Maria Hines has a good thing going at Tilth. Her lovely little spot in a converted house in Wallingford is foodie organic heaven, and a destination restaurant for people who know and enjoy intentionally sourced and carefully prepared food. I came to Tilth a bit late, having heard much about it but not had the chance to visit until last fall. Though once sampled, forever devoted.
So it was with much enthusiasm that I welcomed the news of a new Maria Hines venture in Ballard. I am not a restaurateur and don’t aspire to be one, but I imagine that it would be a great challenge to launch one’s sophomore effort. To build on the success of that first restaurant, while bringing something fresh and new to the scene. I’ve now made two visits to Golden Beetle in a week, and I think that her food does just that.
It’s not much like Tilth at all, really, unless you think about it from a quality of ingredients standpoint, with a considerable dose of the same excellent service at both restaurants. Golden Beetle is right on Market, with big street-front windows that will let in a nice breeze once the weather gets a bit warmer. Once you get inside it’s strikingly blue, lighter tones in some places and brighter tones in others. The bar stools are one of my favorite parts of the interior, black upholstered on top and bowed light wooden legs that echo the curve of the low wall and the bar itself.
The food is Mediterranean small plates, and everything I sampled shows evidence of that same care in preparation. On the first visit for dinner we started with this beautifully bright creamy carrot soup, with pita croutons served in a little pile alongside the bowl. With the surfeit of pita and flat bread on the menu, we had to try at least one item that prominently featured either. The wood fired flat bread pizza came heavy with fraga farm goat cheese, muhammara (a Lebanese dip of sorts), and goat confit that came on quite strong the more one had of the flat bread. Another bowl of goodness arrived shortly after, the basil fed snails in broth, whose prominent taste was the licorice root and anise seed noted in the menu description.
Continuing in the grand tradition of being prodded to try things I wouldn’t necessarily sample on my own, next to come was the wood fired rabbit kidney, a skewer that also included roasted apple and pistachio, with a black olive dressing. Given the richness of this bit of bunny, you didn’t need a whole lot to get a good sense of the dish. The Bloomsdale spinach cigars were visually my favorite of the meal, in this Lincoln log-like stack with a fresh cucumber sauce the perfect clean accent. We finished with a dessert of fig-supported ice cream, and deliciously dense cardamom donuts served with this little dish of acacia honey.
Returning for happy hour this week only affirmed my appreciation for Golden Beetle. Happily ensconced on one of the bar stools that I’d admired from afar the week before, we sampled an entirely new selection of things and each was just as delicious as the last: wood fired pita bread and hummus; za’atar spiced french fries (with beef fat – take that, vegetarians!); the most flavorful chicken wings I’ve had in ages – must have been the ginger paste; spicy falafel, which I usually find uninterestingly bland but here was fantastic; and the perfectly cooked Skagit River Ranch ground beef skewers with a tamarind glaze. Nicely done, Ms. Hines, and I’m already excited to see what restaurant #3 might bring…