Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lunching with a Brave Horse

About 15 years ago, I worked at a company whose offices were in downtown Seattle.  Every once in a while we'd go somewhere for a department lunch.  A couple of times, that place was the Dahlia Lounge. 

I still remember the Tuscan bread salad I had for lunch the first time I went there.  At that time, the Tom Douglas restaurant empire consisted of Dahlia Lounge, Etta's and the brand new Palace Kitchen. 

It says something about a restaurant (and a dish) when the food and the experience stays with you for 15 years.

In recent years, Douglas has become synonymous with the Seattle restaurant scene.  His stable of restaurants now numbers ten, with inspirations ranging from Italian to Greek to American to Asian. 

As my life changed and my employment took me elsewhere, I had fewer opportunities to patronize his establishments.  As I watched more and more restaurants open, I started to worry that perhaps he was stretching himself too thin. 

But as the years passed, the award nominations kept on coming.  And so did the wins. In fact, in 2012, Douglas won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur. So, I thought, things must be going pretty well.

I watched enviously as new restaurants opened and I didn't have the time to go to them.  Then I got laid off from work.  A personal setback, yes, but this meant that I could start catching up on some serious eating. 

One of the first things I did was go to lunch at Brave Horse Tavern with my wife.  Because I could.

Its location, amid the new buildings (and the Amazon campus) in the South Lake Union, is uber-urban and potentially very busy.  The last time I'd passed the place, this past May (on my way to another Douglas establishment, Serious Biscuit), it was packed with hungry workers from the area.  Which is why we showed up for lunch at around 11:15am.  We were having lunch there, damn it, and we didn't want to stand in line to get in.

After some debate over the menu, we decided to get a couple of snack plates and split the burger.  This way we could maximize our experience. 

Since I didn't have to work after lunch, I decided to imbibe.  I admit that my head was turned by the fact that, on that day, they had 4 ciders on draft.  Draft cider, people!  You don't get that very many places in this town. 
I drank a locally produced ginger apple hard cider by Schilling (Auburn, WA) that was delicious and very gingery.  Perhaps a little more gingery than I was wanting on that day, but I would definitely drink it again. 

Our snack plates came out first:  house made smoked bologna served with Beecher's Flagship cheddar, peach mustard, pretzel chips (also house made) and slices of apple.  This collection was served on an artfully charred slab of wood.  The presentation was really quite beautiful for such homey food. 

Don't let the term homey fool you.  By that I mean a richly flavored, satisfyingly smoky, crunchy, chewy, tart, sweet plate of comfort.  If I was by myself and looking to grab a light meal, I'd get that plate again in a heartbeat.  I might add a little salad, I might not.  It was a perfect little world of its own.

The second snack plate was a basket of fried cheddar cheese curds (this time Wisconsin cheese, for some reason).  Very yummy, though the fried cheese didn't really hit a home run.  It was the dill pickle tartar sauce that hit it out of the park for me.  Thick, vinegary, redolent with dill.  I would have (and I think I did) licked the little dish it came in after I finished eating the remaining sauce with my spoon.  It was everything tartar sauce should be.  It more than made up for my mild disappointment at the little pool of oil at the bottom of the empty basket after we'd finished the cheese bites. 

We were still munching on our snack plates when our burger arrived, already cut in half.  We had mentioned to the our waitress that we were sharing the burger, but were still pleasantly surprised that they'd cut the burger in half for us. 

I have to mention something before I go into the burger itself.  I love the fact that it doesn't come with sides.  You order fries or whatever separately.  And the burger was a reasonable size.  It wasn't the size of a human head.  It was a perfect sized portion of everything on a bun.  If I was to order it on my own, I wouldn't have to hurt myself to finish it.  THANK YOU!!

Now, how did it taste? 

It was pretty damned perfect, if you ask me. 

We had the beef chuck burger with bacon and smoked blue cheese.  The burger was juicy, the lettuce crisp, the smoky burger sauce a great replacement for ketchup (I don't really like ketchup on my burgers. I loved this sauce), and there were dill pickles (maybe house made, though I don't know for sure...they weren't bright green like the kind you get from the grocery store.) and mayo to round out what was between the buns. 

Everyone has different opinions about what should go on a burger.  This was my perfect combo. 

It was messy and drippy and soul-satisfyingly good.  It might actually be the best hamburger I've ever eaten.  And I've eaten a lot of burgers in my day.

We ended our meal with something that made me nearly cry with joy.  A warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie (baked to order according to the menu).  Really, how could we not?  It's a warm chocolate chip cookie, for crying in the night!  A WARM CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE! It, too, exceeded our expectations.

We felt so comforted and cared for by the time we left.  We walked out into the warm autumn afternoon happy to our soul for our time at Brave Horse Tavern.

While we can't go every week, we will definitely be back soon!  The first thing on my list for that visit is the bacon spiked deviled eggs. 

