Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Busiest day in Renton restaurant history

Friday December 15th had to have been the busiest day in Renton restaurant history.
Much of the Seattle area was without power due to the windstorm, but downtown Renton was literally a beacon of light and heat.
I had the great idea to take myself out for breakfast, since the house was cold and dark. Lots of others had the same idea.
Tommy's had a line outside the door, as did Mimosa. I then drove up the hill to Plum Delicious and it too was mobbed, so I drove back into downtown Renton and found refuge at Rubbatino's, the hole in the wall on 3rd Street, across from Naan N Curry. Rubbatino's is the oldest continously operating restaurant in Renton. They claim to have Renton's best breakfast. Like every other restaurant in downtown Renton, it too was crowded, but I was able to get a counter seat and enjoyed warmth, coffee, and Pork Chops and eggs.
That evening, Diane and I tried to find an open restaurant. Naan N Curry was mobbed, as was La Hacienda, as was the alehouse. We ended up at Cedar River Smokehouse and ate, but after we got served they announced that they had run out of food.

On another note, Thai #1 & Pho Cafe has opened in the Safeway mall of Downtown Renton.
203 S. 2nd Street Suite B 425-277-6909.
It's good, it's cheap. They have a pretty good selection of both Thai and Vietnamese food, including Red, Green and Panang curries, Vietnamese and Thai soups and salads, bubble teas, Mango and Green Tea ice cream, tempura, miso soup, mussels, etc.
The menu tops out at 7.95.
For me, it's close, convenient, open til 9:30 7 days a week, and it's good.
Which reminds me, if anyone wants to open a Japanese place and looking for a name, how about Miso Horny?
...And Touchdowns Restaurant and Bar has opened in the space formerly occupied by the All City Diner on Airport Way in Renton. At "press time" it hadn't yet been sampled, but your faithful scribe will sample and report soon.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Armando's Cafe Italiano

Armando's Cafe Italiano 310 Wells Avenue S., Renton WA 98055 425-228-0759 www.armandos.com
Armando's is a long established, very successful, and highly acclaimed restaurant in downtown Renton. It's not one of my regular haunts, but over the years I have sampled almost everything on the menu, and was just there again a few days ago.
A few months ago Armando's moved around the corner into a new, larger location.
The new location is pretty, with a fireplace and Armando's own blown glass throughout.
So...is Armando's really all that?
Well, it has it's pluses and minuses.
The pluses? The food is very good. Chicken Armando is, to me, their signature dish, a chicken breast baked with mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, white wine, and parmesan.
Pastas are all very good. Steamed mussels are delicious. Pizza is baked in a wood fired brick oven. Prawns Palermo are sauteed with artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, feta, and tomatoes.
So what's not to like?
Well, I tell you: Years ago there were only two Italian restaurants in downtown Renton: Armando's and Gene's. You couldn't be a huge fan of both places, it had to be one or the other, like a New Yorker can't be both a Met fan AND a Yankee fan.
I was a Gene's person, and I still miss Gene's. The big difference was service. Part of Gene's philosophy was making people feel at home and comfortable and well taken care of. He made sure that he hired people who went out of their way to make your experience there feel special. The food was probably equal to Armando's, all things considered, some things better, some not as good, but it was slightly less expensive, and just more fun to go there.
Armando's is lacking in the service department. It's not that they don't try, but I don't think Armando values service very highly. He tends to hire 17 year olds who mumble. I'm aging and my hearing isn't as good as it once was. Armando's is somewhat noisy, so I'd appreciate louder waitpeople who enunciated, instead of softspoken mumblers.
Entrees at Armando's range from 11.95 to 17.95.
Armando, who is a Renton High School graduate, also owns the Melrose Grill, located diagonally across the street from Armando's. I love the Melrose Grill.
Don't get me wrong, I like Armando's and will continue to patronize them. But I don't love the place and things bother me about the place.
For instance, I asked for them to hold the pasta on my order of Chicken Armando.
The server asked if I wanted grilled veggies instead. Sure! And they were good!
But don't you think it ought to have been mentioned at the time that they would charge me an extra dollar for them?
I would have happily paid it, but not mentioning the extra charge just strikes me as a chickenshit way to steal extra money.
On the 0-4 scale?
Food=3.75 Atmosphere=3.5 Service= 2.0 Value=2.0

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Renton Rumblings

DC's Bar and Grill will be opening within the next week on 3rd in downtown Renton, and will be followed shortly thereafter by Stiffy's Bar & Grill in the spot formerly housing Armando's. Around the corner will be Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes at 3rd and Wells. Mmmm, cupcakes!
Gaby's Que is opening in Skyway in the 12600 block of Renton Avenue.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Freakazoid Freddy does Hot Springs, Arkansas



Diane and I just spent the last few days in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Why?
I like to seek off the beaten path places, whether they be restaurants or vacation spots, and Hot Springs qualifies.
When a genius acts on his obsessions, this may result in far reaching consequences to the world. When an idiot acts on his obsessions....maybe he goes to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Actually, Hot Springs is a beautiful place. Downtown Hot Springs is surrounded by a national park. It's in the Ouachita Mountains, much smaller than mountains around here, but plenty scenic.
Hot Springs was formerly a major resort destination. Mineral water emerges from the ground at 140 degrees there, and huge bathhouses and hotels were developed around this phenomenon. The bathhouses still exist, grand turn of the century structures. Only one currently functions as a bathhouse, but another functions as the National Park headquarters, and several others are in the process of being restored. The city also has some beautiful old hotels that still maintain their elegance.
Up until about 40 years ago, Hot Springs was also a major mob influenced gambling mecca, and some of the old and gorgeous downtown buoldings were built as casinos. The town fell into disfavor and disrepair as mineral baths became out of fashion and as the gambling houses were shut down.
In recent years, Hot Springs has seen something of a resurgence, as artists have discovered the town and taken over vacant spaces and opened galleries. We were there for part of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, held at an ancient movie house that now mostly serves as a theatre of magic.
Hot Springs is also the city Bill Clinton spent his formative years in.
Nowadays, Hot Springs is a surprisingly diverse and cosmpolitan city for it's size, surrounded by a lot of natural beauty.
We arrived in town in time for the Arlington Hotel's Sunday brunch. The Arlington is the fanciest place downtown, built in 1912. It remains elegant. The brunch was damn good! Somewhat akin to Salty's at Alki,with lots of seafood, a waffle bar, an omelette bar and they make doughnuts! on site, the best doughnuts I've ever eaten.
That evening, after hiking and napping, we dined at Cajun Boilers, an excellent place near Lake Hamilton, inexpensive and featuring wonderful seafood in many forms. I had spicy catfish and four kinds of shrimp, with peanut butter pie for dessert. Diane had shrimp scampi, garlicky, buttery, and very fresh.
Monday, we went to Mollie's, the only Jewish deli in the state of Arkansas, a place that had been there since the 1940's. There's nothing like having an elderly Jewish Arkansan waitress come up to you and ask "Y'all gonna have the Matzoh Ball soup?"
After more hiking, napping, and driving around exploring the area, dinner meant barbecue.
Arkansas is famous for barbecue, and while I might praise a Seattle or Renton area BBQ joint, it all pales compared to Arkansas.
Monday, we went to Stubby's, a place operating since the 1940's. Good, tangy, vinegary sauce and much better than average ribs.
Tuesday, lunch was at Smokin in Style BBQ. Incredible ribs served with incredible fries (best I've eaten on both counts).
One cannot be in Hot Springs and not go to McClard's, thought of in foodie circles as one of the best BBQ joints in the US, and a favorite of Bill Clinton's. Photos of Clinton are all over the walls, and of other celebrities who proclaim McClard's the finest in the land.
The place has been there since 1928, and had an old diner-like atmosphere with counter stools and chrome, and had a fun, relaxing atmosphere. They also only take cash. Had I not overdosed on BBQ the previous two meals, I too might have proclaimed it to be the best.
And the ribs were excellent, and like Smokin in Style, it's neighbor down the street, it also came with fries. And they too were far better than average, but not quite as crispy crunchy as it's rival. All in all I'd say Smokin In Style gets the nod, except for atmosphere.
There were many other restaurants we didn't get a chance to try, including a tapas bar, several Italian places, and an all you can eat fried chicken, frogs legs, and shrimp buffet.
Hot Springs is a fun and funny place, an island of free thinkers ( at least some of 'em) in a sea of Southern Baptists. We had a good time. Now I have to lose some weight.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Where do the huddled masses eat?

