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?”
Maybe 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.