Tag Archives: out and about

Voodoo Doughnuts and the allure of novelty

Perhaps it was my fault. Perhaps my expectations of Voodoo Doughnuts was way too high. It is, after all, a doughnut shop, not a four-star restaurant that is home to a world-renown chef. But part of me walked away from the place a little underwhelmed.

I realize that I may have just offended a fair amount of the citizenry of Portland. Some of them may call me daft. Others may state that I just didn’t get it. But these positions still don’t change my opinion. My visit to Voodoo Doughnuts was disappointing.

My visit consisted of about seven minutes of my time, where I ordered a doughnut called the Old Dirty Bastard, a raised doughnut of glazed chocolate topped with crushed oreos and then some peanut butter glaze, as well as the infamous bacon maple bar, which is hopefully self explanatory. I consumed said doughnuts whilst walking with Tara up Burnside to Powell’s Books.

Here’s what I love about Voodoo: the toppings. If you want to a different kind of doughnut shop experience, then Voodoo is your place. Sometimes the unique take on toppings work (as it did with the ODB), sometimes they do not (as with the Bacon Maple bar). It took me a full five minutes to decide upon which doughnuts I wanted. This is a menu where a doughnut topped with Powdered Strawberry Quik gets serious consideration. Had I the metabolism of a gerbil on crystal meth, I would have ordered several more doughnuts aside from the ones mentioned above. Part of me is saddened by the fact that I may have to wait before I get a chocolate doughnut topped chocolate glaze and cocoa-puffs.

Here’s what I didn’t like about Voodoo: The doughnuts themselves. The maple bar was dense, and very reminiscent of those horrid, horrid pastries that supermarkets try to pass off. The doughnut foundation for the ODB was a little better, but in all honesty, I’ve had better.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the bacon. Cold, greasy, and more akin to jerky than the crispy bacon that I adore.

Here’s my perspective. Doughnuts are good when they are light and airy. They are best when served fresh from the oil or oven (depending upon your preference). My guess here is that these doughnuts would have been amazing if served that way.

But alas, they were not. They were allowed to sit for some time before I came along and plopped my money on the counter.

I’m still trying to piece together the love for this place in light of my experience. I’ve come up with several theories.

One: I went on a bad day. This is entirely possible. Perhaps the staff just wasn’t on their ‘A’ game, and the service and food ended up being no better than average.

Two: The novelty of their menu choices blinds everyone to the quality of the actual product. This is not outside the realm of possibility, and many an money has been made by selling an average product and dressing it up as unique. Hell, Archie McPhee’s business plan depends upon this phenomenon.

My guess is that the reality is somewhere between these two extremes. There is some novelty in their menu. Make no doubt about that. But there are also interesting ideas in there. Some work, some don’t. As an impartial observer, it would seem that Voodoo has gotten some really great press based off of their novelty. But they are able to maintain a regular crowd based off the menu options that work beyond the novel. There was enough people there to make me realize that their regular customers had found that one doughnut that keeps them coming back. When you keep coming back for the same thing on the menu, it loses its novelty but gains something akin to emotional value.

Getting people to come back leads to some measure of success. And sometimes success leads to complacency, which leads to status quo, which leads to going through the motions, which leads to forgetting what made you successful in the first place…the doughnut itself.

I would order the ODB again. I would pass on the Maple Bar. The bacon was just said, and did not match as well with the maple as one might expect. Cold Bacon on a cold doughnut just does not do it.

Meanwhile, if anyone wants to understand the possibilities of an exceptional doughnut, head to Sunrise Donuts in Redmond, about 6am or so. They make pastries that will make you weep.

Tango Desserts

Summer Parfait

Kudos to local restaurant Tango, who consistently amazes me with their approach to desserts. They are one of a few places in town who are not afriad to move beyond the apple crumble/Creme Brulee/Cheesecake hackery which most places never stray far beyond (Note that the menu on the link is greatly out of date).

Kudos also to our waiter the other night, who unapologetically described the phallic nature of this dish in detail. Something that Tara and myself fully expanded upon after he left. I felt as if I was thirteen.

Seattle…gotta love it sometimes.

UPDATE: As Celeste noted, I forgot to say how it was….

This summer parfait, with frozen blueberry and apricot compote, based with a marscapone ice cream and set upon a meringue…

…was amazing.

Context and Colliding Blog Worlds

Last night was spent having dinner and conversation with several Seattle Food Bloggers. For the first time I got to meet the folks behind such wonderful sites as Amuse-Bouche, Culinary Fool, I Heart Bacon, Orangette, and Tasting Menu.

We congregated at Malay Satay Hut and discussed (surprise, surprise) food blogs! The amount of passion that was on display at the table certainly made me feel less obsessive about the deeds that I do for dinner.

One of the things that was brought up, by Orangette if I recall, was the idea of context of food, an idea I wholeheartedly support. Although we didn’t really elaborate on this idea, it’s one that I believe is important when it comes to understanding food.

What people eat in any given area is determined. This means that there will be products which are readily available, and those which will be difficult to find. More often than not, these items are determined by economic status, tradition, accessibility, food knowledge, market forces and political forces (There are probably more, but those are the ones that rolled off the top of my head).

For example, those of us from the East coast mentioned the lack of good bagels or corned beef in Seattle. But as the Culinary Fool pointed out, these items are not here because there is no culinary tradition of those products here. What passes for a bagel or corned beef here survives, because the collective knowledge base in the Pacific Northwest allows the market to sell second and sometime third rate products. The best illustration of that in the Seattle area surrounds our search for the perfect pizza (which we’ve discussed here before).

