26 October 2009

Decade-Long Anticipation: Kingfish Cafe

It was a date nearly a decade in the making.

On Sunday night, amidst the latest rain-and-wind storm, we made our way to north Capitol Hill for a toasty, down-home meal at Kingfish Cafe. Finally. I've literally been wanting to eat at this soul food treasure since the place first opened nearly 10 years ago.

Back then, when sisters Laurie and Leslie Coaston opened the joint, the line for a table was ages long. Friends raved about the food - but also warned there wasn't much, if anything, for true vegetarians to taste. Save for cake, which we'll get to in a moment.

Whether the menu has truly changed (along with my own tastes - I now eat fish), or whether friends simply weren't reading it completely, I cannot confirm. What I can confirm is my tastebuds were prickling with excitement over the multiple veggie and fish-friendly items on the menu.

Our table selected a starter of fried-green tomatoes. We couldn't resist their notion - so unexpected and rare in this part of the country. They came fried in a delicate cornmeal coating and smothered in a variety of spicy and cream sauces. Also, a few of the house-made hushpuppies joined the toms on the plate. They, too, were fried and smothered and delicious.

They also went well with my Two Sistas Cocktail - a sweet, but not overly so, blend of peach schnapps, vodka, and lime.

For my entree, I selected the mac and cheese. Our history goes way back. It's the only "vegetarian" item that reportedly lived on the menu for a while, so I've been dreaming of it for years. Folks debate whether it really is veggie; it wasn't marked explicitly as such on the menu, yet I didn't taste any meats. It could have a secret chicken-stock base, though if it did, I didn't notice. The thing came out on my plate cut the size of a brick. I didn't leave one drop.

My husband selected a spanking delicious trio of hoppin' john cakes - an assortment of veggies mashed and formed into circular patties, like 3 gardenburgers in a way. Both of our meals came with a sizeable salad on the same plate, making each of these a steal of a deal.

Our cohorts ordered some meaty items - the pork chop and the gumbo. I didn't sample either, but both looked divine. Especially that hurkin' huge chop.

For dessert, we'd been told "Get the Red Velvet Cake" by so many friends. What we didn't know, until after, is that it's wise to order this delicacy when you sit down - because the house sometimes runs out. True to form, we ordered the RVC, only to be immediately revisited by our waitress, who sheepishly let us know the last piece had just been cut and served.

The butterscotch cake, served in its place, was a mighty bit sweet for me, but the rest of our table devoured it. Good thing there were 4 of us. The piece of cake was gargantuan (I couldn't even frame the entire piece in my photo!). Dolled up with two huge piles of whipped cream that I initially mistook for ice cream, it was obvious that Kingfish Cafe is serious about its dessert!

This was a case of expectations being pleasantly met after a long, long bout of anticipation. I just hope it doesn't take me another decade to return.

21 October 2009

Visions of Thanksgiving Foods Dance in my Head

A chill is in the air. The leaves are morphing into russet-tinged cracklers under foot. Low, grey clouds stack the landscape with nary a peep of filtered sun shining through. Fall has arrived.

With it, my cravings for decadent, warm foods. On my notepad of "to do" items - a list that is supposed to be for work items, with jots of personal reminders - I've been scratching down ideas for holiday menus all week. The choices for Thanksgiving are already starting to overwhelm, and we're still a good 5+ weeks out.

We'll be at my family's house this year, and as usual I'll volunteer to bring at least a couple of dishes. What my assignment is, I don't yet know, but here's what I'm currently considering:

For the main dish, nutloaf - a recipe Nate brought back from a jaunt to England (along with my engagement ring) in 2002.

For a side, perhaps those sauteed and sweet Brussels sprouts I had a love affair with this summer, long before the leaves had started to fall.

Another side might be the custard-filled cornbread recipe from Orangette author Molly Wizenberg's debut book. I couldn't find Molly's exact recipe online, but this offering from the Food Network looks very close.

And then there is dessert. Usually I make a peanut-butter pie. It's obscenely simple and obscenely delicious.

Yet this year, all I can think about is butterscotch. That warm, slightly tangy, round flavor keeps sliding to the center of my mind. PCC must've been feeling rather clairvoyant because the co-op recently tweeted a link to a series of butterscotch-laden recipes. One in particular - a pie - stands out. I need an excuse to try it, so perhaps Thanksgiving it is.

19 October 2009

Monday Night Comforts

No one is a fan of Mondays. At least, no one in their right mind.