Where the Red House is disputably Renton's hippest restaurant, King Buffet, 20 SW 7th St, Renton 228-3666 is disputably Renton's least hip place.
Let me state unequivocally that I don't require hipness to enjoy a restaurant (or even good food: I like Tommy's) but King Buffet leaves me with nausea and gastrointestinal distress every time I've eaten there.
My sister loves the place, says the food is really good.
And if I weren't so senile, I'd remember why I eat there so rarely.
The place is huge, and there is plenty of food to choose from, including sushi, Mongolian grill, salads, soups, meats, veggies, etc.
It's also an extremely popular place. Many places are closed on Mondays because it is a slow night for restaurants, but not King Buffet. They were quite busy last night, and the buffet fans were quite varied.
There were African- Americans, Honkies ( including Russian speaking honkies), Asians, Mexicans, Arabs, and Africans all fighting for their share of the buffet table, huddled masses yearning to breathe free. After eating there, breathing at all is difficult.
The place definitely has that "feeding trough" feel to it.
I'm not against buffet places, in fact I like the idea of eating mass quantities of food I like.
But the problem with King Buffet is not only the crowds, but the food.
Very uninspired greasy unidentifiable fried shit, vegetables swimming in grease, a Mongolian grill full of mystery meat...and a lot of the stuff, in different trays with different labels, all tastes alike.
Yes, I am guilty of eating too much there. I really ought to limit overeating to food I like.
Given the choice of eating there or one of these fake festive chain restaurants intent on "upselling", I'd have thought I'd died and gone to hell.
Is King Buffet my least favorite Renton restaurant?
I don't know, but it's at least a runner up.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Gene- ius: Red House Beer and Wine

Gene Sens and his wife Hoang are long time Renton restauranteurs.
25 years ago Gene had a pizza stand in the old Renton Food Circus, near where the downtown Fred Meyer store is. Later on he and Hoang owned and operated Gene's, which is now Vino on s. 3rd St, downtown Renton. Even when living in Seattle, we would come down to Gene's for dinner. The food was creative, the atmposphere always pleasant, and prices too low.
After running the place for 15+ years, Gene and Hoang were tired, and sold the place. They "retired", but not for too long. Gene also started and later sold Jubilante, and designed the menu at the Dog and Pony. He's one of those people who goes into the restaurant business to share good food and provide gathering places rather than to make money.
A few years ago, he and Hoang opened Red House Beer and Wine, 410 Burnett Ave S, 425-226-2666, redhousebeerandwine.com
...Doesn't matter what kind of restaurant Gene runs, it will have a distinctive Gene style, and I will like it. Music will always be eclectic, food will always be good, and the place will exhude a certain hipness and warmth. RedHouse has a huge selection of beer and wine, and you can buy a bottle or a six pack and take it home and drink it. Or you can stay and enjoy the wide variety of tapas, appetizers,salads and the like. Since opening, they have expanded the menu to include entrees.
We went on Friday night. The place was deservedly busy. The old Gene's, which was an Italian restaurant, had the the best antipasto in the entire world. Red House also has a very good antipasto, which includes olives, roasted peppers, smoked salmon pate, a variety of cheeses, and salumi, probably Pino Rogano locally made artisan cured meat.
A special on friday was Rib Eye Steak, and rivaled the Melrose in tenderness and flavor. (That's a big compliment.)
We all shared everything, including pasta with dungeness crab and cream sauce(YUM!), and spicy grilled shrimp, and steamed clams...An intriguing future order will include Hangar Steak and White King Salmon.
We didn't have dessert, because we were stuffed to the gills ( although at times that fact hasn't stopped me before.)
But if the desserts are anything at all like Gene's used to be, watch out! They're too good.
Hoang did a lot of the dessert baking, Gene baked the bread. The apple pie at Gene's years later remains to this day the best I've eaten.
Red House is a great place.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Skyway has a good restaurant

I reviewed Cocina Marina in July, and recently returned.
Once again, I'm astounded by the quality of the food.
Skyway is not the neighborhood for restaurants of quality, but Cocina Marina, 11839 Renton Avenue S, 206-772-3054, is actually a place of gourmet aspirations. And not especially Mexican, even though it is a Mexican restaurant. But then again, there are numerous restaurants in Mexico that are not especially Mexican.
Cocina Marina has a number of pasta dishes on the menu, including what I ordered, prawns scampi alfredo, and boy was it good! Jumbo prawns butterflied and garlicky, served atop a creamy parmesany fettucine.
A nightly special included a mixed seafood soup, which included crab, salmon, and shrimp, with a delicious broth.
Other menu items include a tuna sandwich made with fresh grilled yellowfin tuna, grilled salmon, and NY steak.
Many entrees and served with garlic toast rather than tortillas.
Latino karaoke is Friday and Saturday. Latin dancing on Sunday. And English karaoke on Thursday nights. The bar looks very inviting and friendly, the restaurant fairly unremodeled.
Food is close to excellent, service is friendly but slow, atmosphere is seedy but safe, and the food, while a little pricier than standard Mexican fare , is actually a good value considering the quality and taste of the food.
How long a gourmet restaurant in Skyway can last is anybody's guess. But they've lasted since July, and hopefully for many more years.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Renton Has Many Mediocre Restaurants

Most of Renton's restaurants fall into the mediocre category. There are a few exceptions:
The Melrose, The Red House, Aloha BBQ, Armando's and maybe a couple of others are quite good.
A few, like Mimosa and their limp yellow lettuce at the salad bar, only aspire to mediocrity.
Last night we dined at the Yankee Grill & Roaster, 1 Grady Way, 255-8543.
The Yankee's Ballard branch opened with much fanfare and acclaim about twenty years ago, and their Renton branch has been here about seven years. I believe they have seen a couple of ownership changes since then.
The Yankee Grill is the Holiday Inn's in- house restaurant. It, like most of it's Renton restaurnat brethren, falls into the mediocre category.
The menu is kind of upscale-ambitious, including salmon and a catch of the day, as well as rotisserie beef and turkey and smoked chicken.
Salads include a smoked salmon Caesar, a tossed Cobb salad, and a smoked chicken curry sald made with mandarin orange and walnut.
The place has a dark wood fancy restaurant feel, and lotss of historical Renton photos.
They're famous for large portions of classic American dishes like meatloaf and mashed potatoes.
So, foodwise, I'd say they're better than average..portions are large and everything is fairly fresh.
Service is friendly but somewhat slow and not especially competent.
I ordered a Diet Pepsi (2.49) and was never offered a refill. I don't mind paying 2.49 for a soda, if they're offering to refill my glass every ten minutes or so.
The atmosphere is pleasant..It's a good looking place with a gas fireplace and handsome wood.
Prices are way too high..they think they're all that.
It's not the worst restaurant in Renton by a long shot. The food is pretty good, just not worth their menu prices.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Applebee's now has a Renton location

Applebee's is not the kind of restaurant I generally go to or like. I tend to shun big national chains, and Applebee's, like some other big national chains, has this contrived festivity about it.
Nonetheless, almost next door to the Renton Village 8 movie theatre ( 375 Grady Way, 425-687-1200), Applebee's recently opened in Renton, and is not lacking in customers.
And...you know what? It's not that bad.

The menu is extensive, giving choices to all kinds of tastes, and the food is clearly a notch above a Sheri's or a Denny's.

They've teamed up with The Food Network's celebrity chef Tyler Florence to feature some of his recipes, and the "crispy brick chicken" is really quite good..crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and grilled with rosemary, lemon and olive oil.
Other Tyler Florence creations include a penne pasta with a tomato cream sauce, ripe tomatoes, peas, and sausage, a bruschetta burger, and an herb roasted chicken.

Items on the regular menu include good salads, like a steakhouse salad, apple walnut salad, and a Southwest Cobb.
Honey Grilled salmon looked good on an neighboring table's plate, but I didn't order it, nor ask the person at the next table for a bite.
Tuesdays and Thursdays feature all you can eat riblets.
Okay, what's a riblet? Even after ordering it, I can't tell you. It's not bad, not BBQ smoked as I prefer, but not bad, and the BBQ sauce is mediocre, but the meat's tasty, whatever it is...how does the saying go " If you have to ask, you don't really want to know the answer, as in "How do you make sausage?"

