Being the food nut that I am, I keep an electronic list of bars, restaurants and anything generally food related that I might want to check out. (Thanks, Lee, for the tip on Savour in Ballard — I need to get over thattaway and see what it’s all about.) I add new items of interest at the top of the list, so things that have been on there for a while and yet remain unexplored keep falling further down the page. Sometimes it’s because I’ll refer to the list when I’m looking for somewhere to go with friends and nothing really fits the mood or the crowd, or in the case of my most recent adventure, it was a matter of waiting and waiting and waiting for a grand opening.
The first whisperings of Queen Anne’s new Emmer & Rye came from my friend, Darlin, a long-time fan of chef Seth Caswell from his days at Stumbling Goat in Phinney. She told of great sadness in the land when Seth left SG but then much rejoicing when it became known that he planned to launch a new venture. A long time coming, though, so when we heard news of the soft opening finally scheduled for the end of January we vowed to visit as soon as schedules allowed.
I’m grateful that we had Darlin there to point out some of the items that she thought would be particularly good from her experience at Stumbling Goat because, I kid you not, this was one of those times when nearly everything listed looked to be something I would love. It’s a “seasonally inspired, locally derived” menu, and from the first bite we tasted exactly how good that can be.
I love that (nearly) everything comes with the option of two sizes: taste/appetizer sized for the small dishes, half portion/full portion for the large dishes and mini sized/regular sized for the desserts. It’s the best of both worlds, offering you the hugely popular “small plate” opportunity to try anything and everything, or the option to have an actual, full-sized meal of a single entrée.
We started with several dainty portions from the small dishes list: Cauliflower with foraged mushrooms, wild greens and a walnut vinaigrette that was one of the most flavorful dishes of the evening. Next came the roast sunchokes and fingerling potatoes, pictured here. That creamy business at the bottom is a black truffle aioli which was so incredibly good that we had to hang on to it throughout the meal to see what else it might accompany. The grilled sausage, brussels sprout leaves, crostini and salsa verde were another hit, and just the right size in a three bite taste for each of us.
Dish after dish, everything we sampled from the list of large plates was better than the last: Pictured at right are the beef ribs, carrots and brussels sprouts served with a black truffle-ozette puree. (That last is a variety of potato for those of you, like me, who aren’t familiar.) The goat crepinette with black trumpet mushrooms and a butternut gratin had to be the most unusual dish of the night and it too was fantastic.
It was the grassfed beef Bolognese with pork and organic orrechiette that really stole the show. So much so, in fact, that we ordered a second small portion (here’s where that full portion size would have come in handy…) as well as one to go! It’s hard to capture in a photo, but it was the perfect balance of spicy and salty, with a finish of creamy.
The option to choose between two sizes was particularly useful when it came to dessert, especially when in selecting the tiniest little round of vanilla panna cotta with blackberry coulis. It’s not usually my first choice, but with the mini size I was able to try just one bite and pass it along to the real panna cotta lover in the group. The triple chocolate torte with espresso crème anglaise was exactly the chocolate I wanted, the beautifully smooth torte punctuated with layers of airy wafer. The best for last, gramma’s cheesecake, was an unusually un-sweet round of perfect-textured cheesecake, topped with a wild huckleberry sauce. We didn’t even have to put on an act for Emmer & Rye’s pastry chef who happened to be sitting at the next table; all of the happy exclamations and clinking of forks to fight for the last bites were utterly genuine.
I know that I sound all gushy about Emmer & Rye, but truly, it was one of the best meals on record. No, I amend that: One of the best experiences on record. Our server, Anna, was fantastic, and Chris the bartender presented his cocktails in person. (I recommend x2 his rye-se & shine, with rye, brandy, sweet vermouth, absinthe and bitters.) I loved it so much that I can forgive the country-cute vibe of the interior of this old Victorian, just another strike against the place when it was the much less successful Queen Anne outpost of the Julia’s empire.
Come, try for yourself, and report back. They make it easy, with all of the smaller-sized options, as well as a happy hour from 4-6pm. Oh and brunch, too! If you go, let me know if the a.m. menu is as good as the p.m. menu and I’ll be over there in a flash.