I have known Maria since my restaurant days in Aspen, Colorado. Her parents Joyce and Lorenzo Semple Jr. were fixtures in Aspen’s social scene—Joyce always working on the Aspen Film Festival, and her husband himself an accomplished writer and screenwriter [Three Days of the Condor; one of my favorite thrillers The Parallax View; the King Kong that started Jessica Lange’s movie career--and the campy Batman series from the 60’s].
They were great customers and supporters of mine, and their son Lo worked in my kitchen as the “french fry guy”. Whenever we get together Maria and I pretty much talk non-stop reminiscing about Aspen and catching up on gossip. She just published her first novel, “This One Is Mine” to great acclaim. http://www.mariasemple.com/
She is currently working on her second novel set in Aspen.
We walked from their Belltown condo around the corner to Tillicum Place Café, and immediately Maria wanted to know what I, as a chef, consider when I come into a new restaurant?
Well of course it is important what the restaurant looks like—how does the décor inform the food? What expectations give rise? How is the lighting? Does the place feel authentic? The smells coming from the kitchen were wonderful.
I answered that I usually can tell if the meal is going to be good just by reading the menu. (At least you can see if there is thinking going-on in the kitchen). The Menu was simple and sparely written. I noticed white anchovies from Spain and Brandade. A Pork Rillette. Duck confit. The menu leans French bistro, uncomplicated. Not fussy.
Near the back by the bathrooms the owner/chef’s cookbooks are all on display, giving the place a warm and cozy feeling like you are visiting someone’s home. Someone confident enough to let you think she doesn't yet know everything about cooking.
Maria & George are both Vegans. So we navigate the menu and decide on a few dishes we can share
...We started out with a pappardelle pasta to share-- that came with a brown butter sauce, sage & hazelnuts that was simple and delicious.
...next we shared a savory butternut squash tart with caramelized onions & Gruyère cheese [$9]. It was served with a simple mixed green salad & walnut oil vinaigrette.
...my simple mixed bitter greens was dressed with a warm bacon vinaigrette, dates & oranges [$8]. It was a tad over-dressed but everything is better with bacon right?
...Kevin ordered Brandade ( a puree of salt cod, olive oil and milk-a specialty of the Languedoc and Provence regions of France.) It was served in a cast iron skillet with stuffed peppers [$7].
...I ordered Duck confit a dish I can never pass up. It was served fall-off-the-bone tender, and tasted like it had been rubbed with Chinese 5 Spice. On the side was toasted spaetzle with kumquat jus & a few brussels sprouts leaves. It tasted almost like bread salad, and played well against the rich duck--the kumquats a bittersweet foil.
...George ordered the side of Baked Beans [$4] that also had some shredded pork or meat of some kind inside. When I pointed this out to him [also a Vegan] he just smiled and kept eating.
I liked the warm spices in the beans with their hint of brown sugar, molasses and maybe a touch of bourbon.