Your subsequent finest meal can be a tasting menu, says meals critic Tan Vinh

As extra clients shed their cabin fever and begin reserving dinner reservations, I’ve a prediction I’m sure about: Your subsequent finest fine-dining expertise would be the tasting menu.

During this pandemic, probably the most memorable meals I’ve had shared one factor: They had been all prix fixe menus, that includes a procession of 5 to 11 small plates chosen by the chef.

Many tasting menus had a plant focus. Just a few had a operating time so long as Doctor Zhivago. But the dishes had been imaginative with a story thread that speaks to our native seasons — root veggies, koji and fermented noshes through the darkish of winter and, now, asparagus and different bounties of spring.

If you haven’t stepped right into a restaurant on weekends but, carry your persistence, as a result of the business remains to be flailing from arguably the worst labor shortages in current reminiscence. That means service is often sluggish. Dishes generally don’t come out within the appropriate sequence.

The tasting menu could be the solely method round these shortcomings till these help-wanted advertisements for servers and cooks get stuffed.

Why? Because a tasting menu permits a chef to do extra with much less. It reduces some wants for staffing and issues about stock when each labor and provide chain points are issues. For a celebration of 4, a line cook dinner normally must make 4 of the identical dish on a tasting menu versus syncing up 4 completely different dishes on an a la carte menu.

It’s not a coincidence that through the pandemic, fancy eating places similar to Canlis and Cafe Juanita ditched the a la carte mannequin for tasting menus. Even the most important restaurant opening through the pandemic, Tomo in White Center, went straight to a five-course set within the eating room with solely a restricted meals providing at its bar.

A set menu takes most decision-making out of your palms, however you’re in good palms when your meal is curated by James Beard award-winning chef Brady Ishiwata Williams of Tomo or an previous hand like Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita in Kirkland.

The finest meal I’ve had through the pandemic was at Cafe Juanita. Weekend reservations for this Northern Italian-inspired tasting menu are booked out weeks prematurely, with a protracted waitlist. But you possibly can rating a desk simply in the event you dine on a Tuesday or Wednesday at 5 p.m. or after 8 p.m. Cafe Juanita lately raised the worth of its meat and seafood tasting menus from $165 to $195. But it’s also possible to rating some stellar tasting menus for half that value round city.

Below are my present 4 favourite tasting menus within the Puget Sound space.

Cafe Juanita

9702 N.E. one hundred and twentieth Place, Kirkland; 425-823-1505;

Tasting menus (11 plates): Carnivore or pescatarian ($195), vegetarian ($145) and vegan ($140).

At Cafe Juanita you get the sense that your expertise is quietly but firmly in good palms — and, like one of the best eating places, it’ll usher you to an ideal evening with out ever feeling pushed or cajoled. There’s a relaxing sense that the back and front of the home have all the pieces beneath management. It’s a sense that begins if you hand over your automotive keys upon arrival on the entrance door of the restaurant. The service is as muted because the black apparel that the employees wears, however there’s a confidence and competence that doesn’t have to over-talk. The meals they bring about does crucial speaking.

No one plates a extra beautiful tasting menu than James Beard award-winning chef Smith, who orchestrates a well-paced eating expertise with 11 bites and small plates over the course of two to 3 hours.

Even in the event you’ve by no means been to Northern Italy, you’ll sense that Smith is transporting you to a selected area within the Old World — 30-month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano seems all through. The pasta is perhaps filled with oxtail or rabbit. Barolo and Barbaresco wines are prevalent.

The menus range every week with a spread of soup, pasta, meat and vegetarian dishes. The kitchen begins your palate off with one thing recent or uncooked — possibly a medley of spot prawns, Hokkaido sea scallop and octopus perched in a pool of cuttlefish ink with a puree of oyster.

The finest bread basket resides at Cafe Juanita: from a wink to the Cheez-It cracker to a focaccia that — due to the sorcery of an ideal further virgin olive oil — tastes as if it had been wrapped in lardo.

