake Fifty

There were a number of standouts from Chef/Owner Allen Routt, including sweet onion custard accented by smoked, raw diver scallops and porcini consommé (paired with Momokawa Diamond saké) and pure-as-silk, slow-roasted (blessedly rare inside) steelhead salmon alongside spinach and butternut squash ravioli, paired with Momokawa Silver saké.

Tasting Regional Beverages

Big Bottom Whiskey

Big Bottom Whiskey

SakéOne threw an Oregon Craft Beverages tasting while we were visiting, showcasing regional wines, beers, spirits, cider and liqueurs that gave us a chance to meet producers and sample what is happening in drink in the region.

While Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider was a fresh, strong cider in the scheme of artisanal, small production ciders, they were oddly withholding at their table (considering this was a press event) in allowing tasting of the most interesting-sounding bottles at their table saying they were for display (?) and weren’t coming out till the fall, though the full bottles probably shouldn’t have been brought if they weren’t meant to sample. We’ll have to guess what their Sacrilege Sour Cherry (modeled after kreik lambic beer) tastes like.

Reverend Nat's Hard Ciders

Reverend Nat’s Hard Ciders

While I was wary of Vertigo Brewery‘s Razz Wheat beer made with fresh raspberries, fearing it might be too fruity, even after tasting their enjoyable Friar Mike’s English IPA, I actually preferred the Razz Wheat, which was dry, tart and subtle.

Based in Hillsboro, OR, Big Bottom Whiskey was refreshingly forthright about sourcing their “juice” (whiskey) from the South, as countless distillers do, to blend their Big Bottom Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It’s a pleasing whiskey, blending 36% rye whiskey with the corn/bourbon for stronger spice and complexity. They also were also pouring Calhoun Bros. Aged Rum, aged in their bourbon barrels, subtle with sweet, bracing spice.

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Jun
01
2014

Wandering Traveler

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Pepe Le Moko Grasshopper

Pepe Le Moko Amaretto Sour

Pepe Le Moko Amaretto Sour

One Night in Portland

Photos and article by Virginia Miller

In visits past, I’ve had a full week to dig into over 50 restaurants, food spots and bars around Portland. But this Spring it was a visit to the Willamette Valley with the wonderful SakeOne that brought me up north. I only had one night in Portland, though, in typical fashion, I packed in 3 restaurants, a coffee shop and 2 cocktail bars.

Basement charmer: Pepe Le Moko, the new bar from Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Basement charmer: Pepe Le Moko, the new bar from Jeffrey Morgenthaler

Cocktails

Luc Lac cocktails

Luc Lac cocktails

Let’s just get the bad news out of the way: some of the worst customer service I have ever encountered behind a bar anywhere in the world (out of a few hundred visits per year) – and from the bar manager, no less – happened at Luc Lac Kitchen. Though I must warn against making this a stop, it’s not worth getting into the details of disinterested, distant and cold service from the moment guests walk up to the bar (ask, and I’ll fill you in, however). The biggest disappointment  – besides having to pay for such treatment – was wasting a visit on this spot when I had singled out Luc Lac for its unique cocktail menu featuring Asian ingredients from kaffir lime to Thai tea to mung beans. The cocktails were good but the service makes it a big “no” (try Danny Louie’s fantastic Asian-influenced cocktails at Chino in SF… with gracious service).

Bakersfield Picon Punch Royale ($10): Torani Amer Picon, lemon, Oregon brandy, grenadine, sparkling wine

On a happier note, modern day bar legend Jeffrey Morgenthaler‘s Pepe Le Moko, around the corner from his famed Clyde Common bar, was merely a month old when I visited this Spring. Besides a warm welcome at the door, we received engaged service downstairs in the intimate bar that feels akin to spots like the new Nitecap in NYC… but Pepe Le Moko is friendlier. Bar snacks ($3) include cumin roasted pistachio nuts, and there’s also bocadillos ($5) loaded with the likes of sardines and pickled fennel or nutella and Jacobsen sea salt.

