Monthly Archives: August 2008

My slice of the pie

Another Salt Lake City that kept popping up on “best-of” lists was Settebello.

Settebello serves authentic Neapolitan-style pizza as established by the guidelines of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association founded in Naples, Italy. In 2007 Settebello was certified by the President of the US Chapter of the VPN, Peppe Miele, as only the 16th member in the United States.

Of course, all that doesn’t necessarily mean the pizza is good.

Like Red Iguana, Sarah and Damon were able to vouch for Setebello’s pizza. Since they are both native East Coasters who know a good pie and have actually been to Italy, my husband and I headed there (with Damon for good measure) for lunch.

We had a salad and antipasto plate to start, which were tasty enough, but let me just get to the pizza because it was so good, maybe some of the best I’ve ever had. (And that includes pizza I’ve had in Italy!)

We ordered two pizzas. We got a classic margherita draped with prosciutto and the house special Setebello pizza, with crushed tomatoes, pancetta, fennel sausage, roasted mushrooms, toasted pine nuts, mozzarella and basil. The ingredients were top-knotch, and the thin crust was perfectly crisp. Topped off with pistachio gelato for dessert, it was a pretty much perfect pizza experience.

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Two great tastes that DON’T taste great together

When I read about a cheeseburger topped with pastrami, I knew I had to visit a Crown Burgers location in Salt Lake City. I love both cheeseburgers and pastrami and was eager to try the two together.

Well, the title of this post probably gave it away, but alas, Crown Burgers’s signature sandwich didn’t live up to my expectations. I expected the saltiness of the pastrami to bring out the flavor of the beef, but the two just overwhelmed each other.

I do like knowing that something as ridiculous as a pastrami cheeseburger exists in the world.

Crown Burgers introduced me to another new taste. I never knew regional foods included condiments until I encountered Utah’s beloved fry sauce. To me, it was merely glorified Thousand Island dressing, but to each his own, right?

I don’t even want to think what was going on in my arteries that night.

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Summer vacation part 2: Holy mole!

Whoa, those last two posts about Filipino food and rural America were heavy! The next several entries will be my visit to Salt Lake City, the food scene there and will be angst free.

I’m one of those people who likes to do a lot of research before traveling somewhere. And much of that research involves where to find great food.

One name kept popping up as I investigated the Salt Lake City restaurant scene: Red Iguana.

Red Iguana reportedly serves the best Mexican food in Salt Lake City. I was skeptical since I didn’t think many Mexicans live in SLC. Best compared to what? Azteca? (Not that I don’t enjoy Azteca. But still.) However, my friends Sarah and Damon confirmed that Red Iguana had excellent food, and we made plans to go there for Sunday brunch.

One of Red Iguana’s specialties is mole, a sauce made of dried and fresh chiles, nuts, spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables. Mole is often called Mexico’s national dish. There are seven different varieties of mole on the Red Iguana menu.

I had the huevos motulenos: poached eggs and carnitas with mole amarillo (made with golden raisins, yellow tomatoes, yellow zucchini, chile guajillo and dried seasonal yellow chiles). All of this was topped with big fat pieces of bacon. Every bite was delicious, and the mole amarillo had none of the cloying sweetness that I’ve experienced with other mole sauces in the past.

This photo doesn’t do it justice and actually makes it look kind of gross (poor lighting ruins everything):

Huevos motulenos

Huevos motulenos

I also sampled Sarah’s salmon chimichanga, which was one of the day’s specials. This kind of dish is served all the time in Seattle, but how would it be in a landlocked state? It was great!

My husband ordered the spareribs, which I had never seen offered on any Mexican restaurant menu before. It’s good he got a huge portion because I probably ate a quarter of his meal. The spareribs were incredibly tender. They were sneaky spicy — the heat took awhile to develop on the tongue and hit me when I least expected it. The succulent meat tucked in flour tortillas was a simple pleasure.

My first taste of Salt Lake City’s culinary landscape was utterly delicious and surprising. It made me hungry for more.

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What I did on my summer vacation: Fear and loathing in rural America

This time last year, my husband and I were relaxing on the Hawaiian island of Maui, savoring fresh seafood, tropical fruit and the magical menu at Da Kitchen.

For our 2008 summer vacation, we decided to drive from Seattle to visit our friends Sarah and Damon in Salt Lake City. You may be wondering what could possess us to take a road trip while gas prices are at an all-time high. And why did we decide to go to Utah during the absolute hottest point of the summer? And were we insane to do take our infant son with us?

Sarah and Damon had moved to Utah last summer, and we missed them. Sarah had been back to visit, but Damon had yet to meet our newborn son. We were curious about Utah. My husband had been there many years ago for a short stay, but I had never been to the Beehive State. Basically what I knew about Utah was that a lot of Mormons lived there, the Sundance Film Festival was held in Park City, the skiing there was reportedly amazing, Salt Lake City’s NBA team was the Jazz, and the 2002 Winter Olympics were hosted there.

As to the timing, we wanted to celebrate my husband’s birthday with Sarah and Damon. He was born in July. The average temperature in Salt Lake City in July is 89 degrees. Seattle’s average high in July is 75 degrees.

