It’s been 5 years since we brought our Rising Stars awards to Seattle (how time flies!), and the return trip we took earlier this month was clearly overdue. But at the same time, we’re glad we waited so long – because in those 5 years, the city’s culinary scene has flowered.
The weather was cool, crisp and sunny as we ran around town, visiting everywhere from the elegant Campagne in Pike Place Market to the cozy Joule in Wallingford and the creative and tasty Skillet Street Food, an airstream trailer parked on a quiet corner in Freemont. The chefs we met were young and energetic, with great ideas and, overall, well-executed food.
We hopped off the plane and went straight to Boka, the restaurant adjacent to the sleek Hotel 1000 in downtown Seattle. Before heading to our table we played with a brand-new Microsoft touch table in the lounge – essentially a table with an iPhone-esque touch screen – that featured interactive maps, activity and restaurant guides. At Boka we were pleasantly surprised by the playful (and often Asian) twists in Chef Angie Roberts’ food. Her Southern- and Asian-influenced tamarind barbecued duck confit leg served with ‘slaw and a crispy polenta cake is a perfect example of her culinary approach: flavorful and satisfying, with gutsy combinations of flavors and techniques.
Campagne was next – and anyone who has spent an early evening there knows it’s one of the best restaurants in the city for watching the sun set over the water and hills behind the market. The food is even better than the view: Daisley Gordon has been there for more than a decade, and his French-Northwest cuisine is elegant and expertly done. Gordon has the ability to make a gigantic sweetbread feel delicate, pairing it with a subtly rich butter lettuce cream and carrots scented with curry. Sommelier Cyril Frechier paired the dish with a pinot noir from the western Loire Valley, and the effect was transporting.
We spent the first evening at Joule with husband and wife team Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, who met in the kitchen of Alain Ducasse at the Essex House in New York. Though their food at Joule couldn’t be farther from fine dining French, their skill as chefs is apparent through their melding of American comfort food with Yang’s Korean background. This manifests itself in dishes like black sesame spaetzle “mac and cheese” and smoked tofu with mushrooms, scallions, and soy-truffle vinaigrette.
Starting day two with Lucy Damkoehler of Andaluca (who has since started a new position as pastry chef of Taste). She served us a perfect fall dessert: a pumpkin pound cake with maple cream cheese, black pepper caramel, and butter-pecan gelato that was gently spiced and delicious. From there we went to Taste to meet Chef Craig Hetherington and hear about his commitment to sustainability. The light, airy restaurant connected to the Seattle Art Museum is committed to green restaurant practices; we learned about their rigorous composting program, and their “eat local” challenge, which puts a few all-local dishes on the menu each day.
The afternoon was spent at Spur with Chefs Dana Tough and Brian McCracken, and Bar Manager David Nelson. The three of them are moving Seattle’s food and drinks scene forward, one encapsulated surprise at a time. Their beef carpaccio with deep-fried béarnaise was a highlight of the trip (click here to see how they make it!), and we loved how Nelson finished two of his drinks with a dense foam shot from an iSi cream whipper. But what makes Spur so great is that the food and drinks are rooted in classics, and executed with a base of strong, solid technique.
To cap off the night, we went to Crush, Jason Wilson’s fine dining restaurant in a charming 2-story cottage on Capitol Hill. Wilson’s cuisine is marked by a refined aesthetic sentiment. His Indian Summer Tomato Salad was a stunner: a landscape of colorful heirloom tomato segments punctuated by crisp prosciutto chips, leaves of arugula, creamy dollops of fresh ricotta, and sandy nicoise olive powder. And it tasted as dynamic as it looked. Wilson was a charming, effusive host (even at 1 in the morning!) – he also one of the area’s most ambitious chefs.
On a quiet street corner near the canal in Freemont, we visited Joshua Henderson and Danny Sizemore of Skillet Street Food. The two are taking the roving gourmet concept to the next level by serving excellent food (a chopped salad of local Full Moon Farms greens and green goddess dressing, a Kobe beef burger with bacon-onion jam, poutine with Beecher’s cheddar and herb jus – delicious!) from their retrofitted silver Airstream trailer. It’s a fantastic concept and they’re executing it very well; another trailer and a walk-up window are in the works, and we’re excited to watch them grow.
In nearby Wallingford we visited Tilth, the cozy and certified organic restaurant run by Chef Maria Hines. Hines is a passionate chef, and Tilth is the direct result of her energy and dedication. Her food is hyper local and seasonal, and her wild mushroom plin (a flat, rectangular ravioli) with local spinach was a delicious taste of the Northwest. Sommelier Adam Chumas does an excellent job pairing the food, and has built a wine list with a focus on sustainable, organic, biodynamic, and affordable wines. Our favorite pairing: Hines’ mini duck burgers with a 2007 Albert Mann Pinot Blanc from Alsace.
