Let your taste buds savor every moment at Spring Hill
Spring Hill, the new West Seattle restaurant opened by Mark Fuller (former head chef at Dahlia Lounge) and Marjorie Chang Fuller, raises the bar with intriguing, delicious cuisine.
Special to The Seattle Times
4437 California Ave. S.W., Seattle
Hours: Dinner 5:45-11 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.
Prices: $$$ (Plates $6-$29)
Drinks: Provocative cocktails with house-made mixers; short, smart wine list; locally sourced beers, sodas, coffee.
Parking: On street.
Who should go: A must for the food cognoscenti.
Credit cards: All major.
Access: No obstacles.
|Duck egg yolk raviolo||$9|
|Grits and wood-grilled prawns||$14|
Sometimes a restaurant comes along that is capable of rousing the most exhausted palate, beguiling the most jaded restaurant-goer and rendering normally loquacious diners speechless. Spring Hill is one of those.
Halfway through my first meal at Mark Fuller and Marjorie Chang Fuller's new West Seattle restaurant, conversation at my table all but ceased except for an occasional invoking of the deity ("Oh, my God.") as we savored one bite after another.
Fuller's cooking engages the mouth like a lively debate engages the mind. But the food, largely locally sourced, isn't the only pleasure here. Spring Hill nails the mood, too. A strip of mirrored wall set at eye level above booths in the dining room reflects the bar and the exposed kitchen, allowing those parallel worlds to mesh seamlessly. Yes, the narrow, theatrically lit space is loud, but it's also intimate and relaxed. It's hip without the hard edge.
The setting is casual, but service is as smooth as the blond wood tabletops. Meals move along at a gracious pace, with implements and extra plates always at the ready. If you contemplate a glass of wine, a taste is offered. Ask a question about the menu or wine list, and servers answer with the alacrity of a "Jeopardy!" champion. They are smart but never smug, sometimes even self-deprecating. One picked up a fork and spoon to divide the tagliatelle we had asked to share, saying, "Let's see if I can do this gracefully."
She did, gently tossing the fresh, wide noodles lavished with grated Parmigiano and carefully distributing the abundance of fava beans, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. The pasta is offered as a main course, but sharing it provided an intermezzo between small plates and more substantial ones.
You might begin with supremely fresh local oysters. The Kumamotos and Olympias weren't much larger than the pad of my thumb, yet they exploded in a big, briny burst, enhanced by the accompanying mignonette, a pert blend of hops, shallots and red chili pepper in vinaigrette, best applied sparingly with the tiny spoon provided.
Small plates run the gamut from a playful "beef steak hot & cold" to an opulent "duck egg yolk raviolo" to the elegantly austere "cold cioppino." Two cubes of meat comprised the beef dish: one a fork-tender chunk of rib-eye, its rare center sheathed in char; the other steak tartare, its rawness tamed with mustard and capers.
Fluffy, soft-cooked egg stuffed the raviolo, a single pasta pillow surrounded by salty squares of duck "bacon," basil oil and thin-as-gauze garlic chips that put a faint crackle in every bite.
Cioppino strays from the familiar seafood-in-red-sauce rendition. A shallow bowl held tiny croutons and four bites of seafood — a mussel, a shrimp, a lump of crab and halibut sashimi. The waiter flooded the bowl with a clear, translucent distillation of tomato, fennel and other aromatics that tasted so tomato-y you can't believe it's not a crimson tide.
Sautéed Manila clams do nestle in a red sea under a generous drizzle of lemon mayonnaise that settles over the shellfish like a soft, citrus shrug. Grilled bread proves useful for absorbing the dregs, salty with clam juice, sweet with roasted pepper and teeming with bits of cured pork belly.
You'll find the clams listed under "Shellfish," along with wood-grilled prawns hugging a poached egg. Its molten yolk cascades over outrageously rich and creamy grits meeting shrimp gravy flecked with morels. Order the bread plate to have soft, herby rolls at hand for swabbing this plate clean; besides, it's worth $3 just for the house-made butter and rare pink Hawaiian sea salt.
Rustic bread bolsters a gritty, gorgeous "panzanella." Finely chopped smoked clams and lemon flavor the coarse crumbs served atop sautéed halibut that was just a wee bit dry, a flaw that mattered less because the fillet rested on braised parsley and escarole liberally slicked with olive oil.
Rainbow trout was browned to a crackling finish while the flesh remained moist and sweet. Sweeter still was the brown butter sauce, its lushness curbed by herbed spaetzle and marinated artichoke hearts.
Sweet accents occur in meat dishes as well. Apricot purée complements wood-roasted pork served over beet greens. Two thick loin slices had a rosy, hamlike center and a brown-sugar-glazed edge. A sausage peeked out from under them, a garlicky link, literally and figuratively, from sweet to savory navy beans seasoned with tarragon.
Grainy mustard offered a sharp contrast to the orange-kissed jus moistening rare, pliant slices of roasted duck breast. Fresh peas and "thumb carrots" that look like baby turnips and taste as sweet as yams finish the dish brilliantly, but the soggy "quinoa biscuit" needs rethinking.
Other weaknesses showed at the end of the meal. Cheeses were a little too dry. Sorbets were uneven in quality: The campari-spiked grapefruit flavor was a standout among three offered. A thick, creamy slice of fudge cake, sprinkled with salt, served with salty peanut ice cream and honeyed peanuts on the side, elicited one last "OMG."
Fuller spent seven years with Tom Douglas Restaurants, five as head chef at the Dahlia Lounge. At Spring Hill he's truly come into his own, cooking food that is original, playful, intriguing and, above all, good to eat. The restaurant raises the bar, not just for West Seattle but for all of Seattle's restaurants.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
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