Seattle's Best Meals of 2010

From Potatoes Minneapolis to Moo Dade Deaw.

It has been almost a year now since I came to Seattle—since I burned out my transmission in the mountains and came limping and coasting down the other side like some kind of crippled Dorothy dragging herself toward the Emerald City. I had nothing more than a desk, a $5 map, and an appetite when I showed up just after the first of the year. The whole city was out there waiting for me. Even in the dullest of years there is the temptation to look back as the calendar begins to run down and see what one has made of them, but this has been anything but a dull year. Everything was new to me a year ago. Every corner I turned was an adventure, with some new horror or revelation in the offing. And like some kind of inveterate cardsharp following the light at the top of the Luxor across the desert and finally landing smack in the middle of the Las Vegas strip, I found action everywhere I looked. It was a good year. It was a terrible year. I found as much to like here as I missed about other cities I'd called home in the past, and missed as much about them as I found in the Pacific Northwest to like. But one can't dwell too much on the bad, on things unloved or undone. Regret is poison, so with a new year lying fresh and welcoming before us, I'm going to burn a little ink in the name of love. Of everything I've done in the past 350-odd days—of all the meals I've eaten and the rooms that have welcomed me in from the rain—these are the best: Blueacre Seafood, September 1 "Potatoes Minneapolis," repeats my server. "That's shredded potatoes, mixed with a little bacon fat and bacon, then fried"—he does a thing with his hands, holding one out, palm up, laying the other on top, and flipping them over—"and turned over so it's crispy on the outside and soft inside. Kind of like a giant order of hash browns." I purse my lips and nod as though considering—as though any consideration had been necessary after he'd mentioned potatoes with bacon fat. Food Porn slideshow: Blueacre Seafood

