Tea Palace Dim Sum Review

Point Me to the Highlands, Dim Sum at Tea Palace

Dim sum, the Asian equivalent of dining à la carte.

By Catherine Reynolds | Email the author | December 30, 2010

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Lotus Leaf Credit Catherine Reynolds
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Stir-fried noodles with bean sprouts & onions. Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o2.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/24228c858b6d42bab7d7cb8044005ac9
The steamed Gai Lan, Chinese broccoli is made to order and was  served hot, oyster sauce on the side. Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o4.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/b06c629b3353f0f4f76d11a11bb965ca
The standout was the crisply golden fried shrimp balls,  oval-shaped and graced with a strip of nori, which gives them an  artistic touch. Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o4.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/b13b4a6943f3362dccaa7a6d83ba013a
Fu Zhu Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o2.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/e8999ca0833cdb3a81fd15a9f917f51f
Ha Cheong Fun Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o1.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/93ee462ed93733776646702ac3f0e158
Har Gow Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o4.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/3d4be2225315e0bb7bef7d1e85862d7a
Lotus Leaf Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o3.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/6d4bd5f112765eb3ee063d1a3f942c6e
Wolf berry & longan “pudding” is knox blox on tropical  steroids. A jewel-like quivering cube of encased wolf berries and floral  longan strips, artistically topped with a cool layer of condensed  coconut milk. Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o3.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/62b9181c2d68c6953313227866bd2cf
Shu Mai Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o2.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/11eabb30305f3fc691449aeb8eb4579d
Sticky Rice (unwrapped) Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o5.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/fc0f6e30bc3cfa8e84168bf949adc33f
Along with strands of chicken, fried tofu skin and minced  scallions, Tea Palace's congee also holds the surprise of Pi dan,  blueish preserved 'century eggs' at the bottom of the bowl. Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o4.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/3fa1c6295268ecd84a7ba2f5026ab503
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"C'mon," I said nudging my husband as the hour grew closer to noon. "Let's go get dim sum!"

"You mean, fifty ways to eat shrimp?" my dozing husband laughed and rolled over. 

The true translation of dim sum is to "point heart." That being said, your stomach should point you towards Renton's Tea Palace

Tea Palace, situated in an enormous lot behind the Highland's Viet Wah,  is a staggeringly large restaurant, aimed to have banquets of up to 800, and is one of the largest Asian halls in the Northwest. The day after Christmas, the chandeliers glistened and several stages were set for live entertainment the night before. This is a place built for a serious party. 

I envied the large tables with families, set around Lazy Susans filled with various dishes. It's hard to do dim sum justice with only two or three people, even though it can make for splendid leftovers. I've laughed at another dim sum joint as a small Asian woman claimed the entire offering of shrimp and chive dumplings, then proceeded to break out her Tupperware.

While Tea Palace may not have Tupperware-toting Gow Choi Gau, it does have cordial service, a wagon train of carts and a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere.  And excellent jasmine-infused tea, as a tea palace should. Servers are friendly, and willing to answer questions, even if it requires sending over a translator. 

The congee was a comforting start, especially after a night of revelry. Along with strands of chicken, fried tofu skin and minced scallions, Tea Palace's congee also holds the surprise of Pi dan, blueish preserved 'century eggs' at the bottom of the bowl. A treasured dish, a first for me, and an acquired taste I believe.

Stir-fried noodles with bean sprouts and onions were quietly comforting, the fu Pi Kuen, or bean curd skin rolls were devoured quickly along with their hidden layer of minced pork & shrimp. The shu mei were up to snuff, although we agreed that it may have been our fault for ordering greedily, the dishes could have been warmer. The steamed Gai Lan, Chinese broccoli, is apparently made to order as we never saw it on a cart but on many a table, and was served hot, oyster sauce on the side. Just the way I like it and a great way to round out a meal of tasty fried dishes. 

However, the standout was the crisply golden fried shrimp balls, oval-shaped and graced with a strip of nori which gave them an artistic touch. And the surprise favorite for me? Wolf berry and longan "pudding." This is knox blox on tropical steroids. A jewel-like quivering cube of encased wolf berries and floral longan strips, artistically topped with a cool layer of condensed coconut milk. Not too sweet, but a refreshing finish.

If one is to judge the caliber of dim sum on the pleats of the har gao, I didn't count. I will say they stuck to the paper which is a dim sum faux pas. But would I rather eat here than head to madness of the International District after a major holiday? Dang ran, of course.

Our meal of over ten dishes barely pushed $50 with lots of leftovers. And as I spooned chili sauce into the side of my to-go box, I felt pretty merry for the day after Christmas.

Tea Palace Asian Restaurant & Banquet
2828 Sunset Lane NE, Renton, WA, 98056
(425) 228-9393

Monday - Friday :   10:00am - 3:00pm Lunch
                                        5:00pm - 10:00pm Dinner

Saturday - Sunday : 10:00am - 10:00pm

I'm a Renton restaurant reviewer!

Hey Madeleine readers...

It's been a long time since I've posted, BUT I AM writing again. I'm now a restaurant reviewer for Renton Patch. Feel free to give me feedback.

