Altura offers an intimate dining experience marked by exquisite food
Altura offers lots of choices, set prices and a great dining experience.
Special to The Seattle Times
617 Broadway E., Seattle
Hours: Dinner 5:30-10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Prices: $$$$ (prix fixe $49/$59/$69 for three/four/five courses; a la carte entrees $29)
Drinks: Select spirits; beers; varied list of old- and new-world wines with an Italian emphasis
Parking: On street or nearby lots
Who should go: Mark a special occasion here, or make it a special occasion once a week if you can so afford.
Credit cards: Visa, MC, Amex
Access: No obstacles
A smiling hostess and the piney perfume of matsutake mushrooms greeted me when, after a last-minute glitch in dinner plans, I arrived windblown and without reservations at Altura. 'Tis the season, so maybe the wooden angel was guiding me.
That serene seraph once adorned a French chapel. Now she hovers at the top of a spiral staircase amid the old fir beams of Nathan and Rebecca Lockwood's lovely, 2-month-old Italian restaurant.
Go once and you'll long to go often. Altura offers an intimate dining experience marked by exquisite food served in formal but far-from-stuffy style in a tapestry-draped, antiques-furnished room that is a world apart from the hurly-burly of Broadway and Roy.
Chef Nathan Lockwood thinks of Altura, with just 36 seats including 10 at the counter facing the exposed kitchen, as a neighborhood restaurant. But the fixed-price menu — three, four or five courses costing $49, $59 or $69 per person, respectively — bumps it into the splurge zone for many of the 99 percent.
The menu format is one Lockwood first initiated as chef de cuisine at the Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant Aquarello. Diners choose from a roster of roughly 20 dishes including cheese and dessert. The kitchen calibrates the portions accordingly: The greater the number of courses, the smaller each becomes. You won't leave hungry. Dining a la carte is possible, but with entrees priced at $29, it won't save much.
Lockwood readily accommodates dietary restrictions and willingly divides portions in two. If you are sharing a course, they also will happily split the wine if you have opted for those pairings (an additional $31, $41 or $51). If not, look to sommelier Guy Kugel's wine list for interesting bottles in a wide price range.
Dinner begins with gifts: an aperitif of blended juices and an amuse bouche. One night it was kampachi crudo (or for vegetarians, slices of matsutake) dabbed with Ligurian olive oil, black olive tapenade and finger lime, a citrus fruit with juicy vesicles that pop like caviar.
The menu changes a little weekly. On one visit, Brussels sprout leaves and sweet kabocha squash purée joined grilled kampachi; another time those sidekicks accompanied a gorgeous hunk of sturgeon roasted in a skin of prosciutto and crushed pumpkin seed, sauced with ham- enhanced pan juices.
Some ingredients have a life cycle. I'm told duck leg confit comes on next month, replacing the current roasted duck breast, a medium-rare marvel of tender flesh and crackling skin brilliantly supported by pomegranate-braised red cabbage, vanilla-bean chestnut purée, and sweetly caramelized turnips, daikon and apple.
Splendid fresh pastas go from rich to richer. Black olives and lemon thyme tease the meaty broth napping delicate, rabbit-stuffed agnolotti. Demure parsnip gnocchi, sheathed in brown butter, do a sexy tango with lusty wild-boar ragu.
Starters properly whet, not dampen, the appetite. Fried capers, crisp broccoli florets and Calabrian chili oil float on cauliflower soup, made into liquid velvet without a drop of cream or butter. Lemon, anchovy and bitter punterelle greens accent carpaccio, raw slices of well-marbled beef. Nearby, a tiny fried quail egg perches on a large crouton filled with parmigiana fonduta.
This talent of Lockwood's for arranging many complementary elements around a strong central ingredient gives dish after dish a wonderful coherence. That extends to desserts like cinnamon-warmed walnut crostata, served with poached quince, sheer spirals of fresh persimmon and whipped persimmon-spiked cream.
In its relaxed way, Altura nails the fine-dining details. They take your coat. You sit on cushioned benches. Upholstered partitions buffer noise. A thick wooden board holds bread, Parmesan crackers and an icy-cold knife bifurcating a thick pat of unsalted butter. Dressed as nicely as the tables, servers bring fresh flatware before each course. The pace of the meal is leisurely, service friendly, protocol paramount.
Eavesdropping from a counter seat, I heard Lockwood tell a young waiter, "This is for table 23." "It's not my table," he replied. "They are all your tables," the chef said, less a rebuke than a reminder, and another sign of the high bar that Lockwood sets, and that Altura clears with ease.
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org
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