la carta de oaxaca

Mexican food is necessary for my survival. When I begin to become deficient, my body starts to lag, sputter and spout off puffs of smoke. “Time for a top off,” Husband says, and he takes me to one of my favorite joints to be replenished.

Aside: Could we make cars that run strictly off of Mexican food? Seattle hippies, get on it. Obama? Give them money, please. Watch for me next year on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list. Rainy Day Gal, the woman who founded the movement for clean-burning enchiladas.

I am so freaking smart sometimes that I blow my own mind.

This is one of said favorite joints, or it is now. Being the Mexican food junkie that I am, it may surprise many of you that I had never visited here before. According to Mexican food savants, It’s pretty much the end-all, be-all of Seattle’s Mexican food scene.

Deep in the heart of Ballard, surrounded by a slew of bars, pubs, restaurants and shops, Carta (as locals call it) can get crazy-busy—it’s in a happenin ‘hood. But unlike the number of establishments that stay in business around here because of frat boys and friday nights, it’s here for exactly what it promises: southern Mexican cuisine. And it does a damn good job at it.

I didn’t intend to order the halibut tacos when I dreamed up a trip to this place. In fact, it’s really the last thing that I would order to judge a Mexican restaurant. But when I read the little blurb on the menu that described tender grilled fish topped with fresh pico and a sweet, spicy chipotle sauce, I knew they had to be mine.

The halibut itself was truly the highlight—incredibly fresh and not over-seasoned, not fried and not disguised in a tartar-esque sauce. Simply grilled, served on fresh tortillas with a sweet, tangy sauce. This is how fish tacos should always be. Always. Do we need another movement here? I will call this one, “The Movement for Delicious, Non-Fried Fish Tacos.”

My brother, who works in the area and was able to join us for lunch, went with the Molotes: a sausage and potato blend wrapped in tortilla and fried, topped with house made mole, hot sauce and guac. I’m not usually one for two starches in one dish (potato plus tortilla, in this case), but I thought that the filling was nicely complimented by the fresh corn taste of the tortilla breading. And the mole sauce? Oh my. It was richer and more intensely flavored than any other mole I have ever tried. I could actually taste the chocolate and it gave the sauce a beautifully rounded flavor, as opposed to chain restaurant mole that tastes more like watered down beans mixed with cocoa powder.

Let the “Movement for Exceptional Mole Sauce and Riddance of Bean-Flavored Mole Impostors” begin. Sign my petition at the bottom of the page.

Husband chose the Tacos Enchilados: mini chicken enchiladas fried and topped with that gorgeous mole sauce and queso fresco. Very tasty and not overly-stuffed. Light, crisp, and covered in that addictive spicy chocolate sauce.

I’m all out of creative movement names. Just eat these dang things. It will change your life.

And little bear? She happily noshed on little bites of everything we were having, plus one of mom’s makeup brushes swiped from a bathroom drawer at home. She’s so damn cute she won’t ever need that makeup stuff.

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell ya that she dropped my favorite makeup brush in a pile of cigarette butts as we were walking down the street after lunch. I considered replacing it, remembered that it cost $30, and then promptly soaked it in a bath of shampoo and disinfectant once we returned home. But I’ll never put on my blush without thinking of where that dang brush has been ever again.

Oh, is that two makeup brushes you see in her hands? Yep. One is a freebie Clinique, a.k.a. “Lucy’s brush” from now on. The other is clean, de-contaminated, and under lock and key in my makeup drawer.

Brush debacles aside, I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a new fill-up station for when my tank starts to run low. Do you think a body could run on mole sauce alone? It’s worth a shot, right?

And Jamie Oliver, watch out. There’s a new revolutionary in town, and I’m taking this movement guerilla-style.

-RDG

crepes at cafe javasti

I feel a little silly writing this post. We’ve been to this place so many times that it’s not really a review or a recommendation—it’s more of a glimpse of our weekend morning routine. I’m there more than I care to admit. Once on Saturday or Sunday. Once or twice during the week if I’m bored brewing their coffee at home and want an expertly pressed espresso.

It’s not just because I can walk there with Lucy in the stroller. Or that the folks are always nice and cheerful. Or that I always seem to have a free coffee on my frequent customer card.

