Restaurant Bea serves up winsome country charm with an urban edge.
In Madrona, an urban enclave ripe with restaurants of many stripes, Restaurant Bea nudges the needle upmarket, much as its predecessors, June and Cremant, did.
The latest proprietors, Tom Black and Kate Perry, have turned the bar into a dim, low-ceilinged, masculine nook with surfaces of stainless steel and dark-stained wood. The bar now extends across the back, fronting an archway that frames the exposed kitchen, which looks more like a stage than most since it includes a chef’s table. (The four-seat round can be booked for a five-course tasting menu at $55 per person.)
The bar’s coral-colored walls link it visually to a much more feminine dining room where lately alstroemeria poked from miniature white milk-bottle vases. The glossy wood tables and matching chairs are lacquered in colors plucked from a spring meadow. Doves flit about on flowered wallpaper that covers the ceiling, accentuating its steep, irregular planes and softening the effect of cement block walls and rough wood paneling.
Restaurant Bea projects winsome country charm with an urban edge — like a demure farmer’s daughter with a not-so-discreet tattoo. Black’s menu is similarly cheeky. He mixes down-home classics — biscuits and gravy at brunch; a sturdy, bacon-wrapped meatloaf at dinner — with the kind of sophisticated cooking that makes you remember not just his years at Woodinville’s Barking Frog but that he succeeded Monique Barbeau as top toque at the long-gone Fullers.
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I’m thinking of rich rabbit rillettes, as spreadable as butter, of honey-drizzled corn bisque that tastes like a million liquefied kernels, and of gossamer sauces that belie their concentrated flavors.
Those sauces include a much- reduced demi glace for chicken roulade. Kale and pancetta spiraled through pinwheels of breast meat overlaying shards of tender thigh meat and fiddlehead ferns. But tasteless polenta was the wrong accessory for this dish, like wearing sneakers with a Dior gown.
In contrast, sweet fava bean purée and fresh celery leaves provided subtle adornment for a single short rib in a pool of much-refined braising jus bright with tomato. A brown butter sauce pierced with capers suited both a silky black cod fillet and its cushion of black-eyed peas and pea vines.
Rabbit yielded a stunning stock infused with juniper, thyme and star anise. It pooled around a nest of crinkly herbed spaetzle entwined with crisp tendrils of meat, fava beans and carrots the size of a child’s thumb. The pale, sliced loin perched on top.
That dish bodes well for the rabbit potpie, one of the lunchier items on a wide-ranging brunch menu. The Benedict stars a stellar crabcake and herbed hollandaise. The stately strata, a savory bread pudding layered with leek, pancetta and cheddar, was short on cheese but golden and toasty on the edges, soft and oniony inside. Smoked salmon and chevre frittata was rubbery and thin, more of an unfolded omelet, but with beautifully burnished, highly seasoned breakfast potatoes on the side.
The outsourced croissant is out of its league in a basket of house-made breakfast pastries, house-churned butter and just-made nectarine jam. Pastry chef Jennifer Formaz gets credit for the wonderful buttermilk biscuits, scones and mini banana-chocolate chip muffins. Look for her lemon-kissed almond torte topped with blueberries and whipped crème fraiche at dinner.
Service is eager and enthusiastic, well-intentioned but erratic. No plates were provided with the basket of pastries we intended to share, so the table was soon littered with crumbs. At dinner, there was a long wait for starters; then, before we had finished them, the entrees arrived. “Usually we have the opposite problem,” the waitress said, and offered to hold them in the kitchen.
It reminds me that Restaurant Bea is a neighborhood joint at heart, relaxed and full of fun. But there is ambition here, and talent enough in the kitchen to entice diners from well beyond Madrona.
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