Part 1 of Edible Seattle.
Immediately upon arrival in Seattle, we head straight to Ballard to La Carta de Oaxaca for a late lunch. The cuisine here is that of Oaxaca, the city and state often referred to as the culinary capital of Mexico. If I ever go to Mexico, this is the version of it I'll be interested in. Enjoy your beach resorts, this is my idea of the ultimate Mexican vacation.
This family restaurant feels confident. You won't find any pinatas and sombreros in this Mexican eatery. You enter into a fresh, monochromatic room with an artistic yet still rustic feel. Every inch of wall space is covered with a collection of black and white photography of Oaxaca. White washed wainscoting and simple clapboard tables make the perfect complement to the red brick walls. The decor is so relaxed it seems unintentional. This place does what it does well, so it doesn't need to convince you that you are in a Mexican restaurant with the usual decor. Upon entering the first thing you notice is the women at a griddle and the incredible smell of just cooked corn tortillas and spices in the air. There are a handful of young male servers- extremely efficient and friendly. Everything here is made from scratch, including the thin, incredibly corn-y tortillas, such a revelation to most of us who will rarely have the opportunity to try a fresh masa corn tortilla. Beside the bar a line of rustic bowls filled with a variety of fresh made salsas, thin, authentic and brimming with flavours, filled often.
We start with a house made Agua fresca- a cold drink made from fruit or herbs, lightly sweetened- this one made of hibiscus flowers and is a gorgeous deep crimson. Just the right sweetness and acidity to go alongside a basket of warm, crispy, handmade tortillas chips and a bowl of unadulterated guacamole- simple avocado a hint of cilantro, chile and lime. Simple perfection! Did I mention the fresh made tortilla chips?
When the chicken tamales come to the table they demand attention. A large, leathery, brown envelope of banana leaves looks unassuming. With anticipation, we carefully unwrap it. Steam escapes, carrying all these complex aromas. Our mouths water. Forget the camera! Gotta eat! Inside is a dumpling of sorts. A moist mixture of masa, steamed chicken and their famous mole (a destination dish alone) make this dish unforgettable. While I'll admit this is the first tamale I've ever eaten, so I am no expert, but I'm fairly confident that this is as good as it gets. Perfectly cooked black beans are the perfect accompaniment. This as a must try here.
Many of us grew up thinking tacos were a much different dish than the photo below and what a shame. A bigger shame is the number of people that will live their lives not knowing what a real taco is. Well, let me tell you. This is IT! Thin, subtle, fresh white corn tortillas warmed, topped with chunks of moist barbecued spiced pork and restrained sprinkling of fresh chopped cilantro and onions. Topped off with a couple of their glorious salsas and I am so very happy....
Pacing ourselves just a bit we head downtown for an evening of very different experiences. Our first stop is Belltown tapas bar, Txori. Basque tapas to be exact. This is part of the team that owns extremely popular Harvest Vine another great Seattle restaurant. This snug hoppin' little tapas bar serves traditional tapas which means each order is really only 2 bites. Their menu is diverse and there is something for everyone. We enjoyed a Spanish Kir cocktail with a few little bites as a great pre dinner snack. The menu has simple plates of olives or more interesting chorizo and chocolate combinations along with assorted cheeses and a number of hot dishes such as beautiful crunchy spiced chickpeas and little meatballs. This is the perfect place to grab one of their inventive cocktails or Spanish wine and a few bites at any time of day, but especially late at night.
Next stop, Serious Pie! We first visited Serious Pie 2 weeks after it opened in 2006 and we've been talking about it ever since. Owned by Seattle restaurant guru, Tom Douglas, the name of this place says it all. It's a small room with communal bar height tables which contribute to the lively neighborly feel and an open view of the wood fire oven. The menu consists of a small selection of perfectly crafted pies from my favourite Wild Mushroom with Truffle Cheese to the classic Margeurita that includes buffalo milk mozzarella and San Marzana tomatoes (the best of the best) as well as offerings with arugula and egg and even clams. To make decisions difficult there is always a special or two to choose from. Luckily this is perfect sharing food so go with a group. A varied and affordable Italian wine list rounds out a few well done salads, but I usually leave room for the main event. These pies usually do not feature a tomato sauce base, usually only have about 3 ingredients which are all of utmost quality and is NOT loaded with cheese. In fact some have none at all. The crust is thin, chewy and crunchy all at the same time, perfectly charred by the wood oven and so much flavour from a long cold fermentation process. Each pie comes fresh from the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of course salt. If this doesn't sound like pizza to you, come to be enlightened. And don't expect to say much to your date when the food comes. Its hard to concentrate on anything but the amazing taste of this pizza once its steaming in front of you.