My reviews will be coming out every Thursday. Enjoy & HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Love & to a delicious 2011,


The Scent of Great Papaya

Expand your flavor palate with coconut, ginger, lime and cilantro at Papaya.

By Catherine Reynolds | Email the author | December 23, 2010

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bánh canh tôm cua Credit Catherine Reynolds
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coconut juice Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o5.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/a410f265626e4526ed5090e436ee61c
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soft shell crab fresh rolls with young coconut juice Credit Catherine Reynolds http://o2.aolcdn.com/dims-shared/dims3/PATCH/resize/273x203/http://hss-prod.hss.aol.com/hss/storage/patch/3670a60e56a569a136cf0adfe46caeb2
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The first time I walked into Papaya was on a summer afternoon. I came looking for a salad as light and cooling as the lime green walls, but as a bowl of pho passed by my table the smell of house broth (slowly rendered bones, star anise, peppercorn and cilantro sprigs) had me captivated. It's taken me a while to move about the menu as it's easy to fall upon favorites here, a small price to pay for quality service and selection. Thankfully as a south-end resident, I no longer need to visit Seattle's International District to satisfy my cravings for authentically-crafted, original Vietnamese dishes. 

While many of the customers dining during my most-recent December visit at the early hour of 5 o'clock were Asian families, this is a place that should attract all palates who crave flavorful cuisine and quality ingredients.  A soulful kitchen welcomes you from the moment you walk in. 

Not that I can call Papaya's external atmosphere homey, with its glassy high-reaching windows in The Landing's "pedestrian village," but there is soul in the kitchen. It is the smell of slow-cooked stocks and the sight of parents spooning broth into a bowl for their toddler. 

Should you be looking for a basic bowl of pho, the classic warming noodle soup, or an artfully prepared Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich replete with craving-inducing yam fries, you can fill up fast for under $20. If you are feeling adventuresome, you will be rewarded in selecting some of their more unusual offerings . 

In Vietnam, pho is a dish to cool off with while seeking nourishment with a bowl of steaming broth and chiles in a balmy climate. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it is the perfect healthful dish to enjoy year-round, especially on a crisp evening, the sight of a wintry full-December moon rising above a Doug Fir strung with lights at The Landing.

For the more adventuresome, I highly recommend the steamed coconut (bone-in) chicken rice in a cast iron pot for $12. This is a dine-in dish only, & the cast iron pot creates its own magical crust on the rice, much like a Spanish socorrat which is the crisp layer so prized in a paella. Lightly golden coconut rice mingled with ginger presents itself in joyfully crisped spoonfuls surrounded by tender chicken thighs. Asian soul-food indeed. It had my chef-husband swooning and he packed half of it home for lunch the next day.

The second dish we ventured out on was the bánh canh tôm cua, or Dungeness crab & quail egg croquettes, shrimp and pork dumplings udon soup for $12. Another winner. Unlike pho, which is anchored by a rich beef broth, this stands out with the clearest of chicken stocks, and has enough original flavor to shun the usual bean sprout, lime and basil side plates. Scallions, cilantro leaves and fried shallots float in a pool of fragrant chicken stock, bobbing with two curled shrimp, sausage slices, a seafood encased quail-egg, and pork dumplings — all floating above rice-based udon noodles. 

Next on my must-try list is the soft shell crab with braised egg noodle, soup on the side for $11, or the bún riêu cua: soft shell crab, shrimp & pork dumplings, tofu in tomato rice noodle soup for $12. I encourage you to give me your reviews of Salmon, taro and tofu skin rice noodle soup which sounds extremely intriguing, and the savory crepe (bánh xèo) filled with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts or tofu, enoki mushroom and bean sprouts.

There's plenty to explore here. Come back often, and choose boldly if you will.

Travel with a Translator Part II: Pal-Do World is Korean Fried Chicken Paradise

IMG_6767 Hmmm, how to start this blog... Here, chicky, chicky!

Is it a story about how I came to love Korean food or my relationship with fried chicken?

Let's start with the fried chicken part because up until last weekend, I can't say that I would ever drive out of my way for it.

When my husband & I bought our house in Skyway, we celebrated our first night amongst the unpacked boxes with a bottle of good pink champagne & a bucket of Ezell's chicken, which was now available to us right around the corner. It seemed the perfect metaphor for our new life.

Both were small luxuries after the many tight months of scrimping & saving depression era-style, trying to spend the smallest amount of money possible by eating solely from what we already had in our freezer & pantry or the broken bags of paella rice or expired jars of who-knows-what I came home with from Spanish Table, just so we could keep expanding our savings & qualify for a loan on a place of our own. We did it, & I will never forget the taste of that night.


As for Korean food, it ties in with a story of the heart as well. For four years I dated a Korean-Mexican musician & his family (that's the way it works), & while our cards didn't play out, I spent many an evening over a table filled with the splendors of banchan, learning the in's & out's of what constitutes great kimchee, bibimbap, and glistening plates of chop chae. My biggest regret is that I was a vegetarian at the time, so while my clothes were permeated with the tempting smell of kalbi & bulgolgi frying up on the stove, I never actually partook in these finger-licking forays until a ways after we split up...

