Archive for January, 2012

Taylor Shellfish Farm: Oysters in Seattle

Posted 24 Jan 2012 — by S.E.
Category Food Alert Trends, Travel

I found the Taylor Shellfish Farm store quite by accident while driving around for a bit in Seattle. It all started half an hour earlier as I set out for the night and found my rental car battery dead. Mea culpa, I left the lights on by force of habit after exiting the last time I drove and this inexpensive choice of cars doesn’t have an automatic shut-off. Interesting fact that once we get used to assistive technologies like an automatic shut-off for your headlights they cause certain levels of mindfulness and judgment to weaken. Makes me wonder what other parts of my routine would be compromised should the supporting technology suddenly go missing. I make the call to road-side assistance and prepare for the annoying wait. After an hour a young guy hired by the rental car company arrives looking straight out of a Seattle grunge catalog in flannel shirt, olive drab knit woolen hat, torn jeans and worn hiking boots. His hands are greased over but his personality is service oriented and the kid is a tremendous help. He has the car recharged and running in less than five minutes while exuding a casual friendliness so common in this part of the country. After a few more minutes he takes off in his red two-wheel drive economy pickup proffering advice that I drive around for the next 15-20 minutes this rainy afternoon to charge the battery. Good advice indeed and this is the reason I stumbled upon Taylor Shellfish Farm in the 21st minute of my recharge drive.

The blue neon sign in front initially caught my eye as I took a left off of Union Street onto Melrose. At first I drove right past peering in to see the place before circling back to park and take a closer look. Once inside it is immediately clear that the shop will provide an interesting excursion. For those of you who read this blog, you know that shellfish are a fascination. Modern shellfish farming has become a low impact, high value industry for seaside communities and a valuable benefit to marine ecosystems. Taylor has been in the business for more than 100 years and represents one of the better-known growers in the Pacific Northwest and the company has joing the growing ranks of seafood and shellfish companies that have opened their own restaurant and/or retail outlet. Island Creek has done this in Kenmore Square in Boston and Blount is about to open an outlet in Providence, Rhode Island.

There’s a large stainless steel six-bay circulating salt water tank in the middle of the shop filled with six varieties of oysters, two types of clams and one bay dedicated to mussels. The circulating system uses ultra violet light to sterilize the circulating seawater keeping the system bacteria free and the oysters, clams, and mussels happy. I grab the attention of the manager and we select a half-dozen oysters. He advises to try two Totten Inlet, two Olympia, and two Shigoku as a start. The Totten inlets are large and have a dark-lipped jagged shell. Straight from the tank, each is ice cold and full of liquor. At first slurp I get a nice sweet and briny oyster flavor and a slight bit of tannin in the finish. Next I try the Shigoku’s. Each has a deep shell with a smooth white lip. These are similar in flavor to the Totten Inlets but they have a higher percentage of liquor and a sweeter finish. Finally, I sample the tiny little Olympia’s with the silvery flesh and curling adductor muscle. These have a deep, creamy almost browned butter flavor with a quick follow of copper and tannin. Tiny and less physically satisfying than the larger Totten Inlets and Shigoku’s the Olympia’s packs nearly twice the flavor. Freshness is outstanding and I am ready for more but time has run out and I have to move along. Walking to the car, I am thankful that the battery went dead earlier since the chain of events afterward resulted in my stumbling upon Taylor Shellfish Farm’s retail store.  

Shigoku Oyster

Olympia Oyster

Totten Inlet Oyster

Taylor Retail Counter

Dungeness Crab Looking At You!

Taylor Shellfish Seattle Melrose Market

1521 Melrose Ave,

Seattle, WA

(206) 501-4321

How to Fabricate a Geoduck Clam

Posted 16 Jan 2012 — by S.E.
Category At Home, Food Alert Trends

In 1987 a good friend and culinary mentor the late Fred Hendee, a Seattle native, returned from a quick trip to his home state with a half dozen Geoduck clams. Having grown up on the sea shore eating all sorts of mollusks and crustaceans (clams, oysters, mussels, periwinkles, crabs and lobsters) my passion for local seafood was already well-developed when Fred opened his cooler and showed me these monstrous mollusks. Over the next few hours Chef Hendee blanched, skinned, sucked, cleaned and fabricated the clams into all sorts of items from thin pounded, needled and breaded clam strips to thinly sliced Geoduck siphon sashimi. We slightly froze and ground the neck of one clam using a coarse plate grinder and made a wonderful long-simmered cream based chowder and butterflied the breast (belly) meat into steaks that, after a slight pounding, we sautéed in beurre noisette with lemon and dill. Unfortunately, neither of us at the time thought to record the fun on film and the experience with Chef Hendee was lost all but to my recurring memories.

And this is what I think about each time I visit Seattle and see a Geoduck clam; Chef Fred Hendee smiling in the kitchen while teaching me how to handle a new and interesting seafood product. On this trip I am taking a fresh Geoduck back with me that I purchased at the Taylor Shellfish Farms shop at the corner of Melrose and Pine Streets in Seattle. At my request, the store manager has agreed to fabricate the clam for me while I shoot some pictures. Packed on ice, it was a quick flight home and a fine meal afterwards.

Simmer the Geoduck in water for 15 seconds and remove, quickly pulling the outer skin off of the siphon and belly.

