There’s something really special in the Upper County.

I need to be frank with you all for a minute: writing about food in Kittitas County can be challenging at times. It’s not a lack of good food that gets me, it’s that few people and seem to care enough to strive to serve food that is truly great. I’ve even gone so far as to wonder if my standards have slipped over time to the point that good enough has actually become good enough. I don’t believe that’s true but it’s something I worry about and have to periodically examine, as I would regardless of where I live and eat.  I love living in Ellensburg and I love visiting our various eating establishments and writing about them for you to read; and I’m so grateful that you read what I write.

There are, of course, a handful of restaurants that make some really excellent food and one such place is an exciting newcomer to the Upper County. I ate at Orchard in Cle Elum this past Saturday and was blown away by the quality and scope of the entire experience. Their website details their philosophy and origins so I won’t bother to rehash it for you.  I dragged my entire family along and each and every one of us walked away from our meal feeling deeply satisfied and invigorated. They even went far above my expectations to accommodate my over-tired three year old. Orchard appears trendy, pretentious, and perhaps out of place in Kittitas County but I assure you that it is none of those things (ok, maybe a tad trendy but not to its detriment).

The restaurant itself is warm and beautiful, with an inviting lounge and bar area that serves a pub menu and even offers happy hour. The main dining area has an open kitchen and a lot of seating so that you don’t feel too watched over as can happen in smaller restaurants. Service is friendly, attentive, and prompt. But you want to hear about the food, right?

Orchard’s menu changes constantly based on what’s in season so don’t expect to find this exact food when you go, but here’s what we were offered that night:

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Yes, please.

 

We were a large group and so we ordered a few of each of the starters and one of each of the pasta dishes and entrees, besides the steak because we had that for dinner the previous night, to share. Everything at Orchard is scratch made, insanely fresh, and f*cking delicious. I won’t go on and on about everything because who knows if it will even be on the menu when you or I next visit but I need to mention of few standouts, though I’m really not exaggerating when I say that it was all excellent.

The cauliflower is one of their signature dishes so I expect it will remain a menu regular and I implore you to try it. That lightly fried, and doused in sweet pickled golden raisins (AKA the best raisins) cauliflower is maybe the best I’ve ever had and I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to recreate it at home.

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Image shamelessly stolen from Orchard Restaurant’s Facebook page.

The house-made fresh pastas are clearly a labor of love and they really deliver. My personal favorite was the beef shank ravioli with horseradish. They were truly exceptional in both flavor and texture.

The lamb baked in hay seems to be a frequent flyer on the menu and for good reason. It’s cooked by nestling the lamb in a bed of hay which is then set on fire and finished in the oven. It’s beautifully primitive and imparts a unique earthy flavor to the meat. The accompanying polenta was addictive and kale rounded out a perfectly rustic and satisfying dish.

Orchard does really amazing things to rabbit. I don’t eat rabbit that often (who really does, I suppose?) but it’s something I enjoy ordering at fancy restaurants. Orchard’s chicken fried rabbit sounded too good to be true but it was just plain amazing. I wish I had a photo to share but it’s two big fat rabbit legs, fried to a deep brown and drizzled with a spicy honey glaze. It’s a pretty simple dish but it’s a case of impeccable ingredients and flawless execution creating something extraordinary.

I can’t end this review without talking about the cocktails. I’m going to mostly let the menu speak for itself but I did sample a few and they were all exceptional. If I weren’t eighty-five months pregnant right now I would have ordered more than my share but I’ll just have to return to Orchard for happy hour with a designated driver at some point in the not so distant future and tell you all about it.

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Behold.

Expect to invest a bit of money and time in dining at Orchard but it will be worth it.

 

Orchard
212 E First (21.69 mi)
Cle Elum, Washington 98922
(509) 852-2900

I ate at The Early Bird…

…and it was good.