So back to my apprehension that perhaps the restaurateur was spreading himself a little thin.  I'm not apprehensive anymore.  Douglas and his staff really seem to have their collective shit together. 

I actually had the pleasure of meeting Chef Douglas a number of years ago at a season preview for the Broadway at the Paramount Theatre series here in Seattle.  He and his team provided food for the reception.

I told him how much I enjoyed his food and asked him, essentially, why he was at the preview.  He excitedly led me from the stage into the house to show me the seat he sponsored.  He loved the opportunity to help support the theatre community. 

Several years later, he was at the Shoreline Central Market promoting his new cookbook, cooking and serving at the demo kitchen in the heart of the produce and meat sections.  But he wasn't just there promoting himself; he was promoting local food, local sourcing and the store itself.

So not only does he seem to have a golden touch when it comes to developing new restaurants and menus, he is also a really nice guy. 

It's that in addition to the kick-ass food that keep me excited about his establishments.  And why, come hell or high water, I will have that goat cheese fondue that was on his Facebook page a few weeks ago.

As I reviewed the list of restaurants for this entry, I noted that of the 10 listed in the Wikipedia article, I have actually eaten at seven.  I'm not as behind as I thought I was.  But I still have meals to go before I sleep.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Pumpkin Bread Pudding: Resolving a Dilemma

I had a problem to solve.  Over the summer, we ate a lot of hamburgers, but instead of buying hamburger buns, I cut rounds out of slices of bread to make our own buns. 

In order to not be wasteful, we kept collecting the crusts and saving them in the freezer.  We had no idea what we were going to do with them. 

I thought I might make croutons, but I wasn't sold on the idea.  The spelt bread we eat is more on the sweet side and I prefer my croutons to be something like sourdough or rustic Italian type bread. 

So the crusts languished in the freezer until we had a full gallon zippy bag full of them, plus some. 

Then a week or so ago, I realized we had a surplus of another ingredient.  Since our G wasn't drinking as much milk as he used to, we had a lot of milk that needed using. 

Bread.  Milk.  It's getting to be Fall.  Bingo!  Bread pudding!!  It would be the perfect application for the sweet-ish bread and the milk we needed to use.  Besides, my favorite part of the bread pudding is the crusts of bread.  They have a bit more tooth to them and I love the firm, chewy texture the crust gets in a bread pudding.  So this was going to be perfect!

I was just about ready to bake, having a lot of time on my hands now that I'm among the unemployed, when a trip to Trader Joe's gave me the final piece of inspiration I needed.  They had in their freezer case little two-serving boxes of Pumpkin Bread Pudding. 

I felt as if divine light suddenly shone upon me.  I had to make this!

So I started looking for recipes.  At first it was difficult to find a recipe that called for regular bread.  The first couple of recipes that came up on my Google search called for pumpkin bread as the bread component.  That certainly wouldn't do. 

But as with anything on Google, search long enough and you'll find what you are looking for. 

Still, I ended up with three recipes up in my browser, taking a bit from each before I settled upon my own. 

Most of what I ended up with is thanks to this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  I also plan on making the Creme Anglaise from Bobby Flay's recipe, but I've got a lot of cooking and baking ahead of me this weekend, so it may wait a couple of days.  And a nod to the Betty Crocker recipe, too, because I didn't want to use just a part of a can of pumpkin.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

8 cups of spelt bread crusts, dried and broken into pieces (or whole pieces of any kind of bread, cubed or torn into pieces and left out to go stale)
3 cups of milk
4 eggs and 2 egg yolks
1 small can of pumpkin
1 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
a couple of dashes ground cloves
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 13X9 inch baking pan.  Put the bread pieces into the prepared pan.  
In a large bowl, beat the eggs briefly.  Add the milk, pumpkin, salt, spices and sugar and whisk to combine. 
Pour custard over the bread pieces and mush things about until all the bread has been coated.  Ideally, the bread will be mostly submerged in the custard.  If you've got bits sticking up, that's okay. That means you'll have lovely crispy bits on the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  (If you're baking in a glass dish, consider reducing the temperature to 325.) 

Enjoy for breakfast with some honey goat cheese or for dessert with some creme anglaise or whipped cream or ice cream.  Or whatever you like with pumpkin.

I will say two things.  I think I will add some maple syrup or some brown sugar next time.  The idea of some depth to the sweetness is appealing to me. 

Also, I think a little bourbon is in order (for the pudding, not necessarily for me).  That is one part of the Smitten Kitchen recipe that I didn't take to heart and I wish I had. :o)

Now the only dilemma I have is how we're going to eat it all.  But that is a good problem to have.  And I know I have friends who will help should it be necessary.  

If you make this and alter it at all, please let me know.  I would love to hear what you think and what you do with it!  

Happy Fall!