JOIN US ON A TOUR OF SEAT­TLE’S HAP­PEN­ING DIN­ING SCENE

Where to dine in Seat­tle.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Matthew Odam modam@states­man.com

Tall pines split the thin and rapidly mov­ing clouds that quickly evap­o­rated, re­veal­ing a golden sun and gen­tle blue sky. My light rail train had de­parted from a sta­tion at the air­port where an art dis­play hon­ored Na­tive American cul­ture and a sound­track of puls­ing, med­i­ta­tive drum rhythms filled the air, and it weaved along the tree line and over cot­tage homes as we trav­eled into town.

I would even­tu­ally pass through an in­dus­trial part of town, then catch glimpses of the modern be­he­moths home to the Sea­hawks and Mariners, be­fore ar­riv­ing down­town, but my in­tro­duc­tion to Seat­tle car­ried the fre­quency of that buzz you get when en­ter­ing a myth­i­cal place. The ex­cite­ment came less from a meet­ing of ex­pec­ta­tions than the rev­e­la­tion of the un­known.

Seat­tle had long been, for me, a city shrouded in the veil of mys­tery. I knew it was home to tech, aero­space and cof­fee giants, as well as some of the best sports fans in the world. And I un­der­stood its im­por­tance in the his­tory of rock ‘n’ roll. But I could never wrap my mind around what it was.

It turns out that two of my big­gest pre­con­cep­tions of the city were wrong. The weather was fine — my trip landed in the mid­dle of one of the long­est con­sec­u­tive streaks of no rain in al­most a decade, ac­cord­ing to many locals. But what sur­prised me most was that the city was still grow­ing, still evolv­ing — de­spite the fact that I’d been hear­ing about Seat­tle as be­ing “the next cool place” since my fresh­man year of col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia 25 years ago. Seat­tle cer­tainly has its voice, its earthy style and sur­pris­ingly laid-back pace, but it is not a city bound by its past.

You can see cranes and new con­struc­tion through­out the city. De­spite its historic ar­eas (Pi­o­neer Square) and much-pho­tographed lo­cales (Pike Place Mar­ket), the ever-ex­pand­ing city feels more akin to a young city like Austin than an older one like San Fran­cisco. Seat­tle’s din­ing scene brims with the same sense of po­ten­tial and promise. The pi­o­neers of the city’s culi­nary world, like chef Tom Dou­glas, pro­pri­etor of more than a dozen restau­rants,

and sec­ond wave of award­win­ning and em­pire-build­ing chefs, like Ethan Stow­ell and Re­nee Er­ick­son, laid the ground­work and gave Seat­tle grav­i­ta­tional pull. But the city is burst­ing with young chefs and ex­cit­ing con­cepts in neigh­bor­hoods all over town.

Eden Hill chef-owner Max­imil­lian Petty, a Seat­tlearea na­tive, knew all of those names grow­ing up and now finds him­self cook­ing with the city’s her­alded talent at events and see­ing his name men­tioned along­side theirs come award time. The 28-year-old who worked as chef de cui­sine at South Austin fine din­ing early mover Olivia un­til 2014 was vis­it­ing Seat­tle on va­ca­tion when he stum­bled upon a French bistro with an owner ea­ger to sell.

The charm­ing cafe that seats about a cou­ple of dozen at ta­bles and bar is lo­cated atop a hill on a tree-lined av­enue in the res­i­den­tial Queen Anne Neigh­bor­hood a few miles north of down­town, an area not tra­di­tion­ally known as a fine din­ing des­ti­na­tion.

“I wanted to jump right into the neigh­bor­hood feel, but I wanted to chal­lenge them and take them out of their norm. I wanted to bring a lit­tle edge to the Hill,” said Petty, who opened Eden Hill in the fall of 2015.

That edge in­cludes foie gras in both sa­vory and sweet dishes, and whole-an­i­mal cook­ing, a les­son he learned from chef James Holmes at Olivia, re­sult­ing in dishes like Eden Hill’s sig­na­ture crispy pig head candy bar spot­ted with fer­mented black beans and laced with jalapenos, sit­ting in a pool of rich white but­ter and Cham­pagne soup.

