December 15, 2017

LloydMartin

Who doesn’t like a fantastic neighborhood spot? Be it bar, restaurant, or ice cream shop, there is something wonderful about knowing that place is just a few blocks away, ready and waiting for you to drop in. The sort of establishment that you want to visit with some regularity, until eventually they know your name and you know theirs, and you get the “NORM!” treatment whenever you walk in the door. I’m lucky enough to live in one of those neighborhoods with a whole bunch of commerce, and just in the restaurant category, everything from casual to upscale.

In the frequent tide of restaurant comings and goings – more so as a result of our current economic schlump, I know – one recent swap has me coming back around to a location I’d written off for the last while. Queen Anne’s Bricco was a just-fine wine bar, but something about it never quite made me want to come in and stay a while. The newest occupant of that space, however, is a different story. I had been walking by the space on the top of the hill, wondering and wondering what would move in, when one day a sign appeared: LloydMartin. And then a menu, and then finally one night when Aran and I were headed elsewhere for dinner we saw that it was open for business, screeched to a stop, and told pals to meet us there instead.

It was one of those blustery, rainy, nearly-winter nights, and the dark wood, candle-lit interior of LloydMartin seemed to be just the right fit for the evening. It’s a small space, with just a few distressed wood dining tables, and a stretch of bench along one wall. There is a good length of bar, though, which looked to be equally good for boozing and for eating. Maybe that’s it: This is somewhere I could picture dropping in for a drink or dinner, alone or with friends, knowing that it would be good on all fronts. Or maybe it’s the people: The night we were there we chatted a bit with owner Sam Crannell and asked what was up with the name of the restaurant. Turns out that Lloyd and Martin are the names of his two grandfathers. How could you not love that? I like to think that the vintage china used as serving plates was a nod to family, too. It seems that family has served Sam well, in fact, as wife Tracey Stoner Crannell is the chef at Portalis Wines in Ballard, and Portalis’ Gina Gregory created the wine list for LloydMartin. And wine is key here, as they’re a wine-and-beer-only establishment, like their predecessor in this space.

We sampled a wide variety of the menu offerings, and on balance, I would say that the food was very good. We started with the cavatelli pasta, a cheesy raclette topped with big curls of (undoubtedly house made) pork rinds; then wonderfully hearty elk meatballs with sour cream, marionberry, and pickled huckleberry. The perfectly runny 64 degree c farm egg came atop a potentially over-crispy potato in pommes anna style, along with a slice of chorizo, jalapeno, and pickled mustard seeds. The Italian beef was a substantial (though somewhat bland) mound of shaved beef and giardiniera piled on French bread; and in sharp contrast, the pot roast with potato and cheddar, onion, and mushrooms was a petite plate that didn’t match the $16 price tag. The risotto with pumpkin and grana padano had great flavor, but was more soupy than the risotto title would suggest. I was a particular fan of the pork belly with cipollini onions, cider, and those same pickled mustard seeds, as well as the plate of greens with pear, hazelnut, Oregon bleu cheese, and a sherry vinaigrette.

The petite pot roast, with an especially good jus

 

Half greens, half pear deliciousness

Interestingly, the “sweets” section accounted for two-thirds of the menu that night, so of course we had to sample a couple from the list. The pound cake with vanilla ice cream and blueberry compote was perfect lovely, but entirely overshadowed by the foie gras hot chocolate if just in concept alone. As the name implies, it’s foie gras blended into a high-end hot chocolate. Totally rich, totally decadent, and something I probably only need to try once in my life.

One-two punch of foie gras and chocolate

Overall, we had a good experience at LloydMartin. It was a little hit and miss in preparation and value, but given that they’ve only been open a month or so, I imagine that Sam and team are still working out the kinks. I’m looking forward to dropping in again, maybe for the quail with rapini, pine nuts, chili, apple, and maple jus. Though if they expanded beyond wine and beer, and added cocktails to the bar menu, I’d be even quicker to return…

[Photos courtesy of David Franzen]

LloydMartin on Urbanspoon

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

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

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