Monday, January 31, 2011

Gorgeous George's @ Seattle

If you have been reading my blog, my love for Middle Eastern food, especially for Mediterranean Kitchen (MK) must be quite evident. But, once in a while, I like to try different Middle Eastern restaurants and compare them to MK. And so, for lunch on Saturday, Yelp reviews were scouted and Gorgeous George's was picked for two reasons. One, the owner / Chef George is Middle Eastern. So, the food must be authentic. And two, the rave reviews about the hospitality made us believe it would be a great dining experience all together. We were not wrong. The food and George, both were gorgeous!

So, we got there with rumbling stomachs, at 11:30 am on Saturday, to find the restaurant closed. George came to the door to tell that lunch was from noon to 2:30 pm. Oh boy. We had half an hour to kill. It was raining, so walking up and down Greenwood Ave was not a very pleasing idea. On top that, we had got a good parking spot which we would lose if we drove around and came back later. So we chose to remain in the car.

We went back again at noon and they were open. The waitress showed us to a table by the window, brought our menus and water. The water had a slice of cucumber floating it in, making it very refreshing. I have had water with the standard lemon wedge that usually makes me gag, but this was much better! It just shows that they care about every little thing. The restaurant is fairly small, not more than 25 people can dine at one time. There was the usual "Habibi..." song playing in the background and I could even hear George singing along, in the kitchen.

Gorgeous George's
The waitress brought a complimentary plate of their famous Hummus. I am not sure if it is complimentary at all times; I think they gave it out of courtesy because we had to wait for thirty minutes. Whatever, the Hummus was so beautifully plated that I didn't want to ruin it by digging into it. It was shaped like a volcano with a crater in the middle, filled with olive oil and drizzled with sumac and other herbs.

Hummus @ Gorgeous George's
It was not as garlicky as the MK's Hummus. In fact, it was not as lemony as well. But, it was of a kind and was delicious. May be that's how they make it in Palestine, which is where George is from. The pita bread was fatter than the the usual ones I have had. It was more like Naan, again, may be specific to the Palestinian region. I tore the pita, scooped some hummus and shamelessly licked the Olive oil dripping from my fingers. It was sooo good!!

Hummus and Pita @ Gorgeous George's
George came out to take our orders. A asked him if he could make a Veggie Shawarma, but he said, "I have only one veggie - Falafel". Oh well, we'll have the Falafel, we said, a tad disappointed. We also asked for Zahara, the appetizer. The Zahara and the Falafel were brought out at the same time. One look at the food and we knew it was going to be awesome.

Zahara (Fried Cauliflower Topped with a Light Tahini Saucewas good. The cauliflower was brown and crispy, it lacked a little salt, but we sprinkled some from the salt and pepper shaker kept on our table. The tahini sauce was sparingly used.  Despite the qualms, it was still dellicious. MK gives a bigger portion of Zahara for the same cost, doesn't need any salt and is smothered lavishly in Tanihi sauce. There, I said it.

Zahra @ Gorgeous George's
Next, the Falafel episode. The Falafel (Vegetarian balls made of Chickpeas and Veggies Fried until Golden Brown Topped off with Tahini Sauce) plate came with four pieces of Falafel balls, a salad with a mint basil dressing with mango and papaya, that tasted fantastic (Note, MK doesn't make this ;-) ), basmati rice cooked with peas and a cup of Labnie. We suddenly remembered that the platter comes with the choice of a soup or salad. But he didn't ask us what we wanted. Usually the soup or salad is served first and then the platter is brought out. But we didn't get any, so assumed that George had forgotten about it. We asked him if it came with a soup and he said yes, he would bring it right away. In two minutes, he came with a bowl of steaming hot lentil soup, that was thick and delicious.

Lentil Soup @ Gorgeous George's
He also mentioned that he was giving us the soup on top of the salad. It then hit us that he was talking about the salad in the Falafel platter. But, we never asked for the salad. Am not sure how he decided to serve the salad over the soup, without asking our preference.

