Cooks Tavern: Food, Unhindered

During my brief stint in the Oregon Army National Guard, I had a conversation with a sergeant who had served with an infantry battalion in Afghanistan. He and I were packed onto a bus that was going from one god-awful place to a different god-awful place to do some staggeringly unnecessary shit and he looked up from his rapidly dying phone to tell me about the time he watched the Special Forces operate in a war zone in Afghanistan. He was standing behind a .50 cal in the turret of a Humvee, kinda half awake, sorta bored, stacking rocks next to the weapons mount instead of scanning the street, when a Black Hawk came tearing ass over the top of the building behind him. It was banking evasively, streaking like a bird of prey towards a dome-roofed building at the end of the street. Right when it looked like it was about to smash into it, the bird tilted the nose up, turned its belly out and hovered there, ten feet off the roof. Ropes unfurled, men slid down them. When they hit the dome, the men unhooked, slid down their respective sides, each landing on a separate corner of its base. The bird took off, the men proned out on their corners covering the building from every angle and my sergeants rock pile fell over.

“I thought I was pretty cool,” he said. “Infantry dude, in country, behind a big ass machine gun. I was not cool. They were cool.”

Everybody has moments like those. We’re all reminded from time to time of where we stand in the grand scheme of things. I had a similar run-in, in a place called Cooks Tavern.

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Anybody who talks shit about Tacoma and isn’t a crazy person hasn’t driven through the Proctor District on the North End. Anybody who has, and still does, drowns puppies in their bathtub and you don’t need them in your life. Proctor is unique, it’s vibrant, it’s beautiful and the concentration of good food in the relatively small area is enough to make me sweaty in December. Sure, the area isn’t necessarily completely established yet. There are a few hangers-on that the neighborhood could probably do without. Some half-assed restaurants, some empty, or soon-to-be empty buildings, dragging that rocket back toward the launchpad. But all in all, a quick jaunt through the Proctor District is nothing short of blissful. So last week, as I was jaunting about blissfully (in a manly way) I peeked my head into Cooks Tavern, wondering as I often do when I see new businesses in the area, whether this place was jet fuel or ballast. The smell of food wafting out of the wall to wall windows was provocative, and the fact that it was JAMMING with happy looking people at 11 am on a Monday seemed to also bode well, so I bellied up to the hostess stand and a waitress danced over, bristling with trays and glasses but all effortless in the eyes.

“Do you mind the bar?” she asked and she tipped her head at a baby who was waving at her.

“Not at all,” I said, and she led me through the throng of people, heads down eating, heads up laughing.

“Your server will be right over,” and she twirled into the back with her trays and cups.

There at the bar, I took a moment to survey the room. There was a sense of chaos, to be sure. The place was packed thick and deep with people, and the volume of sound was definitely noteworthy (the clinking of silverware and cups, laughter and conversation drifting through the undivided room and out of the massive windows). It was a controlled chaos, though. Like the mishmash of paintings on the walls (I’ll get to those later), the room was hand-picked crazy. That many people in one place aren’t quiet unless they’re facing the same direction and something terrible is happening in front of them. That much food doesn’t get prepared, plated and eaten sheepishly. So they left the floor plan wide open. Let the noises wash over one another. Let it sound like food, unhindered, warm and contrasting like the colors on the walls. When I was back around in my seat the bartender was in front of me, perky and knowledgeable, mixing drinks as she took my order. She eyeballed something over my shoulder as she handed me my water, and  I followed her gaze to the door which suddenly had a line of people at it. No biggie, she turned to a server who was punching an order into the computer next to her and said, “Go grab [the manager whose name I don’t remember]. We need a hostess, for a bit.” The server grabbed her and she darted out of the back to handle it. The whole place was whirring. It was like watching juggling, but enjoyable.

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I grabbed the manager [whose name I have egregiously forgotten] on her way back from seating the huge group at the door and asked her about the place. She told me.

Cooks Tavern opened 3 weeks ago in what used to be trainwreck of a building. “Almost a teardown” were the words she used. I’ve since seen photos of the place in the caterpillar stage of its transformation. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, the people behind the renovation weren’t even convinced the place was salvageable when they started. Now though…. I wanna live here. There’s a dark wood bar, a copper counter over which the cooks pass food, clean lines, warm and cold colors and a single unfinished chunk of wood beam with the words “This Might Work Out” scrawled across it in Sharpie, a hat tip to the moment the contractors realized that the fevered dream of turning the dilapidated building into something usable might be possible. The restaurant is owned by Chow Foods, the people behind neighborhood oriented restaurants like the 5 Spot in Queen Anne, the Hi Life in Ballard, TNT Tacqueria in Wallingford and Endolyne Joes in West Seattle.


