There are contemporary drinks, throwback drinks, retro drinks, vintage drinks… and then there’s sarsaparilla. Until a few weeks ago, I had only heard sarsaparilla mentioned in cowboy movies.  However, at a recent visit to Tilth (Oprah voice: amaaaaazing) I saw it on the menu and had to try it out.  It is refreshing, herbal, lightly carbonated and (to my surprise) non-alcoholic.  Maria Hines, the lovely and talented chef/owner of Tilth was generous enough to share her recipe, which I’ve adapted below. 

Total kitchen time: 10 minutes
Makes: 2 liters

Shopping list:

  • 3 cups organic brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups cut sarsaparilla root (available from online sources)
  • 1 liter club soda
  • Special equipment: French press
  1. Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil.
  2. Remove the lid and strainer from your French press and add the sarsaparilla root.  Fill with the hot simple syrup (sugar water) and let steep for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Reattach the strainer and top of the French press and, well, press.  Pour the liquid into a container (glass iced tea bottles work great).  Refrigerate until ready to serve, or store cold for up to 2 weeks.
  3. When ready to serve, combine 1 part sarsaparilla syrup with one part club soda over ice. 

This is a really delicious, refreshing afternoon drink.  Plus, there’s no high-fructose corn syrup – just good ‘ol fashioned brown sugar and water.  At Tilth, the drink is served with a beautiful shard of ice in lieu of ice cubes, which we all know are totally played out.  To make your own ice shard, freeze a small Tupperware container full of water, then go all Psycho on it with a screwdriver and mallet. 

Reading time: 1 min

Seattle is blessed with some of the most innovative, talented chefs on the planet, so I shouldn’t be surprised when I discover a gem like Table 219 in Capitol Hill.  But I was surprised – surprised that there wasn’t a line out the door and a 1-month waiting list.  If you picked up Table 219 and dropped it on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, it would instantly be the “it” place for celebrity A-listers who are too elitist to have dinner at The Ivy.  But thank God Table 219 is tucked away on an unassuming block in Capitol Hill instead of lost in a pissing contest of pretentiousness.  For all the terrific dishes on the menu, there isn’t a single one over $15.  And although some chefs would beat you over the head with the post-nutritionist-deconstructionist symbolism of a corndog (and charge you $29 for the privilege), Chef Jeffrey Wilson let’s his whimsical dishes speak for themselves.

Oh, and those three amazing corndogs, the best I’ve eaten in my adult life, were only $8.00.

Chef Wilson has a gift for playfully evoking the pavlovian response I have for nostalgic food.  It’s not uncommon, these days, to see gourmet revamps of America’s (closest thing to) peasant food.  [How many times have you seen sliders or a mac & cheese derivative on a swanky restaurant menu?]  However, Chef Wilson’s talent is his ability to execute extraordinarily well on these dishes while preserving the familiar flavors and approachable presentations that made them “comfort food” in the first place.

I was hooked on Table 219 when I first read the phrase “duck confit nachos” ($9) on the menu.  Granted, they were different than what I was expecting: I imagined a pile of yellow corn chips crowned with brown, glistening, oil-soaked shredded duck and an obligatory sprig of cilantro.  However, the actual preparation was much more indulgent – a veritable cheese fondue of duck, topped with green onions and tomato. 

Next up, and at the top of my list of inventiveness, was a smoked bone marrow butter.  On the menu, it’s paired with a grilled hanger steak, but we ordered a side of toast just to try it out.  Because the butter was served chilled, it lacked the unusual (and orgasmic) texture that I associate with roasted bone marrow, but still delivered plenty of umami.

Other table favorites were the richly-flavored mushroom and truffle oil mac ‘n’ cheese ($9), the perfectly crisp zucchini fries parmesan ($6) and the succulent bison burger with sweet potato fries ($12).  I could go on, but let’s return for a moment to the corndogs.  They were perfectly fried in a thick, sweet corn batter, and served hot.  Now, I’m a sucker for most food-on-a-stick, but the combination of my excitement of eating a corndog for dinner and the fact that they were actually fantastic left a long-lasting smile on my face.  Almost as big a smile as when our party of four finished gorging ourselves on 2 cocktails, 9 shared plates, 2 bottles of wine (Tuesdays are 1/2 price bottles) and 2 desserts, and our bill was only $35 per person.  Try pulling that off in LA!

I’m a big fan of this kind of eating, and I’ll be back soon.

Table 219 on Urbanspoon

Reading time: 2 min

salmon soft taco 
Now that salmon season is upon us, I try to incorporate a little sockeye or coho into my dinner menu at least once a week.  But some nights, when I’m just not feeling fancy, a little handheld comfort food hits the spot.  These salmon soft tacos are flavorful and filling, and require almost no effort.  Depending on your preference for heat, you can crank up or down the chili and chipotle powder.

Makes: 6 soft tacos
Total kitchen time: 15 minutes

Shopping list:

  • 1-1.5 lbs. salmon fillet, skin and bones removed
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. red chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 6 whole wheat tortillas
  • 2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 cup cabbage (green or red), finely shredded
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup tomato, diced
  1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or griddle over high heat until it is really (really) hot.  If possible, use cast iron. 
  2. Season the salmon fillet on all sides with kosher salt, paprika, chili powder and chipotle powder.  Place the fillet on the heated pan, pressing down lightly to ensure the whole surface area is making contact.  Then, walk away.  Don’t touch or jiggle it or the fish will fall apart.  Let it cook for about 2 minutes, or until it naturally releases from the pan with a spatula.
  3. Flip the fish over and sear another 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat, and gently break apart the fish into large flakes using a spatula or tongs.  Transfer to a plate or bowl.
  4. To assemble each soft taco, heat a tortilla for 30 seconds in the hot pan (with the stove turned off).  Top with cheese, salmon, tomato, cabbage, sour cream and cilantro.  Serve warm.
Reading time: 1 min
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