I always get a little flutter in my stomach when I hear about a new restaurant. I wonder who’s opening it – a chef I know from another venue, or maybe someone totally new on the scene? – what kind of food will be on offer, and what fabulous interior awaits. And it’s especially interest-piquing if there is something unique about this particular venture, something a little out of the ordinary.
That’s the case with Belle Clementine, a newcomer to Ballard open just one week. It’s not even really accurate to say “open,” in fact, as they’re serving just a few meals at the moment: five dinners in this latter half of December, and brunch and dinner a few days a week through January. The idea is to give diners a taste of the experience at Belle Clementine before launching a Community Supported Agriculture-style dinner series. Much like buying a season of whatever bounty the farm chooses to bring to you, the series will include a number of meals for a fixed price for the entire shebang. And the farm connection doesn’t stop with the analogy, as chef/owner David Sanford has close ties to local purveyors and intends to make good use of their ingredients in his meal offerings.
Four of us said an emphatic “yes, please” to the invitation to sample a dinner at Belle Clementine in advance of the dinner series launch. We were there on the second night open, and this celebratory air helped the experience feel more like a big dinner party than a restaurant. The warm greeting by Sanford certainly helped, and hearing that folks from Local Roots Farm – providers of some of the ingredients for the meal – were there as well. Though it’s the single room and three big communal tables seating a total of about 30, along with the open kitchen, that really make you feel as though you’re dining with a big group of friends. This is the kind of ambience that Sanford wanted from the start, reading Nancy Leson’s excellent write-up on the venture. Not that this is necessarily comfortable for traditionally stranger-averse Seattleites, we who tend to stick with our own crowd. (It’s good for us to talk to people we don’t know – really!)
In the same spirit as the planned series, dinner this night was $35 per person and included the pre-set meal; glass of wine, beer, or non-alcoholic beverage; and gratuity. Once seated we had pre-meal dishes of warm olives with a snappy orange zest, and a delicious little mixture of sunflower seeds, toasted Rice Krispies, and dried fruit. The meal started in earnest with a salad of Treviso Radicchio, golden beets, and radish with a champagne vinaigrette. This might have been my favorite course, tangy and delicious throughout. Next came roasted chicken from Stokesberry Farms, served alongside rice rich with a chop of leeks and chard. Last in the savory category was an enormous platter of carrots from the aforementioned Local Roots Farm. They were roasted with honey and hazelnuts, prepared rustically in an unpeeled fashion, and absolutely delicious.
Did I say that the salad was my favorite? It was, for sure, until the Mexican wedding cookies arrived. The hand-rolled chocolate truffles were quite good, but the cookies were absolutely to-die for. I might have had more than one, in fact.
I loved that we got to be a part of the evolution of Belle Clementine, and I’m excited to see what’s next. What else will David Sanford do with that Leary Ave space when he’s not serving food? One of the servers I queried suggested maybe art or music, which I think sounds like a fabulous idea.
More importantly, how will he and his team translate their experience with the one-off dinners into the seasonal meal series? Although the four of us loved the concept of $35 all-inclusive, when we got the final bill with our additional bottle of wine – not such an unusual occurrence with this crew – the value equation didn’t add up. Especially when several of us discovered that we were still hungry, quite soon after dinner. Or is this a function of a standard of oversized portions at other establishments, and the cost of stellar local ingredients served at this one? Good questions, and I can’t wait to see Belle Clementine navigate Seattle’s finicky restaurant climate and figure out the answers.