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Friday, October 8, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Restaurant Review

Terrific Crow is a feather in owners' caps

Seattle Times restaurant critic

Crow


823 Fifth Ave. N., Seattle; 206-283-8800

American bistro

$$$

***

Reservations: recommended.

Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5-11 p.m. Fridays- Saturdays.

Prices: soups/salads $5-$7; appetizers $8-$11; entrees $13-$19; desserts $6-$7.

Wine list: smart use of helpful descriptors on a modest-sized list of modest-priced bottles from around the world.

Sound: loud.

Parking: none provided.

Full bar / credit cards: MC, V / no obstacles to access / no smoking.

Who should go: Bistro aficionados seeking a short, supremely satisfying menu, well-priced wines and a vibrant atmosphere; Seattle Center patrons in need of a nosh and a cocktail; solo diners looking for great food in good company.

Forgive me if I wax rhapsodic about a big, bustling, boisterous restaurant and bar created in the husk of a drafty old warehouse, but I gotta crow over Crow. Straddling a dim corner in a less-traveled quadrant of Lower Queen Anne, this newcomer has quickly distinguished itself among the city's neighborhood bistros by doing everything absolutely right.

Crow-embellished metalwork adds the perfect touch to the spare interior decor of this vintage brick abode. Its namesake birds perch in an intricate gate poised at the entranceway of this dramatically lit space. They also stare from a partition separating the main dining area from tables set in the shadow of a tequila-sunrise-splotched wall.

A brief, seasonally accented menu of Seattle-style comfort foods — the likes of raw oysters with mignonette; roasted chicken with green beans; and hangar steak sliced and centered over cucumbers, tomatoes and herbs — are expertly prepared, artistically presented and not overpriced. What's more: The menu is matched with a cleverly constructed wine list whose helpful headers provide assistance to those in need of direction.

Care to know more about the Morgan Cotes du Crow's listed among the "rich and powerful reds" — one of many labels priced at $25 or less? "It's a 50-50 blend of California grenache and syrah," our waiter explained, "and absolutely delicious." No lie. And bless him for giving as much attention to the beverage needs of an abstinent friend: pouring sparkling water in an elegant wine glass, offering plenty of lime, unasked for, on the side.

Service, warm and wise, is chief among Crow's appealing qualities. The welcoming attitude extends from the greeter at the door, to the bartender who mixes a mean sidecar, to the chefs bantering with patrons at their kitchen counter, to the efficient servers who never seem ruffled no matter how busy it gets.

Enjoying dinner at a table by the open casement windows in late August, a gal pal and I were treated with all due respect. (Take note, lady diners who complain of ill treatment elsewhere!) And when dining solo with other like-minded individuals last week at one of 10 tall stools fronting the broad open kitchen, I felt as if I were hanging out with old friends. Turns out I was.

Owner/chefs Craig Serbousek and Jesse Thomas are bosom buddies who met years ago while working at The Ruins, a private club nearby. Several talented Ruins alumni man Crow's kitchen and dining room. Other staff had worked with Serbousek at the Herbfarm and, more recently, at his first restaurant venture, the Stumbling Goat Bistro — now owned and operated by his ex-wife. Perhaps their shared history explains their ability to work in effortless concert, an achievement that too often eludes many long-established venues.

Speaking of sharing, when it comes to the menu's "shared items" (translation: appetizers), I found myself bogarting the mussels in a cream-stoked Madras curry ($10). Same goes for a trio of grilled Manchego-cheese-stuffed grape leaves whose bed of ratatouille did double-duty as a bread-basket Med-spread ($8).

Due to its richness quotient, I did better sharing coarse slabs of fabulously fat-studded pork rillettes ($8). Ditto for a delectable deli platter of cured meats built with dark slices of bresaola, Salumi salami and ribbons of tender prosciutto drizzled with olive oil and scattered with cracked pepper ($11). An earlier menu featured a panzanella salad: grilled rustic bread tossed with multicolored tomatoes and broad fronds of arugula ($7), since replaced with ripe red tomatoes, sweet onion, cucumbers and feta ($7). The latter whispered of Greece and was utterly refreshing.

With fall in the air, foraged mushrooms are making their mark on the menu. In a twist on tradition, chanterelles lent nutty nuance to "Autumn minestrone" ($5), the classic soup re-imagined with sweet corn, cherry tomatoes and a pesto crouton. Those slender trumpets — lush and buttery, sautéed with leeks and spiked with Marsala — also appeared in a rustic ragout made texture-perfect with a crown of delicate chard and a silky bed of polenta ($16).

Crow's "house" lasagna and pan-roasted chicken deserve resident status. That pasta ($13) offers light, lofty layers of fresh noodles and Italian sausage. Resting in a pool of bright tomato sauce, it rivals the luscious lasagna immortalized at Café Lago. Chicken breast wears a layer of prosciutto like a second skin and hides a plump thigh under its tender winglet ($15). Take a knife to the breast and you'll note, with a sigh, that its juices run free and clear. The same can be said for the big, bone-in pork chop ($17), a honking helping of pork-with-pork set over savoy cabbage that's sautéed to buttery effect with smoky pancetta.

If you're lucky, the fish of the day might be wild troll-caught king salmon ($19). Those trolls weren't responsible for digging the Manila clams that surrounded the salmon I sampled, but they'd have fought over them while drenching their shaggy beards with the fresh seafood's orange-scented pan sauce.

Need a fabulous finish? Try a flaky peach tart cooled with anise-hyssop ice cream; a fine-textured almond cake sweetened with honey-roasted fruit; or a crème brûlée perfumed with rose-geranium petals. If you're not impressed, I'll eat crow.

Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or taste@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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