El Techo de Lolinda (San Francisco)

Overall: 3/5

Landing in SFO the night before a conference, I had budgeted some time to meet up with old friends. Getting picked from the terminal curb just as the sky turned up the dial on the waterworks, we careened towards the Mission District for some after-hour eats.

Through luck, karma, and an assortment of unexplainable cosmic forces, we ended up at El Techo de Lolinda, which my friend eloquently described as a “Mexican place? Tapas place? Whatever, it will be ok.” (Google, on the other hand, provided a more comprehensible description: “Chic Mission hangout with Argentinean grilled meats & small plates plus a terrace & 2 cocktail bars”)

The place certainly was chic. A rooftop terrace enveloped by a transparent tarp to shield the patrons from the pelting rain, this looks like an appropriate place for a good time. If nothing else, the large Hispanic gentlemen hysterically laughing and tumbling towards the elevator as we arrived served as confirmation.

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The wait staff was friendly, enthusiastic, and completely indistinguishable from the other customers. The kitchen was closing as we were sitting down. Thankfully, somebody came around right before last call.

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Guacamole ($7)

Nothing to complain about here in terms of taste. The addition of cotija cheese on top added some salty contrast to the smooth avocado.

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Flautas ($10)

The tortillas were crispy without being overly greasy. The filling of chicken and potatoes within were too dry, although chimichurri layered underneath helped with the moisture problem. The slaw on top was a distraction.

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Empanada de Carne ($8)

Again, a good job with the frying as the exterior of these dumplings was crispy. Unlike the flautas, the mixture inside was moist, probably due to the egg added with the ground beef and potatoes. The menu said the filling also contained raisins, but you wouldn’t know it unless someone told you. The accompanying chimichurri was unnecessary.

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Skewers (6 for $35, with carne (add $1), chicken, and shrimp (add $3)) *Apologies for the poor picture quality*

The carne skewer comprised of flap meat (a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin), onion, zucchini, and panda (mild, sweet pepper from Peru) glaze. The carne skewers were uneven, some of the pieces of flap meat were appealing caramelized and tender. Other pieces, however, were over grilled and were covered with a charred crust.

The chicken skewers were included red onions and an aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili pepper) glaze. The chicken was more consistent than the carne in execution. The pieces appeared to be a combination of breast and thigh meat, and were properly grilled to include just the right amount of char. The red onion added some mild pungency.

The shrimp skewers came with white shrimp, aji amarillo glaze, and salsa criollo (a type of salsa typically comprising of onion, red bell pepper, tomato, vinegar, and oil.) The shrimp suffered some of the same consistency problems as the carne, as some pieces felt mushy from being undercooked while other pieces were firm and had a nice snap. The salsa provided acid which made the skewers taste a bit like ceviche.

For tapas-styled food in San Francisco, the prices are within expectations. Yet, something feels amiss. Perhaps a little more care in the way the food is prepared, perhaps a little bit more generosity in portion size. But all of this is perhaps beside the point. Submerged in a sea of patrons busy consuming margaritas and cervezas to either wind down to relax or gearing up to party, a few friends took advantage of a rare opportunity to catch up and talk about things profound, profane, and everything in between. As to my ultimate recommendation, I defer to my friend’s succinct remark: “Whatever, it will be ok.”

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El Techo de Lolinda (San Francisco)

Serious Pie & Biscuit

Overall: 3.5/5

Serious Pie & Biscuit is a part of Tom Douglas‘s Seattle restaurant empire. While Seattleites have appreciated his contributions to the local food scene, many grouse about the premium they have to pay at his establishments.

Serious Pie & Biscuit is located in the South Lake Union (SLU) neighborhood (there are other Serious Pie locations near Belltown and Capitol Hill), right next to the Amazon campus. The SLU branch is situated to feed the ravenous life science researchers, college students, and Amazon employees that roll through the region on a daily basis. It was the perfect place for some to-go breakfast on a wet and chilly Sunday morning before a Seahawks game.