Service is fairly quick, friendly and efficient. Prices aren't bad, mostly 8.99-12.99, except for burgers, wraps, and sandwiches.

So really there is stuff to like about the place.
One clever thing Applebee's does is make each location "local."
The Renton location has historical Renton pictures, sports memorabilia from Renton high school teams, photos of Ichiro, etc.

So what don't I like about the place?
1. The fake festivity. I don't need to be fuc*ing happy to eat in a restaurant.
2. I know it's their job, but I've got a menu: Waitstaff don't need to "sell" certain items.."Can I start you out with some mozarella sticks?" or "How about dessert, how about some mud pie?"
3. The music. 80's rock. Feh.

Mud pie. Riblets. What the hell are these things, really?

All in all, I will continue to dine at Applebee's on occasion. The food is better than similarly priced restaurants, and it's a convenient location.
But is this ever going to be a restaurant I'm going to say I love?
Never.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A recipe? What's that got to do with Renton?

Pretty soon it will be dark and cold and wet in these parts, a condition that lasts for months.
Yes, Renton has many exciting activities to pass those dreary days, but sometimes there's nothing better than staying home and eating chocolate-coconut haystacks.

2 egg whites
1 cup sugar (I use splenda)
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Tbsp chocolate syrup ( I use a sugar free brand)
2 cups grated unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 350'
Whip egg whites (with electric beater) on low for several minutes til medium stiff peaks form.
Beat in the sugar and cocoa powder a little at a time.
Gently fold in the choclate syrup and coconut.
Drop mixture by rounded teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet.
Shape into little pyramids with fingertips.
Bake for 12 minutes.
Makes about 25-30 very addictive little cookies.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Renton Restaurant gossip

The All City Diner will not be re-opening. In the same building will be a place called "Touchdowns".
Doesn't strike me that people go to a place with that name for the food.

Aloha BBQ has a new phone number. It is 425-721-4451.

Activity is going on in the space that formerly housed Armando's before they moved around the corner, but I don't know what's going in there. If anybody reading this does know, please fill us in.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Gordy's Steak and BBQ

I've been to Gordy's a few times. It's located in Tukwila at 13500 Interurban Avenue S, at the Foster Golf Links. 206-267-7427 gordysbbq.com

Gordy's is pleasant, comfortable and not too expensive.
It has big windows overlooking the golf course, but it's not a pretentious place.

Diners can select from entree salads, sandwiches and burgers, BBQ, steaks, and seafood.
Salads include a smoked salmon cobb, a seafood salad featuring dungeness crab and smoked salmon and shrimp, and a prime rib fajita salad.

Sandwiches include BBQ favoties like pulled pork, brisket, chicken, hot link, as well as bratwurst, a crab melt, and a vegetarian Portobello burger.
The Foster Burger includes avocado, bacon, and cheese.

Seafood entrees include catfish, crab cakes, and smoked salmon. I believe it is in house smoked salmon, and is very nice and moist.

I haven't had the steak there, but have had the BBQ chicken and pork ribs.
I love most BBQ ribs, and Gordy's is no exception. They're smoked in house and are tender. The BBQ sauce is wimpy and mild. The cole slaw is pleasant and not too sweet nor too mayonnaisey.

The place is on a golf course, and is sort of upscale, so you could choose to spend a lot of money there, but you don't have to.
Service has always been friendly and efficient.

All in all, this is a place worth going to.
I've had far worse BBQ, though I prefer Jones BBQ to Gordy's.
Nonetheless, overall, the food is better than average quality, the service is good, the atmosphere pleasant, not too expensive, and a place I will continue to revisit periodically.
I like Gordy's.

Freakazoid Freddy's Primary Primer

Tuesday, September 19th is primary election day in the state of Washington.
This is not my usual diatribe about restaurants, but the politicians we elect can and do affect our quality of life.
Politicians piss me off. Republican or Democrat, Liberal or Conservative, I can name you politicians I dislike because they are insincere liars.
That said, the latest politician to dislike is John Groen, running for the state Supreme Court.
Have you seen his commercials?
It shows Supreme Court justice Bobbe Bridge, who is not up for election this time.
She got cited for drunk driving a couple of years ago. The commercial goes on to say that after her arrest, her fellow (and up for re-election) judge Gerry Alexander stated that she deserved support.
The commercial made it sound like Alexander and Bobbe Bridge were the same person. Gerry Alexander did not get cited for drunk driving, and Bobbe Bridge is not running for anything.
So it's offensive, reprehensible , and doesn't really say why Groen would be worth electing.
It's an attack ad, and isn't the State Supreme Court supposed to a little more dignified than that?
Then, this morning, I get one of those pre-recorded campaign phone calls from none other than John Groen.
He went on to say things like " If you're disturbed by Supreme Court Justices driving drunk, you should vote for me, and if you're disturbed by Courts legalizing gay marriage, you should vote for me, blah blah blah."
Well, you know what?
First of all, there it was again, the inference that it was Alexander who was caught driving drunk, and second of all, sometimes courts have to act when legislators won't.
Politicians will go to where voters or donations are, and most of them don't give a shit about doing what's right.
Judges are supposed to balance the legal issues before them and make a fair decision not based on politics.
So, yeah, regardless of my position on gay marriage, absolutely the Courts have a right to decide whether gay marriage should be legal..
Politicians will not always act to end discrimination...if continuing to discriminate will result in re-election or big donations.
John Groen is not acting like a Judge is supposed to act. He's acting like a slimy politician. I don't know enough about his opponent, Gerry Alexander. But I've been so offended by Groen's slimy campaign that I would vote for Alexander now even if he decided to campaign naked.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

In Praise of Ordinary Food

If Bill Gates were to phone me and tell me he wanted to take me out to the restaurant of my choice, we would not be going to Tommy's Cafe, 74 Rainier Ave S, Renton 98055 tel 425-227-9910.

But I usually pay for my own meals, don't live far from Tommy's, and it's consistently pretty good food at reasonable prices.
Service is unfailingly good, and the place is comfortable and homey.
Breakfast is served all hours, and includes pancakes, omelettes and scrambles. Particularly noteworthy are the in house made home fried potatoes, made with onion and peppers.

They also roast their own turkey, and have a pretty decent salad bar.

The Tran family has operated Tommy's for almost 25 years, and some of the regular customers have seen little Trans grow up to be big Trans as they worked there over the years.

Tommy's does some things quite well, and are always willing to cater to customers weird dietary requests. One of the breakfast dishes, "The Mess" is a scramble with potatoes, eggs, meat, etc, but they'll happily substitute broccoli for the potatoes if you are so inclined.

Burgers and steaks are better than you'd expect, and the salmon is also quite good.
You can choose to spend a lot of money at Tommy's on things like NY steak with lobster or crab.
But Sauteed prawns with garlic is a less expensive winner, as are the stir-fries.

Salads include a warm seafood salad containing salmon, shrimp, and scallops, bacon, and parmesan. Again, they'll happily delete the bacon or the scallops if that's your inclination.
They also have milkshakes, and will tolerate weird customer requests in that vein too.
Diane had dental surgery about a week ago and couldn't eat solid food, so she ordered a shake, wondering if they could add tofu for extra protein. They didn't have tofu but suggested adding peanut butter to the chocolate shake, and it turned out great.

What don't I like about Tommy's?
Not much. The soups are home made but sometimes too bland.
I'd love to see more fresh veggies.

What I do like is the diversity of the customers, almost reminding me of an East Coast style diner ( without the rice pudding.)

Senior citizens, folks of various ethnicities, gay couples...all are accepted and welcome at Tommy's.

On my 0-4 scale, for food Tommmy's rates a 2.75, service is a 3.5, atmosphere a 3.5 and value a 3.5.

From the outside, Tommy's might appear to be a dump, a bad greasy spoon, but it really isn't.

Tommy's is better than it's competitor around the corner , Mimosa's, and it appears that the All City Diner is out of business, and the Yankee Grill in Renton is barely better than Tommy's at much higher prices.

Ordinary American food is increasingly becoming harder to find in these parts.
Too many places serve things like marinated pigeon entrails in a beurre blanc ginger cream reduction, served on small plates for 25 dollars, so going to a place like Tommy's is refreshing.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is Hawaiian Food da Bomb?