Falafel Platter @ Gorgeous George's
 Anyway, the Falafels were good too. Crunchy on the outside and soft inside. The dressing on the salad was out of this world. But here's the other qualm. There is a split charge of $3.95, which is not justified. You share an entree with someone else and you have to pay for it? Why? They don't give a bigger helping just because you are sharing. It is the same sized entree. I know MK at Bellevue charges a splitting cost, but that is justified. They give two soups, unlimited pita bread and the garlic dip. Gorgeous George's doesn't give any of this, yet doesn't fail to charge the splitting cost. Um hm...not very happy about that.

In the end, we ordered the Pistachio Walnut Baklava, that sure looked and tasted absolutely toothsome.

Baklava @ Gorgeous George's
We walked out of GG feeling content. The great food and amazing service made it a helluva dining experience. George is a very gracious host and was frequently checking on us, asking us if everything was OK. It was only when we started comparing it with MK did we realize that MK is more value for money. MK gives bigger portions for the same price, service is good, uses more garlic, uses sauces generously, justifies the split charge by giving unlimited pita and garlic sauce and an extra bowl of soup. And, they make Veggie Shawarma, though it is not listed on the menu.

So, yes MK is still at the top of the list.

NOTE :- This review is specific to Vegetarian Entrees only.

Gorgeous George's on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cha-Ya Japanese @ San Francisco

We knew two things about Cha-Ya before we went for dinner, two things that were obvious from looking at their menu.

One. The food is vegetarian or vegan.
Two. It is a $$$ restaurant.

A $$$ restaurant that doesn't have a Website. Call it comical, but it baffles me as to why they don't have a Website showcasing all the funky Japanese food, along the lines of Dengaku, Hangetsu, Tonchi Nasu and many more. Located in JapanTown on Valencia, Cha-Ya is small and kind of cramped, when you pull a chair, watch out, because you could literally be sitting on some one's back. The maximum seating capacity is 25-30.

At 8:45 pm, we weren't the first people there -or the last. They close at 9:30 pm. The restaurant was almost full. The lady who was our waitress/hostess/busser, showed us to a small table in the corner, at the back. Not a problem, I like a room that's buzzing with people.

The waitress brought our menus and water. One flip through the menu and we were overwhelmed. We knew we were getting the Sushi (Hell, which one?), but that still left a whole lot of menu to cover. Cha-Ya offers a variety of Soups, salads, sushi, rolls, entrees, combination dinners, noodles and desserts. The downside of being petite and lacking a monstrous appetite is that you can only order so much. We got the Soba Sushi ( Buckwheat Noodle Sushi) - Instead of sushi rice, the roll contains buckwheat noodles, along with spinach, atsuage tofu, asparagus, cucumber, pickled burdock, and seasoned kampyo gourd and shitake. Served with a soba dipping sauce.
Kanpyo is a shredded and dried long strip of gourd. Cooked kampyo seasoned with shoyu and mirin is an indispensable ingredient in traditional Sushi preparations. Making Sushi is an art and making one with noodles instead of rice, must be the toughest of them all. How in God's name do they stack the thin stick like noodles and roll it? Am better off just enjoying the fruits of labor.

The Uramaki Roll - Avocado Tempura Roll. The was my favorite of the day. Every time I bit into the sushi, the crisp tempura and the soft avocado dipped in the pungent wasabi-soy sauce mix, blew my mind!

The last one was Tonchi Nasu ( Stuffed Eggplant) Eggplant stuffed with satsuma potato, corn, hijiki, carrots, and soy beans. Lightly battered and deep-fried. Served with a special ginger sauce.

For a person who's knowledge of Japanese cuisine is restricted to Sushis, Sakes, Yakisoba Noodles, Tempuras and Miso Soup, this was a shocking revelation. An eye-opener. It was fantastic and exotic.

The one thing that we were not aware of is that this ludicrous $$$ restaurant accepts only cash. After emptying our pockets to the last of the dimes and pennies, we walked out of there, vowing to go back once more before getting back to Seattle, but it never happened.

