May 20, 2008

Slip Me Some Tongue

Scott Staples says he always wanted to be on Capitol Hill but couldn't find the right spot. That was before Quinn's, which opened late last year. In the meantime, Zoë the dinner house on Second that he opened in 2001, has become a Belltown fixture.

At the bar, the original drinks menu has evolved to more contemporary cocktails ("Spring Flowers" of Ciroc vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon sour and Moscato d'Asti, $9.75). Hold off on that homemade sour mix, though; It really doesn't belong in a Negroni!
In the kitchen, Staples and chef-de-cuisine Daniel Newell stick to elegantly presented.classics: halibut, scallops, duck breast, lamb loin, braised short ribs, pork chops. But if the devil is in the details, it's also in the small plates. Delicate white asparagus from Walla Walla, asking for nothing more than a simple steaming, is instead poached (barely! barely!) in a broth of salted white wine, and served with an egg foam (classic sabayon), lemon, and fried (why?) capers. Five stalks for $13 (twice the going price for big, fat spears of white asparagus in Europe), you wonder what they're thinking.

But then comes redemption, in the form of a $10 plate of beef tongue. The base is French green lentils, softly cooked. Next, a layer of crunchy, bitter frisée. Then a slice of tongue, an unctuous meat so tasty you wonder why it's held in such low esteem. Now comes a spread of complex marmalade: a sour cherry mustard. This is topped with another slice of tongue and capped with a sprinkling of crunchy sea salt.

Pause for a moment to imagine the last time you enjoyed a hamburger. Was the ketchup on the top, on the patty, or did you dip? Was the lettuce on the bottom? Where in that construction did the kitchen place the tomato, the onion? The architecture of a burger is crucial, since it affects how it tastes when you take a bite.

Well, the tongue at Zoë is like that: the elements should be savored together, all at once, a peak experience of delight. You forgive all sorts of minor sins when you're in bliss.

Restaurant Zoë, 2137 2nd Avenue, Seattle 98121, 206-256-2060 Restaurant Zoe on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at May 20, 2008 3:30 PM | TrackBack

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