Seattle Sound 1/08: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Sound goes on a quest for the comfiest of comfort foods

Comfort food can be difficult to define. For me, it’s something familiar (perhaps evoking a childhood memory), simple to prepare, and usually stick-to-your ribs hearty – especially ideal in winter. Typically meaty, melty and/or moist, comfort foods make me feel more happy than healthy; a schmear of schmaltz-enhanced chopped chicken liver comes to mind. Like Goldilocks in search of the best bed and breakfast (porridge… now there’s a great example), I set out to three strikingly different restaurants to sample their spin on comfort food.

CRAVE: Winner

I want a place that gets up early… I want a place that stays up late. With apologies to Cake (whose “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” greets our arrival), Crave is a restaurant with good dividends. An open kitchen exudes confidence and competence, which Robin Leventhal and her Crave crew deliver. I eye the farthest of the four stools at the counter, where I can contemplate the cookbooks and containers while watching the food prep and plating, but tonight my dining companion and I settle for a candle-lit, tile-top table. Our server sings praise of how Robin’s renditions converted him to often-overlooked foods like Brussels sprouts (bacon bruleed) and bread pudding (savory, with green chili), both of which we enjoy. Of the starters, we’re most ecstatic about the escarole, elevated to comfort food status by grilling, and finished with champagne vinaigrette and boquerone (a not-so-scary way of saying anchovy – absolutely essential to the dish). The chorizo envuelto entrée steals the show; the puff pastried pork sausage has a spicy bite that’s countered by the soothing sweetness of its bed of overnight beans, greens, and pepperonatta relish. Our server flashes a knowing smile as he delivers dessert: sour cream apple pie “a la moded” with cinnamon gelato. As a crowd waits for coveted seats in this hip, aptly named restaurant, we look forward to returning, perhaps for the highly acclaimed brunch and a chance to try the signature shiitake mac & cheese. From early morning until late evening, Crave truly lives up its slogan: “Contemporary comfort food.”

Crave on Urbanspoon

11/5/08 update: Crave is now closed.

MADISON PARK CAFÉ

Take Madison Avenue almost to Lake Washington and you’ll find a place where Seattle transforms into a taste of France. At the Madison Park Café, Karen Binder works the floor of her dinner house (weekend brunches also available) with pride and European sensibility. Noting the comfort food theme, our server suggests starters moules and frites, and both more than satisfy – the mussels steamed in a parsley and saffron sauce that have us begging for a bread basket, while the whimsical petit pommes frites, very finely cut and served in a classic cone accompanied by truffle aioli, have us joking “betcha can’t eat just one.” While we don’t go wild over the wild sturgeon (a bit bland), its bed of puy lentils and garlic kale are pleasing. Cassoulet, perhaps the penultimate French comfort food, prepared here with duck leg confit and Uli’s Sausage d’Avignon, is soul-soothing in a sublime way; this may be a backhanded compliment, but I miss the oiliness of the dish I discovered in the Dordogne years ago. Dinner ends on a high note with the seasonal brioche bread pudding, the spin being a crème brulee-like caramelization, an infusion of orange and chocolate, and a side of crème Chantilly. Enjoying our last bites, we realize this bistro serves refined comfort food perfect for the clientele who fill the room: mostly wealthy, often white-haired, white people. Madison Park Café is, after all, in Madison Park. It’s a safe place to bring your parents or grandparents for a celebration – and may be even better in the warm summer when you can sit outside on the cobblestone patio.

Madison Park Cafe on Urbanspoon

SULLY’s LOUNGE

Fighting to get a foothold as it survives its scaffolded period, Sully’s Lounge appears to be at once a sports bar, restaurant, and outdoor café. We take one of four booths across from the dominating bar; the chatter there combined with the rock concert roar of the speakers (even spilling out to the sidewalk) help us decide that Sully’s is, indeed, a lounge – of the cocktail variety. Still, this visit is about the food, and chef Angelo Cruz sends out four entrees. The signature macaroni and cheese benefits from an upgrade to andouille (pork fat is always comforting!) and shrimp. Enjoying the concept but having outgrown the Cheddar-in-the-box thing, we like the mellow gruyere; this will turn out to be our favorite dish of the evening. Next comes a parade of plates with mashed potatoes: pork chops (and green beans – the only dish to actually feature “real” vegetables), bacon-wrapped meat loaf (did I mention that everything tastes better with pork fat?), and, lastly, shepherd’s pie. Simple, straightforward fare, low on seasoning or surprises, which is the same for dessert: warmed apple crisp (were you expecting a potato pie?) crying out for some ice cream. Cruz explains that Sully’s is about “food that makes people feel good when they come in.” We suspect that Sully’s might be a good alternative to upper Queen Anne’s high-end dining scene… a place to meet up for some meat and potatoes while enjoying warm, dark drinks. As we leave, we see that most of the other customers are eating hamburgers and fries, which may be what comfort food boils down to for this bar with a bit of an identity crisis.

Sully's Lounge on Urbanspoon

Note: Scroll over photos for a small description. These were first photos with a new camera, so they got better in future reviews!

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