So fast-forward to the present me, who is down with trying almost anything (food-wise) at least once, & a lunch date with one of my favorite foodie friends, Kye. We had set aside a Thursday afternoon to walk around Greenlake & grab a bite to eat before my business class, & both of us had been going through a preliminary list of places we might like to hit afterward. What would it be... Ramen? Tortas? Vietnamese Bun? But as we came round the bend, the latter choices didn't seem to jive with the daily fickleness of my appetite, but the gray skies looming overhead presented a culinary craving knowing we were so close to Shoreline.IMG_6693

"Would you be up for Korean?" I asked hesitantly. (I never like to make people play tour-guide of their native cuisines unless they volunteer for the job.) The suggestion made Kye's face light up in an instant. "You like Korean food?!" she beamed, & so we raced for our cars with keys in hand, jumped onto 99, & hungrily met up in the parking lot of Hae-Nam Kalbi & Calamari.

Even though we had just missed the lunch menu cut-off, Kye soon had the staff eating out of her hand--barley tea flowed & a generous spread of banchan bowls soon overwhelmed our grill table. At this point, you might be asking, "What about the frickin' Korean fried chicken???"

Okay, I'll get to that, but how about a whelk noodle salad that I learned had Nancy Leson of the Seattle Times a-cooing? And true to the name of the restaurant, our plate of kalbi (marinated sweet & savory short ribs) excelled, negating every caloric-burned step we had taken the hour before. Thank goodness talking about food doesn't add to the waist-line, or we really would have been in trouble! 

And so one of my favorite kind of meals commenced--my expert guide pointed to her favorites & I gladly ate up whatever appeared before me. I eventually showed up at the Community Capitol Development Center, very late, & very much smelling like a gargantuan bulb of garlic as I later realized, setting off perfumed bursts of air amongst my more salient comments in class.IMG_6778

One week later, we set out on another "elastic-pant" date (this time with our husbands & blogger friends Dawn & Eric, in tow) to meet at Pal-Do World, the Uwajimiya of Korean food, bearing further north on the compass in Lynnwood. Pal-Do World is the kind of place I can wander from aisle-to-aisle endlessly in a slow motion dream sequence, ogling everything from the exotic crustaceans frozen in time, rainbows of sliced sashimi in the fish case, marbled meats that want to leap into your frying pan, & fiery pepper pastes (oh, I'm a sucker for condiments) up the yin yang. I tried to focus on the fact that we were here first for lunch, not shopping, and Ken had to use persuasive stall tactics to tear me away from stocking up on irresistible additions to our ever-growing ethnic pantry.IMG_6765

Eric & Dawn were running a little late, so Kye took us on over to the Pal-Do food court, where Chicky Pub lives in all its "My Little Pony" color-scheme glory, to get our order underway. "They take a while to make it," our leader explained, & after reading the New York Times article on Korean fried chicken, I now know why. The whole secret behind the technique is double-dipping--the chicken is fried not once, but twice for 10 minutes with a resting period in between which insures a lighter crisper crust than the American version. I mean can you imagine KFC devoting twenty-something minutes lovingly cooking your bucket of chicken? I don't think so. And while Chicky Pub does not in fact seem to serve beer, you can order a lunch-time latte!

IMG_6782 We decided to sit next door at the Cho Dang Tofu Restaurant (the owners are connected so they're fine with sharing customers) so we could sample from their menu as well. The place was packed with families, & the six of us crushed in together at a couple of small tables in the back. I will warn you that all of Pal-Do World is about as warm as a meat locker, with the restaurant being of a marginally higher temperature, so wear your leg warmers!

IMG_6769 Another tip for creating body heat is to order one of Cho Dang's soft tofu soups--the beefy chili-rich broth is wonderful spooned over rice amongst intermittent bites ofbanchan to cleanse the palate. We also went for a family-sized squid & vegetable stir fry & more kalbi--both were solid dishes, although not nearly notable as the soothing silkiness of their soondubu


IMG_6768 And while we played Chinese Checkers with all our dishes, Kye dashed through the aisles to pick up a special treat--Korean blood sausage--which is steamed, then sliced on-site, & comes with a bag of spiced salt for dipping. Wow. I can't say I ever would have imagined eating blood sausage with chopsticks! Soondae is much milder, less fatty, & I daresay almost fluffy as it contains a large proportion of glassy sweet potato noodles. Kye loves these meaty morsels so much that she got a second order to go for snacking on later... Well, I guess they kind of look like brownies in this shot, but we still had to make room for dessert.

IMG_6781 How about finishing things off with some fish waffles? No silly, they're not waffles filled with fish, but with sweet bean paste. Each little swimmer is made to order, so we headed back over to the frozen foods to watch the archaic waffle press go to work. My picture did not turn out so well, so I refer you to the Wright's blog as perhaps my shivering made the shot a bit blurry. And while I grabbed my camera to capture our hot batch of bungeoppang, five hungry hands beat me to the punch!

But the star of the show for me was of course, the transformative chicken. I loved every last bit of the sticky sweet gingery sauce & found myself eating leftovers cold out of the ice box. What's happened to me?

