Family-style supper's on at Seattle restaurants
They invite us to come to the communal table for tradition, feasts and fun
SUNDAY SUPPER. The very words conjure up sepia-toned Norman Rockwell images of happy families gathered around tables piled with steaming platters of roasted chicken, heaping bowls of mashed potatoes and butter-bathed vegetables to share.
Sadly, in our rush-rush, modern-day world, this long-cherished tradition has been lost to many of us.
But thanks to a cadre of forward-thinking (or perhaps backward-thinking?) chefs who offer end-of-week dinners served family-style around the communal table, Seattleites of a certain age can relive their memories while younger folks can partake of the sacrament of Sunday supper for the first time.
In 2003, Melissa Nyffeler wanted to spread her wings as a cook, so she started serving family-style dinners in her First Hill apartment on Sundays. She emailed friends; the first 12 to respond got a place at the table. As friends forwarded Nyffeler's invitation to other friends, the list grew. Nyffeler named her underground restaurant "Dinette."
In 2005, the brick-and-mortar Dinette opened on Capitol Hill, where Nyffeler continues offering multicourse Sunday suppers every three to four weeks with themes such as "Oaxaca" and "Northern France."
Sign up on the website for the email invite. But be warned: The dinners often sell out within hours ($35 to $40, www.dinetteseattle.com).
In late 2006, successful restaurateur Ethan Stowell designed his second Seattle restaurant, an "urban Italian eatery" in Belltown, around a 30-foot communal table ("tavolàta") because he wanted to serve family-style meals, in larger portions meant for sharing. In January 2010, he and Tavolàta chef Brandon Kirksey started their once-a-month themed Sunday "feasts."
"By far, the most popular feast is when I cook suckling pig," Kirksey says. "I usually prepare three, 40-pound pigs roasted whole to a crunchy golden brown, line them down the middle of the communal table with a knife and fork and let the diners dig in."
Last December, Tavolàta's Falstaffian "Roman Feast" included Italian egg-drop soup; a groan-worthy board of antipasti; salt-cod fritters; sumptuous bowls of pasta; whole roasted chickens; and a rustic, cardamom-laced, pear bread pudding ($75, www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com).
Ericka Burke, chef-owner of Volunteer Park Cafe on North Capitol Hill, began serving seasonally inspired Sunday suppers once a month in the summer of 2010.
"We are a neighborhood joint, a place where community is the anchor of who we are and why we function," she says. "I thought, why not make this a more convivial experience — food and wine are meant to be shared, right?"
At Burke's Sunday supper in January, guests enjoyed grilled flatbreads with a luscious Lebanese roasted-red-pepper/walnut/pomegranate-molasses spread. Blood Orange and Pomegranate Salad arrived on antique-silver serving platters.
Falling-off-the-bone-tender Chicken Tagine with Dates, Lemon, Green Olive and Couscous came next, followed by bowls of Coconut Rice Pudding ($30, www.alwaysfreshgoodness.com).
On Sundays, chef/owner Matt Dillon serves a more casual, pared-down version of his Saturday-night feasts, "akin to a simple family supper," at The Corson Building in Georgetown ($60, www.thecorsonbuilding.com).
And Corson Building alum David Sanford, now chef/proprietor at Belle Clementine in Ballard, likes the communal-table concept so much, he offers seasonal three-course dinners Thursday through Sunday ($35, www.belleclementine.com).
During its weekly four-course dinners, Goldbergs' Famous Delicatessen in Bellevue offers up everything from traditional Jewish stuffed-cabbage rolls to Chicken Marsala ($26.95, www.goldbergsdeli.com).
Communal suppers appeal to chefs and restaurateurs because Sunday nights are typically less busy; serving family-style also saves on labor costs and allows chefs to test new ideas.
For guests, Sunday suppers are a casual, fun way to eat out at reasonable prices and meet interesting people.
Fortuitous things happen around the communal table, especially as the number of courses and drinks served rises.
At Tavolàta, our young tablemates introduced us to their favorite hangover cures (including hot dogs and cream cheese) and recommended the perfect Kirkland picnic spot (Waverly Beach Park). I met Kenny G's uncle and cousin that evening, and reconnected with a fellow food-writer friend I hadn't seen in years.
"Seattle is a pretty passive-aggressive town, and it's neat to see how shared food at a shared table brings people together," Burke says. "At the table, we are all equal and are all nourished."
Braiden Rex-Johnson is a Seattle-based cookbook author, food and wine columnist and blogger. Visit her online at www.WithBraiden.com. Erika Schultz is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Stracciatella ("Little Shreds")
Roman-Style Egg-Drop Soup
6 cups best-quality chicken broth (preferably homemade)
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons semolina pasta flour
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Italian extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Bring the broth to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. In a bowl, whisk the eggs, semolina, cheese, parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper until well blended.
2. Whisk the broth in a circular motion. Slowly drizzle the egg mixture into the swirling broth and continue to whisk to form thin shreds of egg.
3. Reduce the heat to medium and allow the shreds to cook without whisking, 1 to 3 minutes.
4. Divide the soup among 6 warmed bowls and drizzle with olive oil.
— adapted from Brandon Kirksey, chef at Tavolàta