December 2013 Bar Bulletin
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December 2013 Bar Bulletin

Diners Win in Global Food Fight

 

East can meet West and North can meet South when dining in Seattle. We focus on exploring restaurants that have imported flavors from the eastern world to the west, providing tastes and new experiences to the palates of the Pacific Northwest.

West

Nestled in Seattle's newest foodie haven - South Lake Union - sits the modern and polished Shanik (500 Terry Ave. N.; 486-6884; shanikrestaurant.com). Shanik is the much-anticipated, local restaurant affiliated with Vij's, a longtime favorite north of the border, in Vancouver.

Shanik, owned and operated by Meeru Dhalwala, features creative Indian cuisine with flair: the curried deviled eggs and tomato chutney with quinoa and sprout salad make for an inventive appetizer that epitomizes the spirit of the establishment. The spice-encrusted lamb popsicles with split-pea-and-spinach mash and coconut curry are cooked to perfection. The classics, such as the saag-paneer with Punjabi daal and chapatti, are admirably prepared and served.

Shanik's visual gem is its stylish lounge with beautiful solid-wood seating where guests are served complimentary Indian hors d'oeuvres. Happy hour is 4-5:30 p.m. with $5 menu options. The cocktail menu is fresh, but somewhat limited. We enjoyed the Bollywood 411, a drink made with Prosecco, pomegranate and mango, and the Za'Feran saffron-infused Sun vodka, Dolin blanc and cardamom bitters. What the cocktail menu lacks in quantity of signature drinks, it makes up for in interesting wine selections paired to the dishes.

Located right next door to the restaurant and open Monday to Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. is the Shanik Market, offering hot take-out on weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and a chance to buy spice tins, cookbooks, gift cards, and items for the fridge and freezer.

Shanik is delightful and modern, and comes with a pleasant kick of attentiveness. Next time we dine with friends working at Amazon, this will be high on our list of spots to go.

North

It might not be the North Pole, but many in Seattle seem to consider restaurants in and around Northgate to be that far away. Located in the north end of Seattle, just a few minutes from downtown, is Saffron Grill (2132 Northgate Way; 417-0707; saffrongrillseattle.com). The restaurant, owned by Muhammed Bhatti who operated Cedars on Brooklyn for many years, offers many of the favored items from Cedars.

The gracious hospitality and Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine continue on at this location, which has a richer and more colorful ambiance and a more varied menu. Saffron Grill is sophisticated enough to host clients, yet comfortable enough to relax with the family.

Old favorites from Bhatti's prior restaurants, including butter chicken, chicken tikka and palak masala (spinach curry), are as good as ever. The tandoori remains as delectable as we remember. The lamb mango curry and chicken madras masala are excellent - the meat tender and spices sparkling. The mango curry is especially appealing to those who prefer curry on the sweeter side.

We could not resist a large garlic naan, baked fresh in a clay tandoor oven and served with raita (a creamy cucumber yogurt dip), cilantro and tamarind chutneys. The house-made aromatic chai tea was a lovely accompaniment.

From the varied and enticing desserts, the cardamom ice cream, with a touch of saffron, was an elegant ending to a satisfying lunch. Although not technically a dessert, a mango lassi (a sweet yogurt drink) can be treated as dessert.

Saffron Grill offers catering for large groups and take-out for that extra long day in the office. One North Pole (aka Northgate) advantage is that prices are lower than downtown.

South

Southeast Seattle has become a hotspot for African cuisine. Most of the restaurants focus on East African dishes, predominantly from the Horn of Africa, which includes Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti. But there are a few places to find West African food as well.

At Afrikando Banadir (5212 Rainier Ave. S.; 725-0508; afrikandobanadir.net), you can taste both East and West African food from the same menu. Situated on the border between Columbia City and Hillman City, Afrikando Banadir is, refreshingly, a place where you can sit down and enjoy a meal without feeling compelled to order to go. It's not fancy, but it is cozy and friendly.

