Attention adventurous eaters and beer lovers. Check out Mollusk, the new South Lake Union spot from the minds behind now-closed Gastropod and Epic Ales.
Last fall chef Travis Kukull and brewmaster Cody Morris closed their modest, much-praised Sodo restaurant and brewery, Gastropod and Epic Ales. On Halloween night they opened the larger, more ambitious Mollusk — same species, but in a different class altogether.
Gastropod seated just 25 at a communal table and a kitchen counter that doubled as the bar. With nearly 5,000 square feet in a new South Lake Union building, Mollusk can accommodate four times as many in its bar and barrel-lined dining room. The soaring space mixes rustic ease with urban cool. Particularly striking are large photo-murals of the Northwest woods, the work of Megan Kukull, the chef’s sister.
Spirits augment the small-batch brews made in the adjacent brewery, visible through glass walls behind cushioned banquettes. There is an excellent lager among the preponderance of ales. Fruitcake Bock, Rose Petal Red and Blueberry Tart sour ale are some of the more unusual flavors worth trying. Four-ounce sample sizes ($2-$2.75) make it easy and inexpensive to taste a few and find your favorite.
Mollusk Restaurant + Brewery ★★½
803 Dexter Ave. N., Seattle
Hours: dinner 4:30-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 4:30-9 p.m. Sunday and Monday; “Gavage Hour” 3-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 10:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Prices: $$$ (small plates $7-$17; large plates $19-$30)
Drinks: small-batch, seasonal ales, lagers, sodas and tonics made on site; full bar; brief wine list
Service: earnest, informed, sometimes overwhelmed
Parking: on street or nearby garages
Sound: moderate to loud depending on the crowd and your location
Who should go: a fun spot where adventurous eaters and their more cautious cohorts can comfortably convene; a must-try for beer-drinkers
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Kukull now has a proper kitchen and a team to back him up. Chef de cuisine Kim Sturts and pastry chef Tanya Hoang are both alums of well-regarded Tilikum Place Café, as is Kukull. Mollusk’s menu has lost none of its originality. As at Gastropod, it evolves with the whims of the chef and the caprices of the marketplace. It largely looks eastward for inspiration, homage, in part, to the late chef Erik McWilliams of Wallingford’s long-gone Mandalay Café, where Kukull also once worked.
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Black rice nasi goreng and Chinese sausage stuff the cavity of grilled squid, for example, a stunning construction moistened with kecap manis (sweetened soy sauce) and squid ink butter. Mussels are steamed in the house-made “Partytime!!!” ale. The broth, haunted with pork, pineapple, Thai basil and chilies, finds perfect equilibrium between sweet and sour.
Pork and pineapple team up again, seasoned and dried, as jerky, adding pleasing heft to an arugula salad. A touch of yuzu brightened creamed leeks cushioning one large ravioli, a bit tough around the rim, but plump with minced pork cheek and pistachio, and with a sambal kick to its anchovy-caper sauce.
Pistachio butter is layered into the phyllo wrapper for beef cheek baklava, something akin to a deep-fried beef Wellington. An 18-hour braise renders the meat fork tender. A shroud of caul fat helps the pastry crisp. Raisins, red cabbage and purple daikon in a caramel-sweet sauce provide harmonious accompaniment.
A section of the dinner menu is devoted to curries, each served with turmeric-coconut rice. One featured root vegetables, in a sauce smoldering with cinnamon, ginger and chilies, topped with grilled slices of chicken ballotine, a savory mince of thigh meat packed like sausage into a casing of chicken skin and caul fat. For $3 more, you might add the lamb sausage, vigorously seasoned with cumin and salt.
Kukull likes to do traditional things in nontraditional ways. “Fish and chips” turns out to be Hamachi collar (kama) wrapped in a crisp spiral of taro. It’s a brilliant notion that was somewhat dimmed by an overload of kimchi foam and a wilted slaw combining apple, grapefruit, Brussels sprouts and mint.
Other flights of fancy totally succeed. Nachos Picasso (named for a local rap artist) is a hugely popular bar snack for good reason. For now, this seasonal construction features crackling puffs of Indonesian garlic titi chips heaped with strips of delicata squash, blistered shishito peppers, pickled Fresno chilies, bleu cheese, cilantro and a generous squirt of smoked avocado crème fraîche. I can’t wait to taste what he comes up with next.
Okonomiyaki, a lofty skillet pancake, was a signature dish at Gastropod. Mollusk does an equally terrific waffle version. It’s piled with grilled octopus, sweet pickled cucumbers and peppers, zigzagged with Kewpie sauce (Japanese mayo) and oko sauce (like Worcestershire, only sweeter), and finished with an umami onslaught of bonito flakes wiggling in the waffle’s heat. (On the brunch menu, brisket and bourbon maple syrup sub for octopus.)
An equally eclectic muse inspires Huang’s desserts. She fearlessly mixes sweet and savory, succeeding as often as not. I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for a bacon fat Madeleine with lemon glaze, and a fussy pot de crème didn’t hold together, but the ice creams were outstanding. Don’t shy away from flavor combinations like ginger and bay leaf, or wild mushroom and foie gras studded with bits of soy caramel.
Steamed mussels $9/$24
Nachos Picasso $12
Grilled stuffed squid $15
Waffle okonomiyaki $25
Beef cheek baklava $30
The chocolate-espresso ding dong with black garlic whipped cream is another sensation. With a curl of spun sugar cantilevered on top, it looks like a chocolate miniature of the many building cranes thrusting above the Seattle skyline.
Construction is still rife in this transitioning neighborhood. Mollusk suspended lunch service in January, but it is open for dinner daily and weekend brunch. “We’re about a year behind the curve of how fast the neighborhood is growing,” says Kukull, who has no regrets about going big. “The weeks are long and the job is super difficult, but I love this business.”
Pastry chef Tanya Hoang’s name was misspelled in the first posting of this review. It was corrected Feb. 18.