Food: The Best of 2013

The top 27 Seattle food moments of the year.

It was an explosive year in Seattle’s food and drink scene—full of exciting new restaurant openings, some (unfortunate) goodbyes, Kickstarter campaigns, food-truck expansions, farmers market menus, national recognition, a proliferation of breweries and small-batch distilleries, and many a strange or sensational trend (depending on your perspective).

While Ballard solidified itself as the city’s culinary epicenter, new restaurants and bakeries opened throughout Fremont (Roux, Rock Creek, Le Petit Cochon, Rachael Coyle’s pop-ups at the Book Larder, the soon-to-come Bourbon & Bones), potentially positioning it as the coming year’s hottest culinary ’hood. Meanwhile, downtown also appears to be getting a chance to beckon not just tourists but locals, with places like Aragona, Miller’s Guild, and Loulay proudly joining notables such as RN74, with its French-based food (foie gras sliders, tomato-soup fondue) and exhaustive wine list.

Though many chefs in our weekly Temperature Check column expressed boredom with all things pork-related, the popularity of pork belly and other parts of the pig was still undeniable, popping up on menus everywhere in some form or other. At Radiator Whiskey, you can eat an entire pig’s head, and bacon made its way into cupcakes and ice cream. Yet as restaurants pandered to meat lovers, more vegetarian options edged in, with even Canlis offering vegetarian and vegan tasting menus. Kale appeared as often as pig—served as a braised side, raw in salads and even as a partner to . . . pork. Kale chips can be found in just about any grocery store, and entire books were devoted to the gratuitous green, like 50 Shades of Kale (ugh).

While there will always be a clientele for meat, the end of 2013 indicates a larger role for vegetable-focused dishes in 2014. Even the foie gras-loving French are in on it. One of my favorite cookbooks this year, in fact, is Clotilde Dusolier’s The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes From My Parisian Kitchen. We’re also seeing Asian fusion predominance give way to Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African–inflected food; ras el hanout and berbere were a welcome presence on many a menu this summer and fall.

Likewise, while dark liquors like whiskey and bourbon had a seriously strong run in craft cocktails, gin, piscos, and bubbles are gaining momentum—their light, bright nature complementing these “new” flavors. And speaking of craft cocktails, there’s no arguing that diners wanted the moon when it came to their drinks, with fresh herbs, house-crafted infusions, and liqueurs, aperitifs, and digestifs joining standard spirits in novel ways. While it’s easy to poke fun at what some might consider overwrought cocktail menus, I don’t foresee the trend dying down—yet. They’re just too tasty, and bartenders enjoy the creativity. Specialty cocktail bars as addenda to restaurants are even on the rise (a la Barnacle beside The Walrus and the Carpenter and GROG in the Ballard Annex Oyster House). Same goes for beer. For a city that owns the coffee scene, Seattle’s breweries also now rival others in both number and quality. We may be burnt out on IPAs, but other beers, like oatmeal stouts and wheat beers, are ready to take over. Expect to see more mashups—like coffee and beer in Elysian’s new “Split Shot” with espresso and milk stout, and “sour beers,” which blend Woodinville wines and local brews (like Epic Ale + Long Shadow winery). And, of course, more breweries teamed up with food trucks.

Desserts were all over the place, with lowbrow “cronuts” stealing the show from donuts and cupcakes, and pastry chefs working hard to reinvent sweets in the way that bartenders played with cocktails. Herbs and vegetables made their way into various confections, and more savory desserts dominated. While it was entertaining to see, I predict (hopefully) a return to more classic desserts, especially French ones—well-turned-out tarts, galettes, soufflés, cakes, and the like. There’s a reason they’ve stood the test of time.

And what of the chefs themselves? While Ethan Stowell, Matt Dillon, and Tom Douglas continued to build their empires, food-truck cooks opened restaurants to great fanfare (think Matt Lewis of Where Ya At Matt) and chefs at established restaurants broke out on their own—like Derek Ronspies at Le Petit Cochon (brother of Art of the Table’s Dustin Ronspies) and Eric Donnelly (formerly of Toulouse Petit) at Rock Creek. Clearly, there is room for everyone.

