Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Debut of Marination ma kai

What have we been most anxious for all summer (other than our trip to Italy)?  The highly anticipated debut of the newest Marination outpost in our backyard in West Seattle-- ma kai, which means along, near or beside the sea in Hawaiian.  

The new location, ma kai is aptly named, as it sits where the former Alki Fish and Chips was located at Alki's Seacrest Boathouse (owned by Seattle Parks and Rec) right on the edge of Puget Sound with a killer view of the Seattle skyline.

Marination is co-owned by Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison.  Their Big Blue food truck shot to national fame when their Korean spicy pork taco won the Good Morning America national food truck contest in 2009.  We've been big fans for a long time as both of us love their Hawaiian-Korean fusion food.  It gives us both that everyday aloha feeling.  Ro even featured their food at her big Flirty Thirty birthday bash this past January.

So it shouldn't be any surprise that the first place we chose to eat lunch upon returning from our Italian adventure was, you guessed it, ma kai and it did not disappoint.  Not only did the new place keep some of the Marination classics such as SPAM and kalua sliders and kalbi beef tacos , but it added more fish dishes (appropriate considering the waterside location), a full bar, breakfast items and the kicker-- boozy shaved ice featuring Husky Deli Ice-Cream (a local West Seattle favorite).  This place is going to be packed in the summertime no doubt!  You heard it here first.
New patio/deck with an incredible view!
Spicy Kimchi fried rice w/ fried egg on top
Mac salad and SPAM slider

After we staked out where we would be moving in with our sleeping bags to sleep permanently on the beautiful deck with the most incredible view, we couldn't help but say to each other this was going to be our new hang-out (FloJo is determined to become the Foursquare mayor).  We nestled into a table and hunkered down to conquer our tray of food. FloJo had her usual spicy kimchi fried rice with a fried egg on top and her favorite the Marination classic SPAM slider with a side of mac salad (take note islanders the SPAM is a nice addition to traditional mac salad).  A funny footnote on the menu, ma kai boasts making their own Portuguese sausage in-house, but they clearly point out the SPAM still comes from Minnesota.  Which begs the question is it really Portuguese sausage if it's made in Seattle?  

Ro went new school trying the cod fish and chips.  She was able to convince the server to let her try both of the new tartar sauces miso and kimchi.  Kimchi is "the bomb" and should be your pick if they won't let you try both.  The fish was very delicious, but the chips (although props for the hand-cut variety) were soggy and not very good.  She's really excited to try the fish tacos, but they were not available yet (still in soft launch during our first visit).  There are still a few coming soon items in addition to the fish tacos this includes kimchi sausage and eggs  and pork katsu sandwiches.
Roz (co-owner) and Robyn (Cicerone)

Marination brown session ale

The new location has a full bar  (where they booze up the shaved ice) and Washington State's first female Cicerone, Robyn Schumacher.  Being a Cicerone is a really grueling, grind it out kind of gig.  She's the chief beer taster & has to keep current on what's hot out in the marketplace.  Research includes visiting stores, breweries and local pubs. Tough job right?  

Ma kai features a few Hawaiian beers in bottle form.  On tap they now have their own namesake brown ale brewed by White Center's Big Al Brewing.  They also have a rotating people's tap that is decided upon by you guessed it, the people.  If you'd like to register to vote submit your vote on the ma kai blog.  For now, the people have chosen Georgetown Brewing's Lucille IPA.  Our vote for a future people's choice is  Hawai'i Nui Brewing's Sunset Amber Ale brewed in Hilo on the Big Island (Ro's homeland).  It's awesome beer we came across while visiting Lanai, but not sure if they distribute to the mainland...yet.  

There is also wine and creative island inspired cocktails.  We overheard a customer saying that Robyn makes up the best bloody mary he's ever tasted.  Might be worth doing your own research to see if that claim can be confirmed.

Portuguese $3.25 and SPAM musubi $2.50 with Hawaiian Sun

We followed our lunch visit two days later to try the new breakfast menu.  We struggled to decide what to order from the interesting choices that include: breakfast sliders, sunrise burrito, biscuits & Portuguese sausage and gravy, SPAM or Portuguese sausage musubi, aloha granola and yogurt, mini banana macadamia nut loaf, coconut muffins or kalua 'n' cabbage manapua and Hawaiian classic loco moco.

Loco Moco $8.50
Sunrise Burrito $6.50

We started with both varieties of musubi and coffee.  Surprisingly out of the two we both liked the SPAM the most.  The Sumatra coffee was from Caffe Vita (we love their organic and fair trade practices).  Ro really liked the flavor, but it was a little too bold for FloJo (split decision).  Ro went with the sunrise burrito that was made with Portuguese sausage, eggs, potatoes and kimchi to wake you up.  FloJo was excited to try their version of the loco moco (you have to be a little loco to want a burger for breakfast).  It was rice covered in kalua pork gravy with a burger and two fried eggs on top (very heart friendly huh)?  The first bite of gravy and rice was overly salty (again, not helping the ole ticker).  The rest of the ingredients were fine on their own, but the gravy seemed to have too much sodium.

