Seattle, Part Two
The restaurant world has been in holiday mode for over a month, but if you’re like us, December is the time when you really begin to look back at the year that’s just passed—and it’s when you begin to do your holiday shopping! We’ve put together a list of chefs gifts—from Boston shakers to books—that will fit nicely in a chef’s stocking (and none of them cost more than $60). Our guide to the year’s top cookbooks is also a source of inspiration for cheffy gifts or your own personal culinary artistry.
But before we turned to holiday mode, we took one final trip to Seattle to scout Rising Stars. We were pleased to find, as with our first trip, some exciting new additions to the city’s culinary options. As Seattle’s dining scene has grown over the last decade, the middle ground between casual and fine dining has fleshed out in a way that offers nice variety to the city’s diners, and to its chefs. Case in point: Jonathan Hunt’s—and the city’s first—casual-chic noodle bar, Boom Noodle on Capitol Hill. In preparation for the opening, Hunt spent 12 days immersed in Japanese ramen culture, watching and learning the art of ramen. But the chef likes to put his twist on it by adding the occasional Northwest ingredient to the otherwise traditional Japanese repertoire, like udon with a fillet of smoked local salmon.
Following with the theme, Jerry Traunfield (of long-standing Herbfarm fame) was inspired by the thali plates he had in India. So he fused the thali concept (several small dishes served as one single course) with his dedication to the Northwest, and Poppy was born. It’s a departure from the fine dining Herbfarm: Poppy is casual and a great value (the thali plates—essentially a seven course meal—are $32).
Sitka and Spruce, Cascina Spinasse, and Sutra all fall into the casual category and each count just 40 seats or less. Sitka and Spruce sits in a strip mall next to a Seven-11, but the space is cozy and the hand-written chalkboard food and wine menus really add to the laid-back feel. Likewise, chef/owner Matt Dillon’s food is homey and simply plated with little frill. Justin Neidermeyer of Cascina Spinasse is a chef that goes rustic Italian—specifically Piemontese—all the way in a friendly, elbow-rubbing atmosphere—the tables are communal, so you may literally be rubbing elbows with fellow diners. Community dining is a recurring trend in several Seattle spots we visited, but chef Colin Patterson takes it to another level at Sutra, making it a central theme to his adventurous vegetarian restaurant. The restaurant has just one large table and two seatings per night. Diners thus share not only a table, but the meal as well by progressing from dish to dish at the same time. Patterson and his partner Amber Tande are using the communal seating as a way to change the way we eat in general—and they are starting their movement in Seattle.
Pig ‘n Whistle is the brainchild of Vuong Loc of Portage. His casual eatery caters to the neighborhood crowd by giving them a great beer selection with casual food crafted with a fine dining mentality—great ingredients, technique, and variety. Loc says that when he started out, the menu was more ambitious, but people wanted sandwiches, so he gave them what they wanted…and it’s been wildly successful since. Licorous takes adventure and quirky menu items to heart. Chef Wylie Frank cooks on a four-burner electric Frigidaire range, but manages to turn out creative dishes, like his Pretzel Dots with house-made sausage, sauerkraut, and mustard aoli. And Sam Crannel of Quinn’s Pub combines an element of surprise with familiar flavors in his straightforward, unfussy food. Take his foie gras dish, for example. Seared foie is paired with caramelized apples—straightforward enough—but instead of a buttery slice of brioche on the side, there’s a dense, delicious funnel cake, making the dish less French and more county fair.
At Spring Hill the concept is centered around seafood. Yes, there’s some meat available, but chef Mark Fuller says his concept of Northwest cuisine is seafood-driven, so the area’s fish and shellfish get lots of love and the central spot on his menu. Local oysters pop up across the menu, too: on the half shell, smoked, fried, even pickled and served with razor clam sausage.
Seattle stalwarts are getting second winds. Peter Canlis opened his eponymous restaurant in 1950, and it's now under the direction of the third generation of Canlises. Brothers Mark and Brian Canlis are now running the show and their energetic team includes young, talented wine director Nelson Daquip, eager pastry chef Neil Robertson, and a new young chef who has just relocated from 11 Madison in New York. Boat Street Café has been around the block, you might say, but chef/owner Renee Erickson bought the restaurant when she was just 26, without much restaurant experience, no culinary school, and not much money. Nearly a decade later, the restaurant is thriving thanks to its warm atmosphere and excellent food. Erickson is all about technique, in the most fundamental ways, and it shows in her organic chicken liver mousse, hand-chopped tartare, and homemade pickles (which she’s beginning to sell in retail outlets in the state).
One of the most exciting concepts that’s appearing across the city (and the country!) is the cocktail bar; Vessel is one of Seattle’s sleekest. Mixologist Jamie Bondreau opened Vessel and brought his vision about the look and feel of the bar by buying vintage glassware. Bondreau has since moved on to re-vamp the cocktails at Tini Bigs, and young Turk Jim Romdall has taken over the cocktail menu. He's making some spectacular concoctions behind the bar. But restaurants are getting on the cocktail bus, too. Sambar is a tiny jewel box of a bar/restaurant that serves simple bites to complement the seasonal cocktails made by bartender Jay Kuehner. (And for seasonal inspiration for your list, see our Winter Drinks Party feature, which includes a recipe for Jamie Boudreau’s “Chocolate Cochon”).
With our Seattle trips and the year coming to a close, we've started to take stock of the season and year. This holiday season may be slower than years past, but it remains an incredible time to be a cook in America. We’ve talked about five American cities in the 2008 Letters from the Editor, and everywhere we go we’re impressed by the level of culinary creativity that is defining American cuisine. We’ll speak more on that in the upcoming days as we publish our yearly review of the industry’s trends.
Check back with us soon for our announcement of our Seattle Rising Stars!