What a blast I had putting together lists of best restaurants, bars, and hotels for Condé Nast Traveler. I guess once a restaurant critic always a restaurant critic, because when an interesting new restaurant or bar opens, I try to get there within its first few weeks of opening, then return once or twice once things have settled some. I'm just completely fascinated by the restaurant world, and I'm always taking mental notes. So when the CNT team asked if I could come up with a list comprised of classics, new spots, and a few interesting outliers, I was ready to go. Check out the articles here! Oh and speaking of reviews, I neglected to post the guest review I did for Seattle Met last fall. This is one of my favorite-ever projects, so I hope you'll give it a read too.
I remember first hearing about India's "untouchables" during a first-semester, freshman-year class on eastern religion. (There's an embarressing story about 18-year-old me becoming obsessed with The Dharma Bums; let's save that for another time.) The idea of a caste system can—and did—seem hard to fathom to a present-day college kid in the US, but only because it is formalized, right? Informal castes are of course everywhere, and in every country.
In early fall, I took a rare trip across Lake Washington to meet Ajit George. Agit lives in the Seattle area because his fiancee came here for a job—like a lot of us, he has no real ties to the PNW. But from an office in his Factoria apartment, Ajit runs a remarkable project first started by his father. Their Bengalore-based Shanti Bhavan school aims to intervene in the poverty cycle that has plagued the Dalit—the so-called untouchable caste—for generations.
If I had any prejudices going into the interview, it was that Ajit might stick to the party line—success stories, why readers should donate—and refuse to be forthcoming about the ugly and hard and confusing parts of such a project, not to mention how maddening it must be to work for your dad. But he was more than ready to throw it down, more than willing to share his doubts and his failings and his father-boss frustrations, and I wished I could have sat chatting with him at that rickety table outside Factoria's most hard to find Tully's all day.
Anyway, You can read my interview with Ajit at Seattle Met.
I had the chance to write a Seattle guide for the excellent Indianapolis Monthly this month. The occasion: a new direct flight on Alaska Airlines.
As a city mag superfan I love working with regional publications, and Indy has been a long-time favorite. And it is always a blast to try to see Seattle through the eyes of a visitor who may be short on time, but wants to soak up all the good stuff. I use articles like this one all the time to create itineraries when I travel, and I hope that informs what I write and helps me create something that really helps people explore the city. Before writing it, it hadn't occurred to me what an array of dessert offerings my current neighborhood now boasts. But there it is.
Oh, and when we visited the Starbucks Roastery for this assignment, there were a bunch of dudes in suits outside the entrance, with what look like landline telephone cords dangling from their ears. Must be secret service, right? Or at least some high end body guards. We stalked every corner of that crowded coffee carnival trying to find the VIP they were protecting, but to no avail. Maybe it was just Howard?
This was super fun: Condé Nast Traveler assigned me an end-of-year list detailing the food trends that would emerge in 2017. Tons of silly stuff in here, but it was also cool to learn chefs are geared up to tackle food waste, and committed to making vegetables the star of the show. Check it out!
I met Michelle Harris on a grey fall morning in a tiny Capitol Hill coffee shop where the baristas pulled espresso shot after espresso shot—their thumps and wushes threatening to ruin my recording all the while. I was immediately struck by Michelle's gentle manner and nimble sense of humor. As we talked, however, I began to detect a fury just below the surface, and an unwavering clarity of vision. We all wish our cities—our countries—would do better by their most vulnerable populations, but Michelle manifests her vision for society through action. Basically, she lives the way she thinks the world should work. It was great get inside her head for a couple of hours, and to share it in this new Q&A for Seattle Met.
For the October issue of Seattle Met, I spoke with lightning rod local Natasha Marin. Marin is a multimedia artist who responded to an emotionally depleting Facebook feed in a very interesting way. Check it out.
My Q&A for the September issue of Seattle Met is online. I talked to Gene Armstrong, the organizer of the Rainfurrest convention, a Seattle event that attracts furries from all over the world, some of whom come to simply have a blast—splashing around a courtyard pool, making lifelong friends who sustain them through the struggles of a lifestyle often ridiculed by their family and peers—others of whom do a bunch of drugs and flush diapers down toilets. The latter group has prevented the convention from returning to Seattle this year. We’ll see if Gene can get things up and running next year.
And I’m really excited about next month’s Q&A, which inspired me to return to the work of the incredible Ta-Nehesi Coates. Will share it here once it’s up.
Oof, knives. Most of us buy a block, enjoy their sharp edges for a few months, then live with the disappointment of owning a large collection of dull-ish blades. That means secreting fire tears every time you chop an onion, serving sad BLTS stuffed with squishy tomato slices, and avoiding prep-heavy dishes like chopped salad or tuna tartare.
