Monday, December 30, 2013

BeJouled

This is a restaurant story, but before I begin I should note that I am no stranger to spices and heat. Long ago, the Lovely Bride was writing the recipe section for the Dragonlance book Leaves of the Inn of the Last Home. For this project I both contributor (gnome chicken, a descendant of my mother's 'city chicken' - breaded pork cubes on a skewer) and a playtester - or rather, play-taster (I have had more courses of Otik's Spiced Potatoes than any man not working at the Inn of the Last Home should have had to endure).

But I was regular play-taster for another recipe in that book - Fizban's Fireball Chili. This was a meat marinade perfected by former roommate Frank, who was, in mad scientist fashion, looking for the perfect chili marinade - one where the burn would "start at the tip of the tongue and continue all the way through the entire digestive system". So I am no stranger to culinary heat. At least, not in my younger days.

[And as an aside, Frank's "killer" chili resurfaced when he visited us in Lake Geneva one year, and served it for our friends. Zeb Cook and Tracy Hickman got into an ironman contest as far as who could tolerate the heat of the chili the longest. Picture two men sitting across the table, sweat pouring down their faces, a small tub of sour cream between them. The first one to reach for the sour cream lost. But I digress.]

So, returning to the present, the Lovely Bride and I got a case of the culinary adventures. Seattle is a foodies' town, yet we have our preferences, the places we go back to, and I am always encouraging her to expand her horizons. So when a copy of Bon Appetit magazine showed up bragging about the Best Restaurants and tagging two of them in Seattle, she was intrigued. Moreso because both of the them, neighbors in the same space with different head chefs, served tartar. The Whale Wins has a lamb tartar, and Joule was shown with its beef tartar. The Lovely Bride loves tartar, and, given a choice between the two, Joule took reservations while The Whale Wins did not, so we opted for Joule. Both restaurants, side by side, were located in Wallingford, and after a few sundry adventures in driving and parking, the kids from the hinterlands of Kent arrived.

The space was large and open, and I recommended to the Lovely Bride that she dress for warmth. I knew that Joule did a Korean barbecue fusion, but had little more than that to go on (remember - Culinary Adventure!) The restaurant is bent around the chef's stations, with a counter overlooking (we like to watch our food these days, but that is another blog entry), the floor concrete but the noise level minor. The staff was polite and prompt, and, apparently learning from previous experiences, prompt on keeping the water glasses filled.

I ordered a gin and tonic with darjeeling, tamarind, and lime, called an R. Kipling, which was a good start. The LB ordered a persimmon drink that she found too bitter. We cross-examined the waitron about allergies and what such things as what honshimeji and parpadelle were, marking us fully as Kenterlanders. We settled on two beef tartars (hers without the aioli, mine with), splitting a noodle dish of spicy rice cake with chorizo and pickled mustard green. The LB, having moved through these culinary wilds successfully, chose a ribeye (with celeriac fries - and yes, I believe that after hours the chefs all get together and make up names like this). I was going to go for the short rib steak, then reversed myself and opted for the octopus, bok choi, and bacon vinaigrette. Kate went for a darker red with dinner and I went with an alberino, a white with sort of a pineapple twang to it.

In any event, the tartar, the cause for our travels arrived, and it was hot. Not thermally - that was at the perfect temperature, neither mushy warm or just-from-the-fridge cold. It was spicy. The salmon aioli moreso. Delicious and not overly spiced, but the spices used were hot. Not tastebud-destroying (I've had enough of that over the years), but definitely a challenge to the unprepared. The two of us exchanged worried glances that our adventurism may had led us into a dangerous part of culinary town.

The spicy rice cake (and note, it says spicy right there, in the title, so its not like we can blame anyone), was moreso. Tasty, crispy around the perimeters, but with more heat that I expected. I was starting to sweat, both literary and figuratively, as the main courses arrived, with the fear that we had ordered an entire meal from the flaming-hot side of the menu.

Then, with the mains, disaster struck. The LB reached out an snared what she thought was a dried beet from the plate and popped it in her mouth, only to discover that it was not a beet but rather a dried pepper - small, pungent, and with the power to strip the paint from the walls.The staff (who apparently are on the lookout for such things) were quick with water, though water does nothing for the heat measured on the scoville scale. Would I be looking for that tub of sour cream?

And with the mains (and the LB getting over the explosion in her mouth), all things good returned. The steak was a perfect rareness (though they did not ask for doneness when they ordered, but it was done nicely nonetheless), and the octopus was incredibly tasty, cooked through but not gummy or rubbery. And bacon. Bacon with octopus. Never ignore the power of the bacon. 

We recovered both our wits and our tastebuds over the course of the meal, and had to pass on a variety of egg-based deserts. And in general, it was not what we expected, but it was something worth checking out. And when we got home, the LB said "You know, I think we should have gone for the LAMB tartar". And if we end up back there, on the other side of the building, I'll write that up as well.

More later,