Friday, September 24, 2010

melrose market


How is it that The New York Times discovered Melrose Market months before the majority of Seattleites did?  Surprisingly, much of Seattle has yet to venture through the doorway of this triangular oasis bordering downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill.  From the street, the building’s khaki brick facade conceals its inspired interior.  Step inside and be transported to someplace entirely foreign yet oddly familiar.  The gentle hum of activity and ethereal diffused light create a buffer, as though the outside world can not penetrate the tranquility within.

It is difficult not to draw comparisons to San Francisco’s ferry building, likely muse for this luminous, exposed beam beauty.  This scaled down version makes up for limited stature with a host of period details such as exposed brick and leaded glass windows paired seamlessly with European-style tiling and stained cement floors.  The thread of connectivity is undeniable yet Melrose Market’s obscure location attracts a hipper, more locally driven population as opposed to the throngs of tourists swarming the ferry building on any given day. 


Melrose Market came to fruition as a result of careful collaboration between two local developers, Liz Dunn and Scott Shapiro.  Their vision: create a platform where exceptional food, drink, style and music converge under one roof.  Each space is occupied by one of a kind purveyors with a local, independent bent.  The beauty of the market lies squarely within its limitations.  There is little room for growth save for a few vacant spaces; yet high ceilings lend to an open air vibe and the floor plan belies its tight quarters.  The brilliant architects behind this beautifully renovated space ought to win an award for their ingenuity.

Rain Shadow Meats is resident butcher with arguably the best and most diverse meat selection in the city.  Across the way, Homegrown serves up inventive sandwiches and salads highlighting local, organic ingredients and a commitment to sustainability shared by adjacent cheese shop, The Calf & Kid, where an impressive cheese case is dominated by Northwest cheese makers.  Bar Ferd’nand is half bar, half wine shop and the ideal pit stop for those awaiting a table at Sitka & Spruce, Matt Dillon’s stunning reincarnation of his Eastlake restaurant, occupying an airy, intimate space at the far end of the building.  Sandwiched between the bar and restaurant is Marigold and Mint, where a menagerie of beautiful odds and ends encircle one long table whose weathered surface remains hidden beneath pails and vases brimming with happy flowers in brilliant hues, mason jars sprouting  fragrant herbs, and rustic baskets filled with newly harvested onions, carrots and potatoes, bits of soil still clinging to their skins.

Independent music store Sonic Boom Records occupies one of two exterior spaces with knowledgeable staff and an impressive selection of new and used music.  Next door is Velouria, where conscience meets style with a spotlight on hip, wearable clothing and accessories for men and women by independent designers.  Located on the lower level is Still Liquor, night owl of the marketplace and purported servers of strong, inventive libations.

Head to Melrose Market for tonight’s brisket and you may find yourself lugging home a canvas tote brimming with garden fresh vegetables, cheery flowers, a crusty loaf of bread, an unctuous wedge of fromage, a luscious bottle of red, a laid back dinner soundtrack and a smart new ensemble to spruce up your wardrobe. 

Note to self : Next time, be sure to bring along an extra tote.

sitka & spruce


Sitka & Spruce has been around the block in their four years on the Seattle restaurant scene; and not just figuratively speaking.  Late last year, the Eastlake restaurant closed their doors only to put down new roots inside Capitol Hill’s Johnnie-come-lately, Melrose Market.  In its previous location, devotees looked past the run-down storefront and paid attention to the food.  Chef and owner, Matt Dillon spins local ingredients into inspired dishes the way Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold.  And he does so with conviction, highlighting seasonal local foods and routinely incorporating the exceptional meats, cheeses and produce found just outside their doorstep.

When I first walked through the doors of Melrose Market, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the rear of the building where Sitka and Spruce inhabits a freestanding structure within the market.  The reincarnated space does not sparkle with shiny newness.  It feels like an old friend, weathered and familiar.  Soft light streams through rows of leaded windowpanes and exposed brick is whitewashed, adding cheery brightness.  An open kitchen provides warmth and invites denizens to inactively participate in an orchestrated dance of activity, best observed from the adjacent communal table.  Servers and kitchen staff streak past leaving behind flashes of color while diners meet one another’s gazes sharing the secret knowledge that this is where it’s at. 