If you are a vegetarian and haven't had the chance to explore Japanese food, you know where to go! They also have a branch in Berkeley.

Cha-Ya on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Giugni's @ St.Helena

After a wine tasting tour at the Robert Mondavi Winery, we were hungry. It was close to 1 pm and we hadn't even had a proper breakfast. After fumbling with the smart phone for sometime, we found a Deli/Grocery in a small town called St.Helena, that had good rating. We wanted a really quick lunch, because there were tons of other Wineries to explore. So, Giugni's it was.

They don't have a Website, but here's what they have on the menu :

Breads- Sourdough, Whole Wheat, Light Rye, Dark Rye, Dutch Crunch, Sweet French, Sour French, Hard Sour, Onion, Wheat Roll, Seeded, Rosemary, Cheese and Jalapeno and Croissant.
Extras- Avocado, Roasted Red Pepper, Pickle, Cranberry Sauce, Cucumber, Pepperoncini, Bacon, Sauerkraut and Pesto Spread

Cheeses- American, Bleu Cheese, Smoked Gouda, Provolone, Cream Cheese, Jack, Peppered Jack, Garlic Jack, Muenster, Mozzarella, Smoked Mozzarella, Swiss, Smoked Swiss, Havarti, Dill Havarti, Fresh Mozzarella, Tillamook Cheddar, Smoked Cheddar, Sharp Cheddar and Horseradish Cheddar

Salads - Potato, Macaroni, Pasta, Tortellini, 3-Bean, Cole Slaw, Artichoke Hearts, Marinated Tomato & Cucumber.

And, of course, a boat load of meat options.

There was a long line when we got there. It's like any other Sandwich shop - pick your bread, cheese, veggies, meat etc. They don't have the option of toasting it. But they will heat it in the microwave if you want it hot. We got the Vegetarian Sandwich - Cheese and Jalapeno bread, Garlic Jack cheese, Mayonnaise, Mustard, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Sprouts, Avocado, Cucumber, Horseradish and Giugni Juice. The thing that I love about this place is that they cut open a fresh Avocado for each order. We also got a bag of chips on the side.

The Sandwich was so delicious. There was nothing exotic about it, but the taste was out of this world. So fresh. It is one of those best $ meals I have had during my travels. If you are touring the Napa Valley, I highly recommend stopping by this Deli for a quick, scrumptious lunch!

W F Giugni & Son Grocery Co on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Vik's Chaat Corner @ Berkeley

After touring the Berkley campus, we drove to Vik's for some mouth watering Chaat. I have explained what Chaat is in one of my reviews, here. Bay Area has an abundance of authentic Chaat paradises. Sampling some of the said Chaat is an absolute agenda on our itinerary. We make it a point to stuff our faces with all the good stuff while we are there. And, we can never have enough.

Vik's is so huge, I can fit my gym in it. It also has a grocery shop attached to it. You order food from the menu on the wall and give it to the person at the kitchen counter, where you pick it up from.

Vik's Chaat Corner

The seating area at Vik's
We ordered the Dahi batata puri - Small round puffed bread filled with potatoes and other spices, topped with yogurt and tamarind chutney. The finger licking good part is the tangy mixture at the bottom of the plate, once the puris have made their way into your gut. Ummm... I now need to wipe the drool off my laptop.

Dahi Batata Puri
We also got a plate of Samosa Chole. Samosa consists of a fried triangle shaped pastry, filled with spiced potatoes, onions, peas and coriander. It was served with Chole, a spicy chickpea curry cooked with onions, tomatoes and other spices and topped with coriander.

Samosa Chole
And, then a Bhel Puri - puffed rice, sev (a fried snack shaped like thin noodles made from besan flour), and mixture (a mix of different types of fried snacks mixed together), as the base of the snack, tomatoes, onions, potatoes and chilis added to the base and topped with chutneys. Different chutneys impart a sweet or spicy flavour. There are two popular chutneys used, a sweet one made of dates and tamarind, and a green spicy chutney made of coriander leaves and green chillies.

