Based on a very reliable foodie recommendation, we had an unbelievably delicious meal at the Basque-themed Harvest Vine (2701 E Madison, Seattle, WA, 98812) in the Madison Park neighborhood of Seattle. What an unexpected treat on this trip!
Like many good restaurants I've come to love, you'd drive right by it and wouldn't know to look there without address in hand. The location was rather nondescript: at the edge of a retail block tucked amidst houses and apartments and townhomes. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought we were somewhere in Northwest DC.
The restaurant itself is quite small, at least as far as seating is concerned. There's a copper bar overlooking the cooking area and it's long enough to seat 12 patrons on stools, and there are three small four-top bistro tables in front of the picture windows looking out. Downstairs (where I didn't go) there's a private dining/wine cellar that can seat up to 28 people, according to the head chef Johnny.
Needless to say, there was a wait to get a seat. 50 minutes of waiting, to be exact. In hindsight, I'd have waited twice as long.
We sat at the bar (the best seat in the house, imho) where we could watch the chefs crank out tapa dish after tapa dish in a well choreographed dance around the small cooking space. The printed-that-day menu offered about 30 different cold and warm tapas, and I was at a loss as to where to start. Luckily, we'd sat down right next to a couple (Lisa and Michael) who were regulars. In fact, Lisa's been coming to Vine Harvest every week for two years. Who better to take recommendations from?
(her inside scoop: there's nothing less than "great!" on the menu)
While exchanging pleasantries with Lisa, the amuse bouche arrived which was a matchbook-sized piece toasted bread with a wonderful pureed garbanzo bean concoction on top. A great taste of things to come.
I didn't feel like analyzing the wine list for the best bottle (the whole list looked very good AND very reasonable, btw) and instead chose to have the same bottle of Rioja that Lisa and Michael were drinking: a bottle of Viña Alberdi Reserva, La Rioja Alta 2000. Over the course of the meal, the wine opened up from a tight burst of plums and cherries to a smooth, earthy rich red that was a perfect accompaniment for the chocolate dessert.
So, wine in hand, and at Lisa's urging, we got the Plato de Chacineria (cold plate of cured meats), and Totadas de Foie (foie gras and a chantrelle mushroom on top of toast points). After the cold plates, we moved on to the Vieiras (scallops pan-fried to perfection and perched atop a wonderful carmelized onion dollop), and Perca (pan-fried sea bass served with brussel sprouts) and ended the savory part of our meal with Venado (venison cooked "a point" and served on a short tower of mushrooms).
We wanted to try the lamb loin, but as our waiter Juan Carlos explained, "the lamb, she is no more." Laughingly, I thought, "wow, talk about fresh ingredients!" The "is-no-more" became the running joke of the meal.
Each plate was presented beautifully: The Plato on a large white round platter that framed the round cuts of meats perfectly, the Tostadas on a small square plate just barely containing the food. The four Vieiras were spaced out evenly along a long narrow plate, and the Perca was in a shallow bowl just big enough to contain the fish and sprouts and hold a delightfully aromatic jamon stock that had been brought to a furious boil moments before it was drizzled over the fish and veggies. Johnny and Joey were great artists with their sauces and the basil oil they used to paint the finishing touches on each plate.
So glad I was at the bar to overlook this all.
By this time, the restaurant was emptying (the doors were locked so no one else could enter), and Lisa and Michael said their goodbyes. We ordered our desert of Profiteroles and Pudding de Pan (because the flan, "she is no more") , and I watched as the chef who normally worked at the cold prep table entered the kitchen to make the staff meal of Chicken Katsu with a cabbage salad and rice.
It's not often I'm inspired for my next meal while finishing the dessert of the current one, but it was mesmerizing to see his knife skills turn a head of cabbage, a green apple, a carrot and roasted red peppers into a wonderful mix of deep colors for the salad base. He then created an oil and vinegar emulsion to toss the veggies in. The breasts of chicken (pounded flat and dredged in flour and bread crumbs) were quick-fried in the pot of oil on the stove and then popped in the oven to finish cooking through. Nine plates were prepped with the salad, the Katsu sauce and white rice. When the breasts were done, he sliced each of them up (with a satisfying crunch through the crust) and laid them out atop the beds of rice.
If not for the fact that our taxi had arrived to take us back to the hotel, I'd have tried to find room to try this staff-only chicken katsu. You can bet I'll be coming back to Vine Harvest again and again. Glad to see they share recipes so I can try to duplicate things at home.
If you decide to go to Harvest Vine: make sure you sit at the bar to watch it all come together on your plate. You won't be sorry.