Over the course of three visits, I have twice been for lunch and once for a sleepy weekend brunch.  At the noon hour, I sampled delicate wedges of golden watermelon layered with briny sheep’s milk feta and paper thin slices of prosciutto scattered with crunchy red chili flakes.  I sunk my teeth into pert, creamy local camembert perched atop a pool of fragrant wildflower honey and savored tender roasted broccoli and escarole bathed in silky anchovy butter.  Smooth tangy chickpea puree felt exotic with the addition of spicy harissa beneath a nest of cool sweet carrot salad.  Whole smoked sardines adorned with creme fraiche zig zags were balanced atop round yellow potatoes like dual silver skateboards poised to race across the table at a moment’s notice. 


Weekend brunch brought soothing house made yogurt with juicy ripe peaches and ambrosial honey.  Tender buttermilk biscuits were slathered with sultry late-summer blackberry jam and the clean flavor of creme fraiche.  On the savoury side, ful mesdames were fava beans simmered with spices and topped with a delicately poached egg, toasted pistachios and fragrant fresh dill.

For Sitka and Spruce, ‘reinvention was the mother of necessity’.  In their new space, seasoned customers and newfound admirers convene under one roof with easy familiarity.  Diners are muses in a Degas painting where each meal is captured in fluid brushstrokes of color and light; only Dillon wields a spatula, not a paintbrush, and his masterpieces are decidedly edible.

Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon

marigold and mint


Marigold and Mint owner, Katherine Anderson, understands loveliness in every nuance of the word.  An enticing smattering of sweet nothings such as handmade soaps, baubles, trinkets, richly colored ribbons and French chocolates, are visible proof.  Her artful selection of handmade treasures serve as the backdrop for a weathered farmhouse table laden with bowls, baskets, pails, vases and jars, all spilling forth with vibrant flowers and organic fresh produce.


Back in the 50’s Katherine’s grandfather bought 30 acres on the Snoqualmie River, land her dad now owns and operates as Oxbow Farm.  Katherine utilizes a portion of the acreage for growing the flowers which briefly make their way into her shop before being plucked up by devoted customers.  Trained as a landscape architect, Katherine welcomed the opportunity to showcase her creativity in a more urban setting.  The shop acts as her canvas, an evolving still life where the edible and fanciful converge in a daily dance of color and texture. 

bar ferd’nand


Sidle up to the counter for a glass of wine at Bar Ferd’nand and you have no doubt secured the best perch for people watching in Melrose Market.  Find out who was lucky enough to score a coveted table at nearby Sitka & Spruce, breath in the fragrance of freshly cut flowers at neighboring Marigold and Mint or keep a running tally of the pristine cuts of meat exchanging hands across the way at Rain Shadow Meats.  


Matt Dillon sagely partnered with sommelier Marc Papineau and wine aficionado Jared Baily in creating this this ‘rustic meets utilitarian’ space in the heart of Melrose Market.  The bar is cleverly positioned as a pit stop on the trail to Sitka & Spruce.  Waiting for that table to open up?  Why not while away the hours squarely positioned just outside the the restaurant, a drink in one hand and a menu of seafood predominant, Spanish-style small plates to tide you over.  No less appealing on its own, Bar Ferd’nand attracts the well-heeled and hipsters alike. 

Bonus:  The adjacent wine shop offers a solid selection of great wines at reasonable prices.  Bartenders are knowledgeable and occasionally offer tastes of wines sold in the shop.

