Brian McCracken and Dana Tough have created The Coterie Room, a gracious, airy, urbane space with whipped-cream ceilings, dark-chocolate furnishings, a wall of live greenery and a colossal crystal chandelier — plus a lot of praiseworthy food.
“Food should make you think a little, but not too much,” Brian McCracken and Dana Tough told me in a 2008 phone interview, shortly after launching their first venture, Spur. They followed that modernist, boundary-pushing, Belltown gastro pub a year later with the thinking drinker’s watering hole, Tavern Law.
Now, half a block from Spur, they’ve created The Coterie Room. The former Restaurant Zoe is now a gracious, airy, urbane space with whipped-cream ceilings, dark chocolate furnishings, a wall of live greenery and a colossal crystal chandelier. Physically it’s nothing like their intimate, bar-driven spots, yet the menu is unmistakably a McCracken and Tough production, bound to appeal to the coterie that admires these sure-handed chefs.
A coterie, if you are wondering, is a select group with common interests. The communal fascination here involves the alchemy of flavor and texture that McCracken and Tough love to explore. When they get it right — and they do more often than not — the results dazzle.
The Wagyu beef sirloin cap is the tour de force dish. It tastes like the Chateaubriand of briskets, and looks like something Escoffier might have sent to the table. The brined meat is cooked sous vide (under pressure in a water bath), which greatly enhances tenderness and flavor. Seared and elegantly finished with demi glacé, the meat is mounted on a sculpted dais of balsamic-splashed potato-ricotta purée. It looks so fragile you wonder how it supports the weight — until you discover savory braised carrots and endive, hidden within, doing the heavy lifting.
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At $50, the Wagyu beef is the priciest item on a pricey menu, but it’s meant for sharing. Fried chicken and trout are also in the “Family-Style” column. Beautiful pan-seared trout fillets lay prostrate over herbed, spinach-laced fregola, smooth round pebbles of pasta encircled by creamy almond-thickened basil pistou.
Bacon-embedded mashed potatoes support four plump fried chicken thighs. The flesh was flavorful, but the pieces were neither crispy nor juicy. Salty, smoky bacon chunks so overwhelmed the potatoes I welcomed the refreshing frisee topper. Gravy, though potent and delicious, was the last thing this dish needed. I was glad it came on the side.
Their version of poutine gets the equilibrium just right, however: a boatful of crisp fries with just enough pork-flecked gravy to moisten them and the fried Beecher’s cheese curds that melt as you chew.
Poutine is among “Small Plates,” a category that includes salads, cod fritters, ham “cracklins” and much more. Aged Gouda and candied walnuts play wonderfully against the bitter bite of radicchio and endive in one salad. A spunky rémoulade elevates the so-so cod fritters. The cracklins are heaven’s idea of pork rinds made from a mystical amalgam; dipped into truffle-laced fonduta cheese sauce they approach divinity.
Between small plates and platters are “Mains,” though the distinction can seem arbitrary. Some might consider the trio of sea scallops seared in brown butter a small plate. Perched atop cauliflower prepared two ways (roasted and puréed), the dish deftly mingles sweet, bitter and nutty, with fried capers and pickled sultanas for punch. It’s rich, but not particularly filling.
Ricotta cavatelli — soft, little ridged dumplings — are so filling it might better be classified under “Family-Style.” There’s a pleasing push-pull of acid and sweet in the tomato sauce, chunky with fennel and sharp with taggiasca olives.
By day, natural light spills through The Coterie Room’s broad, paned windows. The weekday lunch menu is whittled down to sandwiches, salads and a few starters (poutine and cracklins among them). Weekends bring the “duck egg” brunch, where I encountered a very good huckleberry waffle, mushy corned duck hash and a cinnamon roll blanketed with rousing rye-spiked orange glaze.
If thinking gets to be too much, engage your server in deciding what or how to order. They are conversant with the food and make helpful wine suggestions, too. But someone’s asleep at the light switch. That magnificent chandelier has too much competition from the ceiling lights early in the evening. When the room finally dims, this can be a magical place to congregate with a coterie of like-minded friends.
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