I decided to take myself out to breakfast this morning and finally try the newest addition to Ellensburg’s breakfast scene. I prefer to write about restaurants after trying several dishes, ideally during more than one visit, but I was dining solo this morning and wasn’t going to order more than one meal or ask strangers for bites of their meals. So, it’s possible that literally everything else on the menu besides what I ate is complete garbage and I will have really let you down but I’ll stake my reputation on that not being true.

I ordered what I’m told is the most popular dish: the Scramble Bowl. It’s a bowl with diced potatoes, scrambled eggs, bacon, cheese, and I added the pork chili verde. The entire menu is enticing so I kept second guessing my choice as I waited for my food and drank my very nice cold brew coffee. Should I have gotten the breakfast grilled cheese? How did I not notice the breakfast burrito? I owe it to my readers to try the breakfast salad, right? These were trying times.

Then my food arrived and all was right in the world (haha, if only).

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MMMMMMM

It was hearty and meaty and flavorful but not at all heavy. I ate every last bite. I can’t wait to try more of their food as well as the seasonal and regular mimosa offerings.

The greatest criticism I’ve heard of The Early Bird is that they get crowded, food can take awhile to get out of their limited kitchen, and seating is scarce. There were a few large groups occupying the lovely outdoor seating this morning and I snagged one of the last remaining inside tables but still my food arrived in about 20 minutes, as did that of the table next to me who were warned that it may take up to 30 minutes. So while The Early Bird certainly has a few handicaps related to their space, my observation is that the friendly staff work well with what they have and aren’t over-extending themselves. You might wait a bit but I think you’ll find it worth your time.

I had a very nice first experience at The Early Bird and I’m sure it will not be my last. I really appreciate the youthful approach and willingness to serve non-traditional breakfast. If you can’t live without a traditional lumberjack breakfast–or do you call it farmer’s breakfast here?– of bacon and/or sausage, potatoes, eggs, and toast for $6.95 then The Early Bird might not be your joint. That’s ok. More for me.

 

Pop-Up Report!

I had the honor of being invited to last night’s first ever pop-up restaurant by The Red Pickle and Mario Alfaro Lopez, featuring Chef Dan Roe and hosted by Ellensburg Crossfit. I’ll get to the point and say that it was a delightful evening and a fantastic meal. Each of the four courses was better than the last and we left with that sense of satisfaction one gets from a truly great meal. I can’t recall the last time I felt that from a meal out in Ellensburg.

Chef Dan Roe’s menu was seasonal, wholesome, and full of interesting elements without anything seeming extraneous. It’s the kind of food that must be done with a great deal of thought and care, both of which were in abundance from everyone involved in last night’s dinner.

I betrayed one of my own pet peeves for you and took pictures of each coarse, so I’m going to let the photos speak for themselves.

First Course:

IMG_20180415_175249.jpgI am a lover of beets but my husband and others who aren’t even huge fans of the those crimson delights enjoyed this dish.

Second Course:

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It turns out that Maltaise sauce is just Hollandaise with orange zest and it worked beautifully with this tender asparagus and a heaping pile of crispy shallots. I mean, how could it not? Yum.

Third Course:

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Salmon with artichoke barigoule, roasted vegetables, fresh herbs, and pepper curls.

My husband and I both have this quirk from growing up in places where salmon is both ubiquitous and the freshest in the world: we never bother ordering it because we’ve eaten so much of it in our lives and it will be at best boring and probably disappointing in some way. This salmon was neither boring nor disappointing. It was unbelievably tender, nicely seasoned, and just lovely.

Dessert:

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Fried plantains with chocolate black beans and marshmallow sauce.

I loved this dessert. It might sound unusual but that black bean chocolate sauce with the starchy sweet plantains and the delicate marshmallow creme made for a unique and really delicious dish. I would eat dessert much more often if more desserts were like this.

There’s no date for the next Red Pickle Pop-Up but I’m told that many more tickets will be available and the details I’m privy to are very exciting. Keep an eye on my page for updates and The Red Pickle for tickets and more information as it’s released. I urge all of my readers to try to attend next time!

I owe sincere thanks to Mario Alfaro Lopez for including me in this event. If you have a food or drink establishment and want the Ellensburg Food Critic to try your stuff, please feel free to get in touch.

