Belltown Messenger - Documenting Downtown Seattle

Belltown Messenger #77 - March 2010

belltown dining

RONALD HOLDEN has some favorite things
Crab Cakes, Steak, Oysters


CRABCAKES being created by Kevin Davis at Steelhead diner.

It takes nothing away from Tom Douglas, who chronicled Seattle’s love affair with crab cakes (and wrote a cookbook with 50 crab cake recipes), that the best example in town comes from a competitor’s kitchen. It’s the highest ingredient-cost item on the Steelhead Diner menu, $15.95. Most restaurants start with lesser grades of crab (a couple of ounces at most) and typically extend it with cracker-crumbs or other filler; not here.

Kevin Davis, Steelhead’s chef and owner (with his wife, Teresa), developed the recipe when he was at the now-defunct Oceanaire: start with plain white bread, properly moistened with homemade, whole-egg mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, seasoned with garlic, cilantro, green onion, Hungarian paprika, a touch of habanero, a drop of tabasco and a splash of lime. For each crab cake, take a handful of Dungeness crab meat, the good stuff (legs and claws that cost $27 a pound, wholesale) and add just enough of the base to hold it together until you’ve got a hefty, six-ounce wad, about the size of a tennis ball. You won’t taste the breading at all; it’s only a mortar of flavors to support the briny crab legs.

A prep cook, Juan Allegria, who’s been with Davis for eight years, actually puts them together and delivers them to the kitchen. These days, Davis himself is busy transforming the Oceanaire, which he’ll reopen as Blueacre Seafood on March 19th; his chef de cuisine at Steelhead, the talented Anthony Polizzi, fried up our most recent order, topped with flash-fried parsley and served on a bed of traditional Louis sauce. It’s a dish you can share as an appetizer, or make into your main course.

Davis himself, as we’ve written in this space more than once, is not a fussy innovator. “There’s a reason for culinary classics, dishes that stand the test of time,” he says. “When it’s done right, a crab cake can be as good as anything you’ll ever eat.”

Steelhead Diner
steelheaddiner.com

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Meat Man
By now, we know about Wagyu, literally “Japanese beef.” Not to put too fine a point on it, there’s an American Wagyu as well. Coddled cattle, well-fed, well-housed, regularly massaged, soothed by classical music, as pampered as lapdogs.

Comes now a third Gyu, a subset of Wagyu, raised by farmers in the ancient Omi region, the modern-day Shiga prefecture on Honshu island 300 miles southwest of Tokyo, site of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest, whose mineral-rich waters nourish the cattle. Only six head a month from two particularly conscientious ranches, Sawai and Takara, are licensed for export. Only boneless meat that meets the Japanese A5 standard for color and marbling is exported to the US, to be served by half a dozen top steakhouses. In the Pacific Northwest, only one: Metropolitan Grill.

Which brings us to exec chef Eric Hellner, a 21-year-veteran of Consolidated Restaurants, now on his third stint at the Met. He sears the 6-ounce ohmigyu tenderloin, seasoned with only salt and pepper, on a cast-iron griddle, brings its internal temperature up slowly to keep the fat unctuous. Served with a drizzle of veal demi-glace and a few Yukon gold potatoes poached in garlic butter, it’s $100. (You can also get raw Ohmi as a carpaccio appetizer for $20.) Don’t listen to people who say it’s not worth it, the best steakhouse meat is never cheap.

Thanks to elevated glutamate levels, not to mention inosinic and oleic acids, Ohmi provides an umami experience like no other. It’s like cutting into a perfectly seared lobe of foie gras, redolent of meaty char, rich blood and exquisite liver. If you pay attention to taste, you will remember this for the rest of your life.

Metropolitan Grill
themetropolitangrill.com

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Postcard from Shelton
It’s normally a one-lane track from forest to shore along Totten Inlet, but under the full moon and extreme low tide, there’s now a couple hundred yards between the treeline and the water’s edge. Underfoot, it’s all wet sand and oyster shells. Behind us, wearing LED headlamps, a work crew is picking oysters out of the ground, first into plastic buckets, then into 20-bushel wire cages. Totten Inlet Virginicas they are.

