Category Archives: Reviews

Chao Bistro delivers a few new favorites

Have you ever felt like you totally understand your tastes, and nothing a restaurant is going to dish out will change your mind? Well I have, and the recently opened Chao Bistro on Capital Hill (1200 E. Pike) took me by surprise on a number of delicious dishes.

To set the stage, I was participating in the first local gathering of Tastecasting, an event where restaurants host a complimentary menu tasting for a small group (10-15)  of active social media enthusiasts.  In return, the group broadcasts their experiences and opinions to their followers, fans and connections via social media.

Photo: Diana Johnson

So we gathered on a cold, windy, rainy Seattle evening (what a shock!) to take a spin through the menu at Chao and share our opinions.  What I “thought” I knew about my tastes would be challenged – namely, I don’t drink (or like) sake, I like my calamari in little “rings and legs”, spam is to be avoided at all costs, and anything with gravy in the morning is to be avoided.  And you can guess what I found on the generous 17-item tasting menu – all of the above!

We tasted the menu in three sections – breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I was pleasantly surprised by the breakfast items (served Sat-Sun, 8am-3pm) and would definitely return for most of the dinner items, either during regular hours (6-11 pm) or the incredibly well-priced happy hours (3-7pm, 11pm-1am).

As for breakfast, gravy is not something high on my list – nor is anything with spam! Oh but I was wrong.  The Island Fried Rice was a beautifully balanced salty-savory dish, with two over-easy eggs atop a mound of spam-speckled fried rice. Uh oh, spam.  Really?? But it was great, and went well with the portuguese sausage, barbecued pork, onion and carrots, with a nice touch of sesame oil. 

And the gravy? Whoa, it came slathered over the Chicken Fried Steak, a mountainous 11-ounce ground beef steak, atop a bed of hash browns. Yowsa, that could feed a whole tableful of hungover diners, and the rumor is that only one person has ever finished the whole plate by himself.  I believe it, since the plate easily served 5-6 of us, and we lapped up the gravy, speckled with bacon and sausage, like nobody’s business.  So, two myths down – spam is actually good, and gravy works for breakfast.  Who knew?

In the dinner segment, we tried 11 different dishes and it gave my palate a workout!  There were some great Pan-Asian takes on traditional dishes, such as the Miso Cream Fettuccine (with chicken or salmon), the Wasabi Caesar Salad (a unanimous favorite with all 10 of our diners!) and a great Chao Salad with candied walnuts, Asian pear slices and lychee vinaigrette.

But the three dishes that really stood out for me were the Calamari, Lemongrass Crab Cakes and Whole Fried Chicken.  As previously mentioned, I like my calamari in little fried “rings and legs”, as you would find in most restaurants – but I have a new favorite!  This dish delivered perfect little strips of solid calamari, cut from a full steak, breaded in panko, chili powder and orange peel and fried quickly and perfectly. It was served with a lemon ginger aioli that was a perfect accent, and I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to eat “rings and legs” again – this is the new standard in calamari for me!

Note: A special offering from Tastecasting: You can try a free calamari appetizer with dinner and a minimum $15 purchase! It’s good until Nov 30 and you just need to mention you read about them on Tastecasting!

 

The Lemongrass Crab Cakes were a meaty, crunchy blend of crab, panko, lemongrass, coconut, red peppers and shallots, served with the same lemon ginger aioli (above) and a nice sweet chili mango sauce.  Perfect!

And the whole fried chicken, you might wonder, what’s the big deal with that?  Well, it was beautifully served on a platter with small dishes of pickled daikon, salt & pepper, and sweet chili sauce, and the skin was a perfectly crispy crackly delicious finish.  And it’s not just a Sunday comfort food dinner – the owners related that in Korea when people go out drinking, this style of chicken is what they would order to eat while they are imbibing.  Hmm, so much for bad nachos and wings, like they serve at most bars late-night!  This bird was just $25 and would easily serve 3-4 hungry (and buzzed!) diners well, and it was fabulous.

And what about the fourth food myth – that I don’t like sake?  Well I don’t – and I passed on the first three samples that were served with dinner.  More for everyone else, right? But then came that aroma –  enticing sweet crisp fresh – that arrived before the cup even hit the table.  Wow, I thought – but I don’t drink that.  Bummer.  But the aroma prevailed, I tasted the lovely green apple sake and my mind is forever changed!  I think it could be a very dangerous drink for me, you have been warned…

We tried many more excellent dishes – waffle cut sweet potato fries, wok-seared edamame, 12th Ave french dip, ahi trio, etc. and you really can’t go wrong with any of the choices.  In fact, if I lived closer to Chao, I’d be in serious danger of eating several times a week here, thanks to the great variety in the menu. Many thanks to co-owner Tony, manager Paula and Chef Kevin for a fantastic evening.

And now, back to the drawing board for my “food myths” – I think I need to work on a couple new ones…can’t wait for the next Tastecasting event to find out what they will be!

Chao Bistro & Bar, 1200 E Pike, Seattle, 206-324-1010 www.chaobistro.com

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Tour Seattle like an insider

I’ve always wanted to be like those characters on the old TV show “Cheers”, or to be more specific, I wanted what the theme song promised “you want to go where everybody knows your name”.

savor seattle aug09 008And so that is why I now want to be Angela Shen (right) when I grow up.  Seriously.  As the founder of the nationally-celebrated Savor Seattle Food Tours, she can’t seem to go anywhere (at least in the downtown Seattle food world) without everyone greeting her, hugging her, giving her food – you get the picture.  You can feel the love a mile away.

