Seattle’s Sunday suppers: top restaurants host family-style meals

Remember the good old days, when families used to sit down for dinner together? No? Well, no worries, because a handful of Seattle’s most beloved restaurants are resurrecting the tradition of Sunday supper with a series of monthly or weekly dinners. In a city known for its commitment to green living and locavorism, it just makes sense

Each meal is served at a communal table, and dishes are family-style, passed from one diner to the next. Communal dining is exploding in popularity nationally, for a variety of reasons. The poor economy makes family-style meals a smart choice–for chefs and restaurateurs, as well as diners–and comfort food, even if it’s gussied up, is popular in trying times. These dinners also foster a sense of community, and provide a respite from the shackles of ringing cell phones and pinging in-boxes. Bonus: they’re a great way to make new friends (it’s amazing what wine can do).

The public’s growing interest and concern over our food supply is also a likely factor for the popularity of family dinners, since they usually have a strong emphasis on regional product. Diners get a chance to learn about family farms and seasonal eating, sometimes with the growers in attendance. Some chefs choose a theme for each meal, and plan their menus ahead, while others prefer to wing it, looking to the farmers market for inspiration. Either way, a Sunday supper is a way to engage with the local scene…even if you’re just visiting. Don’t forget to make a reservation.

Palace Kitchen
Sunday dinners debut November 7th at pioneering PacNW chef Tom Douglas’ iconic, downtown restaurant. Chef de cuisine Brian Walcyzk will prepare three courses for $30, including Prosser Farms acorn squash salad with maple-pancetta vinaigrette, Beacon Hill arugula, and ricotta salata, and applewood spit-roasted turkey breast. Dinners will run weekly throughout the month, and into December.

The new, monthly “Sunday Feast” theme dinners featuring chef Brandon Kirksey’s rustic Italian fare start November 7th, with “Lamb.” Future dinners served at the 30-foot-long farm table will feature “Suckling Pig,” and Whole Roasted Goat” at this elegantly casual Belltown favorite. $45-$60.

Volunteer Park Cafe
A cozy spot located in a leafy residential part of Capitol Hill, VPC’s monthly “Sunday Supper” menus are at the whim of chef/co-owner Ericka Burke. Think Moroccan chicken legs with couscous, corona bean panzanella, or wild boar Bolognese. Even if you can’t make dinner, hit up breakfast for co-owner/pastry chef Heather Earnhardt’s sweet or savory baked goods (crack has nothing on her Brown Butter Bars). The brand-new, adorable back patio, with its garden beds and chicken coop, put a little bit of urban farm into this local institution. $30.

The Corson Building
2007 Food & Wine Best New Chef Matt Dillon hosts two Sunday Suppers a month ($60, including wine) at this restored, former stonemason’s home in the artsy-industrial Georgetown ‘hood. Despite the locale against the train tracks and under the Boeing Field flight path, there’s a chicken coop, beehives, and abundant gardens where guests can stroll, wine in hand. Expect to see Corson’s own, and other local, impeccably fresh ingredients prepared simply (hearth-roasting is big), allowing flavors to shine.

Spring Hill
Okay, it’s not technically a communal meal, or a Sunday, but the a la carte, generously-portioned, “Monday Night Suppers” at this sleek West Seattle mom-and-pop spot are upscale comfort food at its best, for $11 to $20 a pop. New: fried chicken dinners for four (by reservation only, $98), with sides that include herb spaetzle, caramelized Brussels sprouts, and jalapeno corn bread with honey. 2009 Food & Wine Best New Chef and co-owner Mark Fuller does down-home right.

Adelaide’s Central Market offers the flavors of South Australia

“This is what Adelaideans do,” Mark Gleeson explained to me, as we wandered through Adelaide’s bustling Central Market. “The Market is a part of how we live, and has been since 1869.” Gleeson, a retired chef and owner of the Providore, a market shop selling pastry and picnic items, also leads public market tours. I’d hit the market on previous visits to South Australia’s charmingly provincial capital city. This time, however, I was his willing disciple as introduced me to vendors and gave me a detailed history of the state’s ethnic culinary influences.

The indoor public market, which is owned by the city council, is far more than a tourist attraction. That much was apparent from my first visit, in 2005. It’s always thronged with hungry locals shopping for weekend barbecues and beach picnics, sipping coffee, or savoring a bowl of Malaysian beef rendang.

As we walked, Gleeson told me, “Adelaideans are pretty savvy about food- we take an interest in how it’s produced, where it’s from. Knowing the vendors who make or sell it is part of the social fabric. We’re a multi-cultural city.” Unlike the rest of the continent, South Australia wasn’t settled as a penal colony, and the market reflects that.

