My Posse's in Belltown

Alexandria's offers upscale grits and down-home lobster.

NOT THAT I'M COMPLAINING, but lately Seattle has been positively lousy with food parties. As a result of an introductory celebration at Tom Douglas' new Lola a few Tuesdays ago, eaters all over the city are now trying to figure out if they're daring enough to return for the braised octopus on the breakfast menu. And then there was the anniversary dinner at the Fish Club. Between courses, I asked chisel-chinned chef Todd English to explain the weird airport sculpture–esque fish rotisserie in the open kitchen and he made it sound vaguely practical, but I'm still convinced that it's only there to hypnotize. One event I didn't make was the opening of Alexandria's on 2nd in Belltown, and wouldn't you know it? By all accounts, it was one hell of a party. Everyone I talked to prior to the event was fairly skeptical about how an "upscale Southern food" restaurant would fit into Seattle's food scene. It seems that the question is rather how will Seattle's food scene fit into Alexandria's? My sources tell me that, along with every other restaurateur with "upscale" as part of his or her identity, there were so many fabulously dressed people of color that it was like being at the NAACP awards or inside the pages of Essence—only in lily-white Seattle. Alexandria's owner, Jim Buchanan, is a bicoastal, multitalented businessman and Seattle native. As a music producer, he's worked with Christina Aguilera, Tupac Shakur, Nas, and Brandy, and he's credited with discovering Sir Mix-A-Lot. He's fairly new to the food business, having started Alexandria's on Main in Cleveland just a couple of years ago. But his executive chef, Michael Franklin, has kitchen star power. My favorite memory of walking by the Shark Bar, Franklin's former place of employ in my old neighborhood on the Upper West Side, is stopping to watch Mike Tyson hold court on a mammoth Harley outside the entrance on a balmy summer night. My friends and I didn't see any rappers, badly permed pop stars, or controversial prizefighters on a recent visit to Alexandria's, although the gorgeous woman overseeing the reservations book was a dead ringer for Beyoncé. And anyway, aside from the excitement of the opening party, the emphasis really is on the food. Of the somewhat contradictory nature of "upscale Southern," Buchanan has said the balance rests on tried-and-true traditions, quality ingredients, and beautiful presentation. It isn't that the collard greens were stacked into a pyramid and presented with an artful sprig of frisée (they were soupy and dark in a plain little porcelain cup), but especially because I don't have any plans to go to New Orleans, I can tell you that I'm sure I won't have Creole shrimp as terrific again, no matter how it's presented. For a joint that began in Ohio, Alexandria's has an amazing selection of seafood. There are five different catfish dishes and four with shrimp, and the seafood pan roast, with lobster, shrimp, and scallops, is amazing—and a great deal food more than any reasonable human should eat in one sitting. Of course, you can get surf and turf for $46.95 (by far the biggest ticket on the menu) and plenty of chicken preparations are offered, too. Because it was there, I implored my friend to order a soul food favorite, chicken and waffles. Here again, the kitchen didn't necessarily present the dish with any special flair, but I suppose a fried chicken breast and leg, sitting atop a golden waffle, is special enough. Buchanan has his work cut out for him; Alexandria's isn't exactly on one of the more upscale stretches of Belltown's either/or landscape, and the previous tenants, Falling Waters, didn't have much luck in the spot. I also wonder if people will really want to pay $18.95 for blackened catfish, especially considering the popularity of places like Catfish Corner. Then again, sometimes we want to eat like we're down home but dress as if we're uptown, and that's exactly the mood at Alexandria's. Although the atmosphere is pleasantly social and relaxed (we ran into old friends at the bar and made new friends with our waiter), the decor is fairly restrained—almost austere, and the views onto the street leave much to be desired. I suppose that when the condos across the street are finished, they might lend the block a somewhat brighter sheen, but it's probably more likely that Alexandria's will beat them to it. Buchanan has plans to bring his recording business to Seattle, and that can only mean good things for the live music that he has planned as well. Southern juke-joint piano parties and East Coast hip-hop nights in the land of polar fleece and post-grunge? I don't know, stranger things have happened.

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