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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Everybody Walk (to) the Dinosaur!

I was born and raised on Dinosaur BBQ when I lived in Syracuse, New York, and was under the impression that the hole-in-the-wall biker bar was an original.  After relocating to the Northwest, delicious summer meals at the Dinosaur in downtown Syracuse faded into a fond, epicurean memory.  So, needless to say, when my travel host told me we were headed to the Dinosaur in Harlem, I was amazed…and hungry.  I couldn’t wait to dig in, and wasn’t even concerned about the two days it would take me to get the barbeque remnants out from under my nails.

When I arrived, I have to say I was a little disappointed by the ambience.  Don’t get me wrong, the restaurant is nice…too nice.  The Harlem location pays little homage to the original, miniscule Harley hangout in Syracuse.  The sweeping square footage and faux-rustic decorations of the New York location made me long for the days of waiting outside for an hour to share a seat with one of my older brothers.

The Original Syracuse Dino Pit

But then the food came, and all was right in the world.  My mother still religiously cooks summer barbeque sides from the Dinosaur BBQ cookbook, but there is something about having the whole package laid out in its full splendor.  My group ordered chicken, ribs, brisket, and pulled pork.  After I plated up, I slathered Dino sauce over all visible meat surfaces.  I love the tomatoey, vinegary, and slightly sweet taste of their sauce, and that they’ve taken care not to thicken or sweeten too much.  There’s another perk of the fresh, light taste of their sauce:  lighter sauce means you can eat more meat!  If you’re really jazzed up, you can take some of it home with you.

A Dinosaur BBQ Glamour Shot

Like going to a steakhouse, part of what makes barbeque dinners so satisfying and memorable is what goes along with that ungodly amount of meat.  Dinosaur handles the sides department like a pro.  Bar-B-Que beans and cole slaw are prepared with care and aren’t over processed like some other joints.  But the side that is a real treat for me is the Syracuse-style salt potatoes.  Due to the city’s long love affair with salt production, young white potatoes have been harvested early and boiled with generous amounts of salt for over a century.  The high salt content cooks a crust on the skin of the potato, and the end result is a creamy, tender potato with a sinful amount of salt and butter.

My cut of the bill was about $20, and I still took home more than enough in leftovers to enjoy another session of barbeque bliss the following day.  For that price, I will gleefully pick brisket out of my teeth and attempt to de-grease my nails.  While the Syracuse Dinosaur BBQ location will always hold a special place in my heart, I have a feeling that once I move to New York, the Harlem location will do well to keep a place in my stomach.


Best Restaurant in Seattle

Ever since I’ve started this blog, people commonly ask me, “What’s your favorite place to eat in Seattle?”  Some people might expect a fancy Tom Douglas joint or a price-gouging meal at El GauchoI’m happy to report that my favorite meal can be found at a literal hole-in-the-wall on The Ave:  Thai Tom.

This is the entirety of Thai Tom.

I’m surprised that not more Seattleites know about this place.  They consistently receive CitySearch’s “Best of” Award for Thai Food, and word-of

My favorite dish: steamed vegetables with fried tofu and peanut sauce

-mouth in the Seattle food scene travels quickly.  Not that I’m complaining.  If more people knew about it, I would have to wait even longer to get a seat.

If you like getting pampered as a customer, you’re not going to like Thai Tom.  There are no reservations.  During prime time (Fridays and Saturdays after 6), waits can be upwards of 20 minutes.  You are crammed like cattle into a narrow hallway that seats 30.  If you sit at the bar, there will be chefs plating other people’s food at your seat, then servers coming by to reach around you to grab the food.  On the flip side, you will get your food as soon as humanely possible, as they will be eager to give your seat to someone waiting outside.

If you like quiet, subdued meals, you’re not going to like Thai Tom.  The Thai reggaeton hits that perpetually blast out of the restaurant’s speakers barely drowns out the sounds of tofu exploding into the deep fryer, and the sounds of stir-fry being mixed in cast-iron woks.  Watching the wait staff and the cooks working at the speed of sound is enough to ma

WARNING: this is a cash-only establishment!

ke you dizzy.  In fact, the first time I ever took my boyfriend to Thai Tom, I think he had a mild panic attack.

Why do I put up with this, week after week?  The food is insanely delicious, and very affordable.  The ingredients are always fresh, and are expertly combined by the “wok master,” as I like to call the guy who mans the 10-range of 6-inch flames. I could eat a delicious, steaming plate of Thai Tom Phad Thai, or a brimming bowl of Tom Kah soup everyday and still want more.  And as my dining check shows, a very filling meal for two, with a tip, comes to only 23 dollars(but you’ll have to pay in cash).

