Sunday, January 31, 2016

Miyabi 45th: Our First and Sadly Last Time Tasting Chef Mutsuko Soma's Soba

We had a fantastic date night trying out Miyabi 45th for the first time thanks to the great omakase dinner for two deal on Groupon (normally $60 Groupon but I purchased it for $46)! I had read about chef Mutsuko Soma's handmade soba since before arriving in Seattle through a plethora of articles on her journey learning the craft and on the sheer deliciousness of her food at Miyabi 45th (Food & Wine; Seattle Times; Serious Eats). Seeing how we're trying to explore Seattle frugally, it would've been difficult trying out an omakase meal here without the help of Groupon, so a big thank you to Miyabi 45th and Groupon for making this deal available for folks like us!

 Right before writing this post, I spotted the happy and sad news (Seattle Eater) that chef Mutsuko Soma will be taking maternity leave starting February 13th and changes will be in place after the restaurant reopens under the helm of their current sushi chef Masa Ishikura. Handmade soba will likely not be on the menu after the transition. It's such a tease that we got to taste these delicious artisan noodles for the first time only to have it be our last time. But of course, all the best to chef Soma with the beautiful news of a baby girl, and best of luck to chef Ishikura!

Chef Mutsuko Soma

Now on to the recap of the 5 course omakase experience!

Amuse Bouche + Five Course Omakase

It was really thoughtful that the restaurant provided a matrix of want/don't want dinner items for you to check or cross off to customize your 5 course meal. Everything else is left up to the chef's discretion. I would normally welcome raw dishes at a Japanese restaurant but it was an especially chilly evening so we opted to check off on "adventurous" but crossed off "raw".

Omakase Customization

The meal started off with shots of puréed butternut squash in a dashi broth. This amuse bouche was warm and creamy - a cozy welcome on a cold day!

Amuse Bouche - Butternut Squash Soup

Next came the foie gras "tofu" with red grapes and an adorable pyramid of wasabi in a dashi broth. The foie gras was blended and formed to take on the appearance and texture of silken tofu. It was absolutely luscious, but Mike noted that this would go nicely with some crackers, rice, or crusty bread to cut the richness. I was very impressed by my non-foodie husband's astute observation! He may have to take over some posts on my blog!

Foie Gras "Tofu"

The next dish was grilled salmon kama (collar) with a refreshing salad. I was hoping that we would have some kind of kama dish because it has always been a favorite hot dish of mine at Japanese restaurants. The kama was smokey and buttery, which paired nicely with the crunchy chilled salad.

Salmon Kama

That was followed by chawanmushi (savory egg custard) with snow crab, fish cake, ginko seed, and matsutake mushrooms. This is another classic hot Japanese dish that I adored as a kid before I developed a palate for raw fish. It's really fun to eat because it's like digging for treasures. The matsutake was very juicy and was the best surprise in the pool of silky egg.


The most impressive dish was new to me - braised pork belly and toasted daikon (Asian radish) mochi. I've had many amazing Chinese braised pork dishes before, but I've never had one that's paired with daikon mochi! I've never even heard of daikon mochi before! The mochi texture mimicked the chewy gelatinous texture of the pork belly fat so when you eat it with a bite of just the pork belly meat, it's as if you're eating a healthier version of the whole pork belly! Some people like eating the fat and the meat, but that's too rich for me, so substituting the fat with the mochi was genius! I wish I had more mochi to sop up the addictive sauce!

Braised Pork Belly with Toasted Daikon Mochi

The final dish was the obligatory handmade soba. It's what made this restaurant famous and successful within just three years. The bowl of hot soba had the strong fragrance of buckwheat and the texture of the noodles withstood the heat of the broth. Dried manufactured soba noodles tend to loose its buckwheat aroma and go limp  under sustained heat. As we enjoyed our bowls of chef Soma's hard work, we both realized how much we love our new city. A city that gives us the opportunity to enjoy the diverse talents and innovation of others.

Ebi Ten Soba

As irreplaceable as the handmade soba noodles are, all of the dishes leading up to this final one is a testament to how talented the entire culinary team at Miyabi 45th is. Something tells me that the restaurant can still be successful even with the possible absence of soba in the future.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Philly Cheesesteak Two Ways

In an attempt to save money without compromising on eating well, I've been cooking a lot in my new tiny galley kitchen. I miss our custom kitchen in Madison for its size and the many beautiful memories we made in our first home. But it's somewhat amusing/frustrating figuring out how to make the most of my now limited work space. At least it's bigger than my Paris kitchenette!

