The summer is finally here in the Pacific Northwest…that means that the temperature is above 70 and wild salmon is fairly cheap. So yesterday a BBQ was in order!

We went for a different spin of salmon on the grill and cooked it “al cartoccio”.

In Italian “al cartoccio” refer to the practise of cooking something wrapped in foil (or baking paper). There is “pasta” al cartoccio, there is “fish” al cartoccio. Now that I think about I have never seen any meat-based food being cooked using this technique. The one think that I like about it – especially for seafood – is that keeps the fish moist.

The list of ingredients is fairly flexible. The basic idea is to get a big piece of fish (or small for that matter) and a few veggies to keep it “fresh” (think tomatoes, leeks, fennel, onions, etc…). My list from yesterday:

  • Salmon fillet (i believe it was close to two pounds)
  • one tomato
  • red onions
  • few slices of lemon
  • italian parsley (you could also add time and/or dill)
  • some olive oil (extra virgin – about 3 tablespoons)
  • white whine (about 1/4 cup)
  • salt and pepper
  • Foil

The steps are super easy.

1. Take a big piece of foil and create a “baking pan” look-a-like shape, lay the salmon fillet on top of it and add all your ingrendients (veggies should be chopped).

step1 step1b

2.  Take another piece of foil and properly cover the fish, like in the picture below.


3.   Time to cook it!  In this case is super easy…just cook it on the bbq!


4.  Now the tricky part is the cooking time.  The good news is the the wine, olive oil, veggies and cartoccio-effect will keep the salmon very moist.  I usually let it cook for about 25-30 mins.   The result is usually great for couple of reasons (1) when you break the cartoccio the vapor comes out and there is a big WOW effect (2) it is actually very good and fresh.


Keep it mind that you can use this technique for much smaller portions.  In fact, I would advise to do so and possibly go for simple portions.  The WOW factor will be even bigger as each guest can open their own cartoccio!


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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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Seattle 25 for $25

March 1, 2007

It’s that time of the year where in Seattle you can pay a visit to some nice restaurants and benefit from a special $25 dinner menu.  You can usually get an appetizer, main and dessert.

You can find the list here:

Few personal considerations. 

  • Be aware that many restaurants in the list will have a special menu, which is not as good as the usual things they have.  I seem to recall that Brasa does something like this. 
  • Many restaurants don’t advertise the special menu in the restaurant.  You must ask for it.
  • Also consider that if you order wine and you include tax+ tip you are still looking at a $40/person type of deal.  This is something to keep in mind.   Often if you share one appetizer and one desert you end up paying the same thing, but you have access to the official/real menu.  Think about it…you don’t eat as much, but you eat better and for the same price.  The tradeoff is for you to make.
  • Some of the restaurant offer a similar deal anyway.  The 3rd Floor Fish cafe’ has a $30 menu from Sun-Th all-year-around.  The special menu is a subset of the main one, but it’s still excellent. 

I will probably only try a few of them.  In my personal to-go list:

  • Zoe
  • Barking Frog
  • Champagne
  • Serafina

Have fun!  Let us know what you think! 

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. 

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.

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.

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!

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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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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