Each piece was well-glazed but not soggy in the least, the chicken tender and perfectly cooked, & I'm already thinking of excuses to go back to Lynnwood of all places and try out the even spicier version. The fact is that when split the bill for all this ridiculously good food, each couple chipped in $15. That's right, $7.50 a person. And that is one winning argument as to why you should spend a Sunday afternoon in a beer-less pub in a giant freezer in a strip mall. I'll be the gal in the corner licking her fingers with a big   sloppy   grin...

IMG_6784 Pal-Do World

Chicky Pub

Cho Dang Tofu Restaurant

17424 Highway 99
Lynnwood, WA 98037
(425) 742-2237

Pal-Do World on Urbanspoon

Travel with a Translator: Chiang's Gourmet

IMG_6757 As a family of two, (actually three, but our little black cat Eek doesn't do dining reviews) it's often tough to order the way I'd like at most Asian restaurants. Which is to say you start with one or two well-loved dishes that can't be passed up (your litmus test so-to-speak), then delve into the unknown with regional delicacies & intriguing menu entries with often comically translated descriptions like "Dried Durnip"  or "Spicy Beaf on Roman Lettuce".

Ken has an innate ability to almost always pick the dish I wish I'd ordered in any restaurant--perhaps because of his journey through chefdom--but he usually points out that if a place has say, "Terikayi & Tempura" painted in bold letters on the window... Well, that's probably what you should focus on. You'd think I'd catch on, but what's the fun in sticking with the basics? Me, I like to pull the wild card which sometimes results in disaster at which point I bat my eyelashes & ask to share my husband's wisely chosen bowl of curry or dan dan noodles.IMG_6750

But last weekend we had a rare treat--not only did we have two dates on the calendar to go out for a family-style meal, but both were arranged by a "native eater" which means that you get the royal treatment & a culinary tour through hidden gems on the menu!

So our adventures began with a Mandalay reunion at Chiang's Gourmet,
a surreally 50's diner meets spaceship landmark in Lake City... For those of you not in the know, the Mandalay Cafe was that sweet bungalow in Wallingford (now the home of Tilth) where my husband & the gang cooked up some of the best pan-Asian fare in Seattle (they consistently kicked Wild Ginger's butt in the Zagat!)

IMG_6761 Former owners, Janny Mathias & Erik McWilliams (that's Erik, and that's not Janny to his left) were in town to cast their ballot (they now live on Vancouver Island up in serene Sooke, BC) & Janny managed to bring together a nostalgic round table of friends & family from the Mandalay days.

Janny hails from Taiwan, so she took charge of the ordering & soon we had a table full of curious Taiwanese breakfast items such as bowls of sweet soy milk & round rice dumplings wrapped around shredded meat, sugar, dried seaweed & fried Chinese doughnuts. Wow! That brings a whole new meaning to sweet & savory. I'd been warned that Chiang's is likely to slip westerners an entirely different menu, so I was psyched to be getting the real deal.
Although nearly empty when we arrived, shortly after noon families & large groups began to pour in... You might just want to have something in your belly before you arrive for breakfast because tables seemed to turn very slowwwly, & some of our dishes would randomly arrive 30 minutes later, long after we'd forgotten we'd ordered them, & some didn't come at all. And that's with a translator.IMG_6758 

But don't let me scare you off--despite its quirks, I am anxious to return, delving even deeper into Chiang's "authentic" menu (I might not be quite ready for Pig Intestine, Bloodcake, Sour Vegetable, Odor Tofu w/Hot Sauce In Hot Pot), & was especially thrilled to hear that there is a Chiang's outpost closer to home in Renton as well.

Now it's my turn to round up a group of friends, because I'll walk in already committed to re-ordering the "Owner's Pick": house-made noodles with ground pork, diced dried bean curd, & fresh cucumbers in a bean paste sauce, but I'm pretty intrigued by items such as "Chicken w/Ground Green Beans Sheets". Could be another one of my disastrous stabs at finding greatness in the unknown, but that's why there's safety in numbers.

Get ready to share your safe-bet Shanghai noodles, hubby, & pass the jelly fish! IMG_6763

Chiang's Gourmet
7845 Lake City Wy NE, Seattle 206.527.8888
17650 140th Ave SE, Renton 425.235.8877

Chiang's Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Seattle Stay-cation South of the Border-Style: White Center Awaits!

Taco_truckin_again_001 "Why don't you just move to Mexico, already?" my stay-cationing husband huffed after I laid out my hand-scrawled map of spicy street stalls to hit a few glorious Monday's ago, postponing once again his domestic dream of refinishing the deck. My rule is this: "Cloudy day, clean away. Sun's up, it time for taco trucks!"

If I had an athletic bone in my body, maybe I'd aspire to be a surfer, cash in on our digs in Skyway & live in a turquoise color casita Frida Kahlo-style & ride the waves, day in & day out. But in this life, my sport is sniffing out exotic flavors around some back alley, and on this particular outing I earned a gold.


Part of the pleasure of these peripheral excursions is who decides to play Magellan with you, & since my bro-in-law David (a serial adventurist to  Spanish-speaking countries & third world destinations) was in town for a family wedding, I seized the day to follow up on some leads to graze at La Fondita Dos in White Center before herding us to the beach.