To ease the pain of starting the week, I can't think of a better setup than this:

Vegetarian chili, bubbling on the stove
Sweet cornbread, baking in the oven
Monday night football, playing out on the tele
Two orange cats, drifting in and out of slumber on the chair and floor, respectively
Inspired husband, writing feverishly in the other room

The only thing that would make this picture more complete is an orange fire, crackling in the background.

Oh, and maybe a tall glass of one of Owen Roe's delightfully eerie Rook wines, resting in a glass near my laptop.

With all these comforts, I just might make it through Monday - and even fall in grey Seattle.

14 October 2009

Excerpt from Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran Foer

This weekend, the New York Times magazine commemorated all things food in a special Food Issue. Included is an essay from one of this generation's finest authors, Jonathan Safran Foer. (He's the author of Everything is Illuminated. I stumbled upon him years ago when he penned a piece for Real Simple magazine. It was a piece so moving that I cried - a feat which never happens when I'm reading. Like, ever. I knew Safran Foer was something special.)

Safran Foer knows his place on this planet. His boots are finally stuck in the mud of his past; his lineage, his self seeping into every story he tells. He is, in fact, one of the finest storytellers I know.

I so look forward to his newest book, Eating Animals, which is set to release in November. Here is an excerpt from the book that appeared in the NYT mag. If you're not already registered with the NYT, you'll have to do so - but it's absolutely worth a few moments of filling out a form to read this.

05 October 2009

For Las Vegans

This weekend brought a reunion of many sorts, fueled by a Saturday night show of reunited Seattle hardcore bands. There were so many familiar faces in the crowd and so many awesome memories of music and hanging out and falling in love (this is the scene that united Nate and I in the first place).

Also, so many memories of how to keep vegans from going hungry.

A tenet of the straightedge scene, in which I spent most of my late-teenage years enmeshed, is vegetarianism. Nearly everyone I knew back then was vegetarian or vegan. I myself didn't give up all meat until college (and have since reintroduced fish, dubbing me a "vegaquarian"), but during that era, the majority of my friends shunned meats and cheeses and eggs and dairy. I counted some of these folks among my finest friends, so I quickly learned to adapt recipes (applesauce for eggs, soymilk for cowmilk, oil for butter, and so on).

While it wasn't ever too difficult to eat (even in large crowds, on a strict after-school-job budget), being vegan now must be wicked easy in comparison. It's especially simple to fill a grocery cart, and a stomach, with veg selections from stores like PCC or Whole Foods. But now there are also a multitude of soy-based "meats," a wide selection of faux cheeses, and a swath of desserts to be found even in mainstream grocery stores.

Anyhow, a couple friends, one of whom is vegan, came into town for the reunion weekend, prompting me with some homework. I won't lie - this gave me a great excuse to drum up a list of veg-friendly restaurants to scope out. We ran out of time to try most of the places on my list (there are only so many meals in a weekend), but we did hit up a few highs and lows.

We ate a great brunch at Cafe Flora -- a classic (and probably my favorite restaurant -- vegetarian or otherwise -- in the city). There, I finally tested Cafe Flora's vegan cinnamon rolls, which were a hit (and didn't seem lacking in the least, even without swimming in cream and butter).

We also finally ventured to Teapot on Cap Hill. People have been telling me for ages that this is the best vegetarian restaurant in town. I have to resolutely disagree. Our almond "chicken" was more than mild -- flat, even, in a sea of pale, barely nutty faux gravy. The drunken tofu pot held an interesting mix of textures and colors, but again was as bland as our side of unbuttered brown rice. The restaurant's signature "jewel box" was tasty - chunks of zucchini and cashew resting in a hand-made box that looked forged out of seaweed - but it didn't make up for the rest of what was a disappointingly drab dining experience.

I think we should have gone to Plum Bistro, instead. Next time.

I didn't hit up the store with them, but my friends visited Sidecar, an all-vegan store on the Ave, and brought home a bag full of vegan goodies, including a new widely touted cheese product called Daiya that I'll need to try. There's also some soy-based ice cream sitting in my freezer waiting for a taste; I'm quite sure it'll be much better than the old staple of Mocha Mix ice cream we used to devour. (Incidentally, next to Sidecar is a vegan pizzeria that also sounds promising.)

I didn't get a chance to cook for the lads, but had I, I'd have made my favorite tortilla soup (sans sour cream; add faux cheese). Another for next time!

All in all, it was an awesome weekend that showed me how much has changed (recipes, dining options) and how much has stayed the same (especially the love for all my old friends).