New look, new American menu and still good food at the Phoenecia in West Seattle
Phoenecia, a longtime West Seattle restaurant, has been reborn after the death of the family patriarch, Hussein Khazaal.
Special to The Seattle Times
|39 Spice Beef||$9|
|Foraged Mushroom Pizza||$14|
|Seafood Pasta Marinara||$24|
|Braised Lamb Shank||$29|
2716 Alki Ave. S.W., Seattle
Reservations: Accepted for parties of six or more.
Hours: Dinner 5-10 p.m. Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; closed Tuesdays. Summer lunch hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays (pizza and salads only).
Prices: $$/$$$ (small plates $4-$12; pizzas $12-$15; entrees $24-$29).
Drinks: Wine and beer; the modestly priced list is a work in progress.
Parking: On street.
Who should go: A family-run restaurant and wine bar comfortable for all ages; if you come for the view, you'll come back for the food.
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard.
Access: No obstacles.
In high summer, the late-sinking sun ricochets off the rippling waters of Alki Point, bouncing clear, silvery light through Phoenecia's picture windows and illuminating a cluster of handsome, dark-haired women-in-black poised to greet their dinner guests.
Everyone who comes through the door merits a welcoming smile, but many get hugs, too. That's because over the decades since its origin on California Avenue in 1973, the restaurant has acquired a "family" that extends far beyond the wife, children and grandchildren of Phoenecia's much-loved founder, Hussein Khazaal.
Khazaal's death in August 2009 nearly spelled the end of Phoenecia. He so embodied the place, his widow, Inaam, and children William, Sonya and Nadia weren't at all sure they could carry on without him. Closed for five months, Phoenecia reopened in January with a casual, contemporary new look and a "new American" menu devised by chef Byron Hummel, who trained at Januik/Novelty Hill Winery under Charles Walpole (now chef at Anchovies & Olives).
The Khazaal women are firmly in charge of the front of the house, which now has a speckled granite wine bar and glossy espresso-hued tabletops set with silverware bundled in black napkins. Serene Inaam and her daughters, sweet-faced Nadia and vivacious Sonya, cosset customers as well as Hussein did.
In the kitchen, Hummel fashions spirited plates as well as pizzas that stand among the best in Seattle.
A standout among the former is "39 Spice Beef." I discerned cinnamon, clove, cumin, coriander, garlic and paprika, but then I lost count, transported by the savory tumble of bite-size beef, crimini mushrooms and arugula.
Prawns are also very good, sautéed with garlic and cilantro and given a blazing finish with habanero chili oil. Tamer are bites of gently seared chicken breast in lush yellow saffron sauce as bright and warm as sunshine.
Quinoa tabbouleh makes a grand companion for any of these small plates. Lots of chopped parsley, diced Persian cucumber, cherry tomatoes and red onion join the curly grains seasoned temperately with lemon, olive oil and paprika. For a sweeter salad option try raspberry and balsamic dressed greens with pear, candied Marcona almonds and crumbled gorgonzola dolce.
Fruity extra virgin olive oil finishes a trio of elegant spreads: baba ghanoush subtle with garlic and smoke; tangy labneh, a kind of cream cheese made from strained yogurt; and tahini-rich hummus.
Inaam still makes those. Pizza is Hummel's baby: his pride and the diner's joy. The fermented dough, airy but chewy, is full of character. The 10-inch pies sport shoulders Joan Crawford would envy; broad, oil-brushed edges dappled with char that shelter quality ingredients: Zoe's meats, Mama Lil's peppers, house-made sausage, foraged mushrooms and more.
A recent pizza special paired morels with salty bits of guanciale to gorgeous effect. The mushrooms, sautéed with butter and sage, were tucked into a melt of mozzarella and provolone scattered with the cured pork jowl.
Entrees, posted on the chalkboard, might include skillfully pan-seared wild king salmon fillet with fine-tuned fennel cream sauce, fresh haricots verts and a crusty, truffle-scented risotto cake.
Shrimp and scallops headline seafood pasta marinara that tastes as briny as the Alki breeze. Ruffled, bell-shaped noodles capture capers and tiny rings and tentacles of squid along with the garlicky tomato sauce.
Braised lamb shank still haunts my reveries. A nudge with a fork disrobed the shapely bone and supple meat slipped into balsamic sweetened jus. White pepper sharpened the fluffy mashed potatoes; garlic butter relieved the bitterness of frilly kale.
Don't leave without a nibble of "Mom's Baklava." The pastry crackles under your fork and melts in your mouth, leaving finely chopped walnuts and a taste of honey and flowers on your tongue. Make your after-dinner coffee Bosporus Afogato — vanilla ice cream with a shot of Turkish coffee, a sublime summer cooler.
As we left, I noticed a tray of unlit votives, waiting for twilight to draw the curtain. Our departure triggered a chorus of goodbyes, but the last face we saw was Hussein's, smiling from a photo propped on a ledge by the door, still here in spirit.
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