I had a drawer full of dullards when we started creating this knife-sharpening class at ChefSteps. I learned then what steel sensei Bob Kramer lays bare in his recent interview with Bon Appétit's Adam Rapoport: that (sorry) your knife block is kind of a sham. Kramer says home cooks really only need two knives—a general all-purpose sort of affair (such as a chef's knife), and a paring or utility knife for detail projects like peeling garlic. Sure, there are a many more dreamy blades you can add to your collection, like a bread knife or a big scary cleaver. But the point is, it's way better to have two great knives than 12 meh ones. And the most important thing is to keep them sharp. The class I mentioned above has detailed instructions on doing that, but if you're not that into the whole thing, do like lazy me and just learn to hone your knives—super easy—and then just making sure you send them out for sharpening once a year.
But we're at the third paragraph now, let's get to the fun part: Shopping for incredible Japanese knives. I was lucky enough to get this one for Christmas last year. I cherish that fellow, and look forward to picking out a paring knife to keep him company.* My current paring knife is a $20 jobby procured in the home section at QFC. It works...okay. Mostly because I keep in well-honed, I'd wager.
*One thing that's important to keep in mind is that if you buy a carbon-steel knife, you gotta keep that MF dry at all costs or it'll rust up on you right quick. So no leaving it on a wet cutting board while you wine and dine. This knife is like your kid, okay? You gotta keep that kid dry.
I've been very happily doing these quick Q&As for Seattle Met, working for my old colleague Matt Halverson, now the magazine's executive editor. It has been such a great opportunity to interview really fascinating people. For May, I talked to deep-sea diver and documentarian Dan Warter, who taught himself to film what he witnessed while navigating the abyss. Warter has a complicated relationship with diving; he's at a point in his life where he's not sure the benefits outweigh the risks. He experienced a friend die during one expedition, and recounted the story to me in detail. I was so impressed with his honesty and vulnerability—he seemed to just default to being open, which is such an admirable characteristic. I didn't have to space to tell that full story on the page, but hopefully we will be able to spin longer, online versions of the interviews in the future.
Keep up with Dan Warter's projects on the DCS Films website.
Tuesdays are tricky. Work starts to really ramp up; the week ahead still looms large. I remember struggling to get out of bed on Tuesdays as a teenager—a spellbinding sleepiness luring me to call in sick to school and then crawl back beneath a comforter festooned with little pink Laura Ashley roses. I rarely did it, but I often wrestled with the desire to do it. These days I'm usually home late on Tuesdays thanks to a weekly evening appointment, and going out feels too splurgy this early in the week. I just want a delicious dinner that I didn't cook, and I want to watch a little Silicon Valley while we eat it.
Enter Little Uncle. This awesome Thai place started at a stand at a Seattle farmers market, then expanded to a takeout storefront on Madison Avenue E. Recently, it expanded again with the opening of a small sit-down cafe a block up from its original location in a new condo building. The food is universally fantastic, though I think my favorite dish so far is khao soi gai, a mustard-hued, thin and mild curry sauce with tender, stewy chicken and egg noodles. It sounds like comfort food, and it is. But it is comfort food that's light enough to do you right on a warm summer evening—the hallmark of so many delicious Thai dishes. The fact that all you have to do is text Little Uncle your order and the time when you'll pick it up? That's a very nice bonus. I'm immensely grateful to live where I do.
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs are my favorite new things for weeknight dinner. You bake them for 15 minutes and they emerge all juicy and full of flavor. I just chop them up and serve them with rice and a crunchy, vinegary salad or slaw. I want to say something corny here about how this meal is faster than takeout and way more delicious. I guess I did.
Since I have the outrageous fortune of working mere feet from Delaurenti in Pike Place Market, I've been picking up marinades to douse those thighs in—they're usually pretty expensive and, I'm told, easy to replicate at home. But sometimes you just feel lazy and in the mood to experience some delicious overpriced sauce. Besides, I tell myself, they're still cheaper than a bottle of wine and, frankly, often more memorable.
Most notable so far: Nong’s Khao Man Gai Sauce. It's the creation of Nong Poonsukwattana, whose food trucks—and restaurant, Munchies has the story—are the stuff of Portland legend. Though I try to get to Portland four or five times a year, I've not yet tried Poonsukwattana's signature chicken-and-rice dish. Now that I've sample the sauce, however I will remedy that posthaste. It's tangy and a little spicy with a depth of flavor that you don't often get out of a bottle. Oh, and you can buy it online.
A few weeks ago, the James Beard Foundation awarded my pal and one-time Washingtonian colleague Todd Kliman the M.F.K. Fisher award for distinguished writing—pretty much the biggest honor a food writer can receive, awards-wise. Man, it's so deserved. Check out his amazing feature, "Pork Life," in Lucky Peach.
Can't wait to see what Todd gets up to next.