So why not take a short 1 1/2 hour flight there? Why drive? My husband and I were driven to take a road trip by a romantic food notion. We wanted homemade chicken fried steak, real pie made fresh daily and roadside produce stands. We wanted food that was real and earthy–food that was made by cooks, not chefs or grown by farmers we could meet. We dreamed of finding truck stops and small town restaurants with delicious food that couldn’t be found in the city.

I’m sure these places exist, but we didn’t encounter them. The landscape was dominated by familiar golden arches, burger royalty, chicken colonels, pizza joints and Flying J gas stations and convenience stores.

My disappointment was that much more acute because of the level of risk I felt this road trip involved. To get to Utah, we drove through Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho. This part of America is overwhelmingly White, rural and remote.

Not exactly the safest place for an Asian American family to be traveling through.

I know it’s incredibly unfair to believe that most rural White Americans are racist and that rural areas are more violent, but I do. Most of my negative ideas about rural America come from mass media, but unfortunately, there plenty of real life examples that support my fears.

For example, in the 1930’s many Filipinos living in the central part of Washington state had repeatedly been threatened with lynching by their White neighbors. Sure that was 80 years ago. But as we drove through this area, I wondered if the descendents of those violent Whites were still living in Washington and if they had inherited their forefathers’ bigotry.

I was relieved when we encountered other people of color at rest stops. And I never thought I would be so happy to reach Boise, Idaho. I thought that if something happened to us in a city, our bodies should be discovered. Out in the middle of nowhere, we could just disappear.

Returning to the topic of our quest for good roadside food, my husband and I encountered the Redneck Cafe (pictured above) in Durkee, Oregon (population 195). We were intrigued by it and drove up to get a closer look, but we never got out of the car.

We discovered we would only go so far to find good food.

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Is Filipino food embarrassing?

This is the question “side dish” raised on Chowhound’s Pacific Northwest board in 2002.

The post itself wasn’t very illuminating. The writer claimed that there’s a dearth of Filipino restaurants in Seattle because “Filipinos are the ultimate US wannabees” who are “more likely to open a Jewish deli or burger stand than a Filipino restaurant.” However, over the years, the post has gained an interesting array of comments.

Many posters agreed with the writer that Filipino food, especially the smell of it, is embarrassing. A number of people said embarrassment stemmed from the degradation of Filipino culture that came from colonization. Some claimed that Filipinos have no business sense, and that’s why there are no successful Filipino restaurants. Others simply said that Filipino food doesn’t appeal to the American palate.

The argument that most resonated with me is that Filipinos’ relationship with food is intensely personal. Every Filipino’s recipe for chicken adobo is different and delicious. But most Filipinos only want to eat their adobo, cooked their way.

In the Chowhound post, “missm2u” puts it this way:
“…maybe we don’t have that many restaurants becuz, like soul food, filipino food is very sophisticated and also personal and when it comes down to it, the pancit we like best is the one just like our mom (or dad) made when we were kidz…”

The idea of being embarrassed to eat Filipino food in public totally mystifies me. I’m a second-generation Filipino American, and I feel that this is mostly something first-generation Filipino immigrants experience. The way you feel about yourself manifests itself in your relationship to food. People who are embarrassed by what they eat are embarrassed about some aspect of themselves. I’ve been lucky enough not to have to endure too much ill treatment because of my ethnicity. I know other Filipinos have been taunted about their culture. If people keep taunting you about what you eat, it can be hard to enjoy your food much less feel proud of it.

So are there any good Filipino restaurants in Seattle? I ran across the Chowhound thread when I was researching Kawali Grill, a Filipino restaurant in South Seattle. I went there with my Chinese American husband and a big group of friends who are all Fil-Am.

We ordered a gang of dishes, planning to share everything. So we were disappointed when our food arrived and the portions were small. It was weird that you couldn’t share the entrees because Filipinos eat family style.

I ordered the fish escabeche, which is typically a whole fish fillet covered with a sauce made from onion, garlic, ginger, bell peppers, tomatoes, vinegar and lemon or lime juice. Some people like to make their sauce like bad Chinese restaurant sweet and sour sauce and put pineapples in it. I am not one of those people.

But whoever prepared my fish escabeche at Kawali Grill was! The sauce was not entirely unpleasant, but far too thick and goopy for me. I scraped most of it. The fish was perfectly cooked and tasted great with minimal sauce.

I did get a couple of bites of other dishes including: fresh lumpia, pandan fried chicken and pork inihaw. Hands down, the best dish was the pork inihaw (broiled pork marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, garlic and hot sauce).

Fried chicken pandan

Fried chicken pandan

Pork inihaw

Pork inihaw

I felt like there was too much ice in my halo halo dessert, which made it hard to mix (the whole point!) but that’s a minor quibble. The ube ice cream in the halo halo more than made up for it.

I want to try more of the dinner menu at Kawali Grill, and I definitely want to go there for breakfast. The restaurant serves a couple varities of Filipino silog breakfasts, which usally involves a fried egg on top of garlic fried rice and a side of meat.

I feel no shame in wanting that.

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