Bar Ferd'nand on Urbanspoon

the calf & kid {artisan cheese shop}


The Calf & Kid Artisan Cheese Shop makes the most of their pint sized cheese case with an impressive selection that will no doubt satisfy the finicky as well as the adventurous palate.  Northwest varieties abound with a handful of European options thrown in for good measure.  Before opening her cheese shop, Sherry LaVigne, made her way across Washington State, getting to know the cheese makers she would represent and learning their trade.  Sherry and her staff are warm, knowledgeable and more than willing to offer samples when their playful descriptions fail to capture your imagination.  Not to be missed:  a goody basket filled with wee hunks of cheese, ideal for trying something new with minimal commitment. 



Just inside the main entrance of Melrose Market, Homegrown planted the second installment of their successful, sustainable sandwich shop.  A vast menu highlights local, organic ingredients and inventive sandwiches such as ‘crab cake with bacon + avocado’, ‘meatloaf BLT’ and ‘Bluffernutter’, a peanut butter and bacon sandwich with marshmallow fluff.   Housemade chips are crispy salty goodness.  Several salads, homemade soups and seasonal specials round out the lunch fare.  Around noon, the line snaking out the door speaks for itself.  Mornings are quieter affairs with choices narrowed down to a few breakfast sandwiches or oatmeal with nuts and fruit.  Stumptown coffee is available all day.  A late night weekend menu features the sort of fried food you crave after a night of drinking, only organic.    Indoor seating is limited but additional outdoor seating is a bonus during warmer months. 

Homegrown refers to their sustainable philosophy as ‘sandwich environmentalism.’  Also known as good food you can feel good about eating.

Homegrown on Urbanspoon

rain shadow meats


One word: Bacon.  After going weak in the knees over a roasted beet salad with crispy lardons (rectangular chunks of cured pork belly or bacon) from Grand Central Bakery, I beseeched the kitchen staff to reveal their source.  They suggested heading to Rain Shadow Meats, located inside Capitol Hill’s newest neighbor, Melrose Market.  This was news to me.  Six months, several glowing recommendations and one New York Times article later, the butcher has arrived.
Owner Russell Flint opened up shop with over a decade of butchery experience under his belt.   He specializes in whole animal butchery which explains the large sides of meat and occasional pig brazenly showcased in two walk-in coolers with peek-a-boo windows.  Thanks in part to his former role as sous chef at Boat Street Cafe, Flint possesses the kitchen smarts to impart guidance along with the meat he sells.   His affable manner and profound passion for the craft hearken back to a time when butchers knew their customers by name and weren’t afraid to get a little sinew under their fingernails.


Side-by-side cases reveal a mouth watering array of good looking local meat.  Tiny sausage patties, called crepinettes, are daintily wrapped in lacy caul fat, while gargantuan top sirloin steaks from Walla Walla, WA, entice with their crimson hue, a common characteristic of grass fed beef.  Whole rabbit, duck and squab are par for the course.  And don’t forget their house made bacon, used to make those irresistible lardon.  If instant gratification is in order, choose from a small but thoughtful selection of prosciutto, salami, lardo and pate.  Hungry?  A ceramic bowl sits atop the meat case like a fixture, brimming with soft, glossy pretzels from Columbia City Bakery.
Go for the meat.  It’s reason enough.  But stay for the friendly service, warm atmosphere and commitment to local, sustainable farming.  And stay for the bacon.



Octopi are the new owls.  Or so it seems at this local boutique situated front and center in Melrose Market, where the octopus spreads its tentacles across men’s graphic tees and whimsical necklaces with aquatic aplomb.    Trends come and go but one thing is certain:  Velouria is the place to shop for fabulous one-of-a kind clothing and accessories with a conscience.  Everything in the boutique is made primarily by local, independent designers and never mass produced. 

A dreamy, light-filled interior serves as the backdrop for avant garde fashions and vintage-inspired jewelry.  Art deco lighting and fanciful chandeliers round out the minimalist aesthetic.  Cheery robin’s egg blue accents are found throughout the store, brightening up an otherwise neutral palette. 

