Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center: Blake Angelos with Michael Glynn and Julian MacDonough - Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Blake Angelos with Cory Weeds
Photo by Rev Meredith Ann Murray

WJMAC: Blake Angelos with Michael Glynn and Julian MacDonough

Wednesday, November 12th

This is the third performance I have seen at the new Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center a.k.a. Downstairs at the Majestic. The common element in each performance has been drummer and founder of WJMAC, Julian MacDonough. Julian is always excellent. He is easily one of the, if not the, most talented drummers in town. He also has a great sense of humor that often comes though in performance. However, up until now, perhaps wanting to convey the importance of WJMAC, he hasn’t entirely shown it up on the new stage. Until tonight.

Blake Angelos and Julian have played together for many years, most notably as the Blake Angelos Trio at the now defunct Chuckanut Ridge Winery/Ridge (today, the Redlight). In the time since, Blake has been performing an excellent solo gig at the the Bellwether on Friday and Saturday nights. It has been a couple of years since he and Julian have played together.

What is immediately apparent is how comfortable they are with each other. Blake and Julian seem to have a sort of weird twin language constructed out of slight nods, the raising of an eyebrow, winces, smirks and smiles. Michael Glynn is so quick and talented that he apparently needs no translation. The resulting music has a certain ineffable quality of lightness, of mastered ease, of effortlessness. It flows out and back in to the trio of musicians like breathing, the most natural thing in the world for each of these beings to be doing. Like watching a great dancer dance with abandonment and unconscious grace.

I couldn’t tell you what the names of most of the songs where. I really wasn’t listening to write anything like this review. And it has been a couple of weeks since, but the performance was haunting. It was good. What music is meant for. I do remember marking in my mind the aching and poignant piano playing by Blake on Lament by J. J. Johnson and then, the entire trio on Herbie Hancock’s Drifting.

It was in the Hancock piece that I saw Julian MacDonough perform laughter and joy on the drums. Listening, you could not help but smile. Through several solo drum breaks, he evoked a world of inventive rhythm: crickets chirping, hands playing fast patty cake, children jumping rope Double Dutch, the sound of Charlie Chaplin’s dancing rolls in the Gold Rush, the warped ticking of the clocks in a Dali painting. I could see Julian smiling, glancing over at Blake, each of them trading clever musical one-liners, inside jokes, knock-knock riddles and the shared simple experience of the joy of performing with the other. Certainly a privilege and a pleasure to witness. And, in my estimation, the most convincing argument to support the truly wonderful experience that is being brought to life downstairs at the Majestic.

Leaf and Ladle: Sandwiches, Soups and Salads to Save Your Soul

Right off the bat, I will tell you that I love Leaf & Ladle. Linda's soups, salads and sandwiches taste like home on a winter afternoon or a beautiful picnic by the lake in the summer. The soups are always hearty and full of rich flavor. The sandwiches are balanced with just the right balance of ingredients and grilled to a golden perfection. And the salads are always fresh, crisp and expertly dressed. The Leaf & Ladle is easily the best vegan and vegetarian restaurant in town. They also have many gluten-free options. And their Tuna Melts, Ham, Brie and Green Apple Paninis will satisfy any meat lover. But, for me, it is the Grilled Cubano Panini that is most extraordinary; it will save your soul. 

Sitting at the comfortable bar in Leaf & Ladle, I watch Linda prepare all of the food with laughter and good conversation. Every customer that comes in the door seems to be a friend and a regular - even those who are coming for the first time. Linda and Morgan treat everyone like family. It always feels good to be here. A perfect lunchtime sanctuary in the middle of your busy day. 

The menu is written weekly on brown butcher paper from pull-down rolls. They also are great about posting menu item changes and specials on Facebook: weekly soups, seasonal paninis. (You should like them on FB if you haven't already: Note the many vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. They also have a Thursday Night Supper Club from 6 to 8. No reservations needed. The dinners feature one dinner type item in addition to the regular menu. Plus they have beer and wine!

I order the Grilled Cubano Panini with a side of fresh greens and Curry Squash soup. The Cubano is Linda's variation on the classic with a mouth-watering in-house smoked pork (I swear I could eat just a plate of this and be a happy man), ham, swiss, dill pickles and Dijon mayo on Avenue Bread focaccia. Then grilled on a press until all of the ingredients are married together in a savory ceremony of sweet delight. It is a thing of beauty. After the first bite, you forget where you are, you stop paying attention to what anyone is talking about, all your world becomes enraptured by this beautiful sandwich before you. I am not kidding. The Cubano at Leaf & Ladle will save your soul. If you are having one of those days where everything seems hopeless, go to Leaf & Ladle and get a Cubano. It will bring hope back to you - at least, to your mouth and stomach.

That being said, the perfect sandwich needs appropriate accompaniment. The Curry Squash soup is excellent, just enough curry, just enough squash. Goldilocks would have no problems with this soup. Linda is a artist at making soups. You will never go wrong ordering soup at Leaf & Ladle. Every soup is a unique little masterpiece of flavors unto itself. And, they now sell quarts of soup to go. While you are having lunch, pick up a quart to make a quick and delicious dinner. 

