Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions

A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

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Sweet Seattle

jason

I'll admit I have a little weakness. Although I don't really appreciate the hyper-sweetened desserts ubiquitous in the United States, I'm a pushover for a nice pastry, lightly sweetened cheesecake, or torte.

This list includes a lot of Asian style pastry shops because even in the U.S., these shops tend to use a lighter hand with sugar and sell more sane portion sizes, so that I don't feel I'm risking a heart attack every time I'm eating.

Hiroki. Hiroki Inouye makes a beautiful matcha tiramisu, which is served in the style of a cake, made with Japanese green tea. Other great things you might find here are include an Earl Grey cheesecake, and, on occasion, a mont blanc-style chestnut pastry. It reminds me of the French-ish cake shops I found in Japan, with slightly larger portion sizes and perhaps a slightly more European flavor. The good thing is that he tends to avoid the hyper-sweet exaggerations that are common in American style cakes, in favor of clean, refreshing flavors. 2224 North 56th Street, Seattle, WA. (206) 547-4128. Open Wednesday-Sunday.

Cafe Besalu. You need to come here for a light weekend brunch. Order a slice of quiche and a brioche, or one of their fantastically flaky croissants. They have sweet pastries and not-so-sweet, and they make espresso drinks using Lighthouse Coffee (based in Fremont; see also my Coffee in Seattle notes). You're probably craving sweets, so order an orange brioche or one of their strawberry danishes. If you're having a simple afternoon espresso, they also have a nice selection of cookies to accompany it, but get there before 3pm. Keep in mind this is really a daytime place and they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. If you're up for something savory, the word is that the first quiche of the day comes out at about 10:30 am. 5909 24th Ave NW. Phone 789-1463.

Fresh Flours. Think standard coffee shop fare with a Japanese approach. Keiji Minematsu produces freshly-made scones, muffins, slices of pound cake, and little cookies; in theory, you could find such items anywhere, but not likely made like this. Don't expect to find a replica of a Japanese style bakery, but you will find Japanese accents, such as a satsumaimo (sweet potato) tart, a kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) muffin,  Parisian-style macarons flavored with matcha (ground tea ceremony tea), black sesame seed cookies, and azuki-cream filled brioche. Sugar is used in judicious moderation. Countertops and some of the seating area are made from a reclaimed bowling alley. 6015 Phinney Ave N. Phone (206) 790-6296. Full Disclosure: Fresh flours is a customer of mine; accordingly, I've tried to be more descriptive here than evaluative. Added 7/21/2005.

Le Fournil. Some people are convinced that the best croissant in Seattle is found here. I don't have much cause to disagree with them. They have a nice lemon pastry made with the same laminated dough used for croissants, they have amandine, and a huge selection of French-style cakes. As for the atmosphere, you'll feel like you're in any of a number of counter-service coffee shops in Seattle; a little sterile, but the new digs about two doors down from their original location are a little bit hipper than before. 3230 Eastlake Ave E #A, Seattle, WA. Phone (206) 328-6523. Parking in building.

Belle Pastry. Old Bellevue, the area on Main Street west of Bellevue Way, had been a sleepy business district for the last several years, but things have been looking up recently. Fran's chocolates moved their Bellevue store to this area, another entrepreneurial chocolate maker opened its doors, and Belle Pastry replaced a wedding cake company here. The French owner of Belle Pastry offers probably the best Eastside options for European-style cakes and pastries. For the most part, he avoids a heavy hand with the sugar, though most options are sweeter than what Hiroki makes. Keep in mind the hours are also very old Bellevue. 10246-A Main Street, Bellevue, WA. Phone (425) 289-0015.

Fran's Chocolates. Fran's produces some of the nicest chocolates in Seattle. The stores are really retail shops, not cafes, so you're coming here on a mission. You want one of the hazelnut stuffed figs or maybe the gray-salt topped chocolate caramels. They have two bittersweet filled chocolates which are perfect if you like chocolate more than sugar. I've been nibbling on their chocolate covered cocoa nibs recently, and it's a good thing I buy small containers or I might not be able to stop. University Village in Seattle or on Main Street in Old Bellevue.

Regent Cafe Bakery. If you happen to be in the Overlake area of Bellevue, not far from Microsoft or Sears, this Taiwanese-style cake shop and bakery offers a pleasant strawberry mousse cake, a Chinese-American take on Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (black forest cherry cake), and various sugary breads. 15159 NE 24th Redmond, WA. Phone 425 378-1498.

Sweet & Fresh Bakery. I used to come to this place promptly at 9:30 am when working at a newspaper which was a couple blocks down the street, then buy an inexpensive croissant right out of the oven. At other times, this place offers sweet Hong Kong style breads. I get the feeling the owners are not the same as 10 years ago, but it's still pleasant enough. 610 8th Ave. S., Seattle 98104.

Seabell Bakery. Seabell offers Japanese-style breads like an-pan (sweet azuki bean stuffed bread), uguisu (sweet mung bean stuffed bread), cream pan, mocha pan, and so on. It's not open on Sundays, so if you want a weekend fix, pop in on a Saturday. 12816 SE 38th
Bellevue, WA  98006. Phone (425) 644-2616.

Cake Fuji. Cake Fuji isn't anything like Fuji-ya, the legendary cake shop in Tokyo whose name Cake Fuji references, but it does have a good selection of Japanese style cakes, like a matcha mousse cake (green tea mousse cake) and a strawberry cake. As I recall, the portion size of a single slice of cake is just about right for one healthy adult; you will see none of the gut-busting exaggerations that you might find at a typical US cake shop. No atmosphere, limited hours, average quality, but sometimes I need a matcha mousse cake. 1502 145th Pl SE Bellevue, WA  98005. Phone (425) 641-3889.

Dilettante. The Broadway location of Dilettante is a full-service cafe featuring cakes, “grown up“ milkshakes made with spirits, espresso drinks, and various other desserts in addition to their signature chocolate lineup. For best results, stick with things made with chocolate, though some people enjoy their fruit parfaits. Non-chocolate cakes tend to be a little heavy on sugar for my taste, and I can't quite handle the sugar level in their “hot schmocha“ (peppermint schnapps mocha), but there are some things worth coming for. The Rigo Jansci is pretty nice, but make sure to eat light before coming in or plan to share with someone. Alternatively, order a plate with six filled chocolates of your choice and overindulge with an intimate friend. 416 Broadway East, Seattle, WA 98102. Phone (206) 329-6463.

B&O Espresso has two locations, but the one with more sweets to choose from is at the intersection of Belmont and Olive on Capitol Hill. It's one of the few full-service coffee shops in Seattle, and the atmosphere is sort of diner-like but with better food (at least at dinner time). Most of the sweets are very American and accordingly quite sweet, but you'll get nice results by ordering one of the Greek specialties in the evening. I am fond of the Greek style “pudding” in filo pastry. 204 Belmont Ave. E, Seattle, WA. Phone (206) 322-5028.

Departed:

Masalisa. (Closed May 29, 2005; sold to new owners, Floating Leaves Tea, using Macrina products). Masalisa is first and foremost a tea shop, but if you're craving Japanese-style cream roll cakes, with matcha (green tea flavor), mocha flavor, or any of several occasional varieties, this is a great option. You'll even find a few Japanese sweets from time to time (zenzai or oshiroko, sweetened azuki bean soup) and a selection of homemade cookies. Masalisa has a pleasant atmosphere for sitting and chatting. 2213 NW Market Street Seattle, WA 98107. Full Disclosure Notice: This comment was written about a year ago, but I've since established a business relationship with the owners of Masalisa involving selling their tea products online and at wholesale.

Coffee in Seattle

jason

Coffee is an intensely personal beverage. Everyone has a distinctive story about how they were introduced to the pleasures (or displeasure) of coffee.

I didn't really enjoy coffee until I started to experience good quality coffee. In college I experimented occasionally with aromatized coffees (which I won't touch now), organic Kona, Starbucks, and so on; I used to brew coffee in a cafetiere in my dorm room, and usually beat the quality of what I could find at shops in the rural town where I studied. I've become demanding, but for me, the essentials are: freshly roasted beans, an appropriate roast for the drink in question, and quality of control over the brewing/espressing process. Producers of coffee always emphasize how important the beans are, which is true, but overstated in the present market; in the specialty coffee market, the beans are almost always decent quality in the green state; it's mostly a question of the roast and the actual production. I'm even happy with better-quality robusta beans in blends, which U.S. producers turn their nose up at, but which Italians rely on for extra crema; Vietnamese coffee, too, generally uses some robusta beans.

Recommended

Vivace's Roasteria (Broadway & Denny Way) and the red-awning covered sidewalk bar down the street are the understated stars of the Seattle espresso scene. When it comes to pouring espresso, David Schomer has the greatest obsession for detail of anyone in Seattle and probably nearly anywhere else. Here, you will find no 24-ounce gut-busting monstrosities of milk with incidental discoloration from charred beans. You'll find short and tall options for milky drinks made with their Seattle-style Vita blend, and you'll get a different, more mellow northern-Italian style "Dolce" blend for straight or sugared espresso. Both are made to exacting specifications with beans that were roasted probably no more than 3 days ago, with hyper-modified espresso machines that, while still operated manually, have modified boilers and thermostats that precisely regulate the temperature to +/- 0.2°F (0.1°C). Vivace's roasts are more complex than what you would find at Starbucks or other chain stores, mostly because of the freshness  and particularly because the roasts are not overwhelmingly carbon-like. The freshness of the beans, which are ground to order, and the temperature control, manifest themselves as a flawless cup of espresso with beautiful crema; should you be inclined to order a milky drink, the presentation features a trademark milk-foam rosetta which may appear as a leaf pattern, a spade, a heart, or other shape depending on the whim of the barista, and is created solely through careful pouring of the milk foam. Schomer's mission is to make espresso taste as good as it smells, and by putting his disciples through a vigorous training regimen, maintaining careful technical controls, and constantly working on new methods of refining the minutiae of the lifecycle of coffee, Schomer has made Vivace's the gold standard for espresso.

