Re:public, one of the growing number of restaurants in South Lake Union, offers high-caliber meals.
As a bright-orange South Lake Union streetcar slides by re:public’s glass front, four men in black sport coats settle at a table for lunch. “I’ve done a trifecta this week,” one said. “I was here twice yesterday, and I’m back again today.”
South Lake Union hasn’t quite jelled as a residential neighborhood; the sidewalks are livelier on weekdays than a Saturday night. But companies are moving in and so are restaurants. Of the latter, re:public could become the default drop-in destination for the broad demographic of urban professionals proliferating here.
They come for a quick lunch, perhaps a burger fashioned of local Kobe beef, expertly charred, crisscrossed with rigid rashers of house-smoked bacon, with a melt of smoked bleu cheese serving as a sauce. The minimalist presentation (no lettuce, tomato or pickle) may irk some, but it works for me, especially as the price includes a choice of soup, salad or frites.
You might well choose frites seeing as executive chef Martin Woods and sous chef Dave Lamping both came from Bastille’s kitchen. But the lively lentil soup thick with smoked pork shank and topped with herbed crème fraîche is mighty pleasing.
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The chefs really show off at dinner. Woods also cooked at Cantinetta, Lamping at Restaurant Zoe, which accounts for the high caliber of the cooking in general and fresh pastas especially.
Oregano jolts pappardelle Bolognese that tastes like there may be some Kobe beef contributing to the meat sauce’s lush texture and taste. A startlingly vivid lobster cream sauce cradles agnolotti, herbed pasta pouches filled with lemony crabmeat — a flamboyant, flagrantly delicious dish.
But not even admirable wild mushroom ragu veiled in truffle foam could disguise the leaden demeanor of ricotta gnocchi. (Though curiously, golden nuggets of fried ricotta were delightful for dessert dipped in pear purée sauce and cinnamon cream.)
This kitchen seasons with brio and often builds dishes around a central, bold flavor. Braised beef short rib, for example, sits snug against a mound of “tomato conserva,” a condiment-cum-sauce of such extraordinary tomato intensity it both parries and thrusts against the luxurious meat, its beefy jus and a swoosh of avocado purée.
The short rib (a tiny portion but just enough and only $7) is neither one of the “principals” nor a small plate. Under this menu’s classification system it’s a “bouchées” (literally “mouthfuls”), a disparate group that also includes citrus salad, a crisp, cool basil-flecked collage of blood orange, fennel and radish.
Grilled quail somehow qualifies as a “small plate,” but the tiny, solitary bird isn’t much more than a mouthful, albeit an excellent one, herb rubbed and resplendent in fig- bolstered agrodolce (the sweet/tart Italian condiment). Not much to chew on for $12 though.
Steamed Manila clams, another “small plate,” is an abundant shellfish soup. Thick bacon bits catch in the open jaws of clams piled high above a deep bowl of aromatic fennel broth touched with cream and Pernod.
Entrees push the mundane boundaries of the protein-starch-veg triangle. A bronzed half chicken nests among maple-kissed chestnut purée and butternut squash, a forthrightly sweet ensemble saved from cloying by a hint of truffle. Tiny sunchoke chips dot grilled skirt steak whose tender flesh has the bright tang of paprika and lime. Those flavors seep below energizing what might otherwise have been a ho-hum hash of knobby sunchokes, kale and chanterelles.
Barigoule, a traditional Provençal dish of braised artichokes, is whipped into a bright-yellow emulsion. Mustard-sharp and bristling with vinegar, it’s a pungent, potentially overpowering partner, but it suits chunks of peppery seared albacore and its companions: tiny artichoke hearts and cured black olives.
Re:public is equal parts restaurant and bar. They stock a long list of high-end spirits and manipulate them with skill. The worldly wine and beer selections offer an equally broad choice of varieties and styles.
Add to that a personable, diligent, quick-witted staff, and a handsome vintage space, romantically lit if plainly wrought in bricks and beams, and you’ll see why re:public has earned my re:spect (despite the irritating colon in its name).
Providence Cicero: firstname.lastname@example.org