Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seattle Coffee Shop: QED Coffee

What: QED Coffee
Where: 1418 31st Ave S, Seattle, WA 
Honeys Heart: Mexican Mocha & Fresh Ginger Chai

Last Sunday, my friend Matt opened his very own coffee shop, QED Coffee, in the Mt. Baker neighborhood of Seattle. 

Matt has been roasting coffee for a few years now and the coffee shop means that QED finally has its own homebase.

Matt was a math major, hence the roaster and shop's name. As Matt explains it, "QED is a statement of completion used at the end of mathematical proofs. It signifies the conclusion of a specific intention- essentially saying ‘I have achieved what I set out to do and I am ready to share it with the world.’ That is exactly what QED Coffee is about. Through the art of roasting, we strive to showcase the best flavors a coffee has to offer, and we are ready to show it off, one cup at a time." 

I'm no coffee expert so while I think Matt's coffee is awesome (particularly the cold brew), it was especially cool to hear neighbors stopping in for the first time and already raving about how good Matt's coffee is.

In addition to all the coffee shop basics, QED's specialties include a Mexican Mocha made with Ibarra mexican chocolate and a Fresh Ginger Chai, aka one of the best chais I've ever had.

QED also serves pastries from local bakeries including Mighty-O Donuts and Macrina Bakery (the parmesan rosemary ham biscuit- soooo good).

Congrats, Matt! I'm so proud of you and I can't wait to come back!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Portland Pop-Up: Langbaan

What: Langbaan
Where: 6 SE 28th Ave (backroom of PaaDee)
When: Two seatings per night Thursday-Sunday
Honeys Heart: Everything

Back in February of last year, chef Akkapong "Earl" Ninsom started serving tasting menu dinners based on 100-year-old royal Thai recipes in the back room of PaaDee, a Thai restaurant he co-founded in 2011. Ninsom was born and raised in Bangkok, is professionally trained in Thai cooking, and his family owns Thai Cottage in St. Johns, so he knows just a bit about making Thai food- but I doubt that even he expected Langbaan to take off quite like it has.

Thai for "back of the house," Langbaan was the first restaurant to receive 4 stars under the Oregonian's new rating system, it was named as one of GQ's Best Restaurants in America for 2015, and it was a semifinalist for the 2015 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant. Oh yeah, and if you want to book a reservation, you better hop on over to their website ASAP because the first available seating is months and months from now.

Lucky for me, Doug is on top of it and booked reservations for an April dinner back in January. After all the press that Langbaan has received and having eaten some very good food in Thailand fairly recently, we went into our dinner with high expectations. I'm happy to report that those expectations were more than met.

Langbaan offers two seatings per night Thursday through Sunday. We were booked for the 8:30pm seating on a Friday and had to wait about 20 minutes for the 6:00pm seating to clear out before we were escorted through the hidden bookcase door (obvs, love that detail) from PaaDee into Langbaan.

Langbaan's fixed tasting menu is $65 per person with an optional $30 wine pairing. We were more than happy with our Chang beers, so no wine pairing for us. The menu changes monthly and our April menu was inspired by the Minburi district, a Muslim neighborhood in Bangkok.

Our meal kicked off with three snacks: Miang som-O made with shrimp, pomelo (a citrus), shallots, chili, lime, ginger in roasted coconut sauce, and a betel leaf; Kanom Krok, a crispy rice cup filled with a scallop and coconut cream with galangal (part of the ginger family); and Mataba Puu, a Dungeness crab Thai-Muslim style pancake with cucumber relish.

As soon as we took our first bite of the shrimp, it was like we were instantly transported back to Thailand. The flavors were so bright and perfectly paired. Langbaan's chefs have definitely nailed the Thai balancing act of layering spicy heat with refreshing herbs and cooling coconut.

I also loved how the traditional Thai flavors and ingredients being used were re-imagined in less traditional ways, specifically with the scallop rice cup. It tasted just like Thailand but in a new, exciting package.

Following the snack plates was Soup Hang Wuar, an oxtail soup with purple potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, onions, shallots, celery, and wagyu beef. Delicious!

Next up was the salad course which started with Yum Ped Yang Mamuang made with Peking duck, ripe mango, spring broccoli, easter radish, mint, heirloom tomato, Thai basil, and fava leaf. I'm not always a fan of duck, but this salad was so refreshing that I didn't mind it at all.

Our second salad was Yum Plaa Tod Kamin Rom Kwan with smoked turmeric halibut, asparagus, star fruit, verpa morel, blood orange, and kaffir lime leaf.

This was one of my favorite plates of the night. The smokey, savory halibut was amazing with the bright starfruit and blood orange. So pretty and so good!