Seat­tle’s din­ing con­ven­tions don’t re­sem­ble those Petty knew as a kid, the city hav­ing grad­u­ated from boil­er­plate clam chow­der and smoked salmon dishes to a com­pet­i­tive and grow­ing land­scape of in­ven­tive chefs and modern con­cepts. Petty, whose a la carte menu fea­tures about a dozen dishes, of­fers a blind tast­ing menu ($100) that ex­hibits artis­tic flour­ishes, like a sweet corn spuma flecked with es­pelette pep­per and gold leaf that hides strands of duck con­fit, and the swanky comfort of salty brie cheese and honey-driz­zled pick­led foie gras dusted with candied pecan atop green ap­ple crisps.

The high-minded restau­rant, with a propen­sity for rich dishes like striploin topped with but­ter-poached lob­ster, isn’t afraid to in­dulge in play­ful­ness, ei­ther, ev­i­denced in the child­like glee of its Lick the Bowl dessert, an up­turned mix­ing bowl smeared with foie gras bat­ter and ac­com­pa­nied by sliced straw­ber­ries and olive oil cake. You eat the dessert, dot­ted with a con­fetti of birth­day cake sprin­kles, with a spat­ula.

Petty, who has earned two James Beard semi­fi­nal nods for Ris­ing Star Chef for his creativ­ity and whimsy, be­lieves the Seat­tle scene’s blend of his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary el­e­ments makes for an ex­cit­ing time to be cook­ing in the city.

“I’m very lucky to be a part of it. And we’re just get­ting started,” Petty said.

You get a sense of the city’s his­tory and ar­chi­tec­ture as you me­an­der through Pi­o­neer Square. The city’s orig­i­nal down­town more than 100 years ago, the neigh­bor­hood that stretches to the shores of El­liott Bay has ex­pe­ri­enced a re­nais­sance driven by restau­rants, bars and eclec­tic shops.

The neigh­bor­hood will make you want to com­mune with the past, and what could be more time­less than a plate of pasta? Chef Mike Eas­ton, a vet­eran of Seat­tle restau­rants who moved to the city at the end of the ‘90s, opened his tiny Il Corvo in 2013 after op­er­at­ing the con­cept as a pop-up op­er­a­tion.

Think of it as the Franklin Bar­be­cue of pasta in Seat­tle. The line gen­er­ally forms be­fore open­ing (I queued at 10:45 a.m. and was eat­ing by 11:30); the restau­rant is only open for lunch (week­days 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.); you or­der at the counter; you’ll likely dine next to equally ex­cited strangers; and there are only a hand­ful of things on the menu, all ex­e­cuted beau­ti­fully.

If you’re a tourist, you’re likely not on the email list de­tail­ing the daily menu, but the sur­prise is part of the fun. The tiny menu’s cen­ter­piece is a trio of sea­sonal pas­tas, each priced around $10, with the stal­wart be­ing the pap­pardelle alla Bolog­nese. The wide rib­bons tuck, curl and wind their way through a hearty and aro­matic sauce made with chicken liv­ers, beef and pork shoul­der. Bal­anc­ing that rich­ness and depth on my sum­mer visit was a mound of mixed va­ri­eties of pasta, tubes, twirls and nobs el­e­vated with mint and pars­ley and backed by the nutty notes of al­mond pesto. Bits of pat­ty­pan squash clung to the ribbed lin­ing of firm riga­toni sheened with lemon and but­ter, prov­ing that sum­mer can be both sunny and sump­tu­ous.

Walk off the carb load with a stroll through Oc­ci­den­tal Square, where I saw old men try­ing to out­wit one an­other on a life-size chess board, and lis­ten for the ghosts of rock ‘n’ roll as you pass Cen­tral Sa­loon, re­port­edly the home to Nir­vana’s first Seat­tle gig, be­fore en­joy­ing a per­fect Man­hat­tan at the cheek­ily named Damn the Weather cock­tail bar and restau­rant.

The time-worn, brick-laid Pi­o­neer Square neigh­bor­hood is con­trasted by the steel, glass and con­crete of other parts of nearby down­town. Chris and Anu El­ford opened their beer-cen­tric bar

No An­chor last year a block from their warm cock­tail bar

Rob Roy, and though the busi­ness is lo­cated in a cold mixed-use build­ing, the per­son­able and im­pres­sive beer list and pre­cise-but-not-pre­ten­tious plates make for an invit­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

I didn’t have many spe­cific ex­pec­ta­tions of Seat­tle’s din­ing and drink­ing scene, but No An­chor cer­tainly checked the two boxes that did ex­ist: beer and fish. The beer menu is charted on a help­ful grid that ranges from modern to tra­di­tional and ap­proach­able to es­o­teric.