And while the plan of course was to temporarily satiate our hunger so we could keep pushing off to new ports--I fault the charming senorita who heard us discussing our menu options & shouted out "eveerytheeng is goood!" from her leetle window. And when David ordered a combo plate (dude!) before heading over to secure some roasted corn at a stand with a big plastic scorpion dangling behind the counter, I knew we weren't going anywhere soon.

Taco_truckin_again_007 I've been a faithful fan of Taqueria Los Potrillos on Rainier for years... They're close to my 'hood, & I think make the damn best juicy tacos pastor, but my husband is a carnitas man. While slow-cooked shredded meat is still out for me because of some weird textural aversion I've had since I was a kid, you can count me out at the judge's table.

Ken's recent favorite had been the braised pork at El Asadero down the hill from us in Renton, situated in the parking lot of Marilyn's produce where we do much of our bargain shopping for limes, chiles, cilantro & the like. But La Fondita's apparently takes the cake in this category, unanimously seconded by my Chowhound friend, "zoogrrl" who raved in spades went I sent her sailing off to this Bermuda triangle of White Center.



Now I've made my way around Mexico a few times, once by bus from Bisbee, AZ to Zipolite (can't say I'd recommend it unless you like having your feet swell so big you can't get your sandals back on) but for some reason I've never partaken in the street stalls that hawk roasted corn, even if a whole square full of folks is chomping down on a cob at the fiesta del dia. Lord, what have I been waiting for?

And who can resist a plastic scorpion. Not I! So while our food was being grilled up a few steps away, I watched a huge mango carved into the shape of a rosette get a few finishing douses of chile salt with wide eyes... Sometimes these trips really make you feel like you've gone to another country. I mean even the smell of this little parking lot brought back a flood of memories, & I couldn't wait to get a big ol' stick of corn into my hot little hand. Not just corn, you see. Corn, as our roaster explained it, smeared with a layer of Kraft mayo, then butter (most likely margarine), a dousing of lime juice from a squeeze bottle, rolled up in "Parmesan" cheese ("Cotija?" I asked? "Si, cotija"), with a few more of those spicy chile shakes to boot. Whomever thought up this unlikely combination in history deserves a culinary genius grant.

As I walked across the hot asphalt, I passed another gringo whose eyes bugged out in the Fondita line... "Wow, those look GOOD. Are they good???" And off he scuttled across the lot like a large cucaracha on his way to visit the scorpion's lair. Just in time, since a middle-aged gringa with a bad dye-job was accosting our beloved lady of the window. "You know, TAH-KEE-TOES... You mean you don't have TAH-KEE-TOES?" Maybe you don't want people to find out these spots after all.


So with hearts & bellies full, I kissed our chance goodbye to check out another truck behind McClendon's Hardware and turned our sights toward Burien's Seahurst Park, where we spread out the picnic blanket, cracked open our respective summer novellas, glancing up at ferries traverse back & forth to Vashon as a beach hound miraculously floated about on a surfboard. For a moment in my surreal stressed-out "what the heck am I going to do next, world?"-- all was right-- the sun beaming down upon you, the delicious & undiscovered before you, like...

A chile cucumber popsicle at Salva-Mex.

In so far as my taco truck obsession fulfills a need for heart-felt Mexican cooking on an un-employed  writer's budget, suggested pupusarias have been a let down until now. Cruise down Ambaum in Burien & the possibilities are endless for hole-in-the-wall taste experiments, but Salva-Mex with its window-shrine of Jesus, a goat in soccer garb, & a figurine of Elmo holding little blue shoes, (I kid you not) was like the equivalent of a walking into the kind of place I relish while on south of the border vacation--it's the local watering hole, & you just happened to stumble into it. Taco_truckin_again_024_2 Despite the fact that it seemed to be a faint-inducing hundred degrees inside, granmama's to babies bouncing-on-hips gathered for their comida, along with a few happy muchachos sipping horchata through their straws underneath an inflatable Pacifico bottle. That's good clean fun. You know if that the real experts are in there in the sweltering heat, paying for someone else's cooking, it's got to be good.Taco_truckin_again_036

After navigating the photo album of a menu, David broke out his Spanish skills & ordered us a couple of rounds of pupusas (the famous fried street snack from El Salvador) filled with a mixture of loroco (an edible flower) y queso (cheese) y pipian (a Salvadoran squash). Our ebullient young host told us that he was from El Salvador himself, & while David chatted with him about their mutual travels, we heard the loud slapping sounds of fresh dough from the kitchen while occasionally one of the moon-faced senoras would pop her head out the window & smile mischievously at us, then dark braids would swing back into their secret masa world...

And while we took our order to go (we still wanted to take David' to our favorite Sichuan spot for dan dan noodles, you dig?), the smell of freshly griddled corn cakes & melted cheese wafting from the back seat was too much for us to bear. That's when you just park the car and dig in right on the hood of your Subaru, and man it would have been a shame if we had waited a minute longer. Piled high with our sides of curtido, the traditional spicy slaw, & doused with a dribbling of their ultra-mild salsa, we three gringos were grinning as wide as the cook's behinds. A thing of beauty. Indeed, it felt like one of those great summer road trips you talk about when the weather turns us all into home-bound hibernating Seattleites again. And that my friends, is worth a world of grumbles from a husband, a few gallons of gas, & a trip to the nearest Brown Bear car wash.