Cooks is their first project in the South Sound and Chow Food’s devotion to keeping things local seems to permeate the place. I heard the bartender saying that the ice cream used in the desserts is from Ice Cream Social (you might remember them from a previous foodgasmic post). The beers too are mostly local taps, and all the paintings hanging on the walls are by local artists and will be rotated out seasonally to make room for new art from new local artists.

 The manager was in the process of explaining that the dinner menu will be rotating along with the art work to pay homage to food all over the world when my food appeared in front of me like a mirage. The bartender said some stuff that I didn’t quite hear and the manager said something to the effect of “enjoy your food”, but I was almost totally dead to the world at that point, because…lamb burger.

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The menu describes the lamb burger like this:

Tutto Calabria Lamb Burger*

Grilled ground lamb, roasted garlic, bacon & Tutto Calabria pepper burger on brioche with pickled red onion, arugula & goat cheese schmear

Those are just words though. They do nothing to capture the “wake up in a cold sweat jonesing for it” that this burger really represents. Everything about it is surprising. First, if you’re thinking that having goat cheese and lamb on the same sandwich together is a recipe for a taste too funky to be good, you’re wrong. I mean, it certainly could have been. I’ve had similar combinations that make you wonder whether you had eaten a burger or been tea bagged by an Elk. But whoever concocted this bad boy knew exactly what they were doing. The bacon shaves the sharp edges off the gaminess of the lamb and the finely chopped, expertly pickled red onion rounds it out completely. The flavor profile that you’re left with is tangy and smooth with just enough of the wildness that you want when you order lamb or goat cheese. The fries on the side were crispy and delicious.

“Who made this?” I said out loud, apparently.

“Patchen,” replied the bartender, pointing to the man behind the counter calling for food to be plated, seasoning, managing, handling.

Now, here we are, at that pivotal moment that I mentioned above. I’ve been cooking seriously at my house for a little bit now. I turn out some edible stuff most of the time and every once in a while I’ll make a dish that prompts me to find a mirror and hi-five it. I use spices, people. I seasoned my pans. I thought I was pretty cool. But sitting at that bar with all that goodness in front of me, watching ‘Patchen’ operate in that kitchen, I came to a realization. I am not cool. Patchen is cool. In fact, that whole restaurant was cool. A succinct group of professionals making magic only 3 weeks after opening their artfully renovated doors. Faced with that realization, I couldn’t help but have high hopes for Cooks Tavern.IMG_2153

 Written By:
Kellen Burden

Links:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/cooks-tavern-tacoma

 

Michigan for Respect

Throw a dart into a crowded room in America and there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll hit somebody who does work or has worked in the food industry. Don’t do that though. Throwing darts at people is bad. According to the American Jobs report of 2016, food workers make up 8% of the workforce in America and over half of the population worked in the food industry at some point in their life. In today’s world of college graduates dripping in student debt, throwing ‘bows to get a foot in the door, the food world is one the last frontiers in which you can start on the ground floor with no education or experience and claw your way to the top with heart and loyalty. The same jobs report said that 25 percent of people listed working in the food industry as the first job they ever had. It was certainly where I started. I was a pool boy at a high end spa and resort in California. Now I know what you’re thinking… You!? A pool boy?! NO WAY!!!
Oh what’s that? I’m literally exactly what your mind conjures when the words cabana and boy start coming together? I’d get offended, but I was a fucking cabana boy, so… 


Yeah. 

I was nestled into the gnarled bosom of the serving world as a favor from my dad, who was managing the spa at the time and had grown tired of watching me fuck off all throughout high school. I had been producing a bunch of mediocre YouTube videos, and I loaded them into my success cannon and pointed them at the stars instead of doing homework and applying to colleges. There was an underwhelming sizzle as they misfired and I was left to find a big boy job to put myself through community college.

My cabana boy days consisted of me parading around in khaki short shorts, slinging club sandwiches to the 1% and giving Gwen Stefani Long Island Iced tea. Old ladies spit mad game at me. Fell in the pool once on accident. Pretty standard stuff. I did my time and made my meager tips and at the end of the summer I got a new job as a golf bitch, at which I was equally mediocre and unmotivated. I didn’t think about those sun soaked pool days until a family reunion in Orlando this week. 


As it turns out, if you throw a dart into a room full of my family, you will almost definitely hit a former food service worker. But seriously, don’t throw darts. What the fuck is up with you and darts? 

In our hotel living room, we all got together and the talk turned to the subject of the food. 

