Black Bottle, the gastro-tavern at 1st and Vine in Belltown, has been a hit since the day it opened, five and a half years ago. They added a second dining room, they added space for private events, they added a buck or two to the price of their menu items (but kept the food studioiusly unfussy). And shortly they're going to open a second Black Bottle on the eastside, just down the street from Bellevue Square.
But that's not the subject of this item, which is to sing the praises of a modest, $11 dish of braised oxtail and malbec demiglace. Brian Durbin, Black Bottle's chef (below, right), had to recalibrate the ovens to ensure the proper seven-hour cooking of the dish; he won't put anything on the menu until it's just right. Notable hits: grilled lamb with hummus, pork belly with kim chee, and a dish called "broccoli blasted." Although, truth be told, the kitchen isn't foolproof. Early on, Matthew Amster-Burton, writing in the Seattle Times, hated the broccoli, which was served charred to a crisp. And last week (one hight when Durbin wasn't in the kitchen), the party seated next to me at the bar was served a brocoli that tasted as if it had been blasted with bitter garlic. But, you know what? It's not Canlis, it's a tavern in Belltown. Get over it.
The oxtail dish, which landed on the menu in December, starts with the raw material, fresh oxtails, from MacDonald Meat in South Seattle, the same folks who deliver burger patties to Dick's. The oxtail is just that, 7- to 10-lb chunks of tail (minus the very tip) that the kitchen crew breaks down, severing bone by bone and trimming off any remaining fat. The pieces are seasoned, seared over high heat, then braised. Meanwhile, they create the base for the demiglace: malbec (the Bordeaux variety that's taken off in Argentina and Washington), soy sauce, brown sugar, aromatic herbs.
When the time comes, one of the line cooks, Ezra Schwepker on a recent weeknight, drops two or three pieces of meat into a pan, adds a scoop of the jellied glaze, and sets the sauté pan over high heat for several minutes so oxtail can absorb heat and moisture through the sauce. From time to time, he turns the tails so they're well coated. When all is right, he hands the pan off to a kitchen assistant, Stacy Ellison, who plates the dish, strains what's left of the reduced sauce through a seive, adds a garnish of tarragon and rosemary, and sends the oxtails out.
Speak to the dish harshly and the meat will fall off the bone. It is exquisitely tender and intensely flavorful, redolent of beefiness. You can't stop yourself; you pick up the bones, nibble the cartilege and suck down every last skerrick of meat. What's left on your plate resembles the "Vertebrae" sculpture by Henry Moore at Safeco Plaza on Fourth Avenue.
Black Bottle Postern opens at the Avalon Towers, 10349 N.E. 10th St., Belleuve, in mid-February.