Repeatable: Yes! Visits:1
Every now and then comes a man who turns the status quo on its ear by promising change and delivering a difference, a man who inspires hope in humanity–and in the state of our collective tastebuds. Last Thursday night, that man was Dustin Ronspies, chef-owner of Wallingford’s Art of the Table.
OK, so he’s not the second coming or even Obama, but he’s a much-needed breath of fresh air in the Seattle dining scene.
Having been to way too many overly hyped new restaurants this year, I was cautiously optimistic about AOTT. The reason for my optimism: Ronspies didn’t emerge from the incestuous, inbred pool of Seattle’s mostly mediocre restaurant kitchens, but, according to the Seattle Times, cooked on yachts and in the private kitchens of the ultra-wealthy all over the world. The man has experience cooking according to international standards–not local ones–a big plus for the four of us that night, who had eaten our way around the globe several times. (If you really want to learn what good is, you have to cut your teeth in New York, Tokyo, and Paris. After that, San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney, and London. Owning a yacht and megabucks doesn’t hurt, but doesn’t ensure good taste.)
Also on the plus side: Ronspies obviously isn’t plugged into the local PR machinery that whips local foodies into a rabid lather weeks before the paint even dries on a new restaurant. Instead, he opened AOTT as a catering joint a year and a half ago. Restaurant service started as a way of drawing in potential new catering clients. Suddenly, he had a full-fledged supper-club styled restaurant on his hands: One seating, by reservation only, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Four courses for about $55, paired with a flight of wines for an additional $35. A STEAL compared to what else is out there in similar recently opened, communal dining supper clubs (like Corson Building, where the food alone starts at $80.)
As I was saying, the four of us are not an easy bunch to please; we’ve been disappointed more often than not when dining out at the latest greatest in the local Seattle scene.
We were all very, very happy at Art of the Table. Here’s why:
Amuse bouche: Slices of chiogga beets with a whipped cheese in between, slice of orange on top.Delicious.
First course: Squash soup (made fantastic with hidden chicken stock and foie gras) with a scrumptious mound of chopped apple, pecan, leeks, and terrine with ancho chili cream (AMAZING)
Second Course: Kale, pancetta & Parmesan souffle with arugula salad. Ronspies, an utterly adorable man with no pretense and an obvious love of fresh ingredients, admitted these were the first unmolded souffles he had ever made. His candor is a refreshing as his honest food.
Palate Cleanser: Spaghetti squash sorbet with cinnamon. Unlikely ingredients, beautifully creamy result that tasted teasingly like persimmon and lychee. Quietly brilliant.
Third Course: Pan-seared black cod with fricassee of Autumn vegetables. Perfectly cooked fish. My friend Megumi, who hails from Tokyo and knows her fish, ate every scrap of this dish. The hash of veggies was wonderful: three different mushrooms, some root veggies, all beautifully cubed and cooked to perfect doneness. Alas, the picture got muddled, so I can’t share it.
Fourth Course: Port-poached pear with a sneezy-delicious Vietnamese cinnamon (my least favorite part, as the pears were too hard), chocolate ganache crepes (yum), and pistachio ice cream (to die for).
Ronspies is so modest that he doesn’t trumpet what many other restaurateurs scream out: He sources all his food from farmer’s markets; he cooks mostly organic; he maintains his own charcuterie (his own pancetta was in the souffle); he makes his own ice cream and sorbet. He even serves and washes his own dishes.
Much to my delight, AOTT has a long list of craft beers; I got a light Pilsener from Germany (Pilseners are the Champagnes of the beer world) that hit the spot nicely. (Can someone please do beer/food pairings and offer flights of beers with each course?).
That’s about it–for now. I’ll be returning to AOTT soon and will update this post with more details and more info about my new favorite chef in Seattle.
NB: Forgot to mention the other day that Ronspies comes out before each course to describe its ingredients. He taps a little gong beforehand. Megumi tittered with delight each time he did it; other folks might find the gong annoying. I am TERRIBLE at sitting through long, multi-course meals with descriptions–last summer, I bolted from a dinner at the Inn at Langley just before dessert, much to my husband’s embarrassment. However, Ronspies makes the whole experience feel authentic and necessary–not forced. The gong isn’t a shtick so much as a useful, low-key way of getting everyone’s attention quickly.