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Originally published April 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 27, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Restaurant review

Qube | Where the power of three can be mind-boggling

In restaurants, as with child-rearing, it can be a mistake to give too many choices. This thought nagged at me each time I pondered the possible...

Special to The Seattle Times

Asian/French $$$ 2.5 stars Qube


1901 Second Ave.,

Seattle, 206-770-5888;

www.quberestaurant.com

Reservations: Recommended.

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; happy hour 4-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; late-night happy hour 10 p.m.-midnight daily.

Prices: Three-course dinner sets $39-$49; a la carte menu $7-$30; three-course lunch sets $13-$15; a la carte menu $7-$13.

Drinks: Intriguing list of sakes, wines and cocktails; menu pairings of each are offered.

Parking: On street or in nearby lots.

Sound: High ceilings and hard surfaces cause sound — and the

techno-rock music — to reverberate, but new curtains and table runners should help.

Who should go: Metro guys and dolls looking for something new to eat and drink.

Credit cards: All major cards.

Access: No obstacles.

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In restaurants, as with child-rearing, it can be a mistake to give too many choices. This thought nagged at me each time I pondered the possible paths to happiness offered at Qube, the flashy Asian-French eatery that opened in December downtown.

Is a Qubed Set the way to go? They come in Emerald, Pearl or Ruby and no, it's not a matching necklace and earrings. It's a three-ingredient, three-course, fixed-price meal: emerald for vegetarian, pearl for seafood, ruby for meat.

Don't care for those pairings? Design your own set by mixing and matching say, a vegetarian starter with a seafood entree and whichever dessert you desire.

If three courses are more than you want, or you're just too confused, turn to the a la carte side of the menu and find a whole 'nother roster of small plates and large.

The staff is mostly adept at guiding you through the decision-making process (except at lunch, when service was indifferent and amateurish). Still, by the time you finish quizzing the waiter, sorting out who wants what and how with your dining companions, you'll be sorely in need of a drink. What'll it be: tap or bottled; sparkling or still? And that's just water. There's also an intriguing list of sakes, wines and beers, not to mention the trippy cocktails in Day-Glo hues that complement Qube's vivid paint job.

Qube2.5 stars


1901 Second Ave., Seattle, 206-770-5888; www.quberestaurant.com

Asian/French

$$$

Reservations: Recommended.

Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; dinner 5-10 p.m. daily; happy hour 4-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; late-night happy hour 10 p.m.-midnight daily.

Prices: Three-course dinner sets $39-$49; a la carte menu $7-$30; three-course lunch sets $13-$15; a la carte menu $7-$13.

Drinks: Intriguing list of sakes, wines and cocktails; menu pairings of each are offered.

Parking: On street or in nearby lots.

Sound: High ceilings and hard surfaces cause sound — and the techno-rock music — to reverberate, but new curtains and table runners should help.

Who should go: Metro guys and dolls looking for something new to eat and drink.

Credit cards: All major cards.

Access: No obstacles.

A vodka martini perfumed with orange flower water and garnished with pickled kumquats might be just the partner for the orange-scented, shiso-flecked naan that arrives once you've committed to dinner. The warm, supple, lightly charred bread comes with two pungent spreads — one a piercing mango-cilantro puree, the other a tongue-deadening muddle of tahini, sesame and soy.

That bread plate could be a template for the dishes that follow: Many please, some are thrilling, but a few fail. You wonder, with so many labor-intensive little bites to prepare — so many ways for diners to compose a meal — how the kitchen avoids a complete meltdown on busy nights.

Yet chef Lisa Nakamura, her past experience in high-end hotel restaurants around the world as well as at the French Laundry serving her well, stands calmly at the helm of her open kitchen, perched on the highest tier of this trilevel space, overseeing plate after elegant plate.

Her Qubed Sets ($39-$49), in which a single ingredient takes on different guises, are intriguing in much the same way as a wine-tasting flight (which, along with sake flights, are also offered here). The three courses showcase one ingredient prepared three ways, with just a few bites of each. The vegetarian set starts with asparagus. The trio, arranged together on a large white platter, included grilled spears glistening with sesame oil; a single potsticker filled with cream cheese, minced asparagus and cashews; and best of all, a frothy potato cream soup poured from a slender pitcher into a ceramic boat readied with steamed, chopped asparagus.

Sample menu


Portobello tofu burger $9

Dungeness crab chowder $10

Wild scallop a la Foie Noisette $11

Braised pork shoulder $24

Kobe-style flat iron steak $30

The second course, an artichoke triple play, scored two hits and a miss. The tiny wine-braised artichokes were wonderful; ditto the mini globes simmered in a searing green Thai curry sauce. But an overbearing tempura batter hurt sliced artichoke hearts in the third iteration.

Likewise, the green apple dessert trio was two-thirds delightful — especially apple granita, icy crystals flavored with five-spice powder and mint — and one-third dull — a mushy, tasteless apple tart.

Qube is gradually building a following at dinner, but it's pretty quiet by day. Memo to those who live or work nearby: The smaller three-course sets offered at lunch are quite a bargain at $13-$15. The Ruby Set (meat mavens take note) opened with a decadent ramekin of "foie gras crème brûlée" that I devoured by the spoonful after the brioche toast points were gone. Five ravioli followed, darling dumplings stuffed with Kobe-style short rib meat sporting a mahogany demi-glace that hints of wasabi but lacks salt, a flaw mitigated by curls of parmigiano. Dessert was a delicate Bavarian cream topped with finely diced strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar and studded with candied ginger.

A la carte entrees include a fine Kobe-style flat iron steak as well as braised pork shoulder with baby turnips in a barbecuelike sauce spooned from a black cauldron over a crispy chive-spaetzle cake. The stew has a certain homey appeal but becomes humdrum after a few bites.

Smaller plates tend to have more panache. Among the best: a briny, bisquelike Dungeness crab chowder with an undercurrent of lemongrass and minced linguica sausage mingling with the crabmeat; caramelized sea scallops lavished with brown butter and a whiff of white truffle oil paired with escarole and lemon to rein in the richness; and salmon tartare, compelling orbs of minced raw fish riddled with minced shallot and lemon zest that resemble pale pink berries peeking out from under a cluster of peppery green sprouts.

Edible trompe-l'oeil reaches its peak with the fabulous portobello tofu burger paired with truffle fries, offered at lunch and dinner. Two mushroom caps stand in for the bun embracing a crispy patty of minced tofu and seasoned rice, while beet-red pickled onions and gingered grape tomatoes do a riff on relish and ketchup.

Decisions. Decisions.

Providence Cicero: providencecicero@aol.com

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