Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Coterie Room

2137 2nd Ave


I was astonished to hear that Restaurant Zoe, once one of my favorite dining rooms in Seattle, was moving to Capitol Hill. What, I frequently wondered, would take its place? Answer: Coterie Room!

I was saddened by Restaurant Zoe’s departure from its vaunted 2nd Ave location, but time waits for no one, and besides: the Coterie Room employees did a great job with the old Zoe space. Gone were the heavy late 1990’s furniture and fixtures and drapery: these were replaced by a pressed tin ceiling, a chandelier, and an unusual science-wall of live plants. This décor could only be more Edwardian if there was a Shooter's Sandwich on the menu which, I am sad to report, there isn’t.

Still, despite the menu’s lack of the Shooter’s Sandwich, the food at the Coterie Room is still fairly badass. The marinated beet salad ($8) was interesting: we got a pretty big bowl of arugula mixed with tangy sanguine cubes of pickled beets, lots of pistachios, and soft pockets of cottage cheese. This was perhaps the most homogenous beet salad I have ever eaten: usually the beets are way too big to fit onto your fork with other ingredients, but this time it worked perfectly, and all the components eaten together was absolutely masterful. The sour and dense texture of the beet was tamed by the creamy cottage cheese. Eventually the arugula elbowed its way in, augmented by a salty battering ram as the pistachios crunched in your mouth.

Usually I abhor cottage cheese: it’s pasty and curdled like a dowager’s upper thigh, and why would anyone but a circa 1980’s dieter want to eat it? But THIS cottage cheese, courtesy of the Cowgirl Creamery, was so mellow and smooth, I was amazed. If my 14-year-old self knew I was eating a COTTAGE CHEESE AND BEET SALAD he would mutiny. Times change, past chump.

A foie gras torchon ($12) was sadly and inexplicably less awesome than the beet salad. Three toasted oval cross-sections of bauguette were each topped with a perfectly round beige areola of foie gras torchon. I liked the torchon itself: almost geometrically circular, mercilessly executed, creamy, rich, and full of that endlessly savory flavor that’s unique to duck liver. But then they fucked it up by dousing the plate in some kind of sweet vinegar reduction. Cloyingly sweet, this reduction emitted its astringent acid vapors into your mouth with every bite: the Samuel L. Jackson of condiments yelled at my tastebuds in his hoarsest voice, “I’M VINEGAR, BITCH!” This dominated the proceedings.

Similarly less than badass was a special: the duck prosciutto salad. This special salad wasn’t that special. A tiny pile of frisee was all tangled up, on top of a couple slices of duck prosciutto, red and white like meaty candy canes, with thin slices of bosc pear. It was fine, and hardly what I would call a misstep, but it wasn’t good enough compared to the utterly awesome dishes that were to come.

Like the poutine ($12). These motherfuckers make a version of Canada’s national dish so good, that the entire nation of Canada should swear allegiance to the Coterie Room and become the Coterie Room’s janitor. Seriously, every single component of this dish was better than the last: the fried Beecher’s cheese curds were like little nuggety nuggets of deep-fried deliciousness. The fries were possibly among the best French fries I have ever eaten. The gravy was silken and salty. And the braised pork shoulder was magical: these molecular gastronomy assholes must have performed some molecular gastronomy on the pork shoulder because it was way too pink (cured with nitrites, maybe?), and so tender it fell apart when you looked at it. I was so surprised by how this dish tasted, my face looked like a botox job gone awry for hours afterward.

The Parisian gnocchi special ($25), was similarly delicious: soft cylinders of dough swam lazily through a cheese sauce, with little cubes of guanciale and chanterelles. It was creamy and comforting and ALMOST perfect: the waiter promised us fried Brussels sprouts, but I called bullshit because there were maybe 4 fried Brussels sprouts leaves in the entire dish. I wanted more.

At this point an electrical disturbance on the sidewalk outside distracted me. A weird kid, clad in a Morbid Angel shirt and glowering from beneath his bangs, strode up to my table. “What the fuck are you doing, old man?” he demanded.

“Who are you?” I asked, but I already knew, because I’d been here before: my 14-year-old self was time traveling again.


But I knew how to handle this punk. “Yes, that’s right. I MUST be gay. That’s because, unlike YOU, I no longer masturbate to the Sear’s catalog.”

14-year-old me didn’t see this one coming. “How did you know?”

“I LIVED IT, asshole. But don’t worry, next year Mom will start getting the Victoria’s Secret Catalog. And the year after that, you’ll have the audio from the scrambled Spice Channel to work with. Sometimes you can clearly see a boob!”

