lola, seattle

We went to Lola over a month ago, and I’m only just now getting around to writing about it.

It had a more casual, relaxed atmosphere than I was expecting. And it was cozy, with an open kitchen and friendy waitstaff.

We had the skordalia appetizer. We asked what it was when we ordered it, but if we hadn’t known, we never would have guessed that it was bread. I would have said it was some kind of bean. It was odd to spread bread onto bread, but it was yummy.

P. had the lamb burger with chickpea fries and I mixed and matched and got a chicken kabob, smashed garlic potatoes, and sauteed pea vines and chard. I’m a potatoes kind of girl, but I loved the chickpea fries. I want to make them at home, although I’m thinking they aren’t the healthiest food ever. I was on the fence about the sauteed greens. I like both pea vines and chard, but didn’t love them together. (I first had pea vines when I was out with the Seattle food bloggers and like it so much that I tracked some down and made it at home.)

We also tried a Greek white wine. We’d had red Greek wines before (and, in fact, have a few bottles in our wine racks right now), but had never tried the white. I have the name written down somewhere. I’ll have to dig it out later. We finished the meal with this great goat cheese and honey pastry (they put a candle on it because P. told them that it was my birthday when he made the reservation, damn him).

I’m sure it seems weird since I live in Seattle(ish) and love food, but this was my first visit to a Tom Douglas restaurant. I’ll have to remedy that soon.

no time for cooking

We actually did do some cooking on the 4th, but mostly, we’ve been eating out. When you’re packing and moving and unpacking, there’s no time to cook, no room to prepare, and no food in the refrigerator. So, here are a few mini-reviews of a few places we’ve been.

Cafe Juanita, Kirkland, WA
We’ve been here before, and as much as we enjoyed it last time, I think this time may have been even better. Last time we went, it was New Year’s Eve, so it was a little more of a formal atmosphere. This time, it was a lot more relaxing. In fact, the waiter said that one reason he loves working there is that it’s not at all stuffy. We took P.’s parents as a thank you for helping us move.

After we ordered, we took a walk through the herb garden as the hostess suggested, although it was getting pretty dark. (It was probably about 9:30.) But it was beautiful out there. P.’s dad had the Limoncello Martini with Caprino Crostino, which I had a sip of, and which was excellent. We also ordered a couple of bottles of wine, but I’ll give them their own entry, since they were so good and anyway, I left the paper with the names on them that the waiter wrote down for us at home.

I had the Prosciutto di Parma with Ninety Farms Fava Beans and Pecorino Staginato and P.’s dad had the Seared Foie Gras with Bing Cherries, Candied Ginger, Cocoa Nibs and Vin Santo. I admit, his was a little better than mine. The foie gras was seared on the outside, which gave it a wonderful crispness. P. and his mom both had Hearts of Romaine with Parmigiano Reggiano, Garlicky Lemon Vinaigrette and Toasted Breadcrumb, also excellent. My appetizer was mostly prosciutto, and while it was really good, I’m not much of a “meat-only” kind of person. I was hoping for more fava beans, but they were tiny. I think it’s pretty early in the season for them.

I also had the soup of the day, which was a chicken broth with handmade noodles and I am so not doing it justice with that description. The waiter brought four spoons, even though only two of us had ordered it, because he said that without fail, people request more spoons once they’ve tasted it. It was a good call.

Then, I had the Barbaresco Risotto with Braised Oxtail. I asked the waiter if I should get the smaller or larger dish, since I was getting so much other food. He said I’d probably only have room for the small, but I should get the large because everyone else would be sneaking bites. My only other experience with oxtail was a sandwich at Salumi. I didn’t think I’d ever experience a better oxtail dish. I was wrong. This was the best risotto I’d ever had. P.’s mom had the Sheep’s Cheese Gnocchi with Cherry Tomato Salsa Fresca or with Ninety Farms Veal Sugo and Sweet Loraine Fava Beans. And both P. and his dad had Grilled Dry Aged RibEye Chop with Walla Walla Salad Onions and Balsamic. P.’s dad said it was the best steak he ever had.

