I had never been to Oceanaire and it was not in my list of “to go places”. But, last night a friend of mine reserved a table and I had the chance to go. I had actually heard good things about this restaurant, so I was looking forward to try it.

Let’s put it this way. I strongly discourage anyone from going there for the 25 for $25 and based on what I saw last night I will definitely not go back anytime soon.

You would expect that these special deals are to get you to try something nice that would make you go back for more.  This was not the case.

For 25$ (+ tip + tax + plus glass of wine = 40$) this is what I got:

  • Appetizer – three mini oysters with corn and a sauce. The sauce was overpowering and you could not taste the oysters much.
  • Main – sole cooked in butter with capers. Come on…I can make this at home and it does have some taste!  The alternative was a gnocchi with crab meat and broccolini.  Two of my friend tried it and they thought it was an “interesting” dish.
  • Dessert – a small very blend keylime pie.

Couple of other considerations:

  • 25$ menu is visible right away.  Although in a little corner of the main menu.
  • Plating was very underwhelming.  I felt there was no love put there.

At the end of the meal we agreed that the overall dinner was at most a 4 out 10.  Not recommended.

Oceanaire Seafood Room on Urbanspoon

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Friday night I was having drinks with my Italian friends and the topic came up.  We talked about it for a good chunk of time and it seems that by the end there was good agreement on the ranking.

Before I started writing this post I checked the pizzeria rankings on citysearch.  wow…in the audience top five there is none of the pizzerias that we have in our top 5.  It seems we are more in sync with the editors.  We both have the Tutta Bella Pizzeria in Columbia City as our #1.

There is another important point to make.  This entry ranks the best pizzeria and not the best pizza.  I will post about the best pizza later, for today let’s focus on the pizzeria.

#1  – Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Columbia City
what we like:  everything – atmosphere, pizza, staff/service, waiting line management, price
what we don’t like:  it’s a little out of the way

#2 – Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria in Wallingford
what we like:  the space, the pizza, waiting line management, price
what we don’t like: nothing really.  This is where we go the most, but the atmosphere is not quite the same as #1

#3 – Pizzeria da Guido in Crossroad
what we like:  pizza is great, place is reminiscent of some off-beat Italian pizzerias, no line
what we don’t like:  a little out of the way, crossroad mall it’s pretty sad at night

#4 – Via Tribunali in Capitol Hill
what we like: pizza can be very good, atmosphere
what we don’t like: waiting line, you cannot customize pizza (unbelievable!), unfriendly

#5 – La Vita e’ Bella in Belltown

Have fun at your next pizzeria trip!

What others think?

Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (Wallingford) on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Guido on Urbanspoon

Via Tribunali on Urbanspoon

La Vita E' Bella Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

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Last time I went to Italy an old friend of mine who owns a restaurant in my town recommended to buy a few bottles of the “Terra d’Aligi Tatone Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo 2001”. So, I did. It was a great recommendation. It’s a superb Montepulciano D’Abbruzzo and the price tag is very good (it is available at Wine Gallery for about 18$).

Things got even better.  Last Sunday I was at Trader Joe’s and they had a an “exclusive” on –  you guessed it right – the “Tato – Terra d’Aligi Montepulciano D’Abbruzzo 2002″…for only $5!  It’s not of the same quality as the bigger brother, but very good for an excellent price.  Highly recommended.

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Review: La Spiga (Seattle)

January 28, 2007

[Note: this review applies to the “new” La Spiga – after they moved to the new location on 12th and Union]

I had dinner three times at La Spiga in the past couple of months.  I wanted to post a review earlier, but I felt I needed to visit the restaurant a few times before writing it.  I usually don’t do that, but given the circumstances I made an exception.

Before I go too much into the details.  Here’s my short scorecard (scores 1-10):

– Service: 5.5
– Food: 7
– Ambiance: 9
– Value: 7.5

Final take:  La Spiga new location is just awesome. The place is great and I like the modern industrial yet not-too cold feel.  But a restaurant (especially a great one) should be more about the content than the container. In other words service and food should be the main characters and this does not seem to be the case at La Spiga.  The food still tastes fairly authentic and fresh. Some dishes are better than others, but they consistently lack of “personality” – to me it seems like that there is not much love being put in the cooking.  The service is average at best, again there does not seem to be much passion in the air.  The value is still pretty good, the food is still fairly authentic and prices are good (especially when compared to other rip-off Italian restaurants in Seattle).  Now if they stopped being stingy with some of the dishes the value would be even better.

My main recommendation would be to cut back the number of choices on the menu and focus more on the execution.  From the service side it seems that there is not a consistent oversight of what’s going on.  With such a big place and so many waiters there needs to be a better system in place to guarantee an higher level of service…I have not seen this in place.  The good news is that it should be easy to fix. 

