Welcome to Pioneer Square, pardner. Just stride through those swinging doors, belly up to the long wooden bar and order a bottle of whiskey from the jaded lady bartender.
Make sure you keep that six-shooter close at hand — it could be a rough night.
And if you’re hungry for grub, they’re rustling up some of that pumpkinseed risotto with garlic scape pesto back in the kitchen.
This opener can only mean one thing: Cafe Nordo’s latest theme show, a unique merger of “spaghetti Western” melodrama and gourmet eco-cuisine titled “Smoked!”
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For this occasion, Seattle’s roving pop-up dinner theater has taken over a vintage brick-walled space with perfect Old West ambience. (The place, equipped with a full kitchen, belongs to the nearby restaurant Delicatus, to use for special events and private parties.)
It’s no wonder Cafe Nordo has found an eager following for its evenings of colorful amusement and gustatory adventure. But as I’ve commented in the past, this spunky company could step up its theatrical component to move beyond the novelty stage.
Once again, Nordo’s Erin Brindley and Terry Podgorski here pay winking homage to a familiar entertainment genre — actually, the subgenre of Italian-made Westerns popularized by director Sergio Leone in such ’60s films as “A Fistful of Dollars.”
In “Smoked!,” the steely-eyed interloper is Nordo regular Ray Tagavilla, who has the terse cool of the prototypical Leone star, Clint Eastwood.
As The Stranger looks on stoically from his perch at the bar, the town’s ills are exposed by the brutal antics of a local agribusiness kingpin’s henchmen, a clownish sheriff, a young farmer willing to defy authority. There’s a shootout (natch), and guess who saves the day before striding off into the sunset?
The parody concept is diverting, as are some aspects of the execution — particularly the intrepid Anastasia Workman’s music, which with an accordion, percussion, a trumpet and a synthesizer achieves the jangly brooding of those swell Ennio Morricone film scores.
Brindley’s menu is a quirky “molecular chuck wagon” approach to chow. Most ingenious: a “spaghetti” salad with squash “pasta” topped with a tomato compote and tiny mozzarella “meatballs.” The less-unusual oxtail chili topped with a touch of crispy cornbread pudding is spicy-hearty (vegetarian option available). The delightful dessert, a mini-rhubarb pandowdy, comes in a tiny cast-iron skillet.
Too much of a good thing: the risotto, sans rice but with enough sunflower seeds to fill a greenhouse with blooms. Fanciful cocktails like Clara’s Hooch (Campari, Prosecco, soda and sugar) are on the drink menu.
Conceived by Podgorski and Brindley (who also directs), the “Smoked!” plot is rustic but offers room for more environmental critique, sexy banter, and snappy action than is delivered. In the sluggish opening scenes, the dialogue seems awkwardly basic, as some actors nail their comic roles (Tagavilla and Ryan Higgins, as the smooth Advocate, the arch meanie), and others barely register.
Cafe Nordo already has so much going for it, but enriched, meatier scripts and better orchestrated performances would make their homages all the more delectable — and filling.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org