December 15, 2017

Artusi

I heart Artusi… I expected this new Capitol Hill hot spot, connected to sister restaurant, Spinasse, to be so crammed that Aran and I would be left to press our noses against the glass and look longingly inside. But we must have lucked out when we came by one recent evening, early enough to beat the serious eating and drinking crowd.

Artusi occupies a corner spot at 14th and E Pine, and big windows on two sides afford good views of the bustle of Capitol Hill. It’s a light and airy space, with a mostly gray and white color palette with accents of yellow and red here and there. The wood on various vertical surfaces warms up the room, particularly due to the texture created by the burned effect on the plywood facings. Long narrow paper cylinders scattered across the ceiling serve as light fixtures for the space, hovering above the several tables, the u-shaped counter around the bar, and the two-sided version around the mini open kitchen. The counter tops are distinctive decorative elements themselves, with vast expanses of hexagonal tile echoed in the bar’s brand as well as the lemon zest in my cocktail.

No doubt one of the reasons that I’m such a fan of Artusi, their cocktails are crafted with care and clearly are a big part of the experience here. The night we were there they were hanging on to the tail end of summer, so we got to sample a “Drink the Kool-Aid” with Ransom Old Tom gin, Aperol, Cinzano Bianco, soda, lemon, and an enormous (and very fashionable) single ice cube. Our second cocktail was fall/winter seasaonal, so you’re likely find it on the menu if you visit soon: The “Miller’s Crossing,” with Martin Miller’s gin, Amaro Montenegro, black currant vinegar, and Clear Creek cassis liqueur. Or maybe you’ll be in the mood for a “Bambi Warhol” with Aviation gin, 360 vodka, Cocchi Americano, orange bitters, and citrus peel. The name alone makes it worth a try, I think. Perhaps it’s a nod to Spinasse chef and Artusi mastermind, Jason Stratton?

When we got there we had our pick of seats, and though we’re usually bar people, it was tough to pass up the chance to perch with a view of that tiny open kitchen. It’s really a prep kitchen, I suppose, as the more complicated stuff comes from Spinasse next door. Everything I read about Artusi prior to its opening insisted that the emphasis here is on drink rather than food, but like the cocktails, each dish on the petite menu seems to have been carefully chosen for inclusion. I rarely see so much on offer that is unfamiliar to me, but in this case the unfamiliarity felt intriguing rather than intimidating. Maybe it was the service – warm and engaging and not the slightest bit standoffish. Both the server and bartender were ready with suggestions, and happy to answer questions about this or that.

We started off with a couple of items from the Antipasti section of the menu: Fra’mani salametto (think salami-esque) with Meyer lemon mostarda di Cremona, and piping hot Quadrello di bufala cheese with raw Tremiti olives and hazelnut oil. Next came our Primi, my favorite of the night and something I’ve been raving about ever since: the black rice polenta with slow roasted goat and summer greens. Our selection from Piatti di Artusi was the “tonno di Chianti,” pork preserved in the style of tuna, with pickled young onions and marinated borlotti beans. And for dessert? Hazelnut cake with figs and cherry blossom honey in a particularly “rustic” (read: not perfectly formed) shape.

When I think about this dinner it feels like we had the chance to experience a wide range of flavors and textures – the creaminess of the black rice polenta contrasting with the sharpness of the preserved pork, in particular – and I can’t wait to return for more. Next time it might be the shaved white mushrooms and egg with salsa “Apicius” if it’s still on the menu. And if not, I suspect that there will be something else that has taken its place that I’ll want to try even more. And a delicious cocktail option or two, of course…

Artusi Bar on Urbanspoon

Clubfoot Ballerina: The Recipe Edition

Always ready with a cocktail shaker, Aran tells me that I’ve left out half the fun by not including the recipes for the various Clubfoot Ballerinas. (Oh, did I not mention that several of the bartenders kind enough to participate were also kind enough to share the recipes for their creations?)

Bathtub Gin & Co. wins style points for its branded notepaper:

2 oz rye whiskey
¼ oz pear liqueur
¼ oz peach liqueur
1 tsp Spanish paprika and cinnamon mix
.
.

The version from Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor:

2 oz rye whiskey
½ oz Punt e Mes
½ oz grapefruit juice
Peach bitters
.
.

My frothy favorite from Betty:

2 parts Old Overholt rye whiskey
1 part lemon juice
1 part simple sugar
1 egg white
.
.

Amateur mixologist Ty takes a stab at the CB:

3 parts whiskey (the less than $10 a bottle version)
2/3 parts grenadine
3 small scoops lemon pulp
3 dashes Angosura bitters
1 dash lime-flavored gin from Chamba, India
Directions: Shake VIOLENTLY. Pour over two ice cubes into vintage, thrift store lowball glass (or fruit jar). Top with club soda.

 I’m not sure what it says that we haven’t tried to replicate any of these yet, but I encourage you to give it a try. And report back. Definitely, report back.

Clubfoot Ballerina

CB a la Betty

There is something about the Smoke Shop that makes the implausible seem not so implausible, reasonable even. If you’ve ever been to this holdover from Ballard’s fishing industry past, then you know what I mean. And if you haven’t, picture a crusty old tavern – a northern Idaho version comes to mind for me – one with a jukebox, without fancy artisan organic liquor, and likely with a cash-only restriction.