The time has come, said Cornichon, For bivalves on the beach:

The moon is full, the tide is out ...
We’ll have an oyster feast!

“Here, let me open a couple for you,” says an oysterman who appears out of the blackness, one of a dozen Taylor Shellfish employees who’ve come out for this periodic moonlight picnic. He reaches down and plucks a couple of shells from the sand, trots down to water’s edge to rinse them, and returns, shucker’s knife in hand. Seconds later, we’re slurping the Virginicas, firm and icy-cold, chased with a sip of Cedergreen sauvignon blanc. The oyster to end all oysters, the picnic to end all picnics, an event of pure perfection.

Our helpful oysterman, it turns out, is Gifford Pinchot IV, known as Marco. Yes, that Gifford Pinchot, whose great-grandfather was Teddy Roosevelt’s secretary of agriculture and founder of the US Forest Service, in whose honor the Columbia National Forest was renamed. Though he grew up in Connecticut, Marco came west, graduated from Evergreen and earned advanced degrees in ecology from Western and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. If there were a poster child for environmental stewardship, it would be Marco.

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Metropolitan Market goes uptown
Sometimes, all you want from a market is stuff you can throw together for dinner, a steak or piece of fish. Sometimes, though, you want more, much more. Even here, in laid-back Seattle, we want to do all our shopping in one stop, soup to nuts, flowers to toilet paper. Obsessive scurrying isn’t needed to find just the right brie, the perfect cupcake, the ideal teapot; ideally, they’re all under the same, 40,000-square-foot roof, all with validated parking.

In this bleeping economy, restaurants are bleeding (and bleeping) themselves with price cuts, but grocery stores, by and large, are doing well. In fact, they’re able to spend money on significant upgrades to attract and keep shoppers who might otherwise scurry to specialty stores. It’s not a slam-dunk, but the analysts preach that “tuning in to consumer data and retailer partners’ needs” leads to success. Gobbledy-gook, better interpreted on a local level, which leads directly to the region’s sole remaining player, Food Market Northwest, formerly Thriftway, now dba Metropolitan Market.

The locally-owned, six-store Metropolitan Markets chain has not been immune to the grocery wars. They cut an underperforming, five-year-old store in Federal Way’s Dash Point Village at the end of 2009, though the firm has plans to open its first eastside store, in Kirkland, later this year.

The potentially lucrative inner-city market has proven the most contentious. Consider the landscape: there’s the ultimate farmers market, at Pike Place, better known as Seattle’s number one tourist attraction than as a one-stop supermarket. To meet that particular need for downtowners, there’s a smallish Kress IGA a
couple of blocks away. Two Safeways, one at the top, one at the bottom of Queen Anne. Whole Foods opened at 2200 Westlake three years ago and introduced Seattle to the “whole paycheck” concept of luxury organic shopping (though, to be fair, they’ve done a great job of everyday pricing as well with their “365” line), and QFC (part of Kroger’s, which also owns Fred Meyer) followed suit six months later with a similar new store at 5th and Mercer.

Used to be, there was a Larry’s Market as well, in the former Hansen Baking Company at 1st and Mercer. Larry’s collapsed four years ago, and Metropolitan (with a nearby store at the top of Queen Anne about to be torn down for redevelopment) stepped in.

But the Larry’s look, a sort of upscale Costco warehouse, didn’t match the new Whole Foods experience (warm lighting, the abundance of a European-style outdoor market). And with the development of its existing store unexpectedly stalled, Metropolitan had to do something. They’ve spent millions remodeling the entire store,
which re-opened last month to enthusiastic crowds lining up for free samples from suppliers like Salumi, Gelatiamo, and Cupcake Royale. Looks more and more like Metropolitan’s flagship store at Admiral: there’s an expanded line of organic products, a carving station in the deli, more local, artisan and farmstead cheeses, and a “wellness and nutrition” department for shoppers with dainty skin and delicate digestion. For oenophiles, a selection of 1,300 bottles.

Ronald’s blog: cornichon.org


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