The first German immigrants, fleeing religious persecution in their homeland, arrived shortly after the colony was established in 1836, followed by Russians, Czechs, Poles, and Hungarians. The state (indeed, all of Australia) also has a considerable Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian population. This mash-up of ethnicities have had a significant impact upon the food of South Australia, but none more so than the Eastern Europeans (wine, beer, and charcuterie being the most obvious examples).

As we wandered the marketplace–a tantalizing cacophony of sights and smells–Gleeson brought me to some of his favorite shops so I could try some ethnic specialities. Because of him, I’m now into a half-decade-long affair with the delicate piroskhis at Taddy Kurgan. These ample, fried puffs of dough resemble yeasty, perfectly-made doughnuts, except they’re stuffed with savory fillings of ground beef and rice or braised cabbage, or spinach and feta. The original shop owners emigrated from Kazakhstan. They recently sold to a Chinese couple, after training them very carefully in the art of piroshki and pelmeni-making.

Over at Sevenhill Fine Foods, Mr. Waldeck, a Polish refugee, sells traditional tastes of his homeland, including makowiec, a poppy seed bread, and regional charcuterie like mettwurst and lachshinken. Sun Mi runs a small stall offering her Korean take on made-to-order sushi, while Tony O’Connell of O’Connell’s Quality Meats specializes in local product, such as lamb. O’Connell, 52, started in his family’s shop at 15, and treats his customers like relatives. The first time I met him, in ’05, he gently tucked a couple of extra-fatty lamb chops into the display case while we talked. “We’ve got a couple of older ladies who will be real happy with those, so we’ll keep them,” he murmured. You don’t find personalized customer service like that too often these days.

At Wild Oz, you can buy native game such as emu, kangaroo, and wallaby, and feral (aka, “environmental nuisances”) wild pig and goat. A number of shops sell regional and indigenous “bush tucker” ingredients such as lemon myrtle, wattleseed, and quandong jam, and flaky, red, Murray River salt. House of Organic sells pristine, sustainably-grown Australian produce: Mildura asparagus, Adelaide Hills beurre bosc pears, kipfler potatoes. Seafood shops display local Smoky Bay oysters, sweet, teal-hued, blue swimmer crabs, scallops in the shell glistening with neon-orange roe, octopus, and bugs, a delectable Australian slipper lobster.

At dough!, Turkish pide and Lebanese flatbread compete for space with quiche, pastry, and locally-made, whole, glaceed figs, clementines, and kumquats, and plump, dried muscatel grapes from Barossa Valley vineyards. Across the aisle, The Smelly Cheese Shop is one of Australia’s finest specialty providores, stocked to capacity with imported and Australian artisan cheeses and housemade condiments such as skordalia, oil-packed, dried tomatoes, marinated bocconcini, and other picnic and cheeseboard items.

You need to fuel up for all of this browsing. Local’s love “brekkie” at Zuma’s, a coffee house serving savory muffins and egg dishes. The first place I always head, however, is Asian Gourmet. This unassuming, somewhat dumpy restaurant inside the market is famed for its laksa, a spicy, coconut milk-thickened noodle soup (the Singapore version with egg noodle is my pick). I’ve never had a better version, and I’m not ashamed to admit I actually plan my schedule around market hours, so I can get a daily (sometimes twice daily) fix.

Speaking of Asian food, the Market is conveniently located in Adelaide’s thriving little Chinatown, also known as Gouger Street. It’s lined with cheap and upscale Asian eats, most of which have sidewalk seating. I adore Wah Hing; besides consistently excellent, deceptively simple Chinese dishes, it’s a sleek, lively place with a great regional wine list.

And that describes Adelaide in a nutshell: locals may refer to it as “just a big country town,” but that doesn’t do justice to this city of astonishing diversity and quality ethnic cuisine. The Central Market is a national treasure, and Adelaideans love of convivial, adventurous dining and their pride in regional products make it a must-visit on ever food-lover’s itinerary.

For a more in-depth South Australian food experience, put Tasting Australia on your 2012 calendar. One of Australia’s largest food and wine festivals, it’s a week-long orgy of eating and drinking. It’s held in Adelaide every other year.

The following recipe is about as simple as it gets, and is very reflective of the region. Haloumi, a mild, salty, fresh sheep’s cheese traditionally from Cyprus, is artisanally produced on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island. Fried haloumi is a beloved regional treat. Serve as an appetizer, as part of a salad, or as a dessert course, drizzled with honey.

