August 9, 2020

Pintxo

If you’re not in the loop on such things and perhaps don’t spend a whole lot of time in Belltown, you might think that you had just misremembered the name of the restaurant. I can imagine this conversation in my own head, quite easily: “Wait a second. I thought that the name of this place was Txori?? But it looks the same as the last time I was here and has a name that’s really similar…” Nope, you’re not going crazy. Pintxo, open just three months now, occupies the space most recently vacated by Txori, and like Txori serves an array of Spanish nibbles or “pintxos,” thus the name. Clever, eh?

On a recent visit I was pleased to see that the interior hadn’t changed, since that was likely my favorite part of the restaurant’s last incarnation. And lo and behold, those red doors that I’d loved so much from the inside in April were flung open to the petite patio just beyond.

It’s quite the urban space, carved out between a couple of buildings and feeling rather un-Seattle, actually. It felt more like summer patios I experienced while living in DC, where you nabbed whatever sliver of space you could. I liked the feeling of being between buildings, in this lovely quiet oasis in the middle of a bustling city.

And service matched that vibe, actually: present and helpful, without being over-solicitous. We sampled two of the happy hour beverages, the Crooked Belgian Wit (a beer was described as a cross between Hoegarten and Blue Moon) and the Tinto Verano (red wine, Sprite, and a dash of soda). Both just the right drinks for a warm summer early evening. And then, everything on the happy hour food menu: Morcilla de Arroz (inexplicably topped by popcorn), Catalan Sausage; Bacon Wrapped Date (you can never go wrong with anything wrapped in bacon); Toasted Almonds; Cocktail Mix; and Baked Egg and Ham, that last one a hash of asparagus, onion, red pepper, egg, and ham.

I will say that we were there for happy hour and certainly, I need to sample items from the regular menu. Though I did look closely at such plates that passed by our table, and my difficulty with Pintxo seems to be the same as it was with Txori: portion sizes are petite in proportion to price. Perhaps my perception of portion reflects an American rather than a European sensibility, but it feels as though the value proposition is a bit askew. Though the service is terrific and the outside space is lovely, so maybe it’s all worth it.

Go sit outside on a warm summer evening, sample a few things here and there, and tell me if I’m just an American sizeist. Write in and tell me if you think that I’m crazy and that Pintxo is the bee’s knees. Or rather, the equivalent expression in Spanish…

Pintxo on Urbanspoon

Marjorie

I was a big fan of the old Marjorie space but now I know that was just a crush; this is true love.

Like many, I was sad when owner Donna Moodie had to close her lovely little spot in Belltown. I mourned the loss of the quirky restaurant with its tiny bar and charming courtyard, because it was the space Marjorie inhabited that I first came to love. How excited I was, then, to learn that it would be reborn on Capitol Hill and consequently kept a close eye on its progress.

Did I mention "bright blue?"

I finally got my chance on a recent Friday and I’m not kidding: love at first sight. With the brightly colored chairs in the courtyard, the vivid blue of the interior walls, and the vibrant silk-covered ceiling squares that came with Donna from the old restaurant to the new, the space has so much life and color. The floors are a beautiful wide plank wood, and I love the tall metal shelves that reach up to the ceiling in various locations around the space. Behind the bar on the shelves that front Union are the requisite bottles of liquor; in front of the kitchen the shelves hold stacks and stacks of plates; and on two walls of the dining room the shelves hold wine bottles upon wine bottles with a few of bubbly water thrown in for good measure. It’s not a large space, with a bench that runs the length of the walls under those same metal shelves. There is probably seating for something like 20 there, in addition to the long communal table and cozy bar. The petite size just helps you to feel like you’re having dinner at the home of one of your best friends. Albeit a friend who has a fabulous eye for interiors and is a phenomenal cook, but that’s the feeling I get being there. It’s due in no small measure to Donna herself, who is as gracious a hostess as ever and has chosen staff who reflect this same ethic.

The cocktails at Marjorie are spectacular and deserve special mention, and on this particular evening we sampled three: The Rye Manhattan with Pendleton Rye Whisky, Punt‐e‐Mes, Lemon Bitters; the Marjorie Vesper with Quintessential Gin, Hanger One Vodka, Lillet, Orange Twist; and the Marjorie Negroni with Quintessential Gin, Antica Ricetta, Vermut Pregiato.

I’m finding that bread and butter are no longer just that, but instead now seem to be a menu item of their own. I saw this most recently at Sitka & Spruce, with their to-die-for slipper bread. And now I’ve experienced Marjorie’s homemade butter, an excellent reason to order (and reorder!) the Columbia City Bakery ficelle and Murray River salt sprinkled atop the butter. It was an indicator of an extraordinary meal to come…

Our first dish was the deep sea big eye tuna, three perfect slices of sashimi-style tuna served with picholine olives and pomegranate molasses. Smooth, almost creamy fish with the salt of the olives and the tang of the pomegranate.

