Friday, August 29, 2008

The Corson Building

5609 Corson Ave S

It’s much harder to write good reviews than harsh reviews, at least to me. When I feel like trashing a place the venom flows forth from my pen like the eternal wellspring of blackest hate; when I’m trying to say something nice the prose dries up like your mom. Unfortunately, Astroglide doesn’t make a lube for writer’s block. So bear with me while I hack out this love letter to the Corson Building.

The first thing I noticed about the Corson Building is its name: no tricks, no subtle references to obscure texts, no clever plays on words, no overly sentimental schlock that’s named after someone’s kid with Down’s Syndrome or a deceased pet (about Down’s Syndrome: you’d think someone with an EXTRA CHROMOSOME would be a super genius, but sadly the opposite is true. Normal human cells have 46 chromosomes. Down’s Syndrome patients have 47. Mules have 63 chromosomes, and shrimp have 254, so obviously the more genes you have the lower down on the food chain you’ll be). The Corson Building is literally what the building itself is named. It’s on Corson Avenue South. It’s a building. Simple. I haven’t seen anything more self explanatory since that generic beer that used to be named “Beer.”

The other thing about the Corson Building is that it’s super fucking convenient. It’s the exact opposite of inconvenient, in fact: unlike many of today’s trendy restaurants that don’t take reservations, the Corson Building ONLY takes reservations. As we sat dining many fuckers drifted in, only to be DENIED because the Corson Building is only open from 7:00 through 11:00 pm, and there’s only one seating for dinner, and YOU HAVE TO HAVE RESERVATIONS. So unlike many of my other columns in which I lament having to wait in line with old people, this time I just walked right in like a real person. I don’t see why people hate making reservations. What could be easier than making a phone call? Laying your mom, I suppose, but she doesn’t cook one sixteenth as well as the Corson Building's proprietor Matt Dillon.

Dinner starts at 7:30, but the rusty gate in front swings open at 7:00, so you get a half hour to wander the grounds. When we walked in they handed us a glass of rose champagne and an amuse bouche: a crostini spackled with satiny smooth chicken liver pate and a razor thin slice of cucumber, topped with a pickled fava bean. Normally I find fava beans more trouble than they’re worth to make at home, but when someone else is taking the time to peel them- twice- I’m more than happy to eat them. So we had something to munch on while we wandered around. The train tracks are directly behind the building, and yes the train does pass back there, blasting its horn of course. Old geezers and gaywads who hate noise will find it tiresome, but the racket is intermittent and besides, it’s definitely no louder than a Pantera concert (RIP Dimebag! I miss you still, old man).

One thing I noticed was that these motherfuckers at the Corson Building are HARD CORE. They grow their own crops on the premises. Yes, the herbs and vegetables are THAT fresh. A chicken coop provides eggs and chicken meat, and they even have PIGEONS. And in case you think pigeon meat is gross, I’ve got news for you: I’d rather eat 1000 pounds of squab than ONE shitty fucking Hot Pocket. And that’s not only because I’m an elitist jerk (though that is pretty far up the list); it’s also because pigeon meat RULES YOUR FACE TO THE MAXX. It rules your face so much, in fact, you’re legally required to spell “max” with TWO X’s (don’t blame me; this was written into 40 CFR part 136 by the EPA in 1997).

After we’d gotten an eyeful of the Corson Building compound, they hustled us inside. It’s got a weird, old timey elegance, but the architectural period is difficult to pinpoint. There are plaster lion heads on the walls. There’s a fireplace in the direct center of the room. The windows and doors are arched. I have no fucking clue what this building was originally constructed for, but as a dining room it’s pretty goddamn fantastic.

The first course was a salad of yellow watermelon, pickled red currant berries, and salted tuna. The currant clusters were still on the stem and were the single biggest pain in the ass to eat of anything I’ve ever eaten. When you tried to scoop them up with your fork, they just rolled around on the plate, mocking you, and when you tried to stab them with the fork they ejaculated a squirt of tie- stainingly bright pink juice. When it was possible to get a bite of all three ingredients together, the tart berries and salty tuna meat contrasted well against the melon, but it’s easier said than done to get all of that shit on your fork at once. So my complaint against this dish is its structure rather than its composition.