Galley Kitchen in Seattle

Our Kitchen in Madison, WI

My Paris Kitchenette

Some of the challenges I face in the kitchen now are the inability to spread out ingredients as I prep, the lack of dish drying space (and it takes a long time for dishes to air dry because of the humidity), and the inevitable exiling of Mike from the kitchen when he offers to help because he ends up being a literal road block (love you, honey!). I've learned to extend my kitchen space by using our dinner table as an additional counter space. Another cool trick in a small kitchen is to cook dishes that have only a few ingredients, and the leftovers can be converted into another dish with just a few more additional ingredients!

I recently purchased a stack of old Cook's Illustrated magazines from Half Price Books and found a simple Philly Cheese Steak recipe that I knew we would appreciate. Cook's Illustrated and America's Test Kitchen tend to offer extremely efficient recipes with a limited list of ingredients that taste like the best version of whatever you're making. That's perfect for us!

The recipe is so simple that you can easily give it your own spin without compromising the integrity of the dish. Instead of the traditional sub roll, I used a brioche bun and Swiss cheese instead of white American cheese. I made one more addition to the recipe by sautéing some sliced onions and half a bag of Trader Joe's frozen green chiles in a separate pan.

Green Chile Philly Cheesesteak
(adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

Philly Cheesesteak on a Toasted Brioche Bun with Green Chiles and Swiss Cheese

Ingredients (Serves 4)
2 pounds skirt or flank steak, trimmed and sliced with grain into 3-inch wide strips
4 Buns, sliced
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 slices Swiss cheese
1/2 bag of Trader Joe's green chiles, defrosted
1/2 white onion, sliced

Place steak pieces on a large plate lined with saran wrap and freeze until firm. Carefully shave the steak pieces against the grain with a sharp knife.

Sauté onions in a lightly greased pan. Once the onions are translucent, add the green chiles and season salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a separate skillet and cook the meat in separate portions to avoid overcrowding the pan. Transfer cooked meat to a colander set in a bowl to remove juices. Repeat until all meat is cooked, then return all the meat into the pan and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and add the grated Parmesan cheese.

Toast buns in the oven. For dinner, I put a slice of Swiss cheese on each pair of buns before putting them in the oven so that the cheese would be crusty rather than melty, but for lunch the next day, I added it when assembling the hot sandwich so it would be melty. Either way is delicious!

Seeing how I cooked twice as much flank steak as specified in the recipe, I saved the remainder of the cooked beef strips and sautéed onions and green chiles for our Sunday brunch omelet! Voila! Philly Cheesesteaks two ways with only half the effort!

Philly Cheese Steak Open-faced Omelet

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Fun in Redmond: Delicious Food, Great Friends, and Microsoft at Night

The Greater Seattle area is kind of daunting to explore because things can be far depending on your starting point and the near-constant traffic. We have friends who live in the far east side, and it takes us around 45 minutes to meet them at their home. It's hard to meet in downtown Seattle because we would have to figure out parking, and our friends would still have a long trek back to their home. We found out this weekend that Redmond might be a good mid-way meetup place for us!

We met up for a casual dinner at Pomegranate Bistro and tried to think of fun late night things to do in Redmond since our respective homes were too far. Since none of us were into the bar or club scenes, and coffee shops were closed, we finally decided on touring our friends' office at the Microsoft headquarters. I think after the word got out about the cool office features at the Google offices, tech company office tours are now a valid "fun" activity! Having worked at Epic, I was curious how Microsoft would compare.

Pomegranate Bistro - Crispy Calamari and Artichokes with Citrus Aioli and
Northwest Cheese Platter

Pomegranate Bistro - Spinach Salad with Grapefruit, Pomegranate, and Hazelnuts

Pomegranate Bistro - Flank Steak Firebread with Horseradish Cream

First off, the campus is more like a town. Sure, it's not whimsical like Epic, but it's functional. There are temporary housing options on campus, campus shuttles that you can schedule for pick-up at the entrances of buildings, on campus clinic and vision care, and a plethora of restaurants (including 2 stories of food vendors in the cafeteria and a buffet restaurant). Our favorite "decorative" piece were the hydroponic garden pods throughout the buildings, which was apparently a side project started in the office "Garage" by an employee that was then implemented throughout HQ. The Garage is basically lab spaces throughout the campus where employees can pursue their own projects using awesome tools like 3D printers and laser cutters. That's really the coolest part of the campus!

