Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Terra Plata

1501 Melrose Ave Seattle, WA 98122


At what point does something stop being innovative and start being cliché? How many repetitions does it take? 200? 1000? I’m sure the first time some 1930’s Hollywood screenwriter, hunched over his Underwood, a cigarette hanging from his lower lip, hacked out a scene in which some impetuous hero strides into the villian’s court and does something brash, and in retaliation the villain roars “SEIZE HIM” to his loyal guards, I’m sure that was a breathtaking scene when that was written, but by now it’s boring as fuck. The same goes for “alternative rock”: at first, Eddie Vedder’s hurka durka dang was a refreshing sonic palate cleanser against the creaking falsettos of butt rock, but by the time Nickelback came around, no one gave a shit.

Ingredients, too, can become cliché. Think back to the days of artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes and tapenade and truffle oil and beet salads and, sadly on the horizon, foie gras and, probably at some point, bacon. The first time you ate salty caramel I bet it blew your mind the way your mom blows NBA teams, but now I, and hopefully you, have tired of it.

Which brings me to Terra Plata. Located directly adjacent to Capitol Hill’s ultra-awesome Melrose Building, Terra Plata is inside a sleek and modern room, wedge-shaped, with lots of wooden stuff everywhere, which makes it look like the inside of a canoe. Is the food as stylish as the décor? If you want to find out, read on!

We started with an order of blistered shisito peppers ($7). This was a good price for a big plate of these small green peppers: blistered like a suspicious set of genitals, but much tastier than the unfortunate simile I just made. The shisitos were smoky and sweet, with a weak thin burn of mild heat in the finish.

Stuffed dates ($12) were pretty 1990, filled with a soft core of some variety of tangy, biting cheese, wrapped in a thin crisp film of lardo. I wanted to be all sarcastic about these, but sometimes you really can’t fuck with the classics. Let’s call these stuffed dates the Nirvana’s "Nevermind" of appetizers and move on.

Marrow bones were pricey at $14, The bones themselves were perfectly roasted, sliced lengthwise so you could conveniently sluice out the smoky globs of the melted marrow with your butter knife, but the accoutrements were too fancy and distracting: they only included 4 thin slices of toast, greasy with some kind of sweet marmalade and topped with a supreme of orange and a parabola of sliced red onion. Some awesome but unadorned bread would’ve sufficed. But an order of crispy bronze frites ($6) were super fantastic dipped into the marrow. I heard a muffled “…noooooo…” coming from my chest when I did this. “Fuck you, coronary arteries,” I told my heart, and that rapidly clogging motherfucker promptly shut up so I could continue to fill it with cholesterol.

Roasted Brussels sprouts ($11) were masterful: salty, with crunchy outer leaves but tender centers, with shreds of Serrano ham and some sweet citrusy flavor in the background. If grade-school cafeterias served brussels sprouts like these, kids would not only eat them, they would punch each others’ faces in an orgy of kid-on-kid violence in order to get a second helping.

The beet salad ($11) returned us to 1990 with chunks of roasted beets, a few leaves of watercress here and there, and thin rectangles of some variety of sharp dry white cheese. This salad narrowly avoided cliché, because while the cheese might, in fact, have been some variety of goat cheese (though probably sheep’s milk), at least it wasn’t chevre, and the cress was a nice touch.

Duck breast ($25) was presented simply, sliced on the bias into thin pink medallions, shingled atop a rich pan reduction, dotted here and there with sultanas. The breast was dark and tasty, but the true cod ($24) wasn’t as good. In fact, it was quite bland, the flavor washed out, with a pallid cod filet perched atop a pile of steamed potatoes, which sat in a limpid pool of broth. Only a few olives here and there darkened this lily-white platescape (the olives must be the help).

A big slab of braised short rib ($21) was similarly bland, though very tender and served with a small mound of mashed root vegetables and a pile of puy lentils. While I was disappointed by the short rib itself, please allow me to wax rhapsodic about the lentils: they were fucking awesome. Glimmering dark green like a pile of emeralds found in the hold of an ancient shipwreck, they were perfectly cooked, with just a little bite, but still yielding. Puy lentils are so much better than the drab green slack-jawed horse vagina lentils you usually get.

Unfortunately, we almost didn’t get the lentils at all, because at first they brought us the roast pig ($20) instead of the short rib. This is why you don’t put items that slant-rhyme on the same menu in a noisy restaurant. Luckily, the roast pig was actually way better than the short rib: a big succulent softball of pork shoulder, swimming in a pool of savory broth, with some chunks of potato and a big fluffy sheaf of crackling floating on top. Surrounding were a couple clams, briny and flavorful and not at all chewy, and a few rings of the same pickled red onion from the marrow bone toast.

Finally, the churros ($7) were tasty. This price got us three loopy donut turds, arced all over the plate and leaning on each other, as though Frank Gehry designed this dessert. With the churros was a shot glass of chocolate dipping sauce with a surprising amount of heat. A thick slice of chocolate terrine ($12) managed to be rich yet simultaneously NOT the heavy leaden chocolate shit that Twilight fans always seem to want to eat in lieu of getting a good hard fucking. Accompanying the terrine were a few scattered hazelnuts (sadly impossible to eat, as everyone knows, with a fork, so you end up resorting to just picking them up with your fingers) and a small puddle of crème anglaise.

Despite my complaints about dated cuisine, Terra Plata is tasty. That’s because nostalgia’s currency is inflation-proof. You might think, for instance, that fancy mac & cheese is played out by now, but you still return to it because in the end, like bacon-wrapped cheese-stuffed dates, it’s actually quite awesome. As in Portlandia, so too is the dream of the ‘90’s alive in Terra Plata. Put a bird on it.

Rating: 6.5 left-wing bookstores out of 10

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