Restaurant ramblings in Seattle

While Janice and I were on vacation in Seattle in late June, we settled into a routine: Wake up later than we would back home, find a nearby place for breakfast, go sightseeing, and then head back toward our hotel for dinner. Still, we found a wide range of moderately priced and good meals.

Pike Place, Seattle
Janice at Pike Place Market

Since the Renaissance Seattle is in the downtown business district, we had no trouble finding breakfast joints — during the workweek. The YMCA’s Delinomore had a cool communal feel, while Market Fresh, Mel’s Market, Simon’s, and Sister’s Garden Café all catered to office workers.

On the way to and from Seattle, we grabbed a bite to eat at the airports, such as from Sandella’s Flatbread. On our first night in Seattle, Janice and I had a good Mexican-American meal at Tacos Guaymas on the Harbor Steps, followed by gelato at Bottega Italiana (the first of a few desserts there).

After skirting the International District, we had dinner on Sunday, June 23, at O’Asian, a quiet and upscale Asian restaurant. The next day, we had an excellent lunch at Delicatus in Pioneer Square, followed by dessert from Cow Chip Cookies. On Tuesday at the waterfront, Janice and I had an OK lunch at the Alaska Sourdough Bakery.

The Wings Café at the Museum of Flight had a great view of airplanes, both part of the collection and taking off and landing. We had wraps during our cruise to Victoria, B.C., but I would have liked to try out a Scottish pub if we had more time.

Over the course of the week, we enjoyed dinners and beers at Mod Pizza (great thin-crust pies), the Elephant & Castle Pub, Kell’s Pub, and Bruno’s Italian/Mexican Restaurant (a family establishment that was more harmonious than you might think).

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the great eateries at the famous Pike Place Market. Sure, some of the many vendors are tourist traps, but there is enough fresh seafood (some of it airborne), curious arts and crafts, and produce to keep a browser busy and happy for a day or two. In our case, mainly June 24. Janice picked up some chocolates for her co-workers, but I don’t think mine would appreciate smoked salmon.

Janice and I aren’t coffee drinkers, so we only peeked into the original Starbuck’s. We did sample cheese from Beecher’s and Mt. Townsend Creamery, pastries from Piroshky Piroshky and Three Girls Bakery, and chowder from Pike Place Chowder (which I had learned about at the Newport Chowder Fest). I definitely recommend Seattle to seafood fans.

The Arsenal at Seattle Center was also a gourmand’s paradise. We ate on June 28 at Bigfood Barbeque and Confectional Cheesecake, and we got fresh-squeezed lemonade from a booth next to proficient Latin American street musicians in the shadow of the Space Needle.

My last look at Seattle (for now) will focus on the tourist attractions we visited.

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Finding food around Waltham

Waltham's Moody Street
Moody Street in Waltham, Mass.

In the past month, Janice and I have started exploring our new neighborhood in Waltham, Massachusetts, and I’ve gone out to lunch a few times with co-workers.

I still miss the inclusive menus, unpretentious cooking, and all-hours convenience of the diners and delis in metropolitan New York. We occasionally ate breakfast or brunch at Fresco Café in Needham, and there is a Friendly’s near our new apartment. I’ve been to Wilson’s Diner, and I look forward to eventually checking out In a Pickle and Arcadia in downtown Waltham.

Carl’s Subs, also in Waltham, makes a very good cheesesteak — if not at the level of Talarico’s Sandwich Shop in Pennsylvania — as does Charley’s Grilled Subs in the Burlington Mall. I’m also looking for a hamburger to rival Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square, Wild Willy’s in Needham, or Four Burgers in Central Square, Cambridge, all of which I’ve eaten at recently.

On a related note, since there is no Chipotle nearby, I’ll be checking out the various Latin American eateries on Waltham’s Moody Street for tasty, filling, and cheap burritos. Ixtapa Mexican Cantina in Lexington, Mass., is similar to Acapulco’s in quality, and I saw that there is a Border Café near the Burlington Mall. I found that the drinks at Margarita’s were better than the food.

For pub grub, Watch City Brewing Co. is pretty good, although I think I like the British Beer Co. a bit more. I’ve had drinks a few times after work at Boxx 109 in the fancy Hotel Indigo. We have yet to eat and drink at Grassfield’s, City Streets, John Brewer’s Tavern, or Skellig. For Southern food, Bison County joins Firefly’s, Blue Ribbon Barbeque, and Midtown Smokehouse and Grill. For steak, we recently found Texas Roadhouse in Walpole, Mass.

Speaking of steak, we’ve celebrated many birthdays at Fuji in Needham, and I’ll have to look for another sushi/hibachi place. I tried to go to Takara Sushi in Newton with some co-workers last week, but we ended up at Bread & Chocolate instead. Speaking of cafés, in addition to the ubiquitous Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbuck’s, I’ll have to try Panera and Café on the Common.