What’s fun about the cocktails here is the menu dominates with guilty pleasure favorites like an Amaretto Sour, Grasshopper or a Long Island Iced Tea – yes, elevated but not necessarily always using “artisanal” spirits. In fact, it’s funny seeing mainstream, sweet brands mixed in with smaller brands. Given the cocktail expertise behind the bar, balance is the name of the game and the four I tasted were lovely (and should be, at up to $14 per cocktail).

Pickled mackerel at Biwa

Pickled mackerel at Biwa

Morgenthaler’s Amaretto Sour ($14) recipe is a good as I’d heard: nutty, tart, sweet and boozy with amaretto, overproof bourbon, lemon and egg white.

But I couldn’t help it: my favorite is the Grasshopper ($11). While I’ve had (and make at home) gorgeous versions of what was my first favorite cocktail as a girl (ahem!) when Tempus Fugit first came out with their incomparable creme de menthe and creme de cacao in 2011, the Pepe version is more like a boozy-but-light milkshake – made with Bols Crème de menthe, Decaypur crème de cacao, Fernet BrancaMenta, vanilla ice cream and sea salt for balance. An ideal dessert.

Charming Zilla Sake

Charming Zilla Sake

Izakaya Crawl

Natto fried in shiso leaves at Yuzu

Natto fried in shiso leaves at Yuzu

On an izakaya crawl with SakeOne, I hit three memorable, wide-ranging spots within the category in one night.

The first, YUZU, is technically in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland, and worth the trek out for Japanese food aficionados. A humble hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall known for their sake and their ramen, we fared best on authentic Japanese small plates/pub (izakaya) fare. They shine in affordable dishes like tender, thinly shaved beef tongue, grilled sardines and natto (funky, fermented soybeans) deep fried in shiso leaves.

Snacking at Zilla

Snacking at Zilla

ZILLA SAKE HOUSE is more hipster and funky, but in a more residential area of Portland, it’s mellow and welcoming in rustic woods, churning out solid sushi and sashimi, with pleasing izakaya plates and specials, and a 40+ sake menu.

BIWA is a bustling izakaya with a basement dining room that serves food till midnight every night, fusing Korean and other cuisines and flavors into Japanese pub fare. There’s a number of enjoyable small plates but it’s all about the room temperature, pickled mackerel. Bright, pickled, briny and delicious, it accompanies the array of sakes beautifully.

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Written by in: Wandering Traveler | Tags:
May
15
2014

Wandering Traveler

It could only be Rome: sunset from the Hotel Eden atop (just behind) the Spanish Steps... evenings in Rome are magic

It could only be Rome: sunset from the Hotel Eden atop (just behind) the Spanish Steps with the Vatican in the distance… evenings in Rome are magic

12 Food & Drink Destinations in ROME

Article & Photos by Virginia Miller

Inside Glass Hosteria

Inside Glass Hosteria

My beloved Roma, my favorite city in the world. The most romantic. Ancient. Chic. Otherworldly. I cherished being back for the third time to Rome (fourth time to Italy) in October for my 10th anniversary. The Renaissance Man and I wandered Roma’s ancient, cobblestone streets from our apartment near the Spanish Steps, near where we stayed on our honeymoon for a month-long exploration through a number of Italy’s fabled regions.

Returning to Rome meant, naturally, we ate well. Ridiculously well. So I must share with you my favorites this trip.

