Redmond Lights Festival, Chain Restaurants and Indians

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 9, 2008 : 8:05 pm

Last night, I headed out to the Redmond lights festival, which is a walk along the Burke Gilman/Sammamish River that ends up at the Redmond Town Center. I’ve been a little leery of RTC lately because of some political issues lately, but they’ve seemed to be getting better according to a popular Redmond blog that I keep up with.

Anyhow, the festival was fun, with the sparkling of blinking red lights that everyone wore, holiday music, and general holiday mood. With the sour economy, it was nice to see everyone just out and having fun. Of course, it helped that there was free food involved, as there were lines 50 people deep for even some simple foods like Panera Bread cookies. Even though the lines were long, we (Steve, my girlfriend and I) had no problem waiting around and enjoying the scene. If we can camp out at Black Friday at 3am, we can wait 10 minutes for free food. :)

Most of the food vendors were those directly in Redmond town center, like Thai Ginger, Mefil (I always wondered if this name was a clever play on “Me Fill”), Ruby’s, that new sandwich/soupy Italian chain that replaced Cosi (THANK YOU), and Todai. Also there was Canyons, Azteca and Qdoba, which are close by.

For various reasons, we don’t review chain restaurants as a rule on Chef Seattle, but it’s events like these that tend to put some things into perspective on the roles of big food chains. What I mean is that when a large business gets involved, they have a marketing budget to sponsor events like the Redmond festival, because marketing and branding is what chain restaurants do best. Small, independently owned restaurants often don’t have the budget, manpower or – and I think this is the primary reason – foresight to sponsor these type of events. I love my small restaurants, but having talked with many chef/owners, I say it with love when I say they know food, but suck at self-promotion.

The only independent food vendor passing out free food here was Mefil, while every other one was a chain of some kind – though Thai Ginger and Canyons are both Seattle-based chains. I’m going to single out Mefil for a second, because as an Indian restaurant, I have to say that of all the various ethnic restaurants owners, Indians are the best pound-for-pound marketers. There’s often a good reason for that though, which is that many Indian restaurant and business owners are often highly educated individuals, with MBAs or other post-college education.

When I was volunteering at a food bank warehouse a few years ago, I had an eye-opening discussion with an Indian fellow – Gugan, I think his name was – who was working off 20 hours of community service. He told me he sold liquor to a minor, as it was Superbowl weekend and his store was packed with people out the door.

Explaining, he told me he owned seven convenience stores and managed all of them by himself, employing friends and family. Apparently, he had an MBA and wanted to start an integrated chip design outsourcing business when he came to America, but found he could do quite fine selling drinks and snacks to the masses. When I asked him about restaurants, he was pretty adamant that it was the same for that niche as well, with many well qualified owners doing it because they money made it worth it.

After he left for the day, he offered me free Slurpees anytime at his stores, though I never quite took him up on that offer. :)

Seattle Food Drives

Categories: charity — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 5, 2008 : 11:44 am

I remember as a kid looking outside during the winter and hoping it would snow. I made the mistake of bringing that up to my grandpa however, as he looked me in the eye and scolded me, saying that I should think of all the homeless people that are going to freeze.

As you can probably tell, my grandpa was a nice guy at heart, but had a certain way about conveying the message. But, to his credit, I never forgot that lesson about snow or thinking about those less fortunate.

If you’re doing well and getting by, consider those less fortunate, especially in these rough times. Children and families are a large part of the homeless population, while medical bills are the number one reason for bankruptcy, so the true face of hunger isn’t exactly that stereotype of the old grouchy guy with the bottle of 40.

Here’s a list of food drive locations around Seattle:

University Food Bank
December 12th to 24th, food barrel locations all around the University of Washington.