 

Hey, look. Something new and exciting is happening in Ellensburg!

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Local french fry hero Mario Alfaro Lopez, owner and operator of The Red Pickle, is teaming up with Chef Dan Roe (Canyon River Grill, Seattle Stoneburner, Percy & Co.) to bring Pop-Up Dinners to Ellensburg this Spring!

If you’re not familiar, a pop-up is like a shooting star of a restaurant. It blazes through the night, burning brightly and bringing joy to those who are lucky enough to witness it, but then it’s gone from our lives just as quickly as it appeared. I just rolled my eyes at my own terrible metaphor but it works. It’s basically a temporary restaurant that allows a very limited number of pre-ticketed patrons to experience a chef and restaurateur’s most creative and sometimes experimental efforts in very cool speakeasy-type setting.

I’m told that Mario and Chef Dan are planning a multi-course, fine-dining, prix-fixe menu at a very reasonable price. Plus, I’ll be there. Keep an eye on The Red Pickle’s Facebook and Instagram pages for more information on tickets and dates. Like and follow The Ellensburg Food Critic for the latest information on this and other restaurant and food news.

It’s nothing wild but The Wild Huckleberry nails breakfast.

I think I just fit my entire review into the title so I guess we’re done here.

Ok, I’ll expand a bit since I like to hear myself talk. I’ve been bemoaning the lack of actually good breakfast restaurants since moving to Ellensburg (with the exception of Yellow Church, which is always too crowded on weekend mornings due to it being the only decent place in town) and here comes The Wild Huckleberry, riding into town from Wenatchee, bringing us delicious breakfast. My dedicated readers shouldn’t be surprised that I ordered the Traditional Eggs Benedict, which comes with strips of bacon instead of Canadian bacon making it not strictly traditional, but I’m not one to care about things like that. Plus, actual bacon > Canadian bacon so I think they’re onto something. The Hollandaise was quite good and presented in a reasonable quantity, and despite being not quite as tangy as I like it I will order it again. The eggs were poached perfectly and everything about the meal was solidly good.

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Photo shamelessly stolen from The Wild Huckleberry’s Facebook page because I hate taking pictures at restaurants.

My dining companions’ orders were equally satisfying as I imagine is everything else on the menu. I’m unlikely to ever order a chicken fried steak for myself but I’m always glad when someone I’m with does so I can try it. The Wild Huckleberry’s hit all the marks and made me want to keep stealing bites. Sadly, I didn’t try the enormous pancakes that I spotted leaving the kitchen but both the waffles and biscuits were fluffy and amazing, so I’m comfortable assuming that the pancakes are exactly as tasty as they look.

Experience is hard to fake in the restaurant business and The Wild Huckleberry’s years of running a successful breakfast/lunch place has transferred seamlessly to their new Ellensburg location and I couldn’t be more pleased (although being in that building made me long for The Valley Cafe and their Cubano. I appreciate that the old sign still hangs in the back of the restaurant).

Now all we need in town is an innovative and exciting breakfast/brunch restaurant. Anyone up to the challenge?

Oh, hi there!

Hello, Ellensburg! How have you been? I’m good, thanks. Oh, where have I been? Here in Ellensburg mostly but feeling a bit uninspired and inexcusably distracted from bringing you the Kittitas County and Ellensburg restaurant reviews you deserve. That reminds me, how many years do I have to live here before I can reliably spell K-i-t-t-i-t-a-s correctly? Those five lowercase t’s and i’s in a row make my eyes cross.

Anyway. I’ve been meaning to get back to eating out more and writing reviews but what finally made me sit down this afternoon and open my computer is that I can’t live another day without correcting something I wrote a long time ago. Despite what I may have written in the past, Pizza Colin is without a doubt the best delivery pizza in town. I never reviewed them before because the handful of times I had had their pizza either involved too much alcohol to trust my recollection or the one time I ordered thin crust and received pan crust and assumed they just had no concept of thin crust. I’m here to eat my words and also pizza.