Cafe Juanita ranks proper up there with Mike Easton’s Il Nido and Chef Nathan Lockwood’s Altura on the subject of pasta royalty across the Sound.

For the meat menu, caramelle, a pasta formed like a tough sweet and filled with shredded lamb, drips with the unctuous juices during which the meat was braised. For the seafood tasting menu, an equally memorable eggy tajarin, made briny with white sturgeon caviar and in addition creamy with a citrusy creme fraiche, then paired with a flute of Champagne.

Even one thing as bland sounding as a cabbage roll is one thing to behold right here. The leaf pores and skin tastes meaty from a simmer in a bone inventory of rabbit, hen and squab with hints of allium and black truffle.

On paper, a few of these meals pairings — with vermouth or arduous cider, as an example — shouldn’t work however they actually do, due to the imaginative thoughts of sommelier Alexandra Stang, a rising star within the business.

Twenty-two years into its run, Cafe Juanita beneath chef Smith is pretty much as good as ever.

Cook Weaver

806 E. Roy St., Seattle; 206-324-0599;

Seven-course tasting menus: meat or and vegetarian choice ($85); or 5 programs ($60).

One of one of the best values for tasting menus, this set course is priced about $30 cheaper than the going charge for such an eclectic lineup. Cook Weaver’s pivot to a tasting menu has turned out to be an ideal second act for Zac Reynolds, one of many metropolis’s unheralded cooks who deftly melds Asian, European, South American and African flavors with low- and intellectual touches — from a Cheetos-crusted casserole to a Champagne foam.

His plant-based focus lineup consists of stinging nettle dumpling and smoked beet “kofta.” One of his finest vegan dishes, Reynolds’ fermented carrots are roasted in cumin and chili oil and completed in a smoker with applewood for a savory twang. Served in a taco of spongy injera, they think of a transnational carnitas. For procrastinators, or these inept at planning date evening, this Capitol Hill bistro remains to be under-the-radar sufficient you can typically rating a last-minute reservation.


9811 sixteenth Ave. S.W.; White Center;

Tasting menus: five-course meat or vegetarian ($78)

This plant-centric bistro doesn’t replace its menu on-line because the cooking staff experiments with recent bounties as late as two hours earlier than service. Former Canlis chef Brady Ishiwata Williams lets the season dictate what’s for dinner. He served one of the best vegetarian dish I had final yr, squash bathed in an eggy miso after which grilled and served with hemp pudding, toasted hemp seeds, pickled squash and an arugula-infused oil. The combo imbued the plant with nutty, smoky and peppery flavors. 

Tomo is all about exploring the boundaries of veggies, from foraged maple blossoms to celery root steamed in dashi broth. As at Cook Weaver, in the event you go for the carnivore tasting menu, meat and seafood will nonetheless play a supporting position. Eat your veggies is the mantra right here. With the excessive price of meat and the plant-based eating regimen motion together with all of the environmental concerns, Tomo hints at what our future in fantastic eating could appear like.


2576 Aurora Ave. N., Seattle; 206-283-3313;

Tasting menu: meat, seafood and vegetarian choices ($165)

Canlis stays one of many hottest reservations in Seattle as seemingly each New and Old Money Seattleite, and people celebrating an important day, needs a seat for the debut of govt chef Aisha Ibrahim.

Seattle’s most storied fantastic eating establishment prides itself on being innovative, so in fact, Canlis can’t provide simply the same old tasting menu format. The post-pandemic Canlis (a minimum of for now) affords a restricted three-course menu with selection of vegetarian, seafood or meat for starter and entree.

The Canlis magic begins after you place your order, as one after the other, artfully plated bites seem that didn’t seem in your menu.

Among the unlisted programs is the well-known Canlis salad. The different surprises are the fingerprints of Ibrahim, who has labored at triple-Michelin-starred eating places Manresa and Azurmendi and whose dishes lean towards Japanese umami influences. Depending on the whim of the chef, you may get a cod cocooned in a tempura batter or an aged kampachi wrapped in shiso leaf. You can learn extra about Canlis in our first evaluate after a hiatus from my colleague Bethany Jean Clement.

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