Loosen Your Belt: Dine Around Seattle is Back

From Sunday through Thursday, March 2-27, you can score a three-course prix fix for $30 at 58 Seattle restaurants. At some of them you can even score a three-course lunch for $15.

The restaurant selection includes icons like Ray’s Boathouse and Barking Frog; cult favorites Skillet Diner and Nishino’s and the always full to bursting Toulouse Petit and Peso’s. I’ve taken advantage of Dine Around myself before and through it discovered gems like Stumbling Goat Bistro and Eva. This time around Hunger 2.0 and La Bête look intriguing, but with so many options it’s hard to choose.

For more info. click here. Give it a whirl and please let me know which places you recommend, I’m always on the lookout for a new place to nosh.

A Mexican Food Find in Seattle

Mole Enchiladas at Baja Bistro

In Southern California, and Arizona and other border states, fresh, authentic, spicy, satiating Mexican food is as available as Starbucks in Seattle. Really available, like high quality taquitos at the car wash available. It was so available that I never thought much of it and it didn’t even make my top five foods list when I could scoop it up at every turn.

But since moving to Seattle, Mexican food has become my Moby Dick. Seattle has amazing Thai, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, French, Italian and of course, Northwestern cuisine. Its abundance of mouth-watering culinary options is staggering. But it repeatedly falls flat when it comes to Mexican food because the food is just plain bland.

While Seattleites are happy cranking up the spicy stars when ordering Asian cuisine, apparently they want no stars in their Mexican food – or at least that’s what the restaurateurs think. La Carta Oaxaca and Mexicaleria Oaxaca buck this trend, and now there is another restaurant to add to the bland-bucking list, Baja Bistro in Beacon Hill. Baja Bistro has heat. Not hot water gulping, heat, but enough heat to awaken your palette and remind you that spice is nice.

For my full review on Examiner.com, please click here.
Baja Bistro on Urbanspoon

Casa Patron: Flavorful Mild Mexican Food

From the outside, Casa Patron looks like any other business in the Ravenna neighborhood – plain, strip-mallish, uninspired. But walk in the door and you are transported to a Mexican Hacienda complete with Zorro inspired chandeliers and cowboy hats hanging over the large downstairs bar.

The dining area of Casa Patron consists of an open area with high ceilings on the lower level, and a smaller, more intimate area of booths and tables in a loft like space. The booths next to the loft balcony let you enjoy the intimacy of the upper area while keeping an eye on the action below and a service bar upstairs means you’ll never have to wait long for your drink.

The menu features traditional Mexican fare but mixes things up with Latin-American dishes like Camarones a la Diabla (large shrimp sautéed in garlic butter with mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers in a hot spicy sauce). 

The meal begins with the expected crispy, salty, just right complimentary chips and two-kinds of salsa; a medium deep red traditional salsa and a pico de gallo variety with a hint of heat.

The cocktail list features a long-list of tequila based drinks and a well-rounded selection of Mexican beers, like Negro Modelo and Dos Equis Amber, on tap.

The Taquitos Patron with chicken ($8.50) is an appetizer fit for four. The taquitos are nicely crisped without the greasiness so often found. The chicken is moist and the guacamole served with the dish is fresh and creamy. If you like your food mild, this is an excellent starter. If you like your Latin on the spicy side, you’ll likely find this dish a bit bland. Dipping in the spicier pico de gallo served with the chips and requesting hot sauce helps spice things up.

Like the Taquitos, the quesadilla appetizer ($8.00) is easily sharable by four or more. Flour tortillas stuffed with cheese or add steak or chicken for an extra $1.00. The cheese is the star here and is so plentiful the steak or chicken flavor gets slightly smothered. 

The Casa Patron Plato Favorito entrée ($18) lets you sample some of the best Casa Patron has to offer. It includes tender steak marinated in a spicy sauce, fresh, meaty and succulent shrimp, and chicken, spiced and pounded thin, and sautéed mushrooms surrounded by super-sized portions of rice and worthy refried beans. The steak was the star of this dish and indicates that any of the dishes on the menu featuring the beef marinated in spicy sauce will be winners. The shrimp was a very close and very satisfying second.

The Fajitas de Pollo ($13) were served in the traditional sizzling manner with a bevy of bright red and green bell peppers and onions and rice, refried beans and flour tortillas on the side. The chicken was well-seasoned but again, not very spicy.