Northwest Harvest
8th Annual Hometeam Harvest event this Sat, December 6th, from 7am to 3pm. Locations are:

ALL US Bank locations
Everett Mall
Northgate Mall
Redmond Town Center
Tacoma Mall

West Seattle Food Bank

Asking for holiday foods that include:
* Frozen turkeys
* Hams
* Stuffing mix
* Mixed salad greens
* Canned cranberries (whole or sauce)
* Canned gravy
* Yams or sweet potatoes (fresh or canned)
* White potatoes
* Pumpkin or apple pies
* Dinner rolls (frozen or packaged)

Metropolitan Market
2320 42nd Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98116

West Seattle Thriftway
4201 SW Morgan St
Seattle, WA 98136

PCC
2749 California Ave SW
Seattle, Wash. 98116

Don Jones Foundation
Toy and coat drive to sponsor families of the Ballard Food Bank. Event is on December 7th and at the Ballard Brothers Seafood and Burgers:

5305 15th Ave. NW (South of 15th and Market)
Seattle WA

Seattle Human Society – Pet Food Drive

Don’t forget pets! The Seattle Human Society is taking pet food donations at just about every Safeway grocery store in the area. You can also drop off dry or canned food at their offices in Bellevue:

13212 SE Eastgate Way
Bellevue, WA 98005

Seattle Food Banks

White Center Food Bank
10829 8th Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98146

Rainer Valley Food Bank
4205 Rainier Ave S
Seattle, Wa 98118
(Donation times: Wednesdays and Saturdays 8am-2pm, Fridays 8am-11am)

Food Lineline
Needs volunteers for food packing
1702 NE 150th Street
Shoreline, WA 98155-7226

North Helpline and Lake City Foodbank
Need volunteers Friday afternoons from 1:30 – 3:30pm for unloading food trucks
12707 30th Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98165

If we missed any, please let us know. Thanks.

An Obsession with Fish Tacos

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 3, 2008 : 2:32 am
Some home made fish tacos

Some home made fish tacos

I’ve had an interesting path in life that led to my eventual love affair with fish tacos. It started in the town of Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. Back then, there weren’t a huge amount of Mexican restaurants, short of chains like Azteca, Chevy’s, Mazatlan and the various fast food establishments. When a Taco del Mar opened up around high school, I dropped by and was intrigued by the fish tacos being advertised.

A friend who was with me scoffed (and happened to be part Hispanic), claiming that fish tacos were a Western invention and not “authentic” Mexican food. Of course, I know that’s complete bunk now, but being an impressionable 16 year old at the time, I believed him and opted for a chicken burrito instead. It would be years later on a plane ride to LA, that I had a pleasant conversation with an elderly gentleman on his way to Mexico, who happened to be a historian of sorts. He explained the rich seafood tradition of the country and also that I absolutely had to try some the local seafood should I find myself there – but especially in Ensenada, the home of the fish taco. So, I did.

While stopped in a port city on a cruise, I walked straight past all the drunk college kids at the Hard Rock and went straight into the inner parts of the city with my two years of fragmented high school Spanish and sense of adventure. After a moderate walk, I found what seemed like a restaurant popular with the locals, found the “tacos de pescado” on the menu and have been hooked ever since.

I’ve heard claims from some uppity California folk that Seattle has no good fish tacos. Oh please. I would easily eat at Ooba’s, Cactus or Agua Verde any day, though I might avoid certain others – at least for the fish tacos.

Pico de gallo ingredients - onion, cilantro, tomato

Basic pico de gallo ingredients - onion, cilantro, tomato

It would seem to me that fish tacos depend on three absolute things to work well: the sauce, the pico de gallo and the battered fish. I almost don’t want to include the pico because that is near impossible to mess up, though it has been done before. This really leaves the fish – which is really just a beer battered white fish – and the sauce, where in my opinion, the magic happens.

I wanted to experiment for myself on what exactly goes into the sauce for fish tacos, and found via Google that common ingredients are: sour cream, mayonnaise, yogurt, lime and chipotle. As with all recipes, the formulas vary, but these had the most mention. So, I ran off to the store and grabbed a few ingredients and tried my own concoctions.

Sauce #1: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, organic mayo
This was my baseline sauce. While it wasn’t bad, I felt it was a bit simple in terms of flavor. The problem I found is that the sour cream and mayo make for a chunky sauce, so it took a high ratio of lime juice in order to make it a spoonable sauce rather than globs of stuff. As such, it was pretty heavy on the lime side – which as a lime and citric fruits lover – says a bit. If you use lime in your pico, then this might be just a bit too tart for taste.

