Thursday, December 6, 2007

Hi Life: A seattle take on French cuisine

I'll admit the building was made me interested at first in eating here. Is there anyone who doesn't think Firehouses are cool and secretly didn't wish to live in one as a kid? I know I want to.

Going in I had no idea of what kind of food they served and was expecting pub food and other American classics. I was surprised by the additional seasonal menu which they claim is inspired by Paris and by the range of food and price points.

The menu ranges from small plate (and they are small) all under 10 dollars, some around 5 dollars, entrees and American classics in the 10-25 range and the season selections which include family size platters for 25-40 dollars.

We thought it was funny that they picked Paris rather than France as a choice of a region with good wine. While there are many good wines served in Paris, there are no vineyards in that region and the food in Paris is so not reflective of the food in the many regions of France.

Paris seemed more of an inspiration for the seasonal food than culinary basis, with many dishes being based on the apple which isn't a big staple in French food. However it was clear with the dishes that they pulled the love of all things cheese and the combined of strong flavors and ingredient to make rich dishes.

That said the food was very interested and there were dishes on the menu that I have never seen before and most of the dishes worked well.

We picked three dishes from the seasonal menu and one from the small plates. There was a mix up with the order and we ended up getting another seasonal starter for free.

We started with the daily seasonal special which was wild mushrooms wrapped in ham and served on polenta with a cream sauce. At first I was surprise at how small the dish was until I took my first bite. The ham didn't over power the wild mushrooms while the polenta was the real star. I seriously could have eaten that polenta by the bowlful. The dish was full of flavor and texture and each bite made me happy.

The second dish we had was fried ravioli, the outside was crisp and breaded while the inside was rich creamy filling. I found it ok but my wife loved it and ate most of the ravioli.

The third dish we had was the baked apple filled with Gorgonzola cheese. Our meal was basically one huge cholesterol bomb and it was good. I liked the sweetness of the apple against the pungent taste of the cheese. I think it would have been a good final course.

The fourth dish was listed as a single serving of Crepes Sarraine, buckwheat crepes with a cheese and sorrel filling served with white beans. There was actually two rolled crepes (not the way they are usually served in France) and they were really good. I love buckwheat especially for savory crepes, and it complimented the filling well. I would have liked for the sorrel to have played a stronger part as it is rare to see it used in the US and it is a great herb. The beans were very disappointing and I almost feel like I need to gather chefs in Seattle together and do a remedial class in how to cook legumes. They were over cooked and lacking in flavor.

The final dish was a salt cod casserole almost a gratin. In looks and texture it was like hachis parmentier, which is a casserole of mashed potatoes and minced beef covered in cheese. The dish was certainly not french by origin but that didn't stop my French wife from lovely it and she said it's one of the most unique dishes she's had in Seattle.

We finished our meal with a Pot Du Creme which seemed to be made with milk chocolate or just too much milk and was far too sweet to really be Pot Du Creme but most people would just find it tasty and enjoy it.

The bill with two bottle of sparkling water, one creme soda but no tip was 57.

I'm sure if we are back in the neighborhood will stop in there again especially once they try a new cuisine.

Also we were there on Thursday and I was happy to see families eating out which seems to happen so rarely in Seattle. There are lots of seating and it looks like a great place to have a meal for a group of 8-12 people or larger.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ama Ama = Yummy Yummy

Ama Ama is yummy yummy! It's an example of what chefs in the Pacific North West do best, seafood served succulent and fresh.

Although I had been meaning to go here for ages as I am a huge oyster lover, we ended up at Ama Ama randomly on a wet cold Sunday evening. The menu looked good with everything except a couple of things under 20 dollars and lots of small plates under 11.

Now I tend to worry about food quality when going to places that are trendy or have a theme because often they focus so much on the atmosphere, that the food is not given the same attention.