Having little or no familiarity with the menu, we awkwardly relinquished control over our dining selections to our server. He started the meal with an appetizer of fried plantains. The plantains were dry and lightly seasoned rather than sweet like many Caribbean preparations. A very spicy, red habanero sauce and vinegar-based chutney of chopped onion, tomato, bell pepper and mango came on the side. We quickly devoured the plantains, scooping up a dab of sauce and a helping of chutney with each bite. The cold vegetables and vinegar cut the spice nicely.

For the main course, our server recommended two entrees for beginners, both from West Africa - theibou djeun and maafe. Thiebou djeun ("cheb-oo-jen") is Senegal's national dish. Afrikando's version consisted of a whole tilapia flash fried and then steamed in a rich tomato sauce. The fish was served with jolof (red basmati) rice and steamed vegetables, including eggplant, carrot, cabbage and cassava. For less adventurous eaters, a whole fish may seem slightly intimidating, especially if you are not accustomed to eating fish skin, but we found the skin actually contained the deepest flavors. Cassava, we learned, is a shrub root with white flesh that is often powdered to make tapioca pudding or flour. We struggled to enjoy the root, which was dense and bland, but it was definitely something we had never tried before.

The maafe ("mah-fay") came with two large pieces of bone-in chicken, served over basmati rice and smothered in peanut sauce with carrot and cassava. The peanut sauce had a slight kick, but nothing close to the red habanero sauce, which comes on the side of most dishes for those who like extra spice. The chicken was delicious, falling off the bone, and we had plenty of leftovers for lunch as the portions were rather generous. We were too full for dessert, but the restaurant does offer a sweet pudding made from fine-grained couscous called thiakry.

If you are looking to expand your continental horizons to West African cuisine, Afrikando Banadir is a good choice. We hope it flourishes in a growing corridor of African eateries.

East

Heading up toward Capitol Hill from downtown and switching our flavor map to the Middle East, we find Mamnoon (1508 Melrose Ave.; 906-9606; mamnoonrestaurant.com), owned by Racha and Wassef Haroun, which opened barely more than a year ago. Situated between Pine and Pike across from the Melrose Market, Mamnoon elegantly presents the Harouns' native cuisine from Syria and Lebanon to the Pacific Northwest.

The upscale, minimalist decor and sleek kitchen complement perfectly the welcoming ambiance of the low-pitched hum of the dining room and the warmth of the food, flavors and hospitality.

Full lunch and dinner service is available daily, except Mondays, and the walk-up window provides take-out service. The take-out menu primarily focuses on street food, man'oushe (disc-shaped dough folded over toppings) and kulage, described as Arabic bread sandwiches. The pleasure of being introduced to new foods and flavors is increased as one learns to pronounce the new terms and dishes.

Some of us find mezze or small plates the most enticing draw of a menu and Mamnoon for dinner was no exception. The hummus was excellent as were the black-eyed peas. A particularly delightful surprise was the arnabeit makli (fried cauliflower) - most likely not the cauliflower preparation most of us in the Northwest grew up eating. Try the muhammara, on warm bread of course: pepper, walnuts and pomegranate laced with pepper and cumin.

Following mezze, the kefta (minced lamb) was excellent with a perfect combination of garlic and onion flavors, and pistachio. Labneh bil seniyeh (cheesecake) is a great reason not to overlook (or resist) dessert.

Mamnoon, meaning thank you, has recently received well-deserved notice. As stated on the website "mamnoon is proud to announce that we're Seattle Met's restaurant of the year *and* Seattle Magazine's #1 best new restaurant. [W]e're excited to share the honor with you and pledge to exceed your expectations."

Flavors from all points of the compass converge on Seattle. These four restaurants are a small sampling of the options available, but a worthy sampling for you to try.

Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt is a multiservice, Northwest regional law firm with offices in Seattle, Vancouver, Portland and Bend. For comments on this article or to share your favorite places to eat or drink with the Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt attorneys, contact Mary Jo Newhouse at 206-407-1526 or at mjnewhouse@schwabe.com; see also www.schwabe.com/dining_out.aspx. Follow us on Twitter @schwabedinesout.

 

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