Back downtown to Union we visited Chef Ethan Stowell, who has been busy opening upscale-casual concepts across Seattle: Tavolata in Belltown, the sleek, tiny How to Cook a Wolf in St. Anne’s, and a new restaurant, Anchovies & Olives, on Capitol Hill. Stowell is changing the landscape of the city’s dining with his varied concepts: Union is seasonal, new-American cuisine, Tavolata and Wolf have an Italian-infused menu, and Anchovies & Olives will be seafood-focused, with wine list heavy on whites. At Union his bartender, Keith Waldbauer, is adding a fun element to the experience with creative cocktails rooted in the classics – we loved tasting his homemade pimento dram (allspice liquor) in a cocktail of rum, lime, and Champagne.
The next morning we sunk into the cushioned window seat in the sunny Volunteer Park Café on Capitol Hill – and we could have stayed all day! Chef Ericka Burke’s food is utterly homey and delicious (she says she wants it to be “cravable”), and the restaurant, and old corner store, is heavy on charm (and baked goods). At lunch she serves excellent panini and salads; at dinner she lowers the lights, sets out candles in mason jars, and turns into a table-service restaurant with homey, New American dishes like braised short ribs, rich polenta served in a roasted pumpkin, and a shaved local fennel and artichoke salad.
A visit to 2003 Rising Star award winner Scott Staple’s Restaurant Zoe to meet Chef de Cuisine Daniel Newell was next on our list. Newell’s background is in fine dining – at Joaquim Splichal’s Patina in LA – and his dishes layered surprising flavors, like sweetbreads with chicken mousse and apricots. His salad of raw and braised celery, raw and sautéed mushrooms, pine nuts, and a celery root-lemon puree was a lively, bright, and well-executed dish.
That night we checked out an underground supper club (a trend we’re seeing across the country) called “Cache,” run by Lorna Yee. The type of cuisine changes weekly – this time, the meal started with a mushroom soup with tasty chanterelles sautéed in bacon fat, and mini gruyere and San Daniele prosciutto sandwiches, and ended with a delicious salted caramel nut tart with chocolate ice cream. The dinner is at a communal table for 12 people; it’s lively, and talk always centers on food.
Our last day in town, we caught up with 2003 Rising Star Eric Banh at Monsoon and heard all about his new project opening in Bellvue. While we caught up we tasted a few dishes from the chef of his new project, Ashley Phan: full circle farms eggplant grilled and garnished with tofu paper, scallion, and soy vinaigrette, and a spectacular clay pot dish of caramelized Berkshire pork belly and shrimp in a traditional Vietnamese caramel with fish sauce and black pepper.
It was a full week, but it was just the beginning! We’re only half-way through our tastings in preparation for a 2009 Seattle Rising Stars – be sure to let us know if there’s anyone we should be sure to visit next time we’re in town.
Two other recent editorial trips include Montana and Idaho. In Montana we stopped by The Livingston Bar and Grill, a historic property (built in 1890!) in downtown Livingston for a taste of Montana cuisine. Chef Ross Martin (who we first met in Colorado) dishes are rooted in the locale: meats from local Indreland ranch, and delicious pan-fried Rocky Mountain trout with gnocchi and lemon-parsley brown butter. Martin is also the chef of the beautiful Eight Mile Ranch, also in the Livingston area.
This is the 2nd summer in a row that we’ve swung by Idaho, and we re-visited an old favorite in Boise – Red Feather Lounge. The restaurant is devoted to local food and sustainability beyond the plate, and the cocktail menu, overseen by Kevin Kelpe, is fantastic. We loved his local cocktail of organic Idaho cucumber vodka with a rose cordial, apple juice, fresh lime, and local rose petals.
Not to be missed in this issue:
Charcuterie: Seven Steps to Cooked or Cured - Meathead chefs Zach Allen and Chris Cosentino share their top professionals and advice on making your own charcuterie.
Economy Survey Results - Find out how chefs and diners are staying afloat during the downturn.
Career Series Podcast - Mixologists Allen Katz, Junior Merino, and Yvan
Lemoine discuss what got them where they are, and where they're going.
Finally, check out photographs from Chef Paul Liebrandt and Pastry Chef Robert Truitt at the long-awaited, newly opened Corton in New York City. The next newsletter will re-cap our late September trip to cover the Bocuse d'Or USA semifinals and our mid-October trip to Paris for one of the world’s biggest food fairs, Sial.