As a matter of fact, yes.
As I've stated before in previous posts, I don't have that much exposure to Hawaiian food, never lived in Hawaii, and am no expert on the subject. But I sure like it.
The Seattle area doesn't have very many Hawaiian restaurants, so the fact that Renton has two is pretty astounding, and makes the folks in Renton pretty lucky.
I've previously posted about Aloha BBQ, and many comments were made in response, pretty heated stuff.
I thought nobody ever read this blog, and then, out of nowhere a firestorm over lau lau and kalbi.
But just to clarify:
I eat at both L & L and Aloha, and I like them both. I wasn't really trying to compare them.
L & L is a big, successful chain for a reason. The reason is because they're good and deliver a consistant,good product in big portions at reasonable prices. I ate there this afternoon and feasted on their low carb plate.
Aloha is a mom and pop new place just getting established. I love going there. The service is friendly and personal and the food is great and reasonably priced and creative.
I 've posted about Mexican places, Chinese places and Italian places, and there's dead silence.
I had no idea how passionate folks were about their Hawaiian food, and even though there was some hostility and things said less than nice, I really enjoyed reading every one of the comments and I'm becoming a big fan of Hawaiian food.
There's plenty of room for both L&L and Aloha to be very successful, and I hope they are both in Renton for many years to come.
Were there a couple of restaurants in Renton specailizing in lutefisk, they might struggle to survive, as there might not be enough folks willing to spend money on lutefisk, but Kalbi ribs, lau lau, etc, are delicious and addictive.
I'm not saying patronize only one of Renton's Hawaiian places. Go to both, support your local Hawaiian restaurant.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Renton Has a Mountain?


Yes, indeed.
For those of us who like to pretend to be real hikers, Echo Mountain is the place to go. It's a tranquil uphill trail in very lush woods. When you have hiked to the top of the mountain you will be rewarded by an incredible view of Mt. Rainier and the forested parts of Maple Valley, Auburn and beyond. Walking at an average pace will get you to the top of the mountain and back in about forty five minutes.
Echo Mountain is part of an undeveloped King County Park called Spring Lake/Lake Desire Park . It is south of the Cedar River and just a 10-15 minute drive east of beautiful downtown Renton. Take the Maple Valley Highway to 196th Avenue. Turn right (i.e., south) and travel about a mile. Turn right on SE 183nd and follow the road counter-clockwise(bear right) around Spring Lake. Park at the road end. Follow the obvious trail that angles to the right and up; turn right (uphill) when the trail intersects the gravel maintenance access road. Take the Peak Trail ( you'll see a sign) to the summit at about 800 feet above sea level.
You will rarely run into other hikers, and it's a very scenic short but vigorous hike.
It's also very convenient to Aloha BBQ. So if you've just consumed 10,000 calories there and feel guilty, you can burn a few of them off by climbing this nearby mountain.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Renton Gardening Progress Report


Halladay Mortgage Lifter

Tomatoes are quickly turning red. There are three varieties growing: Halladay Mortgage Lifter, which is a variety not available commercially, but does well for Pacific Nortwest Gardeners.
Often with many tomato varieties, long periods of hot and sunny with warm nights are required, something the Seattle area cannot provide, which is why many gardeners around here grow smaller tomatoes, rather than beefsteak size, because they ripen more quickly.
But Halladay grows big and heavy quickly, and is sweet and juicy. This is my third year growing them, and I save the seeds for future use, since one can't find the seeds or starts in stores.
Then there's Sweet Baby Girl, a fairly common but nice and prolific red cherry tomato.
And last but not least is Sun Sugar, a relative of the much heralded Sun Gold, an orange cherry tomato that's smaller than Sweet Baby Girl, but bursting with tangy sweet juiciness.
Peppers are also doing well. Giant Marconi is producing large, long peppers that are great for grilling or roasting.
And the "Tam" mild jalapenos are prolific as usual, and very dependably produce well in these parts.
Originally had 19 melon plants, and now have 5, but have some small green melons. Melons are pretty finicky.
Had lots of lettuce, and just planted more for a fall harvest, and also planted mustard greens, turnips, spinach, broccoli, and brussel sprouts for the fall.
Sugar Snap peas recently got all harvested, then dug up to plant broccoli. The peas produced dependably for about a month.
Blueberries are fruiting well now, marionberries are done after a month or so of producing large and sweet berries, and raspberries are producing in fairly small numbers at this point. It's the Autumn Bliss variety, a berry a bit firmer and larger than many raspberries, and delicious.
For the first time, grapes are producing fairly well. It took a few years.
I'm ready to dig up the kiwi vine. They demand water and don't produce fruit, and I don't especially like their looks. Diane thinks I should give them another year, but I think they belong in the compost bin, that another grape vine would do well on the same structure.
Some day I'll grow pumpkins.
Last year we donated quite a few of the mild jalapenos to the food bank because they were so prolific, and in doing so may have disappointed a few Mexicans, who maybe were expecting something hotter.
But the mild jalapeno is an all ocassion pepper, good in salads, omelettes, stuffed, grilled, etc.
It's good to garden in the Pacific Northwest. Some things can be grown almost all year, because it doesn't get all that cold.
But I'd be happy if avocados grew here.
I guess I'll just have to wait for more global warming.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Who Is Howard Bulson?

Renton, Washington may be increasingly hip and cool, and is increasingly gaining many things it's neighbor Seattle has, but it doesn't have Howard Bulson.
Who is Howard Bulson?
He is one of the best piano players anywhere, and plays gigs throughout Seattle, as an accompaniest to anyone who wants to sing with him. Like a karaoke, except with a live piano, Howard Bulson knows all the songs, and plays them well.
In his seventies, he represents a part of Seattle that is fading fast, just plain good, with style, a cool that doesn't broadcast "World Class", which too many things in Seattle scream out lately.
I sang once with Howard Bulson playing, and connected with my inner lounge lizard. I intend on doing it again.
Howard Bulson plays at Julia's on Broadway Sunday's 6-8:45 ish, Martin's @ 14th and Madison Sunday and Tuesday 9 PM-2AM, and Dexter and Hayes Monday 9 PM-2AM..I'm sure he has other gigs I'm forgetting about.
If he played Renton I'd be there all the time...but my orientation has become less Seattle focused since living out here in the burbs.
If you want to have a good time, go hear and sing with Howard Bulson. The range of people who sing with him range from godawful drunks to professional singers who sing jazz and opera and standards and pop tunes...he knows them all.
He looks like a rumpled old guy who's too skinny to fit in a suit but wears them anyway, looks like he rolls out of bed in the afternoon to start his day smoking cigarettes and drinking.
This guy is a treasure, and if you haven't experienced him, I'd strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Still Groovin on Da Kine Hawaiian Food

Have now revisited Aloha BBQ on several occasions. Why?
Because it is an undiscovered gem.
Freakazoid Freddy uses four criteria to judge a restaurant:
Food: If the food's that good, a lot of other things can be forgiven.
Service: I'll go back to mediocre places if I'm treated well.
Atmosphere: If I like hanging out there, I'll put up with mediocre food.
Value: Doesn't mean inexpensive; it's all relative to what you're getting. In Renton, the Melrose is not inexpensive, but it's a good value.
Aloha BBQ: The food is good to excellent, service is friendly and attentive, atmosphere is cozy, seats around 14 or so, and the value!! That's the thing..It's kind of unusual food, they feature daily specials that almost always include a fish...tonight was hasa hasa (mackerel), previously is was butterfish (black cod)..dishes are served with rice and three salads.
At many Hawaiian restaurants, salad means potato or macaroni..
Aloha lets you choose between potato, macaroni, pickled radish, green salad, seaweed salad, kim chee...Portions are rather large, prices are from several decades ago.
Where else can you get a fresh seafood meal for 5.99?
There is also a daily steak special. tonight's was t-bone, for 9.99, and it was probably twelve ounces.
At this point, may I suggest that this is one of Renton's best restaurants?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hi Hawaii Ya?