Microsoft HQ at Night

Hydroponics Pod
Microstang Featured on Discovery’s Velocity Network during the Inside West Coast Customs show


Mike also got really excited about taking pictures with the Halo characters in the Xbox One building.


We found other employees hanging out in conference rooms playing computer games, chatting with friends, and reading in the library so we figure that this would be a great spot to meet up and play board games next time we want to catch up!

Thanks, M, B, and Y for a fantastic evening!

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Best Going Away Present: Amazing Friendships and Delicious Kapoon Noodles Recipe and Kit!

I cherish the friendship and love our friends in Madison have shown us as we enjoyed our last meals before our move. You know who you are, and please know that we can't wait for our next reunion in Seattle or Madison!

One of our last memories of Madison is when Pakou and Shri came over to give us a much needed boost during our last few hours before the long haul. Not only did they make a huge difference in helping us pack and clean without us asking, but Pakou also gifted us a basket of ingredients for the Kapoon Noodles that we never got to make together. We had grand plans of cooking together ever since we became neighbors, but we simply ran out of time. This was an incredibly thoughtful gift. I hope I did justice to this dish!

I gave the dish a Pacific Northwest twist by using cod instead of catfish and adding some king crab meat that happened to be on sale. Even with the seemingly elevated seafood ingredients, I still preferred the traditional bone-in catfish version that Pakou shared with us back in Madison, though Mike struggled with the bones. The bones from the catfish created a slightly more gelatinous consistency in the broth that made the flavors adhere to the noodles better.

Pacific Northwest Kapoon Noodles adapted from Pakou

4 cod fillets, cut into 2 inch pieces
King crab meat, shell removed and reserved
1/2 can red curry paste
1/2 can - 1 can coconut milk
Bamboo shoots, sliced into 3 inch strands
Kaffir lime leaves/Galangal (optional)
Fish sauce, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Rice vermicelli noodles, cooked and drained

Green onions
Cabbage, shredded

First removed the king crab meat from the shell and boiled the shells in 4 cups of water. Chill the crab meat in the fridge until ready to use for garnish. Remove the shells after 20 minutes and boiled the cod pieces in the broth for 15 minutes. Take out the fish and reserve it in a bowl.

King Crab Meat

Broth made from crab shells and then fish

Cook half a can of red curry in 2 Tbs of oil in a wok until fragrant. If using kaffir leaves or galangal, you can cook them in the curry at this point. Add half a can of coconut milk and stir the mixture thoroughly. Once the mixture is heated through, add the fish to the curry. Add a couple ladles of fish broth into the curry until you've reached the desired amount of soup for the noodles. Add more coconut milk if you would like a thicker consistency. Once the curry soup comes to a simmer, add the bamboo and season with fish sauce and a little pinch of sugar.

Cooking the curry and stirring in coconut milk

Fish, broth, and bamboo added

Portion out rice noodles in what I like to call "pho bowls," and ladle the soup and seafood into each.

Top off each bowl with the shredded cabbage, cilantro, crab meat, and green onions.

Pakou, thank you so much for sharing this recipe with us. This dish brought us a lot of comfort this winter! I can't wait to share some Seattle culinary adventures with you when you visit us!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Surprises of a Surprisingly Balmy Winter Weekend

We had planned to spend Sunday exploring the Columbia City neighborhood and catching the new Star Wars movie at the vintage movie theater in the area, Ark Lodge Cinema. Because it was such a nice day, Mike turned our plans upside down and suggested a walk in a park instead.

We first had lunch in the Georgetown area, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Seattle. The area does not seem fun and safe from the highway, but there are surprising pockets of really interesting shops and restaurants! Because we've been eating a lot of Asian foods at home and around our neighborhood lately, we were hankering for simple but well-crafted sandwiches. We headed to Hitchcock Deli the moment I found out that they cure their own meats and ferment their own sauerkraut.

