Tuesday, September 29, 2009

I pondered the "Yellow Terror" exhibit at the Wing Luke Asian Museum

(with props to the Wing Luke)

From K.

Sometimes, art is art for art's sake. Other times, it makes a statement about who we are and how we live. "Yellow Terror" at the Wing Luke in the Chinatown/ID definitely is the latter.

I checked out the exhibit on opening night after dinner at nearby Green Leaf with a foursome of girlfriends, not quite sure what we'd find but assured by our friend J. that it'd blow our minds. An hour later, after being moved to tears by Roger Shimomura's collection of World War II-era anti-Japanese, anti-Oriental ... memorabilia, for want of a better word, I was startled anew at how easy it is to coerce a nation toward hate.

Movie posters boasted of sailors taking on housefuls of geisha girls. Valentine cards emblazoned with Chinamen told sweethearts "I chink I'll be your Valentine." Even Dr. Seuss was in on the act, illustrating a variety of buck-toothed Japanese warriors for postcards during his stint as a talented propagandist. What hurt my heart most, though, were the "hunting licenses" not for deer or elk but for "Japs," which I hope were issued in jest. But you never really know what's going on in peoples' heads, do you?

Shimomura's paintings are eye-poppingly shocking. He favors the pop-art style of Warhol and Lichtenstein, though his twist is to relate his feelings of isolation by portraying himself as a searingly yellow, bucktoothed stranger aside comic book-perfect Caucasians. Click here to see more. I stared at "American Portrait #2" for at least 10 minutes, trying to take it all in.

"Yellow Terror" is open through April 18. At the very least, see it to also check out the Wing Luke, which is filled with fascinating glimpses into Asian-American history and the West Coast immigrant experience.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I brunched at Volterra

From K.

Brunch is my definition of the perfect meal. It's rarely eaten in a hurry; we love to linger over our plates, perhaps because we're stuffed to the point of immobility. It's typically rife with bacon, cheese and yeasty goodness like waffles and cinnamon rolls. It's often fancy and casual simultaneously.

I experienced all these things at Volterra, a Ballard restaurant I'd long maligned after a bad dinner experience on a recent birthday. "Go for brunch. It's their best meal," my friends advised me. How right they were.

Our table of six lovely ladies ordered a frittata, the wild mushroom scramble with truffle cheese, the chestnut pancakes, their un-traditionally good Traditional Breakfast and plenty of their delectable sausage and bacon. I thoroughly enjoyed my scramble, the way it blended salty and sweet and savory. I was surprised by what I admired most on my square white porcelain plate, though: the most ideal hashbrowns I've ever encountered.

Best of all, we walked out into the crisp fall sunlight with the Ballard Farmers Market just steps away. After all, it was time to start pondering dinner ingredients...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I made lots and lots of fresh cheese...

From N.

This was going to be a beautiful post with lots of messy pictures of the cheese-making and pasta-making process. Then my phone died. So instead, it will be a long, beautiful post about the making of cheese and pasta without pictures. (And if you really need a visual, imagine big pots of simmering milk.)

I arrived at my friend E.'s house last week bearing a bottle of Maker's Mark whisky, two gallons of whole milk and prosciutto. The party was bound to be good.

E. had invited me to her house for an end-of-summer Garden Party. It's her first year gardening and she has been plying me with zucchini, gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and herbs from her backyard bounty. I'm ridiculously jealous of her green thumb.

Being the type to think with our stomachs first, we decided to make everything from scratch. The menu: salad, homemade pizza topped with homemade fresh mozzarella and ricotta, fresh pasta stuffed with ricotta and tossed with homemade pesto and cherry tomatoes, mojitoes and mint juleps with mint from her garden, and a pear crisp for dessert.

If it sounds like a lot, it was. Flour flew, mint was muddled, milk curdled, whey was drained, a toddler was fed. The only real secret to pulling together that dinner in 2 1/2 hours is E. is a whiz with the food processor.

The cheese was both simpler and harder than I thought. Ricotta uses easy-to-find ingredients and mainly takes time and comes out all lovely and pillowy. Mozzarella, however, requires citric acid and rennet only available at cheese stores. You have to gauge temperature carefully, heat it in the microwave and knead it while wearing rubber gloves. Whey and curds are messy. And for all that work, you get the equivalent of about two balls of fresh mozzarella. It wasn't as smooth as the stuff in the stores, but it was extremely delicious.

We put cheese on everything. We topped one pizza with ricotta, pesto and prosciutto and another with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and parmesan. Sometimes it's better not to know what goes into your food; I probably drank the equivalent of half a gallon of whole milk that night.

But the tomatoes and cucumbers were divine, and the ricotta raviolis were amazing. The pizza was addicting. We even managed to throw a pear crisp in the oven in the midst of Garden Bounty Madness and I put away a bowl, despite my stomach's protests.

The next time lasagna makes it onto my menu, I'll invest the time to make fresh ricotta. But I'll probably buy the mozzarella. Even crazy people have to draw the line somewhere.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I took in live jazz at Jazz Alley

From K.

I've meant to visit Jazz Alley for eons now. Well, at least since the early 90s. And now I wish I'd gone earlier, before The Triple Door opened and spoiled me.

Don't get me wrong. Jazz Alley is a fine spot to take in live music, like the John Patitucci Trio, which played a set that veered between melancholy and vibrant last night (I was mesmerized by his bass fingering and the versatility of the drummer). It had an intimate atmosphere and decent acoustics. But I couldn't help comparing the two. Both have swell desserts, though Triple Door's gelato banana split wins hands down. The Triple Door is lucky enough to offer a menu from Wild Ginger, which sits just upstairs. Jazz Alley's cuisine is just OK. Then, there's the view. Jazz Alley has a handy, open-air balcony that offers great views of the stage, if you don't mind waking up with a crick in your neck the next morning, as I did today. Triple Door lets most of its guests have a straight-on view of the musical action.

At least I loved the music :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I watched the Maldives, Shim, Thee Emergency and Pickwick at the Tractor

From N.

I can't say I love alt country. I'm often about nasally indie rock bands. But I have been enamoured with locals The Maldives since Capitol Hill Block Party. Their mournful music and clear voices appealed to me. Plus the hype around their three-day CD release party that coincided with the 15th birthday of The Tractor Tavern was unavoidable in social media world.

I snagged tickets on the last night of the sold-out three day Tractor extravaganza. There were a lot of openers, including Pickwick, who I liked despite the name. The lead singer had an amazing voice and the alt rock band had an appealing sound that I want to listen to more. Thee Emergency, on the other hand, could use an emergency makeover. They were out of tune, their music wandered and they had no cohesive sound that I could make out. The lead singer had a strong voice, but that was about the only redeeming quality of the band. I've heard before they're talented, but I disagree and wouldn't waste my time with them again.

The next opener, Shim, was unexpectedly amazing. The two lead singers are throwback 70s with their long curly hair, but they had incredible stage presence with their arena rock music. Those two are meant to be rock stars. The band was powerful, and while it's not music I'd ever listen to at home, they are worth catching for the performance. They also had a rather fratty and drunk following who pumped their arms as they sang the words to every song. (Arm in the picture is from one aforementioned fratty follower.)

By the time The Maldives showed up, it was 12:15 and my ears were ringing from Shim. Still, the Maldives put on a helluva show.

Their music feels so lonely and quiet when you listen to them through headphones, but on stage, they are an intense, powerful rock band. I loved watching them jam and was swept up in their performance that night. If you don't already love them, you should.

Tractor Tavern
5213 Ballard Ave NW

Monday, September 7, 2009

Je mange a la Boat Street Cafe...

From N.

For the official Frenchified honeymoon send-off for newlyweds P. and M. before their trip to the south of France and Paris, I joined the happy couple and a few friends at Boat Street Cafe. The French sendoff was fun and there were a few people at the table who actually know the language. I was once one of them. But no longer. I have forgotten all my high school French and there will be almost zero cutesy French phrases in this post. I know you are tres desolee.

A few French restaurant ideas were tossed around before they decided where to eat, including Cafe Campagne and Maximilien in Pike Place Market, but I was super excited when they chose Boat Street. I've heard from many people that it is superb.

I immediately adored the tiny space, tucked downstairs in a building on Western Avenue, with its white walls and French country air made luminous with hanging lanterns. We had the kitchen table, and gathered around bowls of blue and white M&M's from the bride. The menu is packed with elegant, straightforward French options like the seriously divine Boat Street pate ($12), steamed mussels with chorizo ($15) and whole roasted poussin ($24), which I must inform you is chicken in case you think it's fish. Yes, my French is THAT BAD.

Boat Street does simple things perfectly, like bread. Mini Columbia City baguettes came hot with butter, nicoise olives and olive oil. We devoured it. I could only find happiness in the pate appetizer of perfectly creamy mild mousse served with crisp toasts. And for my entree, I had housemade sausage ($18), which came with a few beautiful potatoes and lots of caramelized onions. It was simple, almost peasant style food, but the pork sausage was balanced between fat and flavor, and the potatoes cut the richness. The caramelized onions added acidity and depth.

I also loved P's shrimp. I don't remember the preparation but I remember lots of butter and garlic and deliciousness. I am not often wowed by shrimp, but really thought hers were wonderful.

Other dishes like a spring onion and tomato flan ($18) and crab cakes also looked amazing. The dishes were often simple, not overwrought, and I appreciated the care the restaurant took to edit the dishes to keep them interesting yet straightforward.

I don't eat French much beyond Capitol Hill's Cafe Presse, but I adored Boat Street and given any reason, like the whole grilled sardines ($18) I spotted on the online menu, would be back in a heartbeat. Actually, I could take a whole plate of those sardines right now. I'm not kidding. Tout. De. Suite.

Bon Voyage P. and M.!

Boat Street Cafe
3131 Western Ave. #301
Seattle, WA
(206) 632-4602

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