The Gray Lady has been checking out our dining scene lately, even lining up for that busy ferry run to Orcas Island for dinner, and the staff apparently found much to its liking.
Two Washington state restaurants — Off Alley in Columbia City and Matia Kitchen & Bar in Eastsound, San Juan County — made The New York Times’ cut of “50 places in America we’re most excited about right now.”
Off Alley bistro was singled out for its nose-to-tail dishes accented with local ingredients. The three dishes praised were the braised tripe with morels and mora peppers, the gooseneck barnacles with charred scallion aioli, and the fried pig head with preserved cherries and Walla Walla onions.
My colleague Bethany Jean Clement, who dined there, had this to say:
Off Alley’s tiny Columbia City space is basically a hallway with a dozen seats down one side — the place settings are laid with mismatched antique flatware, the menu scrawled on a chalkboard. What you find on that menu is utterly seasonal, extremely local and scrupulously sourced, put together in a miniature kitchen with excellent results by chef Evan Leichtling, whose resume includes longtime favorites Lark and Harvest Vine plus beloved, departed La Bête. Meanwhile, his partner, Meghna Prakash, deals in inventive cocktails, low-intervention wines and creating an atmosphere like a secret wonder of a weird dinner party where everyone’s extremely happy facing a wall — French pop music might play, while those sitting next to each other talk excitedly about what they’re eating. Overall, Off Alley has the kind of low-key charm for which our now keyed-up city seems to have less and less room, creating a space for marvelous eating and drinking in a way that’s rare in Seattle these days.
And on Orcas Island, the owners at Matia restaurant might be crossing their fingers their phone system doesn’t crash again with the latest accolades.
The Eastsound bistro was relatively under the radar until cookbook author J. Kenji López-Alt dined at the restaurant last summer and tapped this shoutout on Instagram: “This is the best, most exciting restaurant I’ve been to in at least a decade or longer. I can’t remember being so blown away by the food and wine program … Local food and casual dining at its finest.”
After that rave, Matia’s reservation line crashed overnight, overloaded by 200 voicemails. About 40 people filled the parking lot the next morning to get a jump on the lunch line.
Here’s my dispatch on that restaurant, and on Matia’s garlic-oil confit potato dish that made our list of 20 best dishes in 2021.
The year’s most sought-after reservation lived up to the hype, with its farm-to-table menu inspired by flavors from the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Matia’s take on the Spanish patatas bravas is enlivened with a creamy version of a chermoula sauce of fennel and cumin and a supporting cast of silky squash blossom, almond, roasted poblano peppers, dill and the acidic pop of cherry tomatoes, all rounded out by flavors from South of the Border. In lesser hands, this vegetarian tapas would’ve been an overworked mess. But all the components sing in harmony, thanks to chef Avery Adams, an old hand who has done stints at Seattle’s acclaimed Stateside bistro and Hogstone’s Wood Oven on Orcas Island. Matia is a stellar debut for Adams, a 31-year-old chef to keep an eye on.