Renton now has two Hawaiian restaurants.
Hawaiian restaurants are few and far between in the Seattle area, and it's a cuisine I haven't had a lot of exposure to.
A couple of months ago we tried L and L Hawaiian BBQ (kitty corner from Wal-Mart) and got stuffed to the gills. L and L is a chain restaurant based in Honolulu, and is fast foody meat oriented. They serve macaroni salad with everything, whether you want it or not.
Tonight we went to the newer and more down home Aloha BBQ ,2439-B SE Maple Valley Hwy, Renton (425) 430-9319.
Aloha BBQ also features a lot of meat, maybe that's the hallmark of Hawaiian cuisine...but Aloha BBQ has interesting side dishes, which are included in the meal, like pickled radish, pickled ginger, pickled cuttlefish, and kim chee. You can also get macaroni salad there, but it's not forced down your throat as it is at L and L.
Speaking of meat, the Kalbi beef short ribs were tender, tasty, a bit of tang, and quite the bargain at 6.99. They were also served in a rather large quantity which I had no trouble devouring. Is this why there are quite a few heavy Hawaiians?
The Kahlua Pork with Cabbage( 7.99) is stir fried shredded pork with garlic, onions and Hawaiian sea salt. It's very good.
The Pork Lau Lau is a combination of black cod and pork steamed with taro leaves and wrapped in ti leaves. It too is very tasty and tender. What are ti leaves? I don't know, but the taro leaves were reminiscent of spinach and collard greens, had an almost creamy quality, though it had no cream.
You can also get a Caesar salad( with tofu!) or a hamburger there, but why would you want to?
For pescetarians, fish and chips and a seafood combo( scallops, mahi mahi and shrimp) are available.
They will occasionally have a teriyaki salmon or BBQ black cod available as a daily special, and both are available from the catering menu as well as garlic shrimp.
Did I say how good the food was? And at such a bargain?
The downsides:
Parking is tight. They share a parking lot with a tavern and a grocery store, and an apartment complex immediately adjacent. It may take a little while to find a space.
They're small, maybe 5 tables max.
I have this tendency to seek out places that aren't too far, but just a little off the beaten path.
This is one of those places, and it's a good one.

Friday, July 21, 2006

La Cocina Marina is Now Open and Yummy!

Tonight was the first night of business for LA Cocina Marina in beautiful Skyway, and I was there for it.
First off, they have the hottest salsa I've ever eaten at any restaurant in North America.
It kicks you in the ass and says "Boy Howdy!"
It gets easier to eat as you eat more of it, and it is delicious, but it clearly has habanero in it, and while it's not too hot to eat, damn! it's hot!
The menu is pretty small, but ambitious. They've got some things seen more commonly in good restauramts which aren't Mexican, like a Dugeness crab dip served atop rye toast.
The wild green salad has feta and walnuts and mandarin orange sections.
Clams and mussels get served in a garlicky tomatoey broth...delicious...
The shrimp cocktail is terrific with a sauce that gets mopped up with warm chips.
Things I may get around to ordering in the future include a tuna sandwich made with fresh grilled yellowfin tuna, a seafood marinara over fettucine noodles, and a grilled wild salmon entree.
Desserts include cheesecake which is made on the premises.
The bar has been completely remodeled and looks hip.
We were the only non Mexicans eating there tonight, and being the first night and all, service was kind of slow.
You might want to wait a week or two to give them time to work out the opening jitters, but foodwise? Just excellent! I hope these guys make it, given a location that just scares people off.
But I'm still here to write the blog, and I ate at El Agave in the same location and EL Tapatio in the same location before that.
Just because it's Skyway doesn't mean it's bad. Try this one.
Food 4 out of four. Atmosphere 2 ish, but might've been more fun in the bar. Service, 2 ish but was opening night, and may get better
It's better than El Agave was, although this place is less traditional Mexican.
Next to the Roman Casino, just West of the Skyway Bowl.
Go there!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Kerfuffle over the Renton Landing

Via HorsesAss - It looks like some foreign land usurpers are trying to impede the progress of the much anticipated Renton Landing development.

As a home owner in the area, I eagerly await the opening of The Landing. I think it will boost overall property values and raise the profile of Renton in general. Plus, I'm sick of having to drive to Tukwila or Burien to visit my favorite stores. Renton has played second fiddle to these cites for several years, it's time for Renton to step up to the plate.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

El Agave is now Cocina Marina

The best (and only) Mexican restaurant in Skyway is no more.
As I'd suspected, El Agave has closed, and a sign indicates that the place is now called Cocina Marina.
The exterior has been painted...it's a lighter, more inviting color, but it's still in a scuzzy Skyway strip mall.
I haven't yet tried Cocina Marina, but as a service to the vast multitudes of readers out there, I'll be the guinea pig and report back.
For something like 35-40 years the location housed El Tapatio, a friendly but mediocre place.
It's succesor, El Agave, lasted just a couple of years, and on more than a few occasions, they were closed when they should have been open, which is not good for business when one of your few customers can't come in and spend money.
Here's to good luck for Cocina Marina.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tacos of The King

I could live on salsa.
In my modified low carb lifestyle, I've given up a lot of things like pastries and white rice and pasta, but I'm not about to give up salsa. En contraire, I seek it out in this salsa deprived land.
Taco Del Rey is located at 330 SW 43rd Street in Renton, 425-251-0100, tacodelrey.com
They've got great salsa, very good food, and an amiable owner who likes to chat and is obviously a character.
Some waitstaff in other restaurants frown disapprovingly and get confused when I request extra salad instead of rice and beans. Others act shocked, as if I were nuts- "you DON'T want rice?"
But Martin Reyes, the owner of Taco Del Rey, is a character, and can't simply politely take my odd order silently. He has to comment. He believes in a healthy lifestyle, gets plenty of exercise, goes to the gym, drinks a protein powder, blueberry and yogurt shake for breakfast , loves tortillas with melted feta, and seems quite fit, but then goes on to kvetch about all his ailments. The guy is fun, and he's funny.
And the food is clearly way above average Seattle area Mexican food, with reasonable prices to boot.
The menu is extensive, and they serve beer. Martin Reyes likes beer.
Diane ordered Camarones al mojo de ajo, and the shrimp were fairly large, not overcooked and full of yummy garlic.
Fajitas were my choice, and the carne asada was nice and tender.
He does a grilled veggie burrito, huevos rancheros, along with a number of fish and shrimp dishes.
And has a salsa bar, which he charges fifty cents for after the first free refill.
It might be worth it to just pay him a few bucks extra and see if he'll let you go hog wild with the salsa, which I think is Renton's best.
So where is the place?
It's near Ikea, near the Great Wall Shopping Center, just down the road from the East Valley Cinema, just down the road from Southcenter.
If you're in that neck of the woods, it's definitely worth a stop, an independant taco place in a land of chains.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Moses and Krishna versus Mohammed

Renton has two Indian restaurants.
Pabla, located in the downtown Renton Fred Meyer Center, is vegetarian, and kosher certified.
What this means is that they have a Rabbi come to inspect the place to see if it's clean and that there aren't any non kosher things going on, like the mixing of meat and dairy, or serving pork or shellfish. A place serving cheeseburgers cannot get kosher certified. These Hindu owners then pay the Rabbi some money and they get a certificate stating their kosherness, and word travels fast. Pabla serves a lunch buffet that is so frequented by religious Jews that at times one is mystified by what looks like a synogogue meeting about to start inside a Hindu Indian restaurant. It's not that unusual for non Jewish restaurants to get Kosher certified. There are a couple of Chinese vegetarian places in Seattle that are also kosher. Pabla is pretty good and pretty popular, but almost always leaves me with some gastrointestinal symptoms.
The other Indian restaurant in Renton is Naan -N- Curry, 709 3rd Street , Renton, 425-271-6226, www.nncurry.com
Naan -N- Curry is strictly halal, the Muslim cousin of kosher. This place is not vegetarian but has a lot of vegetarian entrees on the menu. Unlike kosher, Halal does not forbid the mixing of dairy and meat nor the shellfish, but like kosher forbids pork.
So unlike most Indian restaurants which do not serve beef because the cow is holy to Hindus, Naan-N-Curry serves beef shank and filet mignon.
As this place is halal, they attract religious Muslims, and at times you'd think an Al Qaeda meeting was about to start.
Naan -N-Curry is very good. Zeera Saag is a spinach and mustard greens dish seasoned with cumin that is divine. Prawns tandoori are giant and a combination of crispy and tender, and well seasoned.
The Naan is done just right and is highly addictive. The eggplant is also highly recommended.
Chicken Tikka Masala is one of my faves at any Indian place, and Naan-N-Curry does it very well, boneless chicken marinated in yogurt and cooked in a creamy curry sauce.
The place is pretty and pleasant, walls are purple and orange, and it's a combination of exotic and welcoming.
The negative? There are daily specials for 19.99, far more expensive than anything on the menu, and they try to push them. Just say no, unless you're feeling particularly flush.
In the Renton battle for Indian food, Naan-N-Curry is my preference.