Sauce #2: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, lemon-pepper mayo, Rachel’s Kiwi Passion fruit Lime yogurt
I like Rachel’s yogurt, which I saw once at Whole Foods and buy on occasion. My thinking was that it would work great for sauce because the yogurt is naturally a bit more runny than normal. The end result worked well; much more balanced and with less lime use and about equal parts of cream, mayo and yogurt. This is a good mix of tart, sweet and still a smoothness that I think compliments the fish and other ingredients well.

Sauce #3: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, Greek God’s honey yogurt, chipotle peppers
If you haven’t had Greek God’s brand yogurt, here’s a warning: it is rich. If you have any concerns about your health at all, don’t even come near this stuff. If you closed your eyes, you might think you were eating a soft and lighter version of cream cheese. But man is it good! This ended up tasting as a complete contrast to sauce #2, as the flavor was much more in your face, with a distinct, velvety kick that had big American taste all over it. It made me feel like the fish and other ingredients were a delivery vehicle for the sauce.

I liked #2 the best, for an overall package, but Steve was floored by #3, which he thought was easily good enough to serve in a restaurant. So, while sauce is obviously subjective as well, I’m going to keep tinkering around to try and find the “best” fish taco sauce around. If you have any fish taco recipes of your own however, I would loooove to hear them!

(In case anyone wonders: I used pico, green and red cabbage, shredded carrots and Pumpkin spiced beer battered cod as other ingredients. And since you’re going to ask, the Pumpkin spiced beer was not some culinary experiment, but just what happened to be what was left in the ‘fridge.)

Interviewed by Voice of America

Categories: coffee,news,seattle — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ August 4, 2008 : 1:10 pm

Voice of America Logo

Woo-hoo, Coffee.net is going to have our 15 minutes of international, federally funded fame!

Just this morning, Steve and I were over at the Redmond Town Center by two reporters from Voice of America. The show we were being interviewed for is a weekly half-hour show called “Cultural Odyssey”, which provides glimpses into American life and culture. On this particular show being filmed, the topic is Seattle’s coffee culture, so they decided to contact us as we had a pretty big web visibility.

I agreed to the interview because I am all for publicity for Coffee.net, but also because it was pretty cool to be asked by the VOA. There’s certainly dozens (hundreds, even) of people above us in the coffee pecking order in this city, so it was a surprise to say the least. In fact, Steve and I both took a few hours to brush up on our coffee just to be ready for the interview. I even took to memorizing the odd statistics like the total exports from Brazil and Vietnam from 2000 to 2007 via the ICO (International Coffee Organization) incase we were going to have talks about the coffee crisis, robusta or other industry issues.

In any case, I thought the interview went quite well and we had a good rapport with the VOA reporters. They asked us various questions: the rise of Starbucks, the specialty coffee market, Seattle coffee consumers, the history of coffee in Seattle, how to rate coffee and various items along that line. Steve, being the “coffee as a drink” expert, handled a lot of the culture and connoisseur type questions while I answered the “coffee as an industry” queries.

Having been in front of a camera before, I was pretty at ease blabbering away to our reporters’ questions. Steve was a bit nervous at times and caught himself looking straight at the camera a few times. The only major hiccup we encountered was that right as they setup the filming equipment, the Redmond Town Center manager swooped down impressively fast to tell us that this was private property and filming was not allowed unless paperwork was filled out. To his credit, after talking to the VOA guys, everything got worked out. Joe, one of the reports, said this was fairly routine and joked that they generally don’t have problems after mentioning they’re reporters from the government. I had a good laugh at that, as it could certainly be a tongue-in-cheek reference.

For those who don’t know, VOA is a federally run news organization that has been in operation since the start of WWII. They evolved over the years from the Office of War Information to being under the US Information Agency and now run by a Board of Broadcasting Governors. As a government run news source, you may not be familiar with them, because they tend to serve audiences outside of the US, as their mission is to represent America to the rest of the world. As such, they broadcast in 45 languages over the TV, radio and internet, with a worldwide audience of 134 million people according to their website.

