Hunger in Fremont fills a larger space with lots of satisfaction
Hunger in Fremont has moved into new digs, the old Dad Watson's space, and offers plenty of small plates that lean toward the flavors of Spain and the Mediterranean.
Special to The Seattle Times
|Moroccan spice fries||$6|
3601 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; dinner 5-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; brunch 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; happy hours 4-6 p.m. daily and one hour past closing nightly
Prices: $$ (plates $6-$20)
Drinks: Full bar; eclectic European/American wine list; local and imported beers
Parking: On street
Sound: Moderate to loud
Who should go: At this relaxed milieu for grazing or cocktailing, singles will like sitting at the bar or counter; couples can get cozy; groups are easily absorbed.
Credit cards: All major
Access: No obstacles
When you call your restaurant Hunger, it leaves plenty of scope for imagination. Chef/owners Jaime Mullins-Brooks and Brian Brooks take advantage of that with small plates that tilt toward the exuberant flavors of Spain and the Mediterranean.
After years in other people's restaurants, the couple opened Hunger two years ago. Recently uprooted from its original cozy storefront near the top of Fremont Avenue North, Hunger moved down the hill into the former Dad Watson's. To Hunger's loyal cohort, the additional elbow room must feel like moving from a studio apartment into a loft.
The long, wide, windowed room provides a diverse dining-and-drinking geography: high-top tables and low, a long banquette, a horseshoe bar, a counter at the far end of the open kitchen, and a pleasant patio shaded by umbrellas and leafy trees.
A bigger, better equipped kitchen made a more ambitious menu possible. Some dishes are better conceived and executed than others. Equal space is allotted to seafood, meat and vegetables, headings that seem arbitrary when the first item listed under "meat" is seafood paella, and bacon is everywhere.
It is good bacon, cured in house. Morsels of it fleck a grilled stone-fruit salad of peaches, plums and nectarines simply dressed with basil vinaigrette under a veil of goat cheese. Seared sea scallops had bacon bits, too, part of a busy ensemble of crabmeat, saffron-tinged fennel-leek jam and Romesco sauce that had perhaps one element too many.
A scoop of Valdeon ice cream (made with a Spanish blue cheese) melted into the warm, sweet arms of dates filled with bacon and chorizo. The cold, sharp flavor mingled deliciously with smoked paprika oil and reduced balsamic.
Whole strips of peppered bacon crisscrossed the somewhat fussy burger, a petite patty with outsized flavor thanks to a mix of short rib, brisket and chuck. Though cooked beyond the requested medium-rare, it was plenty juicy. But chipotle gouda and curry aioli?
A tendency to excess works to paella's advantage. The creamy saffron rice, enriched with harissa butter, lacked the traditional crusty bottom but was packed with andouille, chorizo and chicken, and plentifully adorned with shrimp, clams and mussels.
Some of my favorite dishes were the simplest: charred baby octopus with pickled fennel, picholine olives and arugula dressed with citrus and brown butter; and tomatada, a whole egg coddled in tomato sauce fragrant with saffron.
A seared egg yolk adorns silky albacore tuna ceviche whose mojo verde (green chili pepper and tomatillo sauce) needed more mojo. Smoked Moruno pork, chewy and nondescript, was saved by three lively amigos — corn spaetzle, chorizo and blue-cheese-stuffed cherries — and lashings of harissa cherry barbecue sauce.
Harissa is almost as common as bacon here. The fiery spice turns up in terrific Moroccan fries that come with harissa ketchup (and curry aioli); it exhilarates a vodka-and- cucumber cocktail called the "Santarem."
Overindulge in cocktails and you might need some hair-of-the-dog for weekend brunch. The "Hangover Breakfast," a skillet of Moroccan fries topped with eggs, meat gravy and cheese sauce, normally $12, is half-price during "Hangover Hour" (1-2 p.m.) when Hunger fills up with the same youthful crowd you see in the evening, now sipping $5 Bloody Marys, Mimosas or a shot and a beer.
"The Chicken and The Egg" is equally effective at restoring the equilibrium. That burly variation on eggs Benedict stacks a boneless chunk of buttermilk fried chicken, a poached egg and hollandaise over kale sautéed with bacon and crisp roasted potatoes ruddy with pimenton. Two fried eggs and a bundle of arugula crown the daintier Poquito Milho Frito, a riff on the traditional Madeiran fried polenta cake, crunchy with almonds and flecked with corn.
Hunger was never packed on my visits, but the staff kept a sharp eye out for their guests' comfort and needs. Lunch service, introduced Aug. 1, offers a scaled-down version of the dinner menu, which continues to be pruned and thinned. Like a repotted plant, Hunger has every chance to flourish if it continues to be tended so well.
Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic, co-hosts "Let's Eat" with Terry Jaymes at 4 p.m. Saturdays on 97.3 KIRO-FM. Listen to past shows at www.KIRORadio.com/letseat.
Reach Cicero at firstname.lastname@example.org.