Tavern Law salutes the glory days of American bartending
Tavern Law salutes the glory days of American bartending and offer an alchemy of flavors both in the glass and on the plate.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Lolla Rossa salad||$7|
|Foie gras terrine||$15|
Tavern LawContemporary American
1406 12th Ave., Seattle
Reservations: Not accepted downstairs; required upstairs.
Hours: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. downstairs, 7 p.m.-1:30 a.m. upstairs daily.
Prices: $ (plates $7-$15).
Drinks: A formidable array of spirits, plus beer, wine, cider.
Parking: On street or nearby garage.
Sound: Mellow to moderate.
Who should go: Hedonists (over 21 only), cerebral cocktailians and anyone who's ever wished they'd lived through America's first Gilded Age.
Credit cards: All major.
Access: No obstacles to entry or downstairs restrooms; stairs to second-floor speak-easy.
Tavern Law isn't for those who drink to forget; it's the thinking drinker's watering hole. You get an inkling of that as you browse the drinks menu, an almost scholarly tome complete with glossary and historical notes.
The bill of fare, on the other hand, isn't even printed. It's written in chalk and lists just eight plates. But don't for a minute think food is peripheral here, not with Brian McCracken and Dana Tough in the kitchen.
These creative young chefs dug their Spur into Belltown and galloped to national attention last year. Now they've opened Tavern Law in the restaurant thicket of Pike/Pine.
Named for the 1832 statute that permitted inns and saloons to serve alcoholic beverages without requiring customers to rent a room for the night, Tavern Law salutes the glory days of American bartending before it was nearly snuffed by Prohibition.
Drinks include a thoughtful selection of cider and beer, plus a wine list commendably long on half-bottles, but the cocktail is king and the chief courtier is David Nelson, also Spur's talented bar manager.
Libations are crafted in the wood-paneled, book-lined downstairs as well as in the secret lounge above by a cadre of professionals in silk vests and ties whose passion for and knowledge of spirits equals their prowess at blending them.
They are conjurers bent on surprise; virtuosos who mix and stir with precision, shake with vigor, then pour the results into just the right vintage vessel. The most high-tech tool at their disposal is a hand-operated juicer.
Come here to learn the difference between a rickey and a buck, a daisy and a smash. Can't decide? Let the bartender take your measure, and tailor a drink to your preferences.
That's the parlor trick upstairs, where reservations are a must. Modeled after a speak-easy, access is through a secret door, salvaged from an old bank vault. Pick up the phone next to it and you might get lucky: If there are any vacancies, you'll be buzzed in to climb a narrow, winding staircase leading to an intimate chamber adorned with demure photos of 19th-century nudes and feather-trimmed lampshades. Wing chairs and love seats flank low tables, but the spot you want is at the six-seat bar.
You won't be handed a menu. The bartender will engage you in conversation to gauge your flavor profile, your likes and dislikes and your mood. Then he creates a drink just for you. I craved something with brandy but not too sweet. I got just that: a drink with plenty of backbone, a hint of orange and the light caramel kiss of black-strap rum.
The charm of Tavern Law is by no means all in the glass. The oft-changing menu offers salads, savory nibbles, substantial plates and desserts that exploit rich ingredients or bold flavors or both, usually with great success.
Phenomenal foie gras terrine under a film of angostura bitter gelée liquefies within seconds of hitting your tongue, leaving behind grains of black salt and the crunch of toast. Subtly spicy tonka-bean ice cream performs the same trick in a sweet way. The dessert is studded with salt and rests on crumbled shortbread with a dollop of maraschino-angostura jelly on the side.
Chopped Picholine olives and ribbons of fennel shock lolla rossa lettuce leaves dusted with Parmesan; lemon does the same for crisp salt cod fritters and their caper-heavy rémoulade. Perfect truffle risotto with diced celery root and shaved celery greens proves this kitchen knows the power of restraint as well.
A wonderful white-bean stew laced with mustard seed and diced plum easily upstaged its companion, an underdone pork belly. Chopped chicory bedding tiny pink beets seemed way too tart, but dig deep for the aioli underneath and all is harmonious. Similarly, minty herb coulis was breathtakingly sharp on its own, but brilliant as a condiment for luxurious pan-seared butterfish and kale sautéed with fregola sarda.
Anyone intrigued with the alchemy of flavor — whether in the glass or on the plate — will find Tavern Law a most appealing place.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
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