Maybe I’m weird, but I also love to crazy energy this place gives off.  If you can handle it, the mere experience of cramming yourself into the bar, sipping a Thai iced tea, and going into a stupor watching the wok master at work makes all your troubles worth it.  Even as I sit here in my living room and eat my leftovers (for breakfast), I am planning my next trip to my favorite restaurant in Seattle.

Pike Place for Locals

Pike Place Market has become, in some cases, synonymous with Seattle.  Locals take their visiting guests there on a regular basis.  Seattleites know the tourist hot spots and where to find the best hokey shlack.  We even have our preferred produce vendors.

While tourists have their own special relationship with Pike Place as a characterizing symbol of the city, what does the Market mean to a local?  In my last few months in Seattle, I went to find out.  It was a 9 a.m. on Wednesday when I passed the notorious bronze pig and entered the main entrance of the Market.  But where were all the people, all the musicians, the tourists?  The fishmongers at Pike Place Fish Company were playing to an almost non-existent crowd.  Samuel Samson (pictured left), a Pike Place Fish Company employee, informed me that Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are very slow in the Market.  While some people love the hustle and bustle of lost and bedazzled tourists, I welcomed the opportunity to peruse the Market without figuring out how to navigate the throngs of slow-moving onlookers.  As I nibbled on samples of alder wood smoked wild king salmon, Samuel and I talked about what the Market means to him.  He said meeting different people from all walks of life was what he looked forward to at his job.  Even at 9 a.m., Samuel was pumped with energy and ready for a day of selling fish and telling jokes to his customers.  I asked him whether it was Starbucks or Tully’s that fueled him past his 5 a.m. wakeup call.  He replied it was neither:  the people at McDonald’s will be glad to hear that its coffee satisfies this Seattleite’s affinity for caffeine.

After saying goodbye to Samuel, I wandered over to visit the Doughnut Company.  After almost 30 years in the market, workers at this understated food stand report that like Sam, their favorite part of the Market is the people.  We talked about what makes the Market special as they prepared my half-dozen assorted doughnuts.  These little devils are fried in non-hydrogenated soy oil, fried only two inches wide for maximum crispy-to-doughy ratio.  A third of my order was covered in cinnamon sugar, another third in powdered sugar, and the last third in chocolate and sprinkles.  The amount of doughnut toppings was not too much to overpower the simple flavor of the oil and the delicate crisp of the dough.

The daughter of the vendor next door enjoys a doughnut.

Walking down the main drag of fresh produce and flower vendors, I stopped off at arcade number six to grab one of my favorite Washington edibles:  the Jazz apple. The Jazz is a hybrid of the Royal Gala and the Braeburn, and produces a juicy, extremely crunchy, and tangy-sweet apple.  Currently, the Jazz apple is only grown in Washington, New Zealand, Chile, and France, so you’re going to pay a pretty penny for them.  If you’re a foodie and an apple nut like I am, you’ll gladly shell out the money for these exceptional apples.

A short stroll from arcade six, I was lured to the Chukar Cherries stand by the pleasant smiles of the twenty-somethings running the stand.   It’s hard to pass up a free sample when the product in question is fresh, local cherries dried smothered in quality chocolate.  Chukar Cherries started off as a Washington cherry-growing operation, but later the business realized that they were better at creating cherry products than the actual growing of the cherries.  Now, Chukar buys cherries from the Prosser area, the Columbia River Valley, and the Wenatchee River Valley.  A few of their more exotic products include pinot noir cherries, cabernet cherries, and the famous chipotle cherry.  While at the stand, I sampled the dark chocolate-coated dried cherries with a bittersweet cocoa powder dusting.  I must say, it was a perfect combination of tart, moist cherries, and the dense, strong flavor of dark chocolate.  The bittersweet cocoa dusting kept the delectables from being overly sweet.

The people running the stand talked about the Market as I savored my sample.  Based on our conversation, the employees at Chukar Cherries share the sentiments of the other employees I interviewed.  They look forward to coming to the Market to work because of the people they meet.  In addition, they appreciate the sense of community, directly contributing to the support of local business, and the relaxed work atmosphere the Market offers.

It was a truly enriching experience wandering through the market, taking on a new sense of adventure and exploration as a result of the lack of crowds.  The Market workers do their best to put forth an agreeable demeanor to each one of their customers, but if you really want to get a chance to connect on a personal level with the people who grow and sell the food at the Market, stop by on a lazy Tuesday or Wednesday morning and have a conversation with them.  It might take a while to break the ice, but if the vendors love the people at the Market as much as they claim they do, I have a feeling they’ll be willing to engage in a meaningful exchange with you.  It sounds cliché, but good, homegrown food is a common denominator that brings together all sorts of people.  Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back to Pike Place.