Once legalized cannabis really gets rolling in Seattle (sometime in 2014 according to Washington state officials) a non-trivial percentage of locals and tourists is going to have the munchies 24/7. This is good news for the entire local food industry and eateries in particular. In anticipation of this emergent gastro-trend, MagoGuide has turned to LOTR lore to suggest a stoned foodie itinerary built around the seven daily meals that hobbits are said to consume whenever circumstances permit.
First Breakfast: Skillet Diner
Skillet Diner serves up the most important meal of the day whether or not you have been into the pipe weed first thing in the morning. You need a hearty breakfast so that you have the energy to bring food to mouth throughout the rest of the day. Skillet Diner has three convenient locations: Hobbiton (see geographic and cyber coordinates above), Bywater (Ballard: 2034 NW 56th Street, seven days a week: 8am to 11pm, 206-512-2000), and Michel Delving (305 Harrison Street, seven days a week: 10am – 8pm, 206-428-6311).
Team Mago broke our (very short) fast at the Hobbiton location. Lucullus plumped for maple braised pork belly served atop a cornmeal waffle with two sunny-side up eggs. Assuming that you order coffee with this pig candy porn special, you will have snarfed all the major food groups in your first of seven installments.
Aristippus chose chilaquiles, a gluten free vegetarian dish that dates to the Aztecs, who reserved meat for their very bloodthirsty gods. Skillet Diner’s version comes human sacrifice-free with tomatillo salsa, corn tortillas, pico de gallo, sour cream, queso fresco, cilantro, and two eggs. The portion is enormous and should probably be shared if you plan to continue with six more feedings prior to beddy bye.
Fulvia had the b-fast sammy composed of bacon jam, melted American and brie cheese, arugula, one egg, bacon, and jalapeno aioli—all mounted on a brioche roll and served with balsamic dressed greens. It was a great sandwich but the bacon jam was a revelation. Any devotee of the noble swine must try this stuff. You can (and will) buy it to take home—be sure to get the fennel and black pepper version as well as the original pig essence.
When Fulvia demurred from ordering the additional chicken thigh with her sammy, Lucullus retaliated with a side of spiced morning taters with fennel. Any establishment that calls tubers taters is obviously hobbit friendly, Precious, and these particular enlarged stolons thickened into storage organs were exemplary. Perfectly fried and correctly seasoned, the spuds definitely profited from the flavor and texture of the fennel. They could have used a dollop of that bacon jam, but so could six-month-old cardboard.
Second Breakfast: Skillet Diner
Why change venues for round two? Simply go for a nice stroll, stop by your friendly neighborhood dispensary for a pouch of Old Toby, indulge in a contemplative smoke in nearby Volunteer Park, and return to Skillet Diner for a go at their incredible sides (known as “misc…” on their menu). In Lucullus’ humble opinion, the top three side dishes at the Hobbiton location are:
- Poutine: the best thing to come out of Canada (now that it is no longer necessary to import BC Bud to the Emerald City) involving hand-cut fries, gravy, melted cheddar cheese, and fresh (non-hemp-based) herbs. Like cheese fries but infinitely better, eh?
- Big boy biscuit with sausage gravy: technically this is two side dishes, but if your quantitative skills are not dulled at this stage of your debauch, you should duck outside for a few more hits of Long Bottom Leaf.
- Doughnut holes: these bespoke babies will make it impossible to indulge in Dunkin’ Doughnuts or Krispy Kream ever again without knowing what you are really missing.
Elevenses: Purple Cafe & Wine Bar
Purple (as in haze) is a nice place to stop for a snack on the way to lunch. A regional mini-chain, the four Purple locations are part of the Heavy Restaurant Group. The Seattle location certainly lives up to its parent company’s name. The infrastructure from doors, to tables, to chairs, to silverware, is extremely dense and weighty. It would certainly take at least two hobbits to get the front door open—a nice bit of appetite enhancing exercise should such an inducement be required prior to the third meal before noon.