Fried Haloumi

recipe courtesy of The Market- Stories, History & Recipes from the Adelaide Central Market, by Catherine Murphy

Dust some slices of good-quality haloumi with flour. Fry quickly in olive oil until golden on both sides. Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon and freshly ground black pepper.

Top ten foreign street foods

With food trucks springing up across the U.S. like so many mushrooms, it seems the culture of street food is finally finding its place in the national psyche. Some, like Roy Choi’s Kogi BBQ truck (a Korean-Mexican hybrid that I promise tastes approximately a million times better than you might think) in LA, have garnered critical acclaim, with Choi recently being named one of 2010’s “Best New Chefs” by Food & Wine. Others, like Portland’s Garden State, have earned widespread press for the utter deliciousness with which local ingredients are transformed into versions of Italian street food like arrancini, or chickpea fritters. In fact, Portland is unofficially the food cart capital of the nation.

But U.S. street food is like the United States itself: a melting pot. Our street food culture- aside from hot dog vendors and Manhattan food carts dispensing coffee and breakfast sandwiches to office workers and the hungover-is primarily based upon inspired reproductions or adaptations of foreign street foods.

In honor of our country’s fledgling, on-the-fly food culture, here’s a list, in no particular order, of some of the best overseas street snacks. Totally subjective and dependent upon the individual vendor, mind you, but the following are regional specialties you don’t want to miss, should you find yourself in the vicinity.

1. Tacos de anything

Who doesn’t love a great taco? And by taco, I mean soft corn tortilla, no bigger than a softball in diameter, piled with juicy bits of carne asada, carnitas, adovada, cabeza, lengua, or pescado. Bonus points for bowls of freshly made salsas and other condiments like escabeche, guacamole, limes, radishes, chopped onion, and cilantro.

2. Elotes/choclo con queso

Depending upon where you are in Latin America, you’ll find corn on the cob sold in a variety of permutations. Elotes are a beloved Mexican street food: boiled or grilled corn slathered with mayo, chile powder, and lime juice (you may instead find fresh kernels cut into plastic cups and mixed with same). Choclo con queso is found in parts of South America, like Peru and Ecuador. The deceptively simple pairing of chewy, boiled native corn (a world apart from our overly-sweet hybrids), served with a generous slice of handmade queso fresco is proof that two ingredients can still equal nirvana.

3. Dumplings from almost anywhere

Korean yakimandu, Russian pelmeni, Polish pierogis, Nepalese momos, Chinese bao; all delicious. Doughy dumpling relatives include Vietnamese bahn cuon (rice noodle sheets filled with ground pork, mushrooms, and shrimp), or Cantonese cheung fun (same, only filled with whole, peeled shrimp, and chopped scallion).

4. Roti

These flat, crispy/chewy Malaysian pancakes are found in various countries with a significant Muslim population. There are many different types, ranging from roti canai, a tissue-thin version served with a side of curry, to thicker, more doughy variations. In Southern Thailand, you’ll often find sweet roti filled with sliced banana and drizzled with condensed milk. Singaporean hawker centers are a great place to find a wide selection.

5. Chaat

These bite-size, salty, crispy, tangy snacks are traditionally indigenous to Northern India; the southern states have their own version, known as tiffin. Chaat is generally vegetarian, because vendors lack refrigeration; look for bites such as pani puri and bhel puri. These puffed, hollow rice crisps come with spiced potatoes, chickpeas, and condiments such as yogurt, chutney or spiced waters.

7. Empanadas

Most of Latin America has empanadas in some form: fried or baked dough stuffed with meat and other savory or, occasionally, sweet fillings. Argentina, however, is the undisputed king, wherein entire towns or provinces are famed for their empanadas. Salta, considered to be the empanada epicenter, produces varieties that reflect the arid region’s climate. Baked empanadas de choclo, a savory, hominy-like corn filling, or charqui, an air-dried beef softened by the steam from the baking process, make for exceptionally flavorful pastries. In Tucuman, empanadas are such a point of pride that they get their own Fiesta Nacional de la Empanada.

8. Kebabs, satay, yakitori, or other versions of meat-on-a-stick

‘Nuff said. [Ed’s note: Just ask @MikeSowden]

9. Pizza/calzone


10. Pho

Done right, few things are more nourishing, or nurturing, than a giant bowl of fragrant beef broth loaded with rice noodles, tender bits of meat, slices of chile, and herbs. Traditionally, pho (pronounced “fuh”) is from Hanoi, but you’ll find variations, including a version made with chicken, throughout Vietnam.