The otherworldly Pantheon at night

The otherworldly Pantheon at night

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A Glass Hostaria stunner: foie gras ball oozing passion fruit puree inside like an egg yolk, dusted in white chocolate crumble with brioche

Restaurants

GLASS HOSTARIA

Dark beer and dark chocolate-filled little button ravioli little button dusted with cacao y pepe (chocolate and pepper) in a sauce of special reserve Pecorino Romano

Dark beer and dark chocolate-filled little button ravioli dusted with cacao y pepe (chocolate and pepper) in a sauce of special reserve Pecorino Romano cheese

From brilliant and gracious Chef Cristina Bowerman, Michelin-starred Glass Hostaria is one of the more forward thinking and truly unique meals I’ve had anywhere in Italy – or Europe, for that matter. As an Italian native, she spent well over a decade living in the US (including Austin). Besides speaking English perfectly, she clearly possesses a global sense of scope – and fun – in her imaginative dishes (tasting menus run 70 Euros for 4 courses, 90 Euros for 8 smaller courses).

In the heart of the ever-enchanting Trastevere neighborhood, the two-floored, openspace is modern and innovative (pictured above) – the second floor view is best.

One course after another is striking and delicious. Just look at some of the ingredient combinations pictured (dark chocolate and beer filled ravioli dusted in pepper and cacao in a decadent Pecorino sauce, or spaghetti with lime curd, cilantro and Oestra caviar!) These combinations even world travelers who frequent Michelin-starred restaurants have not seen before. It’s hard to only share a few of Bowerman’s wonders, but they are described with photos here.

Bluefin tuna sashimi wrapped in veal tongue pastrami, peach kimchi sauce, algae, lotus salad

Bluefin tuna sashimi is wrapped in veal tongue pastrami (Bowerman studied pastrami in NYC), dotted with peach kimchi sauce, alga and, lotus salad

Wow: a Rome fountain

Wow: a 17th century Roman fountain, Fontana dell’Acqua Paola, said to be the inspiration for the Trevi fountain

Purple potato (Italy-grown) cooked in clay, sea urchin egg sauce, sea beans (Buddha’s fingers)

At Glass Hostaria: a local purple potato cooked in clay, decadent in sea urchin egg sauce with Buddha’s fingers (sea beans)

Perfection: urchin from the spiny shell and oysters at Il San Lorenzo

Perfection: urchin from the spiny shell and oysters at Il San Lorenzo

IL SAN LORENZO

Plump & sweet: local red shrimp

Plump & sweet: local red shrimp

Seafood: I’ve been a fanatic about it my whole life and have eaten some of the best in the world from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. But at sleek, intimate Il San Lorenzo, I had one of my favorite seafood dinners ever. A huge reason for this was the incredible service, humor and wine recommends from the sommelier who attended to us. Sipping wines from Alto Adige (a gorgeous 2010 Borgo del Tiglio Malvasia) or an elegant, tropical 2012 Poppoff Sauvignon Blanc from German producers in Northern Italy, to the complex 2009 Lagrein Reserve, was a pleasure.

Sea urchin spaghetti

Sea urchin spaghetti

But so was eating sea urchin straight from its spiny shell. Raw red shrimp carpaccio splayed artfully across the plate and drizzled in olive oil and orange zest. From Chef Enrico Pierri, who focuses on locally caught seafood, we dined on cod, tuna and amberjack tartare. There were rare Belon oysters, thank you very much. And tortelli filled with spider crab. And sea urchin spaghetti. I could go on. But I’d rather just return again to this slice of Roman seafood heaven.

That only-in-Rome evening glow

That only-in-Rome evening glow

COSO

View from upstairs table at Coso over cobblestone streets

View from upstairs table at Coso over cobblestone streets

Coso is bustling and filled with boisterous locals filling up on hearty plates of spaghetti alla carbonara, saltimbocca alla Romana (veal topped with ham and sage, grilled in Marsala wine) and bucatini all’amatriciana. Start with cornmeal fried layers of aubergine (eggplant), Parmesan and basil and savor the affordable wines. Upstairs is particularly fun as you dine on grey and cream-checkered tablecloths. Besides its convenient location between the Spanish Steps and Piazza Colonna, most dishes run under 12 Euro and are big enough to share. This was a great locals’ recommendation.

