Friday, April 18, 2008

Victrola: Best. Latte. Ever.

After years of waiting, patiently paging through posts at CoffeeGeek, mail ordering from Whole Latte Love, and daydreaming over the EspressoMap, I finally made it to Seattle. The Espresso Promised land.

And let me tell you, Seattle did not disappoint. The restaurant we went to our first night there serves Espresso Vita from Vivace, and pulled a gorgeous, thick-crema ristretto. The run of the mill sandwich place on the first floor of our office building here has a 3 group Linea with Torrefazione Italia beans. And each floor of our office sports an impressive super automatic drip coffee machine that grinds per cup.

Even with all that coffee goodness in the two block stretch between hotel and office, I still had to venture out. It'd be like going to Hawaii and avoiding the beach. World class espresso is based here, and I decided it was worth the walk.

And after a bitterly cold, mostly up hill, mile-long trek through Seattle's downtown, I found Victrola. These guys are relative newcomers compared to David Schomer's gold-standard Espresso Vivace, but Victrola has a huge following, and is arguably the best cafe and roaster in the country. The place is airy and open - its beautiful, but not at all splashy. Compared to the bustle and snazz of Stumptown in Portland (another world class shop), Victrola is decidedly small scale. There's a single 2 group machine (granted, it's a Synesso), a couple of grinders, and a scattering of nondescript light wood tables set up on the concrete floor.

Positively giddy and flushed, I got myself a double espresso. My own deep capacity for geekiness surprised even me, and a I had to stop myself from verbally oohing and aaahing at the pull. The double was very short - maybe an ounce - and it was a higher concentration of flavors than I can remember tasting in any coffee anywhere. The main taste is sharp and winey, but there are also lots of rich, almost woody flavors. There's even a tinge of sweetness at the first sip.

It was clear by the end of the espresso that this would be phenomenal with milk, and good lord, it was. I went back to buy a small (8 oz) latte. It was a thing of beauty. The sharpness of the espresso help up beautifully against the full sweetness of the milk. There wasn't a hit of bitterness and every flavor in the straight shot was there in the latte as well, only slightly muted and softened. I honestly can not imagine a better cup of coffee anywhere. It was perfect.

It's refreshing to go out in search of the essence of a thing and not come away disappointed.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Chuck's Dang Near Perfect Donuts

The measure of a donut place, in my opinion, is the cruller. This is the central failing of Krispy Kreme, the glory of Tim Hortons, and the sole redeeming characteristic of Dunkin. If you can do a cruller well, if you can balance the ethereally light with the deep fried and decadently sweet, you've got something right. Chuck's Donuts, in Belmont, has nailed the cruller.

This was a good thing, since my trip out to the bay area was not off to a great start. For one thing, it's a Sunday to Friday week on the road, with a red-eye on the return flight. Far too much time away from the Austin clan. The flights out here were long and arduous, my rental car was out of gas from the get go with it's low tire pressure warning blaring, and my hotel reservations were lost. The luck continued into the pre-Chuck's food experiences - I ventured out to find Lorenzo's Sandwich shop in Belmont for dinner (it was closed), checked out menus for a few places (weak) and after some wandering, ended up ordering a local, but sub-par pizza back at the hotel (Toto's is not all it's cracked up to be).

But this part of the country is beautiful, and makes it hard to stay mopey for long. I woke up this morning committed to finding something good. I'd passed Chuck's on my drive yesterday and decided it looked promising.

Immediately on walking in, you know you're in for some serious goodness. The place looks like it's been there 50 years, with worn paneling on the walls and 4 little tables attached the floor and each surrounded by 4 miniature bar stools, also attached. The effect is that the tables and chairs appear to have organically sprouted from the floor, like mushrooms. Off the the side is a window into the kitchen, which seemed low tech and in some disarray, but clean. But the main view walking into Chuck's is this almost obscenely voluptuous display of donuts.

And, just like that, this has been a good day. I've got a lot of work yet to get through tonight, but for the moment, I'm happily typing away in a quirky little San Mateo Coffee Shop called Bean Trees and looking forward to finding something tasty and cheap for dinner in the immediate vicinity. Tomorrow, I'm going for the sprinkles.


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