The octopus and several of those spectacular cocktails

Staying seaside, next was the grilled octopus with housemade andouille sausage, fingerling potatoes and gremolata. I tend to steer away from octopus in sushi form because I find it to be too chewy, but Marjorie’s preparation was more thickly cut, tender and surprisingly delicious with the andouille and fingerlings. The orange section and peel helped to give it a lovely citrus flavor. The Anson Mills grits were sweet and deliciously creamy, served with mushrooms and braised pork. A meal in itself, I daresay, and so good we ended up ordering it twice. (Oh my!)

The collette of beef was perfectly done, and served atop a bed of porcini mushrooms and served with a foie gras hollandaise. As an added surprise, under the mushrooms we discovered braised shredded rib eye, making for a meat-and-more-meat dish, my favorite kind. The duck breast was perhaps my favorite of the evening, a beautiful composition of the duck, sweet corn, a tiny sweet corn gratin, house cured bacon, and bing cherries. Extravagant to be sure, but utterly divine.

Lovely stacks of Napolean; caramel-bouyed bread pudding

The sweet at Marjorie is just as phenomenal as the savory, as evidenced by our brioche bread pudding with fresh cream, bourbon caramel, and toffee; and the rhubarb Napolean with the most delicate layers of pastry, Bellweather Farms ricotta, creme de patissierre, and Dodi aged balsamic vinegar. When the three beautiful little meringues arrived at the end of our meal I thought surely I couldn’t eat another bite, but somehow I managed it and these too were delicious. Start to finish, the Marjorie experience was phenomenal. If I listen really closely I can hear a barstool and Vesper calling my name…

Marjorie on Urbanspoon

Sitka & Spruce

Am I the only one who just couldn’t manage to visit Sitka & Spruce in its previous location, in the miniature strip mall on Eastlake? I wanted to, and had been assured that once inside you forgot all about how you got there, but it seemed too sharp a juxtaposition between that and all of the great things I had heard about chef Matt Dillon and his exquisite food.

Thankfully, with its new home in the Melrose Project on Capitol Hill, Sitka & Spruce has the beautiful location it deserves. Very recently renovated, the building houses two hip retail spots, Velouria and Sonic Boom Records, and a bunch of fantastic foodie options. There is Still Liquor around the corner on Minor, and Calf & Kid (yum… cheese), butcher Rain Shadow Meats and Marigold & Mint (fabulously urban flower stand) all in the open arcade space. Also joining the arcade will be another Matt Dillon joint, wine and oyster Bar Ferdinand, and in a Melrose-facing spot a second location for Homegrown Sustainable Sandwich Shop.


The L of windows and shiny red sliding doors beckon you back to the corner of the arcade, to the light-filled space occupied by Sitka & Spruce. Once inside, it’s a succession of contrasts between light and dark, rustic meets refined. The exposed brick, big dark beams, tall open ceiling and what look to be the original warehouse windows lend the restaurant a bit of grit, all well-balanced by the white coat of paint on some of the bricks, lots of stainless steel and a judicious use of red accents. The few tables are augmented by an 8-seat counter that looks west toward downtown, as well as the butcher block table that is a 12-seat extension of the kitchen island. That was Matt Janke, by the way, formerly the namesake of Matt’s in the Market and soon to be launching a new venture called Lecosho, sitting at the kitchen table the night we were there. You know that you’re in the right place when another chef whose food you admire is dining just a few seats away.

We both agreed that our first dish of the night was the best: liver pate on toast with morel mushrooms and sorrel, topped with a raw egg. Salty and gooey and rich and wonderful.


Next came the salad of tom thumbs, radish, new onion and Kurt’s cheese. (That last item is one of the fabulous cheeses produced by Kurt Timmermeister at his farm on Vashon Island, who also happens to be host of one of my favorite experiences, Sunday dinner at Kurtwood Farms.) In addition to being beautifully composed, the greens were deliciously fresh and the dressing of 25-year balsamic vinegar with a touch of anchovy a nicely earthy complement.


In the whey braised hazelnut finished pork and dandelion the bitterness of the greens contrasted with the tang of the sauce, and the pork was fall-apart tender. The Washington ling cod and accompanying asparagus just didn’t have quite enough oomph for me, though the sauce of tahini and honey was so delicious I made good use of the housemade slipperbread to ensure that none remained.


Unfortunately, the Melrose Project has suffered its share of difficulties in the process of renovating and leasing all of the space. This post from the Capitol Hill Seattle blog does a good job of outlining the dispute between Tamara Murphy of recently-closed Brasa and the developers of the Melrose Project. Sadly it looks as though Tamara’s new restaurant Terra Plata won’t be occupying the cool triangular corner spot, but according to CHS the fine folks of Ballard’s Bastille will be taking the space instead. Either way, I see a great foodie future at the corner of Melrose and Minor.