The Enchiladas de Congrejo ($12.95) features enchiladas stuffed with Dungeness crab and topped with salsa verde and Monterey jack cheese.  The salsa verde is just as it should be but a bit overwhelming for the light flavor of the Dungeness crab. The shrimp variation may stand up better to the verde.

Dinner is not complete without a serving of the Coconut Flan; a dish that will convert even the most devout flan-hater. Creamy instead of spongy, with a texture between crème brulee and cheesecake it is infused with a deep, rich coconut flavor. The coconut flan alone is reason to keep coming back to Casa Patron.

Casa Patron delivers good, fresh Mexican and Latin cuisine in a relaxed and friendly ambience. Dishes like the Coconut Flan and the Casa Patron Plato Favorito elevate the cuisine above the typical Seattle Mexican restaurant and the friendly and attentive, but not invasive, service will make Casa Patron a neighborhood favorite.  But, as with most Mexican restaurants in Seattle, it would benefit from turning up the heat.

Casa Patron is located at 805 NE 65th St (at the corner of 65th NE and 8th NE) and is open Monday – Thursday from 11:00am – 12:00am, Friday – Sunday between 8:00am – 2:00am and hosts a daily Happy Hour from 3:00pm – 6:00pm.   Reservations can be made by phoning 206.923.7680.

Converted by The Confectional’s Cheesecake

The Confectional Cookies & Mint Chocolate Cheesecake. Photo by The Confectional.

When I was invited to get a sneak peek at The Confectional’s new Capitol Hill location and chat with the powers behind the cheesecake – Paul Veron and Destiny Sund – the behind-the-scenes aspect intrigued me, the only trouble was I’ve never really liked cheesecake (my sister Jennifer is the cheesecake devotee in the family).  All it took to convert me was one cheesecake truffle. 

Paul Veron grew up in a household where the only sugar you could eat was in foods you made from scratch. Foodie mamas take note, this policy turned him into, in his own humble words, “a pretty good baker” and lover of food, unique tastes and experimentation with flavor combinations. The result is The Confectional, a cheesecake nirvana.

Forget New York style cheesecake with canned cherries on top, The Confectional does things differently. Think Lemon White Chocolate with pucker-worthy citrus tempered by sweet (but not too sweet), creamy white chocolate; Cookies & Mint Chocolate (Veron’s favorite) with a texture close to a brownie and a perfect blend of chocolate and mint with a dark cookie bottom crust; Raspberry White Chocolate with actual raspberries (a best-seller); and Caramel with the most buttery cookie crust I’ve ever tasted. 

The Confectional’s cheesecakes are the cheesecake answer to an ice cream cone, individual sized and wrapped in pannetone paper, so you can walk down the street and eat it utensil free.

Photo by The Confectional

On the smaller side are the Cheesecake truffles (gluten free) and it was the Mexican Chocolate that made me a believer. Creamy, rich milk chocolate enrobed in dark chocolate – at first bite the chocolate and cinnamon flirt on your tongue, then when you’re relishing the afterglow a subtle heat works its way from throat to toes. I’m already planning a dinner party around these transcendent delights. For a peek at how to make them yourself, click here.

You can find twelve flavors of cheesecake, plus two sugar free varieties and ten flavors of cheesecake truffles at The Confectional. Craving a flavor combination not on the menu? The Confectional will make off-menu cheesecakes to order. They’ve made blueberry and white chocolate for a blue and white themed wedding, Pina Colada, Bailey’s chocolate chunk and many more, and by the way they ship – fresh, not frozen (Jen expect cheesecake for Christmas). Sometimes requested flavors don’t work out too well – wine jellies was one such disaster – but don’t worry The Confectional will let you know and help you create something that works.

Creating is something Veron is constantly doing and he and Sund continually whip ideas around. Keep your eye out for an Amaretto cheesecake (in development) and for the special flavors that pop up twelve or so times a year. Pumpkin and Turtle are fall favorites and Strawberry Lemonade is a tall taste of summer.

The Confectional only uses natural ingredients from its local brown cage free eggs to its Maria cookie crust. Local ingredients like Chukar’s cherries and Autumn Martin’s caramel are also incorporated in several flavors. The Confectional bakes daily and never freezes its cheesecakes.

On Saturday, June 4, 2011, The Confectional celebrates the Grand Opening of its Capitol Hill location. Nestled up to poppy on Broadway Avenue East, it seats 16 and features The Confectional’s cheesecake and cheesecake truffles, a thick and not too sweet Columbian Hot Chocolate made with organic cream, Stumptown coffee, Coco Café (a hot chocolate and coffee blend), Dry Soda, Izzy’s and Whidbey Island ice cream bars in six different flavors, including cinnamon.