I didn’t have much room left for dessert, so I got some Gianduja and Sea Salt Chocolates. Sea salt and chocolate. Brilliant combination.

The food was great, but the service was just as good. Our waiter was attentive, but not oppressive. He was very knowledgeable about the wines and just in general kept things casual and non-stuffy. I would go there all the time, but then, of course, I would be very broke.

Sage’s, Redmond, WA
I don’t know why I’m even linking to their site, actually, since it doesn’t seem to actually work. Well, maybe you’ll have better luck. (Oh yes, it’s just Firefox it doesn’t like. IE seems to work just fine.) The site says “Don’t come here if you are in a rush though, Chef Bart makes all his dishes from scratch and he prepares everything himself. Plan on spending some time, and enjoying yourself. You know that what you order is prepared by him and not a side chef. He takes great pride in his dishes and strives to please his customers.” We though it was eh. The people we were with really liked it, but anytime the menu includes phrases like “our popular pink sauce”, you have to wonder. I mean, don’t you? The chicken gorgonzola was excellent (how can you go wrong with blue cheese and cream), as was the tomato soup (again, with the cream) but everything else our table had (caprese, chicken ravioli, clam linguini, gnocchi, and a salmon pasta) were just OK.

The waiter seemed a little irritated at us the entire time, like we were putting him out, but there were only maybe two other parties in the restaurant, so I can’t imagine we made things that difficult. We ordered a bottle of pinot grigio (the only Italian pinot grigio on their wine list, sadly) and it was again, just OK. We went to order a second bottle of wine and the waiter automatically went to get the same one. I asked if we could see the wine list again so we could try something else and he seemed very annoyed and said that if we were going to get a red, we may as well get the special as it was only $28. I would have rather looked over the wine list, but P.’s dad said we should give it a try. It was OK. But not as good as I would have expected from the wine specifically recommended by the waiter.

The entire wine list was a little sad anyway. One Italian pinot grigio in an Italian restaurant? I notice they had the Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay listed for $70. And yes, I realize that the markup on wines in restaurants is huge, but that seems a little excessive for a wine you can get for $35 at the grocery store. Part of what I figure I am paying for in the restaurant markup is the restaurant’s research. They are doing the work to find me unique and different wines to try. That’s worth paying for. A wine list that looks like someone ran down to Safeway that afternoon and picked up whatever was on special isn’t quite the same.

Mayuri, Bellevue, WA
I got takeout the other night, so I can’t speak for the ambiance. The saag paneer was great. The chicken korma was just OK, but I’ve started to realize that when I don’t like the chicken korma, it’s not that I don’t like the sauce generally. It’s that the dish has dark meat in it, rather than chicken breasts, and I just don’t like dark meat at all. So, I think that was the problem. The naan was pretty good also, although not the best ever or anything. But definitely worth a return trip to check out some other dishes. I think I should try their lunch buffet next.

Raga, Kirkland, WA
A friend and I tried the lunch buffet last week. We were the only people in their, which seemed odd at noon during the week. A guy was in front, yelling at someone on a cell phone. The waitress seated us and tried to discreetly motion the man to the back. He went into a back room, and we could hear his muffled yelling continue. I tried a little of everything in the buffet, but nothing really stood out. It was just OK. Not memorable or really worth going back.

P.’s parents are going to Lola in Seattle tonight and unfortunately, we have to miss it. Well, maybe next time

restaurant review

I’m not very good about writing things about restaurant experiences. I don’t know how people do it, really. Do they steal the menu? Secretly jot down little notes throughout the meal? By the time we finish the bottle of wine, all I have is a vague recollection of the whole thing. So, instead, I present mini-reviews. I don’t claim that these will provide much information, but if you’re looking for just a vague, random sense of a place, look no further!

La Costa – Issaquah, WA
We wanted to try a new Mexican place. We normally go to Torero’s in Bellevue, and we really like it, but we thought we’d try something different. It was OK. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t Azteca bad or anything. The margaritas were marginal, unfortunately. They had this “we came from a mix” vibe to them, so that was disappointing. I had fajitas and P. and enchiladas. They give you salsa and bean dip with the chips. The bean dip is surprisingly good.