Ama Ama is that happy mix of style and substance. In appearance it's a visual love letter to European mid century modern. My wife remarked that it reminded her of her childhood vacations in the early 70's at ski lodges in the French Alps while I was delighted that they were playing my favorite Alfred Hitchcock/Cary Grant movie on the stylized wall of three display screens behind the long smart looking bar.

Our server was friendly without being pushy or annoying. We decided to order lots of little plates and skip the entrees as there were so many lovely seafood dishes.

We started with Mojo shrimp salad which had four perfectly grilled and seasoned prawns on a bed of frisee and watercress with citrus fruits. the bitterness of the frisee was a nice compliment to the spicy of the shrimp and the salad was crisp and tasty.

We then had the salt cod cakes which are made in-house and was served with a sweet coconut curry sauce and tomato cardamom sauce. The sauces and the use of lots of cod and not loads of fillers made these rise about most seafood cakes.

Next was a chef's selection of oysters. There were three kinds, all local and all exceedingly good. They were better than ones I've had at far more expensive places in the US. I could have had another dozen....but more food was to come.

Next was the Penn cove mussels. The rich broth with it's roasted tomatillo was as big a hit as the mussels and it was my wife's favorite meal. It came with frites and we got some horseradish aoli to go with them instead of horrid katsup.

The final dish served was a cold tofu dish with two pieces of firm tofu with a sweet pineapple tobiko relish. My wife who does not like sweet dishes for the most part disliked it but I found it to be a really interesting dish. It was almost like a seafood cheese cake in taste and texture with the tofu acting as a creamy base for the saltiness of the tobiko to mix with the sweet pineapple.

The bill with sparkling water and one soda came to around 57 dollars before tax and tip. I've had similar meals in London and San Francisco that would be between 75-100 dollars and this was totally worth it.

I really liked the food and the relaxed atmosphere and we plan to make the long trek to west Seattle to come back here on a regular basis.

Ama Ama
4752 California Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98116

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chez Shea, Chez Disppointment

I love food. I married a French girl. I now love French food. As a happy married couple how could we not want to go to a romantic setting and eat French food. So we looked forward to going to Chez Shea which had been described as hidden gem of white linen French cuisine.

This gem was more of a piece of coal.

The first strike was when we got there at 8:45 for our reservation of a window seat table and were told our table wasn't ready since another party had stayed longer. We waited at the bar where it took a good ten minutes for the barman who told us to wait to stop empty the dishwasher and take our drink order.

We got seated almost 20 minutes later in a half empty dinner room at an inside table, around 10 minutes to get drinks and they dropped the bread on the floor which they finally brought at around 9:30.

I did love how quiet and intimate the space was and the wall of windows looking out over the pier and water. Maybe if the food had been exceptional it would have made the poor service less memorable. But the food while very nice was not special except for the dessert.

The menu:
We started with oysters with two vinaigrettes, one was mango infused and one was garlic based, they were lovely, raw and slid down our throats, the vinaigrette enhanced the oyster own fresh taste. The quality of the oyster what made the dish.

For the second course the wife had a salmon tartare which was small and not that interesting with a short stack of flat bread alternating with salmon tartare and salmon roe on top. My second course was great, seared Foie Gras, a smaller piece then I was expecting but seared to perfection. It was served on an apple tart which I know they put on it for the contrast of the flavors but the tart should have been more well tart than sweet and I ended up eating the separately. Again what made the dish so good was the Foie Gras and not the whole dish.

For our entrees I had the duck confit that was far from the best I've had (the best in Seattle being at Crave). My sides of french beans and green were horrible. I literally couldn't eat them, the greens were tough and the beans weren't fully cooked. The wife had a chanterelle and chevre herbed crepe that was good but as she said not exceptional. For dessert the chocolate cake was like one big luscious truffle. It was really exceptional and if it was made in house, the pasty chef is a star.

My wife was concerned that the poor service had to due with her attire of a Mohawk and causal wear but I had checked in advance and there was no jacket requirement so we were at a loss as to why the service was so tepid.

I still love French food and a good French restuarant and I plan on finding it in Seattle.