The four main course plates were served all at once. We had Og Gai Ob Chan Aoi, a roasted chicken breast Gai Yang Hah Daw-style with green chili dipping sauce; Gang Gae, a lamb curry with morel, potatoes, onions, shallots, and sunchoke chips; Nahm Prik Hed, a chili relish of oyster mushrooms with fresh greens; and Khao Mok, Thai-Muslim curry rice.

The chicken was moist and delicious and the lamb curry, rich and homey. Those oyster mushrooms though... Those took me back to a larb that Doug ordered in Bangkok that we tried our best to eat, but it was just too darn hot. Langbaan provided plenty of herbs to offset the heat those mushrooms were giving off but we just couldn't do it. But hey, that dish was true to our experience in Thailand too so I guess we can't really complain!

Even though we were bordering on stuffed by this point in the meal, my sweet-loving self was happy to see two desserts on the menu. The first was Duck Egg Coconut Ice Cream with rhubarb, sweet potato, coconut, corn, peanuts, and strawberries. A strange combination of ingredients for sure, but very tasty nonetheless.

But that dessert didn't hold a candle to what turned out to be my very favorite dish of the night, the Kanom Tua Islam, a mung bean dumpling with coconut cream. 

Doesn't look like much, but trust me, it was amazing. Weird, but amazing. The mung bean dumpling was warm and savory so when you took a bite of the hot dumpling with the cool, sweet coconut cream, there was a crazy collision of temperatures and flavors. It was very unexpected but so satisfying. And the perfect end to our meal.

Admittedly, $65 per person is quite the hefty price tag for dinner for our crowd, but in this case, we thought it was well worth it. Dinner at Langbaan will definitely be a once-a-year treat for us- but with the waitlist how it's looking, we probably couldn't make it there more frequently even if we wanted to!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Portland Restaurant: P.R.E.A.M.

What: P.R.E.A.M.
Where: 2131 SE 11th Ave
Honeys Heart: Black Garlic Knots & the pizza

What does P.R.E.A.M. stand for? Obvs, Pizza Rules Everything Around Me. 

Our first experience with P.R.E.A.M. was at Ned Ludd during Nicholas Ford and Brandon Gomez's Monday night takeover of the restaurant. It was awesome and we were excited to learn this duo found a permanent home for their hip-hop pizza pop-up.

Adam and I signed up to test out P.R.E.A.M.'s new spot during their week of prix fixe preview dinners. The dinners must have gone well (we certainly thought ours did!) because P.R.E.A.M. is now open in the old Tennessee Red's space and I am already eager to return. The new look is all thanks to hands-on work by Nicholas and Brandon and their team. They built the bars, painted the walls, hung records, and even broke down part of the outside wall to get the massive pizza oven in place. As anticipated, there was loud 80's rap playing and as I scanned the bar, people were bopping their heads and singing along to the lyrics. The wait staff was energetic and Brandon and Nicholas were in the heat of it.

Brandon, who also serves as house bartender, was hustling behind the bar and when I asked what was his favorite of their gin cocktails, he urged me to try the Olive Oil Gibson ($10) with gin, dolin genepy, and olive oil, since no one had it yet that night. As promised, the drink was delicious and the olive oil added a little pop towards the end.

Adam started with a Root Beer Flip ($10) with bourbon, Blackstrap rum, egg, cream, and root beer. Smooth, creamy, and ultra satisfying. This is how I might end my meal (with a dessert of course). 

Since we were there for a preview dinner, we had set food options and the waiter gave us the menu rundown. Structured like any good rap song, the menu includes an Intro (apps), Verse (salads), Hook (polenta), Chorus (pizza), and Outro (dessert).

First up, Parmesan Chips with herb cream and Black Garlic Knots with puttanesca. You can't really go wrong with either of these, but I would be happy to pop into P.R.E.A.M. just for some of these black garlic knots.

Next up: salads, and both of them were great. If I had to choose a favorite it would be Yesterday's Bread. For this salad, some of the vegetables, like the radish, were left with their greens. Those veggies plus cooked carrots and other thinly sliced spring vegetables were combined with bread and a honey-balsamic dressing, I just wish there had been more, even though the portion was perfectly reasonable! The Mixed Greens with sunflower and oat crumb, red onion vinaigrette, and feta was also fantastic.

For the hook, we had to pick between two polenta dishes and opted for the Short Rib with pickled condimento and spinach. The meat on this hearty dish just fell apart. It sounded like they will have different variations of polenta dishes which I'm looking forward to exploring. It's not something I cook, ever, and sometimes I feel indifferent about it, but with the right topping and sauce I see the appeal, similarly to that of a well-prepared shrimp and grits.