Taco_truckin_again_012La Fondita #2

9811 15th Ave SW (between 100th St & 98th St)
Seattle, WA

(206) 551-0529

Taco_truckin_again_017 Salva-Mex

15019 Ambaum Blvd SW
(between 150th St & 151st St)
Burien, WA

(206) 988-1234


Feeling Like Where's Waldo... A New Nest at Bella Cosa

Bella_cosaIf you've been wondering where I've been for the last month or so, you're not the only one! I could not have imagined all the events that have transpired in the last six months, but 2008 has been a very interesting year indeed. On one of my many "what the heck am I doing?" cell phone conversations with my parents since I quit Spanish Table, my dad said something very wise to me: "You don't know what's available until you make yourself available." And how right he was..

So now it's official--I am the new manager at Bella Cosa in Wallingford & I'm off and running, learning the trials of managing staff, keeping up with the lunch crowd on the panini grill, the where & how of ordering the products that I want from which distributor, recommending wines of course, & paying the bills so the lights stay on... It's all in the day of a small business owner & while I don't own it, I am thankful for the opportunity to be thrown into the fire, but with a paycheck in store.

Much more to come, but Madeleine has been pushed to the back burner for so long I couldn't help but stay up the extra hour to let you in on my secret! Thanks for reading, y'all, & come help christen my new boat to happiness.

With much love,
Catherine, a.k.a. Ms. Proust

Can Jamie Handle Italy?

Jamies_italy_3 Last year (it seems like so much longer!) I started this blog called Madeleine, and one of the first entries was dedicated to scouring local bookstores for the one out of two cookbooks on my x-mas list I didn't get... As selfish as it seems, I really wanted two cookbooks under the tree--Sunday Suppers at Lucques & The Herbal Kitchen--but since I only got one, I dragged my lovable husband around the Seattle metropolitan area on an all-day quest to satiate my need for Suzanne Goin's Lucques publication, apparently the hottest cookbook of 2006 judging by its scarceity. Spanish_kitchen

This year I wised up & put three on my wish list, and sure enough, that resulted in two shiny new cookbooks below our bedeckled Doug Fir. One was Spanish Kitchen by Jane Lawson, a scintilating collection of modern Iberian recipes with droolable photographs that I figured I could do a lot with considering my vocation. Truth is, I hardly ever cook Iberian food at home anymore as I talk about it all day at work & feel palate saturation setting in after having to explain how to make paella ten times on a Tuesday. But it looked so good, I threw out some heavy hints to cookbook Claus & there you have it. Another Spanish cookbook, but one I hope to make use of...

Bookitaliankitchen So, while I went to see if I could special order a copy of Lidia Bastianich's Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen yesterday at Sur La Table in the market (the one I didn't get this year, thank you--now you know I'm greedy!) I also got my friends Tom & Barbara's permission to jot down the ingredients out of Jamie's Italy which I'd inadvertantly left at home in the morning's rush, to make a market shopping list for Sicilian Lobster Broth. (Ken did buy the book there as it turns out, so I didn't feel so bad...)

Now while I know that English cuisine is often thought of as the laughing stock of European cuisine (I'll never forget my first Guinness shake--thank you, but never again!!) but Jamie Oliver's recent books have been a great source of decent meals for decent people, as I think he might agree. In fact, he's scored a few Mama Mia's in our household, which is indeed a great honor.   

While I didn't splurge for lobster tailsfor his Sicilian Lobster Broth recipe, we did have a number of gargantuan shrimp re-gifted to us from our New Year's Day adventures in the kitchen. Perfecto! But while things have gone brilliantly following the step by step methods of past Oliver recipes, this most recent collection seems to need tweeking, tempermental results veering far from the photographed promise land of Italy's bounty at the table. Jamie, maybe you're laying the foundation for your retirement ("one day I hope to live there") Tuscan cooking school rather than showing us the layman's way? 

Most importantly, what this new addition to my cookbook collection has done is to think like a chef--I know Italian food as I made sure every best friend & boyfriend I had in Schenectady, NY had roots from the boot of Sicily or blue-eyed northern clans. And if a recipe makes me work a little harder to achieve perfection, then so be it, but tonight I got a Mama Mia! I'm still in the after-glow with leftovers for tomorrow, so please allow me to share tonight's winning kiss-on-the-cheek recipe:

Spaghetti con Calamari adapted from Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver

Img_3209_1 olive oil

  • one bulb of fennel, finely chopped & herby tops reserved
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled & finely sliced
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed (or fennel pollen, which I used)          
  • 1 large glass of crisp Italian white wine but an inexpensive Spanish Albarino works great!
  • 4 baby squid, cleaned & cut into rings left whole Granted they didn't have tentacles at the market I went to but 4 baby squid for a pound of pasta??  My fishmonger laughed & said, "Well baby squid might be a lot bigger in Italy!" He suggested 3/4 of a pound & that was perfect.
  • 1 lb dried spaghetti or linguine
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • a small handful of frsh flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon

Get all your ingredients prepped & ready to go. According to my husband, this is one of the key elements in "the way of the chef". Mis en place, mis en place.