It was 9 O’clock on a balmy Florida night, bugs whining in the trees and beer sweating in the cooler. Storytelling conditions. We began to round robin the topic and it slowly came out that my sister, her boyfriend, my father, mother and wife had waited a table, bussed a tray or at least handled a mop in a cafeteria. We hashed out our best tips and our longest shifts. Worst things we ever saw in the kitchen, and the biggest asshole customers. This prompted my mother to tell us about Michigan street cred and how she got hers. 
She was working a dive bar in Western Michigan while she was in college, getting her degree in American Studies. Pitchers of beer and overly salty snacks in a room full of raucous college guys and a handful of businessmen fresh off of softball games, hankering for some glory days. “Those were the ones who got ‘grabby’” she said. They would wait until the waitresses hands were full to reach out and get a handful, banking on the tray full of drinks to dissuade any retaliation. I’d chalk shit like that up to the time period, but apparently the times they aren’t a-changing. According to a study by the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, the women in the food industry (who only make up about 7% of the women in the workforce) experience 37% of all workplace sexual harassment. That less than ten percent of any population would absorb more than a ⅓ of all the harassment is unforgivable. Yet, there we were and here we are, forcing people who are just trying to do their jobs to fend for themselves. Which brings me back to my mother in a crowded college bar with a grabby group of knuckledraggers. They’d pinched her for the umpteenth time and the bouncers didn’t feel like it was their problem so she made an executive decision. On her next pass, she made sure she had a full pitcher of beer in hand. As the worst of them reached out, she daintily dumped that pitcher in his lap like his dick just won the Super Bowl. He scampered off to drier places and what my mother lost in tips that night, she made up for in “don’t fuck with her” which is Michigan for respect. 

  Written By:
Kellen Burden

Weightless in a Bubbling Broth

Rain slamming on the windows, rolling deep and heavy from the belly of a pitch black cloud. Wind brutalizing the trees, putting them into the side of the house with a rasp and a clatter that is muted by the sturdy walls of my home and muted further still by the still pool that is my concentration. Fingers on the tang of the blade, whispering through the backs of the mushrooms and clicking on the scarred face of my hand-me-down cutting board like a metronome. Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick and I slide them to the side and pull the carrots into my workspace. Quartered and julienned to the tick-tick-tick as the rain falls from that wispy black widow drifting over Tacoma and my fingers dance deftly to stay out from under the blade (been there, done that.)

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The carrots are done and the smell of broth maturing ushers me away from the cutting board. I leave the un-chopped bok choy grudgingly, peel the lid off the stew pot where the dried shitakes are un-drying in a cloudy, churning broth. The spoonful that I tease out of it is meaty-tasting and laced with onion and garlic bits, but it needs more time, so I lid it again and return to the bok choy, which is just hopping for some chopping. I’ll be wok frying those little sons of bitches in some sesame oil and fish sauce when that’s done. Pinch of Cayenne, little salt and pepper. The pot on the back burner is roaring at me, lid rattling, about to boil over. Spin and kill the heat, ease two eggs down into it and set a timer for exactly 7 minutes, drop the bok choy and the carrots and mushrooms into the wok. The sizzle is apocalyptic. A gunfight in a cymbal factory and I push my veggies around and whisper sweet nothings to them as the storm rages fitfully outside my tranquil home outside my tranquil mind.

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   Writing about food has become something to me that I hadn’t expected it to be. When I started, food was something that I enjoyed and to which I devoted a little extra time when I was hungry. It was salty or sweet. It was fast or good. But when I sat in front of a keyboard and forced myself to explain food, it blossomed for me. It exploded. I began to treat food the way Buddhist monks treat life, with presence and awareness and love, especially love. It changed everything. It filled the city in which I live with adventure and mystery. Suddenly, Chef’s and cooks held magic in their hands, flung it with a fatalistic gusto onto the tables of people lost in their phones and numb to the wonder steaming in front of them. Suddenly food held secrets. It told stories. And the more I listened to the stories, the more I wanted to learn to tell them myself. The more I wanted to hold the magic.


   Which brings me back to my windswept kitchen and the roar of vegetables in a hot wok. The mumble of bubbles through a maturing broth. The smell of sesame oil and salt. Dishes pulling me around the kitchen like a puppet on a string, cut this, season that, peel it, heat it, taste it as my mind hangs weightless in the midst of it all, unmoved by the ringing phone or the falling rain or the driving wind. Present only for the food.

