Restaurant Zoe's new home wears the patina of age well and presents a menu her longtime fans will appreciate.
To all those who’ve missed Restaurant Zoe since it ceded its Belltown corner to The Coterie Room last year, let me say that Zoe is back with its zeitgeist intact on Capitol Hill.
Restaurant Zoe’s new home in the Oola Distillery Building on the southern edge of Pike-Pine hardly feels new. This is a trick owners Scott and Heather Staples have pulled off before at their other restaurants, nearby Quinn’s Pub and Uneeda Burger in Fremont.
A garden courtyard already flourishes near Zoe’s front door. Everything inside the handsomely re-
configured former warehouse wears the patina of age, or the illusion of it: a timeworn shop table serves as a sideboard; the bar top is cast in bronze; the painted brick and cement-block walls glow like old ivory. With its high ceilings and generous windows, its mesmerizing constellation of lights, and an open kitchen framed by shelves holding jarred spices and preserves, Zoe feels familiar yet fresh, antique and au courant at once.
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Credit Heather Staples for creating the mood at this urban bistro; the food bears chef Scott Staples’ trademark stamp of rustic refinement. Flavors murmur but seldom shout; multifaceted tastes and textures make every plate interesting to explore. Though Staples was in and out of the kitchen on one of my visits, chef de cuisine James Sherrill was clearly very much in charge.
The menu changes a bit weekly. Right now spring is all over it. Don’t miss the thrilling chilled asparagus soup, poured from a long-handled copper pot into a serving bowl at the table until the pale-green liquid floods an atoll of smoked steelhead, crème fraîche and toasted pumpernickel crumbs.
Leek scapes joined a pungent ground cover of mustard greens and slivered asparagus on a wooden plank holding a sliced New York strip steak, faultless frites and perfect béarnaise. English peas and their shoots, artichoke hearts and purée, bacon bits and rhubarb vinaigrette circled a king salmon fillet as if it were a maypole. My fish flaunted crisp, blackened skin on top, but the flip side was closer to sushi than some people might prefer.
Spring garlic purée anchored crispy sweetbreads that were neither crisp nor plural, yet I appreciated the elegance of the ensemble: a single seared lobe, the gentle heat of sauce au poivre, the earthy mound of young garlic, Swiss chard and mushrooms, and the sweet-tart surprise of peach slices. For duck leg confit, a frequent special in the “daily duck” category, the crisp-tender ratio was just right.
Among smaller plates, look for mussels lolling in a joyous, celery- infused broth sparked with mint, jalapeño and tart verjus. Beluga lentils, celery leaves and curls, and a tamarind glaze countered the richness of lamb ribs not quite rendered of all fat, which only added to their allure.
Picholine olive purée and apricots are brilliant foils for roasted endive, but the confit duck gizzards in this warm salad looked like pink eraser bits and didn’t bring much to the party beyond their novelty. Creamy orbs of ricotta gnudi with fried sage leaves, long a signature item at Zoe, deserve more graceful partners than bouncy little lamb meatballs, though both benefitted from a citrus-kissed sauce.
General manager Derek Murrah fields an alert, responsive cadre of service professionals. Seated at a high table near the bar with an unobstructed view of almost every corner of the L-shaped space, I admired the staff’s smooth synchronicity. Personable and polished servers demonstrated a command of the menu and familiarity with the wine list, which is broadly priced and offers many half-bottle options.
Dinner begins with gifts: an amuse bouche, and warm, herbed focaccia with shallot-laced oil and vinegar for dipping. Make sure it ends with dessert. Pastry chef Andrea Terrenzio’s playful vanilla cream cheese panna cotta is light and lovely. Layered Napoleon-style with superthin phyllo squares and vibrantly topped with roasted strawberries and beads of pineapple “caviar,” it looks inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Terrenzio also crafts seriously decadent chocolate-passion fruit bonbons and absinthe caramels so luxuriously soft that if they weren’t wrapped in cellophane they might relax into a puddle on the plate, which is how you might feel following an evening in Zoe’s embrace.
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