On a particular night earlier this year, four of us were ending the evening at the Smoke Shop after making our way through a few other Ballard locales. We were ensconced at a table in the back, happily chit chatting and taking in the scene, in between trips to the jukebox. It was after one such visit that Heidi and I returned to find someone had joined our table, and was busy telling her tale of woe. I suspect that this tale of woe was intended to elicit offer of a drink, but instead it just produced a good story and the perfect name for a drink.

This wasn’t her first rodeo, that’s for sure. She had lived a long life, apparently in many different locations, and before we got back to the table the fellas were invited to make three guesses of the place she called home. Though they were advised that the penalty for guessing incorrectly was a “kick in the ribs,” admonition enough to make you choose your words very carefully, I suspect. Aran narrowly avoided rib injury by correctly identifying her accent and guessing  that she hailed from Georgia. We didn’t get her full employment history, but some of that history apparently involved a stint as a ballerina until at one point she developed the club foot that ended her dancing career. (Developed? What??) As entertaining as this was for everyone, eventually she tired of us and drifted off to regale another group with stories a-plenty.

My pal Ty’s version, in the requisite vintage low ball glass

Shortly after this outing this same group of us were headed off to Westport, WA for the weekend, and decreed that we would come away from the trip having concocted our own cocktail, the Clubfoot Ballerina. The woman from the Smoke Shop had told such a tale, and clearly had such a history, all of it just begging to be translated into a cocktail of some sort. We took our cue from her southern provenance, and the unfortunate clubfoot development, and came up with an absinthe-based drink that was… awful! It would seem that we are discerning drinkers, but terrible bartenders.

And so it was that we turned to the professionals, issuing a challenge to various bartenders around town who were amenable to the idea of concocting a drink based on a name and a little story. We even had one friend who wanted to throw his hat into the ring, and come up with his own version of the Clubfoot Ballerina. Many included an element of sweet and usually peach-y, as a nod to her Georgia origins, often with a tinge of bitter to represent the tough breaks. I particularly liked Betty bartender Noelle’s interpretation, with a frothy egg white in honor of her ballerina past. Nearly all were rye-based – again, referencing the south – though Michael at Ocho went with tequila, a dark horse in the race. At Frank’s Oyster House Bill used Punt e Mes as the source of the slightly bitter tinge, where at Bathtub Gin it was cinnamon that provided spice and balanced out the pear and peach liqueurs.

The CB at Frank's Oyster House employed peach bitters

 

Vasilios at Book Bindery muddled nectarine as a peach stand-in

 Given Seattle’s firmly entrenched cocktail culture and burgeoning distillery business (I’m already planning visits to the new Sun Liquor and Oola distilleries), I’ve no doubt that there are more bartenders who will rise to the challenge of on-the-spot cocktail creation, and happily, more Clubfoot Ballerinas in my future.

Bar del Corso

Bar del Corso is a relative newcomer to Beacon Hill, replacing an old-school bar in the neighborhood. Although I didn’t see the original incarnation, from the description given by my dining companions who had known it previously, I can imagine all of the work they had to do to exorcize the grease and smoke and transform it into the light, airy space it is now.

You’ll want to show up early, as it’s a popular place. My cousin, a Beacon Hill resident, tells me that it’s a restaurant with grassroots support and the steady stream of customers from the 5pm opening until we left after 8pm backed that up. Come early or just with two, or you’re likely to wait half an hour or more. Once inside, it’s one big room, with the dining area off to the left and to the right a long bar with substantial seating, a good place for drinks and snacks or a full-on meal. A straightforward interior, with this enormous pizza oven in the back, hardwood floors, Shaker chairs, and schoolhouse lighting fixtures.

Bar Del Corso Seattle (wood fired pizza)We started with the very flavorful Vongole alla Marinara: Manila clams, garlic, hot peppers, olive oil, cherry tomatoes, white wine, and parsley. Then on to the special of grilled octopus and borlotti beans, with kale, yellow tomatoes, and red tomatoes. (The gorgeous photo below is a version of what we had that night, though not exactly the same.) The octopus was well cooked (read: not overcooked) and I liked the various textures of the dish, though it was quite soupy and I felt like I left half the flavor on the plate. Maybe too liquid to have been served on crostini, but I was pining for some bread on the side to sop up the goodness. I know I’m not supposed to want bread with pizza on the way but I’m greedy that way – when something is this delicious I don’t want to leave anything behind.

Bar Del Corso (Grilled Octopus and Controne Beans)

It’s Neopolitan pizza so not crispy, but a wonderfully doughy texture with just the right salt quotient for me. We tried the Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil, olive oil) and added mozzarella di buffula which I hear was just the right addition. But it was the Funghi that was my favorite, with crimini mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, housemade sausage, pecorino, and fontina. Spicy and a ton of flavor.

I’d definitely return for the pizza, but also for a sampling of what looks to be an interesting selection of meats and cheeses. Arugula and fresh fig salad with gorgonzola naturale – yum!

