Book Bindery: Fremont newcomer has the potential to be a pacesetter
Book Bindery, along the Fremont Cut, serves contemporary American cuisine that's as impeccably styled as the wainscoted, marble-accented dining room handsomely bracketed with bookshelves and wine barrels.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Wild arugula salad||$10|
|Duo of Pork||$26|
Book BinderyContemporary American
198 Nickerson St., Seattle
Hours: Dinner only 5-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Prices: $$$$ (Starters $10-$18; entrees $18-$36.)
Drinks: Full bar; small but distinctive international wine list.
Parking: Free in lot and on streets nearby.
Who should go: A gracious, grown-up venue for business or pleasure; have dinner or just a bite at the bar.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express.
Access: No obstacles.
It's been nearly five months since the debut of Book Bindery, Michael and Sumi Almquist's canal-side dining room, housed along with their winery and distillery in a former book factory along the Fremont Cut. That's plenty of time to work out any kinks, not that there were many.
Last October, Chef Shaun McCrain (a former executive sous chef at New York's Per Se) impressed me with carefully plotted plates that shrewdly employ concentrated flavors, textural diversity and scintillating sauces; nothing was extraneous.
Bone-marrow-and-porcini bread pudding and a classic Bordelaise sauce partnered gracefully with the Mishima Ranch "flavor curve," the kitchen's nickname for the fat- marbled ridge of beef rib-eye (sometimes more prosaically dubbed beef cap) cut from extraordinarily lush American Kobe.
Lamb shank has seldom been more delicious or so elegantly accompanied: Tiny fried artichokes, a single tomato slow-roasted to shocking intensity, and soft chickpea croutons soaked up an inky, aromatic sauce.
But recent visits left me wondering if the kitchen has grown complacent, or if the departure of the sous chef is disturbing the equilibrium.
I had lamb again last month, an expertly cooked rack served with a similar sauce and tender ricotta gnocchi sautéed to a golden brown. But the shank meat, relegated to a minor role as rillettes, was dull and dry; a forgettable piperade also brought little to the party.
Last fall, dense, sweet compressed watermelon coupled memorably with pork belly, while horseradish panna cotta and Worcestershire aigre-doux elevated an heirloom tomato salad out of the ordinary.
But the compressed cucumber plate that lately tops the list of starters is less original. There's little personality as well in the current pas de deux of apple and pork belly, apart from a few wine-poached spiced- apple orbs and a dribble of pepper-steeped aigre-doux. Wild arugula tossed with pickled black trumpet mushrooms in Banyuls-boosted vinaigrette is far more appealing than either.
Sweetbreads come closer to the magic I know this kitchen can conjure. Cauliflower purée and brown butter emulsion brackets the fork-tender, golden meat. A sort-of gremolata — finely chopped cauliflower with golden raisins and capers — provides the sweet/tart dimension this rich ensemble needs.
Madeira turns a similar trick for the foie gras emulsion and foraged mushrooms saucing handmade cavatelli, an exquisite, smoke-haunted dish dotted with peppery wild arugula and pickled pearl onions.
Lovely sturgeon, wrapped mummylike in thin bacon strips that crackle faintly to the bite, founders on too much porridgelike polenta that in turn muffles the bracing effect of a whole-grain mustard sauce. A more nimble construction is the "duo of pork" — belly and chop — bedded on lacinato kale and a lemon-kissed white bean purée that's as luxurious as 600-thread-count sheets.
Since dinner for two can cost as much as fine bed linens, expectations run high, and Book Bindery mostly meets them.
General manager Patric Gabre- Kidan fields a more confidant front-of-the-house team now, fluent on the menu and knowledgeable about wine. The imaginative list draws largely from Europe but features Almquist Family Vintner's many red varietals at a modest $35 a bottle. (Sample them all gratis, pre- or post-dinner, in the winery next door.)
Among other value-added attractions: They take your coat, mix cocktails with care and quality ingredients, and each meal begins with an amuse bouche: perhaps a creamy drink of celeriac soup topped with chorizo foam or bits of black truffle.
You might conclude the proceedings with a fancifully garnished cheese plate, or a sweet: Consider orange crème brûlée with petite fennel-walnut biscotti, or the sophisticated tiramisu with Madeira ice cream.
Book Bindery aims high and has the potential to be a pacesetter. Already a mature, moneyed clientele fills the wainscoted, book-and- barrel-lined dining room and crowds the Carrara marble bar; on weekends it's booked three weeks out. A greenhouse addition, now under construction, will double the capacity, as well as enhance the water view, one more reason to give this promising newcomer a try.
Providence Cicero: email@example.com
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.