Delectable food and knowledgeable barmen at this convivial Pioneer Square spot.
How appropriate that a Pineapple Express was pummeling Pioneer Square the night I darkened the door at Damn the Weather, a dripping shopping bag draped over my head. Proving how intrepid Seattleites are, the place was packed.
Damn the Weather, a comely brick-walled cave carved out of a century-old building, is just the sort of place you’d want to hunker down during a deluge. A candle twinkles on each table. Two- and four-tops line up along one wall, a narrow alley of hardwood planks and white marble tiles separating them from the oak-topped bar on the opposite wall. A crystal chandelier hovers over the high-topped communal table near the front door.
It’s a moody French Quarter ambience that references the past (this was once the New Orleans Creole Restaurant) and suits DTW’s raison d’être: the dispensing of serious cocktails and the sort of comfort food discerning drinkers crave.
Damn the Weather ★★½
Eclectic New American
116 First Ave. S., Seattle
Reservations: not accepted
Hours: daily 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; happy hour 4-6:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
Prices: $$ (snacks $3-$8; plates $9-$17)
Drinks: full bar; emphasis on spirits; very brief beer and wine list
Service: polished but varies from aloof to engaging
Parking: on street or nearby lots
Sound: loud enough to almost muffle the occasional hammering of crushed ice
Who should go: those seeking refuge from the storm, literally and figuratively
Credit cards: all major
Access: no obstacles
Park at the bar and order up sublime chicken-fat fries that taste like they’ve been dredged in the pan-drippings of a roast bird. No backless metal bar stools here. The vinyl-upholstered, high-backed swivel chairs may be the comfiest bar seats in town, and the bartenders put on a good show. The talent runs deep, led by operating partner Bryn Lumsden, longtime bar manager at Rob Roy, and respected barman Jay Kuehner, who made the late, still-mourned Sambar a must-drink destination.
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Kuehner’s hands move with the speed and grace of a magician’s, measuring ingredients with pinkie and index finger raised, trimming citrus peels and twisting them to perch just-so on the glass. Show some curiosity about any of the bottles behind him, and you may get a taste as well as a tutorial.
I learned about Genever, the Dutch precursor to gin, flavored with juniper and botanicals but made from barley, so it’s a little closer in style to whiskey. Genever makes a very fine Old Fashioned, finished with fresh nutmeg, grated pinkie up.
Former Walrus and the Carpenter chef de cuisine Eli Dahlin helms the kitchen, hence the exceptional fried oyster gyro. That po’boy hybrid held cucumber, tomato, cilantro and several small bivalves in a semolina crust smoldering with ras al hanout. Garlicky hummus and tangy yogurt oozed from the fluffy pita wrap.
The pita is house-made, as are the rustic, wheaty sourdough served with soft, salted butter, the sage crackers that accompany satiny pork-liver mousse, the crisps used to scoop beef-heart tartare.
Sweet-hot fruit mostarda made with tiny pears and lady apples nicely partnered the pork-liver mousse, though I didn’t love the dusting of cocoa powder, which introduced a bitter note. Mustard oil trounced the beefiness of beef-heart tartare, molded into a heart shape (wink, wink). Its texture became unpleasantly unctuous after I worked the raw egg yolk into it.
An egg is cooked into the top slice, toad-in-the-hole fashion, of the house-made brioche that frames the exceptional Caesar salad sandwich. Romaine crunches decisively between the thick-cut bread, soft beneath a lightly toasted veneer. When you cut the sandwich in half, the yolk adds a rich gloss to a Caesar dressing rife with anchovy.
Pastas were another treat. Classic spaghetti Bolognese is beautifully rendered, the tomato-based meat sauce smoothed with a touch of cream, the tangle of house-made noodles just al dente under a blizzard of finely grated Parmesan. Equally alluring were sweet-potato dumplings, gnocchi-like nubbins lightly sautéed in brown butter and sage. Pecorino, coarsely grated, contributed texture as well as sheep’s milk tang to the dish.
Pecorino was microplaned over a tangerine-dressed salad of shaved celery, slivered white anchovy and walnuts, allowing the fine gratings to melt into the crunchy, sweet and salty mélange.
Chicken-fat fries $8
Caesar salad sandwich $10
Fried oyster gyro $13
Celery salad $9/$14
Spaghetti Bolognese $10/$19
That kind of attention to detail extends to the service. Bartenders can speak to the menu; servers are knowledgeable about drinks. Both at the bar and at the table, share plates and silverware were refreshed with each new wave of food.
Fresh napkins (the ubiquitous blue-striped kitchen towels) arrived with dessert. Should you get that far, bypass the dry, overly fussy chocolate doughnuts, ghostly in raspberry powdered sugar, their holes filled with quince curd. Both the maple bread pudding, sauced with espresso-date caramel, and brioche French toast are worthwhile indulgences. Cognac? Armagnac? Calvados? The bartender can explain the differences and suggest the perfect nightcap.