Posted on | December 18, 2009 | 10 Comments |
It was a sad day for the Seattle foodie crowd when Mistral closed a year ago (or has it been two years?). So finally when chef William Belickis opened his brand new space called Mistral Kitchen on West Lake Ave last Saturday, it seemed like the culinary event of the year here. Being a huge fan of Mistral, I was really surprised to read all the negative reviews about Mistral Kitchen that came out over the past few days. But of course we had to form our own opinion, so we finally made it over there last night. Now that we’ve tried it, I am really struggling to figure out what made those people hate this place so much! Yeah, it is not Mistral, especially if you chose the casual dining area. You can choose between three different experiences here, casual dining at the main dining room where you can order a la carte from a menu, a more formal dining experience at the “Jewel Box” where Mistral like tasting menu is offered (I think) and the chef’s private table where you just let the chef surprise you with whatever his fancy strikes that night. I haven’t tried the Jewel box or the chef’s table, so I can’t compare the experience with Mistral, but taste-wise I fail to see how this food can disappoint anyone that much!
We wanted to work our way up through these three experiences (and we didn’t have a reservation) so last night we got ourselves a couple of seats at the counter looking into the kitchen in the casual dining area. These were the best seats in the house as you get to see five different chefs in action, skillfully preparing and plating dish after dish. Chef Belickis doesn’t work in this kitchen, he was busy at the smaller chef’s kitchen next to the jewel box. The main kitchen has the famous Tandoor oven and a large wood burning oven that apparently was just installed the previous night, hence was not in commission yet. The Tandoor oven seemed to be the busiest appliance of the night, with chicken, lamb and rib eye going in and out. The rib-eye at $40 is the most expensive item in the menu, but frankly a clay oven roasted rib-eye didn’t look all that great to me. But the $18 chicken which takes 40 minutes to prepare on the other hand looked so great! Half a whole chicken is marinated in a paste of onions, garlic and parsley before roasting in the regular oven and then transferred to the Tandoor to finish up. This two-tier roasting process keeps it moist and tender inside while the outside is all crispy and charred. It was the most delicious looking chicken I’ve ever seen, but sadly we had ordered all our dishes by the time we saw this one. This is in the list for the next visit, yes we are definitely going back!
Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself. We got ourselves a couple of glasses of reds from the extensive wine list and started looking through the menu trying to narrow down a few choices. The one-page menu just lists the main ingredient with no descriptions on how it is prepared or about the sauces or the sides; possibly to give the chefs some creative freedom every night. We ordered a few dishes and mentioned that we’ll be sharing everything and the response was very encouraging. Apparently that’s what the chef prefers here.
We started with the oysters, they offered two different varieties last night– Kusshi and Chelsea Gem at $3 each. The Chelsea gems were served with a cucumber foam which I don’t think was a great pairing, I’d have preferred a sauce with a bit of acidity. The kusshi served with the pomegranate granita was much more to my liking.
Our next dish was the roasted mushrooms ($6) , a simple and delicious preparation with three different types of mushrooms.
The braised greens with pork ($16) was nothing like we expected. We were thinking of a nice cube of pork belly sitting on some braised greens, but instead this dish had many different cuts of cured pork in addition to pieces of pork belly braised together with greens and topped with a fried piece of pancetta. I really loved this one, there is nothing I love more than pork fat, cured or not.
The roasted branzino ($18) was perfectly cooked and was served with a medley of lightly seasoned baby carrots, potatoes and cauliflower. Only complaint about this dish, the fish was too small.
Our last dish was the Clay Oven Leg of Lamb ($18). The leg of lamb is cooked in the Tandoor oven on a large metal skewer and is hung to rest for a few minutes before slicing. It was served on a carrot puree and lentils. The lamb was cooked perfectly and the sauce and the lentils went nicely with it, but the chef had forgotten to take the twine out from the meat. I first bit into a piece of the twine and assumed it was a tough portion of the meat itself, only after a few unsuccessful attempts to break it down with my teeth that I figured out it was indeed a non-edible piece of string. Siv must’ve had stronger teeth, as he had managed to chew through it by then, so it was a rather unpleasant experience to get those little pieces out. Once we knew it was there, it was easier to remove it from the remaining pieces in the plate and we could finally enjoy the lamb. We let the waitress know about this small mishap when she came by, she in turn let the manager know and the lamb was 100% comp’ed and they offered us one of their fine dessert wines complimentary- for our trouble. The manager also came by to serve the wine and apologized for the mistake. That’s how you can change a bad experience into a good one.
As the portions were pretty small, we still had some space left for dessert. There were a few tempting options in the menu, so after much deliberation we decided to split the honey-walnut cake with chestnut ice-cream ($8) topped with a bitter chocolate meringue and served with figs. It was such a light dessert, not overly sweet but full of flavors. It was perfect and went nicely with our complimentary Hungarian dessert wine. I wouldn’t mind chewing on a piece of string once in a while, if it comes with such good perks. <g>
Our bill for the night came to $111 after they took off the lamb ($18) We only had three glasses of wine excluding the free dessert wine, so it is a bit on the expensive side, but it was totally worth it. Okay, I agree it is not knock your socks off food like Mistral used to be, but you don’t pay $300 for the night here either. I think for a restaurant in its first week, it was a rather nice dinner. I can’t wait for the experience once they have really settled in and worked through all the kinks in the system. We are definitely going back to try the Jewel Box and the chef’s table sometime soon.