Monday, December 3, 2012

Off the Map: This Crab Cake Could Stand for Some Tartar Sauce

Lemon-Scallion Dungeness Crab Cakes-- Dahlia Lounge, Seattle, WA
Dahlia Lounge

The first thing you need to know about Vodka's second full day in Seattle is that she took a duck tour by herself.  No, not just sans Chianti, who was at work (the nerve!), but ALL ALONE ON THE DUCK.  
And Let's Just Say the Duck Boats Don't Look as "Sturdy" As These Contraptions
To give you the proper imagery, just know that besides the tour guide, Vodka was the only one riding around the streets and water of Seattle (and the tour guide, for the record, refused to change his shtick despite the fact that Vodka was the only one on the tour.  For instance, "Anyone who has a quacker, now's the time to use them!"  Hey buddy, I'M THE ONLY ONE HERE).
Humiliation, Duck-Style
Cue Celine Dion Belting "All By Myself"
As you might recall, this is not the first time Vodka has found herself on a solo tour around a city.  Clearly the combination of strict adherence to one's itinerary and total lack of shame at being, say, saluted by a boat of fellow duck captains is quickly making for a pattern in her life.
Anyway, back to the eating: the next stop on the Seattle list is Dahlia Lounge, the first of three Tom Douglas restaurants (in a one-block radius) featured on Best Thing I Ever Ate.  
Nice Potted Shrubbery
In truth, the next stop was SUPPOSED to be Le Pichet, but as yet another strike against Seattle's seasonal food policies, they were not serving the raclette (which consists of -- wait for it -- cheese and potatoes.  HOW IS THAT SEASONAL?!).  Call us crazy, but if one of your dishes is ever featured on a Food Network program, you should be REQUIRED to feature it AT ALL TIMES.
Hey Market -- Ever Hear of Importing?
With that said, if there is one thing Vodka can say about Dahlia Lounge, it is that at least the lemon-scallion Dungeness crab cakes, as Giada Di Laurentiis talked about on the OBSESSIONS episode of the show, are on the menu.  
When It Comes to Best Thing I Ever Ate - Seattle, Half the Battle is the Food Showing Up
They also receive another ten points for handing Vodka, immediately upon sitting down, a sheet of cocktail options with the commentary, "Here's the booze list."  Way to prioritize, Dahlia.
Also Always Appreciative of a Themed Cocktail Napkin. It's the Little Things
Placing her order for a blueberry vodka soda (which is strong and thus wonderful) and a serving of the crab cakes (currently being served with emmer farro pilaf, marcona almond, dried cranberry, pumpkin ketchup, and cilantro), the bartender hands Vodka a parmesan and quince paste tasting spoon, which is, in a word, awful.  
Other Synonym Possibilities: Terrible. Horrible. Disgusting
Overly sweet and fig-like, it is all Vodka can do, after taking the whole portion into her mouth (after all, it does feature the word "parmesan") not to spit it out.
Spoon of Horror
The crab cakes arrive soon after, and the two of them are served atop a salad of farro and a side of orange ketchup.  The crab cakes themselves are lightly battered and fried, and the first taste of them reveals:

a) lemon -- SO MUCH lemon;
b) a crab shell (this is at least the third time this has happened in Seattle.  Let’s not even get started on our experiences in New York);
c) not nearly enough breading.

Now, understandably, Vodka is most likely alone on her feelings regarding point C, as she prefers a patty enclosed by carbs.  The crab meat itself, which is indeed plentiful here, is almost... too much.  And definitively too lemony.

And without a doubt in need of some tartar sauce.

Hi, Yes, Might You Have Any Condiments?
While the crab cakes are all around "fine" (to be fair, Chianti, who winds up eating Vodka's leftovers, finds them much more agreeable than Vodka does), the side portion of farro and dried cranberries is downright amazing -- the perfect combinations of textures and flavors, it manages to overshadow the crab cakes completely.  (The pumpkin ketchup, in contrast, is strange at best and rather gross at worst).
Ketchup Is Not Meant to be a Putrid Orange
When Vodka has finished making her way through this plate, she waves over the bartender and asks for him to wrap up the remainder of her dish (which is at least half of the initial portion).  And this is where the real trouble with Dahlia starts.  
Half a Plate's Worth. Keep This Image in Mind
The bartender escorts the plate away, and Vodka lays down her OpenTable gift certificate and credit card to pay.

"We don't take these," he says, pointing to the gift certificate.

"Yes, you do," Vodka insists.  "You take OpenTable reservations, so you take their gift certificates."

With a definitive look of non-belief, the bartender says, "Well, I've never seen one before.  I will have to check."  Yeah, you do that, mister.  And guess what?  You'll discover that you TAKE THE GIFT CARDS. 

Also, Could You Throw in a Side of Regular Ketchup in the Bag? Thanks
It is during this little display of discourteousness that Chianti and her friends make their appearance, and Vodka relocates to the booth directly behind her bar stool.  Alerting the bartender as to her new location, he returns with her finished bill (and guess what?  Miracle of miracles, the gift certificate works!) and no leftovers.  Vodka inquires about them.  No response.

We place our order for a new round of cocktails, and 15 minutes later, when a doggie bag has still not appeared, Vodka sicks our new waiter on the bartender.  Apparently, Mr. Know-It-All has had to have the kitchen whip up a new round of crab cakes, as they had thrown out the rest of Vodka's serving.  Way to use your listening skills, Big Shot.

PS As You Throw Together This New Round of Cakes, Feel Free to Use Less Lemon
Finally, a container featuring one crab cake and a smattering of farro arrives, and our initial impressiveness at Dahlia's willingness to create a new dish quickly dissipates.  Especially when Vodka finally looks at her receipt, and discovers that said crab cakes cost $32.  $32?!  What is this, New York?!
$16 a Cake?! Not Cool, Mr. Douglas
We eventually stumble out of Dahlia Lounge and onto our next Tom Douglas locale, solitary crab cake in hand and determined that before we consume this overpriced leftover, we will first stop off at the grocery store to acquire some tartar sauce.

Dahlia Lounge's Lemon-Scallion Dungeness Crab Cakes: 3 stars


  1. I will never understand how good restaurants serve food with shell in it. It's not that hard to make sure all the food is actually food.

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