Restoration and then some

The sweet embrace of Gypsy.


2805 E. Madison, 709-8324 lunch Tues.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Sat. 5 p.m.-10 p.m. AE, MC, V / full bar OH, FOR A HUG and a restoring meal in these uncertain times. Luckily we have Gypsy. Gypsy occupies the Madison Valley room left vacant by the recent demise of Jimmy's Table. Virtually unchanged from its days as Jimmy's, this embracing enclosure defines the perfect urban restaurant: It's intimate, cozy, decorated surehandedly with vital art, and enlivened with vibrant conversation. Along one wall is a sexy low-lit bar that would be inviting even if it weren't so pleasantly stocked. The place is the restaurant equivalent of a city neighborhood: a locus of community, presided over by an engaging crew. This is the hug. As for the food, it restores you and then some. The collaboration of caterer Peter Neal (of Cater Arts on North Lake Union) and chef Carrie Duncan has yielded a menu that's a balm for the soul. The barbecued pork tenderloin ($17), tender and full of flavor in thick slices over sweet black beans with saut饤 peppers and baby bananas, is like extreme comfort food; if it's not a meal that melts in your mouth, I'm not sure what is. Some of the food comforts by amusement. Consider the cheek of the sophisticated kitchen that presents baby back ribs ($18) with good ol' baked beans and watermelon balls. The ribs, shot through with slow, deep smoke and served in a serious bourbon sauce, rival the best barbecue in town. An ample heap of the meaty bones is served beside spicy bacon-molasses beans, collard greens, watermelon, and a wedge of moist sweet-potato cornbread. Other dishes restore through sheer distraction. One evening's special of pan-seared sturgeon over Yukon gold potatoes and a fris饠salad with golden beets and huckleberries ($25) was impossible to hold in the imagination, so unlikely were its components; but it seemed as inevitable as rain, its sweets and savories vying for prominence in crazily harmonious ways. The beets and huckleberries were particularly inspired, their offsetting textures and tangs providing grace notes for the oily, steaky fish. And everything was exactingly cooked; sturgeon doesn't get any better than this. IF THE WORLD-RANGING menu has any missteps, two visits didn't uncover them. The starter menu contains success after shining success. A refreshing Absolut shrimp cocktail ($9) features mango-jicama-avocado salsa brimming out of a martini glass, crowned with vodka-marinated tiger prawns. The sea scallops ($9) are even better, marinated in herby mustard, seared, and served on a lush bed of creamy leeks. Frizzled yams top this dish with sweetness and crunch. These would make a terrific light meal accompanied by a salad; the butter lettuce and endive variant ($7), for example, is a simple but studied toss of lettuces with watercress, shaved fennel, toasted pine nuts, and slices of manchego cheese. These flavors are just right and are generously complemented by two slices of tomato bruschetta. Another salad of ahi tuna ($10) is at once delicate and robust, its raw and meaty chunks of tuna showcased over a sweetly restrained Asian seaweed slaw. Chef Duncan reveals her mastery of textures yet again by scattering ribbons of fried wonton over the top. And the smoked chicken bread salad ($10) is a similar textural party: Bite-sized chunks of house-smoked chicken, grilled red and yellow peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, kalamata olives, and sensational grilled radicchio all unite under a leggy fig-balsamic dressing whose potency tames the dish's smokiness. It's inventive, intelligent, and fun to eat—like nearly everything here. Gypsy appears to be that rare restaurant where entr饳 are invested with as much innovation as appetizers. This perhaps accounted for the sole opportunity for improvement found here: Crispy seared rockfish ($16) was a gorgeous golden filet in a sweet-and-sour peach reduction: beautifully cooked and duly sweet. The basmati beside it, pocked with currants and golden raisins, was likewise sweet, making for a monotonous pairing. Two desserts were memorable: a chunk of dense chocolate bread pudding ($7) and a slice of wickedly sharp lemon-almond tart ($6). Both managed the same trick in microcosm that Gypsy pulls off in the bigger picture: They appealed to both the head and the heart. Delectable to the palate, comforting to the soul; a hug and a damn good meal. Would that all neighborhood restaurants nourished us so lavishly.

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