Keep your eyes on the blackboard at Blackboard Bistro in West Seattle because the menu changes often.
As a child, Jacob Wiegner moved around so much, thanks to his engineer dad’s job, there’s nowhere he really calls home, not even England — where he spent 13 years and where he trained at Le Cordon Bleu.
Determined that wouldn’t be the case for his own children (number three is due any day), Wiegner and his New Zealand-born wife, Ginger, did due diligence before settling in Seattle (for good, he says). For two years he was sous chef at the Capitol Hill restaurant Olivar, but always in his sights was a place of his own.
In August, the Wiegners opened Blackboard Bistro in a small West Seattle storefront on a quiet block of California Avenue Southwest. Other couples have launched their restaurant dreams at this same address: Ovio Bistro started here, succeeded by O2; then Beato; and most recently and briefly, Eness.
Wiegner’s peripatetic childhood prompted him to put down roots, but when it comes to his menu, change is the operative word. The tantalizing roster lists about 14 items from soup, salads and sandwiches to heartier plates.
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Don’t get too attached to any one dish; it may not reappear for a while. Just about everything, from puff pastry to pasta to pickles, is made in house — except for the bread, served with a bewitching blend of brown butter, pumpkin seeds and oregano for dipping.
Changing the menu is as easy as erasing the blackboards mounted above natty black-and-white striped banquettes. Patrons can track the weekly updates by clicking on the blackboard facsimile posted every Monday on the restaurant’s website.
In October I swooned over roasted broccoli crusty with Parmesan and zapped with garlic, chili and rosemary oil. More recently I fell for honey roasted parsnips, their sweet complexity playing against sturdy bits of roasted chestnuts, tart pomegranate seeds and pungent sprigs of tarragon, parsley and chives.
Ground lamb turned up as salty, curried meatballs nestled among carrots and chick peas with currant and pinenut-studded naan on the side. Another time it was perfectly seasoned and tucked under potato and celeriac purée for a savory, sophisticated shepherd’s pie.
Gnocchi mingled with duck ragout one week, veal tongue another. I loved the former, studded with diced sunchoke and onion, warmly spiced with nutmeg, clove and allspice, and rimmed with creamed spinach. I would love to try the veal version someday.
I’d happily eat Wiegner’s butter-rich salmon rillettes again, sided with perky pickled vegetables (okra and green tomatoes among them). Ditto the open-faced smoked tuna Reuben. Heaped with pickled red cabbage on rye brioche, it came with a side of Russian dressing stoked with red “cherry bomb” peppers and impeccable, spice-dusted potato chips.
Go soon and you might catch the lovely chive-speckled salad of honey crisp apples cut into matchsticks and threaded with idiazabal, a buttery, Basque sheep’s milk cheese.
At the moment pork belly reigns over a hash of sweet potato and Brussels sprouts, but when I tried the pork belly in October it was the kitchen’s only serious flub: meat more chewy than crisp over bland pumpkin risotto.
Pumpkin cake was lackluster, too, no competition for the swaggering salt-topped chocolate caramel pie, a great match with crème fraîche ice cream.
The restaurant’s home page says “We are all about the food.” Hooray for that, but more attention must be paid to the front of the house.
Service can be helter-skelter, pacing haphazard. Servers encourage sharing but don’t always facilitate it. We had to ask for fresh share plates, and “shareware” (as they call the serving utensils) wasn’t always at the ready either. Moreover, not every dish divides easily. A little more information, a better reading of customers, would make for a smoother dining experience.
These are skills that come with practice and maybe these are higher standards than a little neighborhood place should be expected to meet. But Wiegner’s cooking is so good it warrants service to match.
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