 

med·i·tate

meditation
noun UK    /ˌmed.ɪˈteɪ.ʃən/ US    /ˌmed.əˈteɪ.ʃən/
      
› the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed:
prayer and meditation

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Bonus:

Ive attached some links to some pretty killer homemade ramen recipes. I would suggest slamming a couple of them together, unplugging your internet and getting UP. IN. THERE. Give your noodles a good listenin’ to.

 

http://minimalistbaker.com/easy-vegan-ramen/

 

http://pinchofyum.com/homemade-spicy-ramen-with-tofu

 

http://greatist.com/eat/healthier-ramen-recipes

 

Sources:

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/meditation

Written by:

Kellen Burden

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San Fernando Roasted Chicken and Tantric Naked Yoga

 

San Fernando Roasted Chicken is very similar to the guy down the hall from your apartment who does naked tantric yoga in his unit, in that you walk right past it every day and you didn’t even know it was over there doing that. Unlike naked tantric yoga guy, however, San Fernando is amazing. Yoga guy fucking sucks. Yoga guy smells like dreadlocks. 
San Fernando doesn’t smell like that at all. Just walking through the door, the aroma of piping hot goodness with the weight of experience behind it hits you right in the booger chute. It’s a smell that triggers salivation and goosebumps but most notably, a feeling a comfort. Not necessarily, “just like mama used to make” comfort, although that certainly might be back there. Instead, it is a feeling of comfort more akin to having a parent lift you into their arms. That smell of chicken crisping on an open flame, hint of oil from the fryer, says, “Relax, we know what we’re doing.” And they most decidedly do, but we’ll get to that.

 

First, there are a couple of things to cover, because if you’re on a follow along adventure with this piece and you’re standing in this place, marinating in the smells of it, you’ve probably started to notice something.IMG_1806.JPG

It’s a little weird in here. Not gimp suit weird, but…. Different. From the outside, it almost looks like it used to be open, but hasn’t been in a while. You might notice the paint is fading and that the lot is a bit unkempt. When you’re through the door you’ll see lots of red paint and a dusty looking beverage cooler unceremoniously dumped by a window. The menus have been updated by hand, in marker. The descriptions are in Spanish and English and as you’re trying to get that straight, you round the corner and what’s this? A full size ballroom. Most likely the lights are out over there and it probably looks like the kind of area that naked tantric yoga guy might hold a class that you SUPER don’t want to watch. That mental image is cause for some alarm so you venture to the restroom to splash some water in your face and stumble upon the two toilets, side by side with no divider between them like the little girls from The Shining.

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You’re starting to think, what the fuck am I doing in here? Well,take a deep breath. Take it through your nose. Yeah, remember now?. Relax, they know what they’re doing.IMG_1229.JPG

 

Now, what happens when you cram a bunch of people from all the corners of the globe into a country with the biodiversity of, shit, I don’t know, the Amazon Rain Forest and you just let them cook? Peruvian food. Eric Asimov did a piece on a hotstepping Peruvian food movement in New York in the late 90’s. In it, he asked a chef who was turning and burning latin dishes about Peru’s contribution to Latin food and the guy said, “”Peruvian is the single most important cuisine in Latin America, with a repertoire of dishes maybe bigger than France,” (1). Damn. That’s heavy. But it’s not incorrect. Peruvian food history is a flashlight beam on a dark night. Hot and white in the center where the Incas kicked it off and stretching out into infinity in an ever-widening cone as the Spanish conquered the Incas and brought slaves in from Africa and the Chinese laborers came to fill a void that slave labor left  when that was finally abolished  and people immigrated and immigrated and immigrated, all of them leaving behind new recipes and twisting good ingredients into sensational food. Food like Ceviche and Papa A La Huancaina (both of which are available at San Fernando). Food like Peruvian roasted chicken.

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According to aboutfood.com (2) Peruvian roasted chicken was dragged into the spotlight by a restaurant run by Swiss immigrants in the 1950’s. They went all “Rain Man” on the spices and then all “Monster Garage” on some patented chicken spits. (they’re still open if you’re in Lima and you haven’t had a mouthgasm in a while. Find it here.) In the time following, Peruvian chicken has found it’s way all over the planet the way only really bad music and really good food can.