The surprising is­land fruits and sub­tle bit­ter­ness of a Hop Nec­tar Dou­ble IPA from Match­less Brew­ery in Tumwa­ter, Wash., and the bright, fruity El Do­rado hops of Seat­tle-based Cloud­brst Brew­ery’s Plays Well With Oth­ers Dou­ble IPA (what can I say, I like IPAs) both paired nicely with the re­fresh­ing pile of downy Dun­geness crab over­flow­ing from its tawny roll, and a gor­geous board of spruce-cured salmon, smoked stur­geon and soy-mar­i­nated al­ba­core. In a nod to both its North­west lo­cale and No An­chor’s pub roots, glazed lamb sweet­breads were served with a net­tle pud­ding and draped with pick­led black radish. El­e­gance, imag­i­na­tion and an in­tro­duc­tion to new fla­vors — de­spite my ini­tial mis­giv­ings about its lo­cale, No An­chor proved to be every­thing I’d want in an el­e­vated beer bar.

Lo­cated in the evolv­ing Cen­tral Dis­trict neigh­bor­hood across the street from an ath­letic field on the cam­pus of Seat­tle Univer­sity, L’Oursin is an­other fresh-out-of-the­box restau­rant to spring up in a mixed-use build­ing. But, as with No An­chor, this seafood-in­spired French brasserie be­lies its non­de­script lo­ca­tion with a warmth that ex­tends from the wood fur­ni­ture, hon­eyed walls and globe light fix­tures to the at­ten­tive ser­vice.

Chef JJ Proville and part­ner Zac Over­man saw par­al­lels be­tween the farm­ers mar­kets of Proville’s par­ents’ na­tive France and the Pa­cific North­west’s va­ri­ety of pro­duce, seafood and meat. But you don’t need to have vis­ited France to ap­pre­ci­ate the in­ter­play of meaty head-on prawns with the brawn of braised pork cheeks.

The airy brasserie, which fea­tures a lovely pa­tio decked with wo­ven rat­tan chairs, flexes mus­cle with unc­tu­ous mar­row bones that ooze onto crusty, but­tery slabs of grilled bread, and it turns out a clas­sic beurre blanc for a crispy and meaty rock­fish con­trasted by the funk­i­ness of one of wine di­rec­tor Kathryn Ol­son’s nat­u­ral wines (listed with col­or­ful de­scrip­tions). And the kitchen does del­i­cate as well as it drops the vel­vet ham­mer, as seen in an art­ful plate of mar­i­nated scal­lops in­ter­min­gled with the bit­ter-grassy-tart-bright med­ley of purslane, cu­cum­ber, black­cap rasp­ber­ries and basil.

If the plates at L’Oursin are fit for a cof­fee ta­ble book about the hy­bridiza­tion of French-Pa­cific North­west gas­tron­omy, the dishes at Tarsan I Jane might be con­sid­ered wor­thy of an art gallery. Which makes sense given that Per­fecte Rocher and Alia Zaine’s aus­tere restau­rant, all somber grays and blacks col­ored with dan­gling geo­met­ric light fix­tures, feels like it could be a Los An­ge­les art gallery.

The hus­band-and-wife team moved to Seat­tle from Los An­ge­les, open­ing Tarsan I Jane last year. The restau­rant, named in part after Rocher’s grand­fa­ther’s restau­rant, Tarsan, in Spain, hon­ors the chef ’s Va­len­cian roots.

If you visit Tarsan I Jane’s web­site, don’t ex­pect to find dishes from their 12- and 18-course din­ner menus or many specifics. You will find a few gor­geous food pho­tos, but mostly you’ll read about how se­ri­ously they take their tech­niques and tra­di­tions and how you need to trust them. The se­ri­ous tone of the web­site ex­tends to ser­vice in the restau­rant, but once the af­fec­ta­tions of fine din­ing start to feel like nat­u­ral ex­ten­sions of the restau­rant and its re­spect for tra­di­tion and craft, the ice be­gins to thaw, as we ex­pe­ri­enced at a five-course brunch built around paella.

