The Corson Building: A fluid dining experience for fluent (and flush) foodies
Dining at Chef Matthew Dillon's The Corson Building feels less like eating at a restaurant and more like at a dinner party, albeit one with a bill presented at the end of the night.
Special to The Seattle Times
The Corson BuildingContemporary American
5609 Corson Ave. S., Seattle
Hours: One seating beginning at 7 p.m.; check Web site or call for dates when dinner is served.
Prices: ($$$$) Tasting menu $80 per person, wine pairings $30 per person; Sunday Supper $50 per person (exclusive of wine).
Drinks: Limited selection of wines offered to complement each meal.
Parking: On street when the small lot in front of restaurant fills.
Who should go: Convivial types crazy about food — eating, cooking, growing and talking about it.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard.
Access: No obstacles.
It's The Herbfarm, minus the twee. It's Sitka & Spruce, with reservations required. It's The Corson Building, Seattle's newest un-restaurant and Chef Matthew Dillon's culinary apex — to date.
Dillon energized Seattle's dining scene two years ago with his hip, unconventional Eastlake restaurant, Sitka & Spruce. The Corson Building is even more iconoclastic. Dillon and his business partner, Wylie Bush, like to keep things loose. Their Corson concept feels less like a restaurant and more like a dinner party, albeit one with a bill presented at the end of the night.
The charmingly derelict, chapellike building in Georgetown is so well off the beaten path, expect to circle the adjacent blocks at least once trying to find it. Improvements wrought by the proprietors took more than a year and include a large, modern kitchen annex in the rear. Everywhere else they hewed to the spirit of the original structure, built by an Italian stonemason in 1906.
A chimney rises from a fireplace smack in the center of the dining room. Arched windows, graceful metalwork and lions' heads intermittently protruding from the masonry contribute mightily to the atmospheric interior. Candles, cookbooks and wine are decorative elements wholly apropos to the sybaritic mood and food.
Dinner is served just a few days a week. There is one seating a night, a set menu and a fixed price: $80 per person for food. Add another $30 for optional wine pairings (it's such a good deal, almost everyone does), and with tax and tip, the bill for two approaches $300.
Some will find that steep for a restaurant where you can't order what you want and where you'll eat with strangers, possibly perched on a narrow bench with your back against a window or the exposed brick and patched plaster walls. You don't get to pick where you sit.
Evenings at The Corson Building have an extemporaneous, Bohemian air. Service is family-style. Food arrives on platters that are handed around among the 10 or 12 people at each of three communal tables. The seven-course menu is so evanescent it's not even written down, because Dillon and sous chef Emily Crawford don't know precisely what they'll be cooking until days, possibly hours, before you show up.
This freewheeling dining experience will not be everyone's flute of sparkling rosé, but that's how dinner began on two different August nights. About three dozen guests sipped and strolled in the garden courtyard, admiring the fountain, the raised beds of voluptuous produce, the chicken coop and the dovecote sheltered by a plum tree heavy with fruit. A squirrel gnawing a plum pit eyed us placidly as we nibbled our own hors d'oeuvre: a bite of yellow watermelon topped with a curl of salt-cured, air-dried local tuna.
Once everyone assembled inside, Dillon described the night's menu and invited guests to wander freely, even into the kitchen. "For the next few hours, consider this place yours," he said. The rules, he added, are few: Have fun but consider your neighbors; don't get too rowdy or too greedy; platters are meant to serve the whole table.
Those salvers are suitably abundant. One meal began with salmon tartare. The pale-pink raw fish, speckled with bits of peppery radish and black cumin, came wreathed with bunches of pickled currants blushing bright fuchsia.
The dry Rheingau Riesling poured with the salmon also worked with an opulently reimagined Caprese salad. Tucked among clouds of creamy mozzarella and wedges of multihued tomatoes sprinkled with agrodolce were whole leaves of bitter purple Treviso and tiny, nutty, sautéed chanterelles. Then it was back to the sea for a briny anchovy-and-garlic bagna cauda sauce bathing Gulf shrimp, tiny artichoke hearts and long-limbed green and yellow beans.
Along the way, as the wine shifted to a French chenin blanc and then a red Côtes du Rhône, the food flavors drifted eastward. Ginger and walnuts lurked among slices of yellow eggplant, fresh okra and roasted baby beets. Saffron aioli perked up pliant halibut cheeks set over chickpeas and tomato jam, the only course that came individually plated.
The meat course was a double-header. A late-summer garland of sweet red pepper, tart nectarines, fried almonds and whole leaves of minty basillike anise hyssop turned a simple roast chicken into something extraordinary. A bowlful of torn mint and other fresh herbs brightened rosy, rare slices of lamb, served with rich tahini yogurt sauce and warm lavosh bread dusted with black cumin.
Almost every course had a flavor or ingredient that served as an exclamation point. The same was true at the less-elaborate, less-costly Sunday supper, where buttery sautéed cockles revealed a burst of preserved lemon; radicchio salad was laced with bacon and cantaloupe; and whole roasted sardines rode a wave of mint, garbanzos, smoky eggplant purée and scallop-edged Armenian cucumbers.
Peaches sufficed for dessert that Sunday. No pastry, no crisp, just peak-of-the-season fruit poached in brown-sugar syrup and anise hyssop, with chopped fried almonds and a trailing bowl of freshly whipped cream. Another night's finale, bland rice pudding, just didn't have the same impact, though it did have an element of surprise: mint tea sweetened with arak, a Middle Eastern anise liqueur.
Sound like your cup of tea? Diners who are gregarious by nature, and certainly anyone passionate about food, won't want to miss this novel dining experience.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.