Short recap about the three times we went.
visit #1:  I went with some of my friends (and respective wifes).  It was a week after they opened in the new location.  The service was somewhat slow and the food was a hit or miss.  The good news is that we got a good break on the price, so overall it ended up being a positive experience…although without the price break I would not have been an happy customer.
visit #2:  Wow…this was a disaster.  I think it was the worse experience ever (ok…maybe second all time after a domican restaurant in the Carribeans a few years ago).  We were there for three hours, courses got lost, food was cold, waiter disappearing…I mean everything was a mess.  It was such a failure that I could not write a review at that point.  I needed to go again after a few weeks.  I had to give it a second third chance.
visit #3:  We went back last week.  It seemed that things had settled a bit and the experience was decisively better than the previous time.  It is about time to write a review. 

Service
In all of our visits the services has been average at best.  We had 5 waiters in the past three visits and none have been too good.  Many times you have to ask things a few times (not acceptable), but my main concern is that it seems that waiters don’t honestly care about the customers and they lack passion.  I saw the owner still attending the table.  With such large staff that should not be the case.  The owner should be supervising what’s going on and make sure that everyone is up to standards.  It seems that motivation and discipline are not where they should be.

Food
The good news: the overall quality of the food is still good.  Dishes feel fresh and authentic.  The not so good news is that I did not feel the “love” in the dishes, they lack “personality”.  This is a little difficult to explain and definitely an intangible, but it’s something that a few people I went with shared.  The piadina is still very authentic and the classic italian meats are a must.  The pasta are a hit or miss.  The gnocchi are plain but good (especially if you spice up the sauce), the risotto definitely need a kick.  The passatelli are pretty good soup/appetizer.

Ambiance
I love the new place.  They did a great job.  I was concerned that it would lose the cozy feeling that the previous location had, but I think they were able to keep the place faily cozy, although it’s ten times bigger.  I like the modern industrial feel mixed with the dark wood tables.  Very nice!

Value
The value is still very good.  Generally speaking Italian restaurants in Seattle are very overpriced and with average quality (aside from Machiavelli) and La Spiga distinguishes itself by balancing authentic quality food with good prices. The other thing is that – like in the previous location – the dishes are sometimes a little stingy.  Come on guys… there is a difference between good size portion and being just stingy! (example:  one of my friend ordered the “passatelli in brodo”…it was supposed to be a main entree…it turned to be less than a cup and she had to order another entree)

All in all you should pay a visit.  It is a place I would go with a group of friends.

Osteria la Spiga on Urbanspoon

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We are here in New York for a long weekend. Last night we got lucky and were able to get a table at Mario Batali’s Babbo. WOW! What a fantastic experience! I would recommend any restaurateur to go for a visit and take lots of notes!

Here’s my short scorecard:

– Service: 9.9
– Food: 9.5
– Ambiance: 10
– Value: 10
Service:
Service was extremely good. I am taking .1 off because they did not clean the bread crumbs from the table after the appetizer. it’s, of course, a very minor point. From when you step in the door until you get out everything is run perfectly. Perfectly meaning that any time you are about to need something a waiter is there they leave you alone otherwise.

Food:
We shared one appetizer: grilled octopus. Tender but with a bit of a crunch…wow. Hellai got the “spaghettini with Lobster” and I got the “Pappardelle with Wild Boar”. She loved the spaghettini. The wild boar sauce was very good…but I would have let it cook for a few extra mins (that’s the .5 points off the 10). The dishes were very fresh and the quantity not stingy…there was 1/2 pound of lobster and I had lots of wild boar. That’s the way should be done!

Ambiance:
Not too much to say here…it’s a great place. It is a fine dining experience, yet it is fairly relaxed and informal. Plus…you can’t beat a place that has Bono dining there (yes, he was seating at the table across from ours) and Mario Batali walking around.

Value:
The final bill was around 110USD. We had one appetizer, two main entrees, 1/2 bottle of wine (two quartini) and the “amari sampling” (15usd). OK…it’s not a “cheap” place, but it is definitely worth it.

Bottom line… if you are headed to NYC make sure that you make a reservation. You need to book more than a month in advance. they do leave a few tables to walkin, but if you decide to go down this path you need to go either very early or very late.

Babbo on Urbanspoon

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Recently I had the opportunity to dine at couple of Italian restaurants in Seattle.  My stand on Italian restaurants has been generally along the line “I am paying too much for below quality food”.   Lately I have been a little more relaxed and I am trying to checkout some of the local restaurant to really assess where they are at.

A positive note came from Volterra.   The restaurant serves a more contemporary Italian food.  The menu has a good selection without going crazy with the number of dishes.  The appetizer (marinated calamari) was on the overpriced side and not too good (too much citrus…could not taste the calamari).  The pasta was much better, although the quality was not consistent among the 4 pastas we ordered (there 4 four of us and I ordered wild boar):

  • Linguine with clams sauce (Linguine alle Vongole):  This was just OK.  This is not a difficult dish to make and with good ingredients usually a sure hit.  I found it a little plain with the pasta just a bit undercooked.  I would not reccomend it.
  • Fettucine with Shrimp and Pesto (Fettucine alla Genovese):  The sauce was good.  The fettucine were definitely undercooked.  I mean you could taste the flour in the middle.
  • Wild Mushrooms and Truffles (Tagliolini Tartufati):  This was a fantastic dish and the best of the entire dinner.  I would highly reccomend this one.