“The Zach” – Biscuit with Fried Chicken, Tabasco Black Pepper Gravy Biscuit, Fried Egg and Bacon ($14)

Good, but could have been even better had the gravy been served on the side. The gravy had a strong black pepper flavor with a tailing kick of Tabasco. But given the richness of the other ingredients, the gravy was overkill. The fried egg was disappointing because the yolk hardened from overcooking. Drenched in gravy, it was hard to discern any unique taste or texture from the biscuit. On the plus side, the fried chicken was juicy, and the bacon was thick-cut and a jerky-like texture.

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Biscuit with Truffle Frittata, Tomato, Caper, Arugula ($9)

This is more balanced and refined than the Zach. The frittata lacked airiness but had a faint garlic/earthy truffle flavor. The tomatoes and caper provided a good combination of sweetness and brine. The arugula added some herb-like fragrance and contrast in texture. The biscuit was appropriately flaky and fluffy with a good crust on top.

If you intend on dining on site on the weekends, I recommend coming before there is a line during the peak breakfast and brunch hours. The sandwiches are not cheap, but it is very unlikely you will walk away hungry. More than likely, you will want a nap afterwards. Plan accordingly.

Serious Pie & Biscuit

Rain Shadow Meats

Overall: 4/5 (tentative)

Within a Russell Wilson throw from Century Link Field on Occidental is Rain Shadow Meats, an artisanal butcher shop that straddles the divide between modernity and nostalgia.

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The decor is coherent with the brick and cobblestone aesthetic of Pioneer Square. When you walk in, you will immediate notice the carefully manicured meats lining the display cases. When I visited, the place was immaculately clean, despite the fact that there was a cadre of butchers busy plying their wares.

In addition to being a butcher shop, Rain Shadow Meats also offers a menu of sandwiches, salads, and charcuterie. Seating is limited though there is a standing counter available.

Ranger: seared steak, caper aioli, grilled rosemary red onions, arugula, french bread ($12)

This was a fantastic sandwich. The pleasant surprise was the grilled french bread. Warm, crusty and firm enough to hold all the ingredient piled underneath. The sliced steak retained a pink, juicy center. The aioli kept the sandwich from being too dry. The abundant arugula balanced the sweetness of the caramelized onions. The accompanying pickled veggies were tart and laced with a hint of celery salt. The quality and the substantial portion size redeemed the price of the sandwich.

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House Greens, romaine, herbs, pecorino, croutons, green onion vinaigrette ($7)

To make myself feel better about downing a massive sandwich, I ordered a salad to balance the scales. The salad was tasty but probably did not do my waistline any favors here. The greens were on the verge of being overdressed. I suspect that any potential health benefit from eating my greens were whittled away with the inclusion of the buttery pecorino and the crunchy croutons.

I am leaving the score incomplete for now because I want to come back and sample some other fare. But, so far, I’m impressed.

Rain Shadow Meats

Jade Garden

Overall: 3.5/5

The consensus amongst connoisseurs is that Vancouver is the undisputed champion of the dim sum scene in the Pacific Northwest. However, Seattle is not entirely without representation.

For example, Jade Garden is a well-known institution for dim sum located in Seattle’s International District. So much so that there is usually an intimidating line during brunch/lunch hours. Indeed, such daunting lines have rebuffed all my past attempts to visit. My opportunity finally came on a weekday when I was able to corral some of my co-workers for lunch.

With worn carpets and fixtures, the interior decoration graded slightly above “hole-in-the-wall” quality. The place felt sufficiently clean to me though individuals preferences may vary. The push-cart ladies were friendly, at least on the first several passes. Price wise, the tab came out to a reasonable total of $65 for three people plus tax and tip.

On to the eats!

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Clockwise from top-left: Tofu-Skin Rolls; Shu Mai; Beef Balls; Har Gow (Shrimp Dumplings); and Crab and Shrimp Dumpling

The tofu rolls are a personal favorite of mine, and these were pretty on the mark. The sauce underneath was a little too greasy, but the filling underneath had a good ratio of pork, bamboo shoots, and shiitake. The shu man had big chunks of shrimp mixed in with the pork. The beef balls had an off-color but were otherwise fine, having a bouncy texture contrasted with the water chestnuts mixed in.