But what may have been the ultimate trend of 2013 is the nationwide recognition our city got as a culinary heavyweight. From “Best of” lists and awards to profiles in major publications and a demand for our products in competitive markets like New York City, many mouths watered as our farmers, chefs, and bartenders made impressive use of the Pacific Northwest’s culinary resources. Though the phrase “farm to table” has been played out, the concept is still going strong. In fact, the commitment our chefs have to serving the freshest, closest, most sustainable food is just business as usual—rendering the term practically obsolete. As I sit down to more great meals in 2014, I won’t be disappointed if my menu is cleaner, with fewer references to the specific farm whence my beef heralds or the local marsh my watercress was foraged from . . . just keep it coming.

Now, the list. We’ve culled our archives for the most memorable culinary happenings of 2013. Happy eating and drinking in the New Year!

CHEFS

Matt Dillon took on Pioneer Square with gusto, opening two new places—Bar Sajor and The London Plane—and helped fuel a revival of the historic neighborhood, which also includes newcomers Little Uncle for authentic Thai; delicious delicatessen at Rain Shadow Meats; homey pasta dishes at Tinello; and German sausages and beer at Altstadt.

Josh Henderson expanded his popular Capitol Hill Skillet diner to Ballard, proving that diner food can be both comforting and sophisticated. Over on North Lake Union, he’s helped ignite the seafood scene with Westward (serving seafood with Mediterranean flair), and opened a Napa-style restaurant, Hollywood Tavern, in Woodinville.

Ethan Stowell came to Tangletown with his latest restaurant, the tiny mkt., and announced the much-anticipated Madrona two-fer that will include Red Cow (a French steak frites–style brasserie) and Noyer, a high-end, exclusively small dining area with a daily-changing menu that will hearken back to his first (now closed) restaurant, Union. This will bring Stowell’s growing empire to nine restaurants.

• This year’s Top Chef contestant, Carrie Mashaney, joined her Spinasse boss, Jason Stratton, to open a southern-Spanish restaurant, Aragona, downtown. The Catalonian menu includes dishes like black rice with squid meatballs, baby turnip, and ink meringues and spot prawns with cider sauce.

• Food-truck favorite Matt Lewis of Where Ya at Matt? finally opened his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Roux, in Fremont, where he continues his popular Cajun/Creole theme—with gussied-up specialties like “Barbequed Whole Roasted Yard Bird,” “Spicy Turtle and Pork Bolognese,” and “Pork Ribs, Root Beer Barbeque, and Watermelon Pickle.”

SWEETS

• With donuts being so 2012, marketers had to figure out a way to keep the fried-dough love alive. The result: a hybrid croissant/donut, the cronut, found in dive joints like Lost Lake and The 5 Point, on beach boardwalks, and even on trendier menus, including Ba Bar’s. But when Ba Bar rolled out its “croughnut”—respelled to avoid trademark infringement—the creator of the cronut sent a letter insisting the name still be changed. Ba Bar asked patrons to help come up with an alternative moniker. The winner: “Double Happiness.”

• A moment of silence, please, to mourn the end of Rachael Coyle’s monthly pop-up bakery at the Book Larder in Fremont. The veteran pastry chef (Herbfarm, Le Pichet) brought in lines down the block on early Saturday mornings as customers clamored for her Parisian-style croissants, her sinfully delicious scones, and other world-class-executed desserts, like toffee sticky pudding and passion-fruit tarts. Fortunately, Coyle is now on the hunt for a permanent space to sell her delicacies.

• Starbucks, too, got plenty of press about their new line of pastries—supposedly of higher quality than the subpar ones they’ve been known for. Despite all the hoopla, no one seems to be singing their praises.

• Ben & Jerry’s rolled out a Seattle Churned Ice Cream that residents voted to have include Theo Chocolate and Caffe Vita coffee (natch). Then local creamery Full Tilt joined the icy action by debuting a “Mudhoney” mix of fudge, cinnamon, and honey. What’s next? Mackle-S’mores?

BOOZE

• In other vices, let’s talk alcohol. Ballard now has 10 breweries all within walking distance of each other. What better way to spend a Saturday?

• Seattle’s weighed in on the whiskey craze, too. Among the many distilleries working to create their own, Westland Distillery’s first batch of scotch gets major props.

• Local spirit company Sun Liquor proved that small-batch brands can win over the masses by partnering with Alaska Airlines, which now serves Sun alcohol on flights.

• And we certainly can’t forget about Rachel’s Ginger Beer opening in Pike Place Market. The ridiculously popular lemon/sugar/ginger concoction can be found there in its pure form as well as in milkshakes (including boozy ones) and in on-tap cocktails like Moscow Mules and Dark and Stormys. Rachel Marshall has even gone national with her product.