Imagine a sauté pan filled with shredded potatoes. Now imagine that pan filled not solely with shredded potatoes, but with shredded potatoes soaked with bacon grease and butter, studded with tiny little chunks of bacon, then fried so that the parts touching metal crisp up all nice and brown and those in the middle stay steamy, soft, and white. For service, the pan of potatoes is flipped over like an upside-down cake, so that it appears like a golden-brown dome of crisp potatoes hiding bacon inside. The first bite is like being hit in the mouth with a salted brick wrapped in bacon. By the second, I knew without a doubt that I had found true love—that a hole in my life I didn't even know was there had been filled by nothing more than fried potatoes and bacon grease. When I ate it for the first time, I knew I had found the soft and secret heart of Blueacre (1700 Seventh Ave.)—its white-trash center hidden beneath mountains of fish. And if I could've somehow managed it, in that moment I felt as though I could happily eat nothing but Potatoes Minneapolis every day for the rest of my life. Crush, June 23 I felt like a kid accidentally seated at the grown-ups' table. The counter edge hit me squarely in the chest when I leaned forward. My arms were up around my shoulders. It was as if I'd suddenly been turned into an Oompa Loompa, frantically trying to shovel bites of citrus-shot hamachi crudo into my mouth, or to eat the short ribs that probably one out of every three customers at Crush order on any given night: simple, dark, and tender braised ribs, laid over a cloud of puréed potatoes with baby carrots and parsley pistou. Food Porn slideshow: Crush On my first night at Crush (2319 E. Madison St.), I ended up occupying the worst seat in the house—a single, too-short stool positioned around the elbow of the counter with a view of nothing but an arrangement of white orchids and a tray of custom chocolates ready for passing. Directly behind me, the host stood constantly answering the phone and telling people that no, there were no tables available for that night's service, but perhaps if they were willing to wait until some time next week, a table would be open. And I spent the first half of my first meal peeking through the orchids like a ninja just to get a look at the crew working in near silence in the open kitchen beyond. Yet the meal I was served more than made up for any discomfort. There were the short ribs, and a bowl of beautiful handmade tagliatelle with foraged morel mushrooms and bits of duck confit that was so good it was like taking big, bloody bites of the heart of the earth. Even the amuse-bouche (parmesan-dusted gougères) was better than most main attempts by most kitchens in Seattle. When halfway through my meal I was suddenly moved to the center of the counter by the host when a party who'd asked for it failed to materialize, it hardly mattered to me at all. I was already so impressed with Crush—and with chef Jason Wilson, who, it turned out, was not even cooking that night—that I wrote for it one of the first total mash notes that I'd given to a restaurant since arriving. Mistral Kitchen, March 10 The short rib had spent a bit more than 48 hours in the thermal circulator, waiting for me to show up and order it. The escarole had been carefully chopped, braised, blanched, shocked, and—this is the important part—salted liberally before being laid down as my rib's final bedding. The potatoes were only potatoes, and the whole dish was so simple and unfucked-with that it seemed ridiculous, the amount of effort and science and preparation that had gone into its completion. Food Porn slideshow: Mistral Kitchen Mistral Kitchen (2020 Westlake Ave.) was the first great restaurant I found in Seattle; its chef, William Belickis, one of the first true and serious brainiacs I fell for. Not only was the room perfect—a tightrope walk of cold, clinical hardness and rustic comfort—and the menu a bold mix of the traditional and the ultramodern, but getting to sit at the counter at the dog-end of a Friday night, laughing with the cooks as we watched the party casualty sitting ramrod-straight at the far end completely unravel was one of the best times I'd had since arriving in town. The guy was so tooled up on his chemical of choice (from the look of him, I guessed a cocktail of good coke and wombat adrenaline) that he couldn't stop talking, sweating, tapping his foot on the rail, bothering the servers, and grinding his teeth all at the same time. And when he was suddenly inspired to leave (in the middle of a sentence), he moved as if there were goblins climbing his legs, bouncing first off the hostess stand and then hitting the door at half a sprint. The short rib mentioned above was also the first plate I had in Seattle that proved to me there were cooks here who could do more than grill a salmon. It wasn't that I doubted it, just that I hadn't found any until the moment of its arrival. It was a simple, beautiful, and technically flawless dish which elevated something plain to the level of excellence. Bai Tong, March 24 Moo dade deaw—I don't even try to pronounce it. What it is is thin strips of pork, marinated for what tastes like a week in a slurry of cane sugar, carrots, burning tires, wet pretzels, soy sauce, peat, Pixy Stix, and salt. I'm guessing the meat was then lifted from the marinade, beaten with a hammer, lost by the cook tasked with its keeping, left to air-dry for a few months like a fine salami, found again, trimmed of excess fat, delicately floured, and then fried to order in a hot wok filled with rendered heroin tar. Food Porn slideshow: Bai Tong Moving to any new city, one of the first and most important things any sane person will do is find a good place to get Thai food. In Bai Tong (16876 Southcenter Pkwy, Tukwila) I found a great one, and got the extra kick of discovering one of the most addictive food items I have ever tasted: Moo dade deaw. Staple & Fancy, November 10 A chunky and rich forkful of terrine, a leaf of watercress, a twist of shallot, and a squiggle of the agrodolce—the effect is almost indescribable. So delicious, so ideally wedded and perfectly balanced, this bite is transcendent. It is the definition of the phrase "greater than the sum of its parts," rendering all other uses of it pat and cliché. Food Porn slideshow: Staple & FancyThere was a moment, early on in one of my meals at Ethan Stowell's new Staple & Fancy (4739 Ballard Ave.), when I was pretty sure I was eating at one of the best restaurants I'd been to in a year. It was this rabbit terrine that so moved me—a perfect wedding of intent, technique, and ingredients. The effect didn't last, but even to just have that one dish that touched on absolute perfection was a moment to surpass all others. Book Bindery, December 15 The smell was evocative of oceans and comfort on cold afternoons, all heat and steam and spice. The white beans were tender and had soaked up the flavor of the buttery wine broth like sponges. The chorizo added spikes of salt and heat to every bite. The clams were done beautifully, and when I asked my server where they'd come from, he actually pointed out the big window to the side of the bar—out toward the waters of the Ship Canal and the small boats passing bigger waters beyond. "There," he said. "They come from there." Food Porn slideshow: Book Bindery The Autumn Apple Salad may have been the better of the two plates I had at Book Bindery (198 Nickerson St.), but the bowl of white beans and clams offered the better, more evocative moment. There are just not a lot of places in this country where a server can point out the window at where your dinner came from. But it's precisely this that makes Seattle's food scene so vital and alive. Huong Binh, May 5 On a quiet Monday I watch a little girl in a princess tiara walk hand-in-hand with her father across the parking lot in the rain. I am eating tapioca dumplings and cha Hue, waiting for skewers of ground shrimp on sugar cane and a nest of rice noodles to go with it. Once they get to the sidewalk, the girl breaks away and makes straight for the ancient, dirty ice-cream cooler set up in front of the windows at Huong Binh (1207 S. Jackson St.). She goes up on her tiptoes to look inside, shouts something back to her father, and then starts bouncing, her hands pressed together, pleading for something sweet. I know the feeling completely. I watch as her father peels a couple wet dollar bills off a thin fold from his pocket, hands them down to her, and fishes out a popsicle from the cooler. The little girl straightens her crown, walks in through the door, and regally hands the money to one of the young staff working the floor. When he comes back with her change, the little girl makes it almost to the door before shoving her popsicle in the air and shouting "Yes!"—a sign of absolute victory and joy.Food Porn slideshow: Huong Binh Some days I am the father. Some days I am the little girl with the princess crown. And really, it just doesn't get much better than that. E

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