Calamari Puttanesca?

Do you enjoy guessing at ingredients used restaurant dishes? Sometimes a menu will take a little fun out of it, but rarely is everything listed. Ever wonder aloud with a companion what gave a salad such a fresh-feeling texture or made a roast rabbit seem even more deep and rich than usual?

That is a game that Kate and I often play. Granted, it is rare that I understand all or even most of the complexities of a dish, but my love for chemistry is something that pushes me to understand what I’m eating. Plus I love the dinner conversations that can start up over such a thing.

“That broth smells fantastic. Saffron and lemon? What do you think?”

“No, I think it is saffron and key lime, but I’m not sure. What about your rice. Is that minced thyme? You know, I used to grow thyme in a communal garden. The place was so wonderful. Have you ever…”

Cellars Restaurant and Lounge provided several such opportunities, but one stands out. The latest Seattle print edition of DiningOut featured a brief, one-page column called New in Town where Alastair Bland wrote about chef Jared Velazquez.

Word-of-mouth reviews have unofficially deemed his calamari the best in town…

That is a rather audacious claim, especially in a seafood town like Seattle.

Kate and I started our meal with the dish and, after several proclamations of enjoyment, the guessing of ingredients and techniques went on for a while. We carefully considered capers. Kate poked at the possibility of pepper flakes, perhaps permeating olive oil. We asked about anchovies.

In the end, we decided the lightly breaded cephalopods shared many tastes of puttanesca, which is quite a plus in our household. The calamari ranks at the top of Kate’s breaded calamari experiences. I still can’t decide if the dish scores a number two or number three on my list of favorites. That is still very high praise, considering I order calamari almost anywhere I go that will serve it.

However, the fun of guessing ingredients in good company at a comfortable place cannot begin to be quantified. I had a blast. It was wonderful to find a place new to me that serves squid so well and to share it with someone who knows Mediterranean cooking techniques.

I am willing to bet plenty of you also enjoy guessing or perhaps flat out asking about the ingredients of dishes served. What were some of your more memorable culinary puzzlings? What chefs keep you coming back for more because you enjoy wondering about the flavors they create?

A few more notes on Cellars Restaurant and Lounge are below the cut for those who are interested.