I’ll also have to find a decent Chinese restaurant, hopefully one that delivers. There is no shortage of promising Indian restaurants in the area, including Waltham India Market, which has a small food court in its basement. I’ve enjoyed “fusion” Asian cuisine at Tom Can Cook, Elephant Walk, and Ponzu (I ate at the last of these yesterday with Beruk A.).

I also hope to find a good local pizza joint similar to Stone Hearth Pizza, in addition to reliable chains Papa Gino’s, Bertucci’s, Uno Chicago Grill, and The Upper Crust (which had labor problems). An economical Italian family restaurant is also on my “to find” list.

For groceries, we miss having a Trader Joe’s in walking distance, as we did in Needham, Mass. Still, the Shaw’s is close, and I’ve ogled the fresh produce at the Wagon Wheel Nursery & Farmstand and Wilson Farm in Lexington. Finding locally produced bleu cheese isn’t always easy, but it’s important to me.

Speaking of dairy, I look forward to stopping by Lizzy’s Ice Cream as the weather gets warmer. Every town in New England has an ice cream parlor. I prefer gelato, sherbet, or frozen yogurt, however, because of my lactose intolerance. Janice and I will also have to find a decent bakery. So much to eat, so little time!

Fall getaway to Providence

Bed and breakfast in Providence
The Old Court

After raking leaves for the first time this season on Friday, 21 October 2011, Janice and I went to the Midtown Smokehouse & Grill, a new restaurant in Needham, Massachusetts. The boneless Buffalo chicken had an Asian sweetness, the pulled pork and marinated turkey tips were lean but still juicy, and the pecan pie was a nice finish. The service was prompt and friendly.

Janice and I were glad to find Southern-style cuisine closer to home. Blue Ribbon Barbeque in Newton, Mass., doesn’t really have eat-in space, and while we like the buffet at Firefly’s in Framingham, Mass., it’s a bit far. Another good barbecue joint is Bison County on Waltham’s Moody Street. We still miss the Black-Eyed Pea back in Falls Church, Virginia.

On Saturday, we drove to Providence, Rhode Island, which we’ve passed through a few times but never really explored before. Janice had won a night’s stay at the Old Court through a WGBH (PBS) auction. The bed and breakfast was in a quiet neighborhood between downtown Providence and College Hill.

We enjoyed exploring the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). For a small institution, it has a wide collection of art, from Mesopotamia and classical Greece and Rome to medieval and Renaissance Europe, a bit of Asia and Africa, colonial and Victorian America, and some modern art. I’d compare RISD favorably with the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum rather than to bigger museums such as Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Janice and I had a late lunch at the Brickway on Wickenden, which had fun décor and an extensive breakfast-style menu. We found College Hill, with its bohemian student population and shops, hilly terrain, and laid-back atmosphere, to be closer to places we’ve visited in Vermont or San Francisco than typical New England reserve. We also admired the historic architecture.

We swung through Brown University‘s pleasant campus, which reminded Janice of her grad school alma mater Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It was apparently parents’ weekend, since we saw relatively few students. At this point, we can pass for parents rather than coeds! From there, we walked downtown (unfortunately, we missed Water Fire by a few weeks).

We saw the Occupy Wall Street offshoot at Providence City Hall and the Rhode Island State House. I’m sympathetic to the movement, which is trying to become as focused as the anti-tax Tea Party wing of the Republican Party, but the tent city of underemployed college students, aging hippies, and homeless people wasn’t too impressive.

In marked contrast, we found Providence Place full of people. Like the erstwhile Natick Collection, the upscale boutiques and packs of roving teenagers held little appeal for us, especially with Borders Books & Music gone. We did like much of the art and furnishings at a craft show at the convention center next door, however.

After stopping by our B&B, Janice and I headed back to College Hill, where we visited Brown’s book store and the independent Symposium Books. We checked out a few eateries on Thayer Street before deciding on Shanghai, a good, if noisy, Chinese restaurant.

We got a nondairy dessert (for my lactose intolerance) from “Like No Udder,” a food truck representative of a recent trend in urban dining. The chocolate soft serve with peanut-butter sauce was smooth and excellent. After walking back to the Old Court, our dogs were barking, and we decided to pass on a Jack-o-lantern event at the Roger Williams Park Zoo.

We could have gone to the Italian restaurants on Federal Hill for dinner, but that would have required taking a bus or driving my beat-up Honda Civic on winding streets through unfamiliar neighborhoods (Janice baked lasagna last night, anyway). The next morning, we ate breakfast in the B&B’s common room before heading back to Massachusetts for grocery shopping, housecleaning, and putting up Halloween decorations. Even a short weekend away was a nice respite, if not quite as grand as last year’s vacation in England.