I did not order pasta and went for the wild boar.  It’s something I don’t get to eat too often and I just love it.  The dish called for a gorgonzola sauce.  Unfortunately I am not a gorgonzola fan.  I asked if I could have a different sauce and the chef accomodated my request and I was able to get it with the wine sauce that they use for the medallions.   The sauce was on the stronger side for the wild boar, but it was pretty good overall.

Overall it was a positive experience.  The price was on the higher end (I think we paid about 40USD each, but we also ordered couple of bottles of wine), the service was standard good and the food good (could be very good with a little more attention…maybe that night they were rushing it a bit).

Note:  at the time of this post the appetizer is actually off the menu.

Volterra on Urbanspoon

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Walla Walla Weekend

June 28, 2006

[wrote this almost a year ago…we just came back from walla walla and thought of reposting it here]

Hellai and I spent the 4th of July weekend in Walla Walla.  Now the first reaction that many have is: “why would you go to Walla Walla?”

Couple of reasons:

– Molly, one of Hellai’s friends, recently moved there.  She leaves with her boyfriend Joe.  We were due for a visit 🙂

– We have wanted to go there to checkout the local wineries for sometime.

Walla Walla is a little more than 4 hours drive from Seattle.   The drive was very nice.  We drove up to Snoqualmie pass and through the East Washington desert before Yakima.   We arrived in Walla Walla around 9pm on Friday and we checked in our hotel, the “Marcus Whitman”

On Saturday we met up with Molly and Joe, went to the Farmers’ Market, got some coffee and got going with the wine tasting!

We started with a visit at Seven Hiils, located in downtown next to our hotel.  We tasted:

  • 2004 Pinot Gris, Oregon
  • 2004 Riesling, Columbia Valley
    • Joe’s quote: “This is the best Riesling in the valley”… you gotta believe him, he knows what he talking about!
  • 2002 Merlot, Seven Hills Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley
  • 2003 Tempranillo, Walla Walla Valley
  • 2003 Ciel du Cheval, Red Mountain, Columbia Valley

I actually liked the Merlot, but we ended up buying a bottle of the Ciel du Cheval…which of course Hellai liked better!  As a side note, Seven Hills does not charge a tasting fee. 

Right after Seven Hills we headed out of town with destination PepperBridge Vineyards.  During the drive Joe gave us a great tour of the local vineyard and a very good overview of the different charasteristics they have.

Pepperbridge is what you would expect when you think about a winery: rolling fields of vineyars with the big “old looking” house right in the middle.  Very pitoresque overall.  Pepperbridge does charge a 8$ tasting fee to try the house specialties: merlot and cabernet sauvignon.  We tried:

  • 2002 Merlot, Walla Walla Valley
  • 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley
  • 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, Walla Walla Valley

I really liked the 2001 Cab…rich and on the spicy side.  The only issue is that it was 50+ dollars…so we passed.

 After all these tasting we needed some food.  We drove by one of the many Taco Tracks in town and got some food (I got the Walla Walla Burrito = there are lots of onions).  With our food bags we drove to Dunham Cellars, the winery where Joe works as winemaker. Along with the food we got going with another round of tasting

  • Dunham Cellars Three Legged Red
  • 2001 Dunham Cellars Turtina
  • 2001 Dunham Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon VII
  • 2002 Dunham Cellars Syrah, Columbia Valley
  • 2004 Dunham Cellars “Shirley Mays Chardonnay

 I really liked their Three Legged Red…

At this point we were ready to go rest for a bit, before moving on to the evening program.

We started off the evening with…surprise…surprise…a wine tasting party!!!  The party was in an appartment in downtown WallaWalla.  The host was great, with good food and a great wine selection.  The highlight was that we were actually able to finally try a Cayuse!  It was pretty good…but honestly speaking I was expecting more given the “mystic” around this label.

After the pre-dinner party we headed for dinner.  The restaurant “Whoopemup” is in the remote “Waitsburg“.  Of course we had never heard of it, but the restaurant was really really good.  They serve Southern comfort food and the portion are definitely on the generous side.  Bottom line…if you go to Walla Walla you gotta try this place.  Make sure that you get a reservation!

With our bellies pretty full we call it the night.

On Sunday we made a visit to a couple of other wineries.  The first stop was at the Waterbrook tasting room in downtown.  We tried couple of wines only:

  • 2004 Viognier
  • 2004 Merlot

I had never had a Viognier before and they sold me on the fact that it was only on sale at the tasting room (would you believe them?).  So, I ended up buying a bottle of it.

After some local fruit&vegetables shopping we hit the road.  But, before leaving WallaWalla we made the final winery stop:  Woodward Canyon.   We went all out and tasted 7 different wines.  The Artist Series was definitely a very good one (we tried 9 and 10 if my memory serves me right)!  Woodward has definitely the best deal…no tasting fee and a great selection!

It was time to head home.  We really had a great time.  Special thanks to our hosts Mollie and Joe, they are so good that I think they should get into the B&B business with optional Tours.  Joe has some great stories about the wineries and especially the people…

Is WallaWalla going to be the next Napa?  I don’t know…it is fairly isolated from the main cities and flying there is still very difficult.  But the potential is there…70 wineries and counting.