Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Staple & Fancy Mercantile - Ballard

I hate surprises. I'm an admitted Type A Personality, but when given the opportunity to let a chef choose my dinner, I always take it. That's exactly what I did at Staple & Fancy Mercantile in Ballard. I just had to take Chef Ethan Stowell up on his multi-course, ever-evolving menu for the bargain price of $45 a person. Seriously, after you read this, you'll agree. It's a bargain, and you'll probably be dialing them up to get your name on their reservation list too.

The updated warehouse space is opposite of another talked about restaurant, The Walrus and the Carpenter. You can see through into The Walrus through the windows in the very back. I guess that's on my list now too.

The night is still early when this shot was taken, but it was definitely bustling by the time we left.

Timing is everything when it comes to cocktails and feeding the Babe at home later tonight, so I was anxious to order. Everyone was happy with their choices, but Ben was delighted in the ice cube perfection. They cut them themselves from a large sheet of ice.

Drinks from left to right: Dear Ben had Blanton's Bourbon on the rocks. While he loves the bottle with the horse on top, it's the buttery flavor that he loves so much. Truly a smooth bourbon. Friend Jeff had the Rosita with tequila, Campari, and sweet vermouth. It was very margarita-ish. Friend Josh had a Manhattan, that old soul.

Friend Rachel and I got fun girlie glasses. Again left to right, I ordered the Calianna with gin, Aperol, grapefruit, and soda, and Friend Rachel got the Spritz Cocktail with Aperol and bubbly Prosecco.

The Appetizer Course

Once the appetizers started coming, they came quickly. Not that we're complaining that good food was being showered upon us, but we did start to wonder if the whole meal would be rushed. To clear that up right now, I'll tell you that this was a three-hour tour. Can I get stuck on this island, please?

Delivered by Chef Stowell, himself, a pair of crostinis were first to arrive at our table. There was one plate of smoked mackeral and another plate of salami. The smoked mackeral was combined with chives on a thin crostini. I'm not sure what was used to bind the fish and chives together, but it was a nice crispy, creamy combination. Friend Rachel commented that it might be a little fishy, but good tasting nonetheless.

I was a little star struck by the chef, so unfortunately that interfered with my listening comprehension. I didn't catch the intimate details of the salami, but I feel sure it was made somewhere quite great (though I'm fairly confident he wasn't our local, Salumi). The taste was good, but nothing that had me squealing.

Smoked Mackeral Crostini

Salami Crostini

Butternut Squash soup served in dainty espresso cups arrived next. Savory and sweet. Thick, yet light. Exactly how you hope it will taste. Exactly how it should taste. A versatile winter fruit that we'll see again tonight.

Butternut Squash Soup

Yay, Clams! These steamed clams came with chorizo! Chorizo! The chorizo looked like little pepperonis scattered throughout, and I tried to get a little slice on each clam. I love being introduced to interesting flavor combinations.

Another thing I like about the clams: the broth. With a twinge of orange from the paprika that seeped out of the sausage, it's definitely a great excuse for bread dipping. Don't be shy, ask for it! You can also use it to soak up the broth left on your plate. Viola! Instant clean plate!

Steamed Clams with Chorizo

Octopus, Chickpeas, Kalamata Olives, and Parsley Salad. This was my least favorite taste of the night. I just don't care for octopus. It's not the flavor that bothers me, it's the thin little layer around it that has the texture of a fatty piece of chicken. Friend Jeff enjoyed the octopus more than Friend Rachel and I did. I gobbled up as many chickpeas as I could though.

A Mediterranean Octopus Salad

Fried Oysters with Aioli (maybe roasted red pepper aioli?) - I haven't had a fried oyster, well, let me think. This could have actually been my first fried oyster ever. What an occassion! The cornmeal coating was crispy and perfect. After dinner, I found myself thinking of these little treats again and again.