Next up we had a caprese salad, of sorts: red and dark red heirloom tomato slices were tossed with buffalo mozzarella, some kind of bitter greens which could have been kale but were probably some other shit, purslane, and sautéed chanterelle mushrooms. Fucking tasty. I’d never tasted purslane before. It’s a thicker leaf, more like a jade plant than lettuce, and tart. This tasted pretty good with the mozzarella, which tasted home made and was as creamy as a princess’s thigh, and of course the chanterelles provided the meaty kick to the nuts for which they’re known. The only thing I don’t like about chanterelles is when people over enunciate the name and say “chan-ter-elles,” instead of “chan-trells.” Those motherfuckers sound like Katherine fucking Hepburn when they talk like that. It’s unbecoming.

Course number three was a melange of sautéed shrimp, yellow wax beans, green beans, and cauliflower. The whole thing was tossed in an anchovy, roasted garlic, and parsley paste. This was REALLY fucking good. The anchovies were “fruit forward,” as the forward fruits in the wine industry would say, but I didn’t care because I love anchovies. But I love shrimp even more than anchovies, and in this dish there were many. The beans were lightly sautéed and still crisp.

With the appearance of the next dish, we were halfway through this gluttonous marathon. Grilled eggplant was served with sautéed okra, artichoke hearts, and 2 kinds of beets. I began to see a pattern. Each of the last three dishes had TWO DIFFERENT COLORS OF THE SAME VEGETABLE: red tomatoes and dark read tomatoes; green beans and yellow beans; red beets and pink beets. Obviously this was some secret code planted by Leonardo daVinci to let me know that Jesus fucked someone, and all of Jesus’s other secrets can be revealed if you’re only willing to destroy Westminster Abbey. How’s that for a plot synopsis of a shitty book, assholes? And by “shitty book” I actually mean “shittiest book of all time.” And by “shittiest book of all time” I mean, of course, The DaVinci Code. Forgive my digression, and let’s segue to the one vegetable that’s as shitty as The DaVinci Code: okra. I don’t like okra, even though I’m from the south. Okra is, in fact, one of the reasons I left. But the presentation here was so masterful that I didn’t mind chowing down on those slimy slivers.

The fish course was a halibut cheek, braised in tomato sauce with chickpeas and topped with a brief squirt of béchamel sauce. This dish is the “your mom” joke that writes itself, because I once gave a brief squirt of béchamel sauce onto your mom’s halibut cheeks. But this halibut was much better than that. The halibut disintegrated beneath the fork and the chickpeas were soft and buttery. I ate this dish as quickly as I just described it. But the meat barrage was just beginning, because following the fish was an extremely tender chicken: it had been braised with apricots and anise hyssop, which as the name suggests is vaguely licorice flavored.

Before I could catch my breath after scarfing down a drumstick and some apricots, out comes LAMB. The shock and awe flavor bombardment continued with a leg of lamb, roasted rare, with a parsley and carrot slaw and stir fried zucchini tendrils. A word about the lamb: it was so fucking succulent you probably could have spread it across a piece of bread. The parsley and carrot slaw was dominated by too much parsley, though, and the zucchini tendrils were sometimes tough.

After packing in SEVEN COURSES they made us eat dessert, though I would expect no less. Dessert was a sticky glutinous rice pudding, very dense yet somehow simultaneously light, with blackberries and apricots. It wasn’t too sweet, and was accompanied with an herbal mint tea and, as if I wasn’t fucked up enough after 8 glasses of wine, a shot of OUZO. Shock and awe, indeed.

The total bill is a prix fixe of $110 per person, which might sound pricey, but it was for 8 COURSES, all of which came with at least one but usually TWO glasses of wine. Not all of the dishes hit the nail on the head (e.g. the parsley/ carrot slaw), but fuck it. If you don’t like a particular ingredient, I suggest you man up and just fucking TRY IT. You may be surprised to find that the same rule governing anal sex also improbably works for fine dining. The whole point of the Corson Building is elegant experimentation, and if you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else for dinner. I hear the Cheesecake Factory serves the same 80 pages of dog shit 365 days a year. Fuck.

Rating: 9 precision gustatory assaults out of 10

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Monday, August 18, 2008


1423 34th Ave

Like the French, I'm a pompous dick. Also like the French, I love French food, so I went to Cremant.

