I first wrote about Restaurant Zoe years ago when it was in its old location, now occupied by Coterie Room. The old Zoe was one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle. When I found out that its new incarnation was opening on Capitol Hill, I got as excited to try it as your mom gets at the prospect of trying a new variety of crystal meth.
Popovers w/ béarnaise were pretty good. For $6 we got two giant muffin-ass popovers. Each of these was clad in a stately bronze crust, with a steamy, yet strangely empty interior. Tan and puffy outside, steamy and hollow inside: these Jersey Shore popovers came with a ramekin of creamy béarnaise which was rich and imbued with a jolt of tarragon.
Ricotta gnudi ($10) were presented interestingly enough: three perfectly round balls of gnudi were clustered on the plate, along with a couple similarly spherical lamb meatballs, so that the plate looked like a savory bumper pool table. The gnudi were delicate, seemingly held together only by atmospheric pressure, and the meatballs were so tender, they were like my own balls after being kicked. A few fried sage leaves and a shallow puddle of citrus vinaigrette on the bottom of the plate finished it off.
Wild Boar Bolognese ($12) showcased a pretty standard Bolognese sauce, with little chunks of rich boar meat clinging bravely to the pasta. The pasta in question was an arugula pappardelle. It was good enough, but maybe a bit too leathery. The biggest outrage was the color: I for one have never been able to stomach the green pasta with red sauce bullshit. It looks too Christmas-y. It might taste fine, but from a graphic design standpoint, it stinks.
An order of steak tartare ($12) was served in a pretty big pile of minced beef with all the usuals: caper, onion, and egg, which in this case was a quail egg, smeared almost as an afterthought off to one side of the plate. This was accompanied by a big pile of housemade potato chips. These were VERY TINY potato chips, I might add, obviously made from either fingerlings, or some variety of midget leprechaun potatoes. There was also a grilled scallion puree, uncomfortably granular, lurking beneath the mound of tartare. The waitress assured us this puree would lend a certain lingering smokiness to the tartare. While I appreciate her effort in the description, come ON dude: it wasn’t THAT smoky.
Grilled asparagus ($12) was a fucking slam dunk. Having said that, grilled asparagus with an egg on top is one of those flavor combinations that seems to fit as seamlessly together as a horse fits into your mom, so I suppose it’s more like a slam dunk when the hoop is like 4 feet off the ground. The asparagus were topped with a smoked duck egg: big and wobbly, this was soft boiled, then smoked until the white was stained a streaky burnt umber. When cut into, a lurid gush of orange yolk spilled all over the asparagus stationed below. There were also a couple baby artichokes, halved lengthwise and grilled. Frequently baby artichokes piss me off because they can be leathery and unchewable and petulant: more like adolescent artichokes. But these baby artichokes were luckily not very long in the tooth.v
Short ribs ($32) were pretty fucking rustic. We got two cubes of short rib. These tender squares of meat so luscious and yielding, you could probably blow them off the bone if you breathed on it too hard. Underneath was a lumpy green mixture of braised nettles and oats. On paper it would seem like this would taste terrible, but the chewy oats and fresh tart nettle flavor was a good counterpoint to the hazy fattiness of the ribs.
Dessert was very interesting. A Chocolate Orb was $8 and yes, it was listed on the menu as “Chocolate Orb.” This candy-coated ball of mystery was indeed a perfect sphere which came to the table looking like some kind of magical globe. In fact, this chocolate orb was like the cocoa-flavored scrying glass with which the Chocolate Wizard (played by Andre 3000) foretells the doom of his arch nemesis Count Chocula. The orb actually resembled a very round Three Musketeers Bar, with a smooth shiny carapace of tempered chocolate on the outside, and a foamy center of mousse. Served along with it was a compact quenelle of hazelnut ice cream and a smear of kumquat marmalade. Honestly, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I write the word “kumquat.” But the jam made from the only fruit that sounds like your mom’s typical Saturday night was tasty, with a beguiling combination of sweet and bitter that paired well with the chocolate.
Panna cotta ($8): this isn’t what you might think. Slabs of quivering, milky cream were alternately stacked, pagoda-style, with thin sweet tuiles. Dotting the roof of this Leaning Tower of Diabetes was a gloopy orange pile of spherified apricot jam, which while admittedly tart and delicious, was also uncomfortably similar to salmon roe. This was a pretty high-tech dessert and I expected it to come with several HDMI ports.
Before I wrap this up, let’s recap dinner: popovers. Gnudi with meatballs. Pappardelle Bolognese. Steak Tartare. Braised short ribs. All of these were fairly standard recipes, and confidently prepared. But dessert was a strange departure from the rest of the menu’s tone. Either the desserts were too technical for dinner, or dinner was too rustic for dessert. They were just too fucking wacky, and way too technical. It was as if some future pastry chef of Restaurant Zoe, in this high-tech futuristic land, built a dessert time machine and sent some examples of his craft back in time to show us present-day fools the error of our ways. “Flourless chocolate torte? Crème brulee? Fuck that,” said the futuristic pastry chef. “As soon as I change out of this silver jumpsuit I’m going to send a CHOCOLATE ORB back in time to blow those cavemen’s minds!”
Rating: 8 orbs out of 10
Restaurant Zoe is located at 1318 East Union St.
For reservations call 206-256-2060
PS The Chocolate Orb had nanobots impregnated into the shell which allow this orb to not only taste very chocolatey, but the orb can also store several gigabytes of MP3’s.