ANTICO ARCO

Sidewalk seating view at Antico Arco

Sidewalk seating view at Antico Arco

Antico Arco is not so much about mind-blowing food as it is an idyllic hilltop setting, on Gianicolo hill, near Trastevere.

It makes a lovely lunch spot at one of three small outside tables on a warm day with Vespas speeding by over the hill. I filled up on buffalo mozzarella ($13.50) in a crispy pastry wrapping, accented by salted tuna roe and tomato confit, and raw amberjack tartare ($17) brightened by ginger, lime and fresh artichokes. The house chitarra pasta ($14), laden with Pecorino cheese, black pepper and zucchini blossoms, sounded amazing but was salty and surprisingly bland – I sadly grew weary of the dish a few bites in.

Hilltop over Rome

Hilltop over Rome

Drink

THE JERRY THOMAS PROJECT, Rome

We're in Europe, folks: cocktails & cigarettes

We’re in Europe, folks: cocktails & cigarettes

Those of us that have been following this renaissance the past decade plus long ago wearied of passwords and attitude-laden bars. In cities like my own, a well made cocktail with classic ethos is the norm, not the exception, so you expect it without pretension, though I am a big proponent of having elegant places to drink, even ones with reservations.

Inside Jerry Thomas Project

Inside Jerry Thomas Project

Thankfully, I wasn’t pressed to give a password at the unmarked door near Chiesa Nuova at The Jerry Thomas Project, Rome’s first modern-day speakeasy. Nor was there attitude. Bustling but intimate inside, I cozied up on couches set to jazz, the feel very New York or SF gathering for beat poets and writers circa 1950’s (despite the 1920’s speakeasy theme). After visiting Rome multiple times, it’s refreshing to see the cocktail renaissance finally hit my beloved city.

Sipping a whiskey cocktail next to shelf artifacts

Sipping a whiskey cocktail next to shelf artifacts

I even drank mezcal in Rome! (You know it’s universal when…) I enjoyed the Mex Man (15 Euro), a blend of Illegal Mezcal Anejo, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, agave syrup, house coffee-cacao bitters and a smoked cherry. They also have an absinthe fountain and do a nice twist on a classic Daiquiri, the Kaffir Daiquiri (10 Euro), mixing Havana Club 3 year rum, lime and kaffir lime-infused simple syrup.

There’s a few more cocktail bars that have popped up even since my fall visit, per The Spirits Business. I will check some of these out next time.

OPEN BALADIN ROMA

Open Baladin is craft beer/beer geek heaven. Engaged and passionate service made us feel welcome to linger, sample beers, get locals tips for food and hear about an incredible beer festival happening that very weekend we were there: EurHop! Beer Festival.

The back wall of Open Baladin

The back wall of Open Baladin

Baladin was started by a food/drink writer, so I already have a soft spot. And I’ve been drinking beers from Baladin’s breweries from San Francisco’s Healthy Spirits for a few years now.

Here at their Rome bar, they have over 40 Italian beers on draft and another 100 by the bottle. Since the Renaissance Man and I love Italian beers and the mark-up can often be so high at home, it was a delight to order them cheaply here and to sample even more. On draft, we loved bright, floral Borgo Duchessa, made with farro grain; the dry, bitter, tropical notes of Extraomnes ZEST; and I especially was drawn to the nutty, sweet, layered tones of Birrifico Ducato L’Ultima Luna, cask-aged with amarone wine.

Fantastic Roman pizza

Fantastic Roman pizza from Roscioli with a bottle of crisp, dry, Sicilian lemon soda, Lurisia La Nostra Gazzosa

Bakeries/Pizza

ROSCIOLI

Tazza d'Oro espresso granita

Tazza d’Oro espresso granita

Roscioli is classic Rome and a place I could return to again and again just for a slice of their daily Roman-style pizza… ah, that rosemary, onion and cheese white pizza with perfect crust. Perfection.

It’s also a fantastic take-out source (there are a few standup tables inside and one outside if you eat in) for baked goods, breads, cheeses, meats and wines.