FOOD LEGISLATION

• Amid the flurry of the new, there was also some loss, particularly for the city’s hungry. With 5.5 percent cuts to the national food-stamp program, Washington families could lose up to $36 a month in food stamps (read: meals). That cut was followed by Seattle’s diversion of $400,000 for soup kitchens to other “competing priorities.”

• Many a passionate chef and diner were devastated by the failure of Initiative 522, which would have ensured that genetically modified foods (GMOs) were labeled in the state of Washington. Ardent supporters of GMO labeling are gearing up for the next election.

• Other state legislation of note involved Trader Joe’s. The courts upheld Canadian Mark Hallatt’s right to buy products from Washington Trader Joe’s stores and sell them in his own shop—dubbed Pirate Joe’s—in Vancouver. Hallatt will continue to “pillage” area stores for treats like Triple Ginger Snaps while Trader Joe’s plans to appeal.

NATIONAL KUDOS

The Whale Wins and Joule made Bon Appetit ’s Top 10 Restaurants in 2013.

Barnacle and Loulay made Zagat’s 2013 list of The 25 Most Important Restaurants.

Stumptown, Victrola, and Zoka made Fodor’s list of America’s 15 Best Indie Coffee Shops.

The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America by Seattle writer Langdon Cook hit #6 on Amazon’s 2013 Best Books of the Year in Sports & Outdoors.

• Seattle’s Top Pot Donuts announced this year that they’re bringing their Valley Girl Lemons and Pink Feather Boas to the Big Apple. Top Pot follows Seattle establishments—Via Tribunali, Caffe Vita, and Beecher’s—who’ve already imported their popularity there.

• Arguably the truest indication of Seattle’s rightful claim as a world-class culinary city is the recent appearance of Ren é Redzepi, who’s Copenhagen restaurant Noma is considered the best in the world. Rene hosted a $200 dinner with Matt Dillon and Blaine Wetzel (Willow’s Inn, Lummi Island). The 160 diners ate under canopied tents in Occidental Square. Elk tartare and King Bolete mushrooms with honeycomb were among the fanciful dishes.

NOTABLE EXPANSIONS AND CLOSINGS

• Many Seattle’s culinary icons took to Kickstarter to bring their coveted creations to our mouths. Notably, Sheri Lavigne of The Calf & Kid cheese shop in Melrose Market raised $46K via Kickstarter to open Culture Club in Ballard, soon to be the city’s first cheese bar.

• The proprietors of the Soda Jerk stand (at farmer’s markets) used Kickstarter to fund the purchase of a truck. Expect to find cardamom blueberry soda all over the city.

Taylor Shellfish announced it’s coming to Queen Anne. Now slurping oysters and eating fresh Dungeness crab and geoducks isn’t reserved for Capitol Hill cool kids only.

• This summer made for some of the best farmers market days and nights. But now, lovers of the Broadway Market can enjoy it year-round, rather than just May–October.

• The city bid farewell to beloved vegetarian spot Carmelita. The Phinney Ridge favorite opened back in 1996, before the serious upswing of veg-friendly food.

• Capitol Hill’s North Hill Bakery also shuttered after almost eight decades there, with owner Margaret Rumpeltes citing on Facebook: “Landlord kicked us out.”

MY TOP 15 CULINARY PEEVES

• Girlie-branded alcohol

• Oyster “gurus”

• Smears (if it’s worth eating, I want more than a finger-lick’s worth)

• Organ meat (there’s plenty of tasty offal, but let’s not romanticize it)

• Small plates

• “Family-style” or “feasting and sharing” menus (just another way of pushing small plates)

• Dinah’s Cheese on every menu (it’s good, it’s local, but let’s mix it up)

• Grits (I love them, but does everything need to be served on top of them?)

• Flavorless fried chicken (why bother?)

• Ubiquitous minimalist restaurant spaces— read: concrete floors with reclaimed wood. Let’s show some personality in the decor!

• Desserts served in jars, especially “pies.” These should stay on the covers of magazines like Good Housekeeping. Give me a real crust!

• Fro-yo (Enough already. Must we have so many places selling essentially the same frozen yogurt and fruit and candy toppings?)

• Salt on sweet things

• Caramel everything

• Caramel and salt on everything

nsprinkle@seattleweekly.com

 
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