Cornering the Market

Pike Place's Chez Shea perfects the art of the prix-fixe meal.

When people talk about Chez Shea, they often use words like "hidden gem" or "secret hideaway." They're referring, of course, to the restaurant's physical space. It's tucked into the northwest nook of the Corner Market Building in Pike Place Market. Perhaps because of this physical remove, Chez Shea is somewhat remote from our daily dining thoughts as well. Open since 1983 and committed to regional, seasonal ingredients since before that notion became a cliché, the restaurant has had a great influence on the local scene, yet it doesn't have that omnipresence that some of its downtown neighbors enjoy. No one, however, is complaining. Not the regulars who enjoy the unhurried elegance of Shea's Lounge, the casual bistro and bar adjacent to the dining room, and not those similarly unhurried in the dining room, where they linger over the sunset and chef Jeremy Bund's eight- or four-course prix-fixe menus. Sunsets over Elliott Bay and Bund's fresh, striking compositions—as well as those of lounge chef Hank Butler—create quite a draw, and, on clear weekend nights in particular, you shouldn't count on sliding in without a reservation. Don't count on it, but don't be surprised, either, when a spontaneous visit yields a perfect table—and a fantastic meal—in front of the expansive windows. ALTHOUGH YOU DON'T always need to plan ahead for Chez Shea, its Web site makes it a pleasure to do so. On three occasions over the summer, I had dinner in either the lounge or the dining room, and each time I checked the online menu ahead of time—and each time I found the same menu at my table when I got there. It may seem unremarkable, but when you consider how many restaurants don't keep current with their online menus (and how disappointing it is to arrive somewhere to find that the tempting entrée hasn't been available for three months), and when you consider that Bund creates a new set of offerings each month, it's really a great thing. On a recent Wednesday, after checking the site, I spent all day thinking about the seared Hokkaido sea scallops featured on the chef's tasting menu ($65 for eight generous courses; the four-course meal is $44). First came a bright, short stack of colorful heirloom tomatoes topped with sherried red onions and balanced, just barely, with Beecher's salty cheese curds. Next, a bowl of velvety Dungeness bisque, then ahi tartare niçoise, complete with tender cubed potatoes, Kalamata olives, tiny cubes of yellow and red heirlooms, and tarragon aioli. By the fourth course, decadent foie gras mousse sitting in an oven-roasted black plum drizzled with a bittersweet pomegranate reduction, I thought I detected the chef's pattern: tart, sharp, end-of-summer flavors on one plate; then rich, silky textures on the next. At 28, this is Bund's first experience creating his own menus—and with the Market below him to source from and the seasons continually demanding new ideas, he's ambitious even as his courses remain relatively classic. Whether or not my observations had anything to do with the kitchen's intentions, I thought it was a pretty nice idea, and it was easy to imagine Bund simply reversing the sharp-then-silky blueprint midway with the creamy white corn dressing that surrounded three excellently seared scallops in the fifth course. A surprisingly tangy vanilla demi-glace decorating medallions of seared duck breast came next, then a cheese plate, starring fabulous Explorateur triple cream. Finally, even the white chocolate cheesecake seemed to follow what I imagined to be the pattern—Kaffir lime syrup gave a sour bite to the rich dessert. While I enjoyed perfectly pan-roasted Copper River salmon ($28) from the à la carte menu in the lounge in early June, and a collection of small plates including a smart four-cheese lounge pizza ($8), a chèvre and caramelized onion tart ($8), and seared beef tips in a rich demi-sauce ($9) on another visit, the value of the prix-fixe menus in the main room is significant. Chez Shea was in the beginning and remains to be one of the few restaurants in town to offer a consistent fixed-price dinner, and theirs is imaginative, thoughtful, and incredibly generous. Each course, each time I've visited, was presented with efficiency and knowledgeable, casual grace. NOW A HORTICULTURIST living south of Seattle, original owner Sandy Shea says she has a good idea why the restaurant continues to enjoy a loyal clientele while keeping a relatively low profile—the emphasis has always been on pleasing the customer, not promoting a brand. Longtime manager Lotta Hashizume agrees, and credits current owners Koichiro and Tomoyo Ikawa for continuing what Shea began—a simple and humble dedication to quality. Chez Shea and Shea's Lounge, Corner Market Building, Suite 34, 206-467-9990, PIKE PLACE MARKET. 5–10 p.m. Tues.–Sun.

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