Unusually late in researching a nice dinner date-spot with Dad during a quick stint in Seattle last summer, I was thankful to brush through the latest Food & Wine to find the “Best New Chef” edition, which featured the young and promising chef Jason Stratton of Seattle’s Spinasse. On short notice we were able to snag a rez at this ten-tabled treasure.
Huddled amidst Seattle’s pig trotter-tasting foodies content to be shielded from the drizzly, cool weather, we found ourselves sitting in mismatched spindle-topped chairs at a cozy, wooden table.
An aroma of comfort and contentment lays light yet present in the air at Spinasse; and humor pokes through in the form of a ghostly pale-faced, Scrooge-type figure, painted with an expression of the subsequent reaction to biting into a lemon. Set behind the bar like an extending cave from it, the kitchen is exposed like looking through a magnified keyhole. A soft, firelight glow emerges from this warm and sumptuous-smelling den and extends its affection throughout the house. Sink-sized copper pots and pans hang from the ceiling above a large wooden island for prep and plating, which promotes a certain circular sociability among the cooks that mimics the same congeniality of the diner’s oasis in the front of the house.
Like Jason, Spinasse, its guests, food, and staff are youthful and hold promise. Our quick and witty waitress, Brita personifies this exact quality. Brita takes our order, insisting that we have the tasting plate of appetizers in order to get a full viewing of the chef’s seasonal conceptions, and a pasta dish to understand his mastery of simplicity.
A wonderful amuse-bouche substituted the typical breadbasket that fills more than it flatters. A thin crostini liberally buttered and topped with one meaty anchovy and flakes of black pepper will forever reign superior to dull, basketed bread.
A first appetizer plate of lacey proscuitto bedding a plump pool of local, roasted strawberries, and a Russian salad with snap peas, marinated rabbit, pickled carrot and radish spun with a tuna maionesse both boded as a great first impression of the chef’s mark on our palates. The strawberries, made savory with thyme, were the melone to the proscuitto–a sweet, fruity and dense bite in contrast to the salt and chew of the meat. The rabbit salad, although teetering on being overdressed, was a pungent and creamy juxtaposition to the salty, sweet proscuitto.
The second act of the appetizer tasting included a spring asparagus flan with braised morels, which was more gelatinous than preferable but bubbling with earthy spring flavors. A crespelle–or crepe with superbly crunchy edges–was filled with spring onions and ricotta, and held a glaze of hazelnut sauce that rounded out the cheesey and eggy crepe. The real show-stealer though was the milk-braised pork; tender, creamy, and shamelessly falling off the edges of a two-inch thick slice of hearty, artisanal toast.
To follow, a steaming nest of fresh, hand cut, angel hair egg pasta with butter and whole sage leaves, was a perfect primi course for two. Nutty and comforting parmigiano and earthy sage made the dish all the more fresh and blossoming, like a thawing spring ground.
Equally reminiscent of spring were the sweet-as-maple-candy rabbit meatballs wrapped in caul fat casing and topped with roasted baby turnips, which oozed a rich au jus. Ornamenting and certainly embellishing the sweet rabbit was a dollop of pickled horseradish that amplified each flavor.
The local salmon with spring onions, peas, and chervil proved a success of equal parts flavor and texture variation–thick, crispy-as-pig-cracklings salmon skin offset its pillowy meat and mattress of snappy peas.
Without a twitch and with a genuine urge and want to never leave, an indulgent and lengthy dessert was nothing short of imperative. The special of the evening–almond cake with a sorbet of local raspberries and strawberries–like brûléed marzipan–was again a pleasant reminder of hibernation’s end and spring’s awakening. The whipped goat cheese and hazelnut pot du crème was airy, tart, and soft as a cotton ball.
For the finale, last chance to linger, and as per Brita’s insistence–a glass of Chinato fortified wine, a digestif that tastes like the spawn of father-Fernet-Branca and mother-port.
A spring meal at Spinasse, finished with a miraculous Seattle sun-break, was all too perfect, and like spring love, all too decadent.