There is no shortage of fine places to eat and drink in Tangletown. Not familiar with this labyrinthine residential neighborhood of crisscrossing streets near Green Lake? Better turn on the GPS to locate its commercial hub, where you’ll find Eva Restaurant & Wine Bar, Kisaku, The Burgundian and, as of last September, Ethan Stowell’s newest restaurant, mkt., a shim of a storefront wedged between Elysian Brewing Co. and Mighty-O Donuts.
Stowell, the enterprising chef/restaurateur behind Staple & Fancy, Anchovies & Olives, How to Cook a Wolf and many more, has a knack for creating restaurants that fit the tenor of their locale. The steady flow of customers on a Monday night in mid-December suggests that the informal, unpretentious mkt. (pronounced “market”) is no exception. I suspect many of those who eat here live within walking distance; if you do, lucky you.
This 600-square-foot hole-in-the-wall is mostly kitchen, with counter seats at the front end and a banquette of tables along its flank. It has just 28 seats: half of them low-backed, white oak chairs, some of which wobble on the uneven concrete floor of the 104-year-old Keystone Building. Handsome furniture, but one wonders if it was designed to discourage people from sitting for hours.
Nevertheless I lingered, quite taken with a seasonal menu that is both approachable and ambitious. The kitchen, entrusted to chef Joe Ritchie and sous chef Monica Dimas, turns out food that is as unfussy as the place; dishes tailored to the way people like to eat now, meticulously prepared with layers of clean flavors that come together in an original yet unmistakably Stowellian way.
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A whiff of wood smoke from the grill sharpens the appetite; so does sipping one of a small selection of barrel-aged cocktails. (Bourbon buffs, try the complex CDT, a dark, fruity drink blended with Assam tea; the brandy-based PVT has more of a bitter bite.)
If you start with snacks, don’t pass up grilled green beans, slender and tender-crisp, tinged with salt, lemon and char. Bite-size fritters plumped with winter squash and laced with coriander are nice, too, and even nicer dipped in their sharp, green pumpkinseed sauce.
Vegetables stole the show at every meal. Boldly smoked matsutake mushrooms and yellowfoot chanterelles transformed demure sweet potato gnocchi into a bombshell dish. Silky, butter-rich celeriac purée enveloped a vegetable tagine, a humble but far from ho-hum ensemble of root vegetables and potatoes, sweetened with dates and apricots, percolating with preserved lemon. Acid and sweet meet again in a spectacular winter salad sporting whole roasted chestnuts, grilled pear slices and roasted mustard greens tossed in mellow cider vinaigrette.
Pork tenderloin is moist and perfectly cooked, but what commands attention are roasted Chioggia beets with oven-crisped beet greens and a coarsely chopped “pesto” of hazelnuts and Castelvetrano olives. Even sea scallops, seared rare and so sweet, play second fiddle to small, white rice beans flecked with chervil and crisp bits of smoked pork shank.
Proteins do get their turn to shine. Thick slabs of hamachi and chunks of cucumber practically shiver under a citrus ice cap in a brisk ceviche punctuated with pickled red onion. A rabbit’s hind leg joint is braised to prime succulence, then crisped on the grill. Pan-roasted Muscovy duck breast, tasting lean yet wonderfully rich, plays well against its coriander, rosemary and peppercorn crust, bitter Brussels sprout leaves and bracingly tart cherry sauce.
Dionne Himmelfarb’s desserts tempt you to extend your stay. Quince and pistachio team up in a buttery tart crust. A sublime salted fennel shortbread cookie escorts chocolate-malt pudding topped with ground cocoa nibs.
Stowell’s portfolio to date has been heavily Italian. Mkt. signals a new direction. Coming soon to Madrona are two French-influenced projects: Red Cow, a brasserie, and Noyer, an intimate, upscale dining experience that Stowell’s blog promises will be “something entirely different.” Pretty soon every Seattle neighborhood will have an Ethan Stowell restaurant, and I can’t help but think what a good thing that would be.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.