Hand to Mouth

misadventures in eating

Seattle food diaries: despair sets in.

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One of the reasons I had difficulty discovering the nature of the Seattle food scene, I think, is that there isn’t a cohesive one — there’s no community personality for eating, and while there are good restaurants (man, are there good restaurants), there’s no thesis to the entire restaurant scene.  And while I recognized this as an oddity but not a major problem, I faced my first true moment of food horror yesterday while dining at Capitol Hill’s upscale Southern restaurant (I was homesick, all right?), the Kingfish Cafe.

Located at 602 19th Avenue East, Kingfish is tucked away in a pretty quiet, heavily residential area shaded deeply with trees and approximately 6 billion miles away from a gas station (as our rapidly de-fueling car found yesterday night).  There was a line out the front door, but our wait for a table for three ended up being just twenty minutes spent at the bar — which was the location for the deepest trauma I have suffered yet this summer:

Guys — Kingfish Cafe doesn’t have sweet tea.

Say what you will about catering to your clientel, about the capricious nature of eaters, about regional differences in cooking, but the one uncompromising punctuation of any Southern, Southern-esque, purportedly-Southern, Southern-lite meal is that I can get sweet tea off of your menu.

Iced tea was listed, with “(unsweetened)” written next to it, and I wondered if maybe that just meant you had the option of getting it without sugar.  You know, for heathens.  NOT SO, the bartender clarified — your only option for tea was unsweetened, which began my campaign to make myself as obnoxiously, obviously from North Carolina as humanly possible.  I wailed, I bemoaned.  I flipped over the guest check at the end of the meal and wrote a heartfelt note to the restaurant management about the grievous error of their ways and ended it with a genuine “thanks” and a smiley face — but I think we all know that smiley was strained by lack.

What was more disappointing was that the rest of the food was wonderful — really really wonderful.  On a Thursday night at 8:30 they were already sold out of their ribs, but still had buttermilk fried chicken (which I ordered) and a menu that stretched toward Louisiana and then back to the eastern seaboard.

The corn chowder was creamy if short on crayfish and slightly on the thin side — and weirdly, serviced with matzo.  Yeah, I have no idea.  Neither did Roommate 1, who gave it an odd look before shrugging and dunking it into the chowder.  Fried green tomatoes, although deliciously handled, were probably the most anemic looking tomatoes I’d ever seen: tiny, plucked too early, and disappointingly small — although all the requisite flavors were present, the produce selection could have used a lot of help.  The hushpuppies served on the side were excellent — better even, strike me down, than similarly made hushpuppies served at the Chapel of Nouveau Southern Food: Crook’s Corner in Chapel (T)Hill.

The buttermilk fried chicken was overfried — which made the thin breading a little surly, just as Southern ladies don’t sweat but glisten, a Southern lady should never be in a position to gnaw at her chicken, although the meat was perfectly cooked and falling from the bone tender, getting to it was a trial.  It was more than compensated by the enormously delicious potato salad, served still molded into a scoop shape and garnished liberally with parsley, made with red potatoes, red onions, and a smattering of celery for bit.  And that was paired with collard greens, cooked to absolute perfection: salty, sweet, and vinegar-rich with flavor and a smooth, wonderful texture that spoke of long hours in heavy pots.  The cornbread, served on the side, was good and rich, nearly cake-like in texture — something that might be attributed to the fact that Kingfish makes them with creamed corn and Pepperjack cheese in addition to fresh corn kernels and jalapenos in the batter.

Kingfish is good, if slightly higher on the price scale than Southern food should (ever) be, but we can chalk that up to location, and clearly defective in the drink department.  On a scale of A to F, Kingfish’s food gets a B; Kingfish’s drinks get an F—- (that’s three minuses), because any Southern restaurant that doesn’t serve sweet tea is a big fat faker in my book.  Good effort, bad execution — and total score for me would be a C+.


Written by lshen

August 10, 2007 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. It’s hard to get decent Southern food in the Pacific Northwest; most of the places I tried in Portland had this weird lost-in-translation vibe, like the cooks understood the concept but had never tasted real Southern food. And most of them, like Kingfish, I guess, tend to lump together every cuisine from below the Mason-Dixon. The most horrific thing I ever encountered was a hush puppy made with savory, Texas-style cornbread at a restaurant that billed itself as low-country. You can find good stuff in unexpected places, though. I had the best biscuits and gravy of my life at a pretentious cafe know for its blintzes.

    I did have to resign myself, though, to making my own sweet tea.


    August 11, 2007 at 1:08 am

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