Pour a couple of good glugs (that's Jamie talk for 2 generous Tbs) of olive oil into a large hot frying  pan or casserole-type pan. Another rule of the "way of the chef"--never use measuring spoons, just your eyes! Give it a swoosh around & add the chopped fennel, garlic, & fennel seeds. Chefs seem to like to use utensils only when necessary I've noticed. Spoons are for wimps. I'm miserable at flipping & swooshing & got stuff all over the stove. Fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring as often as you can. Turn the heat right up & add the wine, the chili, & the squid.

At this point I pulled Ken into the kitchen & asked him to evaluate the game plan. The fish guy said to give the squid a flash fry & I've had my share of tough calamari at restaurants. Was this really the point to put in those delicious little rings? Ken's vote was either to cook squid for a long time on low, or throw 'em in for a last minute toss. Looking at the recipe, we voted to put them in last. So let me proceed... 

Keep stirring until the alcohol & moisture have reduced by half. Turn the heat down to a slow simmer & now cook your pasta in salted boiling water according to the package instructions.

At this point taste the sauce & correct the seasoning. Once your pasta is nicely cooked to al dente, drain it in a colander, saving a little of the cooking water. Toss the pasta straight away with the squid & all the juices. Remove the pan from the heat & add about 5 tablespoons of really good extra virgin olive oil, along with the fennel tops & parsley. Give everything a good toss, have one more taste to check seasoning, add a little of the reserved cooking water to loosen if need be, then divide into 4 bowl. Sprinkle a little lemon zest over each plate & eat straight away.


Fine Dining in Skyway: The Basket Case Drive-In

Img_2026_2When I was just a youngster, growing up on the east coast, a trip to the outskirts of town for a treat from Snyder's Acres was a BIG DEAL. Deep-fried frozen battered shrimp & fry baskets were all the rage, but it was the poly-saturated fat dipped soft serve cones in a multitude of flavors that soothed the soul after junior softball tournaments--win or lose.

As a recovering vegetarian, I allow myself the pleasure of homemade burger & oven fries every so often--I'm a big fan of ground buffalo meat which is available at times from the Renton Thriftway, served up lean, mean, & bloody as all get out--but the Basket Case in all its beautifully blue history seemed like a Skyway icon that couldn't go without at least one visit this summer to see what the neighborhood is talkin' about.Img_2024

A true blast from the past, I've seen happy patrons slurping their pineapple milkshakes in the parking lot, along with a gaggle of old-timers who've patronized the place knee-high to a french fry playing out their weekly card game over mustard & onion-piled brats. Nothing's changed much at the Basket Case, except the next generation of the family operation keeps slightly later hours while sticking with the untrendy tradition of fast food at a slower pace.

Img_2029 Now while I have to say that Ken's glowing Saturday post-lawn mowing phone calls while I'm at work ("Hey honey, I just had the most amazing burger... Sorry you can't be here!") left me with a lusting appetite, an expanding waistline left me thinking this was better left as unexplored territory.

Img_2032 Enter Lemar, my Skyway/Renton sleuth, a delivery driver for our store whose stops inevitably become conversations about good soul food... This good working man put twenty dollars in my hand without taking no for an answer--now how often does that happen--just to check out the B-C once & for all. My guess is that he was tired of asking if I'd been there regaling me for five months with their virtues.Img_2034

The verdict? If individually thin-formed pattied grilled to order on fluffy old-time buns are your thang, this leaves Dick's in the dust... Frites were better than some I've had in Paris--their claim to fame I must say--with French's mustard there for the asking.

True to its name, the Skyhigh Burger (note, you need to order *without* bacon if you want to skip a mile of pork) is a mouthful of beef, bun, & old-school special sauce. Risking serious indigestion, my Skyway sandwich stop fueled me all about the Sound on our kayak trip off the lakeside ridge of Renton.

In a world that's changing oh so quickly, how refreshing it is to find a mom, pop & son operation right around the corner that has stood the test of time. Want burger? Your capsule awaits...Img_2036

Basket Case Drive-In

11901 Renton Ave S
Seattle, WA 98178

(206) 772-6320

Farewell to Mandalay, The End of an Era

Img_1304_1Sigh, it's true. After over a decade of serving some of the best spice route cuisine in all of Seattle, our beloved Mandalay is up for sale. This is not another Wallingford Thai restaurant that's crashed & burned, but a new path for our friends Erik & Janny who are moving north to Canada to embark on new culinary adventures with their family. Img_1314

Needless to say, this place changed my life as my now husband spun out dishes here for six years before I steered him towards the no-more-sane career as a wine rep (but the hours are definitely better.) I camped out many a night at the bar, peering into the open kitchen watching the behind the scenes antics & lapping up their incredible Laksa. Since I often dined alone, the kitchen would whip up "tapas-style" portions for me so I could sample the nightly specials--everything from Taro Spun Blue Marlin to Malaysian Rujak Salad & Malawi Tempura Figs.