Predominantly a women’s clothing store, Velouria caters to the male population with a limited but discerning collection of men’s clothing.  Overall, the selection is lovely, staff are knowledgeable and prices are reasonable.  Here’s to eliminating the middle man in exchange for a fab new dress. 

sonic boom records


Service with a smile is hard to come by at most independent local record stores.  More often than not, these visits are punctuated by the glowering stares of surly clerks hell bent on revealing how tragically unhip the rest of us are.  Why then, was a grin plastered on the face of the guy situated behind the counter at Sonic Boom Records?  More than likely, it’s because he works at the record store Rolling Stone recently rated as one of the top 25 in the United States.

Sonic Boom’s Capitol Hill location, conveniently situated in Melrose Market,  rocks a spacious, well-lit interior, high ceilings and rows of racks neatly crammed with a diplomatic mix of obscure and mainstream music.  Vinyl collectors will appreciate the store’s solid record selection and used c.d.’s abound to tempt even the most frugal budget. 

By supporting local record stores like Sonic Boom, the tangible music experience lives on.  And the service is undoubtedly friendly.  Take note, aloof hipster music clerks:  Nice is the new black.

still liquor


Many a thirsty soul has ventured through the doors of Still Liquor without setting foot inside the bustling Melrose Market shops above.  Hidden away in a den-like space on the market’s lower level, Still’s blink and you’ll miss it entrance fronts the back side of the market building.  

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Jerry finds his date attractive under low lighting but can’t stand to see her in broad daylight?  He should have taken her to Still.  The dimly lit interior relies heavily on candlelight once the sun goes down.

Still’s austere backdrop is softened by an inviting honey-stained bar and a few mismatched vintagey velvet chairs lending a saloon-like vibe to the place.  The crowd here is diverse; but unanimous in their approval of the friendly, skilled bartenders and strong, inventive drinks with names like Minor Mule, Bitter Swede and Dragon’s toe.  Muddled cucumber is the trend of the moment, described as ‘unexpected’ and ‘refreshing’.


Head to Still for happy hour when drinks are cheap and filtered sunlight streams in from the western sky, bathing the space and its inhabitants in a diffused glow. 

The downside:  they bar does not serve food.  The upside:  candlelight is infinitely flattering.

Still Liquor on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

when autumn hands you pumpkin…

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.  -Henry David Thoreau


At that glorious moment when summer gives way to crisp, cool autumn air and the first leaves flutter down from trees, I am filled with eager anticipation.  It is only a matter of time before I will reunite with my dear old friend of Rubenesque proportions, glowing, weathered complexion and heart of gold:  Pumpkin.  From September on through March, we convene in the warmth of the kitchen where our fleeting dalliances dance on curls of sweetly spiced air wafting from the hot oven.

Come fall,  the first to grace my repertoire is a batch of delicately spiced, buttery-soft pumpkin cookies, generously blanketed in soothingly sweet maple buttercream.  Ambrosial pumpkin plays off of the sultry intensity of maple much like Humphrey Bogart yields to seduction in the arms of Lauren Bacall. 

Before the season is over, pumpkin will lend its tawny orange hue and earthy sweet fragrance to countless cookies, breads, pies, scones and soups.  Though revered in the realm of baked goods, this ubiquitous member of the squash family is often overlooked and underappreciated in its value as an addition at the dinner table.  The best savory interpretation I have come across came from the kitchen of Ericka Burke, the lovely and talented chef of Volunteer Park Cafe.  Cleverly dubbed ‘pot of gold’, tiny pumpkins are filled with a sensual mixture of pureed pumpkin, gruyere, cream, polenta and chanterelles, and baked to golden brown, bubbly perfection.

Though I could no doubt enjoy canned pumpkin year-round, I find it immensely gratifying to practice seasonality.  Pumpkin belongs to autumn just as watermelon will forever spell out summer.   Eating as nature intended requires restraint in this age of instant gratification.  I admit, I am guilty of buying tomatoes in in January; but not of loving them.  When I ate them, there was no sighing or slurping up of the sweet, tangy taste of sun and soil.  Winter tomatoes are not deep red as tomatoes should be but pale orange.  Their texture is rubbery, their flavor thin.  Such is the case with most growing things when eaten out of season.