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This is the pizza box sitting on my kitchen counter right now. 

I don’t need to describe the pizza, do I? It’s pizza and it’s delicious. You can order either thin or pan crust and both are excellent for whatever your preference may be. I like thin crust with light sauce (also a standard option) because I like my pizza lean and mean with a high ratio of cheese to sauce and crust and just a few select toppings. Pizza Colin hits the mark and is the only pizza I order these days. I do wish they had salads but they seem contrary to their business model and I respect that. Pizza Colin isn’t gourmet pizza but I think it’s executed well and doesn’t try to be more than it is. Those fried hot wings are pretty tasty though.

Now that I’ve set the record straight on pizza delivery in Ellensburg I hope to get back to writing more and also bringing you food news from around town. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Upper County lately so I think you are owed some reviews of the excellent offerings up there. And I hear that I have some new breakfast places Ellensburg to try! So much to do!

Japanese comfort food that will warm you all the way through.

 

There aren’t a lot of things I miss about living in Seattle but inexpensive yet amazing Asian food is one of them. There really is nothing like a steaming vat of pho and a pile of fresh rolls, simple and fresh teriyaki chicken, or a sushi and sake happy hour at an unassuming hole-in-the-wall to generally improve my outlook on

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The cucumber roll that my (insufferably picky about sushi) son devoured and katsu don. My pictures are always terrible because I really dislike taking photos of food in restaurants so I do it as fast as I can. 

 

the world. If you have found these things in Ellensburg, please share with the class. While it’s not really the same, there’s a place here that might be even better. So as to not bury the lede, I’ll just say that it’s Kiku-Chan. 

As you may remember, dear readers, I really love Oyama Japanese Steakhouse for fancy sushi, but there’s another category of Japanese food that is probably less familiar to many but equally important in my cuisine hierarchy. Kiku-Chan offers simple, authentic, Japanese comfort food, in a small casual restaurant. I will disclose that my husband is of Japanese-American descent so many dishes served at Kiku-Chan are his childhood favorites that have since become dear to my own heart and stomach.  Enough ado, let’s talk food.

My aforementioned husband eats lunch at Kiku-Chan about once-a-week and almost always orders the Katsu Don. It’s a fried pork cutlet (tonkatsu) chopped up and mixed with onions and egg, served over rice. That’s the simple description but the dish, when done properly, is more than the sum of its parts and Kiku-Chan totally nails it. The same can be said for their miso soup.

I haven’t had a ton of sushi at Kiku-Chan but what I have tried has been really good. You are not going to find a lot of tempura-crab-inside-out-upside-down-spider-rainbow-roll or whatever there but sushi rolls need not be complicated and are often better for their simplicity. If the rice is cooked and seasoned well, the nori is fresh, the fish and vegetables are impeccable, and if they are rolled not-too-tight but not-too-loose, then you don’t need gimmicks or drizzled sauces and the like. Now that I write all of that out it sounds just as difficult as it is. I’m rambling, but this is all to day that Kiku-Chan makes really lovely rolls.

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Again, bad picture of good food. Clockwise from top: shrimp and vegetable tempura, ahi sashimi, spring rolls, steamed rice. 

In my experience, you can’t go wrong at Kiku-Chan. The super-nice people who work there are genuinely committed to the integrity of the food and it shows in every dish. I won’t bore you with an essay on each meal I’ve eaten there, but I’ll say that I have always enjoyed it. My last meal was an ahi tuna sashimi bento special. It says a lot about my faith in a restaurant if I order straight-up raw fish for lunch. For the record, it was great.

Man, I’m really hungry now. I’ll leave it there and just say Kiku-Chan is one of my favorite places in town. With lunches around $10, it’s a nice spot if you’re looking for something a little different for a midday meal, and the cozy dining room would lend itself well to a relatively inexpensive but totally impressive date. I will use my two years of high school Japanese for the first and probably last time and say Kiku-Chan wa oishii desu ne! That’s supposed to say “Kiku-Chan is delicious!” but feel free to tell me how wrong I am.