Iris doesn’t have any real sense of what Harry Potter is, but she’s not immune to the phenomenon, either. When Half-Blood Prince came out, she pointed to the cover and demanded to know who these people were, and then she announced, “Potter! Dumble! Buddies.” Which is a pretty good book review.
Last night, Laurie and I went to a new restaurant called Fork, which is just down the street from us. This was exciting for two reasons: First, the chef at Fork is Scott Simpson, an old friend of ours who had been out of the kitchen for far too long. Second, we’ve lived in the same part of Seattle for ten years, and this is the first upscale restaurant in our part of the neighborhood. We’ve long wondered whether one could survive. Fork seems to be doing well so far.
Scott used to be the chef at the Blue Onion Bistro, a goofy restaurant run out of a former gas station near the University of Washington. The magic of the BOB is that while the food was simple and hearty (mac and cheese and tuna casserole were big sellers), it always exceeded expectations. One of the most agonizing things I’ve done as a restaurant critic was going back last year to review the BOB, long after Scott sold the place, and finding that the new owners were very well-meaning people serving terrible food.
Fork is nothing like the BOB. It’s in an intimate space on Capitol Hill, right across from one of Seattle’s best old movie theaters (the Harvard Exit). The location has been a restaurant since the 20s, I believe, and it has a historic mural that Scott wasn’t allowed to alter in the slightest, so he adopted it and stuck a detail from it on his website.
Enough review-speak. Let me get back to the Potter analogy. I’ve seen all four of the Potter movies, and I have a problem with the two most recent ones. The problem is named Michael Gambon, who replaced the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore. Gambon looks the part, and he has a good voice, but I don’t think he understands what Dumbledore is all about. You see, Dumbledore commands respect because he’s equal parts serious wizard and funny wizard. (Yes, presumably he is modeled directly on Gandalf in this respect.) A funny wizard with weak wand skills is a clown, and nobody likes a clown. A serious wizard who can’t tell a joke may command his own kind of respect, but he’s never going to connect with a room full of English boarding school pupils, or with me. Gambon understands the serious wizard part, but he can’t tell a joke.
Scott Simpson is equal parts serious chef and funny chef. He’s serious in the sense that he can really cook: every mouthful at Fork was delicious and well thought out. But he also has an irrepressible sense of humor: there are lobster corn dogs on the menu. We had a duck confit gelee with foie gras and granny smith apples on toast points; “pot au feu” of prawns with savoy cabbage and lobster-prawn broth; “fish and chips” featuring sous vide cooked striped bass over celeriac puree and duck fat-fried potatoes. For dessert Laurie had an individual pineapple upside-down cake with pineapple sorbet, and I had one of those molten chocolate cakes, but served with chocolate-chipotle ice cream.
The best restaurants recognize that going out to eat is supposed to be fun. That doesn’t mean the menu has to make jokes or the waiters should wear costumes. It means serving great food with a mix of pride, humility, and humor. I’ve wasted too many evenings in Serious Wizard restaurants where the food is good but the pomposity is stomach-churning. But Fork is poised to conquer evil, with the lobster corn dog as its lightsaber. Okay, I haven’t actually tried the lobster corn dog yet, but how could it not be good?
806 E Roy
Seattle WA 98112