Slowly but surely, I am learning to honor and anticipate each season’s offerings with bated breath and the mindfulness that good things come to those who wait.

pumpkin cookies with maple buttercream frosting

yields approximately 24 cookies


2 1/2 cups all purpose or cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup fresh* or canned pumpkin 
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bourbon

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup pure maple syrup, preferably grade b 
4 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add pumpkin, egg, vanilla and bourbon, beating until creamy.  Mix in dry ingredients until fully incorporated.  Do not over mix.  Dough will be very sticky. 

Place rounded teaspoonfuls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.  Flatten slightly.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Cookie tops should spring back when touched.  Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.

In a medium bowl, cream softened butter and syrup.  Beat in powdered sugar, one cup at a time until smooth and creamy. 

Once the cookies have cooled, ice generously with maple buttercream, leaving a 1/4 inch border.  Frosting will set in about one hour.  Do not wait to ice the cookies as they will begin to dry out.  The frosting keeps them moist.

Cookies keep in an airtight container for several days, that is, if you don’t eat them first.


whoopie pie variation
After the cookies have cooled, spread the bottoms of half (approximately 12) with 1/4 inch frosting.  Place the remaining cookies right side up atop the frosted cookie bottoms and voila: whoopie pies.

*A medium-sized sugar pumpkin, around 4 pounds, yields approximately 1-1/2 cups of mashed pumpkin.  Cut the pumpkin in half, discarding the stem section and stringy insides. In a shallow dish, place the pumpkin halves face down, cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 1-1/2 hours or until a fork pierces the skin with no resistance. Once cooled, scoop out the flesh and puree in a food processor or mash with a potato masher. Use this puree in any recipe which calls for canned pumpkin.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

figgy piggy chicken


Aahhh, sweet September.  Fall is just around the corner, children are back in school and figs are ripe for the picking.  Each time I pass dainty pints of green and black figs, I feel as though they are taunting me.  “Take us home,” they seem to say,  “if you wait, you’ll be sorry.” 

“Next time…,” I silently vow.  I want to take them home but not without a plan.  Figs have a funny way of showing up, acting like regulars and then vanishing into thin air for another ten months.

My introduction to fresh figs came a decade ago when my produce guy, Frank Genzale, sang their praises and did what he does best.  He sold fresh figs to a skeptic like me with unflinching finesse.  The man is a regular produce evangelist.  He says, “Brussel sprouts?  Easy.  Fry up some bacon and shallots, throw in your brussel sprouts and shake ‘em around ‘til they’re tender and caramelized.  You’ll love ‘em.”  The man had me at bacon.

Bacon is to figs what peanut butter is to jelly.  In this recipe, adapted from Gourmet magazine, fresh black mission figs plump during roasting, releasing deeply fragrant juices.  Their musky, exotic sweetness mingles with salty smoked bacon, crisp garlic, comforting chicken and the heady aroma of fresh thyme.

figgy piggy chicken 



1/2 pound sliced bacon, halved 
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
one 5 pound free-range whole fryer chicken
10 fresh thyme sprigs
12 fresh black or green figs, quartered
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
coarse sea salt
freshly ground pepper



Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit

In Donna Hay’s cookbook, ‘The Instant Cook’, she outlines a method to speed up the cooking time for whole chickens.  I have implemented her technique in this recipe with stellar results.

First rinse the chicken, remove any gizzards and pat dry with paper towels.  Place the bird, breast side down, on a large plate or plastic cutting board.  With sharp kitchen shears, cut through the spine, from tail to neck.  It requires a good measure of elbow grease to cut through the bone and cartilage but can be done.

The result is a flatter bird with more surface area which means faster cooking.  Because the skin and bones remain intact, the meat does not dry out during cooking.  Rub meat with 1-2 teaspoons sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper.  Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottom, high-sided skillet or dutch oven, cook bacon over medium, until lightly crisped.  Transfer to paper towels to drain.  Reserve bacon drippings in skillet.  Add garlic, stirring until golden, about 1 minute.  Transfer to paper towels with bacon. 