Sitka & Spruce on Urbanspoon

Ravish

From the moment I stepped off Eastlake Ave and through the door at Ravish I was in a better mood. It probably helped that I was there on a rare gorgeous spring afternoon, but I suspect that the brightly painted green mismatched chairs with their orange and red patterned seats and complementary-hued glassybabies would be cheery on the dreariest of days. The flat gray tables, railing separating the bar from the restaurant and the bar itself contrast nicely with all of this brightness, and the sparkly, jangly chandeliers and fixtures over the bar are happily whimsical. I mean really — how could you be in bad mood in such a place?

Happy hour at Ravish is a hit for me — so much so that I returned within a week, in fact. I willingly admit that I’m a creature of habit, and in the realm of cocktails I typically (lately) default to a gin martini or sometimes a Manhattan. The fine folks at Ravish offer a happy hour cocktail of the day, though, which I quite enjoyed on both occasions, especially the Dark & Stormy on my second visit.

I’m lucky to have good friends who are willing to try lots of different things, let me eat off their plates and allow me to embarrass them with frequent photos of said plates. Thus it only took a couple of trips to Ravish to try a fair number of the happy hour food offerings, all quite reasonably priced. One of my favorites of the bunch was a more sophisticated version of pigs in a blanket. It was likely due in large part to my weakness for puff pastry, but I loved ‘em. The salad with grapes, apples and cinnamon’d pecans was lovely, as was the maple ham, apple and French brie panini.

We had the artisan spreads trio on both occasions, probably because it’s such a crowd-pleaser basket of breads and crackers served with three delicious spreads: tapenade, goat cheese and the last a combination of red pepper, sundried tomatoes and pine nuts. Another item that made a second appearance because I insisted on it until my friend caved and then was glad she did were the flank steak satay skewers. Tender, perfectly-cooked cubes of beef paired with a slightly sweet sauce. Fantastic!

After looking at the non-happy hour menu, two items I can’t wait to try: Cajun meatloaf sliders with caramelized onions and spicy ketchup on a brioche bun and pancetta three cheese mac and cheese with rosemary cheddar, parmesan and blue cheese topped with breadcrumbs and a truffle oil drizzle.

I’ve long been a fan of Ravish’s parent company, caterer Ravishing Radish, and how exciting that now we have another avenue via which to sample their excellent food. I also noted that their space is available for private parties, and of course I immediately added Ravish to my list of private event spaces, a select few of which you can find here. Now, what sunny, happy event can I bring to this great little space?

Ravish on Urbanspoon

Lark

I’ve spent plenty of time at adjacent sibling Licorous, but somehow I’ve never made it to Lark until recently. Man, was I missing out! Terrific, fabulous and I can’t wait to go back to try more.

The interior feels a bit like an upscale barn, with distressed wood floors and tables that tend toward the dark side. The light, creamy walls contrast with all this dark wood and similarly-hued exposed beams, lightening up the place while keeping it warm and inviting. The color block paintings on the walls, cylindrical light fixtures with thick wood bands at the top and bottom and sheer moveable curtains that hang on tracks from the ceiling complete the space.

Times have changed and now nettles aren’t just something to avoid being scratched by… When foraged from the wilds of wherever they are just as prickly as you would expect, but apparently when cooked the prickly portion falls away and becomes entirely edible and occasionally even delicious. After hearing all of this I excited to see wild nettle soup on Lark’s menu and anxious to try it. Their version has basil fed snails and garlic and was utterly creamy, but I’m told is completely vegan with no cream in sight. Impressive.

It’s impossible to pick a favorite dish of the night, but the Bluebird Grain Farms farro with trumpet mushrooms and garlic confit comes close for me. Served in this tiny skillet, the nicely firm and perfectly seasoned farro has a dash mascarpone folded in at the last minute then garnished with paper thin strips of fried garlic.

The carpaccio of yellowtail with preserved lemons and slivers of green olives was light and citrusy and rivals my favorite escolar crudo at How to Cook a Wolf. The Mishima Ranch steak tartare with raw quail egg was magnificent, and I’m fairly certain that I took more than my fair share of this particular dish. The only aspect I didn’t love was the onion crackers, which were terrific on their own but I thought a bit too substantial to accompany the steak tartare.

Our last savory, the leg of venison, was poached, chilled then roasted to order and served with a choucroute of red cabbage and roasted root vegetables. Cooked to perfection and blissfully un-gamey.

Somehow after all of this, we managed to sample two desserts. The rustic rhubarb crostata was dense without being too sweet, even with the white chocolate sorbetto, with a nice bit of crunch courtesy of the almonds.

The Theo dark chocolate pave was a veritable slab of chocolate, again offset with nuts but this time in toasted pistachio form, and accompanied by a dollop of coconut sorbet and a thin crisp of cookie. I loved the different textures here, perfectly paired even if I wasn’t such a fan of the dark dessert on the dark plate.

Sometimes I visit a new restaurant and think OK, I’ve had everything on the menu I’m interested in trying. But at Lark, I’m anxious to get back and sample everything I missed, before they make a seasonal shift to a new menu. An excellent sign, I think!

Lark on Urbanspoon