It is this “feeling” that helped propel me into my recently-launched Social Media for foodies business, because I am all about enjoying great food, being connected with the purveyors and enjoying the flavor of Seattle.  Angela has that. I want it. And you can get it by going on one of her tours.  Follow along…

header_logoI have known Angela for several years through a local networking organization (BNI) and I have watched her grow her seedling business from a solely-owned and operated one-tour pony into an eight-employee, multi-tour Triple Crown threat (excuse the horse racing analogy; that’s another of my many past lives).  She has been celebrated in Bon Appetit magazine, USA Today, and Frommers Travel Guide.  But, believe it or not, I had never actually been on the tour until recently, when I signed up for the Gourmet Food & Cultural Tour.

I gathered along with 7 other hungry tour-ists (but not all tourists!) at the Mayflower Park Hotel lobby, set for our three-hour tour of 8 delicious food establishments in the downtown area.  We were outfitted with sound equipment, which I was skeptical of at first, but later found out was essential given the noise on downtown streets and in some of the bustling restaurants.

savor seattle aug09 006First stop – Andaluca and one of my favorite chefs, Wayne Johnson. Chef Wayne, who recently celebrated his 10th anniversary at Andaluca, paired an amazing crispy duck cake and apricot chutney (left) paired with a glass of sangria – a perfect way to start our afternoon trek!  The marriage of flavors in the duck cake – which is perhaps the only of its kind in the area – was marvelous, and we were off to a wonderful start.

Along the short walk to our second stop, Angela filled us in on a bit of Seattle trivia and history (Doc Maynard, brothels, etc), most of which seemed new to me, even though I grew up here!  But it was presented in a fun, lively, informative way that made me feel just like one of the tourists, here for a sunny afternoon tour.

savor seattle aug09 014Our second stop – Serious Pie.  Not as in “dessert” but pizza made withserious ingredients. The chef appeared from the hot kitchen to describe their version of pizza, which ain’t your daddy’s pizza! The crust is incredibly light and thin, as a result of using a slightly wetter dough and cooking it longer (7-9 minutes) at a lower temperature (680 degrees) than their competitors (2-3 minutes at 1000-1300 degrees).  This gives the crust a tasty slight char on the bottom, witha beautiful “structure” that features amazing toppings such as buffalo mozzarella with San Marzano tomatoes, or roasted chantarellemushrooms with italian black truffle cheese – wow!

In addition, Serious Pie’s other “secret” is to cook the pie until nearly done BEFORE adding the cheese – that way the cheese doesn’t burn or really even cook at all, but melts beautifully to maintain its artisanal structure.  They also cure their own meat, make their own dough, buy all ingredients locally – and then do as little to them as possible.  Seriously perfect.

savor seattle aug09 028Then it was time for more Seattle history – timber town, wooden buildings, the fire, “seamstresses” and taxes – you’ll have to take the tour to find out what that all means!  So we came to the third stop at Il Bistro, a charming candle-lit restaurntin a cave-like space next to Pike Place Market. We tasted a creamy saffron risotto withmussels and clams, paired with a San Giovese (right) – buono! We also discovered an important fact – Il Bistro offers one of the best Happy Hour deals in town -there are 15-17 items on the menu with half-size portions at about 1/4 of the regular price! Note to self – return here many more times!

savor seattle aug09 044Then we made an unscheduled stop at the famous Pike Place Fish – where Angela is CLEARLY a favorite daughter! – and she arranged an impromptu fish-tossing moment for a couple on the tour who were celebrating their anniversary.  The wife made a beautiful catch (above) while her husband documented it perfectly on his trusty camera.  Nice touch, Angela!

savor seattle aug09 059Next stop was Creminelli Fine Meats, actually inside the Market, where we sampled several fabulous handmade artisan salamis and sausages (right).  Then it was time for the longest stop on the tour, the Pike Brewing Company, where we were treated to a fascinating tour and great education from our vivacious tour guide Abil!  We then sampled a couple of beer/cheese pairings, the best of which was the Tandem Double Ale and Beechers Flagship cheese – a combo that will be served at many future parties in my home!

The last two stops satisfied our sugar cravings, as we visited Fran’s Chocolates and Gelatiamo.  Fran’s, located in the Four Seasons hotel, sampled four chocolates for us, including a pair of the amazing salted caramels – simply a must-try if you’ve never had one!  My favorite is the dark chocolate gray salt version, but I wouldn’t turn down the milk chocolate smoked salt variety either!

savor seattle aug09 085The Gelatiamo gave us – unexpectedly – my favorite moment of the tour.  Why, you ask?  While Angela only planned to take us downstairs to see the machines that crank out the luscious gelato and sorbetto every day (always at least 16 flavors!), we were treated to an impromptu appearance by the owner Maria Coassin, an authentic Italian if there ever was one!  All at once, she was gracious, apologetic, edgy, proud and generous about her products – which is EXACTLY what I want from a food tour!  I want to see the raw emotion of the chef/owner and experience their passion for their food, even if it’s by showing us a fallen cake that wasn’t “perfect”, all while dishing it up for us to sample anyway!  I heard her speak of her love for what she does, the many trips back to Italy to learn and return with new inspiration, and her devotion to a perfect product for her customers.

I’m feeling a little hungry now, how about you? And did I mention the $65 tour fee includes a handout with recipes, restaurant details AND a special discount card for 10-15% off products/services at more than 40 downtown merchants (including those on the tour)?

So there you go – an insiders tour of Seattle, giving you the “everyone knows my name” insights and discounted services to boot!  I dare you to resist!

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