It’s because this place is freaking good. All the other reasons are just a bonus.

It’s a cute little place. Dark woodwork, orange walls, handwritten chalkboard menus.

Artwork that I’m a little in love with*.

*Did anyone see Runway this week? Tory Burch said that blue and orange are not complimentary. And for that I threw her ballet flats out the window.

They also have the cutest fix-up-your-cup-o-coffee bar I’ve ever seen. With a hand sanitizer pump.

It’s the little things.

Plus they always have a bin of animal crackers for kiddos, which are perfect for keeping Lucy entertained while we much on our…

Crepes. Husband digs the savory variety. This one was a daily special: ham, mushrooms, tomatoes and cheddar.

He’s a growing boy. He needs his protein.

And for me? Well, if you’ve ever met me (or read this blog) you know that I have a bit of a sweet tooth. I go for the Nutella and banana.

Did I mention that it also contains fresh whipped cream (none of the canned junk here) and sliced almonds?

I have a really hard time eating it. It’s not lip-smackingly delicious whatsoever.

Oh, and their coffee is insane. Like crazy, I-need-five-more-cups delicious. And that’s coming from a coffee snob. Plus they’re inexpensive. Our weekend breakfasts usually run about $15.

Oh, weekend Lucy. If you would ever learn the concept of sleeping past 6:30 we wouldn’t be left twiddling our thumbs waiting for Javasti to open at 7.

Oh no! I made her sad.

Little faker. I give. You’re so damn cute that you can get up whenever you want. As long as when you’re old enough to ride a bike you fetch me an Americano from Javasti in the mornings.

Give this place a try soon. They’ve got 2 locations you can read all about on their website.

Happy monday!

-RDG

mainly chinese tapas at jack’s

We live down the street from a Chinese restaurant. It’s the kind of joint where you don’t really want to see the kitchen, like ever, and there are always drunk old men in the bar talking about something that you don’t really want to hear, like ever. Odd, because we live in a nice neighborhood.

On the occasional night when we’re out of leftovers and I can’t bring myself to set foot in the kitchen, we order takeout from the skeezy Chinese joint. It’s not bad. It’s not good, but it’s not bad. Greasy, likely full of MSG, and with enough calories to plump your booty for many days. But we still order it.

Why? Because I love Chinese food. Or really, American-style Chinese food. You know–General Tso’s, pork fried rice, beef with broccoli. Food that they probably don’t serve in China at all but that Americans (and me, in particular) can’t get enough of. That’s why when I heard of a Chinese joint in the city that was actually delicious—known for their exceptional food and praised by many a local critic—we transcended neighborhoods to get there.

Yes, the sign says, “Jack’s Tapas Cafe: Mainly Chinese.” There are three things interesting about this title.

1) The obvious: it’s not a tapas joint. There is no food of Spanish origin here whatsoever. They mean it in the “small plates” sort of way (according to the menu), but the portions aren’t smaller than any other Chinese joint.

2) “Mainly” Chinese? There isn’t a thing that’s not Chinese on the menu. All Chinese. All day long.

3) “Cafe.” It’s not a cafe at all. It’s a restaurant. A full fledged, sit-and-order from a waiter restaurant.

But frankly, this place could call itself “Bertha’s Bitchin’ Burritos: Mainly Chinese” and I would still eat there. Daily.

It’s a casual spot. Nothing fancy. Cement floors. Crappy chairs. Weird decorations all over the walls. A bathroom that doubles as a janitor’s closet.

I didn’t care.

Why? Because we started with this. Looks like a regular noodle dish, but in reality it was, and I will state this for the record: the best noodle dish I have ever had. Tender, handmade noodles tossed with cabbage, green onions, chicken, and some incredible sauce that came directly from heaven. Amazing.

And here’s where I apologize profusely: I didn’t write down the names of the dishes. I assumed that I could grab them online later. I was mistaken. Jack’s website is mainly their address, and that’s it.

You say I should make up names for them instead? Why yes. Yes I will. This one will simply be called “Best Damn Noodle Dish I’ve Ever Had.”