While the food at Purple ranges from OK to very good, its enormous wine list is the draw for elevenses when it is time to take a little off of one’s sativa-honed edge. The Seattle location displays its wine holdings in a glass encased cylindroid that looks like a sommelier’s fantasy notion of Trajan’s Column. It is the centerpiece of a very large post-industrial space that is bound to appeal to thirsty stoners.
The wine tome, which should be delivered to the table via forklift along with a complementary truss to aid in lifting the monster off of the massive tables (a rare and welcome instance of form following function in restaurant architecture), has a number of wines by the glass that is best expressed using scientific notation as well as many, many bottles. But the real draw is the 20 different wine flights that make it possible to enjoy several wines and still make it to lunch after a fortifying nosh.
Here is Team Mago’s bill of fare across two visits:
- BLTA with thickly cut crisp bacon, greens, tomato, avocado and red pepper mayonnaise: Fulvia loves BLTs but she hates avocado. Upon removing the offending slices of alligator pear from her sandwich, however, she was still not impressed. Heed the advice of an expert and steer clear.
- Lucullus on the other hand was quite pleased with his toasted ham and Havarti sarni topped with a fried duck egg (although he had to fight for that egg since the wait staff forgot it, then allowed it to linger under a heat lamp too long during the refire, and finally brought out the somewhat worse for wear sandwich with a nice runny yoke duck egg riding high). The dish was further improved with Fulvia’s cast off avocado, but Aristippus thought the kitchen decidedly stingy with an otherwise excellent aioli.
- The Caesar salad composed of lacinato kale, romaine, multi-grain croutons, grana padano, and a caesar dressing that sported a warning against eating raw eggs (usually a good sign) turned out to be mediocre and spendy.
- A Purple chopped salad containing romaine hearts, bacon, avocado, garbanzos, and a blue cheese, roasted red bell pepper, red onion, and balsamic vinaigrette was quite good, despite more of those tricksy avocados.
- The best salad, however, was a quinoa and arugula mélange accompanied by roasted butternut squash, le puy lentils, pickled shallots, toasted almonds, parmigiano-reggiano, and tossed in a lemon vinaigrette.
- Purple is supposedly famous for its flash-sautéed calamari made with torn san marzano tomatoes (huh?), salt-packed capers, castelvetrano olives, chickpeas, garlic, white wine, red chile flake [sic and true], fresh herbs and served with grilled bread. This dish should be infamous instead. It was a soupy bunch of components flying in a loose formation. On top of that it lacked salt, acid, and heat. Really bad job!!
- Your best bet for elevenses to match your wine flight(s) is Purple’s pizza, which is surprisingly good. The best we tried was the housemade merguez sausage, goat cheese, shaved walla walla onions, moroccan tomato sauce, red chile flake [sic, but not true this time], cilantro, and fennel pollen. The ‘za had a decent thin crust and the merguez, goat cheese, and sweet onions combined for a rich, fat, sweet, and hot lambywamy mouthfeel.
- Second place went to their artisan cured meat pie consisting of Fermin serrano paleta, Molinari soppresata, Zoe’s salami, mozzarella, fresh oregano and tomato sauce. If you partake of this particular pizza, it will leave you in the mood for additional hand crafted porkitude. So finish your flight and head to Salumi for lunch.
Here are some pictures of other things we ate at Purple.
Everyone has heard of the famous salumeria opened by Mario Batali’s ‘rents, and there must be more reviews of the place than there are stars in the greater Magellanic Clouds. So MagoGuide is not going to take its readership over such well-trodden ground. There is, however, a major bug in the Salumi system, which is destined to become a feature in 2014. Everyone complains about the lines that form at least 30 minutes prior to opening and last until closing, but this built-in wait will allow baked hobbits to reacquire their hunger in the company of similar minded dwarves, elves, and men. In fact, the human snake that often wraps around the block will become an ideal venue for impromptu cannabis tastings as a means of passing time and spliffs.