Coming soon: Game scheduling struggles, midseason genre TV, DC’s comics and videos, and reader requests!

Anniversary and meal thoughts

Greek food
A kabab platter

Thanks, friends, for the anniversary wishes. Janice and I have been together for 21 years and married for 16, so we’ve joked that our marriage is old enough to legally drive, and our relationship is old enough to drink alcohol! Time flies when you’re having fun!

To celebrate, we went out to dinner at Fuji. The Japanese steakhouse has become a favorite of families in Needham, Massachusetts. I’m glad that children are getting a chance to try sushi or tender beef from the hibachi, but I’m surprised that the moderately pricey meals are so popular.

Earlier in the week, I had lunch with co-workers at Papa Razzi in Newton Lower Falls. The food was good, but service could have been better. Janice and I also took advantage of a warm spell to walk to Acropolis, a Greek restaurant that opened in town last week.

Although we already have Farm Grill in nearby Newton, I was pleased with Acropolis‘ friendly service; falafel, pita, and rice and spinach appetizers; and kebab entrees. Our desserts were also noteworthy — excellent flaky moussaka and creamy Greek-style yogurt with honey.

Our favorite food shows on television include Phantom Gourmet (on in the background as I type this), TV Diner, and Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. We’ve drifted away from Good Eats, Iron Chef, and Ultimate Recipe Showdown, and I haven’t had time for the amusing Bitchin’ Kitchen.

The Food Network has been focusing on competitions rather than cuisine in prime time, so I prefer some shows on the Cooking Channel or Travel Channel, such as Man vs. Food and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. None of these can keep up with the BBC/PBS satire of Posh Nosh.

Since Janice’s new commute by train gets her home later than me, I’ve been making dinners for the first time in years, and those who know me may be surprised that we haven’t had pasta every night. While I’m not yet at the point of experimenting with “molecular gastronomy,” I do hope to prepare quick, healthy, and tasty meals. Janice’s French toast this morning showed who’s still the better cook!

5 August 2010: Chicago family reunion

Chicago's Willis Tower

On Wednesday, 28 July 2010, Janice and I took a JetBlue Airways flight from Boston’s Logan Airport to Chicago O’Hare to visit part of my mother’s side of the family. We rented a car and drove to the Marriott Northwest before grabbing dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. The dry-spiced boneless Buffalo chicken tenders were particularly good.

The next morning, Janice and I drove to the Barrington station of the Metra (commuter rail), which we took into the city. When I helped out at BriForum in June, I noted how Chicago’s urban density reminded me favorably of my hometown of New York, just as San Francisco is a bit like Boston. Unfortunately, the sprawl around Chicago, in which good arable land is being turned into subdivisions and strip malls, reminded us of Northern Virginia.

Janice and I walked through “the Loop,” Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods, and we saw the giant bean sculpture at Millennium Park. We also enjoyed the galleries and café at the Art Institute before heading back out to the suburbs, stopping at a Graham Crackers, a comic book shop, on the way.

My younger brother Peter, his wife Kelly, and their children arrived from Virginia that evening. We went to my cousin Cristina‘s home for dinner, meeting her husband Arnold and their daughters Marjorie and Meg, plus Marjorie’s boyfriend Joe. For the first time, Janice, Kelly, and the girls got to partake of a Filipino feast, including Pancit Molo (a variation on wonton soup), not prepared by my mother. It was great to reconnect with some family members after more than two decades!

The next morning, Peter and I picked up our parents, who had been delayed by bad weather. Although plans to go into town had to be postponed, we rejoined the Tan family for lunch. For dinner, we dined at Le TiTi de Paris, a fancy French restaurant. I had steak stuffed with prosciutto and cheese.

On Saturday, July 31, we drove to the Navy Pier, whose attractions included a carousel, a Ferris wheel, jugglers, a stained-glass exhibit, and a large food court. I had a proper Chicago hot dog. By now, you’ve probably noticed that, like most families, eating is a major activity during any reunion. We took a river cruise focusing on the city’s diverse and historic skyline, followed by deep-dish pizza at Lou Malnati’s. Marjorie proved to be indispensable in getting us around.

On Sunday, Janice and I returned to Boston after just scraping the surface of the things to see and do in Chicago. We mowed the lawn, bought groceries, and began catching up on e-mails and recorded television. Our travel done for now, we’ve gotten back to work.

As you may have seen from other posts, my role-playing games have also kept me busy. The Sunday night Pathfinder teleconferencing team has started a new adventuring party in my long-running “Vanished Lands” homebrew fantasy setting, and the Monday night local face-to-face group is gearing up for my “Vortex” space opera campaign. I’ll try to blog more about them, comic books, and other stuff soon!