Turn heat to medium-high.  Once the bacon fat begins to smoke, add the chicken, breast side down.  Brown for 6 –8 minutes.  Using tongs, turn chicken on its wing side, resting against the wall of the skillet, and brown for 3 –4 minutes.  Repeat on other side.

Place the chicken breast side up in the skillet.  Scatter thyme and figs over the chicken.  Place pan in the oven and roast for about 25 – 30 minutes or until internal temperature registers 165 degrees. 

Transfer chicken and figs to a serving platter.  Deglaze pan with lemon juice by simmering on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  Stir, scraping up crispy brown bits for a minute or so.  Pour over chicken.

To revive bacon, place in oven on low broil for 1 – 2 minutes, watching closely so as not to burn.  Scatter bacon and garlic over the chicken. 

Serve with: roasted cauliflower with kalamata vinaigrette

Drink with a slightly sweet white, preferably with notes of honey and dried honey.  Muscatel, Gewurztraminer or Moscato d’Asti are good bets.

recipe adapted from Gourmet magazine, September 2009

Thursday, September 2, 2010

a flower by any other name would smell sweeter

IMG_1907 (Naudhomeserver) 
Cauliflower has long lived in broccoli’s shadow, like a chlorophyll deficient albino cousin.  Lackluster in appearance, this quasi wallflower of the vegetable world feigns unassuming until you plunk it in a pot of steaming water and watch the wallpaper peel.  Uncooked is no better.  With each bite, raw cauliflower self destructs, filling the mouth with a spray of tiny choking hazards in a sensation akin to biting off a hunk of styrofoam. 

Roasted cauliflower is a different story.  Not long ago, I discovered  something otherworldly when thick slices were tossed with with coarse sea salt and olive oil, followed by a good half hour in a hot oven.  As moisture cooked off, there was still a trademark whiff of ‘eau de cauliflower’ to contend with, albeit a brief one.  Roasting brought out a subtly sweet flavor and fork tender texture with irresistibly caramelized, golden brown edges and crisp bits here and there.  I gladly tolerated the short lived stench as the outcome was a far cry from the vegetable foe of my youth.

By the time I discovered this recipe, in a summer issue of Gourmet magazine, I was a veteran of slow roasting.  I had witnessed firsthand how this simple technique turns vegetables into a sort of savory candy, intensifying flavors by reducing volume; like edible shrinky dinks.  When the pan emerged from the oven, one taste was all it took to eradicate any reservations I still harbored.  It required considerable restraint not to devour every last morsel.  But it was too good to keep to myself and I was eager to convert my husband and daughter.

In the recipe, the roasted cauliflower is finished with kalamata vinaigrette, comprised of finely chopped olives, garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.  I feared this would overpower the delicate, nutty flavor of the vegetable, masking the offender whose virtues I so newly extolled.  I spooned a little vinaigrette over a forkful of cauliflower and took a bite.  Layers of flavor danced over my tongue, rousing my taste buds.  Briny olives and bright lemon harmonized with heady garlic and buttery rich olive oil, punctuating the nuttiness of the caramelized vegetable. 

The broccoli were green with envy.

roasted cauliflower with kalamata vinaigrette

serves 4


roasted cauliflower 
1 large head cauliflower, about 3 lbs
2 - 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt such as Maldon or fleur de sel

1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 – 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 


Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment.  Cut cauliflower in 3/4-inch slices.  Place slices in the pan and drizzle with half of the salt and olive oil.  Turn slices over and repeat.  Place pan in lower third of oven and roast until golden and tender but not overly crisp, 25 – 30 minutes.


While cauliflower roasts, prepare the vinaigrette.  Mince the garlic and mash to a paste with a mortar and pestle.  A garlic press will do the trick in a pinch.  Whisk garlic with lemon juice and olive oil and olives to combine.

Spoon vinaigrette over roasted cauliflower and serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine, September 2009