[Photos courtesy of Dapper Lad Cycles]

Bar del Corso on Urbanspoon

Mad Homes

There are interesting artistic endeavors happening all around the Seattle area, and I’m grateful for friends who keep an eye out for openings/installations/performances that would be fun to go check out.

Thanks to Jessica, a bunch of us trooped off to Capitol Hill to walk through Mad Homes, an offshoot of the MadArt Series that has been making an appearance in Madison Park for the last two years. This version took place in several unoccupied (and one occupied!) structures slated for demolition. In some cases, there were large pieces of art outside on the lawn…

Meg Hartwig: Field Dressing
…and in a couple of instances the art encased the structure itself:
 

SuttonBeresCuller: Ties That Bind

 
 I love that the entire house was cris-crossed by strapping line, and that the same strapping line extended throughout the house. You see it incorporated into the piece below, painted on the stairs themselves:
 

Jason Puccinelli & Elizabeth Potter

 
The same concept of an image appearing from a particular perspective is used in the second piece, a series of larger and smaller globes staged at various heights:
 

Jason Puccinelli & Elizabeth Potter: Philtering

 
A couple of my other favorites included this piece composed of string:
 

Allyce Wood: Habitancy

 
And most envelopingly, the room entirely wallpapered and floored in shirts:
 

Luke Haynes: Interiors #1 (Wall Clothes)

 

Although Mad Homes is no more, keep an eye on the MadArt website for art popping up in the future. Who knows where next you might see a structure encased entirely in shrink wrap?

Nook

I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t have made my way to Nook – or at least not for a long while – were it not for Angela’s persistence. This is another one of those quirky Ave gems, and I say quirky because the first time we tried to go there they were inexplicably closed mid-week. And the day we actually made it inside for lunch, in fact, they soft-closed for half an hour in order to do some biscuit baking. But unlike some restaurants that aren’t worth the hassle, this one is, even when you consider the small scope of its mini menu.

It’s a tiny, uh, nook of a space, mostly counter and kitchen with just a few two-person booths. The window pane print cloth tops on the booths, and black and mint green color scheme, all make it feel straightforwardly cheery. The chalkboard menu concept fits quite well here, especially knowing that items on it actually do change frequently or at least are tweaked a bit here and there, so no need to put the offerings in print.

 As mentioned the menu isn’t expansive, but – and I speak with some biscuit experience – the biscuits are absolutely delicious. Good thing, given that they’re the basis of almost everything on offer. On this particular day we sampled two sandwiches, the ham, brie, and chutney version; and the goat cheese, egg, tomato jam, and arugula version; and both were melty and flaky in all the right ways. Along with freshly-baked biscuits there are freshly-baked cookies, and I’d say the latter rival my favorite, my very own. When you go, other things you might want to try include the build-your-own biscuits and gravy, and the sweet Nutella and banana. They’re even doing a grilled cheese happy hour Wednesday through Friday, 4-6pm, and late night biscuits and gravy, 10pm – 1am.

Nook on Urbanspoon

Little Water Cantina

Scanning the business addresses as I cruised down Eastlake looking for my destination, I didn’t see anything that screamed delicious Mexican food and a stellar view of Lake Union, though I’d heard tell of both. It turns out that Little Water Cantina is hidden behind a rather unassuming new condo façade, just down the way from the Eastlake Bar and Grill. EB&G is the spot that everyone knows for its bustling deck and proximity to Lake Union, and it looks as though they have a new neighbor with similarly compelling qualities.

Once inside, the space opens up into a large lounge-y area, long bar, open-air dining room, and enormous patio, all with a great view to the water and boats of Lake Union. Granted, it was a sunny, summer late afternoon when we were there, but the whole interior has an extremely inviting, casually breezy feel. Rough hewn wood tables paired with light metal chairs, picnic tables on the patio, and red cushy bench seats and backs in the lounge and dining room. The latter might be my favorite, with strings of lights criss-crossing the ceiling and huge doors that accordion all the way open to catch the breeze off the lake. Given the gorgeous day, the patio and dining room were packed, and on weekend nights I can imagine that the lounge and bar are hopping as well. The crowd was a mix of ages – older folks, younger folks, babies – so seems to have wide appeal.

But how about the food, right?? We were there for happy hour, and I can’t say that the fare was anything extraordinary. We sampled the (perfectly good) guacamole, coctel de camaron (a few white gulf shrimp, guacamole, red cocktail sauce, and corn chips), and the special taco of the day (a Pacific ling cod). Not the best value in happy hour food, in my opinion, but I was so distracted by the restaurant’s interior, excellent service, and gorgeous view that I hardly noticed.

I’ll definitely be back – hopefully before this beautiful weather deserts us again for nine months – and I’ll give the dinner menu a spin. The diver scallops with mango-habanero sauce and fried kale sound delicious, as does the wild boar ahogada (a “drowned” sandwich, explains Wikipedia) with grilled pineapple and fried onions. Given everything else to recommend it, Little Water Cantina deserves another shot at good food. Or maybe this is one of those “drinks and atmosphere only” places, a worthy category all its own in my book.

Little Water Cantina on Urbanspoon