With its sophisticated but approachable menu, moderate prices and unique setting, Collections Café at Chihuly Garden and Glass offers an appealing sit-down, full-service, lunch or dinner option for Seattle Center eventgoers and those who live or work in the vicinity.
Some people would call it hoarding. But when you amass stuff with real bravado, and you have an artist’s eye, it’s called collecting. Dale Chihuly’s obsession with the “beauty in everyday objects” is on dazzling display at Collections Café, attached to Seattle Center’s Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit.
Dozens of accordions dangle from the ceiling; shelves hold plastic radios and glittery chalkware figurines. Glass-topped tables are mini-display cases for African necklaces, toy soldiers and transistor radios.
The eye candy extends to what’s on the plate. Chef Jason Wilson of Crush consulted on the menu, executed here by Ivan Szilak. It’s a sophisticated but approachable roster likely to appeal to the broad populace that regularly traverses Seattle Center.
“Bites and starters” can be upsized to become shareable plates or light entrees. “Mains” include salads and sandwiches, along with more substantial fare: a grilled tri-tip with mashed potatoes, roast chicken with farro, and goat-cheese ravioli.
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Wonderful sauces elevated several dishes. Vivid salsa verde, a bright green herb sauce sharp with capers, flattered seared prawns, enthusiastically seasoned with salt and pepper. Sweet green tomato chutney countered the heat of fried razor clams dusted with cumin, coriander and chili spice. Sticky-sweet sherry gastrique complimented the thyme-flecked ricotta, fresh fig and speck (a prosciuttolike ham) topping a pizzalike flatbread made with grilled naan.
Warm garlic vinaigrette saturated rainbow chard and roasted mushrooms in a salad tossed with ragged sourdough croutons and slivered aged fontina. Soft balsamic vinaigrette clung to tender leaves of bibb lettuce, radish, cucumber, ripe avocado and ribbons of rainbow carrots.
More of those pretty carrots lay like streamers over a perfectly seasoned and roasted chicken breast mounted on soft braised leeks and farro grains cooked like risotto.
A heap of straw-colored matchstick fries accompany the burger and the pork sandwich, both built on a soft, toasted Macrina Bakery ciabatta bun. The burger packs a lot between the bread: a fat, juicy beef patty; thick bacon rashers; red onion jam; Peppadew aioli; and Beecher’s peppery Marco Polo cheese. Apple butter and spicy cabbage slaw enhance soft, luscious pulled pork, pressed into a patty and seared.
Dishes that sound tempting on the page don’t always succeed on the plate. Usually it’s because some ingredient went haywire. Gummy octopus clearly lingered a bit too long on the grill, but it came with chopped Castelvetrano olives and excellent roasted fingerlings zesty with berbere spice.
Olive oil, infused with smoked chilies and anchovies, was a bully of a sauce that browbeat skinny spears of roasted asparagus and curls of ricotta salata. An excess of sun-dried tomatoes erased any nuance in goat cheese ravioli with Swiss chard and soggy pistachios in a bowl flooded with brown broth.
The two desserts I tried — a brownie with vanilla ice cream and “snicker brittle,” and a warm chocolate cookie with bourbon ice cream — also didn’t quite deliver. Really good dark chocolate oozed from the cookie but the brownie had a tough, taffylike chew. The bourbon ice cream was shy on booze.
The stylish tableware is a minor annoyance. Heavy, zigzag handles on the flatware make them difficult to manipulate and challenging to balance on the curved edges of triangular plates and deep bowls.
Service is a plus: the staff is cheerful, brisk and devoid of pretense. For those who want a souvenir more personal than the little booklet detailing the collections, a photographer roams the dining room and patio, offering to take your photo free of charge.
The entrance to Collections Café is behind the main building, opposite The Armory and Monorail. You don’t need to pay the exhibit entry fee to eat there. The varied menu, moderate prices and unique setting make it an appealing sit-down, full-service lunch or dinner option for Seattle Center eventgoers and those who live or work in the vicinity.
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 email@example.com