Seattle Christmas

My sister lives in Seattle, and this year my whole family, plus her husband’s family, all gathered there to celebrate the birth of jesus christ, or just hang out for a few days.  I’m used to being by myself 90% of the time, so suddenly being around not just other people, but family 24/7 was somewhat anxiety producing for me.  Plus the consumer-capitalist orgy that are the holidays tends to offend me at a fairly visceral level.  I manged these impositions as I usually do, by cooking and eating.

Our first dining experience was my best, at Carmelita.   Carmelita is an upscalish, foodie vegetarian restaurant, meaning they seem to pay attention to quality, in season ingredients and don’t serve any tempeh.  I’m pretty much done with veggie grill type places, so this restaurant was a nice change of pace.  I started out with a “rosemary pear” cocktail, continuing my winter interest in pears.  Because of this, I think I neglected to see the ‘rosemary’ part.  The drink contained “Ketel One vodka, Clear Creek pear brandy, Canton ginger cognac, rosemary, [and] old-fashioned bitters,” but tasted mostly like rosemary.  I stuck with wine the rest of the night, while having the the cheese plate and the “lobster mushroom-pecan-mascarpone tortellini [with] Brussels sprouts, glazed red cipollini onions, [and] grilled endive cream.”  It was as good as it sounds, and unlike the fair at most “vegetarian” restaurants, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t replicate this dish at home without quite a bit of difficulty.  The thick, savory, but not-too-dense endive sauce and perfectly cooked sweet cipollini onions particularly impressed me.  And lobster mushroom tortellini!  and Brussels sprouts!  Perfect flavor combination.  Very clever.

A couple nights later, it was onto Tom Douglas’ Lola.  Tom Douglas is a Wolfgang Puck-ish restaurateur in the Seattle area, and owns several restaurants.  I meant to go to the vaguely asian-themed Dhalia Lounge, but because I couldn’t remember which restaurant was which we ended up at the greek-themed Lola.  Fine.  Tom Douglas’ named sounded familiar when my sister mentioned it to me, and that’s because he was on top chef:

I introduce this video for several reasons.  One, to remind you of the awesomeness of top chef season 6.  Jennifer and Kevin ended up getting Douglas’ box, and Jennifer ended up winning (see, she is a winner, despite recent events).  Also, to indicate the specific high end foodie context in which his restaurants are situated.  Most of the places I go to in LA are either cheapish “ethnic” cuisine places or locally popular hipster joints.  Lola was mass-market high end food.  As such, we had dishes with top chef worthy vocabulary: harissas and ouzo and lamb burgers and a menu heading entitled “starches” (though no geleés or foams or duos of).  Also, the waiter never failed to recommend only the most expensive things on the menu, such as when I asked him for his wine recommendations.  When I went for a slightly less expensive Greek wine (again, this is a greek restaurant), he seemed disappointed.  Still, I had the scallops, clams, mussels and salmon in a tomato saffron broth for a hefty $32 (mom was paying).  The scallops especially and also clams and mussels were overcooked, and the tomato broth was way over seasoned and had no saffron taste at all.  My tablemates all said the broth tasted like watered-down, over-salted, jar tomato sauce or soup.  It was ok, but if the main seafood ingredients were indeed local and carefully and responsibly harvested, they should have survived even the poor cooking.  Instead, I don’t think I enjoyed a single bit of this entree.  For dessert I had a choclate “custard” with a marshmallow on top.  My friend Rachel makes better marshmallows, and the custard was ok, but not as good as, say, the comparatively cheap chocolate mousse at the local Alston Yacht Club.  Maybe I’m just an LA snob now.

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Most of the pictures in the above slideshow are in fact NOT of our dinner at Lola, indicating there were other aspects to this holiday.  Indeed, we saw a gingerbread house exhibition in the lobby of a hotel.  The gingerbread houses were mostly impressive, especially an edible gingerbread treehouse.  There was a huge line to see these edible sculptures, which was really unnecessary because, while you couldn’t get up really really close without standing in the line, you could see pretty much everything else, at a distance of no more than four feet.  And even then, there was no one really monitoring the line.  One could interpret the fact that people were standing in a line at all as a marker of remarkable American civility or, conversely, as a sign of unthinking Christmas mass conformity.  Speaking of, I was dragged to see the Harry Potter movie, which was worse than I thought it was going to be.  Staid plot, too much emo crying, very derivative and inconsistent/illogical fantasy world, and lots of bad acting from almost everyone involved, (except for Alan Rickman and the divine Helena Bonham Carter)  Like Kristen Stewart, Emma Watson’s cuteness doesn’t make up for her poor acting, and she’s the best of the primary actors (what a great innovation, though, to have “Bellatrix Lestrange” torture Hermione by laying on top of her and biting her arm).  Anyway, terrible movie, made worse by the idiots behind us cheering at the stupid capitol one commercials [Insert Adorno quote here].  Whatever.

As far as cooking goes, I made polenta, braised chard, fresh bread, and a “spanish” style potato gratin, all from Deborah Madison’s book.  All turned out well and were a hit, especially the chard, which I did not make enough of.  I decided I needed a food processor so I can make more bread at home (because I’m not the kneading sort).  It all went well, and most importantly, it was very relaxing and meditative to cook.  I also made sugar cookies.  So go the holidays…

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6 Responses to Seattle Christmas

  1. aem321 says:

    I did not mean to imply in the above post the Kirsten Stewart or the Twilight movies are watchable in any way and for any reason. I hate her and those movies (whereas Harry Potter is just not my thing).

  2. Tam says:

    Ha! I hate the Twilight actress too. I especially hate the fact that she and her paramour go to every single publicity event for their movie looking angry and pissed off that they have to be there. Given the fact that both of them are dubiously talented and good-looking, I feel that they should walk around Hollywood with big dumb grateful smiles on their faces for having landed the gig of a lifetime. Instead, they act like sulky teenagers, which I’m starting to feel I’ve had enough of for a lifetime.

    Nice post about your time at home, at any rate. I’m sorry about Lola — I hate it when something that (at least financially) promises to be so significant turns out to be a stinker. I have much-coveted reservations to an all-too-expensive-and-hyped restaurant this week and I’m approaching it with trepidation. I feel like a philistine admitting that my favorite restaurant in Paris is a Laotian one where nothing on the menu costs more than 10 euros. Alas…

    Sorry we didn’t meet in Denver. Like how I’ve turned this comment into an email? Me too.

  3. aem321 says:

    Don’t worry, a comment on this blog is as private as an email. Anyway, Kristen Stewart is a hollywood kid, and she seems appropriately entitled. Having brunch at lost feliz is probably her idea of slumming it up.

    I did have my doubts about Lola. It’s like high end fashion – people follow trends and the really creative stuff is usually much less pretentious. But I feel like the cooks were paying almost no attention to the food, it was just so poorly cooked.

    Hope your time in CO was fun! I saw the pictures and it seemed like you had a good trip. How much longer are you in Paris? I’m trying to finagle my way to europe this summer…

  4. Yelli says:

    You should have told us you were in Seattle! We could have given you some great (even veg!) restaurant recs! We would have told you to stay far away from Tom Douglas and instead venture to the Boat Street Cafe (which doesn’t appear to be our little secret anymore) or T & T Seafood restaurant-both of which make me drool like one of Pavlov’s dogs just thinking about them.

    Hope you had a nice time regardless. Can I safely assume you visited Pike’s Place Market? Did the flying fish amuse you? 🙂

    • aem321 says:

      Oh yes, you guys are most recently from seattle. I always think of you guys and chicago. My sister lives in seattle, and my cousin also, so I’ve been there lots of times. Didn’t make it to Pike’s Place this time (ie. avoided it). Will definitely ask you next time for restaurant recommendations. I have to say, though, the city is much more charming in the sun.

  5. Yelli says:

    Chicago? Blech…we actually know next to nothing about Chicago unless it involves driving between our parents house and eating Italian beefs.

    We “grew up” as adults in Seattle. The funny thing about Seattle is that the best part of Seattle is not the city itself but all of the things to do around the city, at least in our tree-hugger-ing universe…

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