The Book Bindery in Seattle has been setting off the kind of buzz among local foodies that I haven't heard in a while there. The individual elements looked auspicious. Its chef previously worked his way up to executive sous at Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York restaurant with the big reputation, and it's linked with an urban winery. I hadn't tasted the wines yet, but they just won a basket full of medals from the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
So, on my one free night on a recent visit to Seattle, I scouted it out with an old friend who was in town to play some concerts. Bottom line, it's a great restaurant in the making, and it's a good thing the wine list has choices from around the world.
Getting there is a bit of an adventure. Although it's in the city of Seattle, the industrial neighborhood north of the much trendier Queen Anne district consists mostly of commercial buildings on the road that parallels the canal connecting Lake Union to Salmon Bay. That's where Almquist Family Wines set up its winery, which also does custom-crush work, and last fall opened the restaurant next door to its tasting room.
The view from the clean-lined, modern interior, however, looks out at the tree-lined waterway—a rare water view in Seattle despite so many bays and canals. A glass wall separates one of the dining rooms from the winery's barrel cellar. A glassed-in conservatory has become a main dining area.
Chef Shaun McCrain grew up in Seattle and attemded culinary school at Seattle Central Community College before heading off to San Francisco to work at Masa and La Folie, to Paris for two years at Taillevent and eventually to New York and four years at Per Se. The dude has credentials, and it shows on every plate. Impeccably arranged, tasting of outstanding ingredients, the dishes have depth and heft. The sauces are not unacquainted with butter. Pork fat abounds. This is not a place for a diet.
But oh my, what balance a summertime plate achieves as it drapes gossamer-thin slices of prosciutto between cubes of pressed melon of various sizes and colors, batonettes of pork belly perched on top. Hand-cut tagliatelle pile up temptingly in a pool of Parmigiano-infused broth, a poached egg waiting to ooze its rich yolk over it all.
Chorizo-stuffed dates add a rich grace note to half of a locally raised chicken, its various parts roasted or braised as need be. The results were juicy and tasted intensely of chicken. Fregola sarda, tiny balls of pasta, made a nice contrast. "Duo of pork" wraps a loin chop in bacon and serves it with a generous chunk of crisp pork belly, the summer vegetable medley bound with an ultra-creamy bacon-infused sauce.
Some of these dishes represent old-fashioned dining to the max, the richness perhaps over the top, but the presentations are modern. Also, McCrain does not seem interested in dazzling diners with creativity. Instead, he lets the clarity and purity of flavors and the sense of balance they achieve wow savvy diners.
These intense flavors, which come from the main ingredients—not the seasoning—cry out for similarly distinctive wines. Unfortunatey, I was not wowed by the Almquist selections, which are available on the wine list at $35 a bottle. The glasses I sampled of the Syrah, Mourvèdre and Malbec, all 2009s, were soft in texture, lacking in both focus and the kind of purity of flavor the food had. On the other hand, the short wine list, clearly assembled by someone who has an eye for leading producers around the world, included a bottle of Étienne Sauzet Bourgogne White 2008 ($63) that met those requirements. It matched up well with all of those dishes, and tasted fine on its own.
The Book Bindery seems poised to make the transition from insider's favorite to national renown.
The Book Bindery
198 Nickerson Street, Seattle, Wash. 98109
Telephone: (206) 283-2665
Open: Dinner, Monday to Saturday
Cost: Entrées, $18 to $38
Pauline Decloedt — canada — August 10, 2011 11:27am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — August 10, 2011 11:54am ET
Dave Reuther — Deerfield, Illinois — August 10, 2011 12:59pm ET
Richard Lee — Napa — August 10, 2011 4:44pm ET
Mike Olszewski — Newcastle, WA, USA — August 10, 2011 10:29pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions