Saturday, November 03, 2007

The difference between Bellevue and Skyway

In downtown Bellevue, folks are abuzz about the new Nieman-Marcus store. I haven't been there, but I've heard it's oh so fashionable, and oh so expensive. I'm more of a Target or Goodwill kind of guy.
In downtown Skyway, it's not a Nieman-Marcus going in at the former Schuck's located just east of the Skyway Park casino and bowling alley. It's a pawn shop superstore, so if you've been gambling and lost all your money but just know you're one hand away from winning, you can go next door and pawn your Rolex.
...On a slightly different note, the food at the bowling alley is actually pretty good. I've eaten in the "dining room" and had good prawns scampi. The veggie side dish included red peppers and yellow squash. Steaks are quite good, salads are huge, and service is friendly. A senior menu exists for folks fifty! and over. Fifty is young!
There is a separate restaurant, the Wok 52 Bistro, within the casino. The menu looks good, with a Thai/Vietnamese/Chinese fusion. I'll check it out and report back after I've gone next door to pawn my Rolex.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Antojitos La Villa

I love Mexican food, and it shows. I love authentic taco trucks and I like mediocre Mexican places.
Antjojitos LaVilla is at 239 Sunset Ave N in Renton, exactly where the Colombian restaurant was located, across from Burger King, and in the same complex as Westernco Donuts.
I liked three things especially about this place.
1. Menu was only in Spanish.
2. Menu tops off at seven dollars.
3. Menu has lots of things I've never heard of.

Huaraches, for example. I thought those were sandals, but no...they are kinda like a thick home made corn tortilla in the shape of a shoe sole topped with beans, Mexican cheese, onions, and meat. Yum!!! They also have many tortas, migas, sopes, and tacos. Tortas are sandwiches served on bolillos, and they have a huge variety. I didn't have one, but saw others dining on them, and they looked great. I don't know what a sope or a miga are, but I think a miga is an egg dish made with tortillas.
The place is packed with atmosphere. A large flat screen TV on the wall blares Mexican soap operas.
It's cheap, the food is good and unusual, and I'm happy they are in Renton.

On a sadder note, it appears that Jubilante is out of business. They'd been around a while, say 7 years or so. They were originally a product of Gene Sens, Renton's resident culinary genius , now of the Red House, and formerly of Gene's. Jubilante was "global cuisine" and when it first opened, this former Chevy showroom was called the best restaurant between Seattle and Portland. But service was inconsistent. I've had some good meals there, and some glacially slow ones as well. It seemed to go downhill a bit after Gene sold it. I didn't go there much but I'm sorry to see them gone. They were one of the first signs of the "Renton Renaissance", and I like it when places have stamps of originality, and I don't like it when what we have is what every place else has, be it Applebees or Denny's or some other corporate, soulless place.
Speaking of which....The Target Store in Renton is now open. It may be corporate and soulless, but hey! I like Target!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Noble Perssons

I just received my voter's pamphlet in the mail yesterday, and just wanted to note a couple of things.

1. King County Assessors race: The candidates are Noble and Nobles. Scott Noble, the Democrat, is the incumbent. Jim Nobles, the Republican, is not. Either way, they're making a noble effort to get elected.

2. Renton City Council: Terry Persson, who is not currently on the Council, is running for position number 4, while Don Persson, currently serving on the council, is running for position number 7.
Is it hard to keep the Perssons (people?) straight?

I could never get elected to anything myself because I have an unusual first and last name, and look like a cross between Osama Bin Laden and Buddy Hackett, but...if I changed my legal name to say...Brad Pitt and didn't submit a candidates photo, maybe I'd stand a chance.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bill's Bodacious

Ten years ago, there was only one BBQ joint in downtown Renton. It wasn't the Cedar River Smokehouse which seems like it's it's been there forever. It was Bill's Bodacious BBQ, which shared the former gas station at 2nd and Main with Jet City Espresso. It was a popular mainstay, but after many years the owner got a job in the tech industry and found that he was making too much money working, and didn't need to keep the BBQ joint open.
Fast forward a few years, and lo and behold, he's baaack! Not in the same location, but up the hill at 3813 NE 4th St, Renton 425-255-0535.
Some people claim that this is the best BBQ around these parts. I don't know whether that's true, but it's a comfortable place to dine, service is friendly and fast, prices are good, and so is the food.
The ribs are about as good as anyone's, including Jones' in Columbia City. The greens are vegetarian and incredible. Corn muffins are delightful. The menu also features Brisket, chicken, catfish, pulled pork, sometimes Jambalaya, sometimes smoked prime rib.
I only have one minor quibble. The sauce. It's this weird sweet thing, closer to an Asian sweet and sour sauce than a traditional BBQ sauce. I guess they think it's innovative and creative and different and you have to applaud people for taking chances, but I'm almost tempted to stop at Fred Meyer on the way up there and bring a bottle of Stubb's sauce with me.
Nonetheless, it's probably just me because many people like the sauce, they sell it by the jar and sell a lot of it.
And, all in all, it's right up there amongst Renton's best BBQ.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

McLendon's Hardware

Any talk about culture in Renton should include McLendon's Hardware, 440 Rainier Ave S, Renton, 425-235-3555. McLendon's has been around in Renton since 1921, and even though it is a mini chain (6 stores?) and even though the Renton store is huge, it still has the small town hardware store feel.
Sure, I shop at Lowe's and Home Depot once in a while, and it seems as if almost every time I'm at one of those stores, I deal with an employee who has no knowledge of hardware. A typical conversation goes something like this :
ME: I'm looking for a good hammer to buy. Do you have any recommendations?
HIM: Just a moment. (Gets on phone) Do we sell hammers here?

It's no like that at McLendon's. At McLendon's, employees have knowledge and are happy to share it. McLendon's is a fun place to shop. Employees tend to be a little eccentric, but friendly and helpful.
At Home Depot, they almost seem to be trying to recruit the stupid.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mo' Q!

It's been about thirty years since I lived on brown rice, vegetables and tofu.
These days, I'm partial to smoked meat.
There are certain foods I could eat almost daily. Pizza. And ribs.
...And so another BBQ joint has opened in downtown Renton, and of course I had to try it.
It's Sandra's Place, 509B S 3rd St, 425-277-4121, adjacent to Bella Napoli, in the same space where Uncle Macs and Three Sisters were. And like most restaurants, it has its good and it's not so good.
The good: The people there are friendly and funny; it's a welcoming place, all desserts are house made..I had some awesome bread pudding there, and they also have sweet potato pies, cheesecakes, and banana pudding. The sauce is really good, obviously house made, and not too sweet. They have greens! Yay! I always see it as a good sign when a BBQ joint has greens, and their greens are top notch. You could get a chefs salad there too, or a chicken and pasta salad.
The ribs? I love ribs. These were pretty good, maybe they took them off the smoker just a tad bit too soon, but they were big and meaty, and had that fine sauce to go with it.
I'll be back. It's nice to have a few decent BBQ joints in the Renton area. Seems like Cedar River Smokehouse is the most popular, and they too are pretty good, and Gabby's in Skyway has very good ribs, as does Bill's Bodacious up on NE 4th St., but Sandra's place is worth a visit.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Renton Real Estate

As Yogi Berra once said " Predictions are hard to make, especially about the future."
I am now a Real Estate Agent, something I could never have predicted in a million years.
What I have noticed is that there is an official line coming from the Real Estate industry, and then there is reality.
The industry line is that home prices in the Seattle area are continuing to rise, so you better buy that house right now before house prices go even higher.
....And yet, in the Seattle area right now, the number of homes for sale is way higher than a year ago, and the number of days houses are staying on the market is quite a bit longer than it was a year ago. So what does all that mean? Well, if it's taking longer for houses to sell, and there are more houses on the market, what's the next logical step? How about lower prices?
Yes, the employment picture around here is very good, and they do expect the population here to keep growing, but nationally, in many markets, including areas with healthy employment and growing populations, house prices are dropping. It happens. If you buy property now and hold on to it for a long time, chances are that you will do very well, but if you want to buy now and sell quickly, it may be frought with risk.
But many in the industry have blinders on, and say a price drop can't happen here.
Add to the mix that a number of people who were formerly eligible to buy homes can no longer qualify for loans due the subprime meltdown, and loan eligibility is being tightened for jumbo loans (that of 417,000 dollars and up), the immediate future doesn't look too rosy. But it's a mixed bag. Many Seattle houses would require a jumbo loan, so some of those folk (the smart ones) would look south to Renton, where you just get more house for your money. So maybe Renton home values will hold up better than other Seattle area homes.
So what's the point of all this?
I may be a Real Estate agent, but I'm telling you: It's going to be hard to find truly impartial advice from someone whose livelihood depends on a Real Estate commission. Some other agents and lenders will tell you to buy right now. They will also tell you to sell right now.
Me? I'd be happy to talk to you if you want to buy or sell a house right now, and I'd work my buns off trying to find you the right house at the right price, or ensuring that the house you wanted to sell received maximum exposure and looked sellable. But if you want to buy, and don't have to do it right away, I think it would be worth the risk of waiting a few months.

Freakazoid Freddy

Friday, August 10, 2007

The best Thai restaurant in the Seattle area?

Twenty years ago there weren't very many Thai restaurants in the Seattle area. They were a novelty and they were fun to go to, and the food tasted good, but nothing satisfied the flight crews of Thai Airways and their need for good and authentic cuisine. Then there was Bai Tong. It was located back then on the ground floor of the Jet Motel near Sea-Tac airport, and was started by a Thai Airways flight attendant to serve the pilots and crews of Thai Airways. Top chefs were flown in from Bangkok to keep the flight crews happy. The place later relocated to a former root beer stand on Pacific Highway South also near the airport, and they stayed there for almost twenty years.
Light rail construction has recently displaced them, and they have now relocated to 16876 Southcenter Parkway, Tukwila, near the mall. phone 206-575-3366 in swankier digs in a strip mall near Toy'R US.
I like Thai food , and feel lucky that we in Renton have Thai on Highlands and Royal Orchid.
They're good, but they're no Bai Tong. Bai Tong is pretty amazing, and very reasonably priced.
The place is very pretty and comfortable, and very professionally run. Menu items and flavors are different that most other Thai places, for example they feature a steamed salmon curry in banana leaves. Sauces are more complex than at other Thai places, and the place is just a notch or two better than most anywhere else. If you like Thai food, you'll love Bai Tong.
Prices are also a dollar or two per entree LESS than other Thai places. Go there!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

What's Wrong With Cole Slaw?

Bases on a reader's recommendation , I tried the Williams Avenue Sports Bar and Eatery, 214 Williams Avenue S., Renton 98055, 425-277-2766.
Like many places, it has it's pluses and minuses.
Let's do the minuses first:
It's a dive bar. Oh, it's been remodeled and looks a lot nicer than it used to, but it's still a dive. Now, that's not a bad thing in my book as I feel perfectly comfortable and at home in dives, but not everyone feels the same way.
Second, service was really slow. It was a busy night. Beers, etc were brought promptly along with menus, but it seemed like forever til she came back to take our orders. Service was slow but friendly and pleasant.
Also, the music was really loud, and it has a jukebox, and other patron's music choices were not so great. Oh, Beatles and Johnny Cash were fine, but then it descended into loud heavy metal, and I'm a crotchedy old fart.
Finally, they don't have cole slaw. They have ribs and brisket, and cole slaw seems like a natural, but they don't have it.

Now for the pluses:
The food is really, really good, and inexpensive, and surprisingly sophisticated and well prepared for a dive. The ribs were great. Companions had Cobb salad and burgers, and raved about them.
The burger was huge, on a toasted bun. The fries are home made and exceptional, the best I've had in a long while. They even tasted good after they got cold.
If you just want to go to a tavern and have some great food to go along with it, and don't mind slow service and loud music, this is your place. It's mostly bar stools and pool tables, with only a couple of tables. If you want a quiet meal, go elsewhere. This is a tavern where people let loose.
But the quality of the food was a big surprise. It was great.

Freakazoid Freddy

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What makes a restaurant great?

Deciding whether or not one likes a restaurant is a very subjective thing. Just look at this blog and read some of the comments. For example, my co-authors love Royal Orchid, I think it's pretty good, and a reader thinks it's one of the worst in Renton.
I like Naan N' Curry, but a couple of readers regard it as one of the worst in Renton.
So what gives?
We like restaurants for different reasons, and have different expectations going into each one.
I like teriyaki joints, but I don't go in there expecting to see elegant surrounding and have a leisurely meal with great service. For a teriyaki joint, my goal is good, fast, filling, and cheap.
And I don't go into an elegant place seeking good, fast, filling, and cheap.
Very few places have the whole package.
So here's a few questions for the vast multitudes of readers( the 4 or 5 of you?)
1. Where in Renton do you like to go for inexpensive food that's better than average AND is accompanied by friendly service?
2. Where in Renton can serve as both a special occasion place but not be so expensive that it couldn't be a regular hangout?

My answers:

1. Aloha BBQ at 2439 Maple Valley Hwy, Renton. Great, inexpensive food. The daily specials rival the expensive, gourmet places in quality, taste and presentation.
Downside: It's not fast food. Either call in your order (425-271-4451) or be prepared to hang out a while. It's in a kind of scuzzy strip mall and could easily be mistaken for a fast food teriyaki type joint, but it's not. They're not real slow, but it takes a while to cook good food. Their hours are unpredictable, so it's a good idea to call first.

2. Red House Beer and Wine Shoppe, 410 Burnett Ave S., Renton 425-226-2666.
This is currently one of my favorites anywhere. It's just a tiny bit spendy. There is a lot of variety on the menu, so you don't have to spend a lot, but when I'm there I want to order too many things.
Service is great, and it's a fun atmosphere to hang out in. Genuinely festive without the fake frivolity that too many restaurants have. A comfortable, fun place. Gene and Houng Sens know how to run a restaurant. The place has a very distinct style. There are so many wine varieties that you could go there for a year every day and still not have sampled them all.
Most Wednesdays from 6PM-8PM they have wine tastings with an appetizer buffet for twenty dollars.

Other candidates? Let's hear 'em!

Freakazoid Freddy

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Coffee, Chocolate and Ribs

Seven or so years ago I'd quit drinking coffee, I was a semi vegetarian ( no red meat or chicken) and chocolate had absolutely no appeal.
So what happened? Well, I'm almost 50 years old, tastes change, and that "screw it all" attitude becomes more assertive.
Now I'm addicted to espresso, mostly roasting my own beans. Nothing satisfies quite like dark chocolate, and while I could be a vegetarian, I'd make an exception for RIBS!
Which is where this is all going:
Places worth noting:

Green Fresh Market 675 Rainier South, Renton, the Whole Foodsish type place, has an enormous variety of chocolate, and carries the Hatchez brand , perceived by some to be the world's best. It's made in Germany from Ecuadorian chocolate. My favorite is a 77% cocoa content chocolate with peanuts, and it's insanely good.

Maybe not the best espresso in town, but Vince's Coffee, 401 Olympia Ave NE, 425-271-8820 across the street from Greenwood Cemetary amd Jimi Hendrix's grave, serves consistently good Caffe D'Arte coffee and free use of vibrating massage chairs.

Gabby's Que at 12621 Renton Ave in beautiful downtown Skyway, 206-772-6110 , continues to serve much better than average BBQ Alabama style, with mustardy spicy cole slaw. Take Out only, or eat standing up.
Last but not least, the Best Damn Sports Bar, 12833 Martin Luther King Way S. (near the entrance to I-5 Northbound) now serves BBQ ribs, chicken and brisket, along with other bar foods, and karaoke. The place is a friendly dive, and the BBQ is much better than average . The collard greens are exceptional.

Freakazoid Freddy

Monday, May 28, 2007

Upscale Vietnamese in Renton?

My wife and I are on a Vietnamese food kick. I have a co-worker from Vietnam, who has given us several recommendations in the International District: Tamarind Tree, Lemongrass, and (our undisputed favorite) Green Leaf. They are all excellent in their own way. Tamarind tree is a bit fancier and has excellent ambiance. Lemongrass serves home-style dishes in a small location in a strip mall, and Green Leaf is simply one of the best hole in the wall restaurants in the whole world--get there early or you will wait for hours for one of their scarce tables.

Try all of the above . . . but this blog is about Renton, and our little burg just graduated from the all-Pho-all-the-time Vietnamese that we've had for years, to a genuine Vietnamese dining experience. Lemon Leaf just opened in South Renton. They are too new to have a website or a phone book listing, but they are easy to find. Take 167 south to the 180th Ave S exit (the IKEA exit), and you will see a bright yellow sign straight ahead (across the street from the mega-plex movie theater). We saw said sign and went in after seeing Spider Man 3 (entertaining, but the least enjoyable of the three). The decor is beautiful. You can't tell from the outside, as it's just a strip mall, but the interior has a beautiful bar/dining area, including fire-side dining (if that's your thing) and some lovely tables by the front picture windows. The wait staff are all in vests and black tie, and I immediately felt underdressed.

They are clearly still getting their act together. We had to wait a few minutes to be seated because they ran out of menus (the resturaunt was only at 1/4 capacity!), and there was some confusion over where we would sit. We witnessed this confusion with every party that came in. Clearly the waitstaff is still figuring out how to run the place. My meal also came WAY before my wife's. Little things like that were annoying, but I'm sure they'll figure it out.

The menu is outstanding. It has all the best of Green Leaf and Tamarind Tree combined. With Bun (vermacelli noodles), crepes, and Pho, and many traditional dishes--even seven course beef! For an appetizer we had fresh spring rolls with Shrimp, which were great (reminicent of Green Leaf's) and for entrees wifey-pants got vegetarian Bun an I went exactly the other way, with Shake Shake Beef (chunks of Filet Mignon fried in garlic, onions, and spices). It was all really good. I think I would even say that it measures up nicely with the "classic" International District places that we love--ok, maybe not Green Leaf, but they're pretty close. Appetizers are $ 7-9, entrees are in the $10-$18 range and they have a full bar.

Great addition to Renton!


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Has Renton "Arrived"?

For quite a few years Renton Chamber of Commerce types were talking up Renton as if it were a southern neighborhood of Bellevue. But the reality was that Renton was just the same gritty working class town it always was. But now it really is different. How do I know?
For one thing: wine tastings. Sure, there were wine tastings in Renton in the past, like when your buddy passed you the bottle of Muscatel in the brown paper bag.
Now, at least three places have wine tastings on a regular basis, and of the highest quality stuff.
And, more icing on the "Renton has arrived" cake, GreenFresh Market has opened.
They are located at 75 Rainier Avenue N, north of Airport Way heading towards Seattle. 206-772-6560. This is Renton's version of Whole Foods, just slightly smaller. It's a very pleasant place to shop, they have an extensive selection of organic items, including organic meat, and a lot of items you'd only see at PCC or Whole Foods. Right now they have generous samples of sandwiches, which are big and yummy and 5.99, on Essential Bread.
What did I find intriguing?
Hemp Protein Meal Replacement, with acai and brazil nuts.
Water Buffalo yougurt. How do you milk a water buffalo? Scuba divers go in and do the milking? Or do they somehow lure the water buffaloes out of the water?
Either way, I bought a container of it, and it's exceptionally good.
GreenFresh Market is a fun place to shop, and clearly not the kind of store that could have existed in Renton even just a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Worst Restaurant in Renton?

I'm looking for suggestions here. where have you had a really godawful meal in or near Renton?
Been ignored for what seemed like hours? Had the food served cold, raw or burnt? Felt like you were in danger? Paid an awful lot of money for something really bad?
This is not limited to inexpensive places. Sometimes expensive fancy places can be downright horrible.
My current candidate is Mimosa's, formerly Lermonds, on Airport Way. It's not bad for breakfast. They have decent omelettes and standard pancakes, but for dinner?
What if you want them to substitute for the potato? "Do you have any green vegetable?"
Corn and peas, both out of a can. Torn seats.
The place is inexpensive, which is it's saving grace, but for dinner it makes Denny's look like Ray's Boathouse. Hell, it makes Tommy's look like a gourmet joint.
Can you top it?

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Two new places to try

1. Went to Spiffy's Bar and Grill last week (917 S. 3rd St, Renton), in the old Armando's space at 3rd and Main. They're newly open, and are doing a "soft landing" with a very limited food menu for the first few weeks. But they have a full bar selection.
It's a soul food place, with a full bar, and will have music/dancing later on. I think I may have spied Jamil Johnson in the kitchen, one of the areas premier soul food chefs....
So what's to like, what's not to like?
The atmosphere is very pleasant. I always liked the old Armando's space, and Spiffy's did a nice job with the space. The service is friendly and attentive, even if the waitress did spill cold water onto the lap of one of my dining companions. These things happen. When I bussed tables (100 years ago) I spilled a full glass of milk into a woman's open purse while she and her party were in the rest room. I closed the purse and hid in the kitchen.
The food at Spiffy's is good, if you like soul food. I do. But all they really had to offer was fried chicken and smothered pork chops. The chicken was great and there was a lot of it. Sides include collards, cabbage, yams, corn bread. They plan on adding home made desserts and catfish in the near future.
But soul food is kind of heavy. My dining companions would have preferred to have some lighter options, not fried, maybe some entree salads?
As it was, the chicken was fine, as were the greens and cabbage. Some people prefer crunchier veggies, but I enjoyed these "cooked to death" veggies with pork. So what? This is not a health food restaurant. But I do hope they add a few healthier options. It'd be good for business.

Cafe Vignole is also newly opened, 9252 57th Ave S, Seattle (Rainier Beach),206-721-2267.
I haven't tried them yet ( I tried to go for lunch a few days ago and they were closed).
They are a soul food/Italian food combination. From what I understand, it's an African-American woman married to an Italian man...I like soul food, I like Italian food, what could be so bad? They have live jazz on Friday nights, and there are no posted hours on the door.
I happen to like places that offer unusual combinations. JapanThai in Renton used to be a big favorite(they are now closed), and there used to be a French/Japanese place in Seattle and a Pakistani/Middle Eastern/Italian place in Bellevue that was great. In LA I saw a Jewish/Mexican place but didn't stop in.
Soul/Italian has great potential.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes

Common Ground Coffee and Cupcakes recently opened in downtown Renton ( 900 S. 3rd, 425-235-1717), and they seem to have become immediately popular.
What are they doing right? And do they deserve to have a bang up business right out of the gate?

1. Cupcakes are trendy. They may be full of fat and sugar and white flour, but they're delicious and addictive. Common Ground always has about eight different varieties on hand, made on the premises, including chocolate, coconut, strawberry, vanilla, etc. They even have a sugar free, splenda sweetened cupcake, which I had and loved.

2. The place is classy looking, in an upscale hip kind of way, with comfortable leather chairs and nice wood furniture. They spent some money on this place...It's tasteful looking.

3. They use Caffe D'Arte coffee, which is one of the better roasters around here, and they have nice large ceramic cups for the "for here" orders. They do pretty "latte art", like the foam in the shape of a heart.

4. Service is friendly and efficient.

So what's not to like?

Really I have only minor quibbles. I prefer funky places for espresso, like the Jet City down the road full of tacky and kitschy stuff, places that don't even try to be sophisticated.
Not that there's anything wrong with class and sophistication. I was not uncomfortable at Common Grounds. It's a pleasant place, and the cupcakes are great.
But it's also a bit expensive.
I've always been partial to gargantuan portions, and cupcakes are like done in two bites.
A 12 oz double with a cupcake cost six dollars plus.
But it's not more expensive than Starbucks, and a better place to hang out for my money.

Friday, March 02, 2007

DC's Bar and Grill and Touchdowns

I know that I've been pretty lame as a contributor to this blog--Thanks to Freddy for picking up the slack . . . er, writing the whole thing for the past year or so. I thought I would chime in here to talk about two new restaurants in Renton that Freddy told us would be opening.

My wife and I went to Touchdowns--formerly All-City Diner (423 Airport Way, Renton, WA (425) 228-7281) twice in the past two weeks, and we also tried DC's Bar and Grill (on the East end of 3rd Street in downtown Renton). The food and service at each was surprisingly good, and I can safely say that Renton no longer has a sports-bar deficiency. They have totally different "vibes" though, which bears some explanation:

Touchdowns: This is a mega-sports bar, the kind that I was used to seeing all over the midwest when I was growing up (you may ask why I grew up in bars, but that's another story for another time). It has a bazillion TVs all over the place (there must be 15 flat screens around the bar alone), and a giant projection TV in the main room. They also have pool and darts (and pull-tabs if you like that sort of thing). It has a bit of "regular guy" kind of feel to it, and both times we've been there, a percentage of the crowd has been made up for loud drunks with a point to make--and we've only been for lunch! The food, while definitely bar food, is well prepared, with large portions, and a few surprising touches. The first time, I had the "Roast Beef on Weck"--which is a midwest staple--and it was great. The bread was fresh and tasty, and the beef was tender and cooked just right. It also came with some fresh horseradish sauce that, while painful to the sinuses, was excellent. The second time, I had the bacon cheesburger (can you tell I'm a healthy eater?), and it was outstanding. Huge, with four slices of crisp thick-cut peppered bacon. We also shared the nachos which were huge and very good. Not microwaved as far as we could tell, and with real cheese. They have some more expensive dishes on the menu (steaks, salmon, etc.) and we didn't try those, but from what we saw of the plates around us the food all looked very appetizing. Prices are about what you'd expect--~$8.99 for a burger, and the most expensive thing on the menu is a little under $20.

As a sports bar, it's pretty incredible, and if you want to see a specific game--it's your best bet, with all of those TVs in different rooms and areas, you could probably catch just about anything. They also have little audio boxes for the tables so you can listen to the sound on any of the TVs.

DC's Bar and Grill
At the east end of the 3rd Street in Renton (near the old Armando's location) , DC's Bar and Grill sits with with a little, unassuming sign, and a few neon beer signs in the window. This place reminded me of some of the little neighborhood hangouts I've visted in Brooklyn while visiting friends in NYC. It's nice, clean, smallish, and all done in wood paneling, and the servers spend a lot of time chating with you and getting to know you. It's a very friendly place, and they're clearly quite proud of it. They're happy to recommend menu items and tell you how they prepare things. I get the sense that it's a place where the owners might be a little new to the restaurant game, and they're pretty excited/worried about getting it right (which is great for the patrons). It was pretty empty when we got there (around 5:30pm), but it was 1/4 full by the time we left--Not too bad for a weeknight. They've got a more low-key approach to the "sports bar thing" than Touchdowns, with six flat panel TVs set high on the wall around the perimeter of the resturant. They also have a pool table.

