Tilikum Place Café: An impressive meeting of European charm, American food
Tilikum Place Café near Seattle Center is an inviting spot where a European vibe meets a vibrant contemporary American menu that segues smoothly from baked beans and Dutch babies to house-made pastas, savory tarts and chicken with dumplings.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Romaine salad with pear and pine nuts||$7|
|Green garlic flan||$8|
|Pork tenderloin and clams||$17|
|Chicken and dumpling||$18|
|Grilled beef rib steak||$20|
Tilikum Place CaféContemporary American
407 Cedar St., Seattle
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays- Fridays, brunch 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, dinner 4-10 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays.
Prices: $$/$$$ (Lunch/brunch $7-$14; dinner appetizers $7-$11, entrees $16-$23.)
Drinks: Full bar plus nonalcoholic cocktails; short, smart wine and beer list; espresso.
Parking: On street.
Sound: High ceilings and hardwood floors make sound reverberate.
Who should go: Convenient to Seattle Center but don't wait for an event; this is a place to unwind on those "Stop the world; I want to get off" days.
Credit cards: Visa, MC, Amex.
Access: No obstacles.
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On a leafy block perpendicular to the monorail, a statue of Chief Seattle rises above a fountain in pocket-size Tilikum Place Park. The Chief has been there since 1912; the chef, Ba Culbert, is newer to the neighborhood.
Culbert (born Diana, but her childhood nickname proved more durable) cooked at Palace Kitchen and The Ruins before opening Tilikum Place Café last fall with business partner Paul Dormann. The name, a Chinook word meaning "welcome," is apt. Expect a friendly greeting at this inviting spot, where a European vibe meets a vibrant contemporary American menu that segues smoothly from baked beans and Dutch babies to house-made pastas, savory tarts and chicken with dumplings.
Make that chicken with a dumpling, a chubby toasted knoedle. Akin to a savory bread pudding, it basks in the rich pan juices yielded by the bird's crisp-skinned breast. Sautéed pea vines and ruby-red bites of vanilla-sweetened poached rhubarb turn this homey pair into something sensational.
Culbert's most impressive efforts involve similar exclamation points. Fruit mustard perks up a dense, fat-rimmed pork terrine; pears and pine nuts make romaine seem sexy; black-olive tapenade does the same for a gentle green garlic flan.
Striped bass wears a striking velouté sparked with saffron and lemon over its crackling skin, yet it's the brittle leaves of baked kale and the ravioli plumped with chard and golden raisins that elevate this dish.
Pickled red pepper and smoked yams ignite a shallow clay pot of clams and pork tenderloin, all cavorting in a spirited shellfish broth. Grilled rib steak is exemplary, but it's the smoked paprika butter melting into the char and the grilled garlic scapes (buds of elephant garlic) on the side that make it memorable.
At lunch, baked beans nudge the Tilikum fry up into something out of the ordinary. Thick with pork and sweet with tomato, they join a porcine orgy that includes bacon, eggs and a sausage patty.
Full-out extraordinary is the Dutch baby looking almost as poufy as a soufflé in its 6-inch cast-iron skillet. The sweet version, lately made with apricots and goat cheese, was so beautifully poised between sweet and savory that adding maple syrup (which comes on the side) seemed criminal.
Several sandwiches are offered at lunch, from a buffalo burger to a dainty and delicious baguette slippery with sardines, lemon-dressed arugula and a heady cured-olive-and-tomato tapenade.
Day or night, consult the chalkboard for specials. Soups are often vegetarian, though you'd never guess it of a robust, cumin-scented bowl thick with vegetables and barley, or an exotically spiced potage of carrot, ginger and toasted coconut.
The quiche du jour may be bolstered with bacon and bitter mustard greens; tempura-battered squash blossoms might be packed with goat cheese, ricotta and pancetta; sweet strawberry vinaigrette and salty ricotta salata might dress up peppery arugula.
Strawberries turn up in sweets, too. Talented pastry chef Brandy Bassett bakes them into superbly moist coffee cakes and churns them into buttermilk ice cream. She pairs perfect panna cotta with broiled, sugar-glazed peaches. Her profiteroles stay airy and light even stuffed with vanilla ice cream and coated with an amazing rosemary-infused caramel sauce.
Just as airy and light is the elegantly spare setting. It features hardwood floors, fresh flowers and arty postcards whimsically tacked above the banquettes. A marble-topped bar that attracts as many eaters as drinkers ends where the kitchen begins; shelves of liquor give way to shelves of cookbooks.
As customers trickled in one bright afternoon, the only one in a rush was the waitress single-handedly working the floor. Her calm never seemed ruffled as she hopped at hummingbird speed from table to table, describing specials, pouring wine, delivering warm bread, press-pots of coffee and plates of pretty food. She even shimmed a wobbly table with a folded page from her order book.
The staff varies in their attention to detail, but their warmth doesn't waver. Chief Seattle would approve.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 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.