Scuba divers working up an appetite in Puget Sound
There were quite a few people taking advantage of the full bar at 10 a.m.  There was a class of scuba divers that came in after their lesson and had a well deserved breakfast beer.  We also saw a dog break free from his leash (he was previously tied up outside) and he made a mad dash into the restaurant in search of either his people or a musubi (we can't be sure which it was).  Breakfast is served until 2 p.m. on the weekends so mosey in when you get up.  The loco moco has hangover remedy written all over it.

The prices are a bit high (a musubi in Hawaii is generally no more than $2).  Our lunch and breakfast were both right around $30.  Not outrageous, but also not cheap food either.  We figure if you were to eat just down the street at Salty's you would spend at least double for the same view.  That's one way to justify paying a little more to dine here. Oh, and we love that ma kai is incorporating local partners like Husky Deli, Big Al Brewing and Caffe Vita.

The new hours for ma kai are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. till "late" on weekends.  Since ma kai is in the same place where the water taxi docks, the new morning hours and breakfast items should be perfect for morning commuters to grab a bite on their way to work.  We also think it would be a perfect place to tailgate prior to a Seahawk or Sounders game.  Grab some grub and beer at ma kai, catch the water taxi to the game.  Maybe even grab another beer on the return trip to celebrate the win!  

Our other thought is this would be an awesome wedding reception site (can't beat the view) and Marination does their own catering.  SPAM I do!  Here's the e-mail address to use if you decide to book your post Ref 74 wedding:  eat@marinationmobile.com

Welcome to the hood ma kai we are sure we will be best friends.

Live life with aloha, flavor and fun!

Marination Ma Kai on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dining Out: Orvieto Monastery Style

Orvieto is one of the most picturesque Umbrian hill-towns set high atop a sheer rock like a bride and groom atop a wedding cake.  The town is located in the middle of Italy between Florence to the North and Rome to the South.  While in Orvieto most of our dining was done at the villa.  However, we did have a dining out food adventure worth mentioning.

While we found it challenging to find food establishments the first few days of our stay in Umbria, it was hard to miss the looming 12th century Gothic "castle" that was converted into a hotel and restaurant called La Badia. We later learned that this was not a castle, but instead a former monastery.  Ecstatic to have found an open restaurant on Sunday, we anxiously booked a reservation for fourteen.  Little did we know until later, (queue the dum...dum..dum background music) the language barrier came into play, and the receptionist misunderstood fourTEEN to be four.
The hotel still uses old fashioned keys

Ro trying out the bar seating
When we arrived for our reservation, and found that the error had been made, the staff tried very hard to quickly adjust and accommodate such a large group.  While they were scrambling to set-up for the group we explored the enormous high-vaulted rooms.
FloJo playing a few numbers for the hotel guests (where's the tip jar)?
There was a sweet bellman that saw us walking around and he started joking with us.  He motioned for us to follow him so we did. He showed us what used to be the cafeteria for the monks (where they ate their lunch) and the preserved fresco of Christ that still remains.  The room is now used for conferences and weddings.

What's for dinner?
After our self-exploration and adventures we decided to return to the group to see if we had been seated yet.  It would still be a few additional moments until we were seated so we took pictures of the real working fireplace at one end of the dining room that featured heavy pots, a wrought-iron roasting spit and an old-world cooking smell as if the hunt of the day was being prepared for our dinner.

In contrast, when our very cute Italian waiter, Valerio, escorted us to our secluded room in the castle (whoops scratch that, monastery) we passed a very cool, modern side bar.  Kim, does this qualify for vintage modern motif?

Betsy and Dana 1st course

FloJo, Valerio and Ro
We settled in for a typical Italian affair, a three hour meal.  Valerio was adorable and we had a great time interacting with him.  Inclusive of Betsy speaking with him in her best Italian (really English words spoken with an American-Italian accent).  "Valerio, I've a ordered too-aaaa-much-aaaa."  The poor guy was out numbered 14-2 (he had one little helper) and he really didn't stand a chance.   Highlights of the food included anything that had truffles shaved on it (that's a no brainer unless you're Dana and allergic to mushrooms). Our favorite dish of the evening was lobster fettucine with black shaved truffles.  Does it get any more decadent than that?

