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Pucker up: House pickled veggies at Tacoma restaurants pack flavorful punch

Post by Sue Kidd / The News Tribune on Dec. 24, 2010 at 5:31 am | No Comments »
December 23, 2010 4:08 pm
At Tempest Lounge in Tacoma's hilltop neighborhood: a bowl of pickled carrots and cauliflower that are flavored with marjoram and Old Bay seasoning. Photo by Peter Haley/Staff photographer

Pacific Grill owner/chef Gordon Naccarato recalls discovering soy-brined jalapeños while working as a chef in Los Angeles.

“I first found those jalapeños in Koreatown in Los Angeles in a run-down strip mall place that called them ‘kimchi pickles,’ and they would sell you a canning jar full of them with additional cucumbers in the jalapeño mix for only $6,” Naccarato wrote in an e-mail when I asked him about house-pickled vegetables at his downtown Tacoma restaurant.

The jalapeños were salty, sweet and satisfying, and something Naccarato enjoyed eating over a bowl of rice. “They were so amazingly good just over steamed rice and became a favorite late-night snack after working the line ’til late at night.”

Naccarato now makes his own brined jalapeños, which he serves as a garnish on the ramen served at Pacific Grill’s Noodle Bar. He brines his jalapeños in soy with healthy portions each of brown sugar and lemon zest.

Naccarato and his kitchen crew also use house-pickled veggies on the banh mi sandwich, served on the lunch menu. “We do a quick-pickle of carrot, daikon radish and cucumber and the soy-brined jalapeño. We make a Vietnamese-style vinaigrette/nuoc cham that we marinate the vegetables in. Lime juice, garlic, chilies, palm sugar (buy at Asian market) and fish sauce, plum vinegar and citrus zest. Then we add julienned carrot, daikon and cucumber and let marinate for at least an hour before using,” wrote Naccarato by e-mail. The result is a puckery sweet layer of flavor with crunch.

Lately, I’ve spotted several restaurants serving pickled or brined veggies that carried the puckery smack of house-made flavor. Besides Pacific Grill’s house-pickled or brined veggies on the ramen, banh mi and Cuban sandwiches, I’ve found pickles on the plates at Crown Bar, Tempest Lounge and Asado.

Click “more” to read about four dishes to try featuring house-pickled or brined vegetables.

Banh mi sandwich
Where: Pacific Grill, 1502 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253-627-3535,
Pacific Grill’s pork banh mi sandwich ($11.50, only on the lunch menu) gets a cosmopolitan makeover with complex ingredients layered into a flavor cacophony. A crispy, panini-pressed baguette came stuffed with pulled pork vroomed up with an Asian-style barbecue sauce with hoison, oyster and plum sauces. A creamy dressing fragrant with fish sauce and kaffir lime leaf soaked into the crunchy baguette, creating a juicy mess of a sandwich. Crispy pickled cucumbers, daikon and carrots added a crunchy, sour bite. An Asian-style slaw accompanied the sandwich. Other pickled items to try: The Cuban sandwich ($11.50) on the lunch menu comes with house-pickled zucchini. The ramen soup, served on the restaurant’s Noodle Bar menu, comes garnished with the soy-brined jalapeños.

Cougar Gold Burger
Where: Crown Bar, 2705 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-272-4177,

The house-made pickles come on all the Crown burgers, but the flavor was most pronounced on the Cougar Gold burger ($12). A beefy, thick patty, made with beef from Walla Walla’s Thundering Hooves farm, was glazed with a pungent sheen of (WSU-made) Cougar gold aged white cheddar, and topped with crisp lettuce, red onions, thick-sliced tomatoes and three house pickles nestled on top. Anise and juniper berry kissed the crisp pickles, which added a puckery and aromatic layer of sharp flavor that sliced through the richness of the cheesy, juicy burger. The flavor was so memorable, I want to order a side dish of the pickles on every visit just for snacking.

Hummus Plate
Where: Tempest, 913 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Tacoma, 253-272-4904,

A creamy dish of lemon, sesame and garlic tinged hummus ($8.70) came with a vinegary, crisp companion of thick-sliced carrots and
cauliflower pieces pickled in a salty vinegar solution. The pickled veggies were dosed with the sweet, earthy note of marjoram and a heady whiff of Old Bay seasoning. The hummus was served with Essential sea salt crackers and house-made crostini. Co-owner Denise Tempest said the veggies are so popular, diners request extra sides.

Day pickles are served with the Asado Burger at Tacoma's Asado restaurant.

Asado Burger:
Where: Asado, 2810 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-272-7770,

As I wrote about last week, the Asado burger ($13.75) may be one of the best burgers you’ll bite into if you’re a fan of complex flavors, salty dimension and a healthy dose of spice. A ground chorizo (a smoky Spanish pork sausage) and seasoned chuck patty burger came with smoked onions and bell peppers, a poblano aioli, pan-fried provolone cheese and Serrano ham on a brioche bun from Macrina Bakery. On every plate at lunch, diners will find the puckery garnish of what Executive Chef Joel Mertens calls day pickles, English cucumbers that have been quick brined in a rosemary scented white wine and cider vinegar solution. The pickles are lightly seasoned with Asado’s house steak seasoning. Because they’re quick pickled, they pack a crunchy snap.

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