Also the salad. Fresh, crisp and lightly dressed. I believe Leaf & Ladle makes one of the best Caesar's in town. Always a generous portion and dressed with their tangy but sweet homemade Caesar dressing. Again, no question, the best soup and salad combination you can find in Bellingham. 

Beyond the counter is a quiet and charming dining room. A great place to enjoy a beautiful lunch or Thursday night dinner. The Leaf & Ladle is one of the best lunch-time eating experiences Bellingham has to offer. And, seriously, the Cubano! Your life is not complete until you have had one. 

Leaf & Ladle
1113 N State St
Bellingham, Washington

(360) 319-9718

Mon - Fri: 11:00 am - 4:00 pm

Addendum: I have this theory that you can tell a lot about a restaurant by the beauty and cleanliness of their bathrooms. The Leaf & Ladle has one of the most refreshing and lovely bathrooms in town. Happy chalk comments from satisfied customers, beautiful flowers, a clean and happy baby-changing table. Everything super clean and fresh. All good signs. 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Maikham: Thai and Lao Cusine

Maikham ("Golden Silk") is the new restaurant, specializing in "Authentic Thai and Laos Cusine", that moved into the old Dashi location on State Street. 

We stopped in for lunch this afternoon and were rewarded with an excellent dining experience. I always enjoyed Dashi and was sad to see them close. Seems like they were barely there. And I was happy to see that not much had changed as far as the interior. (Almost weirdly so; as if Dashi just moved out yesterday.) Everything pretty much the same. A beautiful bright and crisp Fall day streaming in through the high open window facade, warming the natural wood and simple design of the interior. 

Chef Usanee Klimo was enthusiastically working the counter and the kitchen when we came in. The menu was written on the chalk boards offering appetizers such as Fresh Roll (Spiced tofu or shrimp rolls with green vegetables, mints and basil), Maikham Rolls (Deep-fried vegetarian spring rolls) and  Khaotang Naa Tang (Crispy rice crackers topped your choice of curried turkey, chicken or pork). 

Main dishes included Tom Kha Gai (Hot and sour chicken soup with coconut milk, lemongrass, mushroom and onion), Green or Red Curry (Vegetable,  Chicken or Beef), Khao Soi (Chiang Mai egg noodle and herbs with chicken or beef curry) and Yam Mu-Kuea (Grilled eggplant salad with lime dressing and topped with minced chicken and shrimp) among others. 

We ordered the Khaotang Naa Tang because we had never had it, Vegetarian Red Curry and Tom Kha Gai. I figured you can always get a good sense of the culinary sensibilities of a restaurant in how well they prepare the standards like curry and Tom Kha Gai.

The Khaotang Naa Tang arrived well presented on the plate, tasty house-made rice crackers and a small dish of curried turkey. It was excellent. The rich, but not too spicy, curry and the subtle roasted flavors of the rice crackers harmonized like old friends.

Tom Yam Noodles with Chicken

Next up was the Tom Kha Gai and Vegetable Red Curry. Both presented nicely, garnished with basil leaves. The Tom Kha Gai was well balanced, rich with mushrooms and chicken in sweet coconut milk, delicately balancing sweet and sour. The Vegetable Red curry was also exceptional: the vegetables - broccoli, eggplant, green bean pods and kabocha squash- cooked just enough, all still crisp to the bite. The curry sauce was delicate and subtle - two qualities not usually associated with curry. Also the dish was not drowned in sauce. There was just enough to coat the vegetables and provide a thin layer at the base to soak into the rice. The rice was also excellent in flavor and texture.

Chef Usanee told me she wants to emphasize the truly traditional flavors. And I read on the new website that she feels "equally at home with the more subtle flavors and coconut-based curries of Thailand's central region, as well as the many seafood dishes found along Thailand's extensive coasts." And that is what we immediately remarked upon: the subtlety, almost delicate, qualities of flavor that made our dishes stand out from the usual.

I think it is one of the signs of a good restaurant that each new dish you try only stimulates your desire to try another. If the Tom Kha Gai was so good, you imagine how good the Khao Soi is going to be, or the Yam Mu-Kuea, or anything Chef Usanee applies her expert culinary skills towards. We look forward to many more beautiful experiences at Maikham.

Update: Went back last weekend for lunch with a friend. Had delicious Fresh Rolls with tofu and Tom Yam Noodles with Chicken. What is most distinctive about Maikham is the freshness and subtle preparation of all of the ingredients. I had the Tom Yam Noodles with Chicken. The broth was rich and spicy without being overbearing. The vegetables all crispy and in large portions. Good cuts of tender chicken. An perfect dish for a cold rainy day.

1311 North State St.
Bellingham, WA 98225

(360) 366-8193 

Monday - Saturday, 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. 

Note that Maikham also caters.