Elemental, My Dear Watson

We’ve lived 19 years in Wallingford, and somehow never made it to Elemental (3309 Wallingford Ave N) until this past Friday night.

Sure we’d heard stories: the owner has an attitude, don’t expect friendly, thinks he’s too good for his customers. There are no reservations, and there’s always a line, so there’s no winning.

Absolutely wrong. That we had to tromp down the slushy ice field that was the Burke Gilman on Friday night explains the lack of a line on our visit, but the attitude was, well, not the sullen standoffish we’d been conditioned to expect. Instead, it was that of someone who genuinely had no interest in the airs and rituals of modern restaurant dining, only in the gustatorial genius of inspired food.

The Elemental web site boils it down:

Elemental at gasworks was opened with the sole intention of creating a dining experience we would like to have.  The conventions of fine dining, (regularly updated tasting menu, paired wines, proper, not “hi my name is…” service, a place that isn’t looking to give or receive validation) without the intrusive explanations and extreme expense.

We have five tables and portable burners, we have negligible signage and we have never advertised. Concessions have not been made for hand-holding. It was not  intended to be for everyone. We change our menu every week and try to provide interesting thoughtful food that we would like people to try without preconceived notions. If what we do is not for you that is acceptable to us, it was never meant to be anything more than our ideal place.

The experience was true to this declaration: Phred, the owner and our server, never introduced himself, only spoke to us briefly once to take a cocktail order. After that, he simply began bringing us food and drink. We were never shown a menu, never asked what we wanted, food was simply placed on the table, dish after dish (and glass of wine after glass of wine after glass of wine: 7 or 8 different wines were poured, regardless of whether the last was drunk). Michelle let him know she is gluten-free, which elicited a startled smile, but he accommodated elegantly and without complaint, creating alternative dishes on the fly at each course.

Not only were we were never told what we were eating, but Phred seemed perplexed when we asked, as if to say “why should you care what the name of the thing is, does it change the way it tastes?”

photo.JPGMaybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. Whatever the case, everything was rich, unusual and delicious. As best we can remember (and as best we could identify), we were brought truffle popcorn, seared salmon on noodles, scallops, cod, kale, lamb, cheeses, and four desserts.

These descriptions, obviously, do no justice to what was served, but a) we are not restaurant critics and thus lack the vocabulary to say much more, and b) as noted above, we were never told what we were eating. Truly, though, it was good: the salmon, for example, was slightly savory, crisp and salty on the outside, and melt-in-your-mouth buttery on the inside.

When the bill came, it was a reasonable (considering how much we ate and drank) $300 even for four people. Remarkably, there was no room to write in a tip. After a bit of puzzled conversation at our table, we mustered the courage to inquire if that was on purpose.

“Free delivery, very limited area,” was Phred’s response.

Thanks, Phred!

  1. Patrick said,

    Ayn Rand’s ideal restaurant.

    Sun, January 22 at 8:29 am
  2. Donn said,

    In principle it sounds good to me – I mean, not so much the haute cuisine, 12 courses and 7 wines, mute service, etc., but … suppose the owners at your favorite Thai restaurant got to be retirement age, and instead of selling out they decided to throw away the menus and cut back to special of the day only. You go for dinner, and it’s like home – your choice is to eat it or not – but of course with the difference that they’re experts in this regional cuisine and they’re making this stuff the way it should be made, not assembling it from ingredients cooked up in advance to cope efficiently with dozens of possible menu items.

    It would probably be a foolish move, unless there’s some evidence they had an especially loyal customer base (and I probably wouldn’t show up unless on top of it they decided to be mostly vegetarian), but it’s too bad because the eating would probably be really good. As apparently it was in this case, though perhaps overkill for someone who’s satisfied with a more modest repast.

    Sun, January 22 at 10:04 am
  3. coco said,

    yelp review?

    Sun, January 22 at 12:36 pm
  4. Janey said,

    Yum! I haven’t been there, but have been to Elemental Next Door (the down-scaled sister restaurant) and the food has been fabulous.

    Sun, January 22 at 6:09 pm
  5. Peter said,

    We are very blessed in Wallingford to have eating establishments such as Elemental, Art of the Table, Cantinetta… the list goes on. If you don’t believe me, go visit my mom in Florida and eat the food I am subjected to when I go to visit.

    Sun, January 22 at 9:54 pm
  6. Judy said,

    My first visit was positive. Second time we had to share a table; I was across from the server and food was passed over my head under the arm of the server. Maybe I am picky, but….this took away from my appetite.

    Mon, January 23 at 1:27 pm
  7. Dan Sundgren said,

    I disagree in a major way with any positive reviews, this Phred character shouldnt be allowed to operate a restaurant and I eat all over the world at some of the funkier vibe places you could ever imagine, see my YELP review here, by far THE WORST dining experience I have ever had, apparently he beat up a customer too, check out the link at the bottom of my YELP review. I ate here at least 6 times until this occured and each time had a really horrible edge to it but I took it with a grain of salt.Consider yourself forewarned.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/elemental-seattle#hrid:ZMzjo_AbVZiTyxRm0GO8zw/src:self

    Tue, January 24 at 2:34 pm
  8. Dan Sundgren said,

    Here’s the review, yeah, you should give this guy money for an experience like this with a paying customer:

    http://www.cornichon.org/culinary_dispatches/braving_the_ele.html

    Tue, January 24 at 2:35 pm
  9. Peter said,

    Dear Dan,
    “I disagree in a major way with any positive reviews” = okay, fine. That is your opinion and I disagree with you.

    “this Phred character shouldnt be allowed to operate a restaurant” = are you the restaurant police?

    “and I eat all over the world at some of the funkier vibe places you could ever imagine” = good for you

    “see my YELP review here, by far THE WORST dining experience I have ever had” = I’m glad you shared your opinion on Yelp. Thank You.

    “apparently he beat up a customer too” = really? But no Police involvement? I am doubting a physical altercation occured.

    “I ate here at least 6 times until this occured” = You hate it this much and ate there 6 times? Six times???? Wow!

    I just really don’t like all this hating, which is why I felt the need to reply to this. Dan, I do not doubt you had an unpleasant experience, which is always unfortunate. But to rip on someone this hard, in a public, neighborhood forum, is classless. I have had nothing but excellent food and expedient service at Elemental…and don’t even have to tip! Take a chill pill and relax a little. If you don’t like Phred, or Laurie’s amazing cooking, just don’t go. Stop spreading the hate, it’s not healthy.

    Tue, January 24 at 11:44 pm
  10. Dan Sundgren said,

    Good for you Peter and yes you are entitled to your opinion. And for hte record it’s not hating, the incredible amount of Hate that Phred threw my way should be construed as such, have you ever been yelled at sitting down ready for a great dinner celebrating your mother’s birthday? Yeah, it’s a great experience so Phred can dish it out and by the nature of that he should be able to take it, the guy’s a Blue Chip DBAG.

    Wed, January 25 at 2:57 pm

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