The food was really good. It's a small menu and they have the obligatory bar food--According to the server they make everything from scratch except the mozzarella sticks--they also have some nice options that you wouldn't expect. I had a chicken dish with a white cream sauce over rice, and my wife had fish and chips--which (according to the server) was fresh halibut with a home-made breading. She loved it. He also told us that the burgers were great--hand made and 2/3 pounds before cooking--I think that's what I'll have next time. Prices were about the same as Touchdowns for comparable items.

Both places definitely add something to Renton, and I'd go to both again in a heartbeat. Touchdowns is more of a loud, active sportsbar (I'd hate to be in there during a Seahawks game) where you can throw a few back with Renton's more notable opinionated drunks, while DC's is more of place to have a quiet meal and watch the Mariners (if they can stop sucking), while chatting with your friends and neighbors. I'm always happy when one decent place opens in Renton--I'm ecstatic that we have two new ones.

--Tin Foil Hat

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pho Saigon

Pho Saigon is located at 924 Bronson Way South in Renton, 425-917-0305 near the intersection of S. 2nd St, and Main Avenue South. The menu tells you to "save your value money."
I always take it as a good sign when menus have incorrect grammar or spelling, thinking that more energy will be devoted to producing good food. Pho Saigon bears this out.
It's good. It's cheap. It's fast. It's friendly.
I'm not positive how to pronounce "pho." I know it's not "foe". But I've heard "fuh" as in "duh" and Foo as in "foot".
Either way, Pho Saigon has lots of pho and many other Vietnamese and Thai dishes for both meat eaters and vegetarians. Very popular there are the salad rolls (rice paper spring rolls filled with shrimp and pork). There are many Thai soups and rice and noodle dishes. I had lemon grass chicken(5.75), something I like almost everywhere, and it didn't disappoint at Pho Saigon. Diane had Mongolian Beef(5.75), which was especially flavorful and tender.
Drinks include bubble teas and a blended avocado drink.
Tofu is also plentiful on the menu.
Pho Saigon has been around for 17 years, so they must be doing something right.
There's lots to like about the place. Entrees top out at 6.75.
The latest trend in trendy restaurants is to serve tiny portions of weird but fresh food at high prices ( "tonight's special will be a pigeon entrail with a fresh tarragon beurre blanc served with roasted corn for 25.95.") Those don't tend to be my kind of places, especially if I'm paying. The food almost always tastes better if someone else is paying. I do like fancy places, but there's clearly a place for places like Pho Saigon. May they continue to do what they've been doing for the last 17 years. I'll be back there again.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Renton Supersonics

It has been announced the Sonics have chosen Renton as the site for their new arena, pending funding by the State and City of Renton.

So, is this a good thing or not?

Me, I like basketball. I have followed the Sonics for almost 30 years, and I follow the sport. I played basketball as a younger person, and was never any good, but now I'm old, fat, and slow, and still short.
I have fond memories of the Sonics '79 NBA championship. I also think an arena in Renton would be good for the city's coffers, and for bars and restaurants nearby.. I'd love to see them come here. BUT WAIT!!!
My opinion over the years has hardened over public subsidies of privately owned arenas.
There are some pressing needs in this state, and taxes can be stretched only so far.
Whether it's Paul Allen we're subsidizing or Clay Bennett (new Sonics owner), do they really need us to build them an arena? Aren't they gazillionaires?
I'd prefer not to see the Sonics leave for Oklahoma City...I might even be okay with having taxpayers fork up 25% of the total cost involved, but geesh! It's like Robin Hood in reverse: Taking money from the pockets from ordinary working stiffs and giving it to the richest folks in the country, who will then charge 60 bucks for tickets to this arena. No thanks. As far as I'm concerned, if Clay Bennett is not willing to pay for the vast majority of a new arena, he can ride his horse back to Oklahoma, and take the Sonics with him.
But I'm just not that strongly principled. If the Sonics do actually move here to Renton, I'll probably go to a few games a year.
But, y'know what?
It ain't gonna happen. It's not like the '95 Mariners, where the state legislature overrode the vote of the people because the M's were in a playoff chase, and it seemed at that point that the voters regretted their vote.
Now, the Sonics just plain suck. If they started winning, there might be more interest on the part of residents and politicians to keep the team in the Seattle area, but as I see it, it won't be the Renton Supersonics, but the Oklahoma City Soonersonics.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My Eldorado