Another highlight was Valerio's wine selections for us.  He suggested we start with a Falesco Syrah that originates from a winery between Umbria and Lazio (it's the cool wine bottle pictured below with Ro photo bombing).  We questioned Valerio's choice at first thinking it was going to be too robust to start with, but it wasn't (later we found out it's nicely blended with some Merlot).  Valerio then suggested a Rubbio from Umbria, mostly made of Sangiovese the most prevalent grape in Italy.   It was very good and we decided we will need to put Palazone on our wineries to visit for a future trip.  To finish off the meal, he recommended Oscano, a merlot from Perugia (of Baci chocolate fame) and coincidentally named after a castle there. Merlot is not usually a varietal we favor, but are finding we like it more and more.  This merlot had a pleasant, rich, smooth and dark finish that paired nicely with our lamb to end our meal.  It made the Syrah seem like a Pinot Noir.  We applauded his picks and "trust me" attitude (and of course it helped that he was, as you Americans say, "easy on the eyes").
Betsy and Dana by the end of dinner

We decided to skip dessert, less it turn into a four hour dining event.  Most of us had an entertaining evening at the monastery and how often can you really say that's where you had dinner?  As an apology and peace offering for the haphazard service, Valerio sent us home with several bottles of the house red and white wines. More points for Valerio!  He also shared with us in his most charming Italian way the story he had been teasing us with all night.  Just as we were about to leave, he decided to tell the story and we captured it on YouTube for posterity.

Live life with flavor and fun!
Group photo courtesy of Cindy Sebastian

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Under the Umbrian Moon

Our first glimpse of Orvieto amongst the Le Velette vines
Town of Orvieto

Harvest Time

Le Velette 

One of the movies we watched before coming to Italy was Under the Tuscan Sun.  It gave us a preview of what life in the Italian countryside might be like.  But honestly, how do you imagine a week in a Umbrian country house on the grounds of a centuries old Italian vineyard?  Add fourteen American women, the guest of honor celebrating her half century mark and throw in a farm yard cat and you've got a recipe for a very unforgettable experience.

Birthday girl!
The star of this Umbrian story is Ms Betsy Bruce who hatched the idea of inviting her friends to share in celebrating her half century mark.  She contacted her former tour guide of Rome, Cecilia, whose family has owned Le Velette Estate for several hundreds of years and arranged to rent one of the homes on the property and host her friends for an Italian birthday celebration.  Because she is fiddy! 

It was fun to see each of the guests arrive.  Ironically, we initially had a food shortage on our hands and it became quite a 5 - 6 hour ordeal.  We couldn't find a grocery store, market or really any place to buy food.  We started a collective pool of snack food sourced from our suitcases.  It was a hodgepodge of chips, trail mix, nutella and candy.  Luckily, we were staying on a vineyard so there would be no shortage of the vino all week (final bottle count matched Betsy's age).

Funicular tracks up to the top of the hill 

Ro and Gabi ready to ride the funicular

Orvieto Duomo

As a collective group we ventured into the nearest hill town of Orvieto to check out our surroundings, find a restaurant to eat at and get some basics for breakfast the next morning.  We took the funicular up to the town located at the top of a hill.  The cathedral (duomo) was magnificent!

Harvesting the grapes
Wine cave tour

Cecilia- isn't she cute!
The wine tasting experience
Cecilia welcomed us to her vineyard by not only allowing us to wine taste, but to have a wine experience.   What is a wine experience you ask?  Cecilia incorporated a tour of the grounds supplementing it with the history of her family's estate and how wine was such an integral part of the Italian life.  Did you know that wine was consumed in order to increase a person's caloric intake due to the lack of modern conveniences we have today (i.e. no automobiles only foot mobiles)?  She guided us under the surface as we toured the caves below the property grounds that acted as a natural refrigeration system.  Conveniently, the entrance to the underground caves was located in the kitchen.  In recent years the caves have been used to store wine in a stable temperature.  They have bottles close to a century old (she will not guarantee the condition of the wine inside those older bottles, but the family still drinks them on special occasions).   She taught us about the three T's: temperature, temperament (mood) and taste (color & body should match the food).  The wine experience was capped off with an introduction of Le Velette wines and the possible food pairings they thought went best with the wine.  It was an amazing spread of food.  What an experience indeed!

Olive oil press
Ro checking out the walls of a cave

Pigeon breeding holes
Another adventure that was educational was visiting the Orvieto caves & underground tour.  These caves have been carved out by the inhabitants of the area for the past 2,500 years mainly the Etruscans.  The underground tour was somewhat similar to the Seattle Underground (a deserted city under the current city).  Below the current city there is evidence of early Italian life such as an olive oil press (remains of an old factory) and holes carved into the side of the caves where pigeons were bred and sold for food.  

The Umbrian Villa

Umbria was an enchanting area with so much history, character, ambiance and magic.  Our nights were lit by a huge full moon.  The last night of our stay there was a beautiful harvest moon shining red and low almost on the horizon and through a few clouds.  Pictures could not do this moon justice it was truly spectacular and a wonderful way to wrap our week in this enchanting place.  This will be a birthday experience to be remembered long after we all return home.  Hopefully in another fifty years (when we all have gray hair and less teeth we'll all reminesce about our week under the beautiful Umbrian moon.

Live life with flavor and fun!