Casa Vallarta – Bellevue, WA
We don’t like it quite as much as Torero’s, but it’s pretty good. They margaritas are really good. They have many choices, and I recall that mine was better than P.’s. Of course, I don’t recall what mine was called, but it had several tequilas in it, and maybe grand manier. We didn’t try the flavored ones, but they have a bunch of those too.

Cascade Garden – Issaquah, WA
We got Chinese takeout from this place the other night. We normally get takeout from Hunan Garden in Bellevue, and this definitely wasn’t as good. We got Mongolian beef, General Tso’s chicken, and vegetable spring rolls. The spring rolls were crunchy, which was good. The Mongolian beef was OK, but just nowhere near as good a Hunan Garden.

Grazie Ristorante – Bellevue, WA
This Italian restaurant is behind Factoria mall. We really like it. They send the waiters to Italy to learn about the food and wine there. They have a nice selection of wines. I really liked the one we tried last time, but of course I can’t recall what it was (other than it was an Italian white). They group the wines by region in the wine list. I did take the cork home, thinking that would help me remember, but when I looked at it later, I saw that it had no name on it. Damn cork. They give you a dipping sauce for the bread with just olive oil and garlic. That’s an evil little dipping sauce because you end up wanting to guzzle olive oil all night. I think the spaghettini pomodoro is my favorite.

Marina Park Grill – Kirkland, WA
I’ve only been here for lunch, but everything I’ve had has been really good. None of it seems to be very low fat though…

So, there you have it. Mini-reviews from the East side. More as the situation warrants…

XXX Rootbeer, Issaquah

Memorial Day weekend, P. and I were completely exhausted from moving heavy furniture all day and P. suggested we grab some burgers. Actually, he said, “well, since we’re eating badly today anyway, we may as well have burgers.” And I said, “when did we eat badly today?” “Tonight, when we have burgers!” Gotcha.

And then I remembered reading about XXX Rootbeer in Issaquah. So, off we went. We actually were planning to have root beer floats anyway, so I ordered some root beer, which they gave me in a frosty mug to enjoy while our food was being cooked. They transferred it to a to go cup once everything was ready.

I had no idea what to order, but I ended up getting a cheeseburger that came with the best chili cheese fries. P. got some pig-inspired creation, with ham and bacon and some other kind of pork. And onion rings. The root beer really was some of the best I’ve had. As were the extremely messy, oversized burgers. If you plan to eat there (which we didn’t), just be prepared for an overabundance of 50′s fun.

(Speaking of burgers, we were in LA this weekend, so I was able to clog my arteries with both In-n-Out and a Carl’s Jr. western bacon cheeseburger, so I think I’ve met my burger quota for a while.)

Cherry Street Coffeehouse

I got a latte from the original Cherry Street Coffeehouse nearly every week day for a year when I worked on the same block. Coworkers and I would escape there, drink our coffee down the stairs near the painted fireplace. When we ran out of conference rooms, we’d have meetings there. When I needed to edit or write in quiet, I would sneak away with a printout or my laptop and work in the corner.

Now that I work on the East side, I rarely am able to go, but I never pass up on opportunity. A friend from out of town and I were in Seattle for a conference, and rather than make due with the Starbucks at the convention center, we drove over to Pioneer Square. My friend said she might dream about her latte forever. She made me drive her back the next day so she could have one more opportunity before she went home.

Cherry Street Coffeehouse is not just about coffee. It’s about community.

Here, there is no customer service because there is no customer. We are building individual relationships through mutual respect and forging a great community through the fire of love.

Pick up one of Ali’s cards while you’re there.

I am searching for the moment that I am so intoxicated with love that if you offered me another cup, I could not take it.

Ali, the owner, does the graphics himself, on his computer. Sometimes you’ll find a new saying on the side of the cup, or on a little sign near the lids.

It doesn’t matter how dark it gets out there, when you are the light.

Ali doesn’t just want to serve great coffee, although he certainly does. He wants to be a light in the community. He is.