I got ahead of myself. Before “Best Damn Noodle Dish I’ve Ever Had,” we scarfed down these green onion pancakes. Well, they call them tortilla-something-or-others here, but I’ll call them “Order This as an Appetizer Flat Green Onion Thingies.” They come with a tangy dipping sauce.

And then there were green beans. I normally don’t dig green beans. They’re not interesting to me. Not a heck of a lot of flavor, and they’re always overcooked. But these, these I wanted to inhale. They were spicy. Tender yet still crispy. And they did exactly what a vegetable side dish should do—they complimented the other flavors on my plate. I hereby knight thee “Green Beans that I Actually Want to Eat.”

You’re wondering by now how many people were dining with us. There were seven adults and one pint-sized tiny gal. Honest.

Since we didn’t order any rice, we opted to go with this sesame-scallion bread. This, my friends, is what all Chinese meals are missing. Eff the rice. Grab a slice of this dense, chewy bread flavored with scallions and topped with toasted sesame seeds and go to town. Dip it in your brown sauce. Smother it in your noodles. Call it “The Chinese Version of Naan.” And love it. Oh, my. Love it.

Here’s the only dish that I recall the same of: “Three Cup Chicken.” And, since I’ve been fawning over this restaurant so dang much, it’s time I cut it with a little criticism. The chicken was cut into itty-bitty pieces, smothered in a sauce that was completely to die for, and cooked in this cast-iron pot.

But here’s the thing: the chicken was bone-in. Cut into tiny, tiny pieces. That means tiny, tiny bones landmined everywhere. You’re liable to a) break a tooth, b) choke, or c) get really pissed off that there are sharp little bones hiding out in this delicious, delicious chicken. I went with c, and therefore label it “No Common Sense Chicken.”

These next dishes don’t even need silly names:

Lamb sauteed with green onions and some other little veggies. Delicious. Totally unexpected flavors.

Greens, garlic and shiitake mushrooms. Simple. Perfect.

And finally, here’s Jack’s version of General Tso’s chicken. It was tiny chunks of chicken balled up, breaded and deep fried. I wasn’t crazy about the way the chicken was prepared, but the sauce was one of the best General Tso’s sauces I have ever had.

Whew. That was a lot of food. Deep breaths. Undo top button.

And with that, the seven (and a half) of us rolled our full tummies on outta there. Notice how Lucy on Husband’s shoulders is the same height as our pal Peter? He’s one tall drink-o-water.

It’s not often that I go to a restaurant that surprises me, but Jack’s Weird Name Cafe totally succeeded in doing just that. If you’re in the Sea-town area, give ’em a try. It’s Chinese at it’s best.

-RDG

luna park cafe

‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house

every creature was itching to get the heck out.

So we traveled afar, the car filled with prattle,

and landed in a mystical land called West Seattle.

The Luna Park Cafe would quell all our hungers

with burgers and milkshakes to make our thighs thunder.

Alright. I’ll stop rhyming in meter now.

This spot is sort of a Seattle classic (or West Seattle classic, if you want to get technical). We’d only been once before, and since the in-laws are in town for the holidays, we thought we’d give ’em another try.

The decor is kitschy and vintage—someone did quite a bit of junking to come up with all this stuff. Try not singing the Batman theme while staring at this guy.

It’s got a cool old amusement park-type feel to it.

But the decor is not what we trekked to West Seattle for.

This may surprise you, my friends, but we like to eat.

This chocolate malt (husband’s–not mine) tasted like a Whopper. Not many chocolate malts actually taste malty. This place does em right.

While waiting for our food it was Lucy’s turn to eat.

Or point at things.

Or laugh at Nana.

Or stare at the camera. Okay, it was her turn to do anything but eat.

Lunchtime! Husband ordered the bacon and blue cheese burger–medium rare, of course.

Pops-in-law went with the Southwest burger. Mmmmmm. Green Chilies.

And I, because I’m 12, went with the grilled ham ‘n cheese.

And my childish intuition did not lead me astray.

Neither did my husband’s ever-present ability to order the best burger on the menu….

…and to douse his fries in bacon salt.

Thanks, Luna Park Cafe, for a lovely post-Christmas lunch, and for feeding my hungry clan so tastily.

Merry (second) day after Christmas!

-RDG