Bhel Puri
Finally, Kulfi Falooda - saffron flavored ice cream topped with vermicelli and basil seeds and a hint of rose.

Kulfi Falooda
Everything was fantastic. I wish Vik's would expand and open a branch here in Seattle. The best was the Kulfi Falooda, because we never get something as delicious as this anywhere else. And all this at rock-bottom prices. I can't wait to go here on my next trip to the Bay Area.

Viks Chaat Corner on Urbanspoon

Sutra @ Seattle

A lot has been said about this out-of-the-way place. I have wanted to try it for such a long time. And, last weekend, we did it! We had dinner at Sutra. It is one of THE things to do when you are in Seattle. Well, I can now take it off my must-eat-at list.
About the restaurant, it is a small hole in the wall. Very average in ambiance. The open kitchen is a hop away from where you sit. In fact, I have seen people wanting to sit at the counter so that they can see the Chef plate the food for each course. The food is a fusion of everything on earth, and the seating is communal. Of course, if you are in a group of four or more, you will get a table for your group. If you are a couple, you will most likely share a table with another couple. Works great if you are garrulous.We had a nice time chatting with the couple sharing our table.
Sutra Seattle

The counter @ Sutra
The owners are down to earth and very humble. They are passionate about the food they prepare and are also environment conscious. You can read more about them here. They use local organic seasonal produce and their menu changes every few days.They usually serve a pre-set four course dinner and have options of pairing it with alcoholic or non alcoholic beverages, one for each course.

Alright, here's our experience at Sutra -

We had made reservations for Friday, Jan 7th for their 6:30 pm seating. The darn traffic on I-5 delayed us and we got there at 6:40 pm. I was worried that we would miss the gong banging and the utterance of prayer by Colin, the owner / Chef. Upon entering the restaurant, I saw everyone peacefully sipping their drinks, indulged in small talk. I was pretty sure that the first round of drinks had been served. The waitress ushered us to a table and  I was thrilled when she mentioned that they were yet to start with their ritual ( that is, the striking of the gong). They had served complimentary drinks while waiting for the food to be served. Phew! We got lucky. We shared the table with another couple visiting from San Francisco. The waitress then brought over the menus. The dinner was pre-set and we chose the pre-set non alcoholic beverage pairing. One drink for each course, and each drink complemented the food. If the food was a little bitter, the drink was sweet and such like. While we waited, the waitress got us a 3oz Sparkling Mineral Water-Housemade Cherry Lavender Syrup & a Grape Granita Drop. Ever had something like this? I wonder how many combinations the Chef would have to try before deciding on one that's perfect.
Mineral Water-Housemade Cherry Lavender Syrup & a Grape Granita Drop
At 6:50 pm, the Chef came out, banged the gong, greeted everyone with a "Namaste!" and uttered a small prayer thanking all the farmers for the produce and briefly described the menu for that day.

The gong @ Sutra
Then, the first course was served. First, the drink - A 4oz Lemongrass-Ginger-Cranberry Sparkling Elixir. I have never had Lemongrass in a drink and it tasted quite good. Very exotic and paired well with the Roasted Cauliflower-Urfa Biber Bisque with a Pickled Radish-Asian Pear-Fennel- Caper Salad , our first course.

Lemongrass-Ginger-Cranberry Sparkling Elixir
The Roasted Cauliflower Bisque was served in a small glass and was hot till the last spoon. It is the finest soup I have had so far. So creamy and thick and flavorful. The Radish-Pear salad had an Asian flavor.

We took our time, relishing every bite, slurping the soup, sipping the drink and chatting with the other couple.

Our plates were cleared and the drink for the second course was served - a 4oz Local CommuniTea Kombucha on Tap. Kombucha is a fermented tea that is usually drunk for medicinal purposes.

Local CommuniTea Kombucha

It was paired with House Smoked Pui Lentil-Sunchoke-Molasses Port Glazed Cippolini Onion-Arugula Cake topped with Olive, Tangello, and Shiso finished with Truffle Oil and a Balsamic Reduction.

