in the words of mississippi rockabilly legend lee denson (aka jesse james) who purportedly taught elvis how to play guitar, the south’s gonna rise again. growing up asian in the south, i always felt out-of-place. people always assumed i was related to/ the same person as that other “oriental” kid in school. when my chance finally came, i fled to the pacific northwest, officially for college, unofficially, to stalk my favourite band. upon arrival, i experienced the exact opposite of what i expected, “why are there so many asian people here??” during my first years here, friends from back home pointed out my new-found valley girl accent (aka loss of a southern twang), but as i have thrived here the last decade, i’ve grown nostalgic over southern ways and have come to miss its food and hospitality. with the recent elevation of chefs such as sean brock and linton hopkins in the culinary arena, what was once poor man’s fare has been made shiny and vogue. restaurants across the country are jumping on the bandwagon of grits and gravy gravitas, with the sexton leading the charge for the ballard troops. however, a southern food establishment in the northwest is much like a chinese girl raised in the south, a juxtaposition of something half way between here and there. sure the cocktails are served in mason jars, but jalapeno vodka is less southern and more south of the border. and yes, all the usual suspects are on the menu: fried chicken, hush puppies, and more, but i seriously doubt that any of it had lard, a staple in any southern grocery store. so while a valiant war was fought by the sexton, i’ll march on for something that feels more like home.
ever heard the one about the priest, rabbi, and a minister walking into a bar? well, this is a story about the latin lecher, presumptuous bartender, and a southern belle. i first heard about paratii many moons ago, where a trip to naga revealed that evan was gone, but the bartender he left behind could provide all the cocktail gossip i needed. said bartender informed me that he would soon helm a new craft bar in ballard, featuring house-infused spirits, homebrewed beers, and brazilian fare. there was also some banter about how it was named after a fish, or was it a river, i cant remember. anywho, we decided to set sail for ballard and months later, arrived to a very hospitable crew, including owner sam, who allowed us to sample various house-made tinctures through rose-coloured glasses. and while i was catching up on all the latest in seattle’s skull & bones of spirits, my friend peachy was being seduced by the proprietor 20 years her senior. the drinks proved worthy of our voyage but sadly, the courtship was much more painful than a punchline.
when summer ramps up in seattle (yes, there is summer here), outdoor patios are all the rage. like cockroaches flocking to leftover meat, seattlelites fill up outdoor seating in restaurants and bars across the city. such was the case on a balmy thursday afternoon, as the sun beat down upon our melanin-deprived limbs on the front patio of maria hines‘ newest culinary venture, golden beetle. while i usually never trust a girl bartender, maria has somehow managed to hire my exception to the rule, marley tomic-beard of bathtub gin fame. with marley manning the bar, i felt at ease ordering a bartender’s choice (aka “i’m in your hands”) alongside muhammara (or rather four orders of it, but who’s counting…) other happy hour highlights included braised goat tagine (beef is so 1994) and the chickpea stew (which may not sound sexy, but trust that i was licking the plate). and as luck would have it, a real-life golden beetle flew in to join us, landing on my wine menu and pointing me to the rosé…ahhhh summer in the city.
one of the problems of having mostly guy friends is that you end up with the occasional unknown date scenario. maybe i’m just oblivious, but one second you’re just out doing something fun and then comes the awkward moment when your friend goes silent and looks at you in a way that makes you turn around and see if he’s eying some other girl across the room (in this specific case, we were at a red robin so the selection was frightful). that’s what happened the first time i went rock climbing, and subsequently, i took some time off from rock climbing AND my friend. four years have passed since that unfortunate night and when invited to go rock climbing again, i made sure to bring a conduit and pick a better post-activity nosh spot. thank goodness for the late-night happy hour at moshi moshi, the only place in ballard where you can get a well-crafted cocktail AND food so that you’re not sloshed in 7 seconds flat (sorry hazelwood, tv dinners don’t count). being that i love flips and fizzes, i was in luck as the cocktail special of the night was an alta plaza fizz: gin, muddled strawberry, lemon, benedictine, egg white, rhubarb bitters, and club soda, finished with a light dusting of nutmeg. and while i love the value a good happy hour menu can bring, i always order the eggplant dengaku off the full menu, because it’s just. that. good. and what better ambiance for a non-date than a monolithic plastic sakura tree flocked with LED blossoms? at least you can be guaranteed no one will be singing the red robin happy happy birthday song.