I wasn’t done humiliating the little prick. I gestured to my lovely and talented companion. “You see this tall, blonde, big tittied woman I’m dining with? YOU HAVE DECLINED SEX WITH HER! REPEATEDLY!”

14-year-old me was thoroughly chastised. “Don’t be such an asshole.”

But I wasn't done. “You need to understand that times change, little man. What you think is cool now will suck in a couple years. That’s just the way of the world, dude!”

“No way!” he huffed. “Metallica will always kick your ass!”

“Guess what? They just recorded a shitty album with LOU REED on vocals instead of James Hetfield. Do you remember who Lou Reed is? That geezer Dad always sings along to on the radio? ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side?’ Remember that shit? THAT IS LOU REED AND METALLICA SOLD OUT AND TIMES CHANGE BITCH.”

“No!” Completely flabbergasted, he sat heavily down at the table next to us, with an old lady vainly trying to finish the Wagyu Sirloin. Unfortunately, that old lady would never finish it. At $50, it was the most expensive thing on the menu, but that’s okay because this was a huge family style plate. That price got the old lady 7 or 8 big slices of steak, which must have been cooked sous vide for days because it was so fucking soft, and beefy like a bunch of firemen, coated in a miles-deep demiglace. This magnificent steak sat atop a fluffy layer of ricotta mashed potatoes, attractively piped, old-school, into foamy bunting around the steak. In the middle was a hidden undersea treasure of some glazed carrots and a little diced squares of braised endive.

Just as delicious was the family-style seared trout ($28). This was an astonishingly cheap since this is the price for a meal for two. We got two unnervingly perfect rectangles of trout filet, the skin still on, gleaming like hammered steel, tarnished brown on the edges. The flesh was nutty and delicate like Crispin Gliver, and sat atop a pile of fregula, twined through with sautéed spinach leaves. On the bottom was a mellow green smear of pistou. By this point my 14-year-old self had recovered from the shock of visiting this futuristic dystopia, where Metallica sucks, and he would eventually love liver and beets and Brussels sprouts and sometimes be too tired for sex.

“What’s fregula?” he asked?

“Pasta shaped like tiny leprechaun balls.” I replied

“What’s pistou?”

“A fancy French name for pureed herbs and shit.”

He seemed disoriented.

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “You’ll obviously be fine. Let me give you this tip from the future: buy as much stock in Apple Computers as you possibly can.”

“Apple?” he seemed nonplussed. “That shitty computer in English class? All that’s good for is ‘Oregon Trail.’”

“Trust me. Buy Apple Computers and this company called Amazon. And Microsoft. And also, stop Bin Laden.”

“Stop who?”

“Never mind, here’s dessert.” My 14-year-old self needed a break from all of these astonishing revelations, so we split the pineapple sorbet with white chocolate soil and candied pineapple ($8). This dessert veered into molecular gastronomy territory: on the bottom was a sandy and bland dusting of powdery chocolate “soil.” On top, shingles of candied pineapple stabbed into the quenelle of sorbet. They could’ve just given me a modest scoop of the sorbet, graced old-school with a mint sprig, and I would’ve been happy. My 14-year-old self, on the other hand, was bowled over:

“Holy shit this is delicious!” he raved.

But we’d also ordered the Cinnamon fritters, also $8, which should more accurately be called “awesome flavor balls.” They weren’t overpowered by cinnamon flavor, light and airy, dusted in cinnamon sugar, and accompanied by a luscious caramel sauce which would be totally appropriate if licked off of tits.

“These desserts of the future kick ass!” my 14-year-old self gushed.

It was time for a life lesson: “Listen,” I told him. “Everything changes eventually. Restaurant Zoe used to be in this very building, and it was awesome. And I was sad to see it go, and that's okay. But then this place opened, and it's even better! Someday you will paradoxically think that Buddhists are lame, while simultaneously agreeing with their axiom: ‘life doesn’t change; life IS change.’ When you realize that a static, unchanging existence is not only futile, it’s also uninteresting, then, my young friend, will you be truly wise.”

My 14-year-old self pondered this a moment. Finally he stood up. “You know, you’re right. I learned a valuable lesson today!”

If any other 14-year-old had said this I would’ve experienced a heartwarming moment of bonding with him, but I was, of course, intimately acquainted with this particular asshole. “I learned,” he sneered, “that in 21 years I’ll turn into a total PUSSY!”

Then, before I could issue a cutting retort about the time he almost shit his pants in trigonometry class, the time machine called him back to 1990 and he blinked out of sight. That little bitch had gotten the last word. If I hadn’t known that this was going to happen, I would’ve been totally pissed. But at least I had eaten a delicious meal.

Rating: 9 chrononauts out of 10

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