Conversely, we can look at a town like Lawrence, KS and wonder just what is going on in their neck of the woods. There are local traditions and market forces (Beef is big time there, and decent BBQ can be had as it’s only an hour from Kansas City), but at the same time, this is a part of the country where Whole Foods just doesn’t exist. Do you think you can find decent prosciutto, salmon or Dim Sum there? Not likely. The context of their food traditions is completely different from what’s here in Seattle, or even in Chicago or New York, London or Paris.

I love the idea of context, as it allows us to see the bigger picture. That is one thought(of many) that I took from last nights get together.

Seattle Tết Festival 2005

One of the great thing about Seattle is its diverse ethnic community. One of the benefits of said community is that we here in the Emerald City get to celebrate the new year all over again.

At the Seattle Center this weekend is one such festival, the 2005 Tết Festival. The Vietnamese community is celebrating their New Year as well as Hương Sắc Mùa Xuân (the Spring Essence). The Typical “new year” celebration is not a celebration of the turning of the calendar (as we do here in the Western World), but a combination of a festival of the winter new moon in the Lunar Calendar as well as a festival marking the communion of man with nature.

According to the Tết in Seattle website, the 3 day celebration is a time when “one takes extra care not to show anger and not to be rude to people. The most nagging mother-in-law will make peace with her daughter-in-law; a quarreling couple will smile pleasantly at each other; (and) the new world should be the best of worlds.”

Now I’m all for peace and quiet…it certainly has its time and place. But for me, this festival is all about the food.

There are two cooking demos this year, but alas, I will only be able to make one of them.

  • Saturday, Feb. 5th, 2:30-3:30PM, our “Chefs” will feature the making of “Tôm Cari Nướng Vỉ Cuốn Sà-lách” – “Grilled Curry Shrimp in Lettuce Wrap” and “Chè Ba Màu” – “Tri-color Beans” dessert.
  • Sunday, Feb. 6th, 11:30AM-12:30PM, features “Bún Thịt Nướng – “Grilled Pork Noodle” and Chè Ba Màu – “Tri-color Beans” dessert.

So if your in Seattle this weekend, and looking for something to do, head down to the Seattle Center and check this out.

Grub Crawl

It was *such* a good night at the Grub Crawl last night. Wonderful wine and cheese at Lark, and then mediocre crepes at 611 Supreme (made mediocre by the waitress, but in her defense, she was the only wait staff). I was unable to last to dessert at Tango, but I had a wonderful time altogether.

Many thanks to the people who showed up…Michael, Tara, Derrick, Lynn, Ro, Jenny and Dawn.

We WILL do this again!

Plus, we will be celebrating the 1st anniversary of Accidental Hedonist, which is fast approaching. Be prepared and stay tuned for updates.

The Fair

On e-gullet yesterday, I came across a conversation asking for advice on what to eat while at the Puyallup Fair. The consensus was pretty clear: Don’t eat there.

People, people, calm down. It’s called a Fair for a reason. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. It’s just, y’know, fair.

That can easily apply to the foods there as well. The trick into eating fair food is summed up by three words: Lower your expectations. Personally, it’s the one time I allow myself to eat horrible food. I mean where else on earth do you have a collection of restaurants and food vendors that offer elephant ears, Cascade Burgers, hot scones, funnel cakes, BBQ and a multitude of other food varieties, most of which are deep fried?

Is there great food to be had at the fair? Well, no. But you can still have fun. Our group, for example, went searching for the elusive deep fried snickers bar.

However, there is bad food at the fair. I know that I’m going against 80 years of Puyallup tradition, but the Fair Scones are nothing more than biscuits disguised as scones. When you can taste the baking powder in the mix, you know you’ve hit a low in pastry history.

On the great side, I was able to pick up an incredible jelly at one of farm vendor stand. Micks peppourri had several tastes availble to sample. And I was impressed enough to pick up a jar of Cabernet wine jelly, which I hope to use as a glaze on some lamb.

But then there was the deep fried snickers bar.


Down and Out at the Low and Slow

On Sunday I found myself driving my Mini Cooper to the SPILSAPBBQSC (The acronym that I have given to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Low & Slow Pro BBQ State Championship). To say that it was a disappointment is an understatement on par with saying that “Kraft food products are evil”. The extent on how sad and unfortunate this event is will never be known unless you go there yourself.
If you are the type of masochist who gets off on sitting in Emergency Rooms, signing up for College Courses or waiting for the Boston Red Sox to win a world series, then the SPILSAPBBQSC is for you. Let me explain the type of sadism that the promoters of this event inflicted on the mass audience:

  • There were a dozen or so competitors for the title of Washington State BBQ Champion. But none of them could sell their products, and none of them could provide free samples of their product until after the judges had sampled their wares.

    Due to this, only one or two of the competitors were providing samples of their products at any given time.

  • If you wanted BBQ, you couldn’t get any BBQ from the competitors. So there was one food vendor who was allowed to serve BBQ to the general public.
  • As for other non-bbq food vendors? There were none. That’s right. This was a food event that attracted hundreds of customers, and there was only ONE food vendor. See the picture to your left? That was the line to the food vendor. The food vendor is that tent with the red awning waaaaaay in the back. So if you wanted food, you had to wait 45 minutes in line.
  • There was no beer being served…At a BBQ event…What the hell were they thinking?
    Oh sure, there was a beer garden. But it was no where near the event. It was 200 yards way at an arts and crafts festival. And it was a sad, sad place indeed.
  • It rained…And yes, I blame that on the organizers as well.

And they wonder why the big BBQ events don’t take the SPILSAPBBQSC seriously. In the part of the nation that has provided BBQ salmon, and grilling on cedar planks, there’s quite simply no excuse for how terrible this event was. Both Ballard’s Seafood Festival and Edmond’s ‘Taste of Edmonds’ were far superior in execution.