nat sherman: a name synonymous with luxury cigarettes dating back to the days of 1920’s speakeasys and a more simple time. hazlewood pays homage to the good ol’ days with their namesake drink, a concoction of whiskey, peppermint tea, and amaretto that’s sure to put hair on your chest. but the buck doesn’t stop there; they’re gracious enough to serve it juxtaposed with a porcelain side dish containing a truffle and a nat sherman cigarette. but enough about what everyone else was drinking; i asked for “something with fernet”. what resulted was something like a sidecar, with cognac, fernet, and a mysterious orange-based italian liqueur called s’, which i have never seen before nor since. also on the menu was the falcon crest cocktail, heralding the first of many crème de violette-based drinks i’d see on libation lists in the upcoming weeks. after boozin’ it up at the bar, our group decided to take a field trip upstairs to the infamous hazlewood peephole. i won’t give its’ secret away, but i will tell you that after trying to capture a photo of what was contained within, my cell phone immediately shut down and would not wake up for a day. perhaps some things are better left unseen.
i have a friend that, for the most part, is very even keeled and reserved. however, a group of us descended upon le gourmand in ballard one rainy winter night in 2009 for what we anticipated to be an epic dinner (for seattle standards). when ordering drinks, we learned that cocktail service was offered via the adjoining bar, sambar. i’d learned about sambar from a variety of “best of” lists, so i figured i could count my drinks ordered via le gourmand as a fair evaluation. unfortunately, we were not prepared for an evening of $50 gravy-slathered steaks and unbalanced cocktails, and my otherwise mild-mannered friend exploded in a tirade on his failed tournedos that lasted the duration of a car ride from ballard to bellevue. but as i’ve said before, i’ll try anything twice. time heals all wounds and so more than a year later, i snagged a table in the polly pocket-sized lounge of sambar and waited for my entourage to arrive. i would have preferred to land a seat at the bar, but with only four piston stools, i sacrificed the proximity quality ratio for the greater good of my crew. at first glance, the featured cocktails conveyed a feminine touch with fruity and floral notes, so i was perplexed to find out that the mastermind behind the bar was actually a gent. touted as a master cocktailer, i decided to give jay a run for his money and ordered my signature imaginary drink, the shaken baby jesus. surprisingly, the outcome looked and tasted like a fraternal twin to the drink crafted at violet hour which showcased rum, pineapple, and grenadine visuals. i settled on the conclusion that this is the type of place i would go for a girl’s night out, but not likely a place i’d head to after a rough day when i’m in need of a stiff, no-frills drink. maybe next time, a spot in the coveted four-seat arena would lead me to a less predisposed verdict….third time’s a charm.
after sunning and funning in europe for two weeks, nothing back home tasted quite as good. however, seattle restaurant week was in full effect when i returned, thus providing a catalyst to get back in the swing of american things. amongst of the throngs of eateries on the list, only a few caught my eye, one of them being ethan stowell’s new outpost on ballard ave. i have always had a love/hate relationship with stowell’s seattle restaurant regency, but with the closing of union back in the spring, i was eager to see on which side of the fence this new endeavour would lie. staple & fancy closely resembles its siblings, showcasing an open kitchen, industrial design, and sylvan provisions. as far as food goes, it’s always hard to judge a book by its en masse restaurant week cover, but i will say that they provided more than ample portions, especially for the appetizer course which was composed of not one but all six options. the entrees were blasé, especially my orecchiette with de-shelled mussels and fennel cream sauce (orphaned mussels are just sad mussels). the dessert, however, served as a point of redemption, a basic but well-executed panna cotta with blueberry compote. all in all, i’d say this kid’s got potential, but we’re just going to have to wait and see what it grows up to become.
whether you’re of the belief that lewis carroll’s classic tale of the walrus and the carpenter is a diatribe on capitalism, a metaphor of religion, or nothing more than a mere children’s poem, one thing is for sure: oysters fall victim to culinary delight. what better namesake for a new oyster bar situated in the heart of ballard, just moments from shilshole bay. with fresh local bivalves, a barrage of savoury small plates, and one short but sexy cocktail menu, we began to feed and the walrus bar left our bellies fat and our taste buds indulged. there is however a stark reality to this tale, as we soon learned that little things add up fast, and our wallets were left to take the brunt of the evening. such is the price of not choosing to leave the oyster bed.
the french brasserie concept is one that has received a heightened sense of popularity in the culinary scene. following in the footsteps of nyc giants like balthazar and les halles (oh anthony ♥), what’s old is new, and bastille manages to hold down the fort in seattle. featuring traditional franco-fare comme duck confit, croque monsieur, et moules frites, this ballard establishment shines especially bright in its presentation of crispy pork belly avec confiture of rhubard poached in rooftop honey, rosé & shallots…meat and fruit never married so beautifully! however, the problem with a stellar appetizer is the expectations that are broached for the entrée course, and i am sad to report a disappointing showing amongst all the dishes at the table (especially my less than crispy fricassée). the lackluster feeling left me wanting more, so in a hail mary attempt, i ordered dessert, and bastille pulled through with mere moments left on the clock, delivering a perfectly prepared pear galette à la mode. keep up the good fight and vive la révolution.