I've just discovered my new favorite type of restaurant. I'm not talking Mexican or Thai cuisine. I mean I've discovered a preferred style of dining. I had to go to Seattle to discover this restaurant epiphany. Seattle knows how to do the farm to table thing, much like Los Angeles, but then they take things a step further with an open kitchen/bar/deli-free-for-all/part restaurant/part cafe thing.
OK, I'm still working on a name for this type of dining and restaurant. It's kind of like Gjusta, but not as crazy. A little like Dudley Market, but not quite. It starts with an open kitchen and goes from there. It's best explained by example.
Sitka and Spruce
Walking into the historic Melrose Market in Capitol Hill, I knew something good was happening. The space had one fabulous small storefront after another - a butcher, sandwich stand, flower shop, cheese shop and then there's Sitka and Spruce.
And there was my open kitchen - WIDE open. I've seen open kitchens, but this one had a person chopping and cooking on the same island where people were eating. It's rustic tables and garage windows gave way to the hipster vibe, as did the line at lunch. The rotating menu is a who's who of the farmer's market. Lots of small plates of veggies - raw, marinated, baked, broiled and roasted. A great stop for a fresh from the farm meal or snack in between.
The London Plane
Loving what they were doing at Sitka and Spruce, I became a groupie and went to The London Plane next. The folks from Sitka and Spruce teamed up to bring more fresh fare fabulousness to Seattle with The London Plane. It's another spot with many slashes in their name - deli/flower workshop (you can actually take classes there)/groceries/gifts/bakery/cafe/bar.
They were making kombucha while I was there, chopping veggies for salads and mixing up homemade mustard blends. You can get hot dishes to enjoy there or grab prepared foods to go for an amazing picnic. The space is beautiful and you may just want to have your picnic indoors.
The Whale Wins
I was now on an open kitchen, many-restaurants-in-one quest. I was indulged yet again at The Whale Wins, from the folks behind The Walrus and Carpenter, and an affinity for fun-sounding restaurant names. Ah the open kitchen, casual table and chairs, part boutique and takeaway, I love it all. I feel like I'm eating at a friend's house....who lives in a Shabby Chic book...and has access to freshly picked vegetables....and knows how to throw it on a beautiful looking rustic plate like she did nothing, but really spent 3 days pickling and curing.
We got a front row seat at The Whale Wins. My friend even got a pea launched at her head during a picking session inches from us. Free samples are included in the open kitchen setting, sometimes whether you want it or not. We had to get the pickled vegetable plate since we were seeing all the prep in front of us. This wasn't just a carrot and piece of broccoli. There were mushrooms, cauliflower, celery, parsnips and even plums! I could eat that every day.
Manolin may be be the most restaurant-y of the bunch, or the least. You decide. Bon Appetit just put Manolin on its best new restaurants in the country list. So they're doing something right. Seeing as LA's Gjusta is #2 on that same list, I'm thinking Bon Appetit is sharing my new love of the open kitchen, multi-use restaurant.
Open kitchen - check, except at Manolin, there's a giant U-shaped, or almost C shaped bar that is the centerpiece of the place. In the middle of the bar is the kitchen. There's much chopping going on, and then there's fire. Fire you can feel, kind of like what The Spice Table in LA used to have. It's great on a cool night to angle next to it, but you might want to sit further away when it's warm, unless you're looking for a sauna effect with your meal. That thing kicks off some serious heat and I had such empathy for the poor guy who was in the flames all night, searing steak, veggies and peppers. He must have lost 20 pounds on his shift.
Then there's the guy who was in charge of cold prep in front of me. He chopped and assembled all the salads and cool dishes, in between answering all of my questions. He seemed like he was quite skilled at multi-tasking as we chatted about LA and swapped great restaurants...so he wouldn't spit in my food. No, there's no way anyone could spit in your food here. It's all in full view. That's what I like about the open kitchen - you're a part of the process. There's nothing to hide. Gary Menes does this at Le Comptoir in LA, and I love it, though again, a different experience.
There's only about a dozen items on the menu at Manolin and they were all under $15. Another reason to love the place. We had a beautiful plate of white anchovy, beets, avocado, coconut and pimento - things I've never seen together, but played well. White prawns were served in the shell and you were encouraged to eat the entire thing, which I did happily. It was crisp, light and even more flavorful with turnip, dill and turmeric. Grilled beef kept fire boy busy with a nice medium rare cook and potato, radish and lardo. Blackberry shortcake had a fresh biscuit spiked with plump blackberries and spiced cream.
Manolin doesn't take reservations, so get there early. In fact, go down to the water and get a nice view of Seattle before or after your meal. You'll be in the Freemont area so will have a nice glimpse of the Seattle skyline from across the water. This is where I had my real epiphany on my new favorite way to dine. I just love the open kitchen where all the food and food prep are fully transparent. I couldn't be happier bellying up to a counter where I can watch my meal come together, and ask questions in the process. The quality ingredients are impeccable and the options are endless. You can stop in for a snack, full meal, group dinner, or pack up pieces for another dining adventure of your own choosing. Thank you Seattle for spoiling me with this great cuisine and way of eating. Los Angeles, you have your food orders. Let's get to it!