It’s like being in Japan…in Bellevue

Facebook has been kind enough to remind me this week that two years ago we went on a curated culinary adventure in Japan.  Our Thai friends are professional foodies and not only booked the restaurants in advance but pre-ordered some off-menu specialties for us.  These restaurants were tiny and so off the beaten path that the cab drivers walked us in to make sure they were real establishments.  Over one week we ate at the best of the best, ranging from 1 to 3 Michelin stars.

Anyway, all that to say that I’ve had some of the best Tokyo has to offer, and though I am appreciative of Japanese food in the States, I anticipate in advance it’s not going to be as fresh, as authentic, as good.  Last night, I tried a new restaurant in Bellevue that came very close to Japan-level goodness.  The Seattle area in general has a lot of great Japanese chefs and restaurants, but happy to have one so close to home.

The menu is decidedly different than most “Americanized” Japanese restaurants. We took the kids and there wasn’t any chicken teriyaki to be found (they enjoyed the steak served on hot lava rocks and chicken karaage instead).

Here is the Omakase offering I had last night at Minamoto:

Sake filled to the brim

The bartender knew the perfect drink for me — a Blushing Bride — Nigori sake with prosecco and St Germain

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Caviar with gold leaves atop tuna tartar? Yes please!

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A5 Waygu — cooked for 5 seconds each side, then slathered with seaweed salt and jalapeno

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How to make Chawanmushi even better? Add truffles!

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Green tea custard, and because I love truffles so much, I had to try the truffle ice cream even though I was stuffed

Full Circle

I love being reminded of my last stay in France. It was 25 years ago and I was still a teen, a college junior studying in Bordeaux.

Now it's my last night in Paris as an adult student. I haven't yet started to pack up the belongings I brought with me or the ones I picked up the past 6 weeks abroad. Because of my procrastination, I don't have time to sit and eat a long meal so I found a little Vietnamese place off Rue Mouffetard. The street is teeming with people; I didn't expect the crowds until later in the evening. It's only 715p and the restaurants are filling up.

As I wait for my to-go meal, a couple of young men come in and attempt to speak in French. The server understands enough to realize they want to sit outside. Are these the new wave of students arriving, or the end of the summer travelers, all seeking some comfort food along the journey?

My food is ready. I go to the counter to pay (20% discount because it's takeaway! Perhaps procrastination does pay?) and see this movie poster framed on the wall:

It's for a movie called L'amant –The Lover.
It came out in 1992 with some scandal attached (remember Sharon Stone had just made news with the then-graphic Basic Instinct). It's about a French girl living in Indochine/Vietnam in the '20s. Perhaps because of the press it was receiving, my roommate and I went to see it in a small Bordelais theater.

The poster evokes memories of my year abroad and will now also remind me of my short stay in Paris as a writing student.

Now off to pack… Goodbye, Paris. A la prochaine, 'til we meet again.

Bal des Pompiers

It’s a universal truth — firemen are hot no matter the country. Last night we attended one of the many Firemen’s Balls held around the city. I didn’t know what to wear or what to expect.

Several fellow students congregated at our local bar to pre-party and then headed over to the fire station at 55 Boulevard de Port-Royal.  We got there around 830p and were told we were too early. So we hung out and chatted with the security guard as more people joined the queue behind us. He had been to Vegas, SF, NYC, and Canada. We joked about Canadians being far more polite than Americans and Parisians.

Once inside, we saw the beautiful and grand open-air interior. We headed to the Chamapagne Bar and firemen gladly poured us glasses of bubbly.  The DJ played present day hits and French versions of classics like “Oh What a Night.”  The mood was light and fun, smiles at every turn. Around midnight we discovered freshly grilled sausages and the best fries around for that post-dance party hunger.  As we exited we saw the line to enter the party now stretched for about a block. They were in for a treat, but it was time for me to go home. 

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God Bless America

One of the interesting things about traveling is that you get a better perspective and appreciation of home.  How others view America is very telling. 

I just finished a writing assignment, and am winding down by watching some (English language) TV.  The BBC World News is showing a lot about the Trump “witch hunt” and playing clips of Donald Jr evading questions. Ugh.  Meanwhile, scrolling along the bottom of the screen are headlines from around the globe. The most exciting thing happening in Canada, apparently, is that a father was struck by lightning at his daughter’s wedding.  And a guy in Perth, Australia, checked in a can of beer as his luggage. Ah, to have a slow news day in the US would be nice!

