The Year in Bites

SW's arts writers recall a year's worth of their favorite food memories.

Who was it that said it's the moments we remember, not necessarily the days? It was probably someone who really loved to eat, so before the calendar flips, the SW arts staff decided to reflect on the year's most surprising comestibles and our most treasured culinary discoveries. January It was last January that I first tried Joe Bar's(810 E. Roy St., 206-324-0407) seasonal pumpkin-sage-chèvre crepe; to the cafe's faithful following, its return this month heralded the beginning of winter. Nothing says December on Capitol Hill like the tang of goat cheese, the wholesomeness of unsweetened pumpkin, and the rich, herby flavor of sage. Now how about some snow? NEAL SCHINDLER February After snagging the last two seats at Harvest Vine (2701 E. Madison St., 206-320-9771), my girlfriend and I ordered a healthy assortment of tapas, but nothing—not even chef Joseph Jiménez de Jiménez's much-celebrated octopus—could beat the golden beets that night. Prepared simply with garlic, sherry vinegar, and flor del aceite (olive oil extracted without pressure), those sweet, luscious, sun-colored, thin-sliced beets quickly turned from side dish to main attraction. NEAL SCHINDLER June Between rooming with a buyer for a large cheese company and the Friday wine-and-cheese tastings at the Weekly, I learned more about the stuff in 2005 than I did in 24 years of residence an hour from the Wisconsin border. "The stinkier, the better" isn't always a maxim to live by, as my months-long dalliance with cave-aged Gruyère made plain. (I get mine at DeLaurenti, 1435 First Ave., 206-622-0141.) It's smooth, it's supple, it's simultaneously accessible and schmancy, and you cannot go wrong with it ever unless you're dealing with vegans or the lactose-intolerant. MICHAELANGELO MATOS The Japanese grocery store Maruta (1024 S. Bailey St., 206-767-5002), is known for its cheap sushi, but since I feel better—literally—paying top dollar for raw fish, I was instead drawn to a bowl of shredded unidentifiable root vegetable (which turned out to be burdock root, gobou salad, and quite good), and what was that behind the deli counter? Squid salad? Chuka ika sansai is indeed squid-based; diced vegetables and vinegar make it like a pasta salad of the sea. LAURA CASSIDY July Several summers ago, when my son was perfectly 6, we spent an idyllic 20 minutes in our backyard, devouring a couple of pungent, juicy peaches we'd brought back from east of the mountains. This past July, on a parking strip alongside the Columbia City Farmers Market, we time-traveled to that lost afternoon with a bag full of heavy, blushing fruit. With that ripe peachy smell tickling our noses, I remembered not just that day in our backyard, but the days of my childhood, when peaches were peaches, grapes were grapes, tomatoes were tomatoes, and you could only get each for a few short, heavenly weeks in the middle of what seemed like an endless summer. LYNN JACOBSON August The next time someone rolls out of your bed and asks how you like your eggs, say: "Scrambled with chanterelle mushrooms and shallots. Oh, and they have to be duck eggs." The eggs have an uncommonly rich, soothing, buttery flavor, the mushrooms add their potent, woodsy thing, and the shallots are the coup de grâce. I first experienced them at Monsoon (615 19th Ave. E., 206-325-2111), after they inaugurated their dim sum menu. NEAL SCHINDLER Tomatoes are technically a fruit, so it should be no surprise that chefs who make gazpacho often use other fruits—usually melons like cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon—to sweeten the pot. (The custom comes from Málaga, one of Spain's most prolific culinary regions.) Chef Michael Bruno takes the fruit theme even further at Tango (1100 Pike St., 206-583-0382), adding apple or pear cider for extra sweetness. Tango's gazpacho is creamy and decadent, thanks to plenty of olive oil; it was the perfect late-summer supper. NEAL SCHINDLER I was always told it was impolite to lick your plate, but the last time I was at Voilà! Bistrot (2805 E Madison St., 206-322-5460), it took almost superhuman restraint to hold back. "Reduction" is a misnomer, making a heady emulsion of pan juices, wine, and butter sound like a pathetic ghost, instead of the shimmering gloss left after I'd finished my steak. A quick swipe with a piece of bread and the plate was clean, and still on the table. SANDRA KURTZ September They serve all kinds of tasty soups at Nana's Soup House (3418 N.E. 55th St., 206-523-9053), but for me, it's always baked-potato soup—a creamy, herby bowlful with just enough lumps. No matter the grayness of the day or your circumstances, it always lets you know you're not ready for the graveyard across the street just yet. SANDRA KURTZ Many vegetarians don't take kindly to the idea of fake meat, and for them—and flexetarians and vegetarians who admit they miss Italian sausage—David Lee of Georgetown's Field Roast introduced grain-meat sausages. Lee doesn't make fake meat, he makes meat out of wheat gluten, grains, vegetables, fruits, and herbs—and he purposely uses the "m" word, as if he's reclaiming it from the carnivores. After biting into one of Lee's smoked apple-sage sausages for the first time, I whipped up a spinach salad with goat cheese, cucumbers, and the browned, crumbled grain-meat sausage and reveled in the possibilities. LAURA CASSIDY October At a friend's October wedding, I tasted a snack mix so simple—and yet so unprecedented in my experience—that it gave me pause: Candy corn and salted peanuts. You can laugh, but I urge you to try it. Rarely have those three pleasure triggers—salt, fat, and sugar—been so ingeniously combined. (And with such a pleasing autumn color scheme!) I want to get married next Halloween season just to serve this stuff at my wedding. NEAL SCHINDLER November The opening of Veil (555 Aloha St., 206-216-0600) was very hip; ergo, food was in short supply. I got literally one bite of their coconut ice cream in passion-fruit soup, and it was like finding Cinderella's slipper: I was hooked. I wanted more. That perfect marriage—coconut's simple sweetness, passion fruit's elusive, exotic tang—is well worth heading back to the ball for. NEAL SCHINDLER Herring is not a glamorous fish. Gourmets spurn it. Most people of non-Scandinavian stock won't touch it. But recently I discovered that pickled herring from Ballard's Scandinavian Specialties (6719 15th Ave. N.W., 206-784-7020) is another container of fish entirely. It's firm yet buttery-smooth, free of any ripe fish odor, and the sauce is tangy without biting, its strands of onion almost crunchy-fresh; the secret spice formula surrounds the fish with an aura of herbal fragrances. ROGER DOWNEY Visiting a farmers market used to just make me happy; now it makes me positively giddy, ever since I discovered Bruschettina, local chef Jennifer McIlvane's mobile bruschetta stand (at the Ballard Farmers Market year-round, plus other area markets come summer). Each piece is made to order: chewy, slightly charred semolina bread, rubbed with a garlic clove that's been macerating in olive oil, then loaded with toppings mostly sourced from other farmers market vendors—a combination of wild chanterelles and cannellini beans, for example, made me a believer. SARAH DEWEERDT

 
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