Continuing Education

Readers and restaurateurs respond to dreams of the dining room-as-classroom

A reader named Jack wants to know what's up with all the Belltown restaurants shutting down. Indeed. Over the past few weeks, folks found padlocked doors where they thought their dinners would be and called me to ask what was going on at Axis, Alexandria's on Second, and Barocho. (Jack notes that Torero's has closed, too.) A representative from Alexandria's reports the owners are focusing on JoAnna's, their new cafe and club in the Central District, but as for the others, it seems curious that in the midst of drinking season, they'd give up the ghost in such abrupt fashion. I'll keep my fingers crossed that whoever takes over those spaces read my last column.

Two weeks ago, I predicted increasingly instructive menus featuring mindful, healthful ingredients, and not a single one of you wrote in calling me a crackhead. (One reader, however, did suggest that while analyzing the parallels between band names and restaurant names, I was not referencing terrible emo-core but William Faulkner. Um, was he in a band?) Quite the opposite, actually: I've heard only "here here!" from restaurant owners and patrons alike.

Kathy Casey dropped me a line to mention she's serving risotto made with faro (aka spelt, an easily digestible ancient grain high in protein and fiber), and she's also doing dishes with Italian black kale at her eponymous catering space in Ballard (next door to which, she added, a third Dish D'Lish will open in spring or summer). You'll recall from eighth-grade science that the darker the plant, the more it boosts your immune system with antibacteria phytonutrients. To boot, kale is a cousin to arugula and has a sharply nutty, meaty taste and texture that's lovely when sautéed and just as good steamed and seasoned. John Gunnar, co-owner of Portage Bay Cafe on Roosevelt Way, sent me a recent menu from his mostly organic, mostly locally sourced restaurant where breakfast in particular—featuring scrambled-egg hashes that read like organic orgies and wheat-free pancakes made with rice flour and vanilla yogurt—seems on the mark. Portage Bay's commitment to organics puts them in the same league as restaurants like Cascadia, Cafe Juanita, and Sunlight Cafe.

Chris Barriatua of Henrybuilt, an eco-conscious local furniture design concern where they know a thing or two about sustainability, e-mailed to tell me that my last column was more or less a description of New York City's new-ish Cookshop: "Just replace a little of the health-consciousness with duck fat and you're there." A little investigation confirms that Cookshop's proprietors are thinking locally yet globally. A blackboard lists their "favorite farmers" (cow-pasturing, chemical-free, future-thinking folks), and if the instruction and education aren't explicit, Barriatua says they're implied and firmly felt.

Still, I'm waiting for the day when we don't need to eat duck fat or foie gras in order to feel like we're eating well, and I really want to see a transparent menu where each and every item is sourced. Ripe red tomatoes don't magically sprout wings and fly north to us once their season is over, although they might if corporations continue to genetically modify food. I'm not saying this kind of menu would be appropriate or necessary at every restaurant, but I'm convinced that culinary catechism—with an emphasis on nutrition and green living—is where it's at. Eat all the sous vide (or vacuum-packed, boiled-in-a-bag) chicken you want. I'm holding out for the chef who isn't afraid to teach us what we need to know—or at least offer brown rice in his sushi rolls.

BEFORE WE CLOSE: Ovio Bistro in West Seattle will host a Sunday, Jan. 29, memorial service for friends, family, and fans of chef Eddie Montoya, who tragically passed away on Christmas Eve morning. Co-owner Ellie Chin told me that she, her husband Shing, and the staff will need more time to process their loss before hiring a new chef, but they'll begin thinking soon about how to move on. She says Montoya, who was just 27, trained his staff well, and Ovio will continue serving the inventive and eclectic North-meets-South cuisine that was his hallmark.

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