Last week I took a ride with a most entertaining Tunisian Uber driver.  I’ll write about that experience in more detail later, but we conversed in French and within seconds after learning I was American, he asked me about Trump.  I asked him how he felt about him, and he said I would be in the majority here if I didn’t like him.  The convo then turned to talks of past presidents. I’m always amazed at how well-versed Europeans (and the rest of the world, really) are at talking politics. It wasn’t a heated argument, just an exhange of opinions and open questions. Another thing I wish we could do in the States.

I think I’ll switch over to CNBC for some levity now…

Le Resto

On one wall in the kitchen of my furnished Parisien flat is a blackboard. On it, travelers and tourists alike who have slept in the same bed as I have written recommendations and favorite things and “must-sees!”. Tonight, I decided to use the board as my personal Yelp, and chose a restaurant called “Le Resto.”

I was dressed casually, so double-checked with the Internet gods that this was acceptable. It was. I then checked Google Maps while I still had wi-fi.
“Go outside. Turn right.” The screen might as well have added, “Dumb ass” at the end to tell me that I could have walked and found it just as quickly.

I walked in and saw one young man seated by the window. I said Bonsoir trepidatiously, not sure if he was on a break, or a patron. He gave me a blank stare. Then another young man came from the back and walked towards me. I smiled and said Bonsoir again, thinking he surely was the man who would seat me, but he explained in French that he was definitely not. Then, a third man came from the kitchen and told me I could sit anywhere. Clearly he belonged here. He brought me a mid-sized framed chalkboard listing 3 entrees, 3 plats, and 3 dessert choices.

A woman then ran in and said Bonjour to me in passing. I didn’t say anything, not even sure now who worked here. She then put on a half-apron and came by to take my order. She had just smoked a cigarette, and the smoke was fresh on her breath and fingertips. As the smell dissipated, I found her to be very kind and friendly, though knowing French was an advantage as she didn’t speak English (the fact that she didn’t try to respond to my French in English was a sure sign). The main plats looked too heavy for me, so I asked if I could order each of the three entrees. She said that was fine, but then I changed the order, choosing only two. She silently seemed to agree that was the better choice.

Behind me, I could hear her cutting a baguette and a few seconds later I was presented with its slices in a basket. Quite possibly the freshest bread I’ve received in a non-starred restaurant.

The small space filled up within minutes — some of the patrons were like me, not native French speakers.

My first dish was a cold pea soup. In the middle there was a large dollop of cream. It wasn’t until I dug into the white pile that I saw a sliver of red. Had I accidentally received the “fraises,” one of the dessert choices? No, the kind waitress told me, it was poivres. I thought that meant pepper (as in salt and), and so she further explained they came in red, yellow, and green varieties. Ohhh, bell peppers, I exclaimed. She pulled out her iPhone to validate the words with a photo. It was delicious.

My next course was a soft-boiled egg served with mushrooms and radishes atop an artichoke purée. As I’m a big fan of artichokes, I was a bit disappointed that the only semblance of the vegetable was in non-chewable form. But, the tastes were all great and I found the gray-ish mixture of yolk and purée to be a perfect partner to my baguette slices.

My dessert, which I chose after my first two entrees, was a “Charlotte,” a chocolate cake filled with whipped cream and topped with strawberries and a verline (vernil? Sorry, I didn’t make note of the spelling and now can’t find the appropriate word) infused scoop of ice cream. The chocolate cake was actually purple, likely another infusion, but a bit dry. I ate the ice cream and some of the strawberries and then asked for the check. The waitress was concerned I didn’t like the dessert, and I accidentally agreed with her that I did not, instead of just saying I was too full.

Two entrees and a dessert came out to 31 Euros (10 + 10 + 11). The check was presented in a cute little bucket, accompanied by two caramels.

I left a mix of bills and coins and got up to leave, making sure to catch the waitress’ eye and to move out of the way so she could carry another table’s dishes to the back. I said, “Merci, au revoir,” dutifully. She told me in French we should “faire la bise,” so we kissed each other’s cheeks and said a more intimate goodbye. I have never felt more like a local.