Now to the heart of P.R.E.A.M.! We were supposed to pick one of the three pizzas, but opted to a buy a second too. First choice, the Pork Meatball with escarole, veloute, and crumbs. A veloute sauce is a simple sauce made with chicken stock and butter and while Adam typically prefers a red sauce on pizza, this was amazing. A perfect example of how less can be more.

Our pizza addition included the Fontina with provolone, mozzarella, garlic, and oregano. The sauce on top of the cheese was unique, but since on a pie this simple the sauce is in many ways the star of the dish, it was a good choice. The pizzas were also served with some dried oregano, red pepper flakes, and Parmesan to sprinkle on top. Mmmmm.

Time for another drink. This round we went for the house-bottled cocktails including the Craig 'N' Cola ($10) with bourbon, P.R.E.A.M. cola and the Pink Flamingo ($11) with Ransom old tom gin, Campari, St. Germain, maraschino, and lemon. Normally both of these would be a little concerning to me having so many ingredients on the sweet side, but these were strong and well-balanced. 

We never wanted this meal to end and it was all happening too fast, but before long it was dessert time and we got to try the Cannoli with ricotta and cacao nibs and Olive Oil Cake with creme anglaise and almond brittle. The cacao nibs are dehydrated and made here locally to have a very concentrated amount of cacao and the cannoli wrap is a wonton. This dessert was good, but I think I would have preferred a different type of wrap. If you are looking for a sweet finish this wouldn't be it.

The Olive Oil Cake was our definite favorite with an awesome balance of dense, savory cake, sweet anglaise, and a fruit chutney on top. Even though we were pretty full, we made room for this.

Brandon said the full menu will include eight pizzas and six salads, alongside other intros and hooks. After sitting at the bar all night watching Nicholas jamming around that pizza oven, we went over to tell him how awesome it was and accidentally walked away without our leftovers which resulted in the only downside of the night. The preview meal was an awesome teaser of what P.R.E.A.M. has to offer and now that it's open I don't have to keep dreaming of our lost leftovers, I can just go back!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Portland Restaurant: Bang Bang

What: Bang Bang
Where: 4727 NE Fremont
When: Wednesday - Monday 5pm - 12am
Honeys Heart: Curry

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents on NE Fremont as a child, which meant hitting up neighborhood staples like the Alameda Cafe, Staniches, McPeet's, or Perry's (miss the lemon drops so much!). Recently, food destinations like Smallwares; Bang Bang; and Batter, Griddle, and Drinkery are popping up on Fremont and it's a bit of a game changer for the street.

Katie and I made our way to Bang Bang a couple weeks ago. Bang Bang serves Thai drinking food- food that is saturated with flavor, be it spicy, rich, sweet, etc, because it is meant to be enjoyed with drinks that will dilute the flavors. The spot boasts an extensive late night menu after 10pm but our 5pm arrival meant we were much too early to take advantage of it (are we getting old?!). We were the third table seated, but before long there was a couple and their baby sitting next to us, and the remaining tables filled up shortly after.

Of course we started with cocktails. I had the Chef's Reward ($8) with Monopolowa, Campari, grapefruit juice, and Jacobsen Sea Salt, while Katie enjoyed a White Negroni ($8) with Aria Gin, Suze, and Cocci Americano.

Our waiter recommended three dishes between the two of us, but we opted for one starter and one curry and felt that was a pretty perfect portion. The Green Papaya Salad ($8) had herbs, tamarind, and veggies. The papaya strips were really long and there was a generous amount of dressing, which means Katie and I made a bit of a mess, but both of us were okay with this salad.

For our main dish, we went with our waiters favorite, the Green Curry ($15) with a tea-cured egg, rau ram sausage, pork belly, cilantro, yam, long beans, and coconut rice. I had read reviews of how there were a lot of flavors happening in Bang Bang's dishes- too many, perhaps- and I can totally understand that feeling, but personally, I liked this!

There was a mix up in the kitchen so our curry took a long time and we were offered a dessert on the house, so obviously we ordered another cocktail. We got two Bang Bang Old Fashioned's ($9) which was strong, but good mix of bourbon, house-made cardamom bitters, sugar, and orange peel. Katie and I are doing such a good job drinking bourbon, and finding there are a lot of a cocktails we really like! 

For our complimentary dessert we chose the Thai Tea Cake ($7) which sounded like it would hit the spot with an almond crumble, galangal ice cream, and sweet lime. Unfortunately, the cake was mushy thanks to the Thai tea and the "sweet lime" sauce, which we mostly avoided, had an odd earthy flavor. The ice cream was good, but the overall texture on the plate was just not satisfying. 

I think if I lived in the NE Fremont neighborhood I might head to Bang Bang more often. Next up on the NE Fremont list is Batter, Griddle, and Drinkery inspired by the late night menu at the Original Hotcake House. The perk: it's a place to not only get your much needed late night waffle fix, but you can get cocktails too!