Like children and presidential candidates, diners are forever on watch for unfair treatment. No matter how much foie gras has been piled on their plates, restaurantgoers size up the portion presented to another guest. They wonder why their server didn't tell them about the pancetta risotto engrossing the guy at the next table, and dolefully conclude they'll never charm the sommelier into revealing the secret cellared treasures he always seems to be pouring for somebody else.
BLIND PIG BISTRO
2238 Eastlake Ave., 329-2744, facebook.com/pages/Blind-Pig-Bistro. 5 &ndash 10 p.m. Tues. &ndash Thurs., 5 &ndash 11 p.m. Fri. &ndash Sat.
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The conviction that a kitchen is withholding its most spectacular flavors—or, more galling still, reserving them for in-crowders—is what drives hungry thrill-seekers to commission menu translations in Chinese restaurants patronized primarily by immigrants, so they too can sample the frog-leg hot pot. It also explains the current hubbub over "family meal," the staff-only spread that's wolfed down before service or absorbed after it. "These meals have the nimbleness of tested skill, passion, and food knowledge," Marissa Guggiana trilled in her recent cookbook, Off the Menu: Staff Meals From America's Top Restaurants.
To emulate the feel of a staff meal in all its accidental brillance and democratic spirit, eaters could swipe a recipe from Guggiana's book (there's a contribution from Tavolata involving stale bread, tinned anchovies, and bigoli noodles). Or, if they're stationed in Seattle, they could dine marvelously at Blind Pig Bistro, a culinary cranny serving food so satisfying and instinctive that it's easy to imagine a fancier, stuffier restaurant on the other side of the kitchen.
Blind Pig is parked in the same 900-square-foot Eastlake cube that housed Sitka & Spruce and Nettletown. Chef/owner Charles Walpole has described the space as "a quirky location in a wonky little strip mall," and he hasn't done anything to unquirk it. The walls have been painted with a red so bright that if it were bottled as nail polish, it would probably be called "Va-va-voom."
Color and decor are synonymous here, since the wooden tables are bare and the walls bald—save for a mounted boar's head disconcertingly close in size to a black Lab's noggin and a slab of slate with a chomped-off corner that if you squint suggests a mirror image of Washington. There are no printed menus, so customers look to the chalkboard for the nightly selection of a dozen-plus appetizers, salads, and main-sounding dishes, offered in junior and standard dimensions. Even if you're not in the mood to share small plates, the truncated versions are the way to go, since you can have a bit of duck and a bit of steak for the price of one full-sized entrée. Another chalkboard hoisted above the kitchen lists beer and wine.
There's hard alcohol too, but nothing as calculated as a cocktail list. Instead, the restaurant—which took its name from a slang term for speakeasies—stays honest by stocking a few bottles of basic liquors. As a server explained, the booze also helps differentiate Blind Pig from the visionary projects which preceded it.
But what's most Blind Piggish about the restaurant is its unshackled attitude. Walpole, who spent just over two years at Anchovies & Olives before opening Blind Pig last fall, told Seattle Weekly's Voracious blog: "Here we can cook whatever we want. I can use whatever ingredients I want. It doesn't have to be all seafood or whatever. I don't need to have eight pastas on the menu. It's food we want to eat."
When Walpole and his crew of two—fellow Stowell alums Matt Fortner and Rene Gutierrez—no longer want to eat a dish, perhaps because they've grown tired of it, they erase it from the board. When I first ate at Blind Pig, a server warned that the kitchen was beginning to suffer from sturgeon fatigue.
Efforts to do away with the sturgeon haven't been well-received by patrons, who are incredibly enamored of the dish. The sturgeon is stunning: A hunk of delicate white flesh with a bristle of bronzed skin, the fish's supremely clean flavor is parried by the assertive saltiness of a buttermilk-hued anchovy sauce, arranged around the sturgeon in three dollops like a run of silk buttons. "Formula" is a sorry word to use in the vicinity of Blind Pig, but every fish and meat is finished with an expertly made sauce and supported by an array of complementary vegetables. The sturgeon shares its plate with a clump of buttery roasted Brussels sprouts tossed with pine nuts and shriveled currants.
Popularity has elongated sturgeon's stay on the board, but I wish the Spanish mackerel had stuck around for my second Blind Pig visit. A highly successful meeting of sea and land, the mackerel preparation featured a flap of wonderfully oily fish hunkered in a bittersweet turnip purée. The earthiness of the aromatic dish was accentuated by wedges of spicy chorizo sausage and crescents of caramelized red onions.
Walpole's seafood expertise is equally apparent in a hamachi crudo surging with acid and a casually assembled bowl of Manila clams bathed in a salsa verde sparkling with vivid, grassy flavors. The bowl's crisscrossed by a plank of toast slathered with chickpeas and stamped with sheets of lardo thin as Bible pages, but it's worth ordering unadulterated bread for finishing the sauce, if only to avoid doing the same with your fingers. Bread costs $2, and it's partnered with a rich Atlas olive oil. When I asked about the oil, a server returned bearing the canister; the line between the kitchen and the dining room is charmingly porous at Blind Pig.
But as Walpole says, it's not all "seafood or whatever." Although I found the terrestial entrées shakier than their oceanic counterparts—the restaurant twice made the mistake of serving its only complete miss, a tough and tattered skirt steak, last—both pork riffs I tried at Blind Pig were lovely. I especially liked an adamantly wintry dish that teetered on the cusp of stewdom, with slow-cooked pork melting into a bed of braised red cabbage and cauliflower pudding.
I wasn't taken with Blind Pig's paté, which struck me as gummy, but most of the starters soared. My mouth puckers in recollection of a classed-up coleslaw, a pile of blindingly bright-flavored shredded red endive and slices of Asian pear showered with a sherry vinaigrette. Walpole works the tongue's sour and bitter receptors to beautiful effect, interweaving blood-orange segments with chunks of posy-pink beets for a salad completed by horseradish yogurt and toasted farro grains. Attention's paid to texture too, with a brittle roasted kale-and-quinoa salad capped by a silky poached egg.
For dessert, there's a chocolate mousse, vanilla panna cotta, and a choice of two cheeses. It's not a highfalutin finish, but it's exactly what most eaters are seeking at the end of a meal. By focusing on legible flavors rather than a facade, Blind Pig is giving eaters what they most desire—and what may be the hallmark of 2238 Eastlake no matter who's occupying it: a simple space with extraordinary food for everyone.
Beet salad $5/$9
Hamachi crudo $8/$14
Skirt steak $10/$18