Sitting there, watching the chefs dip their ladles into dozens of intense hand-ground pastes & curries, learning to lean over the perfumed steam of my bowl to open my senses to each flavor, I began to have an awakened appreciation for the complexities that come from food that has true soul. Img_1315 

I've watched an Indian family order a whole table of Sri Lankan Blacken Lamb Chops partially because this is one of the few places in town where even the staff rarely eats anything higher than two-star because it's just that damn hot. Sweat dripping off his forehead, the proud young man swept his mother (fresh off the plane) into the kitchen to meet the chefs because she couldn't believe a guy from California & a guy from Puebla, Mexico no less, could cook like this.  Img_1305

Family ties aside, this place slays Wild Ginger for regionally authentic Burmese, Indian, & Southeast asian cuisine--in fact, dishes have been known to pop up on W.G.'s menu after being scouted out at Mandalay, yup.

Their wine list is fabulous with some of the most poetic descriptors (penned by Erik) on any menu--even I couldn't dream these things up! Take for example his notes for a 2000 Brundlmayer, Gruner Veltliner:

"If you're okay with Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blancs and are truly in search of a food / wine epiphany try this Gruner Veltliner. Let this Austrian march across your table with a sweet blooming dandelion, white pepper bouquet of security before the surprise attack in your mouth delivered on steel toe boots of gresh chives, green citrus melon, and stony flint."

Img_1302_1 Of course, I'm a sucker for people who have a poetic appreciation for wine... And even though their list of Rieslings is to die for, Erik is open to wine appreciators bringing in truly special bottles & keeps corkage cheap. We all sat down & enjoyed this sinfully rich Clos Nelin (the white Priorat from Clos Mogador) over the course of our last meal there, making it a doubly memorable experience.

I plan on spending a long & lavish evening here on my birthday next month, but in the meantime I hope to go as often as I can. But before this turns into another trendy eatery for every-increasing condo-dwellers of Wallingford, please, please go & indulge yourselves in some of the best global cuisine Seattle has to offer. Tell 'em Catherine (er, Ms. Proust) sent you, & spread the word! Img_1319

Mandalay Cafe

1411 N. 45th Street Seattle (206)633-0801

Of Napoleons & Zahtar: A Purple-Prose Supplement on Main St.

Img_1421_1 Dear reader, as you may recall, we last left Ms. Proust dashing off to reclaim a loaf of bread (artfully wrapped) from Porcella Urban Market as a romantic memento of a splendid lunch at the newest gourmet bastion to steal her heart on historic Main Street in Bellevue. So fickle, so impulsive is our heroine, that a $2 souvenir is just the ticket to keep the flames of her affections alive.

But look, across that crosswalk is another world, Img_1414a world of Parisian intrigue (Belle Pastry) where couples sip foamy macchiatos with abandon, the smell of butter hovers like a halo & you're all but lost in a sea of glassed-in gorgeous pastries ready to be tied up with a bow. Blogging builds up a future appetite & so each traveller selects a dessert to indulge in come sunset, a difficult task considering our full stomachs & the spendor of what lies before us...


But the perfect remedy for such sweet-entranced caravan is tahini, summac, foul mudammas at 60 cents a can! Zizo's Market is also in its two week infancy just like Porcella, but the two couldn't be further apart on the global & economical spectrum. Okay, so I broke my tone, but I loaded up on cans of beans, spices, & other exotic ingredients that have put us on the Silk Road when it comes to dining at home these days.

Behold green almonds, a fuzzy gourmand's prize according to Judy Rodgers of the Bay area Zuni Cafe, who extolls their delicate flavor. Img_1428I tried to rewind all the Mid-East recipes I've read as I walked each inch of Zizo's Market hunting down ingredients I have never seen, let alone stocked in my pantry.

But before you know it, the owner was tasting us on spiralled butter cookies stuffed with Nutella & you know how expensive pinenuts are, so let's take a bag of those from the frozen section & wait there's yogurt sodas...!!! Img_1426Keep your head screwed on tightly because there's too much to look at without a strong shot of Turkish coffee to keep you focused.

While I was clearly thinking of future exotic menus in our own kitchen, there's a line up of sandwiches from shawerma to mortadella (who knew?) with a felafel option that would be perfect for those who reside or work eastside. Img_1435_1Their fresh bar is immaculate & appetite-inspiring even with a full stomach & brimming basket. This is exactly the kind of food I crave in warmer months, but the rainfall of late has had me craving tahini-doused greens, minted-lamb meatballs & Persian pilaf. I love having Mondays free where I can take my time & stomp off into the garden to pick herbs, peruse my new plantings of Savvoy cabbage & have a spot of Verdejo clouds or shine.Img_1436_5

Img_1424It took us no more than fifteen minutes to beat it on down the line to this happening little strip in Bellevue from our new home on the south end. I may have found a secret indulgence & affinity for what I never would have dreamed before... If you can find Tasmanian brie at Renton Thriftway, the times, they are a changin'. Happy Birthday Bob!

Img_1413 Belle Pastry

10246-A Main Street, Bellevue 425.289.0015

Img_1438 Zizo Market

10204 Main Street, Bellevue 425.646.ZIZO