Friday, June 09, 2006

All Thai'd Up

About five years ago I had some cousins visiting and we arranged to bring home Thai food for everbody.
As it happened, Diane and I both had to work later than expected that day, and a communication mix up occured. I called in a large to go order from Royal Orchid, which Diane was going to pick up. But she thought I'd called in the order to JapanThai (now Bella Napoli), and stopped there to pick up the order. They quickly put the order togethe.r Diane called me to tell me that JapanThai didn't have the food ready when she got there but put it together quickly. At that point I told her the order was from Royal Orchid, so she picked that up too and we had a "Betty Crocker Thai Cook Off."
The orders were identical, so we had direct comparisons, and both were extremely good.
We had four entrees and a soup from each place. In each of the four entrees it was unanimously decided that JapanThai was slightly better, but that Royal Orchid's soup was superior,and both places were very,very good.
JapanThai is now gone, and Renton doesn't have a lot of other great Thai places.
Skyway has a mediocre Thai place, "The Best Pho and Thai" is near Wal-Mart and pretty good, there's a pretty good place near Ikea, but none come close to matching Royal Orchid or the late Japan Thai.
Except for Thai onHighlands, 2808 NE Sunset Blvd, 425-793-6278.
They've been around at least five years, and would've been part of the contest back then if they were a little closer.
The place is a well kept up, charming , artsy Thai place.
They tend to incorporate more vegetables into entrees than other Thai places, and service is always friendly and prompt. Prices are low, and they have curry salmon on the menu. A lot of Thai places don't serve curry salmon. I don't think salmon exists in Thailand, nonetheless that marriage of Northwest and Thai is a particularly tasty one.
Tonight we had a seafood curry, which had prawns, scallops, fish, and squid, with a coconut curry and broccoli, cabbage, basil, etc.
We also had the spinach dish with peanut sauce, something Rama?, and it was served atop fried tofu. Yum!
Over the years I've eaten at Thai on Highlands numerous times. It's always good. It's a little farther than the always good and very close by Royal Orchid. But it's also a little bit less expensive. I'm not sure which one is better, but Thai on Highlands is a place where you just go gaga over the deliciousness of the food.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Bust Next Door

News flash!
At about 8 PM tonight the King County Sheriff's Office staged a raid on my next door neighbor's house on 130th Street. The neighbors have "lived" next door for about a year, but I'd never met them or spoken to them and barely saw them...It seemed awfully quiet not to ever hear the neighbors, but who's complaining?
About a year ago the nice old lady next door sold her house to a Vietnamese family, after rejecting a prospective buyer because they were an unmarried couple.
Tonight I'm in the kitchen eating ice cream when I hear loud banging and crashing from next door and hear a yell "King County Sheriff's Office-Search Warrant!" and they bust in.
I try not to seem like the nosy neighbor that I am, but I see there's a sheriff employee talking to some other neighbors on the corner and I join them and ask what's up.
...To make a long story short, the neighbors got busted for, according to the Sheriff dude "A very large marijuana grow operation."
No wonder they were so quiet. They didn't live there!
As of this moment the sheriffs folks are still next door hauling stuff away and complaining about doing this on straight time.
One of the elderly neighbors was asking the sheriff dude about the price of marijuana and he reported it to be around 5500 dollars a pound, and about a pound an a quarter per plant. He didn't reveal how much they confiscated. I actually kind of wish it was something a little more exciting like stolen art masterpieces, but it certainly was the excitement of the year.
If I'd only known.....

Friday, June 02, 2006

Renton and Italian Food

I'm a native of New Jersey. People from New Jersey can't help but have a knowledge and appreciation of Italian food, as there is an abundance of it there. New Jersey has a lot of good, small, family owned, unpretentious and inexpensive Italian restaurants.
The Seattle area also has good Italian food, but it tends to be a bit more elegant and a bit more expensive.
Renton has some of both the upscale and the unpretencious.
In the slightly upscale department are Bella Napoli, Vino, and Armando's...
Vino is in the same location as Gene's Italian restaurant, which was the epitome of a fantastic restaurant when Gene owned it a few years back. Now he and his wife own the Red House.
He still owns the building where Vino is, and developed the menu for the Dog and Pony.
I've eaten at Vino a couple of times, and while good, I was just missing Gene's when I ate there, and everything pales in comparison with Gene's.
Bella Napoli has previously been reviewed here and is a good restaurant, but it also occupies the space of one of my formerly favorite spots, JapanThai.
Armando's is a very popular and very good place with wood fired pizza. Armando also owns the Melrose Grill...
Then there are less expensive pizza and pasta houses. These include Vince's and Angelo's.
Vince's is a small chain that's been around for about fifty years, and makes a very respectable pizza.
Angelo's, on NE 4th Street, in my opinion makes the best pizza in Renton. Spicy pizza sauce with a tender yet crisp crust; it's the crust that most resembles my New Jersey crusts of yore.
Then there is Amante, on Sunset NE in Renton,part of a small local chain, and closer to the "Vince's" model of unpretentious and cheap, but Amante is a nice place, both attractive in appearance and unusual in a couple of ways.
It's Bulgarian owned, so even though it's "Italian", it has a Balkan flavor, not a bad thing.
Their "white spaghetti" has roasted garlic and myzithra cheese, "Feta Fetish" has kalamata olives, pepperoncini peppers, feta , and fried eggs, served on pasta,pizza, or as a low carb entree.
They have artichoke hearts in several entrees and salads, and other entrees and pastas include fresh basil andsun dried tomatoes.Salads are huge and include a wonderful Greek salad and delightful home made dressings.
Desserts include home made baklava.
The only wines served are Bulgarian.
The marinara sauce is thick, very homemade looking, slightly sweet, and delicious.
Pizza choices are numerous and include one with goat cheese, pine nuts, fresh basil and roasted garlic.
All in all, the place offers interesting choices, serves delicious food in enormous portions,
and is a friendly, nice looking place with consitantly good service.
Not as bohemian as Bella Napoli, not as kitschy as Vince's, not as popular as Armando's.
....but worthy in it's own right .

Friday, May 26, 2006

Colombian Cuisine in Renton?

The State of Washington has only one Colombian restaurant, and it is right here in Renton.
The Mexi-Cali(as in Cali, Colombia) is at 239 Sunset Blvd N., Renton 425-917-8886, and serves both Mexican and Colombian cuisine. The menu is mostly Mexican, but Colombian cuisine is quite different from Mexican, and the Colombian entrees are served with yucca and fried plantains, and black beans.
It is much closer to Brazilian, both geographically and cuisine-wise.
I've now been there four or five times, and like the place. It's cheap, the service is efficient and friendly, the food is unusual and good, and they have a salsa bar, and a chipotle salsa that's smokey and hot.
Tonight I had the garlic shrimp, which was cooked nicely and had plenty of garlic. The menu features a number of Mexican shrimp dishes, as well as a whole fried fish, Colombian style.
Colombian cuisine also favors tender beef, which is served in most dishes with a tangy tomatoey garlicky sauce.
All in all, Mexi-Cali serves food that is pretty unusual...the food is consistantly good, the prices are right, and they do Mexican food better than most Mexican places.
This is a place that deserves to be busy, and would be mobbed if it were in Queen Anne or Wallingford or Capitol Hill.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mucho Bueno

Without any evidence to support this, I think that proportionately speaking ,Renton has a higher percentage of Mexican and Mexican-Americans than Seattle.
As a result, Renton is no slouch in the Mexican eatery department. I maintain that Renton has a lot of Mexican places that are at least pretty good, and a few that are top notch.
Today was a venture into the Mucho Bueno, at 247 Park Ave N in Renton.
During the week, Mucho Bueno is fairly ordinary foodwise, but for Friday and Saturday dinner, and Sunday brunch, the place is pretty special. At those times they do an all you can eat seafood focused buffet.
The place is large and today was mobbed for mother's day, with more than ninety percent of the customers being Mexican. ( A good sign.)
They had the usual taco bar, but also chile rellenos, enchiladas, home made tortillas, shrimp in garlic, fried shrimp, made to order coctels de camaron, or with fish or octopus or a combination.
They had fried mojarra fish and baked salmon, and several salsas that had either bits of shrimp, octopus, or fish in them. The salsas are quite good, and they had a huge variety of salsas, seafoody and otherwise.
Desserts consisted of home made cakes and flan, and fresh and canned fruits, including watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, banana, grapes.
Beverages are included in the price of 13.50 per person. Service is attentive, and between their special seafood items, home baked desserts and tortillas, and their variety of salsas, Mucho Bueno is clearly a cut above the norm, and a worthy contender.
I've been told that the phrase " Mucho Bueno" is grammatically incorrect Spanish, that it ought to be " Muy Bueno" unless additional words are added, like " Mucho Bueno Sabor" (very good flavor), but in their defense, I'd rather experience bad grammar than bad salsa.