BOCCIONE – Il Forno del Ghetto, Via del Portico d’Ottavia 1, phone: +39 066878637

There’s no sign and it’s closet-sized but as soon as you enter the heart of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto and see the gesticulating Jewish Roman women pushing their way around each other for baked goods, you’ll know you’ve found Boccione  also known as the ‘The Kosher bakery.” Be prepared to push and demand your way in. There’s no descriptions or signs for food so unless you speak Italian, be prepared to pick something and point.

Lines outside of B

Lines outside of Boccione

The ricotta and sour cherry pie (torta di ricotta e visciole) makes me sigh with happiness: fluffy ricotta in blackened, nearly caramelized crust (you’ll know it by the charred outer layer). I’ve also had it with ricotta and chocolate chips.

Cinnamon and almond biscotti and the fruitcake-like pizza ebraica draw crowds, but I go for the torta di ricotta, grab an espresso elsewhere and reflect on the intense cultural experience I’ve had. P.S. it’s cash only.

Expensive, nearly 20 Euro Americanos come with all kinds of snack and the spectacular sunset above in a quiet setting at Hotel Eden atop the Spanish Steps

Expensive, nearly 20 Euro Americanos come with all kinds of snack and the spectacular sunset above in a quiet setting at Hotel Eden bar behind the Spanish Steps

Gelato

Patio at Gelateria del Teatro

Patio at Gelateria del Teatro

GELATERIA del TEATRO

One cannot be in Italy without partaking of the incomparable joys of gelato. For me, morning, noon and night sounds about right and I partake as much as I can stand it. Il Gelato di San Crispino has grown into a mini-chain since I first fell in love with it over a decade ago, but I still enjoyed revisiting this gelato haven.

Every visit there’s a standout – or a few. This visit it was Gelateria del Teatro, near the Piazza Navona, that left the biggest impression. The side courtyard is certainly part of the charm (pictured right). But it’s all about the fantastic, unusual flavors and a storefront window where one can watch the ice cream being made daily in the laboratorio, the window lined with ingredients like Sicilian pistachios or lemons from Amalfi.

Standouts include their popular raspberry sage, pear caramel, Sicilian wine cream, and my favorite: cheese and cherry (like cream cheese with sour-sweet cherries).

Coffee

SANT’EUSTACHIO

Shakeratos at Sant'Eastachio

Shakeratos at Sant’Eastachio

Since 1938, Sant’Eustachio is quintessential Roma coffee and an ideal remembrance to bring back a bag or two of house-roasted beans… and they are just around the corner from the Pantheon.

Standing at the counter drinking an espresso, or better yet, a shakerato, espresso and simple syrup shaken on ice with their little red machine, is, for me, a necessary Rome experience.

TAZZA d’ORO

In the shadow of the Pantheon: Tazza

In the shadow of the Pantheon: Tazza

Thanks to my friend Steven Liles for turning me on to this gem, which, just like Sant’Eustachio, is mere steps from the Pantheon. In fact, Tazza d’Oro is within view of it.

Since 1946, owner Mario Fiocchetto has brought South American beans direct from growers to this charmingly dated, bustling shop.

Besides making beautiful espresso, cappuccino and all the necessary Italian iterations, they are famous for their espresso granita. Though there’s too much whipped cream piled on there for me (pictured above), the granita itself is perfection: robust, icy, sparkling, beautiful.

Scenes from Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori may be the most touristy market due to its location in Rome’s historic center, but it’s still an inspiring collection of the bounty that is Italy

Fresh chestnuts

Fresh chestnuts

Quintessential Rome: fresh artichokes

Quintessential Rome: fresh artichokes

Gorgeous: chilis on a bike

Gorgeous: chilies on a bike

This guy carves characters from carrots

This guy carves characters, animals and elaborate creations from carrots and cucumbers

Squash blossoms

Beautiful squash with blossoms

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