Saturday, October 29, 2011

Restaurant Week and Cacio e Pepe

Seattle just wrapped up another successful (for me, at least) restaurant week. Restaurant week—actually spanning 2 weeks—is when tons of local restaurants offer 3 course menus for $30. I happen to love restaurant week, although, I read in Seattle Met that a lot of local chefs don't feel so hot about it, and basically think they have to dumb down their food for cheapskates. It's really too bad they feel that way, because a bad restaurant week experience can tarnish my opinion of a restaurant from that point forward. And I throw down on good food… I just don't usually do it 3 times in two weeks. With restaurant week, I can try out a lot of spendier joints, so that I know where I want to go back to for nice dinners, and what places I want to recommend to friends.  If I get a dumbed down, half-assed meal during restaurant week… well, sorry, you may have lost one future diner. And a lot of her friends…who also like to throw down on good food. 



After last week's "try-outs," I'll definitely be going back to Andaluca and How to Cook a Wolf—two restaurants owned by Seattle 'celeb chefs.' The kitchen of one local celeb chef, however, delivered a pretty…underwhelming experience. I hate to say it, because the guy is pretty much a god among men in these parts, but sorry Tom Douglas, my meal at Dahlia wasn't too impressive. I loved my cocktail, a rosemary/blueberry shrub, and of course TD's famous coconut cream pie was amazing, but the entrees were bland, and came out so fast that it was almost like they had a line of restaurant week plates stacked up and ready to go, a la Micky D's. The whole thing felt rushed, something I don't want to feel at a nice restaurant, no matter how much I'm paying. I'm not giving up on Tom just yet (he has about 6 restaurants in Seattle), but I doubt I'll be doing dinner at Dahlia again. Andaluca and How to Cook a Wolf made up for it though. 



Andaluca's executive chef, Wayne Johnson, competed on Iron Chef…and makes a mean bowl of clams. The restaurant is a mediterranean-spanish-northwest-tapas type place, and seriously had the best clams I've maybe ever had. And I've had a lot of clams. Clams are one of my go-to dishes. Andaluca's were swimming in a bright orange, slightly creamy, garlicky bath of white wine and harissa butter, and were surrounded by big, salty, spicy chunks of chorizo, and topped with cilantro. They were salty and spicy, and seriously amazing. The sherry-almond scallops were also incredible, and weren't dry or overcooked, like a lot of restaurant scallops I've had. Aside from how delicious everything was, it was just a great experience. We were served a ton of food (which isn't typical with restaurant week), and the waiter was super nice, even though we did have a loud party of 10 that shut the place down. 




How to Cook a Wolf is one of Ethan Stowell's restaurants. Ethan is another big-deal chef around here, with a lot of big-time restaurants under his belt (don't tell him, but I may have stalked him at Burning Beast, just a little bit). How to Cook a Wold (named after MFK Fisher's book) is a fun, small space in Queen Anne, with simple, rustic Italian-style food, meant to be shared. Everything was delicious, from the burrata with grape mostarda, to the beef carpaccio, to the simple but fabulous pasta dishes. My favorite dish was the semolina gnocchi with pork sugo. The gnocchi were almost like big, fluffy polenta cakes, but made with semolina, and were covered in cheese, and sitting atop a salty, savory tomato sauce with shredded pork. To. Die. For. And, if the amazing meal wasn't enough, they sent us home with little bags of fresh-raw pasta. 


I wanted to do something simple with the pasta, so I played homage to another local celeb chef of sorts, and made Mario Batali's pasta with cacio e pepe (Batali is from Washington, and his family owns Salumi, the unbelievable salumeria in Pioneer Square (right below my office)! Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is just that—pasta tossed with cracked pepper, butter and oil, and nutty parmesan cheese. That's it! And it's so good! You don't really need to follow a recipe—boil pasta in salty water, and in a separate pot, toast cracked black pepper, and melt in equal parts butter and olive oil, then mix that with pasta water, the pasta, and a hearty amount of grated cheese. There you have it. A dinner for far less than $30, that's sure to impress. 

PS. I'm not a restaurant critic or even a "restaurant blogger," and the reviews above are strictly my opinion... though you should really get the clams at Andaluca, just sayin'. 
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