Monday, May 08, 2006

An Oasis Amidst the Scuzz

Between the scuzz of Skyway and the scuzz of Rainier Beach is one of Seattle's least known and prettiest parks- Lakeridge Park, also known as Dead Horse Canyon.
If you're heading north from Renton, turn left on 68th Avenue South from Rainier Avenue, and you'll see the trailhead and pullout for a few cars a couple of blocks away.
The trail is fairly steep, and runs along Taylor Creek in a rainforest like setting: mossy, ferny, and the continual sound of running creekwater.
You'd never believe that one minute earlier you were on busy Rainier Avenue, it's the kind of place where tensions melt away instantly. You can walk to the end and back in about 25 minutes; not a long walk but uphill enough so that you'll feel it, and on a rare hot and sunny Seattle day Dead Horse canyon stays cool and shaded.
On another note, Skyway's El Agave Mexican restaurant remains open. The owner told me that the place is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so maybe I tried to go on those days?
In any event, we went on Friday, which was Cinco de Mayo. The place was not packed, but was fairly busy. I still can't decide what to make of the atmosphere: this time it seemed pleasant enough, and I want to like these guys- they are the underdogs, as any business in Skyway is other than Ezell's Chicken or the casinos.
And the food, after several visits, remains consistantly above average, though the salsa is too mild, but it's fresh tasting and good. Service is a little slow, but not insanely slow. Prices are a bit high for neighborhood Mexican, but the menu has some options unavailable elsewhere.
Skyway is a rather pathetic neighborhood, though some folks are active envisioning improvement and celebrating it's 50's-60's futuristic Jetsons kind of thing.
And in front of Skyway's now Asian supermarket is Nevzat's Espresso, which truly makes some of the best coffee around. Nevzat knows his coffee, and has operated his espresso stand there for 11 years .
To survive owning a business in Skyway for 11 years is a mighty accomplishment.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Renton's Public Greenhouse

The City of Renton, through it's Parks and Recreation division, rents table space to the public in a very large heated and ventilated greenhouse. You can rent half a table for six months for 24 dollars.
I've been doing greenhouse gardening there for several years. Recently rumors have been growing that the greenhouse and the large pea-patch next to it will be closed and torn down to make room for a Renton city employee parking lot. I hope the rumor proves false, or that the public can fight this, because greenhouse gardening is fun, satisfying, and worthwhile. But it's not the direction the City of Renton is taking. The last few years Renton is all about growth, and is fancying itself an "eastside" city like Bellevue, even though most of Renton is more of a "southside" city like Auburn.
It's a two way street. With development and the goal of attracting high quality housing stock, new and good restaurants are inevitable. But what could be lost will be Renton's unpretencious working class roots: Renton was a coal mining and farming town. Greenhouses insinuate something that unsophisticated hicks use.
All that aside, once again I have started vegetables that I will later transplant to the backyard veggie garden.
At this point, I have 19 tomato plants; 7 are Halladay Mortgage Lifter, a variety that thrives in our climate and produces very large, sweet , juicy, and ugly tomatoes, and also a dozen cherry tomato plants.
Also growing are 15 melon plants- 5 canary melons, 5 Ukranian cantaloupes, and 5 "passport", a tropical, very delicious creamy tasting melon that looks like a cantaloupe from the outside and a honeydew inside.
Then there are the peppers: 5 "senorita", a mild jalapeno, and 8 "Giant Marconi", a long thick walled mild pepper thatis almost smoky tasting and is superb for roasting.
Often many of the seeds I start don't come up at all, but this year things are growing like gangbusters, and I'll have many more plants than I'll have the energy to transplant.
Mikelle and Tin Foil- Can I foist some on you?

Sunday, April 30, 2006

La Hacienda

Mexican food has long been one of my favorites. Along with Thai , Italian, and BBQ, I don't require much else.
The readers of Renton's monthly "Renton Reporter" recently had a "best of" reader survey.
They selected Torero's near Fred Meyer as Renton's best Mexican restaurant. I've been to that Torero's. It's okay. Competent but uninspired. I don'tusually agree with the readers of the Renton Reporter. It seems as though some places are liked simply because they're crowded, and I think Aztecas and Toreros fall into that category. Not bad, but kind of a fake festive "Hola, Amigos!!!. kind of place.
Tonight Diane and I dined at La Hacienda 711 S. 3rd St, Renton.
It's a long established place, and was the location for the very first Torero's, before it changed hands. Many customers at La Hacienda are repeat customers, and for good reason.
Service there is impeccable, and it's nice to go to a place and know that you'll be well taken care of. Two salsas and chips are brought immediately, one a regular salsa, the other a pico de gallo. Before you have even fully consumed these, the waitperson swoops in and refills the salsa.
Portion sizes are large, and La Hacienda does some things exceptionally well.
Diane had the daily special, which was a carne asada and prawns; I had steak fajitas.
The meat, for both of these, was unusually tender. Carne Asada is often too dry, but not here.
Margaritas here are popular and strong. The fajitas were nicely seasoned, and had lots of onions and yellow and green peppers.
I like the place but feel that it lacks imagination. El Agave in Skyway is a higher risk when you get there: It might be closed, or they've left the place in the hands of an incompetent waitperson, but the food is/was dazzling.
La Hacienda is a much safer choice. They're very consistent, and always good. The menu is fairly typical, not so unlike a Toreros or Azteca, but a very pleasant atmposphere, always good food, and always great service.
When I compared them to Torero's or Azteca, Diane insisted that they're MUCH better than Torero's or Azteca. I think La Hacienda is a more pleasant place to eat than Azteca or Torero's, and I like the food, but I think there are very few things there worthy of calling incredibly great.
That said, over the years I've gone there a lot, because the food is good, not too expensive, great service, and a pleasant place to dine.
So where's the best Mexican restaurant in Renton? There's more to investigate.
Foodwise, I'd still say El Agave in Skyway, if they're still in business. They have some incredible dishes there, though the place is dark and has small windows; It's the ghettto gourmet: Tilapia stuffed with crab and cheese but you might get shot before even entering the place.
Salsawise, it's hard to beat Casa Durango.
La Fuente has some incredible dishes. You can get halibut there.
La Hacienda is a good, solid favorite of many. You can't go wrong there, but I'm still looking to be dazzled. Dazzle me.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