And how can you not suc­cumb to pretty much any­thing a restau­rant wants to do once pre­sented with a pan con to­mate that al­most dis­solves in your mouth, the tin­gle of an­chovy and sweet acid­ity of tomato melt­ing into a gar­licky, oily glow? A salpico of oc­to­pus, Mediter­ranean mus­sels and al­ba­core en­hanced by avo­cado puree and bay leaf oil, and a glass of tart cherry gaz­pa­cho coun­tered by the earth of beets and a sprin­kle of tog­a­rashi were pre­sented with mu­seum-in­stal­la­tion delicacy and had the fla­vor to back up the cer­e­mony of pre­sen­ta­tion.

The wood-burn­ing fire you see when en­ter­ing the restau­rant, the space’s largest blast of color (a con­scious de­ci­sion that makes the chef look like a su­per­hero burst­ing from the pages of a black-and-white graphic novel), tells the story of what is to come at brunch. The brunch’s cen­ter­piece was a paella de muntanya dish for four, the size of a warrior’s shield, a half-inch layer of bomba rice cov­ered with earthy mush­rooms, the veg­e­tal twang of ar­ti­chokes and fava beans, and ten­der hunks of duck. We took turns grasp­ing at the shield’s edge to stab mer­ci­lessly at the brit­tle but stub­born so­car­rat forged to the metal dish by the in­tense fire. After such a re­strained meal, the crescendo felt like we were jack­ham­mer­ing into the base­ment of a mu­seum, a tra­di­tion en­cour­aged by Zaine.

If Los An­ge­les im­ports Rocher and Zaine rep­re­sent the new blood flow­ing into Seat­tle’s din­ing scene, chef Re­nee Er­ick­son might be con­sid­ered a large part of the com­mu­nity’s back­bone. The 2016 James Beard award win­ner for Best Chef North­west opened her first restau­rant at the turn of the cen­tury, and her em­pire now in­cludes four restau­rants, a bar and a dough­nut shop. (Tip: If you can’t get into the Walrus and the Car­pen­ter for white wine and oys­ters, visit the ad­ja­cent bar Bar­na­cle for a bit­ter Ital­ian aper­i­tivo and sar­dines served in a tin.)

Her lat­est, Bateau, plays against type, switch­ing from the seafood dishes for which she be­came fa­mous to sus­tain­ably raised beef. The steaks are dry-aged and butchered in-house — you can view the meat locker from the din­ing room — and the va­ri­ety of cuts, many which you won’t find at tra­di­tional steak­houses, are listed daily by farm and cut on a large chalk­board in the din­ing room.

After you fin­ish early cour­ses that might in­clude a salad of red-wine Di­jon vinai­grette-splashed chick­peas and pick­led veg­gies scat­tered with Lego-size cubes of salami, or beef carpac­cio swooned by the tan­nic depth of cof­fee aioli, sit back and let the kitchen se­lect five cour­ses of steak for $85 per per­son. Make the slices of pe­tite round, sir­loin tip, coulotte, and filet your own by en­hanc­ing them with an­chovy or vadou­van­spiked but­ter. By the end of the meal, beef tal­low cake may feel like overkill, but pine ice cream with smoked ju­niper will feel like a palate cleanser, while plac­ing you squarely in the Pa­cific North­west.

Sa­vory steaks with in­ven­tive but­ters and pine ice cream: noth­ing and every­thing I ex­pected from Seat­tle. And two of many rea­sons I’ll be back.

Con­tact Matthew Odam at 512-912-5986. Twit­ter: @odam

CON­TRIB­UTED BY VISIT SEAT­TLE

A new wave of restau­rants in Seat­tle re­veals a city brim­ming with culi­nary creativ­ity.

MATTHEW ODAM/AMERICAN-STATES­MAN

When you visit Seat­tle, you want craft beer and cured fish. No An­chor de­liv­ers both.

AMERICAN-STATES­MAN PHO­TOS MATTHEW ODAM/

Per­fecte Rocher’s Tarsan I Jane pays homage to the chef’s Span­ish roots.

The prawn at Tarsan I Jane is a study in the el­e­gance of sim­plic­ity.

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