We were told that we would get a DVD of the show when it aired, so we’ll definitely post it up on the blog or the main site when we get it. Supposedly, the team is doing a whole slew of shows on coffee and one of them is also about what is locally known as “Sexpresso”, so perhaps we’ll add in a few clips from that section as well, for your titillating pleasures (bad puns and all).

Pictures from Cirque Du Soleil, Corteo – Redmond

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ May 1, 2008 : 10:06 pm

Tents at Cirque Du Soleil, Corteo
Tents for the show Corteo from the outside

Food Belt
Tapis Rouge tent, circular food belt of hors’ dourves

Desserts at Tapis Rogue
Intermission desserts

Tent seating at Corteo
Picture from inside the big tent

I’ve been lucky enough to have seen quite a few of the Cirque du Soleil shows, including “O” and Ka, so I was excited at the opportunity to see another show right here in Redmond. Corteo did not disappoint in the least, with a stunning display of human acrobatics, artistry and live music.

In Cirque du Soleil fashion, the show loosely follows a plot line that combines acrobatics and story telling. With Corteo, the story is of a clown who imagines his own funeral and is taken through flash backs of his life. One particular act really dazzled me, where three females, representing his previous lovers, are spinning in the air off chandeliers and performing all sorts of stunts that left my jaw on the floor.

If you haven’t seen a Cirque du Soleil show, there’s not too much time left for tickets, but you should really treat yourself. It’s just as good as any of the Vegas shows and is very approachable to all audiences, especially kids. Just my two cents :)

K1 Speed in Redmond (Seattle)

Categories: seattle — Tags: , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ April 14, 2008 : 4:49 pm

K1 Speed in Redmond
(From front to back: Steve, Bryan and Grant)

Last Friday was, team building day (aka go-cart racing for the win). Previously known as Champs Karting, K1 Speed bought this indoor go-cart location in Redmond and revamped it with a new track design and a few extra doo-dads. Luckily, most everything else was left in-tact, meaning that it’s still the same fun electric cars that I am used to.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a regular (I go to K1 Speed just a few times a year), but I am a big fan of racing and have taken a few Skip Barber race classes back in the day. While a go-cart might not translate perfectly to the mechanics of a car in the real world, many of the fundamental concepts of how to drive fast are the same. It’s a great way to give the lead foot driver in you an outlet for escape , as opposed to being ‘That Guy’ on 520. (I’m talking to you, Blue 325i BMW driver weaving in and out of traffic on cell phone, not using signals, traveling at 90mph in the rain.)

Our first race was a nice introduction to the new track that K1 Speed laid out over Champs previous track, as it now boasted two hairpins for a more technically challenging course. Free tip though- tell your race staffer to be liberal with the passing flag if you plan on a competitive race. Bryan, Steve and I all quickly got stuck behind our friend Lenny, who was apparently taking the scenic route around the track. The K1 Staffer seemed reluctant to let us pass, as we forgot to give him the team building memo that explains rapport is best built with some friendly, obscenity laced competition.

The second race was much better, as it was just Steve, Bryan and myself, who were all ready to lay the pedal to the metal. And we did, as Bryan managed to spin out, Steve nearly lost it on turn 1 and I managed to sneak in a 17.33 second last lap, putting my time into the top 5% of times. The top score for the week was 16.22 seconds, so I think I could have shaved another half second with more studying and time on the track.

I don’t imagine going back for another few months, but if you decide to go, here’s a few pointers on how to drive fast and beat out your friends:

- Warm tires equals more traction, so build heat your first few laps
- Warm up your tires with some heavy accelerating and braking on the straight away.
- Brake into corners so you can accelerate out for top speed
- Try to drive in smooth arcs when possible
- Don’t hug the walls, it will actually slow you down
- Sliding around the hairpins is perfectly acceptable
- Too much sliding = No traction = No acceleration = Bad
- Learn to keep your car in the fine balance between control and no control

Lastly, always drive safe and keep the speed driving to the track.

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