Fried Oysters

The Appetizer Finale

We were brought out clean plates for the appetizer finale. I think I actually clapped when it arrived. I was so excited that the server placed the plate right in front of me to admire before getting first dibs. Escolar with avocado, olive oil, and baby cucumbers. The slices were thicker than the escolar crudo at Anchovies and Olives. Friend Josh liked how the cucumbers lightened the rich flaor of the fish. While this escolar was buttery-smooth and delicious, I like the Anchovies and Olives preparation a bit better.

Escolar Crudo

The Pasta Course

The potato gnocchi with pork ragu was just okay. The ragu had a nice, spicy flavor, but the gnocchi itself could have been flavored a little more. Friend Rachel and I agreed that even a little salt before baking would have done wonders. Dear Ben liked this dish the most out of the five of us. As far as I'm concerned, Serafina in Eastlake still holds the prize for best gnocchi in Seattle.

Potato Gnocchi with Pork Ragu

Butternut Squash is back on the table in a tasty agnolotti, and I enjoyed this dish much more than the gnocchi. Agnolotti is a stuffed pasta, similar in concept to a ravioli. The difference is agnolottti is one sheet of pasta folded over the filling, instead of two separate sheets of pasta. This agnolotti was prepared in brown butter, butternut squash cubes, and herbs. Delish.


The Main Course

Three main courses were split between the five of us. With all the food we have had so far, that was actually plenty.

I started with the mackeral with a Mediterranean couscous of olives, cucumbers, and radishes. Dear Ben commented that he is usually not a fan of mackeral, but this dish passed his test. While it wasn't too fishy and overall prepared nicely, this was everyone's least favorite. You'll see why as you read on.

The Mackeral

Then I moved on to the chicken. It was a pretty fabulous plate all around: Chicken over parsnip puree with diced butternut squash, diced bacon, and fried brussel sprout halves. Who doesn't love thick bacon chunks with their veggies? The brussels were caramelized just right, and the parsnip puree had Friend Rachel wondering how she recreate it at home to fool Friend Josh into thinking they were mashed potatoes. We were all clamoring for extra bites off of this plate. It was even the topic of conversation on the way home, each remarking that they wanted the whole plate to themselves.

The Chicken

I ended with the sausage because I had a feeling that I'd enjoy this the most. I did. Friend Josh liked this plate the best too. The sausage was grilled and placed over celery root puree with caramelized baby onions, Thumbelina carrots, and a sprinkling of mustard seed. Caramelized anything usually equal deliciousness, doesn't it?

The Sausage

The Dessert Course

Cheesecake topped with cranberries. Cheesecake isn't usually a dessert I choose. Not because of the taste, but because there really isn't a lot of room for creativity. The cheesecake was creamy and not too thick, but it was those tangy cranberries had me taking more bites than I probably should have.

Cheesecake with Cranberries

Almond Pear Cake with Almond Ice Cream seemed to be everyone's favorite, but since almonds aren't my cup of tea, it wasn't mine. I liked the way it looked though. I'm sure I'll hear about it from the rest of the group later, but I thought the cake might have been on the dry side.

Almond Pear Cake with Almond Ice Cream

Chocolate Cake with Pistachio Ice Cream. I can't remember the details of the cream filling, but I'm glad it was there. It added some moisture to each bite. The pistachio ice cream was an interesting choice, and certainly not bad, but it's hard to top a good, home-made real vanilla bean ice cream with chocolate cake. Friend Jeff loved the pistachio ice cream though, so I can agree to disagree on this one.

As you can see, there were a couple of themes of the night: butternut squash, caramelized vegetables, and a slight emphasis on seafood. Although ingredients were re-used in several of the plates, each dish was inventive and tasty. The kitchen staff was professional, knowledgeable, and the courses were mapped out to a "T," giving each person equal amounts of everything (and good thing for that because I'd hate having to take more than my tablemates).

Dear Ben and I agree that this deserves a place on Seattle's Top Five Restaurants. Take my advice, go to Staple & Fancy Mercantile, and for the love of food, let the chef pick your dinner!

Staple & Fancy
4739 Ballard Avenue NW
Seattle, Washington 98107

Staple & Fancy Mercantile on Urbanspoon

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