Whatever it was and however it was made, it tasted out of this world. More banter and more eating and drinking followed.
The drink for the third course was served - a 4oz Blueberry-Echinacea-Hibiscus-Blood Orange Sparkling Elixir. I later discovered that Echinacea is a flowering plant. What? Oh, whatever. Just get me more of that!

It was paired with Celery Root-Cheese Pumpkin (varietal)-Sesame Gnocchi with Yellowfoot Chanterelle-Hedgehog Mushrooms served with Steamed Lacinato Kale-Roasted Carrots with a Sage-Mirin-Tomato-Saffron Sauce finished with Parsnip Chips.

Again, something very different. I am amazed at how innovative the Chef is. Imagine coming up with a different exotic menu each week. Won't you run out of ideas?

The grand finale of the wonderful dinner, the Dessert was then brought out. The fourth course drink was an option of French Pressed Pangaea Coffee or Sutra Blend Tea. I asked for the tea, but wasn't very impressed with it.
Dessert was Chocolate (Theo’s) Coconut Mousse Torte with a Cashew-Date Crust finished with a Cinnamon-Huckleberry Glaze.

Am a sucker for Chocolate and loved it. The best part was the huckleberry glaze. It is now my favorite berry!
The dinner was  $35 pp and the non-alcoholic beverage pairing was $12 pp. Dining at Sutra is not just about the food, but the whole experience. Who even thinks about the farmers and spends a couple of minutes thanking them for their exhausting labor and effort? The calm and serene atmosphere has a spiritual ring to it. The food is prepared and served with love and can never not be delicious. I think everyone visiting or living in Seattle should try it at least once. You will love it!
Sutra  on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Habesha @ Seattle

It was the New Year's Eve and for a change we wanted to dine at a less crowded restaurant. A quiet dinner with no prix fixe menu yet good food, preferably something we haven't eaten in a while, stylish ambiance and good service were some of our requirements. Ethiopian cuisine came to mind. An Ethiopian  cabbie had once suggested trying Habesha. Yelp reviews were scanned and just to be on the safe side, dinner reservations were made.

The first thing I noticed on entering the restaurant was the dimly lit ambiance! And the red brick walls. Are you sure it was an Ethiopian restaurant? No, I don't mean it that way; some of the best Ethiopian food I have had, has been in dingy little restaurants with the TV and Radio blaring at the same time. Habesha gives you a completely different experience. Very clean, good service and they have a bar as well as a lounge.

For appetizer, we passed on the usual Sambusa and instead, ordered the Kategna - An Injera toasted until crisp and coated with berbere and nitir kibe (Ethiopian butter). Berebere is an Ethiopian/Eritrean spice mixture whose ingredients usually include chile peppers, ginger, cloves, coriander, allspice, rue berries, and ajwain. It was spicy and delicious. Never had this before.

Kategna @ Habesha
For the main course, we got the usual Veggie Combo that came with six veggie sides and one salad and an Injera for each of us.
Missir Wot -Split red lentils stewed in onions, olive oil and their own spicy red sauce.
Kike - Split yellow peas prepared with onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric
Shiro Wot - Ground peas, spiced with berbere, seasoned with onions, garlic and ginger
Bamiyan - Fresh cut okra mixed with their spicy homemade sauce.
Gomen - A delicious medley of spinach sauteed in olive oil, garlic, onions and fresh ground spices
Atikilt - Mixed vegetables, cabbage, carrot, potatoes and onions sauteed in a blend of exotic herbs.

Veggie Combo @ Habesha
Ethiopians eat with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up bites of entrées and side dishes. No utensils are used.

It was plenty of food. We were so stuffed in the end. I liked all the sides except Missir Wot, which tasted very raw. We had asked for it to be made spicy and it was made just right. A asked for an Ethiopian coffee, but they were out of it. Another time. Habesha is easily accessible, has good food and though it looks a little upscale, prices are at par with other Ethiopian restaurants in the area. I think I'll go here if I crave Ethiopian again.

Habesha Ethiopian Restaurant on Urbanspoon
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