Open the clam up with a sharp knife

Remove the shell from both sides of the clam

Clam with shell removed

Detach and discard the intestinal track

Separate the siphon and breast (belly) and split the siphon with a knife

Clean the siphon of sand and impurities

Cleaned siphon and breast

For sashimi, slice the siphon thinly

Prepared Geoduck Sashimi with Gingered Soy syrup, Cucumber Carrot and Cilantro Slaw




Sofra Bakery and Cafe: Cambridge/Boston

Posted 03 Jan 2012 — by S.E.
Category Gourmet Fast Casual/Take Out

This year I will spend more time visiting professional/celebrity chef gourmet casual and take out restaurants in an effort to figure out exactly where this growing segment is headed. It fascinates me that established culinary talent is taking hold of a market category that was left to the big corporate restaurant chains for so many years. Today I am enjoying a sunny winter lunch at Chef Ana Sortun’s Sofra Bakery and Café in Cambridge, MA her gourmet casual alternative to the more refined and upscale Oleana (dinner only) on the other side of the Charles river. This isn’t the first celebrity gourmet casual restaurant that I have visited but it is the first of 2012. In the past year or so I enjoyed a series of great meals at celebrity chef gourmet casual places including a fantastic Pen Cove Clam, house made Pancetta and lemon thyme pizza at Chef Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie in Seattle (I love the loft dining area that looks down on the bakery commissary below), an outstanding brunch duck pastrami sandwich and root beer at Chef Donald Link’s Butcher in New Orleans (great for a hangover cure before walking the WWII museum one block away) and the best Rabbit Strozzapreti pasta I have ever had at Barbara Lynch’s Sportello in Boston (a cure for the lack of quality food after being stuck at the convention center up the street). Sofra caught my eye a couple of years ago. After reading the New York Times on December 22nd I decided to make the trip. The times published “36 hours: Cambridge Mass” that day and made very positive mention of Sofra. My interest peaked.

Stepping in from the cold the first thing I notice is the number of moms with kids lingering along the bench seating on the far side of the miniscule dining area. One pair of women have a three year old boy bouncing between them as they drink coffee and share a pastry, the bright mid-day sun shining warmly through the plate glass storefront. Another has an infant in her arms, an iPad in her lap and a huge cup of coffee. The one table for two along the front wall is occupied by a young woman with a plate of Mezze and a pile of papers. She’s working furiously while eating. This is clearly a local hang-out and it’s comfortable with a Middle Eastern domestic vibe. The setting has a décor leaning casually toward Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean and a culinary crew that includes the usual young hipsters along with some older seasoned chefs and a refreshing dose of diversity.

Chef Sortun, a James Beard Award winner from 2005, is a mom and wife to Chris Kurth owner and farmer at Sienna Farms in Sudbury, MA. Both are passionate about their craft and on December 1st Kurth opened Sienna Farm’s store in South Boston (right next to Barbra Lynch’s Butcher and Stir). The menu at Sofra is loaded with items grown at Sienna Farms and Sortun does a marvelous job preserving, jarring and retailing products grown there.

Sofra opened back in the summer of 2008 and Sortun was an early leader in the contemporary Middle Eastern and farm to table food trends of the day. Since that time others have followed the same flavor path including Tom Douglas with Lola in Seattle and, as mentioned before in my blog, Michael Solomonov’s Zahav in Philadelphia (one of my favorite restaurants). Sortun’s touch in the kitchen is extremely balanced and precise. Each of the items I sampled was well balanced with layers of flavor rather than one predominant punch of flavor (think garlic, tahini paste, lemon) up front. Punching with flavor is easy. Layering flavors this way requires more skill and a greater level of control during production.

I place my order, select my Mezze and bread and head to the banquette to sit. There are usually 8-12 Mezze options to choose from and several that are dairy and wheat free. A few minutes later my name is called and I pick up my vegetable sausage soup and the Lamb Shawarma (an Arab flatbread sandwich usually served with shaved meats). The Mezze are outstanding and the soup is hearty and perfect for a cold clear winter day but the Lamb Shawarma is a stunning favorite. The meat is slow braised, hand shredded and topped with delicious and perfectly paired pickled cabbage and tahini before being wrapped and toasted on a griddle. A smear of Greek yogurt is layered on the cut end of the sandwich just as it is served. All these flavors and textures combine into an absolute winner of an item. It was so good I crave another as I write this. Just prior to heading to the door I gobble down a Kunefe (milk ricotta pudding with shredded phyllo) to top things off. Expect to see more celebrity gourmet casual restaurant that follow a global flavor theme. The combination of quick service, low cost, and quality food aligns nicely with the current economic state and consumer preference. What a winning combination. Next time you are on the Cambridge – Belmont border just west of Boston, you know where to go!

Vegetable Soup with Merguez Sausage, Parsnip, Onion, Celeriac, Red Kuri Squash, Swiss Chard, Carrots, Honey and Garlic

Muhammarra-Red Pepper & Walnut Puree, Bean Plaki, White Bean’s With Green Tahini Sauce, Persian Pea’s with Sienna Farm Carrots, Moroccan Style Carrots

Lamb Shawarma with Pickled Cabbage, Tahini, Yogurt

Kunefe with Spices Syrup


Sofra Pastry

Grab & Go Food Case



One Belmont St (at Mount Auburn)

Cambridge, MA 02138