The new Marjorie on south Capitol Hill offers offbeat ambience and inventive fare.
True to her name, Donna Moodie is a restaurateur with a knack for creating offbeat ambience. You may recall the sexy, slightly decadent allure of Lush Life, and the vibrant warmth of the original Marjorie, which lost its Belltown lease in 2008.
She’s done it again at the new Marjorie, which opened in May in a courtyard crook of the Chloe Apartments on the south edge of Capitol Hill.
Paned glass walls soar on two sides, framing the treetops. On the street side, daylight silhouettes the shapely bottles on the bar back, as well as a motley crew that crowds its curved front. The other wall opens like garage doors to connect the dining room and patio, enlarging the restaurant’s small footprint considerably.
After dark, Marjorie becomes a shadow world with barely-there lighting above the banquettes and communal table. Resourceful types resort to penlights to read the small type on the brief menu and closely-spaced wine list, both printed on dun-colored stock.
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That cryptic roster changes a little every day. It’s really a list of ingredients that leaves elucidation up to the waiters; some try to wing it. But there’s nothing ad hoc about the scrupulously prepared, inventive fare this kitchen sends forth to the delight of a food-fascinated urban coterie.
Chef de cuisine Kylen McCarthy, sous chef Jeremiah del Sol and tournant Tyson Danilson all came from Harvest Vine, so they are practiced at working together in close quarters. That includes pastry chef Taylor Cheney, who memorably pairs crème fraîche ice cream with a voluptuous cherry-almond tart, the delicate pastry flawed only by a too-salty crust.
Other dishes are equally inspired. What the menu dubs “marinated tomatoes” is a Caprese salad with moxie: peeled cherry tomatoes and basil hug a ripe, runny wedge of sheep’s milk cheese. You’ll want bread to capture the puddle of olive oil and tomato water haunted with smoky heat, so don’t balk at the $3.50 charge for warm Columbia Bakery ficelle with house-made butter sprinkled with Murray River salt. It’s worth it.
Bottarga (cured fish roe) shaved over squid ink tagliatelle created a briny, buttery bundle of black noodles that was an ideal habitat for tiny mussels freed from their shells.
And I’d never noticed before what sweet soul mates scallops and sweetbreads are until tasting them together in a golden sauté of surf and turf accompanied by carrots prepared three ways: tart marinated shreds, sweet purée and ginger-spiked carrot foam.
Crisp pork belly meets blood sausage pungent with bay and clove in a buddy act as brilliant as Belushi and Aykroyd, and like their shtick appropriately full of beans — dill-flecked flageolets, just a shade too firm.
I found the andouille sausage (house-made like most of the charcuterie here) a little harsh. Pairing it with chewy coins of grilled cuttlefish didn’t work for me or the mollusk.
Steak purists might find the rib-eye overly fussy, but I loved the earthy mound of porcini mushrooms, sliced steak and soft, braised beef, though the foie gras hollandaise on top tasted more of butter than liver.
Luxury finds the proper balance in a corn flan crowned with lobster meat reigning regally over brandy-kissed lobster broth scattered with corn kernels. It’s a dish that really deserved a spoon (we had to ask), and ideally a bowl less grandiose than the ones this kitchen favors. Handsome they are, but unwieldy when two or more jostle for space on small tabletops that sometimes tilt or wobble on the uneven floor. (Moodie was the only one to notice the wobble and promptly fix the problem.)
It’s hip today for restaurants serving upscale food to be deliberately downscale in attitude, but comfort and service are important components.
A record player and a stack of LPs sit on an antique white sideboard in Marjorie’s restroom. A Roberta Flack album was spinning on the turntable; the needle skipping. I moved the arm to another cut and the song played. It’s a metaphor, I thought, for the new Marjorie, still finding its groove. When it does, it will “set the night to music.” I’m sure.
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