Once inside and overwhelmed by the glorious olfactory experience that comes with being in the presence of major salami poundage, it may not occur to the average halfling that one of the pillars of Salumi’s success is restraint. This is not an Italian-American New York-style deli that serves loaf-sized sandwiches overstuffed to the point that even dedicated fressers must share a sangueech in order to finish it. Salumi is a direct Italian transplant, as opposed to an nth generation establishment that has evolved separately for decades in the US of A. The sandwiches and other servings are not dainty by any means, but most hungry folks will have no trouble eating one by themselves.
A perfect example of Salumi’s culinary restraint is their take on that other great Italian-American grinder, the New Orlean’s muffuletta. Lucullus takes almost overweening pride in his muffuletta expertise (see A NOLA Dust-Up), so he could not resist the Muffa that was a special when Team Mago finally burst through the doors at Salumi. It beats the Central Grocery’s version hands down. The key is the olive relish, which compliments rather than overwhelms the rest of the sandwich. One could quibble that a “real” muffuletta is always made with a round mini-loaf topped with sesame seeds, but to paraphrase the late Marcella Hazan, taste trumps tradition and the bread employed by Salumi might be the wrong shape but it really delivers. If Addephagia smiles on MagoGuide, we plan to compare the Batalis muffuletta with Cochon Butcher’s version in the Big Easy next month on our way to the Florida Love Shack.
Aristippus eschewed the multi-ingredient Muffa for a basic sopressata sandwich, which came with just the right amount of the best salami this side of Rome. In fact, the Batalis could give the Rosciolis a run for their money (see Panis Focacius Regit). Note to Food Network, Anthony Bourdain, etc.: Don’t you freakin’ dare!! Engineering a Batali-Roscioli throw down, quick fire, whatever would be an infamnia. Addephagia has some exquisite punishments in store for precisely this type of gastro-hubris, which are so gruesome that Mago Guide triple dog dares ya to even float the idea at one of your “how can we further screw up great local places for a ratings bump?” strategy sessions.
Team Mago also sampled the soup of the day made of lentils, fennel, onions, and salami in a killer stock that tasted like a blend of chicken and pork. The soup came with excellent grated sheep cheese as well as more of that wonderful bread.
It seemed foolish to stint on our halftime meal, especially since it was at least three hours until the next feeding, so Lucullus inhaled a meatball and sauce. This turned out to be an excellent idea since the porkitudinous sphere was sweet, soft (as in not fried), nicely spiked with fennel, and dense without a resort to non-meat filler. The accompanying tomato sauce was quite good, especially when slathered on the Muffa after the meatball disappeared down his gullets.
Here are some more shots of Salumi:
High Tea: Quinn’s
Happy hour is the perfect time to make the switch from sativa to indica, helped along with a brewski or twoski. Beer O’Clock at Quinn’s runs from 3 to 5PM, coinciding with traditional tea time in The Shire. While Tolkein never held forth on the subject, it stands to reason that hobbits invented the gastro-pub phenomenon back in the Third Age and they have never looked back. Quinn’s is to Seattle what the Green Dragon was to Hobbiton: 14 beers on tap; wines by the glass, half bottle, and bottle; and scads of boutique bourbon, straight, rye, and single malt whiskeys.
We will get back to the hooch a bit later, but what really sets Quinn’s apart is their food. Team Mago arrived at 4:20 and began with spiced bacon caramel popcorn and peanuts, which is basically Cracker Jack for janies. Fulvia was not fond of this dish, but Lucullus and Aristippus were so busy hoovering the bowl that they hardly noticed.
She was, however, quite taken with what she termed bacalau hushpuppies (listed on the menu as salt cod fritters) that came with a killer bespoke remoulade dipping sauce.
Lucullus simply cannot resist bone marrow and Quinn’s version did not disappoint. The dish had four huge half-shanks of veal marrow accompanied by red onion marmalade, grilled bread, and parsley salad. The marmalade and salad provided a perfect foil for the short ton of God’s Buttah, but the bread was cut too thin to support the liter or so of marrow drippings ladled onto each piece. The approach struck Lucullus as a bit to much Lilly gilding. Not that a molecule of the entire preparation remained to remonstrate about, however, when he was done with his feeding frenzy.
