Hard to choose.
In the late 1980’s when LA chefs were newcomers to the New York-dominated culinary world, bumper stickers in Seattle warned Southern California visitors, “Don’t Californicate Puget Sound” and greeted them with “Welcome to Seattle, now go home.” Emmet Watson, columnist for the Seattle Times, spearheaded the KBO (Keep the Bastards Out) movement (whose motto was “Have a nice day, somewhere else”) and painted a local future dominated by blonde, sprout-eating, real estate grabbing, surfboard-carrying newcomers who would buy your house and marry your daughter.
At that time, Seattle was still just a dot on the global culinary map; local favorites included Labuznik, Sahel al Lago, Rosselini’s 410, Brasserie Pittsbourg, Bakeman’s Cafeteria, Trattoria Matchelli, and Cafe Sport, run by Tom Douglas. Tom came up the blue-collar way, starting as an cook’s helper in an Eastcoast oyster bar. He is a tall, burly, unpretentious man with an undisciplined head of hair, a wide-ranging palate, and a sharp business sense.
Tom explored fusion on his menus—turning ethnic dishes a bit to the side, slipping in unexpected memory food from home, and adding his sense of a palate gathered during an extensive travel history. In 1991, I worked for Tom on opening night at his first restaurant, The Dahlia Lounge, plating a menu that included goat cheese tarts, potato gnocchi, shrimp-fried rice, seaweed salad, slow-roasted duck with huckleberry sauce, miso-glazed salmon, a wedge of iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing, and triple-coconut cream pie.
By the mid-90s, the North and the South had co-mingled, married, and exchanged business cards. Puget Sound surrendered to the inevitable and stopped complaining about Southern California and those dreadful tourist dollars.
The co-mingling of ethnic ingredients has been on my mind ever since the hotel desk clerk recommended Tako, a downtown Mexican/Korean restaurant. A bus trip is on my schedule for this week—pictures will be taken and observations will be shared, so stay tuned.
The Dahlia Lounge’s Potato Gnocchi
- 2 Russet potatoes—peeled, boiled, and put through a food mill/ricer
- 2 Tbs. softened butter
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 egg
- 3⁄4-1 cup flour, as needed
Preheat oven to 400° and bake potatoes until very soft. While potatoes are still hot, split them in half and scoop out potato. Put potato through a food mill using the coarse plate.
With spatula, gently combine hot potatoes, butter, salt and pepper until butter melts.
When combined, add egg. Gradually add in flour starting with a small amount and adding only enough flour as necessary to make a soft dough.
Turn dough out on a floured board. If dough is sticky, work in a little more flour, kneading gently with your hands.
Shape dough into a rectangle about 2 inches thick and cut the rectangle lengthwise into 4 ropes. Gently roll each rope on the floured board until it is 12 inches long. Cut each rope into 3⁄4 inch segments. Place gnocchi on parchment paper.
Bring salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi and boil them until they are cooked through. After the gnocchi float to the top of the water, they need to cook another 2-3 more minutes, for a total cooking time of 5-6 minutes.
When gnocchi are cooked, skim them out of the water with a slotted spoon and add them to your preferred sauce.
Triple Coconut Cream Pie
Coconut Pie Shell:
- 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. flour
- 1⁄2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 stick cubed, cold unsalted butter
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1⁄4 tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup ice water
In a food processor, combine the flour, coconut, cubed butter, sugar, and salt. Pulse to form coarse crumbs.
Gradually add the ice water, one Tbs. at a time, pulsing each time. Use only as much water as necessary for dough to hold together when pressed between your fingers.
Dump dough on plastic wrap and form it into a flattened disk. Chill for one hour.
Roll dough and trim to fit pie pan. Chill for one hour.
Place round of foil on bottom of crust and fill with beans or pie weights.
Bake in pre-heated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.
Remove foil and beans or pie weights and return crust to oven for 10 more minutes
Coconut Pastry Cream:
- 2 cups milk (I just read an interview with Tom where he said they now use coconut milk instead of regular milk)
- 2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
Combine the milk, vanilla, and coconut in a medium saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the mixture almost comes to a boil.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. Temper the eggs (to keep them from scrambling) by pouring a small amount (about 1/3 Cup) of the scalded milk into the egg mixture while whisking. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and coconut.
Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts.
Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place it over a bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The pastry cream will thicken as it cools.
When the pastry cream is cold, fill the pre-baked pie shell with it, smoothing the surface.
In a mixer with the whip attachment, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Top coconut cream with whipped cream. To garnish, shave white chocolate with vegetable peeler over the top of the pie.