Designed with high energy and low-key elegance, MistralKitchen in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood has four cooking stations, each open to view: a traditional kitchen; a rustic kitchen (wood-fired oven and tandoor); a technical kitchen (thermal circulator and combi oven); and a pastry kitchen.
A smartly pant-suited matron walked into MistralKitchen at lunchtime. She was just there for a peek at the place. She was not the first.
“We’ve missed him,” she confided to the hostess. “He’s been away so long.”
“He” would be William Belickis, executive chef and owner of MistralKitchen. He shuttered his 40-seat Belltown dining room, Mistral, two years ago. In December he unveiled its successor, the 5,000-square-foot MistralKitchen, poised to be everything to everyone, food-and-drink-wise, in the rapidly expanding universe of South Lake Union.
Designed with high energy and low-key elegance, MistralKitchen has four cooking stations, each open to view: a traditional kitchen; a rustic kitchen (wood-fired oven and tandoor); a technical kitchen (thermal circulator and combi oven); and a pastry kitchen, where Neil Robertson crafts desserts that walk a fine line between savory and sweet, like his luscious parfait of chevre mousse, apricot jam and almond crumble topped with a rosemary-tinged marshmallow square.
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The traditional kitchen sits adjacent to the eight-seat chef’s table and within sight of the plush “Jewel Box,” a vestige of the old Mistral where fine-dining guests submit to the chef’s whim. There’s no printed menu; the chef creates a tasting menu just for you.
The cost (unmentioned until we asked) is $60 for four courses, $90 for eight. The price doubles if you opt for wine pairings, which one feels compelled to do because with no clue what you’ll be eating how do you choose a beverage?
The food was very good — especially squab with farro and shaved Brussels sprouts — but I’d rather not eat blind when I’m spending big bucks. Ultimately, there just wasn’t enough value-added to my Jewel Box dining experience to make me want to do it again.
Our server was exceedingly gracious, but she recited ingredients by rote and misidentified one wine. Why was a sommelier (or whoever matched the wines) not presenting them?
And where was the chef? The Jewel Box is supposed to be Belickis’ “personal purview” but he never appeared at our table, and he couldn’t have been that busy; we were the only guests in the dining room. On another night, I made his acquaintance in the casual dining room, where he worked alongside cooks in the rustic kitchen and introduced himself to customers at the counter.
The a la carte menu is frequently tweaked, but count on finding up to two dozen plates ranging from crudo, fresh oysters and foie gras to clay-oven baked chops and steaks, as well as the world’s most sublime mashed potatoes.
“Potatoes Robuchon” is a faithful reproduction of the pot I swooned over at L’Atelier in New York. Just as sinfully seductive was foie gras mousse tucked beneath a sweet film of pear and riesling gelée. Each bite rippled with the bitter chocolate crunch of cacao nibs and a burst of salt.
Deep-cupped Kusshi oysters dabbed with orange-chili granita startled the palate with its piercingly clear flavors. So did grassy, peppery microgreens and radish curls scattered over bluefin tuna crudo slicked with olive oil and dappled with sweet/tart pomegranate syrup.
Sorrel leaves and crisp white asparagus escorted a single seared sea scallop planted in sweet puréed carrot. Salmon cured in lemon and shiso graced arugula and fennel dressed in soy and ginger. In another tangle of arugula and fennel, shaved coconut showered Louisiana prawns, avocado and orange segments.
A tandoor-cooked pork chop hinted of cumin and coriander, as did its bed of curried beluga lentils, though the meat was raw in the middle. The problem, quickly fixed, brought an apology from Belickis. Midday found him in the rustic kitchen tossing pizza dough, stuffing steamed buns with pork belly and building focaccia BLTs for a youngish, largely male clientele lounging on leather chairs at rough-grained wooden tabletops.
The Jewel Box will have its fans. But I prefer the looser side where the culinary choreography is much the same but what you eat is up to you. Belickis seems reluctant to let go of the old Mistral, but perhaps its time to let a fresh breeze fill his sails and see where it takes him.
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