The har gow had a very nice snappy shrimp filling with hints of sesame oil and white pepper. It also felt like there were scallops mixed it, but I cannot say for sure. The rice-flour skin was a tad too thick. The crab variation of the dumplings tasted more or less the same.

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Turnip Cake (top); Pan Fried Shrimp and Chive Dumplings (bottom)

The turnip cake was disappointing because they were cold. Although it was peppered with chunks of Chinese sausage, the cake contained too much flour which overpowered the daikon. The dumplings were ok; the skin was too gummy for my taste, although the shrimp and chives mixture inside was well-seasoned and fragrant.

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Char-Siu Pastry (top); Taro Dumplings (bottom)

The pastry was surprisingly good, flaky and not too dense. The char-siu filling comprised of chunks of sweet, lean pork. The taro dumplings came disappointingly lukewarm. The crispy exterior became limp, and the interior became like mashed potatoes when it should be more gooey. These could have been good if they were served hot.

Xiao-Long Bao (left); Steamed Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce (right)

The XLB were unimpressive. These were clearly the last of a prepared batch. Because it was not served fresh, the skin XLB had tightened up, and the interior became less juicy. When I asked for the Chinese broccoli on the cart, the lady informed me that the serving on the cart was old and brought us a fresh one from the kitchen. These veggies were good, blanched just right so that the roots had bite without being crunchy. The leaves had the expected bitterness, and the oyster sauce provided the needed salt.

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Rice-Sheet Roll with Shrimp

These came fresh from the kitchen and were pretty good. The skin had an al dente, glutinous texture. The shrimp underneath were fresh and had a snap to them.

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Salt and Pepper Calamari

The final dish of the session and it was a winner. The calamari was tender; the batter was hot and crispy. The scallions brought aromatics and the jalapeños brought spiciness to the dish. We were pretty full at this point in the meal and still ate the whole thing. A high note to end the meal.

So, did Jade Garden live up to the hype? You should walk away satisfied as long as you have reasonable expectations. With consistency and execution issues, not every dish is going to be a home run here. But then again, everything generally tasted as it should. That is a good thing for Seattleites in the mood to satisfy their dim sum cravings without the need for a long drive north.

Jade Garden

Country Dough (鄉村饃饃)

Overall: 3/5

Country Dough, from Seattle chef Cheng Biao Yang, is a small eatery crammed into a corner of Pike Place market. To find this place, locate the crowd waiting to enter the original Starbucks store, find the sign/doorway about halfway through the line, and walk all the way to the end.

Whether by design or by choice, this is a place that eschews appearances. The menu consists of Szechuan flatbread sandwiches, crepes, noodles, and soups.

They also sell boxes of American ginseng for purchase, for whatever reason. Around the ordering counter is the “kitchen and bakery” where middle-aged Asian men are busy forming the dough and baking/frying the bread used for the flatbread sandwiches.

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Szechuan Flatbread with Chicken ($5, in front) and Stewed Meat Flatbread with Chicken ($5, in back)

The freshly prepared bread was good, having a charred crust, and a layer of doughiness underneath. The Szechuan version had a dressing with the expected numbing/tingling spiciness. The stewed version had a dressing that suggested soy, five spice, and star anise. The sandwiches also had lettuce to provide crunch, pickled cucumbers for acidity, and cilantro for fragrance. The main problem was the chicken – so minced that I had a difficult time even tasting it.

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Hot & Sour Soup ($4)

The flavor is consistent with what you would expect from an Americanized Chinese restaurant or buffet. The version here had too much thickening agent. As a result, even though the soup was warm, I found unappetizing jello-ish clumps of soup.

So what’s the verdict? Country Dough is a welcomed novelty for eats in Seattle. There are few places like this in the Pacific Northwest. The place also looks like a family operation to me, with friendly people manning the counter. The prices are very reasonable, and you can have a decent snack/meal for around $10 per person. Having said that, there are some disappointing issues with execution. But, this will be a place that I revisit on occasion when I am in the mood for something different.

Country Dough (鄉村饃饃)