In semi-retaliation for his cholesterol gundge, Fulvia and Aristippus split the nightly vegetarian special of roasted squash with pomegranate butter and seeds. We had to send the waiter for salt, but otherwise the dish was sweet and soft with a nice touch of acid on the finish.
At this point Lucullus pulled out his cell phone and pre-emptively established himself on a waiting list for heart transplants (if they can give a new ticker to Dick Cheney, why not make room for another patrician autocrat that believes war is the best poverty reduction program going?). Then he ordered both of versions of French fries on the menu for a head-to-head comparison. The “regular” frites are served with Fontina fonduta and veal demi-glace. If the Belgians did cheese fries this is what they would make. Fulvia, a frites fanatic, felt that these babies were too rich—a gastro-oxymoron utilized almost exclusively by the fairer sex that Lucullus has come to respect without really understanding.
And she would not even touch the foie gras frites served with shaved self-engorged duck liver and foie sauce. Actually neither would Aristippus, but that just meant more for Lucullus, who thought that these fries were amazing. A clear sign that foie gras is just God’s way of saying “iron supplement.”
Lucullus was on a role (there may have been alcohol and, ah, other substances involved). For dessert he ordered country pork terrine served with pickled vegetables and grilled Levain bread. This dish could be described either as spam on steroids or Vienna sausage veritas.
It went particularly well with Quinn’s peppermint chocolate chip ice cream, which Lucullus ordered as a concession to Mago teammates who do not think pig candy is a proper desert.
As to the beer, Quinn’s has a Belgian bias behind the bar as well as in the kitchen. There is always a Trappist ale on tap (brewed, one is assured on the menu, by real monks in a real monestary). The night Team Mago swilled at this fine establishment there were three Belgian’s on tap backed up by ten micro brews from Washington and Oregon as well as Guinness stout. Lucullus became enamored of the seasonal pumpkin beer to the point where Fulvia was forced to organize an intervention so that he could leave the bar upright and under his own steam (wives are God’s way of keeping the weak willed out of rehab).
For those not inclined toward the sudsier end of dipsomania, the wine list is a jewel box filled with gems from unlikely places such as the Bekaa Valley and unusual choices such as two malbecs from Cahors (vice South America) and a eschewing any Barolos for a brace of Barbarescos. In addition the bar boasts twenty single malts, eleven Irish whiskies, fourteen ryes, three Candians, seven straight whiskies, and a phenomenal thirty artisan bourbons. Just remember to pace yourself since you have two more meals to go before slumping into the arms of Morpheus.
Chef John Sundstrom’s small plates restaurant is an excellent choice for a hobbit’s penultimate meal of the day. Devoted to locally produced and foraged ingredients, Lark promises “waves of courses coming to your table, a blend of simple, seasonal, classic, and adventurous dishes.” If the waves analogy is meant to imply an orderly progression of dishes orchestrated by a calming and rhythmic service, then it is perhaps a bit overdone. We booked a table well in advance but spent the better part of a half hour in the restaurant’s small seating area while various staff members showed up a periodically to tell us that the problem was a table of diners who refused to leave after they had paid.
The staff went so far as to point out the miscreants and implicitly invite us to join them in their snarky put downs of the immovable patrons that were almost certainly audible at the table in question. We were offered a glass of non-gratis wine, but when I ordered a pinot noir they brought me a rioja. Upon finally attaining our table, I ordered a bottle of the rioja and was presented with a pinot noir. I tasted the wine and said it was not the same as I had just imbibed in the sitting area. This revelation required two wait staff, the hostess, and finally the sommelier to resolve. We ended up drinking an Otanon 2010 rioja that had a lot of forward tempranillo fruit. The wine went quite well with the food, which turned out to be worth the delay and confusion.
