Lords of the Jungle

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Two of the nicest people in Frelard are Perfecto Rocher and his partner, Alia Zaine, behind the counter at Tarsan i Jane. Rocher's grandfather was a shepherd and opponent of Franco who had to hide out in the hills between Barcelona and Valencia on the eastern coast of Spain; with a long beard and wild ways, they called him Tarzan. Even today, the people of Catalonia maintain a fierce independence and even a separate language. When he visited his grandfather's mountain hideout, Rocher was in charge of the ducks, the chickens, the rabbits. On a day off at the beach he encountered Alia, a traveling American; they moved together to Los Angeles, where they both found work in restaurants.

Familiar story: they wanted their own place, they wanted a smaller city, so they came to Washington (Valencia is the same size as Seattle), and found a ready-made space where Heong Soon Park had been running his third restaurant, Tray. One too many; he had his hands full with a young family and two other spots, Bacco and Chan. Now the space will be home to the wood-fired cuisine of the Spanish countryside and the Mediterranean coast.

"The dining experience at Tarsan I Jane is based on trust," it says on the menu. It's a challenge that goes in both directions. "We trust our diners to be open minded, adventurous, and inquisitive eaters. In return, guests can be confident our kitchen will provide a one-of-a-kind culinary sampling that draws on local producers, seasonal crops, and a deep passion for mixing modern techniques with traditional cuisine."

In practice, it means, well, yes, paella on Sundays. Dinner à la carte on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Spanish wines, but local carrots, for example. A dish described on the menu as "pastenaga" promises "carrot in textures," garnished with crispy kale. A roasted carrot, a puréed carrot, and a garlicky carrot salad surmounted by a green sail. Admirable artistry, to be sure, but nothing in the flavors made me think, "Ah, now that's a carrot." I want to return, though, and sample the tomato-garlic toast with botifarra sausage, the arros caldos, the polp a la brasa. Five courses, chef decides. And I'll definitely come back for the paella.

You might have to abandon your ride in the car wash across the street because Leary Way is a tough cookie, but I think it's going to be worth the effort to find parking.

Tarsan i Jane, 4012 Leary Way NW, Seattle, 206-557-7059  Tray Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunrise for Sunset Chicken

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You may recall, a few weeks back, that I stamped my foot impatiently inside Rachel's Ginger Beer, demanding to know more about the long-promised pop-up, Sunset Sandwiches. Steady, boy. They've got all their issues sorted out now, and I'm pleased to report that the result is one of the tastiest morsels in Capitol Hill, at 1610 12th Ave.

The inventor of the Sunset, if we can designate such a person, is Monica Dimas, an imaginative Seattle chef whose travels have taken her to gastronomic capitals like Los Angeles and New Orleans, where fried chicken sandwiches are more common.

In the end, Dimas says, she reverted to the sandwich that was sometimes served as a staff meal at McCrady's, in Charleston, South Carolina, where she had interned: brined in buttermilk, dredged in seasoned flour, golden-fried, stacked high and topped with slaw, pickles and spicy mayo.

There are a couple of variations (spicy, vegetarian), but I'm inclined to stick with the original. As for the ginger beer, there are now several cocktail options, including a drink called the Porch Swing. It's made with gin and aperol -- sort of a mild, ginger Negroni, which makes a good aperitivo while you're waiting for the Sunset.

And yes, they're expanding to Portland soon, but this is here and now, and it's damn good. Eat your hearts out, Shake Shack and Chick-fil-A.

Rachel's Ginger Beer, 1610 12th Avenue   Rachel's Ginger Beer Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Rock On, Dude

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'Twas two years ago the folks at Hard Rock Cafe overlooking the Pike Place Market realized they weren't gettin' no respect from foodies, so they had a bunch of us over for supper and brews, and showed off their collection of rock-star memorabilia (Eddie Vedder's acoustic guitar, for example). Hundreds of Hard Rock locations these days, most of them franchised.

No fewer than 425 seats in the Seattle place, on three or four levels, depending on the weather because there's seating on the roof as well with a great view. One entire floor transforms into a performance venue. The menu is a mashup of "faux-Seattle" and "faux-southern" so you get burgers, wings, nachos, and so on.

The news today is that the building has been sold. The Hard Rock is staying, but the new owner is shelling out nearly $21 million for the real estate. Who? An investment trust from Noo Yawk, natch. Their first venture in Seattle. Not bad for a former pawnshop, eh?

Hard Rock Café, 116 Pike St., Seattle, 206-204-2233  Hard Rock Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Green Fairy alights in Belltown

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Absinthe has come to Belltown. Cecy Graf (left), a native of New Orleans who worked for 15 years as a financial manager for a Seattle law firm, has opened Absinthe Brasserie in Belltown. She takes over the space at First & Battery that had been occupied by Lost Pelican, and before that by Bisato and Lampreia. Graf's restaurant experience came before she left Louisiana, when she worked in bars on Bourbon Street in NOLA.

Absinthe Brasserie is opening with seven absinthe labels on the list, and more on the horizon (Pacifique for starters) as they become available. The current selection includes Grüne Fée, La Clandestine, Butterfly, St. George, Lucid, and Nouvelle Orleans in addition to Pernod Absinthe.

As Riley Green demonstrates (above right), the absinthe service is "traditional," with ice water dripping from an ornate fountain onto a sugar cube on a slotted spoon atop the glass. Service is also available for two ("Tête à Tête") and for four or more. There's also a list of older, almost forgotten cocktails on the drinks menu.

"I'm not an absinthe expert," Graf admits, "but I am from the Big Easy. And we're getting Gwydion Stone to come in for staff training." Stone, a Seattle-based artisan distiller (Marteau) was the first to champion absinthe after the Feds lifted the ban a decade ago.

The brasserie's kitchen is in the hands of a chef from Florida, Dan Schwartz, and will feature southern comfort food like hush puppies, sweet-potato fries, fried green tomatoes, gumbo, catfish, crawfish pasta, and seafood po-boys.

There will be two happy hours daily, from 4 to 6:30 and from 10 to closing. At 1,500 square feet, Absinthe Brasserie seats 40 indoors, with space for another dozen or so at sidewalk tables. After a soft opening last week, Graf plans a grand opening on Memorial Day weekend.

Official website: www.absinthebrasserie.com

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