Victrola. 411 15th Avenue East, Seattle. I don't live anywhere near this part of Capitol Hill, but the atmosphere in Victrola, combined with the quite respectable coffee, draw me in when I'm in the neighborhood. One of my customers in Phinney Ridge, Fresh Flours, uses their beans with great aplomb, so I no longer need to trek too far from my Fremont home to get it. And they blog!

Icon Coffee. 43rd & Fremont, Seattle. My preferred standby, mostly because it's very professionally made and it's in my 'hood. All organic coffee from Fiori (Vita), made smartly and with above average service.

Caffe Ladro (various locations in Seattle). Nearly every time I find myself in Caffe Ladro, I am lured by the Medici, a mocha enhanced with some freshly-cut zest of orange. It's certainly not their invention, but they do it well, and they are one of the few places to find the drink in Seattle. Ladro serves shade-grown, organic coffee, and the quality is above average and the attention to detail (milk foam patterns, ground-to-order beans) is nearly on par with Vivace's, without as much visible affectation of the obsession for engineering precision.

Uptown Espresso now has various locations, but I've been to the one in Queen Anne, and of late, nearly weekly at their Belltown shop. I have limited experience with the coffee here, but the latte is nice. Their signature feature is a particularly velvety foam. The roast is a little dark, so straight espresso is a bit more bitter than at other places.

Dilettante on Broadway (only this location) is a chocolatier. The espresso quality itself doesn't stand out in any particular way, but is quite respectable and provides the perfect foil for Dilettante's signature Ephemere truffle sauce, and accordingly, some of the nicest mochas in town. For the over-21 crowd, you may also go for the hot "schmocha", a mocha with the  Ephemere truffle sauce and a respectable dose of peppermint schnapps. The schmocha is too sweet for me, but they also have a milkshake version if you'd like to have coffee in your dessert.

Victor's Coffee (downtown Redmond) also roasts its own beans, and has as its signature style a deeply roasted blend which, while not quite charred like most of the chain brews, is more aggressive than the Vivace's style roast. The mostly-wood interior features old church pews and sturdy wood chairs and tables. The crowd is young suburban kids, high-tech workers, and the occasional grandmother; accordingly, the signature drinks tend to be sugary syrup-based flavored lattes. The Irish Nudge, Mandarin Mocha, and the Roca Mocha are worth trying, but I recommend ordering any of the above "light on the sweet stuff." It's open later than most independent coffee shops on the east side (until about 10pm on weekends).

Lighthouse Cafe in Fremont (43rd & Phinney). Somehow, the coffee tastes a little different every time I come here. sometimes the roast brings out a lovely caramel aroma, other times it's a little more bitter. It is, however, nearly always good; I've only had one bad coffee here. I live nearly next door, so if you're in the neighborhood, buzz me and I might join you for your buzz.

Decent

Caffe Coccinella in downtown Bellevue, on 10th Ave. between 102nd and Bellevue Way, uses Vivace's Caffe Vita blend. The atmosphere is surprisingly pleasant, considering the location is in a neighborhood otherwise full of bland corporate concepts. Free wireless internet makes this an essential downtown Bellevue stop when I'm doing some work on the Eastside.

Zoka near Greenlake has good enough espresso drinks, and a pleasant atmosphere. If you're in the neighborhood, it's worth stopping by.

Triple J Cafe (Kirkland) has the art of inoffensiveness down; I remember having a decent latte or two here. It's also a cute little place to sit down and relax.

Should you find yourself in the mood for corporate coffee, Torrefazione is one of the better chain-style coffee shops. It's now a wholly owned subsidiary of Starbucks, purchased from the franchising conglomerate AEC Enterprises in 2003. Alas, it's on the chopping block, as it was only moderately profitable, not spectacularly profitable, as

Not Recommended

I've encountered a series of places with metallic tasting espresso, most likely due to inadequately cleaned equipment. Still Life in Fremont. If it was just a question of atmosphere, I would wholeheartedly endorse the comfy environs of Still Life. (Still Life has recently closed and opened under another name, apparently under the ownership of the person who bought the place about 2 years ago; noted 19 May 2004). I would definitely go there for food or maybe pastries. But the espresso drinks in my experience were metallic tasting or unpleasantly bitter, suggesting that they don't take care of their equipment very well. I had the same problem at Uncle Elizabeth's (First Hill). I sampled a passable drip coffee here once, but Uncle Elizabeth's needs to aggressively clean their espresso machines.

Tully's. The "Charbucks" moniker serves Tully's even better than it does the ubiquitous company it was meant to slam. I can't figure out the appeal of Tully's, but the shops are usually strategically located next to other Starbucks locations, so one can tell their real estate and facilities planning team is reasonably good at following someone else's lead.