The lead-off dish of semolina gnocchi with Billy’s tomatoes, Gorgonzola crema, arugula, and Parmigiano was the only disappointing preparation of the evening. This would have been a very good dish if it had been built around potato or spinach and ricotta gnocchi, but semolina dumplings, otherwise known as gnocchi alla romana in Italy, must be cut into disks as opposed to the ridged nubbins of classic potato gnocchi. Then instead of boiling and saucing, semolina gnocchi are oven-baked, usually with prosciutto or pancetta strips and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Substituting semolina gnocchi for the potato version results in stolid and gluey dumplings to which the otherwise interesting sauce cannot adhere.
The Montana wagyu steak tartare served with raw quail egg and onion crackers began a stunning comeback from such an inauspicious start. The beef imparted a superb mouth feel boosted by the raw quail egg yolk. The dish could have done with a few more capers, but it was definitely a stand up triple.
The charred octopus with guanciale, piquillo peppers, and Bomba rice was an exciting inside the park home run. Essentially a miniature octopus paella, the guanciale made the dish.
Next came Penn Cove blue mussels with bacon, apples, cream, thyme and shallot. Lucullus usually favors Italian mussel dishes as opposed to the heavier French approaches, but the apples were an unusual touch that lightened this classic preparation just enough to make it another base hit.
The Montana wagyu hanger steak served with red wine sauce and smokey blue cheese butter and accompanied by Olsen’s potatoes was a Big Sky bases loaded home run. The meat was perfectly cooked and its buttery flavor was enhanced by the interplay of wine sauce and blue cheese. Lucullus was impressed that Chef Sundstrom left the Pacific Northwest to source this excellent beef in MagoGuide country.
Lark also produced the best dessert of the entire trip, a decadent Theo dark chocolate panna cotta with salted almond streusel and coffee cream. Bittersweet, salty, rich and creamy: what’s not to like?
For the last meal of this LOT- inspired gastro-marathon think Bilbo Baggins meets Mr. Creosote. It may take more than a little Southern Star to work up an appetite, but Marjorie is a fine venue for engaging in the après gluttonous phase that hobbits term “filling up the corners.” Named for the owner’s mother, the Captial Hill venue is the second incarnation of this redoubtable little restaurant. The main dining room tends to be rather crowded and bustling, so if you want your seventh meal of the day to be a quiet and reflective affair, the adjacent annex should be your choice.
Lucullus continued to take no prisoners on this last leg of his personal food jihad. Since it was Restaurant Week in Seattle, he opted for the three course value for money offering on the menu, beginning with a dish of Washington Manilla clams, white wine, spanish chorizo, and mustard greens. The clams were immaculately fresh while the chorizo added some welcome heat and a touch of richness to the salty sweet broth, which played well against the bitter greens.
This preparation also paired well with our last wine of the evening, a 2011 Marco Felluga Collio Pinot Grigio Mongris. The lemon peel nose preceded vibrant citrus fruit backed up by wet stones that faded into a long delicate finish.
Next came pan fried monkfish on a bed of creamy faro risotto spiked with a lemony za’tar infused oil and accompanied by some very nice roasted peppers.
Dessert showed up in the form of a warm pear galette served with an interesting balsamic caramel sauce that was nicely tempered by a refreshing dollop of housemade bay laurel ice cream.
And what of Fulvia and Aristippus? Claiming to be in attendance solely to make sure that Lucullus did not founder, they split a pizza and an order of fries. The fries were nothing special, but the harissa ketchup was quite good. Unlike so many American restaurants, Marjorie goes to the trouble of finding real deal harissa and does not shy away from using enough of it to impart a classic Carthaginian burn.
The pizza margherita was good, featuring a very thin classic Roman crust and excellent fresh mozzarella, which made up for the rather lack luster tomato sauce and whimpy comercial arugula.
Other things we ate at Marjorie:
Corners suitably filled, Team Mago made its way back to the Seattle Love Shack humming snatches of “The Road Goes Ever On and On” and secure in the knowledge that, to quote Thorin Oakenshield, “if more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”