Two Days on the Seattle Restaurant Scene With No Hot Food

Nobody should be forced to live in a hot kitchen during a heat wave.

If there's ever a reason I won't do hot yoga, it's the memory of a summer night, years ago, when a blackout knocked out the exhaust fans of the restaurant where I was cooking. In that windowless, 115-degree kitchen, we had to crank a couple of burners up to high just to see our pans, making what felt like Satan's sauna look like it, too. I lost 5 pounds' worth of fluids in three hours. Waves of PTSD pity wash over me every time I pass a restaurant on a 90-degree day. So during the recent heat wave, I made a resolution: Since I refused to cook in the heat, why should I make anyone else? Day 1, Lunch Chaco Canyon Organic Cafe, 4757 12th Ave. N.E., 522-6966, www.chacocanyoncafe.com This industrial-hippie cafe's 95-percent-organic menu lists bowls of cooked grains and vegan sandwiches on baked bread, but a big chunk of it is devoted to raw foods. (Raw-foodists don't heat their food above 118 degrees, believing that heat kills valuable enzymes.) Though I spotted a rice steamer and a panini press in the kitchen, the mood there was decidedly chill. I've eaten raw foods at a half-dozen restaurants over the years. What I appreciate more than the uncooks' talent for deliciousness is how they play with their veggies. True to form, most of the dishes I ordered deserved quotes: The "live pizza" "crust," a semifirm plank of ground nuts and flax seeds, was topped with a thick, flavorful puree of sun-dried tomatoes. On top, another puree, this one a ground-nut "ricotta" blended with a squeeze of lemon to replicate the fermented tang of real cheese, and finally miso-marinated mushrooms. The tomato sauce and marinated mushrooms more than compensated for the grainy, seedy textures of the crust and cheese, and I enjoyed the delicate vinaigrette on the mixed-green salad served alongside. I could only manage a few bites of the "curry," shredded zucchini tossed in a creamy spice-nut-coconut sauce that needed something (chiles? salt? a hot pan?) to make it have a flavor. I overcompensated by polishing off my slice of "pie," relishing the bright, thick raspberry filling more than its nut-and-date shell. Everything tastes better with natural sweeteners. Alternatives: smoothies at Juice Goddess Organic Cafe & Juice Bar, raiding the produce bins at Metropolitan Market. Day 1, Dinner Tango Restaurant, 1100 Pike St., 583-0382, www.tangorestaurant.com For some reason, most of the members of my family (some visiting from Indiana) weren't into eating raw fish. So I had to lure them to this Capitol Hill restaurant, where they could have hot tapas while I limited myself to cold ceviche, the house specialty. You can order any combination of Tango's six ceviches. Not all of them technically qualify as ceviche, which usually means raw or lightly blanched seafood marinated in citrus juice. One of my favorites was the silky cured salmon, scented with vanilla and tequila, and the fresh pink crabmeat was tossed with coconut water and sesame-marinated seaweed, a few drops of habanero chile oil lurking in the background until the other flavors faded before it put on the hurt. An Ecuadorian shrimp ceviche's lackluster tomato marinade put me off, but I thought the salad I ordered to accompany my sampler platter—lightly pickled beets with a mix of quinoa, pea sprouts, and walnut oil—was a fine summer dish. Even my relatives agreed: The cold dishes were the highlight of the meal. Alternatives: sushi, shrimp cocktail at La Carta de Oaxaca. Day 2, Lunch Cafe Presse, 1117 12th Ave., 709-7674, www.cafepresseseattle.com What says summer better than raw beef? I've been thinking about it since I first had a look at the menu at Cafe Presse, Le Pichet's new sister cafe on 12th Avenue, and the heat gave me a good excuse to join all the hot-hot-hot foodies squashed together around the tables that line its exposed-brick walls. I ordered an entrée of steak tartare, enough lean beef for a quarter-pounder, molded into two crisp-seamed ovals. At first I was put off by the light-brown color of the beef—I suspect the cooks mixed the steak tartare ahead and stored it chilled, the acid in the dressing causing the bright red of the raw meat to fade—but it tasted fresh. The sirloin had been chopped coarsely, not run through a meat grinder, which would have gummed it all up. Its creamy coolness was offset by the tang and crunch of capers, mustard, shallots, and parsley. But Presse betrayed me. Betrayed! The entreé-sized steak tartare came with a watercress salad and fries. The skin-on fries were dusted with just the right amount of fleur de sel, and the tartare, no matter how good, couldn't distract me from the shrinking heap of hot, crisp potatoes. Alternatives: steak tartare at Union or Canlis, or kitfo at Meskel Ethiopian Restaurant. Day 2, Dinner Old Village Korean Restaurant, 15200 Aurora Ave. N., Shoreline, 365-6679 Since its recent change of ownership, this place looks as though HGTV sent over a squad to repaint the walls and re-cover the grill tables in mica-flecked granite. The DIY barbecue, however, has taken a dip in quality. Fortunately, I was there not for the kalbi but for Old Village's other specialty—cold yam noodles. I've had versions of Korea's quintessential summer noodles in a clear broth with sliced beef, pears, egg, and ice cubes. But Old Village serves another species. The waiter delivered a silver bowl with a tangle of hair-thin noodles dressed in a sweet red chili-paste sauce and decorated with slices of cucumber, radish, slices of boiled brisket, and ribbons of skate sashimi marinated in chili paste. Before he left us to our slurping, he took out a pair of scissors and snipped the noodles into maneuverable lengths. Perhaps the philosophy is to make you freeze and sweat at the same time. But the clouds had rumbled in, and the pleasures of eating cold food on a hot day had passed. My friend had ordered bibimbap to accompany my noodles, and for all my resolve—well, any resolve that hadn't been gutted by the french fries—I found myself prying every scorched, crispy grain of rice off the sides of the oven-hot stone bowl. I suck at resolve. It'll take until the next heat wave for any good intentions to grow back. Alternatives: cold noodles with sesame sauce at Szechuan Noodle Bowl, zaru-soba at I Love Sushi. jkauffman@seattleweekly.com

 
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