At the Grand Opening on June 4, you can try a free sample and get your mouth on the Grand Opening flavor, Passion Fruit Seeds (the essence of Passion Fruit, with a teeny bit of crunch that dissolves on your tongue). There will be a drawing every hour for a 9-pack of cheesecake and one lucky person will receive 16 individual cheesecakes each month for an entire year (or you can even order them all at once).

The Confectional

618 Broadway Avenue E on Capitol Hill, between Mercer and Roy, right next door to poppy.

Grand Opening: June 4, 2011, 11 am – 9 pm

Hours: The hours are a work in progress but the tentative schedule is Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday 1pm – 9pm and Friday and Saturday 1 pm – 11 pm, so you can get your cheesecake fix after lunch and before and after dinner.  Need cheesecake earlier? The Pike Place location (1530 Pike Place) is open every day 10 am – 6 pm.

For more info, check out my article on Examiner.com.

Confectional on Urbanspoon

Make Your Reservations Now For Seattle Restaurant Week

10 days150 restaurants featuring 3-course dinner menus for $28.  So many restaurants, so little time . . .

For the full scoop see my article on Examiner.com.

Catch Dine Around Seattle While You Can

It’s time to stop procrastinating and try out that new restaurant. Dine Around Seattle is only here through March 31, 2011. Sundays through Thursday, indulge in a 3-course prix fix dinner at more than 40 Seattle area restaurants for $30 (some restaurants also feature a $15 lunch).

Newcomers to Dine Around Seattle include Matt Janke’s new hot spot, Lecosho. Seattle institutions, Cafe Campagne, Chez Shea, Palisade and Ray’s Boathouse are also participating as are many more.

Dine Around Seattle is a great way to try out a new restaurant or revisit an old favorite. I discovered Eva and Chez Shea during prior Dine Arounds and was a happy diner both times. Lecosho is on the top of my list this time.

For more information and a complete list of all restaurants check out the Dine Around Seattle website.

Thai Tom & Oscar Nominated Shorts

The Varsity theater in Seattle is playing the Oscar nominated animated and live-action shorts for one week only. Jim is Oscar obsessed – if it’s nominated he’ll see it and we had fun watching the animated shorts last year so going to this year’s seemed like a must do. Throw in dinner at our favorite Thai in the U District – Thai Tom and we had the makings of a casual date night.

Our planned outing was last Saturday night. Naturally, Saturday night was windy, rainy and cold, a trifecta of miserable Pacific Northwest weather. I was tempted to call the whole thing off and suggest dinner and a movie in the dry, warm, relative safety of our home. But, the shorts are only playing for one week and then there was Thai Tom . . .

Thai Tom is your classic hole-in-the-wall, featuring some of the best and spiciest Thai food in Seattle. Located on University Way, a.k.a. “the Ave”, between 45th and 47th it features an open kitchen and counter and table seating for maybe 15. If you go for dinner there will be a line. If you go in the summer you will sweat. If you order your food 3 stars or above, you will sweat, your nose will run and your eyes will water. It’s that good.

Jim and I made our way through the blustery night to Thai Tom to find a line that was miraculously only about 5 people deep. One good thing about the rain – people don’t like to stand in it. We put our names in and started perusing the lacquered, wooden menu. 10 minutes later our order was in and 5 minutes later we were seated – in the last “table” at the back. 2 low wooden stools and a smaller than a card table wooden table right next to the dishwasher. I was disappointed we hadn’t landed a table with a view of the cooking action, but at Thai Tom, any table is a good table because . . . it’s a table.

We settled in and started to people watch. Moments later our drinks arrived and not long thereafter our food came. We ordered two dishes and each was delivered in a long banana-leafesque dish. Jim opted for the garlic chicken with white pepper – 3 stars and I went for the yellow curry chicken – 2 stars. Both dishes came with white rice. Jim’s dish was spicy! But the chicken was tender and moist and the veggies were crisp so I stole a few bites anyway and managed to clear my sinuses. The white pepper addition to this dish elevated it to a whole new level.

My yellow curry chicken was a saucy delight. The curry had the expected combination of sweet and savory flavors but presented over the rice it became stew-like; a warming meal for a cold night.

Satiated we walked the 2 blocks to the Varsity, bought a big bag of freshly popped, buttery popcorn and settled in for the animated shorts.

Thai Tom