STIR

Renton has some notable Chinese restaurants.
Imperial Garden, in the Great Wall Shopping Center, the Asian mall on East Valley Highway, is considered one of the most authentic and critically acclaimed Chinese restaurants in the Seattle area. But authentic isn't necessarily what I want to eat. In Oaxaca, they eat tacos that are filled with insects. Maybe it tastes good, and maybe it's authentic, but not something I'd really go for.
Hong's Garden, at Airport and Rainier, is owned by the original owners of Chinatown's House of Hong, and is often packed and well liked by many. But not me. The hostess/owner has a continous scowl/ hostile look on her face. I don't want fake sincerity "I'm Marcie and I'll be your server tonight", or the entire crew that comes out to sing happy birthday, but an owner who doesn't appear to hate every customer who comes in would be nice. So Hong's, popular as it is, turns me off.
But then there's Stir, 151 Sunset Blvd N, Renton, www.stirfood.com.
The menu is a funny mixture of traditional American Chinese(egg rolls, Sweet n' sour Chicken, Chow Mein) and more unusual selections like Mango and Halibut Salad, Roasted Duck Salad with cranberry, and some Thai and Korean influenced dishes like Spicy Korean buckwheat noodle soup, and Spicy Basil Prawns and Chicken.
I've eaten there a bunch of times, and it's always good, and pleasant.
The wok seared scallops with lemon citrus sauce is terrific. The salmon is fresh and not overcooked.
The place looks "Dennysesque" from the outside, but is comfortable inside in an almost elegant kind of way.
Service is always attentive. Entree prices range from 6.95(Eggpant with garlic sauce!) to 16.95(Sea Bass in soy ginger sauce) with most entrees between 6.95 and 11.95, so prices are reasonable.
The place is just solid. Consistantly good to very good, with a few things that are insanely great.
Maybe I'd stay away from those items you can get in any Chinese restaurant. But the "Happy Family" , available at many Chinese restaurants, at Stir is a combo of prawns, scallops, BBQ Pork, beef, and vegetables, and is far superior to most others in comparison.
All in all, Stir has something for those who don't want to take any risks, and also has something for those who want to try something new.
They also deliver within a four mile radius, with a 15.00 minimum order. Their phone # is 425-235-1818. I believe they are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and stay open til 10:30.
On my 0-4 scale, Stir gets a 3 for food, a 3.5 for service, a 3.5 for atmosphere, and a 3.5 for value. So far my favorite Chinese restaurant in Renton.

Friday, April 07, 2006

El Agave Part ll

You can't go to a restaurant just once and really pass judgement. Some places have off nights, others seem too good to be true.
With that in mind, I had to pay another visit to Skyway's previously praised El Agave, just a couple of nights after eating there before.
The food held up on the second visit. They know how to cook seafood, and use really good quality seafood. The shrimp are really superb, nicely cooked and huge.
What was lacking this time was service. It was a waitress rather than the owner who previously served us. Maybe it was the kitchen's fault, but the food was pretty slow to arrive.
Maybe there's a bad feng shui energy about the place? There's a separate little room within the main dining room, and it was dark...just seemed strange.
So, on a 0-4 scale, 0 being putrid and 4 being dining ecstasy, I'd have to say the food is a 3.5...service(average of both nights) a 2, atmosphere 2, and value a 2.
This was a Friday night, and many restaurants are full on Fridays.
El Agave had a few customers, maybe 4 tables full, and perhaps that overwhelmed the kitchen, I don't know.
The slow service this evening was a bit of a disappointment, since I was so gung ho on the place a couple of nights ago.
But the food remains far above average for Seattle area Mexican food.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

El Agave

El Agave is in Skyway at 11839 Renton Avenue, in one of Skyway's sleazy strip malls, near the Roman Casino. It's an unusual and ambitious Mexican restaurant. The menu is large and has many items not seen in other Mexican places, maybe because the owner is from the seaside state of Nayarit, unlike most of the Seattle area Mexican places, most of who's owners hail from Cuautla, Jalisco.
I had the Filete Agave, a tilapia filet topped with fresh crabmeat and cheese.
Diane, the spousal unit, had camarones al mojo: butterflied large prawns cooked in butter and roasted garlic. Both entrees were exquisite.
Another plus is the kickass salsa. Too many places have salsa that cater to gringoes. Thin, barely hot, insipid. Not El Agave. Their salsa was thick and hot.
The thing is...El Agave is out of place in Skyway, and very empty of customers. If the place were in Capitol Hill or Wallingford, it would be packed. But nobody goes to Skyway, at least not on purpose.
Skyway folks go to Renton to eat, or cook at home, and those that stay in Skyway frequent less ambitious and less expensive places, like Ezell's Chicken.
It's one of the mysteries of the restaurant world: Some places are extremely popular for no apparent reason, with bad food, bad service, bad atmosphere, and high prices...
And then there are places like El Agave: completely empty despite great food, friendly service, classically tacky green and pink walls, and a unique, seafood oriented menu.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Lenny's Market

Lenny's Market, in Renton's Wal-Mart Plaza, is not a restaurant, but rather a combination bargain produce store, imported food store, gourmet store, and is uniquely Renton.

The place is a large, with concrete floors. It is crammed with the lowest priced fruits and vegatables in the Seattle area. When tomatoes are selling for 3.99 a pound at QFC, they're 1.19 at Lenny's. How? Do they steal from QFC? Their variety of fruits and vegatables is huge, especially of Asian varieties, and the quality varies from "about to go bad" to "excellent".

Inside the store, they have imported goods one never sees around here. Canned Turkish coffee, Bulgarian eggplant salad, hummus from the United Arab Emirates, many varieties of soy and chili sauce, pizza sauce from Argentina, Lithuanian smoked sprats(what's a sprat?), and Armenian pastries.
They also rent part of the store to a Russian deli.

But what is most intriguing is the shoppers. At any given time, you'll find Africans, Asians, Indians,Mexicans, and a few who look like out of place, elegantly dressed attorneys from downtown Seattle.
Restaurant owners also shop there, and then charge 7.50 for something they bought at Lenny's or 75 cents.

The place gets crowded, and the parking lot is a nightmare.
But if you're willing to go at off hours, you will be rewarded with unusual finds, bargain prices, and an entertaining shopping experience.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bella Napoli

We tried out another Italian resturaunt in Renton. This one's downtown on 3rd, and it's called Bella Napoli (no website-509-A S. Third St., Renton; 425-277-8200). It's a smallish space, stylishly decorated, and it reminds me of something you'd see in Greenwich Village in NYC. They bill themselves as the "authentic cuisine of the Naples region" and menu is more upscale and traditional than the (also good) Italian-American fare of someplace like Vince's. They have a good wine list and nice wines by the glass. We started with very good salads. The Ceasar is the second best in Renton (after Melrose Grill). Mikelle had a seafood pasta special with ample portions of clams, mussels, and shrimp which she liked very much, and I had Chicken Marsala in an excellent marsala sauce.

We'd definitely go back. It's a bit pricey $20-$30 per person, but it's definitely worth an occasional trip.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Barnaby's Beef, Bay, and Bottle

Well, you have to give them credit for a descriptive name. We tried out this place because my Dad was in town and he's partial to steak. It's actually in Tukwila, a few miles from Renton, and it is . . . well . . . unique.

It's a massive wooden structure that is decorated on the inside like Sean Connery's rumpus room--huge wooden beams on high ceilings, scottish/english knick-knacks on every wall, and masterpiece theatre-style funriture. It's also disturibingly bright inside for a steakhouse. Our poor waitress was wearing a polyester "scottish wench" outfit that looked like it was a hand-me-down from a weird scottish theme park. In other words, it was a scotch kitch-a-rama.

We ordered the "house special" steak which came with the salad bar. The salad bar itself reminded me of a chain resturaunt like Denny's--with pretty boring choices. The beer was served (of course) in big barrell-shaped mugs. When the food finally came, it was served on 70s era plates that were too small. So far, not the most scintilating dining experience . . .

But then came the steak. It was really good. They had marinated it in some outstanding whiskey marinade and it was super-tender with a great flavor. Slowly, I began to realize why they were still in business. The steak is truly outstanding. If they would just spend a little money updating the concept a bit, they'd probably be able to complete with some of the better steakhouses in the area. As it is, their prices are on par with great steakhouses like the Melrose Grill while the dining experience is a bit silly.

Worth a try, especially if you like kitchy dining experiences.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Excellent Mexican . . .

No, not Frida Kahlo. I'm talking about an outstanding Mexican restaurant in Renton. I know, I know, but it really is good. It's called La Fuente, which babelfish tells me means "the source." It looks like any Mom & Pop big-plate Mexican place, but the food is really outstanding. It's not gourmet by any standard, but it is excellent home-style Mexican. The portions are absurdly large, and they are certainly not afraid to use the spices. The salsa that comes with the excellent, freshly made chips is HOT--and trust me, I pride myself on being able to breathe fire with the best of them.

I have had the chile verde (excellent) and the chicken burrito, which has wonderful, marinated chunks of tender chicken. Bottom line: this place is serious about food. You'll have leftovers for days. The staff is very friendly and attentive, and the food is as good as any Mexican restaurant in the Seattle area. Yum.