My Eldorado is a brand new supermarket in Skyway, at 68th and Renton Avenue, in the space formerly occupied by Saar's, and many other businesses before them.
It's a clean and pleasant place to shop. prices are not especially low, but they have a large variety of meat and produce, and a fairly large selection of Russian and Kosher foods.
It is going to become a member only store, with a multi level marketing approach, so that if you sign up new members, you get a kickback and additional discounts.
On the face of it, it sounds weird to me. For the first month or so, memberships will be one dollar, and then go up to thirty five.
To me, it's a pain in the ass to "join" a supermarket, and I'm not about to recruit people to go by their cornflakes at a particular store. For that very reason, I let my Costco membership lapse a while back, and this place ain't Costco.
However, for the time being it is a pleasant place to shop, the quality of goods is decent, and the folks working there are friendly.
I wish them luck.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Viet Wah and other tidbits

Viet Wah has recently opened a Renton outpost, at 2820 NE Sunset, aka SR 900, in the Renton highlands.
Viet Wah is a fun place to shop. Seattle has long had Uwajimaya as it's giant Asian supermarket, and Viet Wah is similar. Yes, you can buy eel or yam noodles or many varieties of soy sauce, but Viet Wah also carries kleenex and hot dogs and milk.
Viet Wah also caters to the neighborhood. In this case, a nice selection of Mexican cheeses, meats, and spices.
Viet Wah has fresh seafood, including fresh salmon, smoked salmon, shrimp, crab, etc.
And a butcher counter with very reasonably priced and decent quality steaks, chops, and ribs.
And plenty of stuff unfamiliar to many of us.

On another note, Aloha BBQ (2439 Maple Valley Hwy) remains open. They have had landlord troubles and family illness, and are looking for someone take over their lease and then perhaps find another location.
Hours are 3-6PM Monday, 3-10PM Tuesday-Friday, and 4-10PM Sat and Sun. Phone # is 425-271-4451.
The place remains an excellent and very reasonably priced place. It is a Filipino and Japanese influenced Hawaiian restaurant with daily specials. Last time I was there the specials were Southern style BBQ ribs and pulled pork with beans. The beans were right up there with the best I've ever had.

Alas, Cocina Marina in Skyway is gone, at least temporarily. The big windstorm of December caused damage to their kitchen (tree crashed through the roof). Repairs are being done to the place, but it's unlikely the same folks will return to run it.

Gabby's Q is open in the 12600 block of Renton Avenue in Skyway, 7 days a week from 5PM, between the nail shop and the Beachcomber Tavern. This is a foodie find. Not the most savory of neighborhoods, but definitely savory food.

Friday, January 05, 2007

When bad things happen to good restaurants

I have the misfortune of being attracted to little hole in the wall restaurants in out of the way locations. An out of the way location might be to your advantage if you're running a meditation retreat, but it's generally not a good thing if it's a restaurant you've got.
On that note...
Cocina Marina of Skyway appears to be closed. At least it was when it shouldn't have been, twice in the last week or so. The place had been El Tapatio for a million years, and did well. It was succeeded by El Agave, a place I liked that didn't last long, and more recently by Cocina Marina. Had the restaurant been located on Queen Anne or in Wallingford, there would be people lined up outside. But as they say in the real estate world, location, location,location. It doesn't help that Skyway is thought of as a neighborhood you risk getting shot in. Personally, for me, it's worth the risk if the reward will be a good enchilada, or pizza, or ribs.
Speaking of Skyway, Gary Pollard has opened Gabby's Q, a take out BBQ joint in Skyway next to the Beachcomber Tavern and the nail salon. I've known Gary for a few years, as we are now both ex Metro transit employees. His barbecue is one of a kind, as he hails from Alabama. His coleslaw is spicy and unusual, full of jalapenos and mustard.
The sauce is slightly sweet and quite good. The meats are all fine and tender.

And finally, my Renton restaurant of the year for 2006, Aloha BBQ, is for sale, due to family illness.
It is still open and operated by the same people. The food is great, portion sizes are ridiculously large, prices are low.
A special last week was Pork ribs with grilled salmon. Oh My God! Was it good!
...So get there before the ownership changes. I've reviewed it previously and it saddens me to no end that ownership is changing. You just don't find creative cooking of fresh food at low prices at many places, served by nice people.
This has been one of those cursed locations..I remember it as a good Mexican place, then a mediocre teriyaki joint, then a Vietnamese place, and finally Aloha Hawaiian BBQ, which has had far more business than it's predecessors, because it was, and is, so good.