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Which brings us, finally, back to San Fernando. Seated in a weird red corner, with a half a roasted chicken on a bed of french fries. Steam climbing off the plate and drifting lazily into the vacuous space of the unlit ballroom. All is right in the world. According to everything I’ve read about Peruvian chicken, it’s the spices that really distinguish it. The first mouthful of San Fernando’s bird drives that fact home like wedge with a sledge behind it. It’s so perfectly seasoned, salty but not cloyingly so. Everything is just there to bring out the richness that the chicken came with. Juice drips down onto the plate and adds property value to the crispy fries below. There’s a point in the midst of all the eating in which the fork becomes a hindrance and then it’s all fingernails and grunting noises. There are traditional sauces in squeeze bottles and squirting noises and things being dipped. A veritable chorus that would make naked yoga guy blush. You’re sweating. You’re salty. You’re going to want a beverage. I’d suggest washing all that down with some Inca Cola, a local Peruvian soda (like if Sprite and bubblegum had a love child) or some chicha morada, which is a purple corn punch that (I’m told) tastes faintly of licorice.

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As the haze of good food fades, you may notice something. The place stays unusual. In the midst of all that nirvana,  the weirdness around you never fades into the background or morphs into understanding, but instead it just kinda gets folded up neatly and tucked into the “who gives a fuck” folder. Who cares if the paint is faded or the toilets are placed as though you were meant to hold hands with someone while you used them?  Weird ballroom? So what? The bottom line is that these guys are dutifully cranking out fantastic, authentic Peruvian cuisine without gimmicks or apologies, and they’re doing it in the heart of a city that’s stripped places with better style and curb appeal down to the marrow and tossed the bones in the trash.

 

So, if a place like that has value to you, I would strongly encourage you to stop walking past San Fernado, and walk into it.

If you do, you will  shuffle out onto the whoosh and roar of  Rainier avenue, picking bits of cultural diversity out of your teeth, nursing a belly filled with chicken and potatoes and a feeling of comfort, because you trusted them to know what they were doing, and they did.

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Sources:

 

(1)

http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/26/dining/peruvian-cuisine-takes-on-the-world.html?page

wanted=all         

(2)

http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/exploresouthamericanfood/tp/Pollo-a-la-Brasa-Peruvian-Roasted-Chicken.htm

(3)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peruvian_cuisine

 

Other links:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/san-fernando-roasted-chicken-seattle

 

 

 

Street Food Done Right: Indo Asian Street Eatery

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Recently, Kellen and I have found ourselves venturing slightly outside of Seattle proper to find hidden gems like Indo Asian Street Eatery. One of the biggest benefits of venturing out of Seattle in our quest to find great food is the free and readily available parking! This makes Kellen do his happy dance and I start uncontrollably rubbing my hands together in anticipation of some good eats.

Anyway, I grew up hearing the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I later learned that just because something is going well doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t see it through to perfection.  And that’s exactly what the good folks at Indo Asian Street Eatery in Tacoma did when they branched off from the popular family owned franchise, Indochine. After helping Indochine become a household name in the South Puget Sound area, Husband and Wife, Yu Nanakornphanom and Buoy Ngov, along with the help of their family members ventured out on their own to start Indo Asian Street Eatery in the up-and-coming Stadium District neighborhood.20160308-IMG_0365.jpg

As you enter the restaurant, you are greeted by hand-painted wall art exclaiming, “Eat Rice”, which is obviously an important staple in Asian cuisine and adds a nice modern touch. The interior setup of Indo Asian Street Eatery has a rustic and modern feel with sleek wooden counter-tops and metal finishing throughout the room along with a large metal fire pit. After visiting Toulouse Petit in Queen Anne (Seattle), Yu was impressed with their furnishings and decided to bring in Robb Gunn, from Splinter & Slag, who helped bring the room some character with his woodwork.20160301-IMG_9010

While growing up in Thailand, Yu helped his parents run their food stalls which inspired him to open a restaurant with a similar concept that is new to the Tacoma area, but has received positive feedback from locals thus far. Indo Asian Street Eatery takes pride in serving up traditional and modern flavors; when asked how they decide what makes it to the menu, Yu enthusiastically replied, “We change our menu seasonally- adding and taking away menu items based on seasonal availability of ingredients”. They keep a few regular items on the menu throughout the year such as, Khao Soi, which is my personal favorite. The Northern Thai influenced dish, Khao Soi, is a mix of spicy curry goodness with a hint of sweetness that pairs well with one of their rotating local beer selections on tap. Check out their impressive dessert and and drink menu as well, with gelato made in-house and high-end Japanese whiskey at the bar.

I’ve had the privilege of eating at the home of the Nanakornphanom family, and I can assure you that every dish at Indo Asian Street Eatery is made with the same amount of TLC that’s served to visitors at their home. Plan a day trip to Tacoma and hike the scenic 3.25 mile Chambers Bay Loop then treat yourself to a meal at Indo Asian Street Eatery. Yu and Buoy truly have something special going on here.

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Photo credit:

Danny Owens- dannyowens.co

Written By:

Krishan Kumar

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