Hitchcock Deli - Charcuterie Case

Being a huge Reuben fan, Mike was not going to pass up trying their hot pastrami sandwich with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing. It was the lightest Reuben sandwich we've ever had. The meat was tender and the kraut was crunchy and mild. I had the Cuban B, which is composed of the house made porchetta and smoked ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles. It was heavier than the Reuben but very satisfying. The meats really make all the difference. Rather than wrestling with stacks of mass processed meats, you savor sufficient rich morsels that intermingle with other fresh ingredients. The meats are definitely fatty, but the sandwiches are so well-balanced with the other components of the sandwiches that we finished our lunch without feeling like taking a nap.

Cuban B with Potato Salad and Pastrami Sandwich

Pastrami Sandwich

Cuban B

While finishing up on our lunch we noticed an arcade across the street called Flip Flip Ding Ding. Of course we had to check it out!

Flip Flip Ding Ding Arcade

It's a fairly compact two-story pinball joint that serves beer. It's pretty divey, but definitely a fun place to play a few games if you're in the neighborhood.

Next, we headed to Seward Park across I-5 from Georgetown. Seward Park is a peninsula that juts into Lake Washington and faces Mercer Island. I had no idea that the park has the best views of Mount Rainier that we've seen so far in the city! This would be a great place for picnics in the Spring or Summer.

View of Mount Rainer from Lake Washington at Seward Park

View of Mount Rainer from Lake Washington at Seward Park

As we walked by the forest, we heard a constant hollow thumping. Naturally, we followed the sound and found that it was a woodpecker!

Searching for the Woodpecker

Woodpecker at Seward Park

I'm excited to see what other birds we'll spot at the park come spring time!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Behold Seattle on a Kittyful Day!

Before moving to Seattle, Mike and I were mentally prepared for constant rain and made a pact to never complain about it. That still stands, but we certainly appreciate the sun a lot more when it appears! However, we noticed that our tolerance for the cold has dropped significantly since leaving Wisconsin so we spent the sunny weekend sheltered for the most part then soaked in the sun for a little bit around the Space Needle.

I didn't intend the day to be cat-themed, but in our world, this really isn't a surprise.

We kicked off the weekend playing Kittens in a Blender at Café Mox while munching on a simple but satisfying lunch. By the way, we highly recommend Kittens in a Blender and not just because we're cat lovers! It's really easy to learn and is fairly quick to set up and play.

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich at Café Mox

As the place got crowded because of a game tournament, we headed to the EMP Museum for the Hello Kitty exhibit! The EMP Museum features interactive pop culture exhibits that basically is like a Children's Museum for kids and adults. A really cool feature is the Sound Lab where you can try out different instruments in sound proof booths and record your own music. I'll have to try that on my next visit, but my mission this time was to fight the crowds of kiddos to bask in the addictive cuteness of Hello Kitty.

Frank Gehry designed EMP Museum

How Cute is the Little Girl Posing with Creepy, Futuristic, Bodacious Hello Kitty?

I don't remember what about Hello Kitty that caught my fancy above all other themes when I was a kid. I didn't grow up with cats so my love for Hello Kitty products wasn't always associated with the species. My earliest memories of Hello Kitty were of my parents taking my brother and me to Shirokiya department store in Hawaii, where I would always find myself in the middle of the Sanrio store floor admiring the Hello Kitty themed pencils and erasers. We couldn't afford many non-essentials at the time so my dad's occasional splurge on a Sanrio gift for me was indeed something special.

The exhibit perhaps provided me with at least one good explanation of my lifelong penchant for all things Hello Kitty. The story is that Shintaro Tsuji, the father of Hello Kitty, founded Sanrio because he wanted to bring everyday joy to people through the idea of small gift giving. I think, in addition to the obvious adorableness of Hello Kitty, it was indeed the gifting aspect of acquiring Hello Kitty that made me especially happy as a kid. I knew it wasn't something I can get by asking or whining to my parents. My parents had to work hard and save to purchase the cute little presents for me as a display of their love and affection.

The Little Coin Purse that Started the Frenzy in 1975

If only I had the patience to make Hello Kitty themed lunches...

Hello Kitty Couture

View of the EMP Museum from the Children's Museum

After our visit to the museum, we walked around the park between the EMP and the Children's Museum, strolled outside of the Chihuly Garden (we have a future date night planned there), and admired the Space Needle from different vantage points. It was definitely a beautiful weekend!

Space Needle