At Violet one night, a dressed-up foursome snapped selfies at the table next to me. They were probably starting grade school when chef William Belickis opened his first restaurant, Mistral, in 2000, and in high school by the time he opened his second, Mistral Kitchen in 2009. Their parents may have marked a wedding anniversary at Salish Lodge during his tenure there as executive chef in the late ’90s or celebrated a birthday at Fullers when Belickis was chef de cuisine under Monique Barbeau. It’s likely they’ve never heard of Bouley, the influential Manhattan restaurant that shuttered in 2017. It’s where Belickis, a New York City native, got his grounding in haute cuisine as a line cook in the early ’90s, when he was about their age.
Belickis was 30 when he opened the 40-seat Mistral, a minimalist temple of fine dining that always seemed out of place in Belltown. The menu listed ingredients from which diners could pick and choose, then determine their level of commitment: four, seven or nine courses that ranged in price from $50-$100. The restaurant aroused the passions of the fooderati from the beginning, not always favorably. Critics and the public generally raved about the food, but some lambasted the pretentious service.
The much larger Mistral Kitchen in the Denny Triangle straddled the formal/informal dining divide with multiple concepts and kitchens. The precious, prix-fixe “Jewel Box” room was designed to lure his fine-dining fan club. More casual fare came from the wood-fired oven and a tandoor, sustenance for a growing posse of Amazonians. When the Jewel Box became a lounge, it was clear which faction had prevailed.
Mistral Kitchen ended its run last year. January brought the quiet debut of Violet, and there is nothing idiosyncratic or overly ambitious about it. Now 50, Belickis has gone mainstream. Violet’s contemporary American cuisine has Spanish, Italian and French inflections. His menu is approachable, affordable and a la carte. Plates are composed with studied artlessness, but he hasn’t relaxed his precise, painstaking standards. Sous chef Roccella Carrozza, a holdover from Mistral Kitchen, has been assisting in Violet’s tiny two-person kitchen, visible in a far corner of the dining room.
The best dishes on the current menu captured the pent-up exuberance of spring. Fava beans and shaved carrots played hide-and-seek in a pile of young lettuces, lightly dressed in citrus and herbs. A blood-orange reduction circumscribed a verdant pool of puréed peas, sweet home to a pair of seared Maine sea scallops. Capers and dates danced a sweet-tart tango alongside a rich, creamy cauliflower sauce for Scottish sea trout, a fish that resembles steelhead. Baby spinach and a charred artichoke heart accompanied a two-rib lamb rack. Caramelized cured black olives mixed with the jus bathing the roasted meat, which had been sliced in half between its elegantly Frenched bones, the better to flaunt the edge-to-edge magenta flesh beneath its crusty flank.
That menu carried a date of April 12 through May 21. When the date finally changed, some seasonal tweaks had been made to an almost identical lineup. Heading the list of starters now is a spectacular white gazpacho. A dollop of celery sorbet melts into the chilled soup, an ambrosial blend of almonds and green grapes rounded with sherry vinegar. It must have been in tryouts a few days prior, when I had it as part of a five-course “American Omakase” menu ($85 per person). Belickis hasn’t given up on prix fixe entirely. He really, really likes to call the shots, but I was happier ordering a la carte.
The gazpacho arrived after some nice if unremarkable nibbles: Marcona almonds, Castelvetrano olives and Spanish white anchovies clinging to strips of piquillo pepper. (If you want bread to mop up that lovely olive oil, you’ll have to ask. We did and got a few slices of toasted baguette, plus a dollar added to our bill.) For the next two courses, textures were as soft as a middle-aged paunch. Mushy pan-seared skate came with limp asparagus. The pungent purée of caramelized black olives, so perfect with the lamb, overpowered the fish. A largish lobe of foie gras was lopsidedly seared, still cool in the middle, and sorely in need of something acidic to deflect a barrage of sweetness from strawberries, candied hibiscus and rhubarb syrup.
Chewy relief came in the form of roasted radishes (grown in a garden on the building’s roof) that accompanied rosy, supremely tender slices of Muscovy duck breast. The meal continued its crescendo with vanilla panna cotta sealed under amaro gelée, sporting a sassy little bundle of chopped rhubarb and kumquat. I scraped the bowl clean.
Violet moved into the Capitol Hill space that was formerly the Mexican restaurant Chavez and almost nothing has changed about the rustic, lamp-lit interior. Luckily, the tile-accented white stucco walls, weathered-wood trestle tables and ladder-back chairs evoke the Mediterranean as readily as Mexico.
Europe, California and the Northwest are well represented on the wine list, with interesting choices in a moderate price range. Cocktails with names like Nerdzzzzz (a lemon, pomegranate and rum fizz) seem pitched to the selfie-snapping set. The Violet Martini is pure Instagram bait. Its purple hue comes from butterfly pea blossoms, one of several botanicals in the Empress 1908 gin it’s made with. Crisp and tart one night, it skewed sweet on another occasion. I loved it, then I didn’t, but I’d give it another go. Same for Violet.
1734 12th Ave., Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday
Prices: $$$$ (starters $9-$20; entrees $18-$35)
Drinks: full bar; predominantly Northwest, California and European wines
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles