A polished new spot at the Four Seasons downtown.
Give yourself a pat on the back if you know that the American Goldfinch is Washington’s state bird. It’s also the signature drink at Goldfinch Tavern, the restaurant that replaced Art at the Four Seasons Hotel.
The pale gold cocktail is a variation on the Vesper martini, which is typically a blend of vodka, gin and Lillet. The bartenders here make it with two local spirits — Capitol vodka and Citizen gin. In place of Lillet, they use Cocchi Americano, an Italian aperitif wine with a quinine bite, and a touch of sweet Sibona Camomilla, a grappa liqueur infused with camomile flowers.
Local, refined, with a slight Italian accent, the drink could be a metaphor for Goldfinch Tavern itself. The restaurant is a collaboration between the locally owned luxury hotel and Ethan Stowell Restaurants, whose portfolio mostly nods toward Italy with Staple & Fancy, Tavolata and Anchovies & Olives, among others.
★★½ Contemporary American
99 Union St., Seattle
Hours: dinner 5-11 p.m. daily; lunch 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. Monday-Friday; midday menu 2-5 p.m. daily; happy hour 4-6 p.m. daily; breakfast 6:30 a.m.- 11 a.m. Monday-Friday; brunch 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Prices: $$$$ (appetizers and raw bar $8-$19, lunch entrees $15-$29, dinner entrees $17-$34, steaks $42-$68)
Drinks: full bar; classic and original cocktails; strong Northwest presence on a broadly priced and worldly wine list
Parking: valet $15; self-parking in nearby garages
Sound: moderate to loud, depending on your location and neighbors
Who should go: impress out-of-town friends and clients without intimidating them; Happy Hour could become a habit if you work nearby
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Stowell pushed for the Tavern moniker, wanting to signal a relaxed, Seattle-style vibe. But even though tablecloths are banished, the black-shirted waiters wear jeans under their bistro aprons, and the kitchen is fond of sending out food on wooden carving boards, there is no getting around the posh surroundings.
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Two generous dining rooms flank a bar and lounge that is open to the lobby. The well-spaced tables, the booths situated to maximize the waterfront view and the extravagant use of stone, metal and wood in the décor, remind me of Canlis. Coincidentally, or maybe not, David Kim, former service director of that vaunted Queen Anne establishment, recently signed on as general manager here.
Kim should provide the rudder this large dining room needs. He joins a team that includes chef Joe Ritchie, who won praise most recently at Stowell’s minuscule Tangletown eatery, mkt. Now Ritchie must prove his mettle in a hotel setting, supervising several kitchens and overseeing menus that span breakfast, lunch, midday, happy hour and dinner. (A tasting menu may be in the offing, as well.)
Those approachable menus read like a Stowell hit parade: crudo, bruschetta, pasta, grilled beef. Visits at lunch and dinner revealed some weak spots. Rubbery gnocchi were over-sauced. Butter and cheese swamped strands of tonnarelli. A gem lettuce salad was short on green goddess dressing; a grilled chicken sandwich was dull.
But there were many more ups than downs.
Several highlights came from the raw bar. Bright bursts of lemon, fennel and smoked trout roe punctuated a generous helping of king salmon tartare. Tart ponzu sauce rippled through a vibrant ahi tuna poke laced with seaweed and sesame seeds. Cucumber and celery added their crunch to shaved raw geoduck in a stunning crudo dressed with olive oil and finely ground pink peppercorns.
Also from the sea: Dungeness crab joined beets and watercress in a prettily composed salad drizzled with sauce gribiche, a rich, tangy mayonnaise with the licorice lick of tarragon.
From the deep-fryer come soft Castelvetrano olives sheathed in crisp crumb shells, and delightful quail. Halved and encased in a golden carapace, the little birds did a convincing portrayal of Southern fried chicken. Excellent dill-seasoned fries with dill-spiked aioli accompany a solid wagyu beef burger. (Note to bargain hunters: At happy hour, the burger and fries drop from $17 to $12, signature cocktails are $8, local brews $5. The menu is available throughout the restaurant.)
Among dinner entrees, roasted chicken rises to a lofty perch it too seldom enjoys. The organic bird is actually cooked two ways: the leg and thigh joint is confitted, then sautéed to crisp the skin. The roasted breast was equally crisp-skinned and remarkably moist. Served with roasted onions, diced bacon and sweet carrots pureed into a sauce, the dish isn’t fancy, but it is superb.
Fries with dill aioli $8
King salmon tartare $16
Fried quail $17
Roasted organic chicken $27
Wagyu beef culotte $57
Splurge on a Mishima Ranch wagyu beef culotte steak (one of four grilled beef options), and you’ll be rewarded with a portion ample for two, paired with roasted beets, their wilted greens and sweet-edged black currant sauce. Rosy, juicy, tender, charred and aggressively seasoned, it’s everything an expensive steak should be.
Dessert was a different kind of splurge. The gooey s’more sundae topped with house-made marshmallows will satisfy several adults, or one teenage boy. The gianduja chocolate tort has an appealing hazelnut crackle.
Goldfinch Tavern is a better fit for the Four Seasons and for downtown Seattle than the high-concept, underperforming Art ever was. Locals eventually may flock to it for lunch, dinner, drinks or off-peak grazing. It’s still a fledgling, but I’m betting Stowell and his team can make it soar.