At The London Plane, a woman at the next table plucked a green leaf from her salad plate and gave it a twirl. “Miner’s lettuce,” she remarked to her companion. “During the Gold Rush they lived on it to prevent scurvy. It grows wild.”
It did not seem an unusual exchange in a place where all manner of wild and farmed foods turn up on your plate, or for that matter, in your glass: I was savoring house-made elderflower soda as I eavesdropped.
This mini Pioneer Square food hall is part cafe, part deli, bakery and florist. It’s also a purveyor of specialty pantry items (spices, grains, a $12 ball of twine) and unique housewares (Falcon enamelware, Turkish towels) — good browsing as you wait to be seated at the seven-stool counter or at one of the well-spaced tables downstairs or on the mezzanine.
A hub of good living under one handsome pressed-tin ceiling, The London Plane is just the sort of emporium you’d imagine would result from a collaboration of James Beard Award-winning chef Matthew Dillon (of Sitka & Spruce, The Corson Building and nearby Bar Sajor) and Katherine Anderson, owner of Marigold and Mint (both the farm and the Melrose Market flower shop).
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Vases of roses, blowzy peonies and other June flora lately flanked the entrance of the vintage building whose large windows overlook the London plane trees along Occidental Avenue’s pedestrian thoroughfare.
The kitchen, led by chefs Emily Crawford and Kyle Wisner, is integral to the space. One Sunday I watched a prep cook wrap a huge batch of cultured butter in cheesecloth. It has an almost cheesy tang that elevates scrambled eggs to a whole new realm. Sweetened with chopped dates and slathered generously on thick-cut slices of sourdough toast, it’s my idea of breakfast, chased with neighbor Caffé Umbria’s bold coffee.
“We use a lot of butter,” said the staffer at the butcher-block counter displaying pastry chef Sarah Ellsworth’s splendid baked goods, among them big-shouldered croissants; caramelized kouign amann; andfragrant cardamom cake sizzling with spice.
Cultured dairy warrants its own section on the brunch menu. Baby beets, chopped roasted rhubarb and crunchy toasted emmer trailed across an ivory pool of house-cultured whole-milk yogurt. Crème fraîche added a pleasingly sour dimension to lush king salmon lox, sea beans and fresh dill arranged over pillowy, caraway-scented fry bread.
Weekday lunch runs to soups, salads and shareable plates. Full-service lunch lasts until 3 p.m. on weekdays, but the cold case remains stocked until closing for counter service or take-away. (The Little London Plane, a wine bar with snacks, stays open later at the other end of the block.)
At lunch, as at brunch, simplicity and superior ingredients reign. A light tomato sauce moistened savory pork meatballs. Roasted leg of lamb, tender, rosy slices imbued with lemon and herbs, was served cold with a dollop of luxurious tzatziki.
Cured anchovies and picholine olive tapenade held a creamy white cliff of buffalo mozzarella in a bold, briny embrace. Oil-poached local albacore was slightly dry, but nothing a lube job with lemon and charmoula sauce couldn’t remedy.
Several dishes amounted to an exaltation of vegetables. Cumin and clove warmed a chilled soup of carrot tops and cauliflower. Ginger and lime jazzed shavings of raw golden beet, carrot, fennel and radish.
Grassy nettle and herb pesto wove through a glorious pasta salad composed of roast chicken, feta, walnuts, lentils and tiny quills of trofie noodles. Castelfranco radicchio figured prominently in an opulent chickpea-studded chicory salad, its bitter edge smoothed with tahini-enriched apple cider dressing.
It’s tough to leave The London Plane empty-handed. One day I took home a sourdough round (available Tuesday-Saturday after noon, $7) and a trio of spreads: raita with roasted spring onion, cashew-thickened red pepper hummus and bright beet hummus tart with pomegranate syrup. That night for dinner, I set out the spreads with slices of bread, poured a glass of wine, put up my slippered feet and turned on the TV.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.