I started with the Oeuf en Gelee au Porto ($9). It sounds so lovely in French, but what is it? A soft boiled egg encased in ASPIC! Aspics are savory Jell-O molds, and they haven't been in style since the 50's. It takes me back to that bygone decade when you could smoke in a maternity ward. Not just in the waiting room, but inside the nursery that contained the babies! You could blow smoke into the newborn's face and even offer the infant a cigar of his own. “Congratulations,” a hypothetical man of the 1950's could tell the baby, “It's a... you!” Then he and the baby finished their cigars, knocked back some whiskey, and talked about the Brooklyn Bombers, whoever they are. Of course, not everything was so peachy in the 1950's. For instance, it was very difficult to get two chicks to make out and let you watch.

But I digress. The Oeuf en Gelee was tasty. Inside a round ball of wine- flavored gelatin, shrouded mummy- like in thinly sliced ham, was a soft boiled egg. It was served atop a small bed of greens, so when you cut into the egg the yolk ran down and became a dressing for the greens. The Gratinee des Halles ($12) is Cremant's take on the classic French onion soup. It's astonishingly rich, and the layers of flavor are built up by the onions being grilled first before caramelizing.

The Salade Verte Aux Fines Herbs ($9) sucked. This was an enormous mound of mixed greens, and in case you think quantity always beats quality, I remind you that while there are many sets of 36DD breasts in this world, very few of them are worth ogling. The “Fines Herbs” in the salad's name weren't very “fines,” and the champagne vinaigrette was too thin. I wasn't impressed, since the basic demonstration of a restaurant's style is in the green salad. It was all bland, and would have benefited immensely from the culinary equivalent of a reach around: plain old salt and pepper. My fortunes changed when I ordered the Gateaux de Foie de Volaille ($9). This was a satiny smooth chicken liver terrine, served in a small mason jar, and sealed beneath a layer of the same aforementioned aspic.

The Jarret d'Agneau au Vin Rouge ($22) was a lamb shank, braised in red wine until it fell off the bone. It came with a ramekin of aoli (mental note: complain about aoli in a future review) and was served atop a smashed Yukon Gold which was so lightly smashed that the smashing didn't look intentional. It was barely dented. In fact, that potato looked as though someone started to step on it, then realized they were stepping on a potato and jumped off before they could totally crush it. Still, it was good. The skin was crisp and the flesh was creamy. What more can you ask of a smashed potato? I guess you could ask it to grant you wishes, but something tells me that would work as well as my revisions to Keynesian Economic Theory.

The Steak Tartare ($17) was, like Lucky Charms, magically delicious. Raw beef chopped with capers, onions, and a beaten egg. If you've never eaten steak tartare because you're afraid of raw meat, get over it. If you'll put genitals into your mouth you'll eat steak tartare. You're guaranteed to feel like a caveman when you eat it. But you won't just feel like any old caveman, you'll feel like a FRENCH caveman: the kind of caveman who invents wine and confuses religious fundamentalists by existing 4000 years before they claim earth was created by Santa Claus. As for dessert, try the Cognac au Chocolat ($4). It comes in an aperitif glass and it's like an alcoholic chocolate mousse.

All in all, I'd say Cremant is good, but its rating is hampered by its prices. Plus they've got a big problem: Le Pichet. Any discourse about French food in this town has to include Le Pichet, the best restaurant in Seattle, which has set the gold-- no, fuck that, what's better than gold? --the BRAZILIAN WAX standard for French food. Le Pichet is delicious, cheap, and authentic. I suppose Cremant occupies a different market niche from Le Pichet, so perhaps they can't compare. After all, if Le Pichet is a country bistro, Cremant is a Parisian brasserie. Le Pichet is brightly lit and utilitarian, while Cremant is dim and sexy. Le Pichet is Jerry Lewis; Cremant is Barry White. In fact, Cremant is so sexy that the sexy radiation emanating from Cremant reanimated Barry White, who became a zombie, dug himself out of the grave, picked up Anne Bancroft's cadaver, and took her rotting corpse out to dinner at Cremant. Why would the management of Cremant tolerate the presence of two stinky zombies? Answer: they couldn't help themselves. That's how cool Barry White is. Even as a decaying corpse he still WOWS you.


7 dead R&B superstars (but not Isaac Hayes because he's a Scientologist) out of 10.

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