Serious Eats: Collections Cafe Is a Feast for the Eyes and Mouth in Seattle

collections_int_600_4963“A feast for the eyes” may be an overused expression, but it’s certainly relevant to the new Collections Café at Chihuly Glass and Garden in Seattle. In the shadow of the Space Needle at the Seattle Center (site of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, also known as the Century 21 Exposition), you can see Dale Chihuly’s stunning glasswork—and then continue your art appreciation inside the café. (Note: You don’t have to pay entry to the museum to eat at the café.)

In the café, the first thing you’ll notice are the collections. Chihuly collected seemingly everything from his travels over the years, saying, “I love to find beauty in everyday objects.” Accordions hang from the ceiling, displays of figurines and more are on the walls, and the tables house all kinds of knick-knacks.

Place your food order, and you’ll notice that the artistry extends into the kitchen. The collected talent of chefs Jason Wilson of Crush, Jeff Maxfield of neighboring Sky City (atop the Space Needle) and Ivan Szilak—the onsite chef—developed the menu with the intent to match the museum’s ambience and philosophy. This is most evident in the vivid colors of the food, such as the pink of the prawns, the red of tomato jam, and the greens of the likes of frisée and fried basil.

Collections Café offers a space that’s bright and cheery, and full of wit and whimsy. The food is fresh, largely local, and, like its setting, playfully artistic. Come take a look at the dishes and the space in the slideshow above.

Step inside Collections Café and you’ll be hit by a kaleidoscope of color. If those ceiling-hung accordions could only play, there would be a symphony for the ears as well as the eyes.

Step inside Collections Café and you’ll be hit by a kaleidoscope of color. If those ceiling-hung accordions could only play, there would be a symphony for the ears as well as the eyes.

Café-goers look down at every table as they walk by, as each contains one of Dale Chihuly’s collections, from silver ashtrays to transistor radios to shaving brushes. Pictured: string holders, which would hang on kitchen walls pre-World War II ready to dispense string for wrapping packages.

Café-goers look down at every table as they walk by, as each contains one of Dale Chihuly’s collections, from silver ashtrays to transistor radios to shaving brushes. Pictured: string holders, which would hang on kitchen walls pre-World War II ready to dispense string for wrapping packages.

Chef Ivan Szilak is a fan of Spanish flavors, so these colorful Seared Prawns ($12 as shown, or $8 for a small portion) get a lot of herbal and briny notes from tarragon, mint, parsley, vinegar, capers, and extra-virgin olive oil.

Chef Ivan Szilak is a fan of Spanish flavors, so these colorful Seared Prawns ($12 as shown, or $8 for a small portion) get a lot of herbal and briny notes from tarragon, mint, parsley, vinegar, capers, and extra-virgin olive oil.

Along with colors, Szilak plays with flavors and smells, as in this Grilled Pacific Octopus ($11 as shown, or $8 for a small portion), which undergoes quite a process of preparation to reach its finished form. Berbere-spiced fingerling potatoes add a North African element, while chopped Castlevetrano olives bring a nuanced brininess.

Along with colors, Szilak plays with flavors and smells, as in this Grilled Pacific Octopus ($11 as shown, or $8 for a small portion), which undergoes quite a process of preparation to reach its finished form. Berbere-spiced fingerling potatoes add a North African element, while chopped Castlevetrano olives bring a nuanced brininess.

With appreciate for the beloved local cheesemaker, Szilak serves up Crispy Beechers Cheese Curds ($8 as shown, or $5 for a small portion). It’s his desired touch of fried Americana on the menu, with bourbon tomato jam jazzing up the dish, along with some fried basil.

With appreciate for the beloved local cheesemaker, Szilak serves up Crispy Beechers Cheese Curds ($8 as shown, or $5 for a small portion). It’s his desired touch of fried Americana on the menu, with bourbon tomato jam jazzing up the dish, along with some fried basil.

Pepper Crusted Ahi Tuna Sliders ($15 as shown, or $9 for a small portion) are served on ciabatta with watercress, radish, cucumber, and tapenade. The white anchovies, Picholine olives, garlic, and olive oil give the sliders the bright and briny flavors that reflect Szilak’s acid-loving ways, and which are a theme of the food at Collections Café.

Pepper Crusted Ahi Tuna Sliders ($15 as shown, or $9 for a small portion) are served on ciabatta with watercress, radish, cucumber, and tapenade. The white anchovies, Picholine olives, garlic, and olive oil give the sliders the bright and briny flavors that reflect Szilak’s acid-loving ways, and which are a theme of the food at Collections Café.

“Refreshing” is Szilak’s goal for the Watermelon Salad ($6 as shown, or $9 for a large portion). He’d never pickled watermelon rind before, but says “the rind brings the salad to the next level.” Toasted pistachios add crunch to the mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette, and the ricotta salata is slightly salty with a bit of an earthy, nutty flavor.

“Refreshing” is Szilak’s goal for the Watermelon Salad ($6 as shown, or $9 for a large portion). He’d never pickled watermelon rind before, but says “the rind brings the salad to the next level.” Toasted pistachios add crunch to the mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette, and the ricotta salata is slightly salty with a bit of an earthy, nutty flavor.

The Pressed Pork Sandwich ($12) is a labor of love, but fun work. Szilak says it’s like making rillettes, with pork butt braised with smoked pasillas—very aromatic—and eventually pressed into a hotel pan and seared for sandwiches. It’s served on ciabatta bread with apple butter and spicy cider vinegar slaw, with no need for barbeque sauce.

The Pressed Pork Sandwich ($12) is a labor of love, but fun work. Szilak says it’s like making rillettes, with pork butt braised with smoked pasillas—very aromatic—and eventually pressed into a hotel pan and seared for sandwiches. It’s served on ciabatta bread with apple butter and spicy cider vinegar slaw, with no need for barbeque sauce.

For dessert, one choice is Panna Cotta ($7). Wanting something fresh, Szilak makes this with classic Italian vanilla and cream, and tops it with seasonal berries.

For dessert, one choice is Panna Cotta ($7). Wanting something fresh, Szilak makes this with classic Italian vanilla and cream, and tops it with seasonal berries.

If you choose to see the exhibits at Chihuly Glass and Garden, be sure to stop by the glasshouse for this fantastic piece of art, which frames a peek at the Space Needle. This is quintessential Seattle.

If you choose to see the exhibits at Chihuly Glass and Garden, be sure to stop by the glasshouse for this fantastic piece of art, which frames a peek at the Space Needle. This is quintessential Seattle.

(Originally published at Serious Eats on June 27.)

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