The aptly named Gastropod inhabits a couple of rooms attached to the Epic Ales Brewery in Sodo, but the wood-paneled interior feels more like a rustic wilderness cabin than an urban brewpub. Its simplicity belies the ambitions of its kitchen.
The filament-bulb lighting is poor, the rudimentary décor a work in progress. A couple of shelves hold cookbooks, interspersed with a few volumes of literature. They reflect the varied interests of chef and co-owner Travis Kukull, who went, in a roundabout fashion, from Shorewood High School to Reed College to a degree in literary theory from UW, cooking all the way.
Kukull describes himself as a working-class guy who likes making beer and matching it with food. He has long wanted to start a brewpub. Partnering with Epic Ales’ founder Cody Morris to launch Gastropod in March allowed him to do just that.
Epic’s ales are low in alcohol by volume but big on flavor — basil, miso and smoked serrano and rye, for example. They flatter Gastropod’s eclectic menu, a roster of roughly 10 items, listed by price, ranging from $3 to $15. It changes each Tuesday and runs for the week.
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What does three bucks buy? Something sensational in my experience. Once it was roasted squash blossoms and fingerling potatoes basted with anchovy, garlic and chili oil; another time it was roasted chanterelles and lobster mushrooms supporting an egg poached in Epic’s Rose Water Ale. (A glass of Partytime Sour Blond ale, rosy with red-currant syrup, costs another two.)
Kukull doesn’t look to make a profit on those $3 plates. He considers them a gift to his guests, an intimation of what his kitchen can do. (With the mushrooms, it helped the bottom line that he foraged them himself.)
Moving up in price, you’ll likely find a soup, a salad, some meat, some fish, possibly a potpie, risotto or paté. There is always okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese pancake in which anything goes.
Making the most of mushroom season, Kukull sliced matsutakes into hot-and-sour tom yum soup zesty with lime leaf, lemon grass and beer; he captured their essence in risotto garnished with the sweet crunch of diced apple and finely slivered nori.
A potpie brimmed with tiny chanterelles and purple carrots in an herby velouté under a buttery lid of house-made puff pastry.
Mint roused a salad of pickled beets sliced wafer thin with wild watercress and toasted hazelnuts; pecorino romano dusted another composed of tender red kale and cherry tomatoes.
A thick rind of pork fat encased a paté of coarsely ground pork and duck speckled with currants and pistachio. A mini, lemon-kissed avocado cheesecake accompanied lox-like slices of house-cured king salmon.
That night there was cheesecake again for dessert, a dreamy wedge, deep-green with basil, rimmed with an orange-almond biscotti crust.
Okonomiyaki is a menu staple because Kukull thinks it’s amazing bar food. The two versions I tried certainly were. Filled with shredded carrot, onion and cabbage, they remained remarkably crisp considering their load.
Finely diced raw beets, a fried quail egg, salmon roe and shiso-flavored kewpie (the distinctive Japanese mayo) topped one; sautéed squid, chopped bacon and black garlic kewpie crowned the other.
The kitchen does a lot within its tiny footprint: a square hub in the corner of the main room framed by two counters where you can eat and catch the action. (The rest of the seating comprises communal tables.) This busy bullpen embraces four propane burners, a convection oven, an emersion circulator, the dishwashing sink and the beer taps, not to mention Kukull (as likely to be pulling beers as plating food), sous chef Kevin Comer, a waitress and a dishwasher (who is often Morris).
At the menu’s $15 ceiling, you now can get a Niman Ranch “zabutan” steak. Known less poetically as chuck tail flap, it is ripe with minerality and as supple as tenderloin after being cooked sous vide, pan-seared and oven-finished.
One week the steak was sliced and stacked with sautéed Swiss chard over breaded and baked green tomatoes that got too soggy under the copious juices. More recently, I noted it came with basil Yorkshire pudding and roasted Concord grapes. Worth a trip to Sodo, I’d say.
Providence Cicero is The Seattle Times restaurant critic. Reach her at email@example.com.